Category Archives: Providence & Permission

Why the Lord Permits War

By Rev. Michael Gladish

In the book of New Church doctrine about Divine Providence we find a chapter titled “Evils are permitted for the sake of an end, which is salvation” (DP 275-278). After an introductory explanation the chapter is divided into four headings:

I. Everyone is in evil, and must be led away from evil that he may be reformed.

II. Evils cannot be removed unless they appear.

III. So far as evils are removed they are forgiven.

IV. Thus the permission of evil is for the sake of the end, namely, salvation.

There is a lot in these few sentences, and much that needs explanation. But before we get into that let’s give a little thought to all the wars and other evils that are described in Scripture, and especially note the fact that the Lord very often urged the Israelites to make war against their enemies. Not only that, but even in the New Testament the Lord said He came not to bring peace but a sword (Matt. 10:34) and He told his disciples to go and buy swords for battle (Luke 22:36). This of course contrasts with our usual picture of the Lord forsaking violence of any kind, but it is nevertheless part of the bigger picture. In Revelation, too, the opening vision is of the Lord with a “sharp, two-edged sword” coming out of His mouth, and this is followed later by John’s account of “war in heaven” (Rev. 12:7).

So let’s not deceive ourselves, or be deceived. Even though it is an evil – a horrible evil – not to be provoked under any circumstances, clearly there are times when it is unavoidable, as described in Scripture, when an enemy attacks, or when it abuses the innocent.

Of course the wars in Scripture are all symbolic, that is to say, they correspond to the battles of temptation that we must fight if we are to overcome the enemies of our spiritual lives: evils, falsities, resentments, jealousies, laziness, vindictiveness; whatever they may be. We read about these correspondences in our third lesson this morning (DP #251). Note that the context there is the argument of some that there is no such thing as providence, otherwise God would prevent wars. But the passage shows that wars are permitted so that evils can be seen, acknowledged and addressed, lest they lie festering beneath the surface in human hearts and minds.

In this connection it is important to keep in mind that there are natural evils and there are spiritual evils. The Lord clearly distinguished them when He declared in Luke, “My friends, do not be afraid of those who kill and body and after that have no more that they can do. But I will show you whom you should fear: Fear Him who, after He has killed, has power to cast into hell; yes, I say to you, fear Him!” (Luke 12:4-5). This is reinforced in another teaching in the book about providence where we read that “the Divine providence regards eternal things, and not temporal things except so far as they accord with eternal things” (DP #214-220). In short, we must be willing to lay down our natural lives if necessary in order to preserve and provide for our spiritual lives and the lives of others, “For what is a man profited if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul?” (Matt. 16:24-26, John 14:27, 15:13 & 16:33).

Today, this week, we are facing the almost certain reality of a truly awful international conflict. And to make matters worse, it is not only the peace of a given region or of the several potential combatants that is at stake, the very fabric of the United Nations seems to be about to unravel. What is our appropriate response to this situation? How can we reconcile it with our faith in a wise and merciful, loving God? Why does the Lord seem set to allow all this to happen?

Well, of course we have our responsibilities as citizens – not just of our nation but of the world – to do all that is in our power to prevent this atrocity. We have our duty to try to understand, not just the outward circumstances but the more profound issues involving human freedom, order, judgment, good or bad government, and fair opportunities to obtain the basic necessities of life. And we need to be respectful of opinions based on facts as they are understood by those on both sides of any debate about war. No one wants to be responsible for any more death or destruction than is absolutely necessary, but it is an eternal truth that evil people will do everything in their power to deceive the good, and sometimes a failure to take up arms can result in even greater loss of life and freedom than to do so.

This is the fundamental principle of all temptation. The hells – or those representing the hells in our lives – will do all in their power to make us think that something wrong is alright or even good, and if we lose our focus, our nerve or our faith in the Lord we will give in to their arguments and suffer far more than we would have in the battle to resist.

Now the doctrines are clear that we must “do good” to everyone, but in the case of those who are either evil or hurting others, particularly innocent others, the way to do good to them is to encourage – or even force them through punishment – to change. So in a summary we read, “Doing good (that is, giving aid) to the evil is doing evil to the good,” for it gives the evil the opportunity to continue hurting others. To use an analogy given in the doctrines, it is like putting a knife into the hands of a killer.

