Do spiritual symbols mean anything today?

One example of a spiritual symbol is the image of a tree of life.  This is a universal symbol – appearing in ancient wisdom. We find it across cultures, religions and mythology. It turns up as the Yggdrasil (the world tree) of Norse religion, as part of the Jewish Kabbalah and as an Armenian religious symbol, to mention just a few examples.

What does the Tree of life mean to us now?

The Tree of Life appears in the first book of the Bible, Genesis, and also the last – the book of Revelation. At the beginning and the end. It’s almost as if it’s the framework into which the rest of the Bible fits.

We find the Tree of Life at the beginning at the centre of a garden and at the end at the centre of a holy city that descends from heaven. Swedenborg’s interpretation of this spiritual symbolism helps me relate to this; it reflects my changing relationship with the Divine; it is different at the beginning from what it becomes or grows into at the end.

For me, the bits in-between are a depiction of my spiritual wanderings and challenges to reach a spiritual maturity; a deeper connection with my experience of what is spiritual and a living relationship with the Divine Creator.

What is the beginning of our life like?

God has no beginning but we as his finite creations definitely do begin at a point in time. Our beginnings start in an experience of unity and connection, in the oneness of the Divine, yet it is necessary for us to develop into conscious independent individuals in order to choose to return to the forgotten, lost unity and connection of the One Life that creates, loves and sustains us.

This wonderful unity and connection with all that is living, I see in the beautiful Garden of Eden. This undoubtedly idyllic and innocent picture relates to what we experience in the infancy of our spiritual life. It is in the centre of this Garden where we discover or experience the Tree of Life.

Trees are powerful symbols of enduring, substantial mental and spiritual attitudes.
For me, the Tree of Life symbolises the perception that we are all united and connected by the Creative Love that gives life to all. To have this at the centre of one’s life is to perceive that the One Life can be experienced in many facets in other people and the world of nature; the One in the many.

What is the journey through life like?

Another tree appears in the Garden – the tree of the knowledge of good and evil and this is very attractive to us. What sort of perception do we gain from eating its fruit? Its presence gives us a choice; do we decide what is good and true for ourselves or depend purely on it being revealed to us by God? We have minds of our own; surely we can decide for ourselves what we should do?

It is almost inevitable that we turn away from dependence on the Divine to choose and develop our own sense of identity, our ego. Life is then identified as being in the separate individual, myself, because that is what I experience. Therefore I no longer wish to be a part of the Garden of Eden experience which is about being receptive and dependant on Divine revelation.

So I embark on a long spiritual journey passing thought many trials and challenges in order to learn about myself and be self-sufficient.

A part of this quest for enlightenment is expressed in the following quotation from an article in Chrysalis magazine entitled Odyssey by David Garrett:

The loneliness of “coming to oneself” is acutely painful. At some point, in a mysterious way, the seeker dares to consider the possibility that the loneliness and the failure are because the quest was attempted entirely by his own efforts….For the first time, the seeker becomes experientially aware of an inner source that is deeper and more resourceful than the ego. As he/she turns to it, the feeling of being stuck recedes. The cold and barren world tingles and warms. The inner earth sprouts green shoots. Each time she/he consciously relates to the inner wise one, life quickens. When he /she ignores it, vitality ceases.

What is the end of my life like?

There is the possibility of discovering afresh the ‘tree of life’ perception in one’s spiritual maturity – but not in a garden. Now it is at the centre of a city. The Holy City at the end of the Bible is always descending from heaven, therefore I am once again open to Divine revelation coming from a God-given rationality, structured yet full of vitality and dynamism. This is an integration of all that has previously taken place in my experience and comes from heart, mind and service to others.

At the end of the journey one can re-discover what had been lost, and make one’s way back to the beginning to the Tree of Life – but it is different yet paradoxically the same. Perhaps what is to be discovered is always the same, eternal and enduring, but the change has taken place in oneself. This reminds me of the T.S. Eliot poem, Four Quartets, as follows;

We shall not cease from exploration
And at the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.
Through the unknown, remembered gate
When the last of the earth left to discover
Is that which was the beginning;
At the source of the longest river
The voice of the hidden waterfall
And the children in the apple-tree
Not known, because not looked for
But heard, half-heard, in the stillness
Between two waves of the sea.
Quick now, here, now, always –
A condition of complete simplicity
(Costing not less than everything)
And all shall be well and
All manner of thing shall be well….

Copyright 2010 Helen Brown

Chapter III. The Inmost or the Soul Proper.

 

THIS diagram presents that supreme or inmost degree A which is absolutely the first or initial structure in every man, spirit and angel.

Though all of man except the natural body is commonly called soul, yet.technically only this supreme or inmost degree is the soul. (TCR 697, 103; DLW 388.)

This soul is the veriest dwelling-place of the LORD. The LORD flows’ into this degree with love and wisdom as one, and thence forms, flows into, orders and preserves all the degrees below. (Inf. 8; HH 39; LJ 25.)

This inmost is composed of the highest and purest spiritual substances in man and lies above the plane of either human or angelic consciousness. The mind B, which is below this supreme degree and formed from it, is composed of grosser spiritual substances, and the spiritual body C of still grosser. (HH 39; LJ 25; Inf. 8, 14; S.D. 5548.)

Influx from the LORD enters first into this supreme or inmost degree, thence into the mind, thence into the spiritual body and from this into the natural body. (CL 101.)

This inmost is the primal and unconscious origin of the two great faculties of spiritual liberty and rationality by which man is distinguished from the brute, which faculties are essential elements of his nature, – liberty inhering in the will, rationality in the understanding. (LJ 25 ; DLW 240, 247; AC 1707; TCR 697 end.)

In Arcana Coelestia AC (n. 1940, 1889, 1707) this highest degree is called the internal man, all the planes below it being relatively the external man. It is also called the “human internal;” – the human internals of all men, spirits and angels form in the aggregate a vast complex degree called the heaven of human internals, which is above the inmost angelic heaven. (AC 1999.)

The angelic heavens lie within the region of consciousness. What transcends this region is above the angelic heavens and so appears in the sight of the LORD.

This supreme degree is the very Alpha of man, the material body is his Omega.

Doubtless it was from His residence in this highest degree that the LORD inflowed and filled the angels with His Divine when He appeared and spoke through them to the patriarchs and prophets. The private consciousness of the angel, in whatever plane below, being for the time suspended, the utterances were not his own but the LORD’S through him. (AC 1 745, 1925; AE 1228; DP 96.)

This supreme degree being the source of all the others is drawn in gold to represent sun Colour, because sun Colour, the perfect union of red and white, is the source of all other Colours. (See “Colour in the Diagrams,” page 12.)

The Lord Jesus Christ and The Divine Trinity

 

The Teachings of Swedenborg

Concerning

The Lord Jesus Christ and The Divine Trinity

by Philip N. Odhner

The One Infinite God.

Swedenborg teaches that there is one Infinite Supreme Being who created the universe and all things in it out of His Divine Love and Wisdom.

The human mind can see that God is infinite. For if God were finite, or limited, there would have to be something that made Him finite and limited. And in that case that thing which made Him finite and limited would be the real source and origin of all things, and thus would be the real God. So also the human mind can see that God is eternal. For if God were not eternal, then He had a beginning in time. And if He had a beginning in time, then there was something previous to Him from which He had origin, and that previously existing thing would be God.

