Divine Providence

Swedenborg Foundation

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The Laws of Divine Providence
Disasters and Personal Suffering

It’s a question that people have wrestled with for ages: Why would an all-powerful God, one whose essence is literally love and wisdom, allow evil and suffering to exist in the world?

Swedenborg devotes an entire book to answering this question: Divine Providence. In it, he explains that the Lord’s goal is the formation of a heavenly community, bringing everyone—every human being on earth—into heaven. Divine providence is the way he works to do that. But he will not do this without our freely given consent and cooperation. In other words, there can be no true salvation without free will; nor can there be a full commitment to spiritual growth without first understanding the role that evil plays in our lives.

The Laws of Divine Providence

Swedenborg systematically describes the way that divine providence works in our lives by condensing it into five laws:

1. We should act in freedom and in accordance with reason

Freedom, in this case, means spiritual freedom. Our bodies limit what we can see and hear and do. Governments have laws that prevent us from acting in certain ways. But in the privacy of our own minds, we can think and feel just about any way that we like. In other words, we can choose to inwardly embrace thoughts and feelings that are either good or evil. Swedenborg tells us:

The origin of evil is the abuse of the abilities proper to us called rationality and freedom. By rationality, I mean the ability to discern what is true and therefore what is false, and to discern what is good and therefore what is evil. By freedom, I mean the ability freely to think, intend, and to do such things. (Divine Love and Wisdom #264)

The actions that we choose—and, more importantly, the underlying attitudes that motivate those actions—become a part of us. Swedenborg may have anticipated modern psychology when he observed that the thoughts and feelings we embrace never truly leave us. We may repress them, or deny them, but the thoughts and feelings that we dwell upon become part of our essential self. Ancient wisdom teaches, “For as he thinks in his heart, so is he” (Proverbs 23:7). Swedenborg takes it a step further, saying that “we are what we love.” (Divine Love and Wisdom #1). The more we are motivated by and act upon our noblest desires, the more that nobility becomes a part of our very being. This is the way we cooperate, connect, and come into communion with God. But it must be done freely, and we must make that decision rationally rather than acting out of fear or external pressure.

2. We should reject any tendencies toward evil that we notice coming into our mind

What is evil? In its most basic form, it refers to any desire or any tendency to turn away from God, or from the highest principles we know. Swedenborg describes angels as perpetually turned toward God—not in the literal sense of always facing the same direction no matter which way they’re walking, but in the spiritual sense that their minds, their inner selves, are always guided by the Lord’s love and wisdom. In the same way, he says, evil spirits are always turned away from God, guided by their own obsessions with power and prestige.

We should not think of “evil spirits” as medieval characters in fictional literature. They are real influences masquerading as our thoughts and feelings. While these thoughts and feelings may feel like our own, they do not become a part of us until we identify with them, embrace them, and lead our lives by them.

The process of noticing the negative thoughts and feelings that arise in our minds, and then rejecting them, begins on earth. This is a basic aspect of our common humanity. None of us is born “perfect,” but we can strive to become better. As Swedenborg notes, we are all born with a tendency to be selfish and to crave material pleasures. And yet, more deeply, we are also born with an inner spiritual essence that comes from God. In Hindusim this is called “Atman”; in Buddhism it is our “Buddha nature”; and in Swedenborg’s theology it is “the innermost.” It is in this “innermost” part of us where we connect with God, allow God to guide us, and become cooperative channels through whom God’s love and truth can flow.

When Swedenborg talks about rejecting evils, then, he is talking about our tendency to be selfish—to always act in what we regard as our own best interest rather than our neighbors’; to love power and crave domination over others; to steal, or kill, or otherwise do harm.

But what we do isn’t the whole story. Why we do it goes deeper. For example, let’s say that a man working for a large corporation—overworked, underpaid, and perpetually mistreated by his tyrant of a boss—discovers a loophole that will allow him to steal money from the company without anyone noticing. Over the course of a couple of years, he’s stockpiled enough money to quit and start his own business. No big deal, he tells himself. Nobody got hurt. The corporation is so large that nobody even noticed the money was missing. Anyhow, he deserves the money as compensation for the way he was treated.

Though it may not seem like a big deal, this kind of rationalization and justification of actions that we know are wrong (rather than acknowledging and rejecting them) leads us away from the Lord. The more we tell ourselves that it’s okay to help ourselves at others’ expense, the farther away we get.

However, if instead we make a concerted effort to reject those selfish thoughts and feelings, try to make amends for past actions, and truly work to become better people, we open the door for God to enter our lives and put us on the path to heaven.

3. We cannot be compelled to think or believe in a certain way

Swedenborg asserts that nobody can be reformed by threats and punishments, or even by miracles and visions of the afterlife. In order for faith to be real, and for reformation to be actual, we have to examine ourselves in the light of our highest values and see if we are living in accordance with them. It is only when we choose to act consciously in accordance with our faith that the process of reformation really begins.

An external event like a miracle may make a big impression, and it may even force us to rethink our beliefs. However, “force” is the key word here. If we have a vision of God telling us to go help the poor, we may feel compelled to do so simply because of the overwhelming experience we’ve just had. It’s no different from acting to help others because an authority figure has told us that we must do so. If we have not consciously chosen to become a better person, to do good simply because it is good, then our inner selves are not changing—and deep inside is where it really counts. What we actually do doesn’t matter if we’re motivated by fear or external pressure.

For the same reason, people who have mental illnesses, or who suffer from some other disability that prevents them using their freedom and rationality, are not held spiritually responsible for their actions. This also includes emergency situations where a person is acting out of instinct or desperation, or times and places where people are genuinely ignorant of spiritual truths.

4. We are taught and led by the Lord, although it may appear that we are acting independently

In many places throughout his writings, Swedenborg emphasizes that all life comes from God, that his love, wisdom, and energy flow into everything. If God were to withdraw from anyone, even for a moment, that person would simply cease to exist. Because of this, even people who have chosen to do evil still have God’s presence in their lives, sustaining them. God never stops trying to lead people to do good things and to love each other, and as long as we are on earth it’s never too late to change. (Although the longer we wait, the harder it gets!)

5. We will not feel the workings of divine providence in our lives

We are not allowed to see God at work in our lives for the same reason that we can’t be converted to faith by miracles: we have to choose to do good because we truly believe it is right, not because we are forced to or because there will be an immediate reward for doing so.

That’s why some people choose to abandon their belief in God. They are looking for an immediate reward—or even an eventual reward—for being good, and are disappointed when they do not see divine providence working in their lives. They do not realize that the God “who neither slumbers nor sleeps” is always working in their lives, bringing the best out of everything that happens, no matter how dark the moment appears to be. This is a hard but important lesson—especially when there has been a serious misfortune. Sometimes it’s not until long after the fact that the lessons we learned or the positive results that ensued become clear.

Disasters and Personal Suffering

But what about innocent people who are doing their best to lead good lives and yet still suffer misfortune? What about natural disasters like floods and earthquakes that kill thousands of people? What kind of lessons do we learn from that?

The evils in the world are real, Swedenborg says, but are permitted to happen so that we can grow:

Saying that God allows something to happen does not mean that he wants it to happen but that he cannot prevent it because of his goal, which is our salvation. . . . [Divine providence] is constantly focused on its goal; so that every moment of its work, at every single step of its course, when it notices that we are straying from that goal it leads and turns and adapts us in accord with its laws, leading us away from evil and toward good. . . . This cannot be accomplished without allowing bad things to happen. (Divine Providence #234)

Following a natural disaster, there might be an outpouring of love and support that inspires people to treat everyone better. Perhaps a person who helps during this time might decide to dedicate their lives to helping others, affecting thousands of lives for the better. Technologies may be developed that prevent bigger disasters down the road. With our limited perspective, it’s impossible to see all the positive consequences that might arise from a personal crisis or natural disaster. Part of faith is learning to trust, as Swedenborg assures us, that the Lord will not allow anything to happen if it cannot eventually be turned to good (Secrets of Heaven #6574).

Disaster, crime, disease, and other misfortunes also force us to confront the fact that evil exists in the world. When everything is going well, when there is peace and prosperity and nobody is suffering, we tend to take things for granted. We relax and enjoy the good times without thinking too much about it. Disasters make us realize what’s important to us; they wake us up to the fact that we matter to each other. From that starting point, we can think about who we are and, more importantly, who we want to be. Ultimately, if we let them, even the worst events in life can be the first step on the path to heaven.

Find Out More

On YouTube: “The Wrong Question to Ask” approaches daily frustrations from a whole new angle.

You can read more about this in Swedenborg’s own words in this chapter from Divine Providence: “Evils Are Permitted for a Purpose: Salvation.”

Bruce Henderson gives an engaging overview of Swedenborg’s teachings on divine providence in Why Does God Let It Happen?

