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By Mr. Joseph S. David

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A canoe moves through a tree lined creek.

There is a Divine providence that is always working. The overall end and purpose of providence is the leading of all people to heaven, while still providing that everyone be in freedom to reject the leading if they so choose.

Providence is hidden from mankind, because if it was not we would try to avoid it or bend it, thinking that we know better.

For those who wish to live rightly and try to do so, providence is like an unseen and unfelt current that bears them along toward heaven like a ship on an ocean current. For those who wish to live in their selfish loves, providence keeps them in an equilibrium between good and evil influences so that they can, if they wish, change their ways.

Providence is the Lord’s, and He is infinite love and infinite wisdom, which we need to keep in mind if we find ourselves wondering if we could do better at running things.

Swedenborg published a 300 page book about the Divine Providence. The first chapter heading is definitive; “The Divine Providence is the Government of the Lord’s Divine Love and Wisdom.” We – everyone on earth or on any other inhabited planet in the universe – are all under that government. We are free to accept the direction of the Lord’s leading or not; our freedom is paramount. The Lord will always knock, but we must open the door to Him.

There are five laws of Divine providence:
1. A person should act from freedom according to reason.
2. A person should, as-from-self, remove evils as sins from his/her externals. In that way, and in no other way, the Lord can remove evils in the internal person, and then at the same time in the external.
3. People should not be compelled by external means to think and will, and thus to believe and love, the things of religion. Rather, they should persuade and at times compel themselves to do so.
4. People should be taught and led by the Lord from heaven by means of the Word, and doctrine and preaching from the Word, and this should happen, to all appearances, as if they are acting indendently.
5. People should not perceive and feel anything of the operation of the divine providence, but still we should know about it and acknowledge it.

(References: Arcana Coelestia 609, 1755, 3854, 5155; Arcana Coelestia 3951 [1]; Divine Providence 21, 22, 23, 27, 55, 232, 234, 286, 322)

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How do I find a new direction?

Do you need to find a new direction in your life? One sign is when you feeling a bit empty or discontented. Lacking much in the way of a sense of fulfillment in what you do?  Perhaps you are drifting through life without a clear sense of where you are going.

Having a meaningful sense of direction makes everything you do and see come alive in terms of what you are making of your life. But just how is this found?

Self-actualising motivation

New direction
Abraham Maslow

Abraham Maslow’s focus for psychological research was people who seemed healthy and creative, rather than those who were disturbed. He developed his well-known hierarchy of needs which included hunger, sleep, safety, belonging, love, self-respect and recognition. The hierarchy culminated in the need for what he called self-actualisation by which he meant wanting to make full use of one’s talents, capacities and potentialities. He reckoned we all have this desire deep within to find a new direction in life.

Of course there are limits to what anyone can achieve. With my eyesight problem, I would never have passed the R.A.F medical to get into jet pilot training which was my teenage dream. My article Drifting — how to stop deals with limitations on our aspirations due to nature and nurture.

Opportunities for a new direction

However, how open-minded are you to new realistic possibilities? Do you notice prospects for change? Or perhaps you are too set in your ways and too fixed in your ideas to take up new personal contacts, new avenues of information?

According to your interests you could join a relevant social network looking for personal contacts that might lead to something worth trying, whether it be a local voluntary project, a new type of skills training, a business venture in a new market. Some people are prepared to pursue any unexpected job break however humble with the hope it might lead towards something better.

Others sadly allow the obvious difficulties they face to overwhelm them and turn them into victims of their circumstances.

From a spiritual angle, I would suggest you will fail to perceive any meaning in what you do in so far as you lack a basic love of life. Not having enough feeling would sadly confirm Paul Sartre’s famous phrase ‘Man is a useless passion’. This is a denial of any meaning to existence and it simply adds to a sense of futility and boredom.

In contrast, one spiritual dictum I rather like is

The more you put into life then the more you will get out of it.

In other words, the more you go out of your way to try something then the more chance you have of finding something that suits you whether it be a hobby, a job, or a partner. I would suggest looking for a meaningful fulfilling role is like looking for a mate —  creating opportunities, looking around, kissing frogs.

So with all your heartfelt desire why not search out for opportunities to pursue?

What hinders us from finding a new direction

We are quite good at deceiving ourselves as to any higher calling which apparently is at odds with the prevailing climate of opinion and conventional styles of living. Don’t all these throw a blanket over the anxiety generated by the impermanence and uncertainty that only a deeper perception of life reveals?

Unfortunately, when feeling anxious we tend to escape or avoid whatever feels threatening. We play down our chances in life when it feels too much of a challenge; when our complacency, our fears, our resistance to change are all threatened.

Openness to a new direction means accepting this anxiety and not hiding from it.  It means being open to possible failure as well as success.

Story of Aung San Suu Kyi

How would it feel to build a life away from your own country and then return there to find it in turmoil? How would you respond to being asked to lead a protest to save your country, knowing the personal sacrifice that will involve? Aung San Suu Kyi is the daughter of a dead national figure in Burma who was called to lead Burma’s democracy movement in opposition to its military dictatorship. Despite their loving relationship, she and her husband were willing to suffer long separations, and a dangerously hostile regime, for the sake of trying to help the country find peace in a situation of political turmoil which continues today. She exemplifies finding meaning and purpose in life in terms of ‘looking above’ self which is discussed in How do I find meaning and purpose for my life?

The transpersonal dimension beyond the individual

Few people these days seem to gain a sense of ultimate meaning or direction from their understanding of traditional religious beliefs. However, in his research Maslow found that self-actualisers often had the ability to have mystical experiences. As a non-religious person he nevertheless supported the notion of ‘transpersonal psychology’ a field of study of human experience concerned with something which is beyond and bigger than the individual person — something many call the spiritual dimension.