One reason, then, that the Lord permits war is that by means of it the evil, or those who are hurting others, can be stopped, if not reformed. In this connection the teachings are very clear that wars of defense are entirely justified – IF it is the good of the society or nation that is being defended (TCR #407 & 414). On the other hand wars of aggression which are not necessary to defend the innocent but are waged for purposes of theft or domination over others cannot be condoned. The challenge for the citizen, obviously, is to determine the real reasons for war, and then act accordingly. But this is never easy!

First, “Everyone is in evil, and must be led away from evil that he may be reformed.” Note, we are not born evil, nor are we responsible for any hereditary tendencies to evil, but we do all have such tendencies and it is true that if we don’t identify them and correct them they will remain in us and we in them to our eternal detriment. “For,” as we read, “those who give no thought to the evils in themselves, that is, who do not examine themselves and afterwards refrain from evils, cannot but be ignorant of what evil is and then love it from its delight. For he who does not know evil loves it, and he who neglects to think about it is continually in it” (DP #101).

When war breaks out, for whatever reason, we are given endless opportunities to see the evils first of all in others, as we like to do, but then, also, if we are thoughtful about it, in ourselves. For we can see obviously the real impact of the loves of self and the world when they are allowed to go unchecked. So we can see the dreadful nature of our own hereditary inclinations if they are allowed to go unchecked, and maybe get enough of a shock to inspire some reformation.

Second, we read, “Evils cannot be removed unless they appear.” Why not? Well, the obvious reason is that if we can’t see them we can’t recognize them or appreciate their real hurtful nature. Let’s take an example: you really dislike someone or you bear a grudge because of something that happened between you and that other person. As long as you don’t say or do anything horrible to the other person it may seem like there’s no harm done. In fact you may not even realize how strongly you feel, but still it eats away at you. Then one day unexpectedly you blurt something out and the air turns blue. The damage is done, fists fly or tears are shed, more angry words are exchanged and you suddenly realize you are out of control. But you can’t just “take back” your words or actions; something real has just spilled out of you and now you have to deal with it.

This is an opportunity for change – real change on the inside, as you can now see the real consequences of the attitude that caused this outburst.

It is the same with war. Typically war exposes underlying inequities in government policies, economic circumstances and other material or spiritual needs. These situations are almost all caused by decisions made in some degree of human freedom, and just as the Lord gives us freedom to make dangerous and foolish decisions so He also gives us freedom to make wise and constructive ones. We must be free, otherwise there’s no point to anything we do, and no reason for any of us to take any responsibility. But when we actually see the impact of our foolish decisions, or the foolish decisions of others, then quite possibly for the first time we can see the need for change. And that, clearly, among other things is what we are seeing on the world stage right now.

The third heading in the chapter on Providence informs us that “So far as evils are removed they are forgiven.” This follows clearly and can be seen clearly in any conflict you may consider – for example the ongoing strife between the Palestinians and the Jews. As long as inequities or fears or hatreds continue unabated there can be no forgiveness, but when the evils are removed then there is at least the hope of some resolution.

A lot of people don’t understand what forgiveness is, by the way. The Latin word in the doctrines is actually remittere, which means to send away. Forgiveness doesn’t eradicate an evil or “wash it away,” it is a process of sending it away, and this the Lord Himself actually does for us, working on our internal states as we do what is in our power to do in external life by shunning evil feelings, false thoughts and hurtful actions (DP #100, etc.).

You know, all evil really comes from hell. It is not “built in” or created by society, as if that were some corrupting force in its own right. And in so far as it comes from hell it can be rejected and sent back there by a mindful effort. “If (we) believed, as is the truth, that all good and truth originate from the Lord, and all evil and falsity from hell, (we) would not appropriate good to (ourselves) and account it meritorious, nor would (we) appropriate evil to (ourselves) and account (ourselves) responsible for it” (DP #320). Still, it is up to us to make a conscious decision about what we will embrace, shunning and refusing to accept what is wrong. When we do this the Lord does the rest, forgiving, or sending away, the evil, keeping it under control.