You can also download a booklet by Donald Rose called “Chance, Good Fortune, Divine Providence” here.

http://www.swedenborg.com/

SETTLE IN YOUR HEARTS

SETTLE IN YOUR HEARTS

A Sermon by Rev. Donald L. Rose

Preached in Bryn Athyn June 25, 1995

“Settle it in your hearts not to meditate beforehand on what you will answer; for I will give you a mouth and wisdom which all your adversaries will not be able to contradict or resist” (Luke 21:14,15).

The Lord said these things to followers who were later persecuted and brought before councils. Their accusers thought by confronting them they could weaken the cause of Christianity. But it turned out differently. Those confrontations became opportunities for the strengthening and growth of Christianity.

The boldness and eloquence of the disciples, although they were just fishermen, was nothing short of astonishing. Of one outspoken disciple it is said, “And they were not able to resist the wisdom and the Spirit by which he spoke” (Acts 6: 10). In the 4th chapter of Acts we read of two disciples who were confronted: “Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were uneducated and untrained men, they marvelled” (Acts 4:13). (King James Version says “unlearned and ignorant men.”) They had a boldness and assurance, and their answers were powerful.

They were somehow triumphant even when they were beaten and imprisoned, and in some cases put to death (see Luke 21:16). We will mention one example of that in a moment.

The text applies of course to us and, we might say, in a much less dramatic fashion. We will not likely be brought before courts and kings nor openly challenged and assailed by enemies.

But we do stand to be attacked by the enemies of our spiritual life. And the more we learn about the assaults of evil spirits on followers of the Lord, the more do we see that it too is dramatic and momentous. Falsities from hell itself assail the person who is being tempted, and the Writings say that to every falsity the hells inject, there is an answer from the Divine.

What we experience in temptation is anxiety, discouragement even to despair. We do not know that evil spirits from hell are fighting against us, nor do we know that the Lord is fighting for us, and the answers from the Divine to the false accusations and undermining thoughts do not come clearly to our consciousness. Here is what the Writings say: “As regards temptations … the hells fight against man, and the Lord for man; to every falsity the hells inject, there is an answer from the Divine …. The answer from the Divine flows into the internal or spiritual man … and in such a manner that it scarcely comes to the perception otherwise than as hope and consequent consolation, in which there are nevertheless innumerable things of which the man is ignorant” (AC 8159:3). (In that answer which we feel only as hope and comfort there are countless blessings that the person has no knowledge of” – new translation.)

Here is the context of the words of the text: “… they will lay their hands on you and persecute you, delivering you up to the synagogues and prisons, and you will be brought before kings and rulers for My name’s sake. But it will turn out for you an occasion for testimony. Therefore settle it in your hearts not to meditate beforehand on what you will answer; for I will give you a mouth and wisdom which all your adversaries will not be able to contradict or resist. … [N]ot a hair of your head shall be lost. In your patience possess your souls” (Luke 21:12-19).

The very first Christian to die for his beliefs found that the confrontation was indeed an occasion for testimony. He was falsely accused and brought before a council to answer. His eloquent speech takes up the whole of the 7th chapter of the book of Acts. It is said, “When they heard these things they were cut to the heart, and they gnashed at him with their teeth. … [T]hey cried out with a loud voice, stopped their ears, and ran at him with one accord and they cast them out of the city and stoned him” (Acts 7:54,57).

That speech which so affected them had begun thus: “… brethren … listen: the God of glory appeared to our father Abraham” and he told the story through Jacob, Joseph, Moses and Solomon, and when he was finished he gazed up into heaven and saw the glory of God. And as they rained stones on him he said, ‘Lord Jesus, receive my spirit’ and ‘Lord, do not charge them with this sin.’ And when he had said this he fell asleep” (Acts 7:2,59,60). It is said that those who looked at him “saw his face as the face of an angel” (Acts 6:15).

A radiant peace surrounded him. The Lord had promised that nothing would harm them. They were at peace even in death.

“Settle it in your hearts not to meditate beforehand on what you will answer.” Think deliberately about the future, and think of how not to think of the future. In one of the Lord’s parables a man is called foolish because he did not think ahead intelligently. “Foolish one, tonight your soul will be required of you, and then whose will those things be which you have provided?”

Oh, he had thought and meditated within himself about the future. But what was the level of his thinking? To quote the Gospel: “And he thought within himself, saying, What shall I do? … I will do this: I will pull down my barns and build greater … And I will say to my soul, Soul, you have many goods laid up for many years …” (Luke 12:17-21).

He could look down the road years ahead. He could figure out what he was going to do, and what he was going to say, and God called him a fool. How does our future look to us? How much strength and endurance do you have for what lies in store for you? Can you handle what is yet to come? Do you have the wit? Will you have the wit to respond to what may come to pass?

We live in the illusion that our strength, our intelligence, our very life is from ourselves. How big is our reservoir of energy or endurance or prudence? Since it seems that life is our own, we think in terms of calling on our reserves. Once the disciples set off in a boat on a journey with the Lord. And it had slipped their mind that they should have stored some provision. To quote from the Gospel of Mark, “Now the disciples had forgotten to take bread, and they did not have more than one loaf with them in the boat” (8:14). That was what was on their mind, and the Lord said to them, “Why do you reason because you have no bread? Do you not yet perceive nor understand? … do you not remember? When I broke the five loaves for the five thousand, how many baskets full of fragments did you take up? How is it that you do not understand?”

He got them to answer the question, and He could ask them on a much later occasion, “When I sent you without money bag, sack and sandals, did you lack anything? So they answered, Nothing” (Luke 22:35). Think of the uncertain times of youth that you have passed through. You made it through your teens. Has the Lord kept you safe thus far? Has He provided?

It is too bad that some people have concluded that it is virtuous not to make provision for the future. It’s understandable. The Lord has given us the message that He will provide. Seek the kingdom of God, and these things will be added to you. But the Writings say this does not mean we should not provide ourselves with food, clothing, “and even resources for the time to come; for it is not contrary to order for anyone to be provident for himself and his own.” The new translation speaks of “resources for the future; for it is not contrary to order to make provision for oneself and one’s dependents” (J. Elliott’s translation).

But there is the matter of putting trust in the Divine. Notice the verb tribuo, something you do. It is translated to “attribute” or to “ascribe.” See how it is used in this teaching about charity in a person engaged in business. “He thinks of the morrow, and yet does not think of it. He thinks of what should be done on the morrow, and how it should be done; and yet does not think of the morrow, because he ascribes the future to the Divine Providence and not to his own prudence.” And then it adds, “Even his prudence he ascribes to the Divine Providence” (Charity 167).

Does that fortunate person who ascribes the future to the Divine just do this at one point in life? Or is it not something to be done deliberately through the progressing stages of life?

Settle it in your hearts. Deliberately ascribe the future to the Lord’s Providence, and do so, if you can, until you can feel a sense of relief as if someone had removed a false burden from you.

Do not think of this merely as “either/or,” as if to say, either you trust in Divine Providence or you do not. It can be a quantitative thing. Some attribute a little bit to the Divine Providence and a lot to themselves (see AC 2694:2). The Writings use the phrase “the more”: the more they ascribe, the stronger or wiser they are (see AC 4932). In our lives we gradually come to ascribe more to the Lord and less to ourselves (see TCR 610 and 105).

The disciples were to learn that peace, the wonderful prize of peace, is to be found in the Lord Himself. He said, “These things I have spoken to you that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation, but be of good cheer. I have overcome the world” (Luke 16e). En to cosmo thlipsin exete alla tharsete – In the world you will have affliction, trouble, but take heart. Have courage. I have defeated. I have conquered. I have overcome the world.

Our picture of the future can become less a matter of speculation and worry and more and more a picture of the Lord as one in whom to confide and one who grants peace. Peace has in it confidence in the Lord that He will provide, and that He leads to a good end. “When someone is in this faith, he is in peace, for he then fears nothing and no solicitude about future things disquiets him” (AC 8455).

We sometimes say that the future looks dark. And the unknown is a kind of darkness. But when we ascribe the future to the Lord, we may say at any time in history or at any stage of our life, that the future has light in it, being in the hands of Him who is the light of the world.

Settle it in your hearts anew today. Ascribe the future to the Lord. And He will give you what to think and do, and He will give you peace. Amen.

Lessons: Matt. 10:16-31, DP 179, AC 2493


Divine Providence 179

As a foreknowledge of future events destroys the human itself, which is to act from freedom according to reason, therefore it is not granted to anyone to know the future; but everyone is permitted to form conclusions concerning future events from the reason; hence reason with all that pertains to it enters into man’s life. It is on this account that a man does not know his lot after death, or know of any event before he is involved in it. For if he knew this, he would no longer think from his interior self how he should act or how he should live in order to meet the event, but he would only think from his exterior self that he was meeting it. Now this state closes the interiors of his mind in which the two faculties of his life, liberty and rationality, especially reside. A longing to know the future is innate with most people, but this longing derives its origin from the love of evil. It is therefore taken away from those who believe in the Divine Providence, and there is given them a trust that the Lord is disposing their lot. Consequently they do not desire to know it beforehand lest they should in any way set themselves against the Divine Providence. This the Lord teaches by many passages in Luke (12:14-48).