Because God is infinite and eternal He is one. There cannot be two infinite Beings. If there were two or more supposedly infinite Beings, one would limit and finite the other, and thus neither would be infinite. To think or speak of two or more infinite Beings is a contradiction in itself. Such an idea cannot enter the understanding of man.

That the one infinite God is Wisdom can be seen by man from a view of the starry heavens, in which the suns and planets can be seen held in a wonderful order. It can be seen also from a view of anything in nature in its smallest parts. For the microscope reveals the most wonderful order in the least things of creation, even as the telescope reveals such an order in the greatest things.

God is Love. This can be acknowledged by man from the fact that the order existing in the created universe bespeaks a Divine Purpose therein. And especially can it be seen that God is Love in our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, who showed forth the most perfect love for the eternal salvation of the whole human race.

The Divine Purpose in Creation.

God is Love and Wisdom. In all that He does His Love and His Wisdom are present. Everything that exists is therefore part of His Purpose in creation. But what is the Divine Purpose in creation? Can this be expressed in a way that the human mind can grasp? Swedenborg teaches as follows: “There are two things that make the Essence of God. Love and Wisdom; but there are three things that make the essence of His Love: to others outside of Himself, to will to be one with them, and to bless them from Himself. . . . These things of the Divine Love were the cause of the creation of the universe, and are the cause of its conservation.” (The True Christian Religion, 43, 46.)

It is the nature of love to love others outside of self, to will to be conjoined with them in love, and to make them happy. This is evident in all true human relationships. It is preeminently true of God. In Him is all life, all love and all wisdom. His will therefore is to create others outside of Himself whom He can bless with the gift of His Life, His Love, His Wisdom. His will is to give to others that which is in Him. This is the cause of all creation.

But God, being infinite, cannot create another infinite Being, or another God or gods, to receive His Love and Wisdom. It is impossible for there to be two or more infinite Beings. If there were a God from God, that God from God would either have to be not infinite and not eternal, and thus not a real God, or He would have to be infinite and eternal and thus absolutely one with the first God. For God to create and love another God would thus be God loving Himself in Himself. And this is contrary to the essence of God, which is to love others outside Himself.

God could not create others who have life and love and wisdom in themselves, but He could create finite beings who could be formed into vessels of His Life and Love and Wisdom. For this reason God first created the physical universe. Out of His own Love and Wisdom, which are the origins of all life and motion, He made the physical universe and the dead and inert matters therein. Some idea of how God so created the physical universe out of His Love and Wisdom can be gathered from the discoveries of modern science, in which it is seen that the dead and inert matters of the earth are in fact composed of things in the highest motion.

Out of the dead and fixed things of nature God formed vessels which can receive His Life. These vessels are men, the human race. These vessels God gifts with liberty and rationality, so that they can if they will receive understanding from God in ever increasing measure, and by the perfection of their lives receive the Love of God in ever increasing measure. These vessels can become images and likenesses of God. In such images and likenesses of God the Divine Purpose of creation can find its fulfillment, for such beings can receive God’s love and wisdom freely, can feel them to be their own, and can freely return the love of God. Between the infinite God and such beings there can be eternal conjunction. In this way a true and everlasting relationship can be established between God and those created by Him outside of Himself. But because God’s Love is infinite therefore He looks to an eternal increase of those who can receive His life, and out of them He forms for Himself an eternal Heaven in an eternal world, which is the Spiritual World. In this Heaven those who have become images and likenesses of God advance forever in the understanding and love of God and their neighbours.

Consider carefully the Divine Purpose of creation here set forth. It means that God’s Purpose in creating you is to make you an image and likeness of Himself, to make you an angel of heaven, to give you into eternity an increasing understanding of Him and an increasing love of what is good and true from Him. That is His interest and concern with you and with everyone in the human race.

Consider whether there can be any other cause of creation, or any other reason for your existence? Have you heard of any other explanation that is in agreement with the Scriptures and with the dictates of your own reason concerning God?

The Advent of the Lord into the World.

Swedenborg teaches that mankind in their first state of creation were as children, innocent and obedient. From the influx of the Love of God into their minds they were able to perceive the truths concerning God in all things of creation. They loved God and they loved their neighbour. This is the state of mankind that is described in the Bible as the Paradise of Eden.

But as the knowledge and the natural understanding of mankind increased they began to feel and believe that they could lead themselves in all matters of faith and wisdom. They began to believe that they were good and wise, and denied the truth that they were only vessels of good and of wisdom from God. This is represented in the Scriptures by the eating of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Because of this disorder men fell from their state of love and wisdom. More and more they removed themselves from the influx of God into their souls and minds. Finally the human race came into a state in which the Divine Purpose of creation was threatened and the human race itself was threatened with spiritual destruction.

Because of the removal of man from his first state of reception of the Love of God, it was necessary that a new kind of conjunction between God and man should be established. This was accomplished by the coming of God the Creator into the world.

In the Scriptures of the Old Testament, which were Divinely inspired and given to men by God during man’s gradual decline from his first state, it is foretold and promised many times that He who created the world would come into the world to redeem and save mankind.

We here quote a few such places from the Old Testament:

“For thus saith the Lord (Jehovah) that created the heavens; God Himself that formed the earth and made it; He hath established it, He created it not in vain. . . . He formed it to be inhabited: I am the Lord (Jehovah) and there is none else.” (Isaiah 45:18.)

“Behold the Lord God (Lord Jehovih) will come with a strong hand, and His arm shall rule for Him.” (Isaiah 40:10.)

“Sing and rejoice, O daughter of Zion; for lo, I come and will dwell in the midst of thee, saith the Lord (Jehovah). (Zechar. 2:10.)

“Behold, the days come, saith the Lord (Jehovah), that I will raise up unto David a just Branch . . . and this is His Name whereby He shall be called, THE LORD (Jehovah) OUR RIGHTEOUSNESS.” (Jeremiah 23:5,6.)

“And all flesh shall know that I Jehovah am thy Saviour and thy Redeemer, the Mighty One of Jacob.” (Isaiah 49:26.)

“For I know that my Redeemer liveth, and that He shall stand in the latter day upon the earth.” (Job 19:25.)

“Let Israel hope in Jehovah … He shall redeem Israel from all his iniquities.” (Ps. 130:7,8.)

“Yet I am Jehovah thy God from the land of Egypt . . . and thou shalt know no other God but me; for there is no Saviour beside me.” (Hosea 13:4.)

From these passages it is clear that the Old Testament teaches that there is one God, who is called Jehovah God, and that this God calls Himself the Saviour and the Redeemer, as well as the Creator. But now consider the following passages from the Old Testament, which foretell the Coming of the Creator into the world, and which clearly refer to the Coming of the Lord Jesus Christ:

“The voice of him that crieth in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the Lord (the way of Jehovah), make straight in the desert a highway for our God.” (Isaiah 40:3.) It is said in the New Testament that this is a prophecy of John the Baptist, who prepared the way for the Lord Jesus Christ. Here, in the Old Testament, the one for whom John prepared the way is called Jehovah and “our God.”

“Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a Son, and shall call His Name Immanuel.” (Isaiah 7:14.) This prophecy is quoted in Matthew with reference to the birth of the Lord, and it is there added about the name Immanuel, “which being interpreted is, God with us.” (Matt. 1:23.) Here therefore the Lord is called God with us, in both the Old and the New Testaments.

