THE STREAM OF PROVIDENCE
by Rev. Robin W. Childs
When we conjure up images of the stream of Providence, we may have a vague idea of the Lord’s leading as a kindly force that moves us toward eternal happiness. Yet in real life we most likely have a hidden fist of complaints against Divine Providence:
1. Evil people frequently gain a lot of earthly success and wealth while good people time after time suffer from financial trouble and a lack of success.
2. Evil people are often in positions of power and seem to freely dominate good people.
3. Tragedies happen to us or our friends that seem senseless and unexplainable. Because the Lord has to allow people to make poor or evil choices, it seems that He cannot protect us from unexpected calamities.
4. Large-scale deaths occur due to natural disasters or due to inhuman acts of violence by one people against another.
These particular complaints may surface only now and then, but they go a long way toward undermining any lasting sense of trust in the Lord’s care over us. Are there any explanations about these troubling events that will satisfy our sense of justice or bring us a feeling of comfort?
In general it’s important to remember that the main goal of the Lords leading is to provide that each of us may choose to become a loving and wise person (see DP 16). The laws of Providence all focus on making this possible (see DP 100, 123-129, 154, 171). They work for us to maintain a spiritually free environment in which we may choose to compel our minds to rise above the allure of evil delights and shun them.
The Lord’s Providence has to act silently because it works in opposition to the natural desires of our hereditary will (see DP 175, 180- 187, 211, 212). From our heredity we tend to enjoy the feeling of swimming upstream against the stream of Providence. The Lord has to gently turn us around to the enjoyments of swimming downstream with the flow of His current. We can feel that this subtle leading is an absence of leading. It looks toward eternal objectives that focus on a perspective that is often so different from our own (see DP 55).
It takes a conscious effort to see that the honor and riches that are heaped on a person of doubtful character really amount to nothing in the eternal picture (see AC 6481). Instead of chafing at their success we can feel concerned about the spiritually destructive delights we believe they are embracing. If we are striving to be good people but are struggling financially and are feeling unappreciated, this is a hard outlook to attain. Yet the Lord implores us to strive for it for our own peace of mind and spiritual health (see AC 8717e; HH 364).
We can benefit from a similar merciful view of people who appear to love dominating us and others we love and respect. We don’t have to cherish contempt or hatred in response to their behavior. We might assume that they have lived an emotionally painful life and cling to the twisted sense of self-esteem they get from having control over others. If we strive to shun contempt or hatred when we are around them, the positive sphere we then develop may have a noticeable healthy effect on their attitude. This effort to shun evil will help us to deal with them from a position of inner strength and mercy – an approach that is best for the spiritual growth of everyone involved. This kind of empowering cooperation with the Lord will help us to feel that no one really needs to be victimized by another person. What seemed like a crisis and a lack of Divine protection and care will instead become in us an appreciation for how the Lord allows us to experience situations that will spur our greatest spiritual growth.
We have seen, then, that it can be helpful to take an eternal perspective when viewing the success of people of doubtful character. Hopefully we have also seen that taking a spiritual approach to situations where we feel victimized can give us an appreciation for how the Lord brings about opportunities for our spiritual growth.
But what comfort or sense of justice can be gained from trying to attain an eternal perspective when a person we love dies? This is especially hard when someone we love dies abruptly in the prime of his life, or when a loved one of any age has to endure a slow and painful death. Our greatest critical feelings about the Lord and His Providence are aroused by such deaths. It’s important we know at the outset that no clear perspective our minds can attain from grasping what is taught about such deaths can do anything to lighten the initial blow to our hearts that we experience when a person we love dies.
We also need to realize that if we expect the Lord’s Providence to see us and all of our loved ones through to a ripe old age and a peaceful death in our sleep, we are setting ourselves up for disappointment. If our trust in the Lord’s care hinges on whether or not we are spared the pain of our loved ones dying in harsh ways, our trust is doomed. It’s understandable that we hope for this in our hearts, but our minds need to realistically consider the present conditions under which the Lord must now work His Providence.
Before the fall of the Most Ancient Church the Lord’s will that everyone live to an old age and die peacefully in sleep was freely carried out (see AC 5726). When that golden age passed and evil people walked the earth and began to populate the hells, the Lord had to care for the human race under a whole different set of circumstances. Forces of evil and good now acted upon the spirits of people born into the world. If people were to be left in freedom to choose their spiritual destiny, the Lord had to see to it that these two forces were equal. Angelic and hellish societies were arranged in opposition to each other in such a way that the force for evil and the force for good were present in equal measure in the spiritual realm between hell and heaven. There does need to be somewhat of a numeric balance between opposing societies, although other factors come into play (see SD 5003).