That this is a law of the Divine Providence may be confirmed by many things from the spiritual world. Most persons when they enter that world after death desire to know their lot. They are told that if they have lived well their lot is in heaven, and if they have lived wickedly it is in hell. But as all, even the wicked, fear hell, they ask what they should do and what they should believe to enter heaven. They are told that they may do and believe as they will, but that they should know that in hell, good is not done and truth is not believed, but only in heaven. To each one the answer is: “Seek out what is good and what is true; then think the truth and do the good, if you are able.” So in the spiritual world as in the natural world all are left to act from freedom according to reason; but as they have acted in this world so do they act in the spiritual world. His own life awaits everyone and consequently his own lot, for the lot pertains to the life.

Arcana Coelestia 2493

1 have spoken with the angels concerning the memory of things past, and the consequent anxiety regarding things to come; and I have been instructed that the more interior and perfect the angels are, the less do they care for past things, and the less do they think of things to come; and also that from this comes their happiness. They say that the Lord gives them every moment what to think, and this with blessedness and happiness; and that they are thus free from cares and anxieties. Also, that this was meant in the internal sense by the manna being received daily from heaven; and by the daily bread in the Lord’s Prayer; and likewise by the instruction not to be solicitous about what they should eat and drink, and wherewithal they should be clothed. But although the angels do not care for past things, and are not solicitous about things to come, they nevertheless have the most perfect recollection of past things, and the most perfect mental view of things to come; because in all their present there are both the past and the future. Thus they have a more perfect memory than can ever be thought of or expressed.

LIFTING OUR THOUGHT TO ETERNITY

LIFTING OUR THOUGHT TO ETERNITY

A Sermon by Rev. Grant H. Odhner

Preached in Oak Arbor, Michigan March 17, 1991

“I will lift up my eyes to the mountains … ” (Psalm 121:1).

Mountains have always inspired people with awe. Who has walked among mountains and not been aware, at some time, of his own insignificance?

Mountains give us a means of appreciating relative sizes and forces, distances and times. We feel small next to them. The creative efforts of human beings seem puny by contrast. We can dramatically alter many landscapes can level hills, redirect rivers, fill swamps, cover miles of green with pavement and skyscraper but mountains are remarkably resistant to human manipulation. They defy taming. There is also something timeless about them. They stand unchanged for ages. They silently proclaim a time before we were, and a time after we will be gone.

For those who believe in God, mountains have always provided not only a humbling perspective on humanity, but also an awesome perspective on the infinity and eternity of our Creator. Do mountains seem immense and unchanging to us? Yet, sang the Psalmist:

[Yehowah] looks at the earth and it trembles; He touches the hills and they smoke (Psalm 104:32, emphasis added).

The mountains melt like wax at the presence of the Lord (Psalm 97:5).

Mountains indeed seem ancient to us. Yet the prophets declared:

He looked … and the everlasting mountains were scattered, the perpetual hills bowed. His ways are everlasting! (Hab. 3:6, emphasis added).

Before the mountains were brought forth or ever You had formed the earth and the world, even from everlasting to everlasting, You are God (Psalm 90:2).

The mountains shall depart, and the hills be removed, but my kindness shall not depart from you (Isaiah 54:10).

Mountains and hills have been symbols through the ages of what is Divine, unchanging, eternal. In the Word they bring to our attention these qualities about the Lord, either by contrast, as in the passages we just read, or directly, as in our text:

I will lift up my eyes to the mountains from whence comes my help. My help is from the Lord, Who made the heavens and the earth (Psalm 121:1,2).

Here the mountains are the Lord. This Psalm is about the Lord’s perpetual watchfulness, guidance, protection. He is pictured as a watchman, who neither “slumbers nor sleeps” (vv. 3-5). He guards us constantly, by day and by night (v. 6). The Psalm ends:

The Lord shall preserve your going out and coming in, from this time forth, and even for evermore (v. 8).

“For evermore.” To eternity!

Our subject today is lifting our thought to the Lord, who is eternal life lifting “our eyes to the mountains.”

The Word tells us many things that we cannot know from mere sense experience, among them that our life is eternal. Our senses teach us that all things around us pass away. All living forms gradually grow old, their metabolism slows, they decompose. Even land formations and seas change and cease. Planets and suns grow cold or explode. Perhaps we can see that energy is conserved and conclude from experience that energy might be eternal. But this says nothing of individual human minds.

In our day-to-day lives we generally don’t sense life as eternal. We face the tasks at hand; we set goals that affect the foreseeable future next week, next month, in rare cases next year. For most of us life is busy and preoccupying. The needs of the body are relentless: food, clothing, shelter, sufficient comfort. The needs of the mind are ever with us too. More than ever before perhaps, we are aware of all sorts of things that we see as important for our proper maintenance and betterment. We have all sorts of goals and ambitions for our own mental well- being and for our children’s. This makes life very busy, and leaves little time for reflection on what is eternal.

When we ask the question, “What is eternal about our lives?,” we can think of “eternal” in two ways: we can think of it as a matter of what is timeless, or we can think of it as a matter of what is enduring through time, of what lasts.

Properly speaking, eternity is not a matter of time. It is not just an infinite amount of time. Eternity is as much this moment as it is a millenium (see TCR 31). The Lord, who is the eternal, has no beginning and no end; everything is present to Him, as the Psalmist suggested: “a thousand years in [His] sight are like yesterday when it is past” ( Psalm 90:4).

Time belongs to nature. We have time because physical matter defines distances, and movement across distances marks times. As the earth spins, it marks out regular periods of dark and light. As it moves around the sun, it marks our seasons and years.

Of course, the Lord does act in time. How else could He touch us and lead us? He is in all time, but apart from time, and in all space, apart from space (see TCR 31). He is not bounded by them or defined by them.

Certainly, for us eternity involves time. We have our beginning in time, we live in time, and we come to appreciate the Lord’s constancy and wisdom through time. It is impossible for us to envision the unbounded nature of the Divine without thinking of endless time (see TCR 31; AC 1382, 4204).

Still, we can all become aware that there is something beyond fixed time. It is a common observation that when we are engrossed in something, our sense of time vanishes. A minute can seem like an hour. We discover that what we thought had been an hour was actually two or three. The same is true when we are with someone we love for example, lost in conversation. Time becomes irrelevant! At that moment we have no other belief than that we will know and love that person two thousand years from now!

Our mind with its loves, affections, and thoughts is actually not in time; it too is “in time, apart from time.” We become so accustomed to disciplining our enjoyments and our thinking to a timetable that this can be hard to see, but it’s so. The mind knows no time! It grows and changes through time, but it always remains unbound by it. Our bodies grow old and wrinkles appear, our functions slow and become less vibrant, but our minds’ capacities for growth remain. Our capacity to love and empathize and understand what is important in life actually increases, provided we allow the Lord to regenerate us.

We have a common perception, especially about those whom we know well and love (e.g. spouses, children, friends), that they do not die with the body. The Lord implants in all people the perception that life is eternal. It’s not that He wishes to subtly persuade us to believe in the afterlife against our will. Rather, the perception simply results from the fact, which cannot be hidden, that unique human beings cannot die.

We are able, then, to sense that our life is eternal not with our physical senses but with our spiritual senses. The only requisite is that we have some idea, however scanty, about eternal life (which doubtless exists in every culture). And, of course, we must also reflect.

If we attend to our mental life, and withdraw our minds from the demands of the moment from bodily needs, from worldly cares, from concern about appointments and deadlines, from considerations of our age, the time of day, the time of year, our physical location then we can notice the timeless quality of our loves and thoughts, and of our deeper relationships with others. We can especially notice this when we reflect on what delights us, engages us, motivates us, sustains us. More particularly, we become aware of what is eternal, by lifting our thoughts to the things of heaven, lifting our “eyes unto the mountains.”

“Mountains” in the Word stand for heaven, as well as for the Lord. To be in heaven is to be in the Lord and in the eternal. In the spiritual world, when a newcomer looks toward some heaven and approaches, he sees mountains. The communities there actually appear to be in the mountains (see TCR 336; AE 405:5; e.g. CL 75:2,76,77).

Heaven is called “eternal life” in the Word. It is the place where one will live forever and not die. In a sense, life in heaven is no more eternal than life here. Angels’ lives are finite and limited, like ours. They are still bound by certain constraints of their world; they still change and grow and learn in finite steps that follow one after another. Day follows upon day with them as with us. There is a reality that appears just like our time (see HH 163; TCR 29).

