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10 Spiritual Causes of Fortune
“The very hairs of your head are all numbered.” Matthew 10:30
There is No Blind Chance
As was pointed out in another chapter, man is not responsible for all his general states. A child is not responsible for his childishness, and no adult can be blamed for having passed into maturity or old age. Neither can any arguments or any deliberate effort bring a woman into the state of a man or a wife into the state of her girlhood. Whenever our bodies grow tired after a day of activity, our minds inevitably come into new states, less strenuous; until we sink into oblivion of all cares, and spirits of a celestial type environ us.
How little we are (at least consciously) responsible for certain of our general states, seems to be clear from that which is called “fortune” or “luck.” Men commonly blame many of their disappointments on “bad luck,” or ascribe their windfalls to a lucky chance. But the Writings declare to us that there is no such thing as blind chance. For the Divine providence operates even in the least and most detailed circumstances of our lives, and thus “in the most singular things of man’s thoughts and actions.”250
It is easy to see that the real causes behind man’s general states lie in the presence with him of spirits of different types, and thus in the different spiritual mediations which modify the influx of the Lord’s life into men. We can also see that evil spirits could lead men into many kinds of accidents and misfortunes. Swedenborg records that such spirits at times caused his feet to stumble, and that they were responsible for certain slips and errors in his manuscript. Not that they actually willed such particular results—a thing which they entirely denied—but that they held him in a state of ignorance and obscurity which led to the errors. The common evil which flowed from the self-love of these spirits naturally produced such effects! Certain spirits, by their arts, have a special skill to produce a sphere from which unfortunate circumstances naturally flowed in a way which wholly resembled pure chance. Such spirits do not foresee the misfortunes they cause with a man, but they are nevertheless punished for producing such spheres from an effort to be destructive.251 “Unforeseen misfortunes are nothing else than the perpetual endeavors of evil spirits . . . and unforeseen goods come forth from the Lord. This appears incredible; but still it is so.”252
“They who trust in the Lord continually receive good from Him.” For whatever happens, whether it appears as prosperous or not, is still good for them, conducing to their eternal happiness. But with the wicked the unforeseen goods which come from the Lord are turned into an evil effect.253
Swedenborg comments that it seems incredible that spirits should be the cause of misfortunes. Yet it may seem still more incredible that even the course of what is called “a streak of luck” in cards, dice-games, etc., is intermediated through the spiritual world. “Hardly any one” knows this. But spirits convinced Swedenborg that the turns of fortune in a game of dice could be predicted by them from the unfailing appearance of certain signs—a dark cloud about him if he was to lose, a white one if he was to win!254 The “dark cloud” was of course not the cause of the misfortune; but it was a spiritual manifestation or representation of the state in which he was—a state which because of his own needs permitted him to immerse himself into a natural series of events which in their very nature would lead to “bad luck.”
Seemingly there is nothing less determined beforehand than the outcome of a lottery or the fall of a pair of dice. The only predictable factor in the fall of the dice seems to be a definite ratio of probabilities which in the long run is almost fixed, but which leaves the outcome of each single throw in uncertainty. There appear to be certain natural laws which limit the uncertainties and operate to balance the probabilities. And the more we analyze a situation, the clearer it becomes that to an all-seeing eye there is no “chance”; but that for the sake of man’s freedom it is not given him to see all the contributing contingencies or all the operations even of the natural laws involved. Swedenborg learned things about this which he was forbidden to make known.255
Providence in the Ultimate of Order
“Chance” is defined in the Writings as the operation or influx of the Divine providence into “the ultimate of order, in which all things are comparatively inconstant.”256
The Lord rules, and has always ruled, human minds, and thus the heavens and the hells, from primes through ultimates. In the ultimates of the world we may observe a fixed and constant order founded on space and time. We find orderly changes and progressions over which man has no power, and inevitable chains of cause and effect which will and thought cannot budge. Untold subatomic units moving ceaselessly at random without any purpose are gathered into great mass-actions which apparently have both order and use and which fall under the inexorable cycles of changes and of seasons. Countless data of knowledge without seeming order or connection are gathered into man’s mind. Yet in the view of man’s rational mind they may be arranged into categories and classifications which reveal a purpose or a law. One can examine the scattered details by themselves, and see only blind chance and chaos in their “comparative inconstancies.” Or one can behold the ordered movements and groupings as a whole in their constant recurrence and static presentation, and see therein an evidence of Divine government and providence which “by things constant and things inconstant deals wonderfully with human prudence and yet conceals itself.”257 So far as we can see, the constant and regular effects of natural law by which Providence operates in the ultimates of its complex order, are not disturbed in favor of man. Despite the varied states of the human mind the seasons of summer and winter come and go in their independent and fixed routine. The sun shines on the evil and on the good. The rain falls on the just and on the unjust. It is as if the life of man has been fitted into a set of disciplinary circumstances of external law or into a general fixed mould of natural routine in time and space.
