The Freedom Of Providence

In our society and I guess generally in the world, freedom is defined as having the ability or the right to act, to speak and think as one wants and a state of not being imprisoned or enslaved physically. But as we start to look more deeply into this, questions arise. This is because we can’t live in a vacuum where we aren’t affected by other people‘s opinions, the laws of society and cultural expectations and norms. These all influence our ability to think, act and speak and so one could argue that there is never anything like pure freedom because there are always factors and influences. But this is a view of freedom based on the external world of our physical senses. It is a concept of freedom that is deduced from what we see, smell, touch, taste and hear. Consequently, it is a perspective from the lower self that is based in a reality that isn’t tempered or reformed by spiritual principles or truths. It is an idea of freedom in which the Lord as the higher Self is not what rules or oversees as the law of the land.

The concept of spiritual freedom however, recognises the Divine. It doesn’t try to measure or define boundaries in what make us free or not free by examining the physical, external life. It is based in the principle that all are interconnected because everything living is the Lord, and that therefore, all influences all. Spiritual freedom is more about the idea that we aren’t actually in a state of freedom until we see what opposes the Lord, what opposes the truth and its good. There are passages in the doctrines for Spiritual Christianity that speak about the state of temptation being a state of highest freedom because it’s a state in which the person can see the evils and falsities present. Or at least see what they are able to see of them and conversely see the opposite goods and truths.

This is the case most of all during temptations, for in these-when the man compels himself to resist the evil and falsity which are infused and suggested by evil spirits, there is more of freedom than is possible in any state out of temptations-

although at the time the man cannot comprehend this-for there is an interior freedom, from which he wills to subjugate evil, and which is so great as to equal the force and strength of the evil that is assailing him, for otherwise he could not possibly wage the combat.

This freedom is from the Lord, who insinuates it into the man’s conscience, and by means of it, causes him to overcome the evil as from what is his own. Through this freedom, man acquires an Own in which the Lord can work what is good. (Arcana Coelestia 1937 [5])

Although it can be an extremely difficult time in having to see what opposes the Lord’s life flowing into us, it’s also a time of great freedom because it’s only then that we truly have a choice. If we can’t see clearly what opposes good and truth then the assumption is perhaps good and truth aren’t present in the first place because they are what shines light onto their opposites, the evils and falsities. And thus this is a state in which there are no clear distinctions:

It sometimes appears as if falsities and truths are in one subject; but these are not falsities that are opposite to the truths in him, but are those which are associated by applications. The subject in whom truths, and at the same time falsities which are opposite to them, subsist, is called “lukewarm;” and the subject in whom falsities and truths are mingled is called “profane. (Arcana Coelestia 5217)

for where truths are not, there is obscurity, because the light of heaven flows only into truths; for the light of heaven is Divine truth from the Lord.

Hence the truths with angels and spirits, and also with men, are subsidiary lights; but they have their light from the Divine truth by means of the good in the truths. (Arcana Coelestia 5219)

When we experience a state of good and truth being present but mingled in with the evils and falsities, it can feel like one big mass of mixed confusion that appears for us as a state of darkness, like the first day of creation.

and the land had existed in confusion and was unfilled,
and darkness was upon the face of the deep water
and the wind of Elohiym was fluttering upon the face of the waters,

(Genesis 1:2)

The paradox or the irony I find in the concept of spiritual freedom is that if we are in a state of seeing what opposes the good and truth, then it must mean that we are simply becoming more aware of the internal that is the Lord, as it flows down into our soul and mind and which is always fully present. So spiritual freedom is more about coming into an acknowledgement of the Lord and that He is Freedom itself because He is actually the Pure Vacuum itself- because He is the All. He is the All choices and the all ‘not choices’ are simply states when we aren’t in acknowledgement of Him. And thus, although temptation feels and is experienced as a time of great darkness, it is in truth …. a time of great enlightenment.

And it came to pass in the morning.

That this signifies ‘in this new state’, is evident from the signification of “it came to pass,” or “it was,” as involving what is new; and from the signification of the “morning,” as being a state of enlightenment

….This state and its quality are treated of here, showing that there was disturbance therein by reason of obscurity regarding the things that were happening.

But as regards the quality of this state scarcely anyone is able to know anything unless he is in a spiritual sphere and at the same time pays attention to the things that are taking place within him. Otherwise he cannot even know what it is to be generally enlightened, and particularly enlightened, nor even what it is to be enlightened at all,

still less that there is a disturbance at first in a general state of enlightenment, and that there is no quiet until the time when truths from good are replaced in their order.

(Arcana Coelestia 5221)

Our experience of coming out of temptation, of leaving the state of disturbance, is gradual though and it often feels like we move out of it in small steps and increments.  It can take a while to come to the realisation that what we are seeing is the Lord and there is usually a sense of His mercy and His Providence as this occurs.

The traditional view of Providence in the church seems to be one in which the Lord guides our every moment and every move, towards the end that he has planned for our heavenly life and specific use in the Grand Human. And that in every second of our life He is gently guiding us towards that, making sure we stay on the right path. It’s a lovely view of the gentleness and the mercy of the Divine and it can feel deeply moving, especially when it’s offered in times of distress and despair. To have that idea that even though it’s a difficult time, that the Lord is still holding our hand and guiding us and knows what we need and that we will be provided for; that there is the promise of a happy and full life eventually, in His kingdom in heaven.