How does this work – or apply – in evils of international proportions, i.e., literal wars? Well, every nation is made up of large states or provinces, local communities and individuals. Every army is made up of large divisions, units, groups and finally soldiers, one after another. So the whole business of war ultimately rests on the shoulders of individuals who must make individual decisions in free will according to an informed conscience. The simple act of voting, the choice of an occupation or life style, whether we are open- or closed-minded about other cultures and ways of life – all these things can add up to a nation’s need or decision to go to war. So we must be careful what we think and want, and what we ask our nation’s leaders to do for us.

“Thus,” finally, we read, “the permission of evil is for the sake of the end, namely salvation.”

As we’ve noted, evil lurks in the hearts of all people, some of it as hereditary tendencies, some as acquired inclinations, but unless we were allowed to think about it we would never recognize or acknowledge it. And as we think about it we are allowed to propose it to ourselves and consider how we might enjoy it or benefit from it. It is at this point – in our rational minds – that we have the opportunity to weigh the arguments against it, arguments, the Writings say, that come from civil, moral and spiritual considerations, “three graces” that provide for the healing of the will (DP #283).

In effect, we have the power to think and talk ourselves out of evil if we will just apply ourselves to the task.

Do we therefore also have the power to think and talk our way out of war? Well, most certainly we do, but in the case of war, obviously, it is a collective, public, mutual decision. So we have to work with others to achieve the right outcome. This is hard. And what we can’t change we must accept – with eternal life in mind. But the Word and the doctrines are clear: in the case of war that is truly fought for the protection of life and the defense of the innocent, we must not equivocate or we will all suffer – the whole world will suffer – in the end.

What goes around comes around. Appeasement of tyrants doesn’t work, any more than appeasement of evil thoughts and feelings works in our private lives. But by the same token we cannot allow ourselves to become tyrants or to be duped into supporting them in wars of aggression, any more than we can try to fight evil with aggressive, selfish attitudes. Only the Lord in His perfect love and wisdom can bring real peace within our own lives, in our consciences and on the world stage. Therefore let us pray this morning that our hearts may be open to the leading and government of His providence, and to the instruction given in His Word.


Why Does The Lord Let Bad Things Happen?

By Rev. Grant R. Schnarr

Sometimes the world can appear so cruel. In fact it is cruel if we look at it. Men can be so cruel. We don’t have to look very far back into history to remember Adolph Hitler, what he did, the horror of exterminating six million Jews. We don’t even have to look that far back if we know anything about Cambodia and what has happened there lately, or even some of the happenings that go on in South Africa today. Or on a different scale, all we have to do is turn on our television sets and we can see things that happen in our own neighborhoods. And we can wonder to ourselves, why does the Lord let man be so cruel to his brother or sister? It is an amazing thing.

Also we can look at life, and life sometimes can appear to be so cruel. Earthquakes or volcanoes burying thousands of people. Sickness and disease, famines, have wiped out innocent children who did nothing wrong. Why do these things happen? If there really is a loving God, why does He allow bad things to happen to people?

Well one answer to this would be that there is no God, that life is just sort of running in its own way in some sort of chaotic path, and no one knows where it will go. Some people have looked at the world and come to that conclusion, there can’t be a God with all this suffering. But many of us have not come to that same conclusion. In the good times we’ve seen that there is a God because we’ve felt Him. There have been times when we’ve been up in the mountains away from the city, in nature. We’ve felt God in that nature and had an understanding of Him deep in our hearts. Even in times of distress we’ve felt that God was closer to us. We’ve felt His presence. Perhaps when we were reading His Word He spoke to us. And we know He exists. Then how do we reconcile this loving God with the world that seems so cruel?

In the first place, no one can make the horror OK. It is horrible! No one can say that these disorders that happen are good, are right. They aren’t. The Lord does not make these disorders happen. The Lord does not punish people. We cannot say it is God’s will when someone dies before their time. It’s not. God wishes all people to grow and lead a healthy and productive life. God won’t punish anyone for doing anything wrong. The nature of God is Love itself, and we know that. It’s common sense. Well, how can we turn around and say that Love itself is going to punish somebody, to hurt them for something they did wrong? It doesn’t work that way. God is the God of love but He had to allow these things to happen. And that’s what we’ll look at.