“Lo, this is our God; we have waited for Him, and He will save us: this is the Lord (this is Jehovah) ; we have waited for Him, we will be glad and rejoice in His salvation.” (Isaiah 25:9.)

“Unto us a Child is born, unto us a Son is given; and the government shall be upon His shoulder: and His Name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The Mighty God, the Everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace.” (Isaiah 9:6.)

From the above passages from the Old Testament it is clear that the one infinite and eternal God, Jehovah God, the Creator of the universe, promised that He would come into the world, and that this promise refers to the Coming of the Lord Jesus Christ.

Swedenborg in his works shows not only that the Old Testament prophesies the coming of the Creator into the world, but also that the New Testament teaches that the Lord Jesus Christ is that Creator come into the world. This is taught in John, as follows:

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. (or, God was the Word.) The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made by Him; and without Him was not anything made that was made . . . And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.” (John 1:1-3, 14.)

How the Incarnation of God Took Place.

But how did God come into the world, and what did He do here that brings about the Redemption and salvation of the human race and makes possible again the conjunction of mankind with Him in the reception of His Love and Wisdom?

Swedenborg teaches that God came into the world by taking on a human body by means of birth from the virgin Mary. Consider what is said in the New Testament concerning the conception of the Lord Jesus Christ:

“And the angel answered and said unto her, The Holy Spirit shall come upon thee, and the Power of the Highest shall overshadow thee; therefore also that Holy thing which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God.” (Luke 1:35.)

This teaching can mean nothing else than that the one Infinite God was Himself the Father of the Lord Jesus Christ.

The Lord had no human father, as do all other human beings, but the infinite and eternal God was His Father. This means that the Lord had that in Him which was infinite and eternal, that which was life in itself. But because the Infinite cannot be divided as can the finite, this also means that God Himself was in Jesus Christ.

In the Lord Jesus Christ when He was first born into the world there were two distinct natures: that which He derived from Ilis Father, which was infinite and Divine, and that which He derived from Mary, which was merely human and which had within it the heredity of the human race.

Because the Lord had with Him that heredity from Mary He had with Him that which was mortal and vulnerable. In the heredity from Mary was the heriditary evil of the human race. He thus took on Himself the sins and iniquities of us all, and in His life in the world He overcame those evils in Himself. In that maternal heredity, which Swedenborg calls the maternal human of the Lord, the Lord met and conquered the evils which had taken possession of human minds and bodies. Through that maternal human the hells could attack His Divine Love for the salvation of the human race, and in it the Lord from His Divine soul met and conquered that attack.

Swedenborg teaches that two things took place by the incarnation of the Divine in the Lord Jesus Christ. First, the evil of the human race, hell itself, was subjugated by the Lord. The second thing was that the Lord during His life in the world reordered that human mind and body which He assumed through Mary, and conjoined and at length united it to His own Divine soul which He had from conception. This is what is called the Lord’s glorification. Through His glorification the Lord put off what He had derived from Mary and put on a new Human, the Divine Human, from His own Divine soul. Thus He made His Human Divine, and the Divine Human in Himself. Even as to the Human He became Life itself, Love itself and Wisdom itself.

As to His very soul, and also as to those things of His mind and body which the Lord had made one with the Divine, Jesus Christ was altogether one with the Father. As to those things of His human which had not yet been made Divine, He was as another person. This is why the Lord sometimes spoke of Himself as one with His Father, and at other times spoke as if the Father were another than Himself. But at His Resurrection the process of the glorification of His Human was complete, and then He was altogether one with the Father as to person and essence.

This may be illustrated in the following diagrams:

The Lord in His Human made Divine (D) is not another person than the Father, or another infinite and eternal God, but is the Father Himself clothed with the Human made Divine.

The Lord’s soul was Divine from conception. It was the Father in Him. And this is why the Lord taught that the Father was in Him. As the Lord glorified His Human, so that Human also was made Divine, and this is why the Lord says that He is one with the Father.

The one infinite and eternal God, now clothed in His Divine Human, is the Lord Jesus Christ glorified. He is God made Man, and Man made God. And in His Divine Human He has power over all things in heaven and on earth, as the Lord Himself says in Matthew:

“All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth.” (Matt. 28:18.)

In the Divine Human the one infinite and eternal God has so embodied and accommodated His Divine Love and Wisdom that He may be seen and approached by man in man’s fallen state. In His Divine Human He can inflow into our minds and influence us in the love of what is good and true in spite of the heriditary corruption of our nature. And in the Divine Human we can if we are willing come to the idea of God in a truly rational human form. Thus through His incarnation we can see Him and understand Him and love Him in a way that is far superior to anything that ever existed previous to His Advent into the world. For in His Divine Human the Lord is seeable, approachable, able to be understood and loved.

These things God has done out of His infinite Mercy and Love for the human race, to make possible again His Divine Purpose with men, that He might bless them with eternal life and be conjoined with them in Love.

These things are meant by this in John:

“No man hath seen God at any time; the only begotten Son, which is in the bosom of the Father, He hath declared Him.” (John 1:18.)

The Fruit or result of the Advent and Glorification of the Lord may be illustrated in the following diagrams:

1. A represents the Love and Wisdom of the one Infinite God flowing into men.
    B is the interior mind of man, into which the Lord could inflow before the fall.
    C. is the conscious or external mind of man into which the Lord also inflowed through the interior mind with those before the fall.
2. After the fall of man the interior mind was blocked up with evils, and the influx of God into man was obstructed.
3. A here represents the infinite Love and Wisdom clothed in the Divine Human. By means of this accommodation God can inflow directly into the conscious mind of man and enlighten it with truth and affect it with good. Through this man receives from the Lord the ability to fight against and remove the evils obstructing the interiors of his mind.

The Divine Trinity.

The New Testament speaks of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Many have understood this to mean that God is in three Divine Persons, each of whom is infinite and eternal, and each of whom is God and Lord. But the New Testament does not speak of Persons in God at all, much less of three Divine Persons existing from eternity.

It is admitted by many that the question of how three persons make one God is past all human understanding. And because of this mystery many people do not think deeply about God, believing that their minds are not capable of entering into such thought.

What does Swedenborg teach concerning the Divine Trinity?

From what has gone before in this lecture it can be seen that the Father, the one infinite and eternal God, is not one Divine Person and the Son another Divine Person. but that they are one. as soul and body are one. The Son. the Divine Human, is the Divine Body, and the Father is the Divine Soul in that Divine Bodv. Even as the soul and body of a man are not two people, but one person, so the Father and the Son, the Divine and the Divine Human of the Lord are one Divine Person.

But what then of the Holy Spirit?

Swedenborg teaches that the Holy Spirit is the Lord’s own Divine Spirit going forth from Him to men and angels. It is the Divine Love and Wisdom proceeding out of the Divine Human of the Lord to work the regeneration and salvation of mankind. This can be seen perfectly represented in the Gospel of .John:

“And when He had said this. He breathed on them and said. Receive ye the Holy Spirit.” (John 20:22)

This was said after the Lord’s Resurrection. The Holy Spirit is there represented as the Breath of the Lord. His Breath is His Divine Truth going forth from Himself to men. Swedenborg calls this the Divine Proceeding, or, the Divine Operation.