This is all true and yet it feels childlike to me. It feels like something I would tell my children and indeed do tell them.  That’s not a bad thing. I think we all need to be offered this when we are in these states. I think the difficult states can only be met with the innocence of childlike affections because they are gentle and loving and tender. And when they are offered or received with the wisdom that the Lord owns these but that He is actually more than this finite image, then I think it might actually be a celestial truth that is present. Hence, the concept of Providence becomes an experience of His truth in the application of our life.

In this sense then, Providence seems to be another name for the Divine: another quality describing its nature. And this is an important point to make, as it is the quality that a name conveys in the Word, that deepens our perception of our relationship to the Lord, to the Divine.

…. in the spiritual world, or in heaven, not persons but things come into view, for persons limit the idea, and concentrate it upon something finite; whereas things do not limit and concentrate it, but extend it to the infinite, thus to the Lord.

For this reason also, no person named in the Word is perceived in heaven, but instead the thing that is represented by that person; so also no people or nation is perceived, but only its quality. Nay, not even is any historic statement of the Word about a person, nation, or people, known in heaven. (Arcana Coelestia 5225)

Within the word ‘Providence’ we can hear the suggestion of the word of provision. And within that, there is a deeper acknowledgement of the truth that the Lord is the provider of all; the provider of life itself. With this as our truth, then this process that we are in, that we know as ‘life’ and are experiencing, is the life of the Lord that has been provided for us. Just that simple concept alone when considered, carries with it the truth that no other knowledge is needed. If the Lord is seen as the life that one experiences, then it conveys the idea that what is given today is enough. There is no need to think of the Lord in past, present and future provision, in a time and space orientation, because ‘to give us this day, our daily bread” means that the state is now. The daily bread is the love that is present right now, on this day, in this state of ‘now’. But of course there would no experiences of the unfolding process of the Lord coming if we could hold this state eternally, so instead we fluctuate in an out of it and this movement is the Lord too. And when this is seen then Providence is named for its quality, as the ‘provision of life’.

We often hear it stated that it is Providence that we aren’t allowed to know what the outcomes of our decisions will be and that we aren’t even permitted to be conscious of His hand in guiding us, because that would take away our freedom. However, we are also continually reminded that the end is the Lord, that the outcome is heavenly life and that we move deeper and deeper into this, the more we become conscious and awake to His presence in our thoughts and affections.

This leads me back to the idea of spiritual temptation. In any kind of temptation we can only see what we are offered, what we as a vessel of reception are able to receive of the Divine.

Isn’t a state of temptation then, being shown what the outcome is?
Isn’t that what seeing and acknowledging evils and falsities demonstrate?

In a state of spiritual freedom we are shown the nature of what we are without the Lord because evil simply means the absence of the Lord. So in that sense we are shown the outcome of what life is like with the Lord, with love and what life is like without it.

Inasmuch as the internal and the external of the mind are so distinct, the internal can even fight with the external, and can force it by combat into compliance. Combat arises when a man thinks that evils are sins and therefore resolves to refrain from them; for when he refrains a door is opened, and when it is opened the Lord casts out the lusts of evil that have occupied the internal of thought, and implants affections for good in their place. This is done in the internal of thought.

But as the enjoyments of the lusts of evil that occupy the external of thought cannot be cast out at the same time, a combat arises between the internal and the external of thought, the internal wishing to cast out these enjoyments because they are enjoyments of evil and not in accord with the affections for good in which the internal now is, and to bring in, in place of these enjoyments of evil, enjoyments of good that are in accord. The enjoyments of good are what are called goods of charity. From this contrariety a combat arises; and when this becomes severe it is called temptation.

….. When, therefore, the internal conquers, as it does when the internal has reduced the external to acquiescence and compliance, the Lord gives man liberty itself and rationality itself; for the Lord then withdraws man from infernal freedom, which in itself is slavery, and brings him into heavenly freedom, which is in itself real freedom, and bestows upon him fellowship with the angels. (Divine Providence 145{2&4})

So heavenly freedom shows us what we are like without the Lord, what we are enslaved to when the external lower self rules. This doesn’t violate freedom though, because we are shown this, on the contrary, it frees us. It changes what we are able to respond and react to in the external life in the world because it offers new ways of seeing. Likewise, changes in our external life don’t change our ability to be in freedom, they just change what we are physically seeing and experiencing. They give us a new set of conditions as an external landscape to work with His truth in, to work with the Word in.

Each and every situation that we find ourselves in, in the physical external world, offers an opportunity to experience spiritual freedom. It’s true, that some externals appear as hash and constricted in comparison to others and will evoke different affections and thoughts for us to respond to and try to process. However, no two societies in heaven are alike, no two angels are alike and I think that translates to – no two states are alike. The Lord is always present whether you call this Freedom or Providence or the Divine or any of the other names of its nature. It’s always present, waiting to be made known, despite what appears to the senses.

and Elohiym said, light will exist, and light existed,
and Elohiym saw the light, given that it was functional,
and Elohiym made a separation between the light and the darkness,
(Genesis 1:3-4)

The freedom that the quality of providence bestows on us is an increasingly deeper sense of life, of being real and being alive in the life that is the Lord’s.

… With the angels of the third heaven; these angels perceive the influx of Divine love and Divine wisdom from the Lord; and because they perceive it, and from their wisdom know that these are life, they therefore say that they live from the Lord and not from themselves; and they not only say this, but they also love and desire that it may be so. Nevertheless, to all appearance, they are as if they lived from themselves; nay, rather in stronger appearance than other angels;

The more closely any one is conjoined with the Lord, the more distinctly he appears to himself as if he were his own, and the more clearly he perceives that he is the Lord’s. (Divine Providence 158)

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