Commentary

Worrying About the Future

By Rev. Brian W. Keith

A little boy, hands clasped tightly and eye squinched shut, says his prayers.

Consider the simple faith expressed in this psalm to the Lord. A confidence that evil will be punished and that good will always prevail. The future is bright. There is no need to worry.

We might assume that the author was an idealistic youth - one who has never experienced pain or disappointment. Yet this psalm did not come from any naive child. It was written by a very old man, a man who had known incredible hardships. It is a psalm of David.

Think of David. Although from a shepherd he became king, he also knew hardship. As a youth he had to flee for his life from the jealous Saul. He felt the grief over being responsible for the death of his infant son. Later, as king, he saw his children rape and kill one another. He was forced to flee Jerusalem for his life, because his own son Absalom had rebelled. Then he regained his throne at the cost of his beloved Absalom's life.

David experienced intense pain. Yet he could advise us not to worry about those who do evil. All we need do is trust in the Lord and do good. Indeed, he claims that those who commit their way to the Lord will have everything they need, even if it be but a little in comparison with those who are evil. There is nothing in the future to fear. The good will be rewarded for their efforts.

Comparing this psalm with David's life, we may think that he had an unrealistic view of providence. But consider a similar teaching from the doctrines of the New Church: "When the Lord is present with someone, he leads him, and provides that all things which happen, whether sad or joyful, befall him for good; this is the Divine providence" (Arcana Coelestia 6303). Whatever happens - being promoted or fired, realizing our dreams or having them dashed - all result in good!

A difficult idea to accept - in large part because it seems like the Lord thereby is just manipulating us, causing evil to come into our lives.

But such is not the case. The Lord would never make anything bad happen. And He would prefer that we never suffer any pain. His providence is a gentle leading which causes good things to happen, and tolerates evil things. However He permits us to hurt ourselves and He allows others to cause us pain. Not as punishment, but as the result of free choices by individuals and groups.

One of the greatest stumbling blocks to sensing mercy in His providence is that when we feel pain or worry about serious problems we think that is all there is in life. We cannot see beyond the suffering, the hurt. But while we are occupied with worry, the Lord is already looking ahead - to what can come from the experience, to how He can lead us to grow in spite of the difficulty. For the Lord's view is eternal. He sees hope when we see none. He leads to happiness when we feel hurt.

The apparently random and purposeless events in life are described in the Heavenly Doctrines with pebbles. The Lord allows a person "to go here and there, so that the moments of his life appear like scattered pebbles. But the Lord then sees whether he fills up that space between them; He sees what is lacking and where; and then, continually, what is next in order, after a hundred or a thousand years" (Spiritual Experiences 4692[m]). The Lord's sight and providence encompasses eons of time. He sees all we are, and all we might become. He then gradually provides for it - not immediately, but over the course of an eternal lifetime. Whatever happens, whatever decisions we make, or whatever others do to us - the Lord eventually turns everything to good.

Unfortunately, our view is seldom as long. We cannot see how things will turn out in twenty, much less two thousand years. And when we are suffering our sight is even more limited. So we worry about what will happen. We may try to trust in His guidance, but we are more likely to feel abandoned by the Lord. Whatever He might be doing is both invisible and insensible to us.

In such a frame of mind we might wish we could see the future, be certain of how things will work out. If we were assured of the specific outcome, or knew exactly which path were the best to follow, we could really trust in the Lord - have confidence in Him to lead us.

Yet, in this, as in all other things, the Lord knows us better than we know ourselves. He does not hide the workings of providence from us as a test of our trust, or a puzzle for us to sort out. The Divine does not tease us. But the Lord is fully aware that if we were to know the future, or if we received the "right" answers to our specific questions by a voice out of heaven, we would wind up destroying ourselves.

Imagine what we would feel like if someone predicted every last thing that we would experience for the 24 hours. At first we would disbelieve, but what if the predictions started coming true? It would be disturbing, to say the least. And would we not begin to feel restricted, and try to prevent the predictions from coming true?

We value our freedom, our sense of self. We will protect it at all costs. When we are forced to do something, or if we are pressured into one course of action, do we not rebel, wanting to act against that pressure?

Such resistance is not adolescent or infantile reaction to authority. It stems from our inner freedom of thought. For us to be human beings we need to think things out for ourselves and then act in freedom. Whatever choices we make determine the kind of person we become - and whether our choices are good or bad, at least they make us who we choose to be, not who someone else forces us to be.

Yet, when we are confused or suffering, we have a tremendous yearning to see something of the potential the Lord sees for us and those we love. Unfortunately, if we were able to glimpse it, we would probably work against it. A paradox which can be frustrating and lead us to worry about the future.