An important difference is that in heaven life is not forced to take place within a fixed material universe, with its physical laws. There life unfolds according to the loves, strivings, and activities of the spirit. The laws in operation there are the laws of the mind. There time does not determine the course of the body’s changes; the state of mind does. The body stays as young and vibrant as the mental outlook. All things there are governed by considerations of states of mind.

For example, in heaven when an angel feels really inspired to serve the neighbor, it’s morning time, and he has a full day ahead of him. Time bows to his state of mind. He never has the frustration of feeling inspired at midnight when he can’t act on the inspiration. When an angel wishes to do something for another (the Lord willing), he never has the frustration of being fifty miles away; distance bows to his state of mind. When an angel begins to feel mentally tired and needs refreshment, it’s afternoon. (He can leave his active duties and find recreation.) When he begins to feel dull and in need of new inspiration, it’s evening. He is then in his home; he is removed from people (both spacially and mentally), where he can reflect on himself and rededicate himself to the Lord.

The spiritual world is this way in all respects: space and time follow mental states. All those in a given community experience a similar progression. The Lord gathers their states into a common flow and sequence that suits all.

So heaven is called “eternal life,” because there we will enjoy greater freedom from rigid, earthly time. Our bodies will never grow old and die. We will live a truly spiritual life, in which we can love and serve others more deeply and fully, in which we can enjoy a fuller sense of being in the Lord’s life and blessings. This is what He longs for.

It is vital that we think about eternal life! Our lives are filled with so many things. We can become so unmindful of what is important and lasting! We can forget to seek out that state of mind in which time is not a factor, in which the only thing that matters is our attitude and our goals, and what’s in our heart. These things alone are timeless; they alone have a lasting impact on our future. Reflecting that our life is eternal enables us to live for something larger than the moment. It enables us to live as spiritual and not worldly beings.

Consider the picture offered in our text of looking toward the mountains. Mountains offer us perspective. We cannot appreciate distances apart from contrast. If we look at the sky and set our gaze, even at a hundred miles, we are struck with little awe, for (unless there are clouds or an airplane) there is nothing that gives us a sense of that great distance. That distance might as well be a mile as a hundred miles. But when we look up at a mountain, or out from a mountain, the case is different. Then the distance before us becomes meaningful. We can trace this distance with our eye tree by tree, over farm, river, town. We can feel this distance. Sometimes we can sense the space before us palpably as a tingling in our stomach!

Similarly, eternal things, the things of heaven, give us a spiritual perspective that we can’t otherwise have. Without reflecting on what is eternal, we have no means of seeing the relative importance and value of what we are loving, thinking, or doing right now. We have no way of seeing genuine progress, or detecting how far afield we are straying. In fact, without reflecting on eternal life we have no true freedom! because the sense that our life is eternal is what gives real significance to our choices (see DP 73:6f; TCR 498).

A moment’s reflection on eternal life can lift us from the tangled forests of our natural lives, and place us on a mountain from which we can survey what is below. We can find quiet above the pressures of the moment, above the desires of our old will. We can feel new breezes of life. We can experience the Lord His enduring presence, His everlasting love, His awesome power, His timeless peace.

I will lift up my eyes to the mountains

From whence comes my help.

My help is from the Lord,

Who made the heaven and the earth.

Amen.

Lessons: Psalm 121; Luke 12:16-40; DP 59

Divine Providence 59

It has not been known before this that the Divine Providence in all its proceedings with a human being regards his eternal state. It can regard nothing else, because the Divine is Infinite and Eternal, and the Infinite and Eternal, that is, the Divine, is not in time, and hence all future things are present to Him. And because this is the nature of the Divine, it follows that the eternal is in all things that it does, in general and in particular. Those, however, who think from time and space have difficulty in perceiving this, not only because they love temporal things, but also because they think from what is present in the world and not from what is present in heaven, for this to them is as far away as the end of the earth. When, however, those who are in the Divine think from what is present, they think also from what is eternal, because they think from the Lord. They say to themselves, “What is that which is not eternal? Is not the temporal comparatively as nothing, and does it not also become nothing when it comes to an end? It is not so with what is eternal; that alone is, because its being (esse) has no end.” To think thus while thinking from what is present is to think at the same time from what is eternal; and when a person so thinks, and at the same time so lives, then the Divine Proceeding with him, that is, the Divine Providence, regards in all its progress the state of his eternal life in heaven, and leads him to that state. It will be seen in what follows that the Divine regards what is eternal in all people, the wicked as well as the good.

HEALING BLINDNESS

HEALING BLINDNESS
A Sermon by Rev Brian W. Keith
Preached in Glenview, Illinois
September 29, 1991

Blindness is a terrible affliction. Imagine not being able to see the incredible array of colors, especially when fall is drawing near. Imagine not being able to read a map or see the beauties brought to us through the lenses of cameras. And imagine not being able to see a child ride his bike or a friend smile. While a heightening of the other senses can enable someone to manage without sight, a wonderful element is thereby removed from life, and the person is surrounded with a shroud of darkness.

While natural blindness is certainly a frustrating and painful condition, it merely reflects the kind of problems where there is spiritual blindness in our lives. Spiritual blindness causes us to flail around in our lives, not really knowing or being certain of what we ought to do or what kind of person we can become.

Spiritual blindness exists wherever there is ignorance. Where someone lacks a knowledge of who the Lord really is, of the process of regeneration, and of the nature of the world the Lord intends us to live in forever, there is a terrible void in a person’s life. Yes, someone can go through life, attending to numerous responsibilities, doing his job, taking care of the home, and apparently being a healthy, useful member of society. So where there is ignorance about spiritual matters, that life is shrouded in darkness. It is without any real purpose or direction.

But worse than that are those whose religious beliefs foster blindness. Those who have been taught that matters of religion are best left to the theologians and cannot be understood by the average person are having their spiritual eyes put out. For when someone is told to accept something on faith with no real understanding, with no real appreciation of the truth, there is a darkening and claustrophobic feeling.

Spiritual blindness is not simply a problem of whether one can recite information or even feel comfortable just understanding how the world works. For being blind spiritually has significant problems even as natural blindness does in this world. As our natural sight enables us to see hazards to avoid them and shows us better paths to follow, so a spiritual sight of truth can lead us to steer around hellish situations and direct us on heavenly paths. And fortunately, where spiritual sight is lacking, our lives are often reduced to the lowest common denominator, namely what we want to do. Sometimes what we want to do is all right, but often it is not all right. In fact it may be destructive, self-centered, and painfully hurtful to those around us. If we don’t have a clear sight of the difference between right and wrong, then anything we desire to do may seem all right.

The example given from the lesson in Divine Providence is most telling in this regard. Where there is not a clear sight of marriage, of how one man and one woman can deeply love each other and receive a genuine eternal love that is different from any other from the Lord, it is so easy to justify all manner of less-than-orderly situations. Without a clear vision of marriage, adultery seems relatively unimportant, simply a friendly contact between people, not much different from shaking hands or talking in a restaurant. Casual sexual relations can easily be justified wherever there is not that clear sight of what sex can mean inside of marriage and how destructive it is outside of marriage.

A miracle the Lord did in healing the blind man points to how our blind spots can be healed, how we can see to walk in the Lord’s path.

As the Lord was in a small fishing village by the Sea of Galilee named Bethsaida, some people brought a blind man to Him wanting the Lord to heal him. It is noteworthy that the blind man did not call out to the Lord nor perceive Him by Himself. For one of the traits of spiritual blindness is the lack of recognition that one needs any help. Often we don’t know where our blind spots are. We think we see things so clearly that our way is the right way, that all others are wrong. It’s only when others bring us to the Lord, pointing out an imperfection that we have, challenging a tradition, that we have the possibility of being healed.

Obviously the people who brought the man assumed that the Lord could heal him; they could not. Our blindness is never really healed by other people. Yes, we listen to them, have them criticize our ideas or suggest different ways for us to live. But their talking means little or nothing to us unless we sense something of the Divine there. Even as that blind man did not resist their taking him to the Lord, so our blindness can begin to be cured when we allow others to lead us to where the Lord is in our lives.

Interestingly, unlike many other miracles done immediately, the Lord took the man by the hand and led him out of town. Naturally there’s no good reason for this to occur because the Lord could heal anywhere He wanted. But spiritually the town Bethsaida describes the state of hell in which we may be living. When we are actually doing what’s wrong, living in a disorderly way, the Lord can’t heal us. It’s only when we step out of the problem and move away from the situation that we are willing and able to have our eyes opened to what the problem really is. If we are locked into one way of looking at things or one method of behavior, our eyes cannot be opened.