That the Holy Spirit is the Divine proceeding from the glorified Human of the Lord is also taught in these passages from the New Testament: “But this He spake of the Spirit, which they that believe on Him should receive: for the Holy Ghost was not yet given; because that Jesus was not yet glorified.” (John 7:39.) The original Greek reads “The Holy Spirit was not yet, because that Jesus was not yet glorified.”

“It is expedient for you that I go away; for if I go not away, the Comforter will not come to you; but if I depart, I will send Him unto you.” (John 16:7.)

After the Lord was glorified, that is, after His Human was made Divine, the Comforter, the Holy Spirit, which leads men into all truth, could come to men, because through the Divine Human the Divine Good and Truth can inflow into our minds.

The conclusion therefore is that the Divine Trinity is not a Trinity of Persons, but that it is a Trinity of essentials in the one Divine Person, our Lord Jesus Christ. The Father is the Divine itself, present in Him as the Soul. The Son is the Divine Human, which is the Body of that Divine Soul, and the Holy Spirit is the Divine Operation, the Divine Good and Truth proceeding from God to men.

This is taught also by Paul, in these words concerning the Lord:

“For in Him dwelleth all the fulness of the Godhead bodily.” (Col. 2:9.)

If you see God as one Divine Person, one Divine Man, and the Trinity in Him as Soul, Body and Proceeding, you will have an understandable idea of God and of the Divine Trinity in Him. This teaching is that which is given in the Old Testament and in the New Testament. It is the Supreme Truth concerning the Lord.

This truth may be summarized thus: That the Lord Jesus Christ is the one God of heaven and earth, that He is Jehovah, the Lord from eternity, that He is the Creator from eternity, that He is the Redeemer in time, that He is the regenerator into eternity, and thus that He is at the same time the Father, and the Son and the Holy Spirit.

The Lord Jesus Christ is our God. There is no other. To Him we owe all that is good and all that is true. All power in heaven and on earth is His. To Him alone should we pray. To Him alone should be our worship, our love, and the service of our lives.

Asking for help – Is it that difficult?.

asking for helpIs life giving us too many headaches? Or have our circumstances dramatically changed for the worse? We say that we are “fine” and that we are in control. But deep down we know we are not. The first step is to admit to ourselves when we actually do need help. So why not try asking for it? If we do not ask, how can we expect to get any advice or assistance?

Why asking for help can be difficult.

There may be embarrassment discussing a personal matter with someone we know. “I really ought to be able to manage my own life without troubling others with my difficulties.” “What will they think of me if I tell them my problems?”

We may assume we don’t matter enough for anyone to want to bother to do anything for us. “No-one will want to help me.”

Or we might think that no one would understand the problem or that there can be no solution possible. “My life is in far too great a mess to be saved.”

Asking for help is dangerous because actually accepting help is likely to involve our changing something — scary stuff if that sounds uncomfortable. No longer can we pursue easy solutions to the problem like for example engaging in comfort eating or retail therapy.

How to start asking for help 

If we do get round to asking for help, it is first useful to be clear what we think we need. Whether we need advice, encouragement, or practical help, we need to ask for it specifically.

At the same time, it is sensible to be flexible. What someone offers may be unexpected. Therefore, we need to be ready to explore alternatives. People tend to feel uncomfortable about helping the unprepared or the narrow-minded. This means being willing to listen carefully to what they suggest.

Asking who?

I saw a woman walking into a council refuse tip to get rid of a long florescent light tube. She unfortunately tripped over and dropped the tube that exploded in a puff of smoke. It looked and sounded dramatic. Her elderly friend was following on behind and at that moment seeing the prostrate woman and hearing the explosion, she exclaimed `Oh God, God’ and rushed forward. This friend may not have been religious but was she not asking for God’s help without even realising it? Perhaps he did answer her prayer for although she was a bit shocked, the fallen woman got up and dusted herself down. It turned out that she had suffered no injury.

If the help needed is beyond the capability of loved ones or friends, we may decide to ask God for assistance. When desperate, agnostics and even atheists have admitted to trying prayer. After all what had they got to lose?

Of course the religious and unreligious alike are all capable of trying to use God like some Father Christmas figure. We can even try bargaining with him. Give me what I want and I will always do this or that for you.

Motivation behind asking God for help

The psychologist William James reported on a man called David.  This fellow was someone with many problems. His religious worship and pleas for help were in vain. Then it came to him that it was self-interest behind his devotions rather than any respect for the wisdom of God. It was his own happiness and not the will of God that had pre-occupied his heart. He saw he had never done anything for God, only for himself. If we pray only for ourselves how can a God of love for all, hear such prayers?

When praying with a sincere heart it is useful to speak specifically about the issues that we require help with. We could then ask God to give us new purpose, a healthier frame of mind in facing our troubles, or more light on how we can better serve our family and community.

Perhaps praying is something we have rarely done before. So how can one go about this? Like David, we may feel that God is not answering our prayers. True, we may not be hearing a voice answering but I would suggest there will always be a response. Sometimes we may be unaware of an answer because it is not what we have expected. As we try to pray for help we may realise something about our own attitude e.g. like David that it is too orientated towards self rather than any concern for anyone else. Already the prayer is being responded to without our noticing.

If we do ask then we might well get an answer we understand – but this answer may not be what we would have wanted! Actually, many inwardly religious people believe that divine power can spiritually help all people, no matter into what terrible state they have got themselves into.

Copyright Stephen Russell-Lacy 2011
Author of  Heart, Head & Hands  Swedenborg’s perspective on emotional problems

The Centurion’s Confession

A Sermon by Rev. James P. Cooper


Now when the centurion, who stood opposite Him, saw that He cried out like this and breathed His last, he said, “Truly this Man was the Son of God!” MAR. 15:39

It is usual on Easter morning to focus on a text that speaks of the joy of discovery when the disciples and others came to the tomb and found that the Lord was not there as He said He would not be. We might think of this as the fully developed dawn of the Christian church: that beautiful moment when the truth of His ministry first dawned in the minds of His disciples. But today, instead of the full dawn, we would instead focus on the “morning star” of the Christian church (TCR 379:e), the most fundamental and basic thing that the Lord taught while in the world, that idea first recognized and expressed by the Centurion who witnessed the crucifixion, that Jesus Christ was not a man, but He was the Son of God. Without this most fundamental and basic doctrine there is no Christian faith.

Each of the gospels tells the story of the Lord’s life on earth in a slightly different way, in much the same manner as several witnesses to an event will each remember the things that particularly stood out for them, but not necessarily exactly the same things as the others saw. However, we must also remember that the authors of the gospels were inspired to choose to write the way they did so that each gospel contains in its internal sense the story of the Lord’s life for a different spiritual state, or from a different spiritual point of view. Let us then briefly review the main historical events as recorded in Mark.

After His trial, Jesus was brought to Golgatha, or the place of the skull, a hill outside the gates of Jerusalem. There He was offered wine mingled with myrrh to drink, but He refused it. He did this, we are told, because wine mixed with myrrh represented the truth from the Word mixed with falsities of evil. This represented the spiritual state of the Jewish Church and was not acceptable to Him, and He represented His rejection of the Jewish Church by not drinking it. They stripped Him, crucified Him, and cast lots for His garments. A sign was placed over Him, saying, “The King of the Jews.” Each gospel reports that two robbers were crucified with Him. John says nothing more about them. Luke says that one robber reviled Him, while the other spoke well of Him, and the Lord promised that he would be with Him in paradise that same day. Both Matthew and Mark report that both the robbers reviled Him.