In order to get an understanding of this, we have to look at God’s view of the world, the way the Lord looks at it and not from the way we look at it. What is God? He is Love itself. In the beginning, whenever that was in creation, however that took place, God created mankind so that He would have someone to love outside Himself. The nature of love is to love someone outside of yourself, to want to bless them, to make them happy from yourself. But not only that, also to have that love returned to you. We know, in relationships, when we think of a time, maybe when we were in high school and had a crush on someone, how much we thought that we loved them, and we wanted so much to have them return that love to us, and how frustrating it was when they didn’t. The same is even more true in adult relationships. We know that it takes two to have a relationship, two to have genuine love, friendship, blessing. So God created mankind, not only to love and to bless, but to have man love Him back.

Now the only way that man can love God back is if mankind is free to love God. And in order to be free to love and follow God, he also had to be free to turn away. And when we turn away from the Lord, that’s when we get into trouble. That’s when we hurt ourselves. That’s when a lot of this horror is seen in the world that men do to each other. Freedom is essential with love. If you take away freedom, you take away love.

Imagine yourself and some of the things that you love to do, even those things that are wrong, maybe not terrible things, but the little habits that you love to do. Imagine if you were just getting ready to do them and starting to enjoy yourself, and all of a sudden they were taken away from you and you couldn’t do them any more. You’d feel robbed. You’d feel as if you weren’t free. Imagine if you were in a world where everyone was perfect, everyone appeared to be loving each other – everyone was working for each other, but they weren’t free to do so. They had to love each other. They had to work for each other. They had to benefit each other. It wouldn’t work. It’s like something out of an Orson Welle’s book, or one of the Star Trek episodes, to have that happen.

Now the Lord couldn’t just set it up so there would be appearances of freedom, but then if we went too far He would stop us. He couldn’t do that because that would wreck freedom for us. Imagine that. We could do anything we wanted. And yet as soon as we went to do something wrong, God would stop us, “Nope, you can’t do that.” It wouldn’t work that way. At Oakton Community College, someone asked me once, “Do you mean, Adolph Hitler was allowed to exterminate six million Jews simply to preserve his freedom?” And the answer is, yes, but not just Adolph Hitler’s freedom, mankind’s freedom. God can’t break His rules. If God came down and stopped Adolph Hitler by some miracle, everyone would lose their freedom. He’d take away humanity. Now God did work through man, through armies, through setting up situations to help man defeat Adolph Hitler but God couldn’t come down and break His laws of order. If He did, He would destroy our humanity. We have to be free to choose what we want to do wrong, even if that means we’re going to hurt other people.

If we had choices that were apparent choices but we couldn’t really choose something wrong, it would be like going to someone’s house and having dinner there, and then for dessert they said, “Would you like apple pie or chocolate cake?” “Oh, I’ll take the chocolate cake.” “Sorry, you have to have the apple pie.” It wouldn’t be fair, would it?

Or it would be like going to a party that had an open bar and everything you want to drink, and you ask for something to drink and they say, “You can have anything you want. We’ve got it all.” And so you say,” Oh, I’ll take a light beer.” And the bartender says,”No, you have to have a B & B.” “But I thought you said you have everything here?” “Oh, we do.” “Well then I’ll take a light beer.” “No, B & B.” It would be a facade. If we didn’t really have those choices that we could make, and choose and follow, even if it hurts our self physically, even if we get into misery, we wouldn’t be free. We’ve got to be free to hurt ourselves. God doesn’t like it. God wishes all of us would follow Him and do His will. But He wants us to do that freely.

We can imagine that world where people are prisoners and have to do good. Can you imagine a world where everyone’s giving, everyone’s loving each other and sharing and growing together and concerned about God, and they’re doing it because they want to, because they’re free to do so? That’s heaven. That’s what the Lord wants us to have, not only here on earth but together with Him forever, in eternity.

Now you might ask, why do bad things have to happen to good people? Why isn’t it just that when people do bad things, then they get it? Or the evil people – whoever they are – why don’t they just get it? Well, it doesn’t work that way. Again, freedom would be taken away. Can you imagine every time you did something wrong, all of a sudden you were hurt because you did it? Imagine, you really cut somebody up bad today and then you walk out the door and get hit by a car and are in the hospital for six weeks? Or you really insult someone and then you get sick, violently sick for two weeks? After a while you’d realize, “I can’t do evil.” Now evil does bring about its own punishment, but never to the degree that we’re not free to do it. We are free. We’re free to hurt ourselves. That’s what it’s all about. But, if every time someone did something wrong, they were punished, then everyone would walk around doing good in fear, afraid to do anything wrong. And that would take away our freedom completely.

