"Everything that happens in corporal creatures redounds to the usefulness of man." - Thomas Aquinas, Commentary on Job
How should I think about a sprained ankle, a tree fallen in the road, a case of indigestion or insomnia, a disease in fruit trees, a drought, or even a devastating storm this time of year? What about a malfunctioning computer, a broken-down car, a power outage, or a burst pipe?
Very different would be my experience of each day if I hold what Thomas Aquinas says here: literally everything that happens in the corporeal realm redounds to our good. This is an astounding assertion. But right off the bat we might wonder: OK, then why isn't our good coming about left and right?
For starters, perhaps more good is coming to us than we realize. I, like an inexperienced child, can misperceive what is actually for my own good. Who knows, for instance, how certain ailments or accidents might be preserving me from something, preparing me for something, strengthening my endurance, or bringing me closer to other people?
But more, I think Aquinas's principle means that whatever happens in the material creatures around us can and thus should redound to our good. Whether and how it does so is to some important extent in our power. And perhaps a key aspect of better reaping the benefits is simply to recognize the truth of the principle.
Consider on the one hand a man who, not really seeing the principle, chafes against all the things we listed at the outset. The travails, weaknesses, accidents, diseases, disasters, etc serve to agitate and wear him down. He becomes angry, discouraged, depressed, jaded.
On the other hand is a man who strives to accept and live out the principle that all that happens in material creation can redound—or 'overflow' as the Latin word can mean—unto his and our greater good. Will not these very things then much more serve his good as Aquinas suggests they should? It is remarkable to reflect on how differently such a man experiences life as he moves through this world.
This is not simply reducible to having a 'positive attitude' and making a choice not to be discouraged. That is certainly part of it. Yet in play here is something even bigger. This is a great divide among us men. Do we hold, nay rather do we see and accept the truth, that by a loving Providence what Aquinas says is not just positive thinking. It's the way things actually are. And if we accept and receive this gift, then alone can it be fully actualized, for the good of all
John Cuddeback. "Good in Disasters and Mishaps?" LifeCraft (August 23, 2023).
Reprinted with permission from the author.
John Cuddeback is professor of Philosophy at Christendom College and the author of True Friendship: Where Virtue Becomes Happiness and Aristotle's Ethics: A Guide to Living the Good Life. He and his wife Sofia consider themselves blessed to be raising their six children—and a few pigs and sundry—in the shadow of the Blue Ridge on the banks of the Shenandoah.Copyright © 2023 John Cuddeback
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