He Leadeth Me

by Mr. Eldon Smith, authorized lay leader
at the Swedenborgian Church in San Diego
In the July, 1994 Issue of Our Daily Bread

Some of the most comforting passages in the Bible are those that tell us about the overruling providence of the Lord. In our natural and selfish states of thought and feeling we may doubt the providence of the Lord and sometimes even deny it. Looking at life from the natural side, regarding human happiness as a result of having lots of money and possessions or even longing for riches, honor and power, we may say that God is unjust or unkind when we fail to obtain such material things because we measure everything by natural standards.

It is a very common thing to acknowledge a truth such as the doctrine of the Divine Providence in a general way and yet deny it when we need to apply it to a particular state or condition of our own life. We may say we believe in Divine Providence which controls the affairs of the world and yet when asked in preference to the particular of our own lives we may feel that human judgment produces good results.

Being led by Divine Providence is not always recognized as we regard the events of our lives or the circumstances which surround us in this world. There are two opposite results which lead us to doubt the operation of the Divine Providence at times; one is the prosperity of the wicked and the other is the failure of those we consider good or righteous. 

However, these things should not lead us to have doubts, for we do not know what may be necessary for our spiritual growth. The end that the Lord has in mind is not natural success or material wealth but our spiritual and eternal good. Riches may be best for some and poverty for others. However, neither riches nor poverty will of themselves make us happy or miserable. Human joy and human sorrow lie deeper than this. They come from the love that rules our internal lives.

We may be inclined to ask how the Lord can govern in the smallest particulars of human life, in the affairs of millions of humans beings who inhabit this earth, or what part we have in our own destiny, or how our judgment can be of any use to us if the Divine Providence rules in everything, or what prevents us from adopting the idea of fatalism or predestination if we have nothing to do with shaping our own destiny.

This is an old problem, but let us remember that we are not denying free will when we attribute all power to the Lord and say that His providence extends to the smallest particulars of a person's life--we do shape our own destiny to the extent that we act in favor of or against the laws of Divine order.

It is our fault if we do not enter heaven. It may not be our own fault if we do not succeed in all our enterprises in this world which are intended for good, because there are influences at work that we may not be able to control. We may be surrounded by circumstances that defeat our plans. Then why does the Lord permit evil to control sometimes, or why can't He make sure that the good always succeed? This is basically the same question as to why the Lord permits any evil at all. The Lord will not permit evil to control our spiritual thoughts and affections unless we will it. No one can prevent another form being saved, although carrying out our good intentions into acts may be prevented for a while. The condition of all people is sad when they are deprived of their natural liberty, but this is nothing compared to the loss of their spiritual liberty.

It is the desire of the Lord that our freedom of choice should never be interfered with and even though He is always present with us and guides our footsteps. He never forces us to do right nor do we feel His providence working in our lives. He gives us all the ability to do right and He gives us a rational faculty so that we can tell right from wrong. When we disobey any law of order, we suffer the consequences even though we may not have intended evil. We may do wrong unwittingly or by accident, and then we are not charged with being guilty of the crime.

We cannot foresee or provide against all possible events. Our judgment is of no value where there are influences at work which are more powerful than our own will. Spiritual influences are unseen and these are continually at work. Both good spirits or angels and evil spirits are around us at all times, to aid or to hinder our purposes, and the Lord's providence is brought into the lowest things of the natural world through spiritual agencies and spiritual forces that are not seen by us.

It is not uncommon for someone to be suddenly save from danger by an unseen influence or power that caused him or her to avoid the danger ahead without knowing why.

This will be true of all our actions if we are willing to be led by the Lord. And if we sometimes suffer misfortunes, accidents, or calamities, we should not attribute them to a alack of mercy on the part of the Lord or to a suspension of the operation of His laws, because such a thing is impossible. The Divine laws are never suspended and the Lord's mercy never stops.