All the gospels record that there was darkness over the earth from the 6th hour to the 9th. In Mark, it is reported that at about the 9th hour of the day, He cried out, saying, “My God, My God, Why have You forsaken Me?” (Mark 15:34) Obviously, the end was near, and someone filled a sponge with vinegar, lifted it up to Him with a hyssop reed, and He drank from it. We are told that He accepted this drink because it represented the falsity of the Gentiles, in which there is something useful and good, that is, false ideas from ignorance held for the sake of good to the neighbor. This kind of falsity can be accepted by the Lord because it looks to the good of others as an end. The hyssop represents that the false idease are cleansed by good intentions. The Lord is able to replace such falsity with genuine truth from the Word without difficulty. This is why the Lord accepted the vinegar on the sponge.

After this final symbolic act, the Lord cried with a loud voice and breathed His last. The gospels record that at that moment the veil of the temple in Jerusalem split from top to bottom, and that there were earthquakes. It was at this point that the Centurion is recorded in Luke as saying that there was no doubt that this was a “righteous man”, while in both Matthew and Mark he is recorded as proclaiming Jesus Christ as “the Son of God”. And although there was darkness over the land, the gentile centurion saw the “morning star.”

The first principle of faith in the Lord is the acknowledgment that He is the Son of God. We know this because it is repeatedly taught by Him in the Word of the New Testament, and it was repeatedly taught because unless men had first acknowledged that He was the Son of God, and thus God from God, the work that He and His disciples set out to do would have been in vain. (See TCR 342)

The Heavenly Doctrines define the Son of God by saying that “there is no Son from eternity; but that the Lord is from eternity…. The Human conceived of God, and born of the virgin Mary, is what is called the Son of God” (Lord 19). They further explain that Jehovah Himself “put on the Divine Human, from which He called Himself the ‘Son of Man,’ and also the ‘Son of God’; and by the ‘Son of Man’ He signified the truth itself, and by the ‘Son of God’ the good itself which belonged to His Human essence when made Divine” (AC 2159:2)

Here reference has been made to both the “Son of Man” and the “Son of God.” Jesus used both terms to describe Himself many times in the Word. Names signify qualities, and these names were used to describe the different qualities of the Lord that were dominant at various times and in various states.

The Lord referred to Himself as the Son of God when the main subject was of Good; when He was teaching, healing, or leading the disciples; thus when He was feeling the power of Jehovah within Him. He referred to Himself as the Son of God when He was in a state of Glorification, or unity with the Divine. When He was in this state He was expressing the Divine Love of God towards the human race, and since the Divine Love is pure and above any fault, the Lord was never tempted or tested as the Son of God. He could never be tempted as to His love, for His ruling love is the salvation, that is bringing into heaven, of the universal human race.

On the other hand, when He refers to Himself as the Son of Man, it reflects those states where truth was dominant, where falsity and indecision in the human from Mary could enter in, where He could be tempted as to how He must go about expressing His love for the human race. The love itself could not be tempted, but there were options, different paths that could have been taken, and the Lord agonized over these. These were the times when He prayed to the Father as if to another, when He felt the burden He had taken upon Himself, when He felt unequal to the task of saving the human race while at the same time preserving their freedom of choice in spiritual things.

When the Lord allowed the Human from Mary to die, when He refused to come down off the cross, as the hells, His enemies, His friends and even the angels of heaven all implored Him to do, when He let go of the human body, He won. His love of the Human race was conjoined with His Divine plan for their salvation. The hells were forced back into order. He could no longer be tempted or tested in any way for His victory was complete. He was no longer the Son of Man, because truly he was fully the Son of God, one with Jehovah.

We might ask ourselves why, at the moment of the Lord’s final victory, it was a gentile, a Roman soldier who proclaimed the truth that the Lord had in fact won the battle, who expressed the fundamental truth for all Christianity, that Jesus Christ was not a man, not the Son of Man any longer, but that He was truly the Son of God?

For our answer, we must look to the internal sense of the Word for only in the Word will we find the answer this question. First, consider the other place where a centurion is mentioned in the Word, the centurion who asked the Lord to cure his sick child, but who told the Lord that it was not necessary for Him to travel to his home, that it was enough for Him to merely say the word, and it would be done. That centurion was used to giving orders to those in his command, and having them done immediately. It was his simple belief that the Lord commanded the spiritual world in the same way, that His physical presence was not needed to heal the boy: all He need do was say the word. The officer’s faith was well founded, and the boy was healed.

Centurions, being Roman officers, were not Jews, and therefore by definition they were gentiles. We are taught that except for a small faithful remnant from the former church, the Lord always raises up a new church among the gentiles; those who have not been blinded by the false doctrines and corrupted by evils. And so, the centurion of our text then stands for all those people who want to believe in the Lord, but for one reason or another have not yet found Him.

A centurion has this representation in the Word because he is a commander over a hundred men, and the Latin root of “centurion” means “one hundred.” If we look at the Abraham series in the Old Testament, we can see that many important things happened to Abraham in his 100th year. These things represent in the internal sense the “unition of the Human of the Lord with the Divine and of the Divine with the Human” (AC 2213). In other places, one hundred represents “a full state of unition” (AC 2636). And finally, one hundred is ten times ten, and since ten represent remains, or those affectional states that remain with everyone from earliest infancy to eternity, one hundred represents a fullness of remains.

This further teaches us that all gentiles, all those who seek to do good no matter what their doctrinal background, can reach out and accept the doctrine of the Lord’s Divine Humanity, that in fact the Lord has provided each one of us from birth with the ability to receive this doctrine with joy.

It was often said by the Lord, when the sick were healed, that they should “have faith,” and it would be done unto them “according to their faith”. The reason for this is that the most important thing of all is to acknowledge that the Lord is the Savior of the world. Without this basic, fundamental idea, no one can receive anything of good and truth from heaven. The reason why you cannot receive any good and truth from the Lord if you don’t believe He is the Savior of the world, is that you won’t ask for it. Why would you ask Him for help if you did not believe that He could help? This is why, when the Lord came into the world and healed the sick that He questioned them about their faith before He healed them. Only those were healed who believed that He was the Son of God who was to come into the world, and that He had the power to heal and save. This “acknowledgment of the Lord is the first of all things of spiritual life, and the most essential thing of the church, because without it no one can receive from heaven anything of the truth of faith and the good of love” (AC 10083:5).

The Centurion, a gentile, not blinded by the falsities of the Jewish church, was the first to understand the true meaning of the Lord’s crucifixion. He knew that Jesus had healed the sick. He knew that Jesus had cast out demons. He had heard of all the signs and miracles that He had performed in the course of His ministry. He, like many others had suspected that Jesus would have miraculously saved Himself–perhaps he and many others had come to the crucifixion hoping to see just such a miracle. But when Jesus passively allowed these things to be done to Him and awaited death, it caused the Centurion to wonder, to think to himself, “What man would let this happen to Himself?” And by asking that question he opened himself up to the truth that this was not a man. Jesus Christ was willing to die because it was true that His kingdom was not of this world. Like a morning star, that bright beacon of light on the horizon that foretells the coming dawn, the Centurion gave voice to the first characteristic mark of faith: that the Lord is the Son of the Living God, and on this faith all else of heaven and the church rests. So on this Easter morning, as we think of the joyful discovery of the empty tomb, as we think of the Lord in His Glorified Human ruling as King of the heavens today, let us not let our faith be distracted by complicated doctrines, but remember this simple truth that was first seen by the Roman Centurion: “truly, this Man was the Son of God” (text).