It would be like going to someone’s house for dinner and asking for dessert, and again being offered chocolate cake or apple pie. “Sure, you can have the chocolate cake.” And then you eat it and get sick for six weeks. After a while you’d realize, “I can’t have that chocolate cake. No, I’m supposed to have the apple pie.”

The Lord has to give us that freedom. That’s why evil picks people indiscriminately. He doesn’t pick people indiscriminately, but evil does and He works with it. He works within bad things. He’s there, His presence is there, He cares, and we’ll talk about that in a while.

Now why are there natural disasters? Why do people get buried with earthquakes and so on and so forth? Well, first we have to say that natural occurrences are part of this earth. That’s the way they happen. But again, you have to look back at the Lord’s plan for mankind. OK? Not only did He create us to be here for a brief moment in time so that He can render us blessed, but if you believe what Swedenborg said in those Writings, we are created to be with Him forever, in heaven for eternity. Life on this world is a fleeting moment compared to the eternity of heaven that we can have with the Lord. And you should think about that as a very real place, very real. Your friends are there. You have bodies, you have a house. You have everything you have here. Heaven is a real place where people work together, support each other, where the Lord is and where you can be with Him forever.

Now if you think about that and realize that the thing God cares about more than anything else, is that you can be with Him forever in heaven, then it makes death a little less frightening. It doesn’t make it completely understandable but it makes it less frightening because death just becomes a transition from one world to another. Death becomes a time when you go to meet your Maker, in a very real way. You know it’s twentieth century materialism and their religion humanism that makes death such a frightening, scary, final thing, that when we die it’s the end, that’s it. That’s robbing the Lord of His real purpose here. The Lord’s real purpose is that we can be with Him forever in heaven. And if a young person dies we can rest assured that they are with the Lord. If you have lost someone close to you, they are not gone. They are not wiped out. They are with the Lord even now and being cared for in a very miraculous and wonderful way. That is the truth.

And so a lot of times we can look at death and we can be sad, and we will be sad for our loss, for the loss that we have because that person’s gone, but we shouldn’t feel sorry for that person. They’re in good hands. God’s plan for creation comes true, a heaven from the human race. They are with Him in heaven. And some day we will see them again.

Now, even in tragedy, whatever that tragedy is, it’s not as if the Lord just sets it up, lets it go, lets it happen, and gets away from it. Not at all. The Lord works in all tragedy to make the best possible good come out of it. And He wants us to recognize that. He doesn’t cause the tragedy, saying, “Well, this will make them learn their lesson.” No. But when tragedy happens He is there in a very real way, and I’m sure some of you have felt that in a death. He’s there to bring good out of it. We’ve got to recognize that good and open our hearts to Him in those times of tragedy. He’s there. And good can come out of bad situations. Sometimes it’s hard to see, but if we look today at how many people come together and work to relieve people of the famine, to relieve people who are caught in an earthquake. People get out of themselves, come together, rock musicians and politicians together. Amazing! Priests, nuns, people like you and I, all coming together to help people. That’s good, real good coming out of that. It doesn’t justify. It doesn’t justify the thing that has happened. But the Lord works with it, to make as much good come out of it as possible.

In the time of death in the family sometimes, a couple is brought together in a way that they never would have before. They come to a realization of how much they need each other, how much they really do love each other, how hard they have worked together. And a lot of good comes out of it, spiritual good that will last. Maybe the body can die but the spirit never can. The spirit will live on, and we’ve got to remember that. The Lord works in all tragedy to bring about good.

So when we look at a tragedy in the world we’re not going to feel the complete comfort that God offers us, but we’ve got to remember, even in those times when tragedy hits us, that, one: it is not God’s fault, God is not punishing us, God did not do it to us. Two: He is working with us, with all His power, to make the greatest good come out of that, to help us along, to bring us closer to Himself. And that, three: if we follow His will and open our hearts to Him, He will be with us, and when we die and come into the other world after this brief moment of life on earth we will be with Him for eternity.