Then the Lord spit in the man’s eyes. While we would consider this a rather unclean approach, the fluid from the Lord’s mouth was symbolic of the truth that He wants us to see. What’s more, it affects us when it hits us in the eyes. When we realize that the Lord is telling us not to embellish our stories, in effect lying to make ourselves look better, then we see what the Lord is telling us.

The Lord also put His hands on the man. And what this means is a communication of everything of one’s life. For the message is that our spiritual eyes are not opened to what is good and evil simply by the facts being told to us. Rather it’s when we sense that this is the Lord’s message for us to help us not to condemn, not to harm but when we sense the Lord’s love and mercy there, then our eyes are opened.

It’s interesting that the Lord posed a question to the man, asking him if he saw anything. Now the Lord was not so unaware as to what the effect would be that He was seeking information from the man for His own sake to see if the miracle worked or not! The purpose of His question here, as with all His questions, is to encourage us to respond. Yes, the Lord does know everything about us, but He wants us to understand by thinking and by speaking. It has been said that no one truly knows anything until he is able to explain it to a child. The process of struggling to grasp an idea so that it can be communicated to someone else anchors it in our minds in a way not possible otherwise. This is why the Lord asked the question, not because He needed to know but so that the man could analyze what was happening to him. What this means for us is that as we are taking in information from the Lord’s Word, it will tend to be pushed to the most remote parts of our memory unless we are engaged in talking about it with other people. Perhaps we are wondering about how the Lord’s providence works, say when there’s an unexpected death or an apparently amazing bit of good fortune. We can wonder about the subject, read about it, and really feel as if we have gained a new insight. But if we don’t share that with others by trying to express it to them, it will tend to drift off and be forgotten. And we should not assume that we are just imposing our ideas on others, be they within our small circle of friends or even outside of the church. Because if someone is a friend, he or she is interested not just in spending time with us but in hearing what we think. To communicate ideas is not to impose but to share.

The man whose sight was being returned then responded that he saw men “like trees walking.” The reason his sight was not clear at first is that our initial grasp of any subject is rather stiff and unfocused men like trees. For we can’t come to all the answers right away. To gain deep insights into providence, into the process of regeneration, does not occur immediately. For wisdom is not synonymous with our first instruction. Yes, we sense the presence of the Divine and we are excited by the light that we see there. This is the light of the trees walking. But our sight is obscure and we shouldn’t be upset when our initial thoughts of a subject or our initial understanding of a subject is flawed.

The Lord did not leave the man in that quasi-seeing state. He put His hands on the man’s eyes again and had him look up, at which point he was restored and saw everyone clearly. The Lord’s putting His hands on the man a second time describes a kind of illustration, enlightenment, that comes after we have digested ideas and worked with them for a while. What this means is that we can’t assume our knowledge on any subject is adequate or that it is sufficiently organized in our minds to see clearly. Our blindness, at least a haziness, remains until the Lord is able to place His hands upon us again. For this to happen we need continual contact with the Divine. The man who saw men like trees walking could have left it at that point. He could have been satisfied with a partial restoration. But he stayed. The Lord wants us to stay too. He wants us to continue the process of learning, of thinking, and of gradually understanding so that our first sight is not our last.

The sight that the man regained can be ours when we have a depth of understanding of what is true, not simply a knowledge of the facts, not a rudimentary understanding of them, but a clear sight of what they mean. So when we think about the teachings revealed in the New Church about a life after death, they are not simply ideas that are interesting or attractive, but they are an expression of the Lord’s love and mercy and a description of what can be ours. They come alive when we sense their power and the fact that they are not abstractly applied to someone else, but they are intended to depict for us what the Lord would give us.

Or when we think about the ideas concerning use, our ability to affect others for the better, they can at first be very general unfocused ideas that we ought to have a job and do something productive with our life, an idea which is men like trees walking. But when we sense the Lord’s presence in what we do for other people, even in the mundane tasks that don’t seem to be well rewarded here, then we see clearly and are able to see light that really is the Lord’s presence with us.

Blindness exists with everyone. And the Lord constantly works to heal that blindness. If we will allow ourselves to be brought into the Lord’s presence by the questions or encouragement of our friends and loved ones, and if we will then allow the fluid truth from the Lord’s Word to touch our unseeing eyes, it will allow Him to touch our hearts so that we may know that He is our God. Then we may begin to see. At first it will not be clear or perfect; many will be the times we will see men like trees walking. But if we allow the Lord to remain with us, if we retain our contact with Him in the Word and in worship, then He can continue to touch us, healing all our blindness, giving us a sight of all things living.

This is the Lord’s will for us, that from being blind we might see, that from being trapped by falsities and distorted ideas we might have a true picture of what heaven is like, both after death and in our life now. Amen.

Lessons: Mark 8:22-30; DP 144

Divine Providence 144

Neither can anyone be reformed in a state of blindness of the understanding. These also have no knowledge of truths, and consequently of life; for the understanding must teach truths and the will must do them; and when the will does what the understanding teaches, its life is fashioned according to truths. But when the understanding is blinded, the will is also closed up, and from freedom according to its reason it does only the evil that is confirmed in the understanding, which is falsity. Moreover, the understanding is blinded not only by ignorance but also by religion that teaches blind faith, and also by false doctrine. For as truths open the understanding, so falsities close it; they close it from above but open it from below, and the understanding, open only below, cannot see truths but can merely confirm whatever it wills, especially falsity. The understanding is also blinded by the lusts of evil. As long as the will is in these it moves the understanding to confirm them; and so far as the lusts of evil are confirmed, it is impossible for the will to be in the affections of good and to see truths from them, and thus to be reformed.

For example, when one is in the lust of adultery his will, which is in the delight of his love, moves his understanding to confirm it, saying, “What is adultery? Is there anything wicked in it? Is there not the same thing between husband and wife? Cannot children be born from adultery just as from marriage? Cannot a woman admit more than one without harm? What has the spiritual to do with this?” So thinks the understanding which is then the courtesan of the will, and so stupid has it become from debauchery with the will that it cannot see that marriage love is spiritual, heavenly love itself, an image of the love of the Lord and of the church from which it is derived, and thus that it is in itself holy, that it is chastity itself, purity and innocence; and that it makes men to be forms of love, since consorts can love each other mutually from inmost things and thus form themselves into loves; and that adultery destroys this form and with it the image of the Lord; and what is horrible, that the adulterer mingles his life with the husband’s life in his wife, for a man’s life is in the seed.

As this is profane, therefore hell is called adultery, and heaven on the other hand is called marriage. Moreover, the love of adultery communicates with the lowest hell but true marriage love communicates with the inmost heaven; and the organs of generation in both sexes also correspond to societies of the inmost heaven. These things have been recorded that it may be known how blinded the understanding is when the will is in the lust of evil; and that no one can be reformed in a state of blindness of the understanding.

DIVINE ORDER

DIVINE ORDER
A Sermon by Rev. Daniel W. Heinrichs
Preached in Boynton Beach, Florida, July 12, 1992

“Order my steps in Your Word, and let no iniquity have dominion over me” (Psalm 119:113).

Our text is a prayer, a prayer to the Lord, a prayer that He order our life according to the truth of His Word and thereby free us from the domination of evil loves and wayward thoughts. It is a prayer that the Lord reform and regenerate us. Implicit in this prayer is the acknowledgment that the power to change is from the Lord and not in ourselves.

“Order my steps in Your Word!” In effect, we are asking the Lord to introduce order into our lives. When we speak of order, what do we have in mind? What is order? Order may be defined as the Divine laws which govern the universe. In thinking of the universe, we should beware lest we limit our thought to the material plane the created natural universe of suns and planets, solar systems and galaxies; we should have in mind the created universe on every plane, both spiritual and natural from the inmost heaven right down to the earth we live on.

On every plane, from the inmost to the outmost, the Lord governs all things according to Divine laws of order according to His Word. If we wish to live in the happy state for which the Lord created us, if we yearn to be free from the dominion of evil loves, then we must learn the laws of order from the Word and live according to them. The truth of this becomes very evident if we consider first the realm of the natural universe.

There was a time and not so very long ago when very little was known of the laws which govern the natural environment in which we live. Superstition was rife. The earth was thought to be flat; it was believed that the sun rose above and sank below its edge. Then people began to study the stars and their movements, and the science of astronomy was born. Methodical observations were made and carefully checked. The accumulated data were analyzed and conclusions drawn. Postulates were made and methodically tested. From these studies a new concept of the natural universe opened up which had far-reaching consequences; among other things it led to improved navigation. This in turn led to the systematic exploration of our globe. This resulted in tremendous changes in the way of life for people on our planet.

The quality of natural life has benefitted in innumerable ways from the development of such sciences as chemistry, physics, agronomy, horticulture, and animal husbandry, not to mention mechanics, electronics, and aerodynamics. Through the development of these sciences, a much fuller and more efficient use has been made of the earth’s resources. We may say that through the discovery of the Divine laws of order on the plane of nature, and by ordering our steps according to these laws, tremendous advancement has been made on the natural plane of life.