I believe that to maintain a spiritual balance since the fall, the Lord has to allow people to die who will best help maintain that balance. When He is ready for a particular individual and takes him or her, many essential consequences have been weighed. One thing the Lord assesses is the value of the spiritual influence a person provides when living in the world to the people around him or her, and to the spirits and angels associated with him (see SD 5002, 5003).
Another consideration is whether that person has any major evils that need to be exposed and shunned to prevent his eternal ruin (see SD 5003). The final concern is what this person could do to help maintain the overall balance of power between heaven and hell (Ibid.).
It’s hard to find fault with these considerations the Lord weighs. They look to the overall spiritual welfare of all angels and people. Yet when it’s our loved one that goes, we are going to feel that our welfare wasn’t given enough weight, or that the painful means or time in which the Lord permitted that person to go was heartless and unjust. These are feelings the Lord expects us to have initially and as often as our grief wells up. Yet hopefully we will come to some peaceful terms with the Lord if we can reestablish the trust that He is looking to the good of us all under some incredibly challenging circumstances.
It is important that we develop in particular a trust that, even though the world is filled with violence and diseases, the Lord still calls us into the other world only when it is spiritually the best time for us to come (see SD 5003). The painful means in which He sometimes has to permit people to die is never His will. The fallen condition of the human race is also not His will. But it is His will that a heaven be formed from the human race in this age, and we need to trust that the time of our death or the time a loved one dies will best contribute to that good. To embrace this trust in the Lord’s highest goal and motivation may eventually help us to accept the timing and manner of the tragic deaths that so shake our lives. It’s important to believe that the Lord’s protection of our life span is absolute, and is tied to the noblest of considerations.
If we can attain and be satisfied with this quality of trust, it may help to assume the best even when we hear of thousands of people dying in natural disasters or in wars. The highest good that the Lord could bring out of such horrendous permissions would be to perfect the spiritual balance of power between heaven and hell, hopefully because the ranks of heaven are swelled at such times (cf. AC 9296:2, 6303, 6493, 9010; DP 191, 234; TCR 479e; SD 4533).
Today you have heard much about my understanding of passages concerning permissions, Providence, and what it means to trust in the Lord’s leading. We all need to evaluate for ourselves what kind of care we expect from the Lord, and whether our expectation is reasonable considering the spiritual dynamics that now exist. Each of us needs to make our own peace with the Lord and His Providence. And in the end, trust in the Lord’s care takes a leap of faith because we can’t hope to completely understand it (see AC 8560). Making that leap of faith may come only after we struggle with the events or circumstances which seem to shake us and cause us to reforge the nature of our trust again and again. We will rage, weep, pray and reflect for years before this trust is genuine and sound.
In closing, let us hear the message contained within these two brief passages from the Arcana Caelestia. “The Divine Providence continually regards what is eternal, and continually leads to salvation, and this through various states, now glad, now sorrowful, which people cannot possibly comprehend, but still are conducive to their life in eternity’ (AC 8560, emphasis added).
“Be it known that the Divine Providence is universal, that is, in things most minute; and that they who are in the stream of Providence are all the time carried along toward everything that is happy, whatever may be the appearance of the means; and that those are in the stream of Providence who put their trust in the Divine and attribute all things to Him … Be it known also that insofar as anyone is in the stream of Providence, so far that person is in a state of peace” (AC 8478:3-5, emphasis added). Amen.
Lessons: Matt. 24:37-42; Luke 13:1-5; SD 5002, 5003 Presented in Glenview, Illinois, September 1, 1991
Spiritual Diary 5002, 5003
The life of every man is foreseen by the Lord, as to how long he win live and in what manner; wherefore he is directed from earliest infancy with a regard to a life to eternity. The Providence of the Lord, therefore, commences from earliest infancy.
The reasons why some die boys, some youths, some adults, some old men are: first, on account of use in the world to men; second, on account of use, while he is in the world, to spirits and angels, for man, as to his interiors, is with spirits; and he is there as long as he is in the world, in which all things in the spiritual world terminate; third, on account of use to himself in the world, either that he may be regenerated, or that he may be let into his evils lest they lie dormant and afterwards break out, which would result in his eternal ruin; fourth, therefore, on account of use afterwards in the other life, after death, to eternity; for everyone who will be in heaven has his place in the Grand Man, or, on the other hand, he has his place in hell: wherever forces fail they are balanced, and, of the Providence of the Lord, men are brought thither. Thus also, the kingdom of the Lord is cared for, the welfare of which is universal Providence.