Rev. Fred Chapin4/23/1995
Who is more restless at heart, more frequently provoked and more violently enraged than the lover of self – and this as often as he is not honored according to the pride of his heart, and when anything does not succeed according to his wish and pleasure? (DP 250:2)
One question we may reflect on as we contemplate the misery and destructiveness of war is the extent to which a nation gets the leaders it deserves.
Seek out how many there are in the kingdoms of the present day who aspire to high position who are not lovers of self and the world. You will not find fifty in a thousand who are lovers of God…” (DP 250:4)
Yet, it is said, from their zeal the lovers of self do more useful functions. For the Lord’s kingdom is a kingdom of uses; and where there are but few who do uses for the sake of uses He causes worshippers of self to be raised to the higher offices in which everyone is moved to do good be means of his own love. Thus when we look around us in the world, rather than becoming cynical we have to be realistic, trying to see Providence working in a less-than-ideal situation, where only a few do uses for the sake of uses while the majority do them for their own ends.
Put another way, we can see that it is more important-in fact vital-for the essential functions of a nation to be supported than for only a few good people to be in positions of power while other key functions are neglected. The thrust of the Lord’s parable of the unjust steward is that because we don’t live in an ideal world, we can nevertheless benefit from the worldly-wise. Often, driven by the desire to build a reputation or go down in history as benefactors of their country, people will achieve great things.
This is what is inwardly meant by the Lord’s advice to make friends of the “mammon of unrighteousness”-that is, for the good to make use of the rational concepts of truth and good possessed by the wicked. In a church we may see the truth of this in the way even corrupt leaders may yet teach the truth and lead to good even though they don’t practice it themselves.
One might also apply this on a wider scale to many of the statements of politicians, who, irrespective of their inward character, have valuable insights into the rights and wrongs of the international scene.
For example, after the horrors of the last world war, a plan was devised to avert a repetition of such a catastrophe. Every nation was to be invited to pledge itself to observe certain minimum standards of civilized conduct, to abide by international law, to live in peace with its neighbors, to lend its military strength to enforce these rules if necessary, and to participate in the policy-making of a new United Nations organization.
While it took many years to bear fruit, the ideal was a good one. And so in the Gulf war, whatever the rights and wrongs of it may be, and irrespective of their leaders’ real motives, there is an international force ranged against the aggressor.
The point here is that while we can recognize good principles, we cannot tell whether they are being applied from pure self-interest or a genuine love of freedom. But the thrust of the teaching in the Writings is that while the zeal for justice may contain a great deal of self-interest, it nevertheless can, in Providence, be bent to good. “The Divine Providence is continual both with the wicked and with the good…” (DP 249:3)
Given the nature of the native human will before people have started on the path of regeneration, a lasting world peace is an impossibility. Perhaps we may see progress in the fact that with increasingly awesome weaponry, aggression may be kept within the bounds of international law, even though in terms of human suffering this may still be a great cost. It has always been thus. People suffer as a result of evil, by bringing it on themselves or having it inflicted on them by others. But why does the Lord let it happen?
Perhaps one of the most striking teachings of the Writings is that evil is permitted solely so that it may be recognized and shunned for what it is. Only in this way can anyone be saved from its power and led to the happiness of heaven. As it is said, wicked designs, cunning devices and deceit can only be removed by the Lord by means of the Word, especially the then commandments. Thus, for people who acknowledge all kinds of murder, adultery, theft and false witness as sins against God, living according to the ten commandments removes such evils (se DP 250:4)
Again, it is said that these evils are also removed-at least in outward act-in evil people who do not admit that they are sins, namely by various fears, such as fear of legal penalties, loss of money or social standing. This is the way Providence governs the evil.
“It is not from the Divine Providence that wars occur,” involving as they do so many horrors-looting violence, cruelty and worse. Still, we are told, they cannot but be permitted because since the time of the Most Ancient people, left to himself man has allowed his life’s love to become that of dominating others (and, in the end, everyone), and of possessing the wealth of the world, and finally all wealth whatever.