Admittedly, many erroneous conclusions were drawn as well as mistakes made in application. Many people abused the knowledge derived from these studies and exploited the environment for selfish ends. While this is true, it does not negate the fact that great progress has been made through the discovery of these Divine, natural laws of order.

Consider also those sciences which are more closely related to human beings: the sciences of biology, anatomy, physiology, and psychology. Since the development of these sciences it is now generally recognized that there are definite laws which govern physical and mental growth. From a study of these laws, and by acting in harmony with them, significant advances have been made in the field of education and the detection and treatment of mental disorders. By ordering our steps according to these Divine natural laws, the potential for human development and achievement has been greatly increased, with a corresponding deepening and extension of man’s potential for being of use to his fellow human beings and to society.

The progress we have been speaking of has been the result of people studying, discovering and learning natural laws, and ordering their steps according to those laws. They have been able to make this progress because the operations of these laws are observable. But man is not merely a natural being we are also spiritual, and there are Divine laws which govern the growth and development of our spirits. These laws are above human consciousness. We cannot discover them by natural observation, analysis, and induction. These spiritual laws are revealed by the Lord in what we call Divine revelation, or the Word.

Only when these laws are known and understood, and as man’s steps are ordered in them, can we expect to see a development of man’s full potential. Much that is wrong in the world today results from our failure to recognize, or refusal to acknowledge, this truth. Great efforts have been made in recent years to improve the human condition. The extension of educational opportunities and the improvement in educational facilities have been undertaken on a grand scale. Extensive social welfare schemes have been devised and implemented.

Unfortunately, the philosophical underpinning of most of these efforts has been an erroneous belief and assumption that man is intrinsically good, and that the evils which beset human society are due to ignorance, an imperfect environment, and corrupt human institutions. While certain benefits have resulted from these efforts, they have also created a host of other problems. The real ills of human society have not been cured; nor will they ever be through such efforts alone.

There is a teaching in the Word which reveals the reason for this. The teaching is striking for its directness and simplicity. It states: “In the other life everything is possible that is in conformity with order. The Divine truth which proceeds from the Lord is what makes order and is order itself. Consequently, as everything that is according to Divine truth is according to order, it is possible; and as everything that is contrary to Divine truth is contrary to order, it is impossible” (AC 8700, emphasis added).

It is a Divine truth that man is a spiritual being. It is also a Divine truth that since the fall of the Most Ancient Church, man, by heredity, tends toward evil. It is a Divine truth that we must be reformed and regenerated if we are to experience true, lasting peace and happiness. To ignore these truths, to act apart from them, is to act contrary to order. That which is contrary to order is impossible! It is, therefore, impossible to cure the ills of society without reference to these and other Divine truths. Conversely, when the Divine truth is known and acknowledged, and when man’s steps are ordered in the Word, then such improvement and the perfection of society are possible, for “everything is possible that is in conformity with order” (AC 8700).

The same thing is true of us individually. Presumably we are all desirous of attaining a state of deep happiness, inmost contentment and peace of mind. We also desire the same for the children entrusted to our care. And this is possible. It is possible if our steps are ordered in the Word. It is therefore fitting that we should pray to the Lord: “Order my steps in Your Word, and let no iniquity have dominion over me” (Text).

As we said in the beginning, implicit in this prayer is the acknowledgment that the power to do this is from the Lord and not in ourselves that we need His help and guidance. But this does not mean that there is nothing we can do to help. The end cannot be achieved without man’s cooperation. Otherwise, we would not appropriate the results to ourselves. And the cooperation required of us is this: that we act as of ourselves to achieve the desired end with the acknowledgment that the Lord alone does it.

To this end the Lord has given the Word to us. In the Word the Lord tells us what is evil and what is good. He tells us what evils are to be shunned, why they are to be shunned, and how they are to be shunned. He tells us what goods are to be done, why they should be done, and how they should be done.

As we order our thoughts, our speech and our deeds in conformity with these teachings, the Lord, from within, orders our inmost loves and affections in a corresponding manner. As we shun evils in the externals of thought, speech and act, the Lord removes the lusts which gave rise to them. As we think, speak, and act with self-compelled consideration and charity for others in accordance with the teaching of the Word, the Lord implants within us a love of doing the same, together with a living perception of how the love should be expressed. As we order our steps in the Lord’s Word, He orders our lives therein.

In the new revelation which the Lord has given us the Word of the Second Advent the Divine laws of order are set forth as fully and completely as is possible in words of human language.

We live in a terribly confused and troubled world. We are not untouched by this trouble and confusion. But let us realize that we can escape from this disordered state. There is a haven of happiness, peace and hope for us. It lies in going to the Word, learning there the Divine laws of order, and ordering our steps therein. As we do this, so will the Lord lead us forth from the dominion of iniquity into the happiness and peace of the heavenly state. Amen.

Lessons: Numbers 9:15-23; Psalm 119:129-144; DP 125, 126

Divine Providence 125, 126

These angelic truths are stated here in order that it may be understood how the Divine Providence of the Lord operates to unite man to Himself and Himself to man. This operation does not act upon any particular of man separately but upon all things at the same time, and is effected from the inmost of man and from his ultimates at the same time. The inmost of man is his life’s love, his ultimates are what reside in the external of his thought, and intermediates are what reside in the internal of his thought. It has been shown in the foregoing numbers what the nature of these is in a wicked man; and from these considerations it is again made clear that the Lord cannot act from inmost things and ultimates at the same time except together with man, for in ultimates, man and the Lord are together. Therefore as man acts in ultimates which are matters of his choice, because they are within the scope of his freedom, so the Lord acts from his inmost things and in the things ranging in series to his ultimates. What the inmost things of man contain and what is present in the series from the inmost things to the ultimates are totally unknown to man; and man is therefore quite unaware of how the Lord operates and what He accomplishes there; but as those things are linked together as one with the ultimates, man need not know more than that he should shun evils as sins and look to the Lord. In this and in no other way can his life’s love, which by birth is infernal, be removed by the Lord and a heavenly life’s love be implanted in its place.

When the Lord has implanted a heavenly life’s love in place of the infernal one, then there are implanted affections of good and truth in place of the lusts of evil and falsity; and in place of the delights of the lusts of evil and falsity there are implanted the delights of the affections of good; and in place of the evils of infernal love there are implanted the goods of heavenly love. Then also instead of cunning there is implanted prudence, and instead of thoughts of malice there are implanted thoughts of wisdom. Thus man is born again and becomes a new man. The kinds of good that take the place of evils may be seen in The Doctrine of Life for the New Jerusalem (nos. 67-73, 74-79, 80-86, 87-91); also, that so far as a man shuns and turns away from evils as sins he loves the truths of wisdom (Life n. 32-41); and so far he has faith and is spiritual (Life n. 42-52).

THE MAMMON OF UNRIGHTEOUSNESS

THE MAMMON OF UNRIGHTEOUSNESS

A Sermon by Rev. Ragnar BoyesenPreached in Freeport, Pennsylvania, on October 20, 1985

 

“And the lord commended the unjust steward because he had done wisely: for the children of this world are in their generation wiser than the children of light. And I say unto you, Make friends for yourselves of the unrighteous mammon, that when ye fail, they may receive you into everlasting habitations” (Luke 16:8, 9).

The parable of the mammon of unrighteousness is one of the most difficult to explain seen from the background of New Testament morals and ideas. On the surface it looks as if the Lord is commending dishonesty, but the reality is His speech to the natural and the spiritual worlds at the same time. If one takes the literal sense alone as true, self-contradictions are inevitable. Did not the Lord Himself say that man should fulfill the law, and that theft was prohibited according to the law of Moses? Had not the Jewish people known this for centuries?

In the natural sense we see a cunning man well-versed in the usages of the world who grasps the opportunity to free himself from financial ruin by unjustly transferring his master’s assets to the debtors. In this way he achieves favor with them. In a critical situation the householder shows that he has foresight, has a quick perception of needs, and exhibits strong self-preservation. When he was disengaged from his service, he had managed to provide for his future needs.

The parallel on the spiritual level is as clear as the meaning of the natural story. Simply stated, it admonishes the man of the church to use prudence and foresight in spiritual things. The question of importance is not whether we amass natural wealth but that we have loved to manage spiritual wealth even though we may have been surrounded by natural wealth. The question of stewardship is the real issue in the parable.

In today’s lesson it is explained that those people who worship self and the world are the same who confirm themselves against Divine Providence. The reason is that they take hold of externals alone, being unwilling to consider the purpose of life in this world. External and worldly people are often envious of others, and do not understand how some people can be better circumstanced than others without this reflecting an unfairness of society. Differences between material conditions of various people they call evil, and do not understand why obviously evil people often are economically better off while God-fearing and duty-loving members of society often are content with less. For the envy of riches becomes stumbling blocks and spiritual obstacles for evil people, while for good people worldly riches become confirmations of spiritual riches, to be used as means because they can further heavenly uses.

