By Joe David

God’s purpose in creating the universe was to end up with a heaven populated by angels - people - from the human race. All His laws, which collectively may be called the Divine Providence, are dedicated to that end. One of those laws is that people must be in freedom to choose to follow those laws or not, because only those things chosen in freedom from a love for them is lasting. This means that people may choose to do evil without obvious, external restraint from the Lord. No hand will come down out of the sky, and no terrible voice will call, “stop!”. The Lord can only work internally in each person using what the person has in his or her understanding or conscience. His overarching law that requires human freedom prevents anything else.

The evils that occur in such circumstances are called permissions. They can serve a purpose. In someone who has a conscience, and wants to do what is right, the doing of some evil or even the thought of doing some evil will bring to the person's attention that a love for that evil exists in them, and a resistance to both the thought and deed must be developed so that shunning the evil can become less difficult. When a person who doesn’t have a conscience does evil, and that evil breaks out into external acts, then others can see that open evil. If dismayed by it, they can see that they should avoid it, or if they see an incipient love for it in themselves, they can work to shun any thought of dwelling on it in their imagination, or, worse, doing it themselves. In this way the Lord can make use of evils that arise in hell. In the work entitled "Divine Providence" we are taught that the Lord never allows evils that cannot serve a useful warning purpose that may lead toward salvation.

(References: Apocalypse Revealed 686; Arcana Coelestia 1299, 2447 [2], 6489, 6574 [2-3], 8227 [2]; Divine Providence 16, 234, 251 [1-2])

From Swedenborg's Works

Divine Providence #251

Divine Providence (Dole translation)

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251. 3. People who worship themselves and the world justify their rejection of divine providence as well when they think that wars are permitted, in which so many people are killed and their wealth plundered. It is not because of divine providence that wars happen, because wars are inseparable from murder, plunder, violence, cruelty, and other appalling evils that are diametrically opposed to Christian caring. However, it is absolutely necessary that they be permitted, because since the earliest people, the times meant by Adam and his wife (see 241 above), our life's love has become basically a love of controlling others, ultimately everyone, and of gaining possession of the world's wealth, ultimately all of it. These two loves cannot be kept in chains as long as it is the intent of divine providence that we act freely and rationally, as already explained in 71-97 [71-99]. There is also the fact that if it were not for this permission, the Lord could not lead us out of our evil, so we could not be reformed and saved. That is, unless evils were allowed to surface, we would not see them and therefore would not admit to them; so we could not be induced to resist them. That is why evils cannot be suppressed by some exercise of divine providence. If they were, they would stay closed in, and like the diseases called cancer and gangrene, would spread and devour everything that is alive and human.

(References: Divine Providence 241)

[2] From birth, each of us is like a little hell in constant conflict with heaven. The Lord cannot rescue any of us from our hell unless we see that we are in it and want to be rescued. This cannot happen unless there are instances of permission that are caused by laws of divine providence.

This is why there are lesser and greater wars, the lesser ones between property owners and their neighbors and the greater ones between the rulers of nations and their neighbors. The only difference between the lesser and the greater ones is that the lesser ones are limited by national laws and the greater ones by international laws. There is also the fact that in both cases the participants want to violate the laws, and that the lesser ones cannot, but the greater ones can, though still not beyond the bounds of possibility.

[3] There are several reasons hidden in the treasury of divine wisdom why the greater wars, with all their inevitable murder, plunder, violence, and cruelty, are not suppressed by the Lord, acting on the monarchs and leaders, either at the outset or while the wars are in progress. They are suppressed only at the end, when the power of one side or the other has become so weak that there is a threat of extinction. Some of these reasons have been revealed to me, and one of them is that all wars, regardless of the civil issues involved, portray states of the church in heaven and are corresponding images. This was true of all the wars described in the Word, and it is true of all wars today. The wars described in the Word are the ones the Israelites waged with various nations such as the Amorites, the Ammonites, the Moabites, the Philistines, the Syrians, the Egyptians, the Chaldeans, and the Assyrians. When the Israelites, portraying the church, departed from their precepts and laws and fell into the evils meant by these nations (each of the nations the Israelites went to war with portrayed some particular kind of evil), then they were punished by that nation. For example, when they profaned the holy practices of the church by committing gross idolatry they were punished by the Assyrians and Chaldeans, because Assyria and Chaldea stand for the profanation of what is holy. For the meaning of the wars with the Philistines, see Teachings for the New Jerusalem on Faith 50-54 [Teachings for the New Jerusalem on Faith 49-54].

(References: Teachings about Faith 50-54)

[4] Wars in our own times, wherever they occur, portray the same kind of things. Everything that happens in this physical world is in response to something that is happening in the spiritual world, and everything spiritual involves the church. In this world, no one knows what countries in Christendom are the equivalents of the Moabites and the Ammonites, the Syrians and the Philistines, the Chaldeans and the Assyrians, and the other nations against whom the Israelites waged war, but their equivalents do exist.

We in this physical world are absolutely incapable of seeing what the quality of the earthly church is, and which are the particular evils it has given way to, for which it is suffering the punishments of war. This is because all that show in this world are outward matters that do not constitute the church. We can see them in the spiritual world, though, where the inner realities are visible that the real church is concerned with. All the people there form alliances in keeping with their states. Their conflicts in the spiritual world correspond to our wars; and both are correspondingly governed by the Lord according to his divine providence.

[5] Spiritual-minded people realize that the Lord is governing wars in this world by his divine providence, but materialists do not, except when a holiday is declared because of a victory. Then they may get down on their knees and thank God for giving them victory; and they may have said a few prayerful words before the battle began. When they come to their own senses, though, they credit the victory either to their leader's skill or to some decision or event in the middle of the battle, something that they did not think about at the time, but that led to the victory.

[6] On the fact that divine providence, called "luck," is at work in even the smallest, most trivial details, see 212 above. If you recognize divine providence in these matters, you must surely recognize it in affairs of war. In everyday language, we refer to a war's progress and serendipitous events as "the fortunes of war." This is divine providence, especially in the decisions and planning of the leaders, even if at the time and afterwards they attribute everything to their own prudence.

But they may do this if they want to, since they are in complete freedom to think in favor of divine providence or against it, in favor of God or against him. However, they might know that no trace of their decisions or planning comes from themselves. It all comes either from heaven or from hell--from hell by permission, and from heaven by providence.

(References: Divine Providence 212)

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