If the Lord rules our minds from ultimates, it would seemingly be a contradiction to say that fortune and chance depended on the kind of spirits which are with man. But, actually, spirits need certain kinds of ultimates, depending on their states. And in various ways, hidden to man, they lead him through his own affections to seek such correspondent ultimates. In the apparent inconstancies and details of nature there is a profusion of correspondent foci. According as man places undue value on selected external objects or objectives, he becomes a source of delight for either good or evil spirits. Their sphere affects him. He steps into an unknown and uncontrollable stream of events. Evil spirits would then distract his attention from truthful circumstances and would find a way of avoiding the order and purpose of the whole by taking the parts and constructing out of them a series or order of their own—an order conducive to “ill luck” or apparent misfortune.
What we know as the laws of nature are formulations of the series of physical causes and effects from the cumulative experience of human observers ; although actually natural laws should be regarded as the effects of spiritual laws. Men are apt to think of the government of Providence from the picture which they have of nature, in which one thing occasions another in a chain of fixed “necessities.” To counter this viewpoint, the Writings record some conversations which Swedenborg had with angels and spirits.253 He tells of certain spirits who, knowing that the Lord leads men through apparent necessities,259 had the idea of a preordained fate or absolute necessity by which the entire life is necessity, so that even the Lord was bound by necessity. But since this idea of the Divine was colored by our concepts of human necessities, attention was called to the fact that man has freedom, and he who acts from freedom of choice is not under necessity; the very idea of choice implies this. There converge many circumstances—”contingencies” or happenings—which can carry man in opposite directions. The moments of a man’s life are like pebbles which a man scatters at pleasure, from freedom rather than from any necessity. Yet the Lord foresees the form in which man will eventually arrange his life, and His providence is in every single detail, “but not according to such an order as man proposes to himself.” From the Divine foresight the Lord sees the relationships between the “pebbles”— as an architect sees the design behind a heap of building materials—and fills in what is lacking, to provide for consequences a thousand years later. “All the things which are from the Lord are most essential, but they do not follow in order from necessity, but in application to the freedom of man.”260
Thus the Lord “foresees with an unceasing accommodation” how man as it were leads himself.261 Every change and variation in the human mind produces a change in the series of things that follow, and this progressively to eternity. But the drift of all the sequences of human states which man determines, would go far wide of the goal of creation “if the Lord did not lead the states of human minds every least moment”—and this through spirits and angels. This leading is secret and does not interfere with human prudence or choice, but is “accommodated” to man’s free agency. For each single thing which man does, sees, or thinks, the Lord does and sees infinite things. On the surface, the history of the race and the life of each man and each church seems to be determined by human decisions. If it were not so, man might just as well not exist, for he would have no sense of accomplishment, no incentive either to will or to think, still less to work or take responsibility. But the Lord acts to correct human mistakes, through unforeseeable things. He acts through heaven, mediately, and also immediately from Himself, not only into the will and thought of man, with or without man’s consent, “but also at the same time into the many things which befall him.”262 These “contingent” things, or providential circumstances, are the means by which the Lord, from His infinite resources, supplies the links between the moments of human decision, and by which He fills in the interstices which man has not thought of !
Yet man speaks of “chance.” We do not believe that spirits have any power over nature or nature’s laws. They did not even know beforehand how the dice would fall at Swedenborg’s backgammon table. But such is the inscrutable intricacy and detail of the Providence of God, that the “white cloud” of good fortune or the “dusky cloud” of warning are tokens before spirits of His foreknowledge of the chances which shall befall; unpredictable events into which He permits a man to be led for eternal reasons which look to the needs of spirits and also to the needs of the man—lest he should become the prey of morose disappointment, or lest he should come to rely on his “luck” rather than on his reason and his labor.