Divine Providence #197

By Emanuel Swedenborg

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197. 2. Only the Lord knows the impulses of our life's love. We know our thoughts and the intentions that arise from them, because we see them within ourselves; and since they are the source of all our prudence, we see that in ourselves as well. If our life's love is a love for ourselves, then we find ourselves taking pride in our own intelligence and giving it credit for our prudence. We gather arguments in favor of it and drift away from any acknowledgment of divine providence. Much the same thing happens if our life's love is a love for the world, though in this case the drift is not so pronounced. We can see from this that these two loves attribute everything to ourselves and to our own prudence. If we probe deeper, we find that they attribute nothing to God and his providence. As a result, if we happen to hear someone say that human prudence is nothing, but that divine providence by itself is what controls everything, which is the truth, then if we are complete atheists we laugh at it. If we have some remnant of religion in our memory, though, and someone tells us that all wisdom comes from God, then we agree on first hearing, though inwardly, in our spirits, we are denying it.

This applies particularly to ministers who love themselves more than God and the world more than heaven--in other words, ministers who worship God for the sake of high position and money--but still preach that charity and faith, everything good and true, all wisdom and in fact all prudence come from God, and nothing from us.

[2] In the spiritual world I once heard two ministers arguing with a royal envoy about whether our prudence comes from God or from ourselves. It was a lively argument. At heart, the three believed much the same thing, namely, that our own prudence accounts for everything and divine providence for nothing. However, at that point the priests, carried away by their theological zeal, kept saying that no element of wisdom or prudence comes from us; and when the envoy retorted that this meant no element of thought came from us, they said, "Not a bit."

Since the angels noticed that the three actually shared the same belief, they said to the envoy, "Put on some priestly robes and believe that you are a priest, and then start talking." He put on the robes and the belief, and proclaimed emphatically that there could be no possible trace of wisdom or prudence in us unless it came from God, defending this position with characteristic eloquence abundantly furnished with rational arguments. The angels then said to the two ministers, "Take off your robes and put on politicians' robes and believe that you are politicians." They did so, and as they did, they thought from their deeper selves and based their speech on arguments they had previously treasured up inside, arguments in favor of human prudence and against divine providence. After this, since the three of them shared the same belief, they became cordial friends and started off together down the path of human prudence, which leads to hell.

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