NASA (the National Aeronautics and Space Administration) has recently disclosed that two years ago, on July 23, 2012, planet Earth almost plunged into global catastrophe.

On that date, a solar flare — better known in scientific parlance as a “coronal mass ejection” (CME) — came close to hitting the Blue Planet and disabling electrical appliances everywhere, thereby causing a widespread global blackout. It was the most powerful storm on the sun in more than 150 years.

Had it flared up just a week earlier, Earth, according to scientists, would have been directly in its line of fire. As a result, it would have sent the planet back to the Middle Ages. Just 10 minutes without electricity, Internet communications and everything else that requires electricity would have brought about chaos on an epic scale.

In the words of a scientist from the University of Colorado, “I have come away from our recent studies more convinced than ever that Earth and its inhabitants were incredibly fortunate that the 2012 eruption happened when it did.”.

The CME’s potential for global disaster makes global warming, by comparison, look like a light drizzle on a summer afternoon. At the same time, there is not much scientists can do to protect the planet from calamities that originate from outer space.

Were the inhabitants of the Earth fortunate that disaster was avoided? Or does this “near miss” direct our thoughts to God, who, in his divine providence, is the only one who is in control of the cosmos?

Physicist Pat Riley, in a paper entitled, “On the Probability of Occurrence of Extreme Space Weather Events,” calculates that the odds of a solar storm strong enough to disrupt our lives in the next 10 years are 12%. Should we keep our fingers crossed? Or should we have faith in God’s providence?

The Book of Wisdom states: “God made the little and the great, and he has equally care of all” (8:1). “Wisdom reaches from end to end mightily and orders all things sweetly” (6:9). “Thou hast ordered all things in number, measure and weight.” “There is no other God but thou who has care of all” (12:3).

According to the First Vatican Council, “God protects and governs by his providence all things which he has made” (11:20). St. Thomas Aquinas adds that God’s providence presupposes justice and mercy. God is not merely a great architect. He is a loving God.

Since we cannot look to scientists (and certainly not to politicians) for protection against calamities that have an extraterrestrial origin, does prayer have any utility in this regard? Aquinas answers in the affirmative: “For we pray, not that we may change the divine disposition, but that we may impetrate [to obtain by requesting] that which God has disposed to be fulfilled by our prayers” (Summa Theologiae II-II, 83, a 2).

The “Angelic Doctor” amplifies what he means by emphasizing “that by asking, men may deserve to receive what almighty God from eternity has incorporated in the Divine Plan that represents what he knows is best for us.”

If one does not have faith in divine Providence, he must inevitably assume a fatalistic attitude concerning cosmic events that pose dire threats to the human race.

For Aquinas, however, “it does not follow that whatever is subject to the divine will or power, is subject to fate.” In other words, the element of freedom, both divine and human, comes into play. We are free to pray; God is free to answer out prayers with justice and mercy. Even miracles are possible.

Was it a matter of luck that the CME did not strike Earth? Will the time come when we run out of luck? Or was it an event that was written from all eternity into God’s providential plan?

God created this stupendous yet beautifully organized universe. It would not be in keeping with his providential care that he would arrange that a CME would wreak havoc on creatures made in his image. If the CME that nearly struck the Earth was part of God’s plan, perhaps it was to remind us to have faith in him and to pray that he keep us safely in the palm of his hand.

Donald DeMarco is a senior fellow of Human Life International. He is professor emeritus at St. Jerome’s University in Waterloo, Canada, an adjunct professor at Holy Apostles College and Seminary in Cromwell, Connecticut, and a regular columnist for St. Austin Review. Some of his recent writings may be found at Human Life International’s Truth & Charity Forum.