It would be much better if we could just let go and trust the Lord to make the best of whatever we do. That is what the angels do. They have no memory of past events from their earthly life to trouble them. Nor do they have any desire to know what is to come. For they are content in the present. Imagine if we could be so fully engaged in our present activities, dealing with what we can do rather than what is beyond our power, that we had no time to worry about the future! It is a goal worth striving for.

But for now, we tend to worry. We tend to worry about our jobs, our health, our children, the international situation, our spiritual state. It can on go on and on. Certainly some amount of thoughtful consideration is important. We are meant to make plans for the future - use good judgment to provide for our families. And we can delight in looking forward to continued productivity or happier times. But planning and worrying about what might or might not occur can become excessive.

The Psalms admonish us: "Cease from anger, and forsake wrath; do not fret - it only causes harm" (37:8). Do not worry, it only causes pain. Thinking too much of the future can lead us to forget that the Lord's providence is silently guiding us. The doctrines of the New Church point out that, "a longing to know the future is innate with most people; but this longing derives its origin from the love of evil" (Psalm 179).

Anxiety about the future stems from a lack of confidence that the Lord can lead us to happiness. Since He works invisibly, we can think that we are the only ones who have any direct influence upon what happens. It is a subtle trust in self, and denial that the Lord can be relied upon. Certainly it appears as if we have to do all the work, but it is not the reality. For we could not have created ourselves. We can't even make ourselves happy!

So the Heavenly Doctrines describe the Lord's providence "as when one walks in thick forests, the exit out of which he does not know; but when he finds it, he attributes the discovery to himself, whereas providence meantime is as one who stands in a tower, sees the wanderings of such a person, and leads him without his knowing it to the place of exit" (Spiritual Experiences 4393). The Lord is in the tower, inspiring our thoughts, motivating our actions so that we can be led from darkness into light.

But His guiding can only be effective when we cooperate. We have to search for ways out of the forest. The Lord gave us the ability to think so we would use it. If we sit back and ponder our situation, how hopeless it may seem, little is accomplished. Can we add one cubit to our height by worrying about it? We also need to act. If we stand around and complain about how lost we are, or how unfair life is, it is very difficult for the Lord to lead us anywhere. He will not drag us out of our forests against our wills.

It is as the Psalm said: "Trust in the Lord and do good." Such simple advice, but so true! We cannot alter the past, but we can do something in the present, enabling the Lord to create a happy future.

There will still be times of selfishness where we long to know how things could possibly work out, and there will still be things happening to us which are not pleasant. We cannot control life. But we can avoid being defeated by it. We have been given the knowledge of how the Lord operates to bring about happiness in the long term. We have been given the freedom to act with reason. We have the basis for trusting in Him.

Let us then listen to the Psalm, not worrying about the future, not worrying about what is or what might be. Let us do the good that we can, and leave the rest to the Lord. After all, He should be able to do a much better job than we. Let us commit our ways to the Lord, trusting in Him, and He can give us the heavenly desires of our hearts.

(References: Arcana Coelestia 6303; Divine Providence 176; Spiritual Experiences 2178, 4393, 4692)

From Swedenborg's Works

Arcana Coelestia #9050

Arcana Coelestia (Elliott translation)

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9050. The fact that 'soul' means spiritual life is clear from the meaning of 'soul' as a person's life - the life of his faith, which is spiritual life. Various places in the Word use the expression 'heart and soul', and in those places 'heart' means the life of love and 'soul' the life of faith. A person has two mental powers for receiving life from the Lord, one being called the will, the other the understanding. Love belongs to the power called the will, for forms of the good of love compose its life; but faith belongs to the power called the understanding, for the truths of faith compose its life. Yet these two powers of life with a person nevertheless make one; and when they make one matters of faith are also aspects of love because they are loved, and aspects of love in turn are also matters of faith because they are believed. This is the kind of life that all in heaven possess.

[2] The reason why in the Word the life of love, or what amounts to the same thing, the will, is called 'the heart', and why the life of faith, or what amounts to the same thing, the understanding, is called 'the soul', is this: Those in the Grand Man or heaven who are governed by love to the Lord and are called celestial angels constitute the province of the heart, and those governed by faith in the Lord and from this by charity towards the neighbour constitute the province of the lungs, see 3635, 3883-3896. So it is that 'the heart' in the Word means love, which is the life of the will, while 'the soul' means faith, which is the life of the understanding, 2930, 7542, 8910. For 'soul' in the original language is derived from a word that means breathing, which is the function of the lungs.