In the Word, when such a state of mind rules, especially when religion is used to hide selfish ends, it is called Babylon. This dates from the time when the Ancient Church-whose worship involved the use of various rituals and images that stood for Divine qualities-was spread throughout several regions of Asia; Syria, Arabia, Babylon, Egypt and Canaan. When the ancient Church fell away from love of the neighbor, these things were turned to magic and the worship of idols.
In this context we can see the hand of Providence in the rise of Islam in the Middle East, with its strong disapproval of idolatry, and its acceptance of some of the key elements in the Old and New Testaments. But when we realize that Babylonia is now modern Iraq, we may fall into thinking that the present events in the middle east may specifically represent the age-old struggle between god and the lust of domination. But as we shall see, while there are many interesting parallels to be found, the Writings have a somewhat different emphasis.
To begin with, no country is completely good or thoroughly evil-and in any case, only the Lord knows its spiritual state, leading it accordingly. Significantly, though, some of the strongest statements about evil are in the context of war.
For example, it is said that by heredity man is like a miniature hell and that no one can be withdrawn from this by the Lord unless he sees that he is in hell and wishes to be led out (see DP 251). It is explained that this removal from his hellish inclinations cannot be brought about without permissions, the causes of which are laws of the Divine Providence- that is, the Lord permits things that He does not will, but for a higher end-to save man from hell. We can apply this principle, then, to strife within a country or to whole nations. The Lord is constantly endeavoring to lead them away from hell and towards heaven.
The Writings say that this is why there are lesser and greater wars. Indeed, Swedenborg notes in the Divine Providence that there are many other reasons stored up in the treasury of Divine Wisdom why the greater wars, with all their cruelty and destruction, are not prevented by the Lord.
Some of these reasons have been revealed to me, and among them is this; that all wars, although they be civil in character, represent in heaven states of the church and are correspondences. Such were all the wars described in the Word, and such also are all wars at this day” (DP 251:3, emphasis added)
We take “states of the church” here to refer to the universal church- that is, to the state of religion world-wide, as well as to the church specific.
Thus in history, when the children of Israel, who represented the church, departed from their precepts and laws, they fell into the evils which were represented by the nations who attacked them– among them the Babylonians.
That this consequence also applies on a global scale seems to be implied when we read:
Similar things are represented by the wars of today wherever they occur. for all things which take place in the natural world correspond to things in the spiritual world, and all spiritual things have relation the church. (DP 251:4)
Again, we think of “the church” as standing for the inward attitude people have toward good and evil, toward God and the ten commandments, the precepts of which are known virtually everywhere. If they begin to use these true and good things for their own ends, there is bound to be a backlash.
And so it is said that we cannot see the quality of the church on earth and what the evils are into which it falls and for which it is punished by wars, but these things are seen in the spiritual world, where internal things appear and where all people are linked together by their various states. The real character of religion is not in external things but internal. Our minds, after all, are basically spiritual. So we read that the conflicts of opposing spiritual states in the spiritual world correspond to wars in this world, which on both sides are governed by the Lord in His Divine Providence.
What, then, of the present war? Commentators have pointed out that according to the teaching of a major Islamic sect in the Middle East, a Muslim ruler, having gained the consent of the community of the faithful and having proved his effectiveness by military success and by upholding the sect’s version of Islamic law, his people are obliged to follow him unquestioningly, regardless of whether he is just or oppressive, moral or immoral.
As long as an unjust ruler nominally upholds the law and is prepared to wage a holy war if Islam is attacked, the faithful have no right to overthrow him. The sect teaches that as no man except Mohammed is free from sin, all rulers will be flawed and that this must be accepted.
Here the truth that no man is good is being used to justify even a dictatorship. But another major sect of Islam has as a central part of its mission exactly the opposite-the overthrow of such unjust rulers. So the two branches of the religion bitterly opposed. We can see, then, in just this one fact potential causes of war. What we cannot see is the underlying spiritual cause, except in the most general of terms.
For the basic war waged in anyone’s life-the battle for who will rule, be he Jew or Gentile, Christian or Muslim- is between good and evil, or between self and God. In armed conflict, wherever and whenever it takes place, there will be both good and evil on both sides, but what in Providence is intended to come out of it is the realization that all mankind desperately needs to live according to its own religious ideals-to seek the truth and pursue it.
May we all learn – and learn quickly! AMEN