Because the Lord uses evil as well as good people in the administration of His creation, therefore He permits evil people to acquire those goods which they lust for when they have confirmed themselves in evil (see DP 250). Evil people may perform uses as fully as good people. They may even burn with a greater fire than do good people, because they see themselves portrayed in what they do. Their own self-love is decisive for what goals they have in life. The higher the self-love, the more unrealistic and sky-storming will be their ambitions, and therefore their goals. When such people do good for society, or for their country, they seek their own glory and fame. Because so few people on earth love use from a love to the Lord, therefore He permits those evil people to serve in the performance in those uses which rightly should have been done by good people. In this way the Lord’s work gets done. He governs these unrighteous servants of mammon through their love of self and the world.

If now the Lord permits the evil to do uses which good men should have performed, and He uses the lusts of these people as controlling means (because the love of the world can be directed outward into the world so that a semblance of order can be maintained there, even if it is done in the name of self), why should the man of the church have to be envious of others, or discredit the Lord’s Providence? Is it not good that the Lord is good? For regenerating people this is good, but for those lodged in evil it is evil, because their desires cannot be satisfied.

The mammon of unrighteousness has a special significance in the spiritual meaning of the New Testament. This mammon stands as a symbol for the knowledges of faith and love acquired by evil people. When the main weight of the parable lies on the spiritual stewardship, we are led to see that evil people are dishonest stewards of spiritual riches. (With the spiritual man, mammon is a means; with the natural man apart from the spiritual, mammon is an end. With the spiritual man, knowledges are means, but with the natural man, knowledges are ends.) When evil people use truths and goods, it is for an egotistical reason. But when regenerating people make friends with the mammon of unrighteousness, this means that the fame and riches of this world will not be a snare for them, but rather a blessing. Evil people set their hearts in riches and fame as an end, and are condemned for it. By this type of “worship” the honorable means called “mammon” (money) becomes the “mammon of unrighteousness,” or put in modern words, dirty money. By this type of perverse worship the merely natural man robs the true riches belonging to the Lord, and claim them to himself, not as a means but an extension of self. The regenerating man, on the other hand, develops a friendly relationship to money when he understands that the riches of the world and the glories here are to be respected as blessings for the performance of uses which the Lord desires done to society. By a rational view of means, a regenerating man does not wrap his heart in natural riches, but rather opens it to spiritual riches. To him the knowledges of the Lord, the Word, the life of charity and eternal life become living means whereby he explores the subjects of his love. The regenerating man seeks heavenly riches among earthly knowledges because he seeks to confirm what he knows of the relationship between the Lord and His children.

Like the dishonest householder, however, we are all of us guilty of spiritual manipulations. We are not able to leave a totally honest account of our lives when the Lord will place us to face our lives in the other world. Much have we squandered; many possibilities for true helpfulness and unselfish action have been lost. Many strong thoughts and practical ideas were never followed through to their practical consequences. In short, the natural man has all too often shown an unwillingness to subordinate itself to the spiritual man in us. But even if the natural man in us is condemned, the Lord loves the possibility of eternal use which He has planted in our inmost soul. When we all leave this earth when we die, we are going to be put in a similar situation as the dishonest householder. After death we will all be separated from the management of our purely natural lives. We have a preview in our lesson this morning: “Then the steward said within himself, What shall I do? For my master is taking the stewardship away from me. I cannot dig; I am ashamed to beg. I have resolved what to do that when I am put out of the stewardship, they may receive me into their houses” (Luke 16:3, 4). We remember how he called the debtors and asked the one who owed 100 measures of oil to write 50 in his bill of debt. The one who owed 100 measures of wheat was asked to write 80. And we read that “… the master commended the unjust steward because he had dealt shrewdly. For the sons of this world are more shrewd in their generation than the sons of light” (Luke 16:8).

In the parable the Lord is the rich man. All that is good and true can come from Him and no other source. The Lord is personally the good and the truth which, when they become life principles in men, are their very riches on this earth and in the eternal world.

In its most general form, the church on earth is the steward of all the Lord’s riches presented in this world. The church must therefore act with prudence in its management of spiritual riches, and not serve its own ends but those of the Lord. To dare to pay the price of spiritual striving to do a higher will than its own is ever the challenge of the church.

The individual man of the church has been given such riches as come to us through environment, inheritance and applications. They are all good gifts which must be managed for the Lord. But unfortunately, we are often like the unjust steward. We dishonestly squander the riches of our Lord. Particularly are spiritual riches squandered when religion is confessed with the mouth yet the individual lifestyle shows that there is a lack of concern for using truths. Even the church as a whole is a squanderer of truth when it teaches derived doctrine as Divine doctrine, and makes itself blind to the evils and bad habits of its people.

Fortunately, we have that overriding spiritual gift which makes us, like the unjust steward, draw back from blatant consequences. When our conscience is awakened from its sleep, we may realize that we genuinely need the help of others. This awakening often causes us to feel that the Lord is coming closer to us, and that evils in us will for that reason make a more vigorous resistance. If we have spiritual courage, and dare to look into the causes of our resistance, we may come to a deeper level of self-examination which truly will show us how we can account for the Lord’s riches in our lives. Those evil spirits who are with us at the time may assuredly try to convince us that everything is lost because we have been asked to render an account. The hells will try to prove that the Lord does no longer think that we are stewards because we have made errors. Yet this can be broken, and our confidence reestablished, if we but remember that we are not only stewards but also debtors.

In the midst of temptation we may cry out: “I am unable to dig.” The temptation is that we believe ourselves incapable of the mental energy to go to the Lord in the Word. To dig, in the internal sense, is to search out the origins, to learn those spiritual principles which all natural life shall serve. We know that we must trust the Lord and ask Him for spiritual help, but it is a real temptation to leave all striving to the Lord, to make Him responsible for our spiritual account. Everything is certainly a gift from the Lord, but He desires that we take these gifts into our accounts to let them work there so that our “household” will prosper.

The unjust steward is incapable of this. He is not capable of begging. What is evil in us knows all too well that it misrepresents truths; therefore, it is unwilling to receive such help which could lead to a heavenly life. What is evil in man feels uncomfortable and unprepared for death, and would rather not think of eternity because it does not know what to do or where to live.

Being pressed by such thoughts, the natural man in us is forced to find a solution. Just as evil spirits are dependent upon the angels of heaven for a balance against deadly hatred toward others, so is the natural man dependent upon the rational man which can draw on the truths in the Word without necessarily using them. The natural man in us can never contain or comprehend many truths which are truly rational such as a regenerating man or an angel can, but the natural in us may at all events be able to see that there is a great need for new truths to come forward even to life.

The householder making the debtors write 50 measures of oil and 80 measures of wheat stands for that love in man that is a product of spiritual love, which is less than a celestial love. In the spiritual man, 50 is a symbol of that which comes from the Lord and which has been strengthened. This is the same as salvation for the natural man when he follows the Lord in the Word. Eighty stands for those temptations which are from a greater degree of difficulty. That the householder could not pay back 100 measures of oil and 100 measures of wheat are symbols for the dependence upon the Lord. Man can never pay back all the riches he receives from the Lord. It belongs to his humility to reflect on this.

Like the unjust steward who drew back from begging, so does the natural man draw back from listening to the voice of the Lord in his conscience, when the Lord asks us, as it were, to pay Him back by bending our minds to charitable thoughts and actions. From the natural man we will never gain confidence in our ability to be saved by working for salvation. Yet by using prudence as a means, we may manage our spiritual household in such a way that what is eternal can be present even in the natural. By this shall we be received into the houses of angels after death.

In this parable we are taught that we are to search for what is heavenly in practical life. Like worldly people can manage their affairs in this world, so shall we, as the Lord’s servants, see to our spiritual interests in the spiritual world. The Lord teaches us to have a determined and well-formed purpose in life. He wants us to regenerate. This is that spiritual aim we are never to lose sight of. We must put all our strength into trying to reach this aim, and while on the road, we must use the world and its friends as our own friends, yet subservient to the Lord. There is nothing in the world which in itself is evil. Only man’s use of the world can be said to be so. When we have been asked to avoid being unjust stewards of the Lord’s goods, then we shall take the knowledges of good and truth and apply them without pessimism, without ill will or loathing, which is the way of the evil man. Like an angel, we shall apply truths in life, and for that reason stay faithful in small as in great tasks.

“He who is faithful in what is least is faithful also in much, and he who is unjust in what is least is unjust also in much. Therefore if you have not been faithful in the unrighteous mammon, who will commit to your trust the true riches? And if you have not been faithful in what is another man’s, who will give you what is your own? You cannot serve God and mammon” (Luke 16:9-13). Amen.