Lessons: PSA 22; MAR 15:33-39, 16:1-8; AC 2405e

a3 2405e. As in the proper sense the “morning” signifies the Lord, His advent, and thus the approach of His kingdom, it is evident what it signifies besides, namely, the rise of a new church (for this is the Lord’s kingdom on earth), and this both in general and in particular, and even in the least particular; in general, when any church on the globe is being raised up anew; in particular, when a man is being regenerated, and being made new (for then the Lord’s kingdom is arising in him, and he is becoming a church); and in the least particular, whenever the good of love and faith is working in him; for in this consists the advent of the Lord. Hence the Lord’s resurrection on the third day in the morning involves all these things (even in the particular and the least particular) in regard to His rising again in the minds of the regenerate every day, and even every moment.

The Lord’s Presence and Conjunction with Man

 

A Sermon by the Rev. James P. Cooper

Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in Me. I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing (JOH 15:4,5).

  1. The Lord is present with all men, spirits, and angels.
    1. Every living being in the created universe has its life from the continual and universal presence of the Lord.
    2. And at the same time, the universal presence of the Lord gives to humans the faculties of understanding what is true, willing what is good, and free choice in spiritual things.
    3. These three faculties of understanding, willing, and choosing, are gifts from the Lord that are given to every one at birth, and are never taken away.
    4. Life from the Lord flows from Him like light and heat from the sun, radiating equally on the wise and the simple, the evil and the good.
    5. From its source, all life from the Lord is the same, it contains the same power.
      1. However, when it is received it turns into an infinite variety of expressions, for the human minds are each of a different character and receive life from the Lord according to their character.
      2. So we can say that while the Lord’s presence with mankind is universal, because His life flows into every human soul, we can at the same time say that His presence is particular, for each human mind receives life from Him according to its own form, and its own peculiarities. (TCR 580, AC 9594)
  2. The Lord’s presence with mankind is both universal and particular, external and internal.
    1. While the Lord is present with everyone, good and evil, universally and to eternity, He is only conjoined with those who work to approach Him in the particulars of their life, who live the life of religion by seeking truth from the Word and living according to it.
    2. When we deliberately and freely choose to live according to Divine order, we actually change the form of our mind, our receiving vessel, and the Lord can be particularly, or internally present with us.
      1. When the Lord is present with the particulars of a person’s life, there is conjunction with Him.
    3. Our minds are formed in the image and likeness of God’s .They are also in the image of the form and structure of the heavens:
      1. There are three degrees of height, and two distinct kinds of activity.
        1. The three degrees of height are the natural, the spiritual, and the celestial.
        2. The two distinct forms of activity are willing and thinking.
      2. The Lord’s presence descends through the three heavens, and then through the corresponding degrees of the mind.
        1. His presence is received and felt as consciousness in the natural world.
      3. However, those who struggle to shun evils as sins, and who seek to learn truth for the sake of life will have the spiritual degree of their mind opened by the Lord, and their understanding will be correspondingly elevated.
      4. Those who continue the process, and become angels of heaven will be able to have even the celestial degree opened, and will be able to feel life from the Lord in that interior degree, they will feel His love and His wisdom as a conscious presence in their lives.
      5. On the other hand, those who turn away from the Lord will remain in the natural degree to eternity, they will never have the interior degree of their minds opened to the Lord’s presence, for such an intimate presence would kill them.
        1. The Lord’s general, or external presence must then remain in the natural degree of the mind, for that is the degree of the mind that remains open in everyone, whether good or evil, whether on earth or in the spiritual world.
    4. We are taught in the True Christian Religion (no. 787) that conjunction with the Lord must be in the thought, and so in affection.
      1. This means that each of us must first learn truth by means of the faculties that are given to us by the Lord through His universal presence, and then apply them to our own lives from a desire to shun evils as sins against God, and a desire to do what is good because it is from God.
      2. Then the Lord can give us a new will which then can be filled with good affections and their related delights.
        1. The harder we try to bring ourselves into the Lord’s order by learning His truth and doing it, the more He reaches down to lift us up from His own power. The effort and intention are ours: the power and will are from Him.
  3. We are taught in the Writings that we will find our place in heaven according to the concept of God that we learn while in the world.
    1. We are further taught that no one can understand an invisible God, and this was one of the reasons why the Lord came on earth and took on the Divine Human: so that everyone might understand the invisible God by means of the visible manifestation, Jesus Christ.
      1. It is necessary for us to understand God as He is in His glorified Human, because this is the means by which He is present with us. (See TCR 728, AC 9594)
    2. In regeneration, we will to follow the Lord while He wills us to follow Him.
      1. When we and the Lord together look to the same end, the end of the subjugation of self for the sake of good ends, it brings the Lord’s particular presence with us;
        1. for when we receive love from the Lord after having first learned the truth, we make that love our own.
        2. Then, since the origin of that love is the Lord, and our mind has been organically changed into a receptacle perfectly suited to hold it, we are conjoined with the Lord by the bond of a common affection.
          1. We see this illustrated in the way we regard other people who share our loves and delights. Depending on the nature of the bond, we may join a club, form a business partnership, join a church, or even marry – but the point is that the thing that brings people together, that conjoins them, is their common affections.
          2. Common affections bring the Lord close to us, too.
    3. This law of human relationships is even more clearly seen when illustrated by the way angelic societies are ordered.
      1. Heaven is distinguished into innumerable societies, and the differences between them are in accord with the differences between their affections and delights.
      2. It is the law of spiritual space and time that those who are of similar affections, such as a husband and wife, are close to each other, while those of dissimilar affections are separated.
        1. In heaven, you become actually present with another person when you are in a similar sphere of affection.
          1. We often speak of this phenomenon by referring to good friends who are many miles away as being “close.”
          2. In heaven, those with similar affections live together in a home; and since a conjugial pair have the most similar affections possible, they live in a constant representation of the affinity of their love, for it is love alone which conjoins people. (See AR 883)
    4. While our main focus is on the conjunction that takes places between an individual and the Lord, we need to take a moment to reflect on the fact that this relation ship applies in many other areas, such as the relationship between a husband and wife.
      1. It is absolutely essential to the growth of our marriage relationships that we realize that knowledge does not bring us together, but similar loves conjoin.
      2. The same thing holds true for a church: doctrine alone will not bind a congregation together, but similar loves for the uses of the church.
      3. A husband and wife can express their mutual love and their conjunction by producing and raising children.
      4. A church is conjoined with the Lord by correspondence when it, like a bride, receives truth from the Lord and uses it to produce goods in the world.
      5. The key is that in every case it is similar loves that conjoin.
    5. It is an important doctrinal point to note that when we speak of conjunction with the Lord, what is actually meant is conjunction of the Lord with the things in our minds that are from Him, good loves and affections.
      1. The Lord is not actually ever conjoined, or one with a person, for such a union of the finite with the in finite would destroy a finite human.
      2. In order to protect us, He adjoins Himself to us by conjoining Himself to those things in us that are actually His own.
  4. In summary, we can say that Divine presence is both universal and particular, or external and internal.
    1. The particular or internal Divine presence is also called conjunction.
    2. Presence is with all humans, but as one is regenerated, he changes the organic vessel of his life and in this way it receives influx from the Lord in a new way, opening the Lord’s presence into new, higher levels of awareness.
    3. As one is regenerated, genuine goods are given to him from the Lord, and it is with these goods that are from the Lord that the Lord conjoins Himself so that what is Divine does not destroy what is human by attempting union.
    4. In regeneration, a person wills to follow the Lord, and this mutual desire to do the same thing brings the Lord’s presence, much as people of common interests band together in clubs, churches, and marriages.
    5. This is the effort of a man as-from-self that brings conjunction with the Lord in His Divine Human, and eternal conjunction with the Lord is the blessedness and peace of eternal life in heaven.