War, Providence, and Defense of Country

By Rev. Mark Pendleton

“O my soul, my soul! I am pained in my very heart! My heart makes a noise in me; I cannot hold my peace, because you have heard, O my soul, the sound of the trumpet, the alarm of war. Destruction upon destruction is cried, for the whole land is plundered.” (Jeremiah 4:19-20)

The call to war causes pain and anxiety in many hearts. It stirs up a sense of horror at the loss of life, and at the violence, cruelty and destruction that are associated with war. It churns up feelings of fear for the safety of loved ones, feelings of sadness, futility, bitterness and anger. Feelings such as these, no doubt, inspired one song writer to ask, “How many times must the cannon balls fly before they’re forever banned? How many deaths will it take ’til [we know] that too many people have died?”

The call to war causes pain and unrest, and it raises questions in our minds that demand answers. Some of those questions may challenge our faith: Why does an all-merciful, all-loving, and all-wise God allow wars to happen? How can we decide if we, or our country, should become involved in a war? Is the Lord really caring for His people in time of war? Is His providence really at work, or is it temporarily out of service? Questions like these can make it hard to hold on to a sense of peace in time of war.

Why does the Lord allow wars to happen? Why does He allow all of the murder, violence and cruelty of war to take place, when these are so much against Christian good will? Why does he allow one nation to attack and dominate over another? We know that in heaven, angels are so protected by the Lord that evil spirits can’t do them any harm. When evil spirits try to inflict harm on angels they’re stopped and punished before they’re able to carry out their intentions. This protection never fails, and the result is that angels never have to fight against evil spirits. Why can’t it be the same way in this world? Why can’t the Lord give that kind of blanket protection to those who would live content with what they have and in peace?

The Lord can’t offer the same kind of protection in this world as He does in heaven. Life in this world is an arena in which people must have the choice to act either from heavenly desire or from hellish impulse. People must be free to think, will and act either from heaven or from hell. There’s no other way for them to choose their eternal home. What’s more, if the Lord were to thwart all effort to act on hellish impulse, evil would fester inside people like gangrene or some other type of infection until all their vital organs were destroyed.

No, the Lord must permit people to attack and even dominate over other people without just cause. In this world, nation must be allowed to “lift up sword against nation.” The infection must have the chance to come to the surface so that evil can be seen for what it is and then resisted. “No person can be withdrawn from his hell by the Lord”, we’re taught, `unless he sees that he is in hell and wishes to be led out; and this can’t be done’ unless the Lord allows evil to come into action.

People must have the ability to act from evil intent in this world, but that doesn’t mean that evil should be allowed to run rampant. What kind of humane society could there be if evil were allowed free sway–if it weren’t resisted and contained? The fact that people have the ability to act from evil design doesn’t mean they should have license to do so.

Evil mustn’t be allowed free reign in this world, and so the Lord calls all people to defend themselves and their countries from invasion, injury, destruction and ruin.”Wars that have as an end the defense of the country”, we’re taught, `are not contrary to Christian good will.’

Along this line the Word for the New Church talks about the love that a person can foster for his country. One passage says that “one’s country should be loved, not as one loves himself, but more than himself”. This concept of loving one’s country more than oneself is said to be “a law inscribed on the human heart”. It’s a law out of which has come a “well-known principle,” which every true person is said to endorse: if one’s country is “threatened with ruin from an enemy or any other source, it is noble to die for it, and glorious for a soldier to shed his blood for it.” When a person’s country is threatened with ruin, it is right that a he should be willing to give his life in its defense.

But listen to the words that the Heavenly Doctrine uses when it talks about defense of country. We’re called by the Lord to defend our country from invasion by an insulting enemy, and in order to prevent injury, destruction, and the threat of ruin. What’s more, we’re flatly taught that “it is not allowable to make oneself an enemy without a cause.” In one place it’s said that “to despoil others for the sake of one’s self…is cruelty, because the end is selfish and contrary to the common good.”

In time of war the person who loves his country has a decision to make: from conscience he must decide whether or not to defend his country. Is it right that he should support his country in a given war? Does his country have any business being involved in that war? Is his country defending itself, or is it acting as an illegitimate aggressor? Is his country fighting from just cause, or is it simply despoiling others for the sake of its own self-interest? Is his country being invaded? Is it being threatened? If it is being threatened, what is it being threatened with? Is there a threat of injury, destruction, and ruin? These questions and others like them will likely be present in the mind of a person who is deciding how to respond to a call to war.

