In a passage somewhere in Pearl Buck’s The Good Earth, the protagonist, who is a Chinese farmer, looks at his fields and reflects on an impeding famine. The river is quickly rising and will flood the lands so that nothing can be grown for a year or more. But the protagonist does not think of this disaster as evil. Every seven or eight years nature brings a flood — or a drought — and the people suffer, but nature is not an evil. This thought is coherent with an Eastern philosophy, but in the West it was the Lisbon earthquake of 1755 that shook philosophical foundations. Where many Christians saw the disaster as an omen, Voltaire wrote
Will you say: ‘This is result of eternal laws
Directing the acts of a free and good God!’ …
Did Lisbon, which is no more, have more vices
Than London and Paris immersed in their pleasures?
Lisbon is destroyed, and they dance in Paris!
A wise course for the solitary is to accept nature as a profound mystery, but not tantamount to God, and not an instrument of divinity. Nature is a play of vast forces, and consciousness is a thin, ethereal and tenuous element in the universe not likely to premeditate or presume.