[3] The reason why faith belongs to the understanding is that this mental power is enlightened by the Lord when the person receives faith, so that he has light, or discernment of truth, in such things as are matters of faith when he reads the Word. And the reason why love belongs to the will is that this mental power is kindled by the Lord when the person receives love, so that he has the fire of life and keen perception of good.

[4] All this shows what the proper meaning of 'the heart' is in the Word and what the proper meaning of 'the soul' is, as in the following places: In Moses, You shall love Jehovah your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. Deuteronomy 6:5-6.

In the same author,

You shall love Jehovah your God, and serve Him, with all your heart and with all your soul. Deuteronomy 10:12; 11:13.

In the same author,

You shall keep the statutes and judgements, and observe them, with all your heart and with all your soul. Deuteronomy 26:16.

In the Gospels,

Jesus said, You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and your thought. Matthew 22:37; Mark 12:30, 32; Luke 10:27.

'Heart' stands for the life of love, and 'soul' for the life of faith. 'Strength' stands for those things that emanate from the life of love, and so from the heart or will, and 'thought' stands for those that emanate from the life of faith, and so from the soul or an enlightened understanding.

(References: Deuteronomy 6:5)


[5] Similarly in Isaiah,

A deceived heart causes him to go astray, so that he does not rescue his soul and say, Is there not a lie in my right hand? Isaiah 44:20.

In Jeremiah,

I will rejoice over them to do them good, and I will plant them in the land in truth, with all My heart and with all My soul. Jeremiah 32:41.

This refers to Jehovah, that is, to the Lord. 'Heart' is attributed to Him because of His Divine Goodness, which is the good of love or mercy with a person, and 'soul' because of His Divine Truth, which is the truth of faith with him.

[6] Few within the Church at the present day know that these things are meant by 'the hears' and 'the soul' in the Word. They do not know them because they have not considered that a person has two powers of mind that are distinct from each other, that is to say, the will and the understanding, and that these two powers must constitute a single mind if the person is to be truly human. Nor have they considered that all things in the whole of creation, both in heaven and in the world, have connection with goodness and truth, and that these must be joined together if they are to be anything or be productive. The outcome of their ignorance of these things has been that they have separated faith from love; for one who is ignorant of those universal laws cannot know that faith has connection with truth and love with good, or that unless faith and love have been joined together they are not anything. Faith without love is not faith, and love without faith is not love. Love receives its specific quality from faith, and faith its life from love, so that faith without love is dead, whereas faith together with love is living. The truth of this becomes clear from every detail in the Word, for where faith is dealt with, so too is love, in order that the marriage of good and truth, that is, heaven, and in the highest sense the Lord, may be present in every single detail there. Regarding the existence of that marriage, see 683, 793, 801, 2516, 2712, 4138 (end), 5138, 5502, 6343, 7945, 8339. From all this it is now evident why it is that a member of the Church has not up to now known what is meant in the Word by 'the heart' and what by 'the soul'.

[7] The meaning of 'the soul' in the Word as the life of faith becomes perfectly clear from places where 'the soul' is mentioned, as in the following: In Moses,

No one shall take 1 as a pledge the mill or the milling stone, for he is taking the [person's] soul as a pledge. Deuteronomy 24:6.

It says that he takes the soul as a pledge if he takes the mill because in the internal sense 'the mill' means matters of faith, 7780. In Isaiah,

It will be as when a hungry man dreams - as if he were eating - but when he wakes up his soul is fasting; or as when a thirsty man dreams - as if he were drinking - but when he wakes up, behold, he is faint, and his soul is craving. Isaiah 29:8.

'A fasting soul' and 'a craving soul' stand for the desire to learn the forms of good and the truths of faith. In the same prophet,

If you bring out for the hungry your soul 2 and satisfy the afflicted soul ... Isaiah 58:10.

'Bringing out for the hungry your soul' stands for teaching the truths of faith to one who desires them, and 'satisfying the afflicted soul' stands for teaching the good of faith.

[8] In Jeremiah,

If you clothe yourself in twice-dyed and deck yourself with ornaments of gold, if you widen your eyes with stibium, 3 in vain will you make yourself beautiful; your lovers will abhor you, they will seek your soul. Jeremiah 4:30.

Here 'soul' stands for the life of faith, and therefore for the faith itself present with a person since it composes his spiritual life. The fact that faith is what 'soul' is used to mean is evident from the details of the verse. In the same prophet,

They will come and sing on the height of Zion, and converge towards the goodness of Jehovah, towards wheat, and towards new wine, and towards oil, and towards the young 4 of the flock and of the herd; and their soul will become like a watered garden. I will water the weary soul, and every soul that sorrows [I will replenish]. Jeremiah 31:12, 25.