      A little while longer and the world will see Me no more, but you will see Me. Because I live, you will live also. At that day you will know that I am in My Father, and you in Me, and I in you (JOH 14:19,20). AMEN.

    Hear now from the Word of the Lord as it is written.…

    1st Lesson:

    (Josh 24:13-18) ‘I have given you a land for which you did not labor, and cities which you did not build, and you dwell in them; you eat of the vineyards and olive groves which you did not plant.’ {14} “Now therefore, fear the LORD, serve Him in sincerity and in truth, and put away the gods which your fathers served on the other side of the River and in Egypt. Serve the LORD! {15} “And if it seems evil to you to serve the LORD, choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods which your fathers served that were on the other side of the River, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you dwell. But as for me and my house, we will serve the LORD.” {16} So the people answered and said: “Far be it from us that we should forsake the LORD to serve other gods; {17} “for the LORD our God is He who brought us and our fathers up out of the land of Egypt, from the house of bondage, who did those great signs in our sight, and preserved us in all the way that we went and among all the people through whom we passed. {18} “And the LORD drove out from before us all the people, including the Amorites who dwelt in the land. We also will serve the LORD, for He is our God.” Amen.

    2nd Lesson:

    (John 14:8-21) Philip said to Him, “Lord, show us the Father, and it is sufficient for us.” {9} Jesus said to him, “Have I been with you so long, and yet you have not known Me, Philip? He who has seen Me has seen the Father; so how can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? {10} “Do you not believe that I am in the Father, and the Father in Me? The words that I speak to you I do not speak on My own authority; but the Father who dwells in Me does the works. {11} “Believe Me that I am in the Father and the Father in Me, or else believe Me for the sake of the works themselves. {12} “Most assuredly, I say to you, he who believes in Me, the works that I do he will do also; and greater works than these he will do, because I go to My Father. {13} “And whatever you ask in My name, that I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. {14} “If you ask anything in My name, I will do it. {15} “If you love Me, keep My commandments. {16} “And I will pray the Father, and He will give you another Helper, that He may abide with you forever; {17} “the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees Him nor knows Him; but you know Him, for He dwells with you and will be in you. {18} “I will not leave you orphans; I will come to you. {19} “A little while longer and the world will see Me no more, but you will see Me. Because I live, you will live also. {20} “At that day you will know that I am in My Father, and you in Me, and I in you. {21} “He who has My commandments and keeps them, it is he who loves Me. And he who loves Me will be loved by My Father, and I will love him and manifest Myself to him.”

    Amen.

    3rd Lesson:

    [2] The Lord’s … universal or external presence is what causes a man to live as a man, to enjoy the ability to know, to understand, and to speak rationally from the understanding; for man is born for heaven, and is therefore not merely natural, like a beast, but also spiritual. He also enjoys the ability to will and to do the things that from his understanding he is able to know about, to understand, and thereby rationally speak about. But if the will rejects the truly rational things of the understanding, which are also intrinsically spiritual, the man becomes external.

    [3] Consequently with those who only understand what is true, and good, the Lord’s presence is universal or external, while with those who also will and do what is true and good, the Lord’s presence is both universal and individual, or both internal and external. Those who merely understand and talk about what is true and good are like the foolish virgins who had lamps but no oil; while those who not only understand and talk about what is true and good, but also will and do it, are the wise virgins who were admitted to the wedding while the former stood at the door and knocked, but were not admitted (Matt. 25:1-12).

    Here end the lessons. Blessed are they who hear the Word of God and keep it. Amen.

 

DIVINE PROVIDENCE AND TRAGEDY

DIVINE PROVIDENCE AND TRAGEDY

A Sermon by Rev Lawson M. Smith Preached in Westville, South AfricaMarch 10, 1996

“Are not two sparrows sold for a farthing? And not one of them shall fall to the ground without your Father. But the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows” (Matt. 10:29-31).

We are grateful to the Lord for all the good things that take place in our lives. Religious people often say of good luck that it’s really the Lord’s providence. But it’s much harder to see how the Lord is taking care of us when misfortune or tragedy strikes someone we love.

We think of natural disasters, such as an earthquake or a volcano. We think of manmade disasters, such as terrorists’ bombs, the horrors of the Nazi concentration camps, or the slaughter in Bosnia. We have friends whose spouse or child was killed or maimed in a car accident, or struck down by cancer or some other terrible disease. A person loses his job, and battles to find another, and meanwhile his family suffers great hardship.

Wicked people get away with murder and other terrible injustices. In society, even in families, people are spiteful to each other and hurt each other badly.

We cannot help but ask ourselves sometimes, “Why does God let such things happen?”

In ancient times, people often simply believed that God rules all things, and that they could not expect to know why certain things happened. Many believed that all things, good and bad, came from God.

In the book of Job, for example, we see Job’s terrible suffering as he lost his loved ones, all his wealth, and finally his health. Job saw these tragedies as Divine judgment for his sins and a test of his faith. His comment was, “The Lord has given, the Lord has taken away. Blessed be the name of the Lord” (Job 1:21).

It is so important for us to believe in God, and to believe that He has all power, that the Lord permitted this appearance to be written into the Old Testament: namely, that tragedy and disaster as well as blessings come from Him.

The ancient Israelites needed to believe that Jehovah punished their sins. Otherwise He would have seemed a wimp, not God. They would have felt it didn’t matter whether or not they kept His commandments. But then God came into the world in Person. He revealed Himself to us as our Lord, Jesus Christ. He showed us that He is a God of love, our Heavenly Father, who even feeds the ravens and clothes the grass of the field, and forgives our sins.

God does not send punishments or misfortunes into our lives. But if misfortunes are not Divine punishments, how can we understand them? Besides, what about birth defects and other tragedies that strike infants? Who sinned?

In modern times a rabbi wrote a best-selling book, Why Bad Things Happen to Good People. He said, We know tragedies strike good people. We also have the two ideas of God, 1) that He has all power, and 2) that He is loving. But one cannot reconcile both of these ideas with the reality of tragedy. Therefore he chose to give up the idea that God has all power, rather than the idea that God is loving. He suggested that God cares for us, but does not have complete control of events. Things get out of hand, and tragedies occur.

But what is a god who does not have all power? What does that mean? Evil and suffering have been a stumbling-block to many people’s faith. Some people feel driven away from belief in God by bitter experiences, into accepting a godless universe that operates by random chance. In effect, they choose the rabbi’s other option: a god – call it nature – that has all power but does not care or know of individual human lives.

Rather than give up our belief in the Lord, we can try to understand the laws according to which God acts. It may seem strange to think of God acting according to laws. Can’t He do as He chooses? Who could make laws for Him? But we would not think of God acting erratically, doing one thing one day and the opposite another day, merely on whim.