Lessons: Genesis 44:1-17, Luke 16:1-13, DP 250

 


Divine Providence

250 The worshiper of himself and of nature confirms himself against the Divine Providence when he sees the impious exalted to honors and to high offices in church and state, also abounding in wealth and living in luxury and magnificence, while he sees the worshipers of God despised and poor. The worshiper of himself and of nature believes dignities and wealth to be the highest and the only happiness that can be granted, thus happiness itself; and if he has any thought of God from a sense of worship instilled in infancy, he calls them Divine blessings; and so long as he is not puffed up by them he thinks that there is a God, and even worships God. But there lies hidden in the worship what he is himself then ignorant of, an aspiration to be raised up by God to still higher dignities, and to still greater wealth; and when he reaches these, his worship tends more and more to outward things, even until it falls away, and at length he despises and denies God; and he does the same if he is cast down from the dignity and opulence on which he has set his heart. What, then, are dignities and wealth to the wicked but stumbling blocks?

But to the good they are not so, because they do not set their hearts on them, but on the uses or the goods in the performance of which dignities and wealth are of service as means. Therefore only he that is a worshiper of himself and nature can confirm himself against Divine Providence because of the advancement of the impious to honors and wealth and to high offices in church and state. Moreover, what is dignity greater or less? And what is opulence greater or less? In itself is it anything but an imaginary something? Is one person more fortunate or happier than another? Does a great man, or even a king or emperor, after a single year, regard the dignity as anything more than something common, which no longer exalts his heart with joy, but may even become worthless to him? Are such by virtue of their dignities in any greater degree of happiness than those who are in less dignity, or even in the least, like farmers and even their servants? These, when all goes well with them and they are content with their lot, may have a greater measure of happiness. What is more restless at heart, more frequently provoked, more violently enraged, than self-love; and this as often as it is not honored according to the pride of its heart, and as often as anything does not succeed according to its wish and whim? What, then, is dignity if it does not pertain to some matter or use, but an idea? And can there be such an idea in any thought except thought about self and the world, which essentially in itself is that the world is everything and the eternal nothing?

Something shall now be said about the Divine Providence, why it permits the impious in heart to be raised to dignities and enriched with possessions. The impious or wicked can perform uses equally with the pious or good, and even with greater zeal, for they have regard to themselves in the uses and to the honors as the uses; therefore, to whatever height the love of self climbs, the lust of performing uses for the sake of its own glory burns in it. With the pious or good there is no such fire, unless unconsciously kindled by some feeling of honor. Thus the Lord governs the impious in heart who are in places of dignity by the glory of their name, and incites them to the performance of uses to the community or country, to the society or city in which they dwell, and to their fellow citizen or neighbor with whom they are associated. This is the Lord’s government, which is called the Divine Providence with such; for the Lord’s kingdom is a kingdom of uses, and where there are but few who perform uses for the sake of uses, He causes the worshipers of self to be raised to the higher offices, in which each one is incited to do good by means of his own love.

… Since, then, there are so few who are loves of God, and so many who are loves of self and the world, and since the latter loves from their fire perform uses more than the loves of God from theirs, how can anyone confirm himself [against the Divine Providence] because the evil are in eminence and opulence more than the good?

There Are Degrees of the Divine Providence

There Are Degrees of the Divine Providence

A father who is wise does not punish a two-year old in the same way as he might a boy of twelve; he knows that their appreciation of their transgressions is quite different. Similarly, the Divine wisdom dictates that the Lord’s provision for the leading of men takes account of the states in which they are. Some are spiritually children, others are approaching maturity. Some are in evil, some are in good, and most of us are in between.

“Like as a father pitieth his children, so the Lord pitieth them that fear Him. For He knoweth our frame; He remembereth that we are dust. . . . The mercy of the Lord is from everlasting to everlasting upon them that fear Him, and His justice unto children’s children; to such as keep His covenant, and to those that remember His commandments to do them” (Psalm 103)

To have mercy is to lead man from the place where he is toward heaven, not to set an ideal far beyond man’s present reach and then condemn him because he is not there. “He knoweth our frame; He remembereth that we are dust.” He accommodates His leading to us; never diminishing the ideal itself, never failing to present a perfect hope, but at the same time pointing out the first few steps on a path that will lead us away from our imperfect selves towards that heavenly goal. He does not say: “Find your own path, and when you are good enough then I will accept you.” He leads us through weakness. “If I make my bed in hell, behold, Thou art there. If I take the wings of the morning, and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, even there shall Thy hand lead me, and Thy right hand shall hold me.” (Psalm 139: 8-10)

The New Word describes, therefore, four general degrees of the Divine Providence: will, good pleasure, leave, permission. (See AC 2447, 9940; SD 892) One may say that the Divine will leads the celestial. The Divine good pleasure, on the other hand, is the grace of the Lord toward the spiritual who, relatively to the celestial, could be said to be in evil. Because of their willingness to love and serve the neighbor, however, the Lord is pleased to accept them and grant them His gifts. It was of the Divine good pleasure that the Lord was born on earth, for He came to save the spiritual. Therefore the phrase is used in the Writings: “It pleased Him to be born.” (See AC 10,579, 256)

The Divine “leave” appears to encompass natural good, be it genuine or merely a cover for internal evil. (See SD 2296, 3896. Cf. AC 2447) In other words, a man who performs charitable offices from a sense of external duty because it is his job does so from leave; so does a man who does the same thing from a purely selfish or evil motive. The first man comes under the Lord’s laws as to good, for He is leading him slowly to a greater good; the second, unless he repents, does not. (See AC 2447) Sometimes “leave” is divided into two – “leave” and “sufferance.” (See AC 17550)The implication is that “sufferance” has reference to natural good covering a state of evil, and “leave” to a genuine but merely natural state.

In summary, the Divine leave governs a merely natural state, whether of the lowest heaven or of hell. The Lord does not desire that men merely obey, still less that they obey with the lips but not with the heart; but He gives them leave so to be, that He may lead them further. Whereas leave compasses a state of external good, permission is the government where there is evil, usually both external and internal. Only a few things which are permitted fall under the Divine laws as to good, and we would assume that these are externally bad acts which are done with the utmost sincerity. (See AC 2447) In general, permissions are evils, which the Lord does not will, which do not please Him, and which He does not even suffer to be so. He permits, as one not willing, for the sake of the greater good.

These distinctions, which are discrete, are important.25 We frequently find that people are tempted to assign and attribute everything to the Divine Providence, with a few exceptions which they acknowledge as of permission. They forget about the things in between. A man may act in temper, cause a great deal of misery, and then on looking back he will see that something useful came out of it, so he will say: “Maybe I was meant to behave that way; see how it turned out.” The behavior was not meant. It was permitted and the good provided despite it. All too often people adopt a fatalistic attitude towards past faults, because it all “turned out for the best in the end.” Thus they take credit for the wisdom with which the Lord improved on their errors!

Let us take the example of a basically well-disposed young man in a promising position with a firm who develops a strong and unreasonable sense of grievance against his immediate superior, so much so that he eventually gives in to his anger, there is a nasty scene, and he resigns. He then finds another job and does very well there, too; and so, on looking back on his life he will say: “That change was for the best. Obviously I was meant to do that.” In saying this he excuses his ill-tempered behavior, and even insinuates the thought that the Lord willed him to leave the first firm, thus that he acted according to the Lord’s will. He did not. His action was wrong, but the Lord still led him and provided good for him, despite his wrong. Had he behaved well, he might have received greater benefits; he will never know, because that was not what happened.

Let us consider also the example of marriage. A young couple ought to believe, if they have searched themselves and each other, that their love is of the Lord’s will; but this does not mean that everything they are going to do from that time on in the name of their love will be of His will. There is a dangerous tendency to think this, to feel that because we have felt the joy of an ideal love which the Lord wills us to have, the rest of our married life will proceed also according to His will. Then, when we are motivated by selfish urges and find that a lot of our emotions in marriage are not as pure and ideal as they ought to be, we are downcast, and tend to question whether we ever truly loved each other. How, we ask, can such a bright vision fade? The truth is that the first of marriage love, that recognition that we were created to live to eternity together, is an acknowledgment of the Lord’s will. What follows, however, is a path in which two people walk together through things which partake of permission, leave and good pleasure toward that perfect goal. Many things we do in marriage may not be of the Divine will. We may be eternally thankful that He has other kinds of leading also, more accommodated to our state, which will enable us to reach in time the state in which we may be one flesh, which cannot be put asunder.

When we appreciate the infinitely patient and accommodating nature of the Lord’s Providence, we may understand better how things that we presently believe to be good are only partly good, and must fade in time, to make way for others which are more pleasing to our Maker. (See AC 4063, 3701, 4145)