'Soul' stands for the life of faith present with a member of the Church, who is said to become like a garden because 'a garden' means intelligence, which consists of the truths of faith, 100, 108, 2702; and the soul is said to be watered because 'being watered' means receiving instruction.

[9] In the same prophet,

In peril of our souls we acquire our bread, because of the sword of the wilderness. Lamentations 5:9.

'Peril of souls' is the risk of loss of belief and therefore of spiritual life; for 'the sword of the wilderness' is falsity engaged in conflict against the truths of faith, 2799, 4499, 6353, 7102, 8294. In Ezekiel,

Javan, Tubal, and Meshech, they were your merchants; untie the souls of men (homo) and vessels of bronze, they traded for you. 5 Ezekiel 27:13.

'The souls of men' stands for the more internal truths of faith derived from good, 'vessels of bronze' for the more external truths of faith derived from good. 'Vessels' are the more external truths or factual knowledge containing truths, 3068, 3079, and 'bronze' is the good of the natural, 425, 1551. Without the knowledge that 'the souls of men' means faith no one could understand what is meant by trading 'with the souls of men and with vessels of bronze'.

[10] In the same prophet,

Every living soul that creeps, wherever the [two] rivers come to, will live; as a result the fish become very many, for these waters go there, and become fresh. Ezekiel 47:9.

This refers to the new temple, that is, to the new spiritual Church from the Lord. 'Living soul that creeps' stands for factual knowledge embodying the truths of faith; 'the fish' which as a result are many are known facts, 40, 991; and 'the rivers' stands for matters of intelligence, which consists of the truths of faith, 2702, 3051. Again no one could know without the internal sense what might be meant by the fish which become many as a result of the rivers going there. In David,

Make me safe, O God, for the waters have come even to my soul. Psalms 69:1.

And in Jonah,

The waters surrounded me, even to my soul. Jonah 2:5.

'Waters' here stands for falsities, and also for temptations caused by falsities that have been introduced, 705, 739, 756, 790, 8137, 8138, 8368.

(References: Arcana Coelestia 8137-8138)


[11] In Jeremiah,

Jehovah has said, Will not My soul be avenged on a nation which is like this? Jeremiah 5:9, 29.

In the same prophet, Take warning, 6 O Jerusalem, lest My soul turn from you, and I reduce you to a waste.

Since 'soul' is attributed to the Lord it stands for Divine Truth. In John,

The second angel poured out his bowl into the sea, and it became like the blood of one dead, from which every living soul died in the sea. Revelation 16:3.

'The sea' stands for known facts in their entirety, 28; 'blood' stands for the truths of faith derived from good, and in the contrary sense for truths of faith that have been falsified and rendered profane, 4735, 6978, 7317, 7326. Therefore 'living soul' stands for life from faith.

(References: Jeremiah 6:8)


[12] In Matthew,

Do not be anxious for your soul, what you are going to eat or what you are going to drink. Matthew 6:25.

'Soul' stands for the truths of faith, 'eating and drinking' for receiving instruction in the goodness and truth of faith; for the internal sense at this point refers to spiritual life and the nourishment of that life. In the same gospel,

Whoever wishes to find his soul will lose it, and whoever loses his soul for My sake will find it. Matthew 10:39.

'Soul' stands for the life of faith, such as believers possess, and in the contrary sense for the life that is not that of faith, such as unbelievers possess. In Luke,

In your patience possess your souls. Luke 21:19.

'Possessing their souls' stands for the things of faith and consequently of spiritual life. 'Soul' has a similar meaning in very many other places.

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Footnotes:

1. literally, He shall not take, reading Non ... accipiet for Non ... accipies (You shall not take)

2. i.e. If you bring food out of store for the hungry

3. literally, break open the eyes with stibium. Stibium was a cosmetic used for blackening the eyelids and eyebrows, thereby making the eyes look brighter or more open.

4. literally, the sons

5. literally, they gave your trading

6. literally, Admit castigation

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(References: Exodus 21:23; Matthew 6:26)

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From Swedenborg's Works

Inbound References:

Arcana Coelestia 9055, 9213, 9231, 9269, 9281, 9300, 9385, 9398, 9460, 9817, 9818, 9823, 9902, 9909, 9936, 10032, 10155, 10301, 10336


References from Swedenborg's unpublished works:

Apocalypse Explained 15, 70, 109, 167, 222, 696, 745, 946

Other New Christian Commentary

Heart 1

Soul 1

Heart and soul 1


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


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