All the trials and misfortunes we endure should not make us lose our faith. For out of these trials and misfortunes, the Lord will helps us find good. This is true in our natural life as well as our spiritual life. Our spiritual elevation depends upon trial, loss, suffering, and failure. And this is because our selfish desires, those of the natural part of our being are not in harmony with God's will.

If we love and strive after those things which re forbidden and are not conducive to our real happiness or spiritual welfare, and at the same time acknowledge the truths of God's Word and the necessity of obedience to those truths, there will come a time when these natural desires must be given up, or when our cherished plans will fail and we suffer because we have not kept the law but have turned away from God.

Success or happiness may not immediately follow our effort to do right. We need to remember that it takes longer to repair a wrong or correct a mistake than it does to make one. It necessitates the confession of wrong in some way, either to God or one's fellowman, the surrender of natural pride, the complete humbling of self, and the earnest, deep and longing desire to refrain from making the same mistakes again.

The Lord gives everyone the power to achieve a final victory. "He gives power to the faint, and to him that has no might he increases strength. Even youths shall faint and be weary, and young men shall fall exhausted. But they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint." (Is. 40:29-31) These verses tell us to act from a principle of right and not just from emotion or feeling, and to have a rational faith rather than just blind trust.

Charity requires that the Lord's goodness and mercy and truth should be recognized in those things which concern others as well as ourselves. WE often see the failures and shortcomings of others, and forget that the Lord's providence is over them as well as over us and that His providence is universal. Until we admit that His mercy extends to everyone, we will not be able to appreciate it or understand it in respect to our own lives. When others fall or stumble, we should help them up, believing that, "The Lord upholds all who are failing, and raises up all who are bowed down" (Ps. 145:14), and that He will have mercy upon us and forgive us our transgressions as we forgive the transgressions of others and have pity on them even as He has had pity on us.

"The steps of a man are from the Lord, and he establishes him in whose way he delights; though he fall, he shall not be cast headlong, for the Lord is the stay of his hand. "

Scripture:

Do not fret because of the wicked; 
do not be envious of wrongdoers,
for they will soon fade like the grass, 
and wither like the green herb.

Trust in the Lord, and do good; 

so you will live in the land, and enjoy security.
Take delight in the Lord
and He will give you the desires of your heart.

Commit your way to the Lord;
trust in Him , and He will act.
He will make your vindication shine like the light,
and the justice of your cause like the noonday.

Be still before the Lord, and wait patiently for Him;
do not fret over those who prosper in their way,
over those who carry out evil devices.

Refrain from anger, and forsake wrath.
Do not fret - it leads only to evil.
For the wicked shall be cut off,
but those who wait for the Lord shall inherit the land.

Psalm 37:1-9

Reading from Swedenborg:

It is a law of the Divine Providence that we should act form freedom in according with reason, also that every thing a person wills, thinks, speaks, and does should appear to him to be from himself; also that without this appearance there would be nothing his to any one, nor would one be one's own person; thus one would have no ownhood [proprium]; and therefore nothing could be imputed to one; and without such imputation it would be a matter of indifference whether a person did evil or good, had the faith of God or the persuasion of hell; in a word, one would not be human. We would have no liberty to act in accordance with reason, and nothing would appear to us to be from ourselves, if the operation of the Divine providence were made evident to our perceptions and senses; since, if it were thus made evident we would be led by it; for the Lord leads all by means of His Divine providence, and we lead ourselves only in appearance. Consequently we we were led in accord with a living perception and sensation we would not be conscious of life, but would be moved to utter sounds and to act much like carved images. If we were still conscious of life we would be led like one bound hand and foot, or like a beast before a cart. Who doe snot see that we would then have no freedom? And if we had no freedom we would have no reason; for every one thinks from freedom and in freedom; and whatever one does not think from freedom and in freedom does not appear to be from oneself but from another; in fact, if you consider it interiorly you will perceive that we would then have no thought, still less any reason, and therefore would not be human.

Divine Providence #176


Music: On A Distant Shore
1999 Bruce DeBoer