What fulfillment is

People who feel fulfilled in what they do live fully in each moment. They put their trust in doing what feels right for them rather than living up to the expectations of others. There is often an acknowledgment of a spiritual reality within the physical universe. This for many means intending well towards others for the sake of the common good rather than for the sake of self.

According to spiritual philosopher Emanuel Swedenborg, there is a different Divine purpose uniquely there for each of us if we allow ourselves to be carried along by the stream of Providence. He adds the idea that there is a heavenly role prepared for each of us if only we try to find it.

Everyone there does something specifically useful, for the Lord’s kingdom is a kingdom of uses. (Swedenborg HH 387)

Copyright 2013 Stephen Russell-Lacy
Author of Heart, Head & Hands Swedenborg’s perspective on emotional problems

Disappointment: a blessing in disguise?

Blessing in disguise?

The disappointing terrorist attack of 9/11 was clearly not a blessing in disguise. Evil got its way and many people were very badly physically and emotionally hurt. Nor in any conceivable way can many a disappointing setback be described as a piece of good fortune even if tiny morsels of something positive might be salvaged from such events. On the other hand sometimes a personal trouble can have a unexpected opportunity for a helpful outcome. For example occasionally a bout of illness can help a patient re-appraise an unhealthy lifestyle. The difficulty is in recognising what might possibly be a blessing when your expectations are so severely dashed against the painful rocks of reality. Here are 5 questions that will help you look for any blessing in disguise after you suffer a disappointment.

Was the disappointment due to your unrealistic expectations?

Sometimes when you think life is predictable, the universe has other plans. You may be taken by surprise, if for some reason you complacently suppose calamity will always affect somebody else and not yourself. Yet people do get injured on the roads in large numbers. Nobody can tell what is around the corner. Who can say one won’t get run over by a bus tomorrow?

You may assume you always get your just deserts. Don’t we reap what we deserve? But actually this is may not be the case. A drunken driver or a badly maintained aircraft can be the sole cause of mayhem to innocent passengers.

Was the disappointment something of your own making?

Not everyone learns from their own mistakes. The painful inflamed tendon in my arm was frustrating as it forced me to rest and ration my work of splitting logs instead of overdoing it everyday. It was my wife, who rightly pointed out, that I needed to learn to pace myself in re-using muscles and tendons which have grown tight and weak due to under-use. Apparently it is a common problem for gardeners to rush out in the spring and strain their backs after a winter of inactivity.

Did the disappointment show greater effort was needed?

I got excessively cross with my young grandson who was refusing to abide by the rules of the board game we were playing. Sometimes adults forget just how noisy, untidy and demanding they themselves were when children. My emotionality spoiled what should have been a leisurely family occasion. I have now resolved to try harder to be more patient with the boy whilst still remaining firm about the rules.

“What keeps me going is a constant sense of disappointment with what I’ve already done.” (Robert Wyatt, rock musician)

If we see a setback as a challenge then it can be a stimulant for bigger effort.

Did the disappointment broaden your horizons?

Say you were to suffer a major misfortune such as losing your job through redundancy, or your spouse through marital breakdown or death. Then you would be faced with a huge challenge. Perhaps having to find a livelihood doing a different kind of work. Or having to cope as a single person with no partner to intimately support you face life. In either case you will probably be obliged to get out of your comfort zone: deal with new kinds of situation: learn new skills: meet new people.

“Disenchantment, whether it is a minor disappointment or a major shock, is the signal that things are moving into transition in our lives.” (William Throsby Bridges, senior military officer)

If you happened to have a tendency towards self-pity here is an opportunity to stop adopting the victim role. This role seeks to focus on blaming something or someone else for one’s troubles. If you are such a person you will have a chance to learn instead the role of the survivor and adopt the courage that is required to tackle the unknown and experience the new confidence that comes from success.

Did the disappointment mean you need to put your hope in something beyond yourself?

When you feel like you don’t have the physical, mental, or emotional strength to pull through, you are challenged to possibly put trust in something more than yourself – whatever that may be.

” As someone who has faced as much disappointment as most people, I’ve come to trust not that events will always unfold exactly as I want, but that I will be fine either way.” (Marianne Williamson, spiritual teacher)

This reminds me of the biblical story of Jonah. His conscience told him to go to do a job of work but he didn’t want to do it and so he journeyed in the opposite direction only to end up in the sea and swallowed by a whale. In his distress he called to his God for help, vowing to make amends for his disobedience. The whale vomited him safely on to dry land.

Conclusion on disappointment

I would suggest there is no such thing as bad luck. Facing and dealing with setbacks is a part of life for all of us.

If you will, you can choose to find only the negative in your disappointment.

“When disappointment festers in our soul, it leads to discouragement.” (Joyce Meyer, Christian speaker)

Or you can look for possible blessings in disguise.

“If we will be quiet and ready enough, we shall find compensation in every disappointment.” (Henry David Thoreau, transcendentalist poet)

Emanuel Swedenborg, spiritual philosopher, claimed there is a loving Divine Providence, under whose rule, bad things are allowed to happen, if some lessons of life can result. According to this view, your time here on earth can teach you how to be more spiritually mature and thus experience a deeper long-lasting happiness.

“We must accept finite disappointment, but never lose infinite hope.” (Martin Luther King, Jr., Christian activist)

Copyright 2015 Stephen Russell-Lacy
Author of  Heart, Head & Hands  Swedenborg’s perspective on emotional problems

Posted on26th February 2015CategoriesConsciousness, Latest post, Meaning and inspiration, Meaning of life, SufferingTags, ,, , ,



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)


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.