Divine Providence #183

By Emanuel Swedenborg

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183. It may seem unlikely that we would deny God if we were to see divine providence and its workings clearly, because it would seem that if we were to see it clearly we could not help but acknowledge it and thereby acknowledge God. However, the opposite is the case.

Divine providence is never acting in the same direction as our deliberate love. It is always acting against it. This is because from our own inherited evil we are constantly hungering for the deepest hell, while the Lord, through his divine providence, is constantly leading us away from it and drawing us out of it, first to some milder hell, then out of hell, and eventually to himself in heaven. This effort of divine providence is going on all the time; so if we were to see or feel vividly this carrying off and pulling away, we would be outraged. God would become our enemy, and in the evil of our self-centeredness we would deny him. So to prevent us from knowing about this, we are kept in a free state where all we can know is that we are leading ourselves.

[2] Let some examples serve to illustrate this. By heredity, we want to become powerful and rich, and to the extent that these loves are not held in check, we want to become more powerful and more rich until we are the most powerful and most rich of all. Even then we are not satisfied, but want to be more powerful than God and to possess heaven itself. This obsession lies hidden deep within our inherited evil and is therefore within our life and in the very nature of that life.

Divine providence does not take this evil away instantly, because if it did we would not be alive. It takes it away quietly and gradually without our knowing anything about it. It does so by letting us act according to thoughts that we fashion rationally, and then it uses various rational, civil, and moral means to lead us away. So we are led away to the extent that we can be led in freedom. Further, no evil can be taken from us unless it surfaces and is seen and recognized. It is like a wound that is not healed until it has been opened.

[3] This means that if we were to know and see that with his divine providence the Lord is acting against the love of our life, the love that gives us the greatest pleasure, all we could do would be to go in the opposite direction, to be outraged, to fight back, and to scold, ultimately distancing the working of divine providence from our own evil by denying providence, which means denying God. We would do this particularly if we saw ourselves being blocked from success, lowered in rank, or deprived of wealth.

[4] We should realize, though, that the Lord never leads us away from striving for high positions or from gaining wealth, only from an obsession with striving for high position simply for the sake of eminence, or for self-seeking reasons, and similarly from gathering wealth solely for display or for its own sake. As he leads us away from these obsessions, he brings us into a love of service so that we look at eminence not for our own sake but for the sake of service. So it becomes something we seek for service primarily and for ourselves secondarily, and not for ourselves primarily and for service secondarily. The same applies to wealth.

The Lord tells us in many places in the Word that he always humbles the proud and raises up the humble; and what it says in the Word is characteristic of his divine providence.

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Thanks to the Swedenborg Foundation for the permission to use this translation.