God is the Source of all the wonderful order that we see in the universe. He enables our minds to discover laws of nature, and to work out just laws to govern human society. He is orderliness itself, justice and truth itself, mercy itself. To say that the Lord operates according to laws means that He has a certain purpose or goal in all His actions. Because of His goal, there are certain ways and means which He always follows. Thus there are reasons for what He does which we can understand in some measure, at least in general, if not in particular cases.

The Lord has explained to us the most basic laws according to which He acts so that we can understand and love Him deeply, and defend ourselves against unbelief in times of grief. This book, Divine Providence, includes chapters on five laws of providence, a chapter on the Lord’s goal in creation and in His work with us, and a chapter on His permission of evil and hurtful things. If we believe in God, in this book we can find Him helping us to understand Him.

The Lord’s goal for us is heaven. Heaven is the state in which we love the Lord above all things and we love our neighbors as ourselves. Love must be given freely.

The Lord could force us to behave, out of fear, or He could have created us as robots. But His goal is that we may love Him freely, and choose and want Him to be close to us. Then He can make us happier and happier forever, because we are willing to receive His blessings.

The first law of the Lord’s providence, then, is that human beings must act in freedom, according to what makes sense to them. This implies that people must be allowed not to love but to hate and to hurt. If we are not free to choose evil, neither are we free to choose good. So the Lord always preserves human freedom, even allowing us to do stupid things, to hurt others and to be hurt – but within certain limits.

One of the limits is that we cannot take away another person’s freedom to believe in the Lord and to love Him. One person cannot destroy another’s opportunity to go to heaven. The Lord always guards the spiritual freedom of each one of us. We can help other people believe in the Lord, or we can make it harder for them, but ultimately the choice will be their own.

So the Lord allows no hardship, evil or misfortune which cannot be turned to good. Listen to this passage: “In the other life the Lord permits hellish spirits to lead the good into temptation, consequently to pour in evils and falsities, which they also do as hard as they can. But the Lord is then present with people in temptation, both directly and by means of angels. He resists the hellish spirits by rebutting their falsities and by dissipating their evil, thus giving refreshment, hope, and victory. Thus with people who are in the truths of good, the truths of faith and the goods of charity are implanted more deeply and are confirmed more strongly [as a result of their trials]. This is the means by which spiritual life is bestowed … It must be known that … not one whit [of evil] is permitted [hellish spirits] by the Lord, except to the end that good may come of it, namely, that truth and good may be brought into shape and be strengthened with those who are in temptation. In the universal spiritual world the Lord’s purpose reigns, which is that nothing whatever, not even the least thing, shall arise except that good may come of it” (AC 6574:2,3).

We know some of the benefits that the Lord brings out of unhappy or tragic situations. People confront the nature of evil, and of mankind apart from the Lord. We realize the need to fight injustice in society. The Lord stirs us to act. We face the need for personal change and repentance. Setbacks, such as in business or in health, slow us down in our onward rush to gain material things and pleasures, and give us a chance to re-think our priorities. We gain direct experience of our dependence on the Lord as we realize that we cannot manage without Him. This in turn brings us into a closer relationship with Him than before, allowing us to receive more of His blessings.

The Lord is always thinking of our eternal happiness. While He wants us to be happy all the time, He would never sacrifice our eternal happiness to some short-term pleasure. There are lessons that we cannot learn except through grief because of the selfish and materialistic state of mankind today.

The Lord never causes grief. Hellish spirits are always eager to do that. And sometimes the Lord allows them to cause a limited amount of hurt, because He sees that He will be able,to turn it into a long-lasting strength for the good people going through that trial. In fact the Lord is always, always shielding us from harm, and filling us with good things. Otherwise life would be nothing but miseries from beginning to end.

In times of trouble it seems as though God has forgotten us, or as though He is standing back, waiting to see what we will do. The Writings say that actually the Lord is never closer to us. It’s just that the unhappy state brought on by the hellish spirits around us dims our eyes to the fact that the Lord is carrying us in His arms. He is a very present help in trouble. In the gift of freedom to choose what we love and to pursue our loves, and the ability to think rationally or irrationally, as we choose we see the depth of the Lord’s love for us, and His great wisdom in leading us.

The Lord respects our freedom, because He loves us. He respects it so much that He allows us to get into trouble, and then as far as we are willing, He brings us new strength out of our troubles. He is constantly, though quietly, working with us, encouraging and warning, providing us with circumstances and opportunities to make the spiritual, eternal choices we want to make.

A psalm says, “The footsteps of a [good] man are ordered by the Lord, and He delights in his way. Though he fall, he shall not be utterly cast down, for the Lord upholds him with His hand” (Psalm 37:23,24) May we come to see the truth of this more and more in our lives. Amen.

Lessons: Matt. 6:25-34; Matt. 10:24-39; DP 70:1,3; 71:heading; 72


Divine Providence

70. It is well known that there is a Divine Providence, but it is not known what its nature is. This is not known because the laws of the Divine Providence are interior truths, hitherto concealed within the wisdom of the angels; but they are now to be revealed in order that what belongs to the Lord may be ascribed to Him, and what does not belong to man may not be ascribed to any man. For very many in the world attribute all things to themselves and their own prudence; and what they cannot so ascribe they call accidental or happening by chance, not knowing that human prudence is nothing and that accidental and happening by chance are empty words.

[3] Since it has been acknowledged in the church that man is unable from himself to do good that is in itself good, and is unable from himself to think truth that is in itself truth, and since these are one with the Divine Providence so that belief in one depends on belief in the other, therefore lest one be affirmed and the other be denied and thus both perish, it must be explicitly revealed what the Divine Providence is. This, however, cannot be revealed unless the laws are disclosed by which the Lord provides and rules the things of man’s will and understanding; for these laws enable man to know the nature of the Divine Providence; and only he who knows its nature can acknowledge it, for in this case he sees it. For this reason the laws of the Divine Providence, hitherto concealed within the wisdom of the angels, are now revealed.

71. (heading)

IT IS A LAW OF THE DIVINE PROVIDENCE THAT MAN SHOULD ACT FROM FREEDOM ACCORDING TO REASON.

72. But as few know that this can be a law of the Divine Providence, chiefly because man has thus freedom also to think evil and falsity, although the Divine Providence is continually leading man to think and to will what is good and true, therefore that this may be clearly perceived it will be set forth distinctly step by step in the following order:

I. A person has reason and freedom, or rationality and liberty, and these two faculties are from the Lord in the person.

II. Whatever a person does from freedom, whether it be of reason or not, provided it is according to his reason, appears to him to be his own.

III. Whatever a person does from freedom according to his thought is appropriated to him as his own, and remains with him.

IV. It is by means of these two faculties (rationality and liberty) that a person is reformed and regenerated by the Lord; and without them he cannot be reformed and regenerated.

V. By means of these two faculties a person can be so far reformed and regenerated as he can be led by means of them to acknowledge that everything true and good that he thinks and does is from the Lord and not from himself.

VI. The conjunction of the Lord with a person, and the reciprocal conjunction of the person with the Lord, are effected by means of these two faculties.

VII. The Lord preserves these two faculties in a person unimpaired and as sacred in every step of His Divine Providence.

VIII. Therefore it is of the Divine Providence that a person should act from freedom according to reason.