But in thinking about the question of defense of country, we might ask two more questions: Where do the boundaries of our country–our homeland–lie, and, where does our responsibility for defending against evil stop? No doubt, when the Word for the New Church talks about one’s country, it’s talking about a community of people that lives within certain well-defined geographical boundaries. But is there more to one’s country than that? Perhaps each one of us has a homeland, which stretches beyond the confines of border markers?

Listen, now, to some of the teachings of the Heavenly Doctrines of the New Church which talk about love for the neighbor, and raise our minds above the level of individual people, to a consideration of numbers of people, communities of people, one’s country, the Lord’s kingdom, and finally the Lord Himself. We read:

“…Sometimes [there is] mercy where mercy [is] not apparent, as for instance, when one aims at the common good by punishing the evil and reducing others to order, mercy is then exercised towards the community. So also in war, where the end is victory and thence the common good in the preservation of numbers.. Charity and mercy, moreover, are to be turned from the neighbor to numbers, from numbers to the community, from the community to the Lord’s kingdom, from the Lord’s kingdom to the Lord himself, who is the all in all.


“It should be known that those who love their country,..after death love the Lord’s kingdom, for then that is their country..”

And finally:

“The Lord’s kingdom is the neighbor that is to be loved in the highest degree, because the Lord’s kingdom means the church throughout the world..; also heaven is meant by it; consequently he who loves the Lord’s kingdom loves all in the whole world who acknowledge the Lord and have faith in Him and charity towards the neighbor; and he loves also all in heaven.

These teachings raise a number of important questions, some of which have already been asked: Where do the boundaries of our country lie? Do we have a homeland that stretches beyond the confines of border markers? What responsibility do we have to help stop aggression and domination wherever they crop up? Perhaps these teachings help to answer the very questions they raise. Perhaps the Lord is calling us to a sense of global defense against evil.

In this regard I’m reminded of one of the models of heaven that we’re given in the Heavenly Doctrines–one in which heaven and its inter-workings is compared to the structure, function, and inter-workings of the human body.

Think, for a minute, about the human body, and about how the body fights against disease. If there is a cancerous tumor, for example, present in the thigh of the human body, it isn’t just the muscles and tissues of the thigh that go to battle against the out-of-control, deadly new growth. No, the body’s response is systemic in nature. The different cells, tissues, organs, and organ systems of the body rally together, each contributing to the cause, in a coordinated effort to rid themselves of (or at least to wall off) the insulting host. Perhaps there are lessons for us to learn about how to deal with different forms of evil in the world, by paying attention to the ways in which the human body fights against different forms of disease.

But whether or not we decide to fight for our country during time of war, that may not do much to reduce the pain of war. Like Jeremiah the prophet, when we hear the alarm of war, we feel pain in our hearts, and we may wonder if the Lord is caring for his people. Is the Lord’s Providence really in charge of what’s going on, and if so, how? Is there any way that we can see evidence of His merciful leading in time of war?

Yes, the Lord does care for all of his people in time of war. His Providence for the salvation of all people never rests. It constantly works–and it never fails–to bring good out of evil situations. The Lord will not allow any war, or any incident in war, to happen that will not be a source of good: “It is an undoubtable fact”, we’re taught, “that the Lord governs the universe” and His government is said to be present and operative in “the most individual of even trivial affairs”. This includes the affairs of war. In this same vein, we’re taught that “there is no such thing as chance, that is, no evil happens by chance, but all evils are so governed that not one of them is permitted which is not conducive to good, both to human and soul. Moreover, nothing is permitted which has not thus been foreseen, for otherwise it could by no means happen; consequently, the various evils are so turned that certain ones, and not others occur.. Thus it is Providence alone which governs, for foresight is thus turned into Providence, and in this way those evils are provided from which there may be good.”

These are comforting teachings, and if we keep our eyes open, we can see the truth of them even while a war is raging: We see the Lord at work, for instance, in the life of young soldier who wrote home from the war in the Persian Gulf back in 1991:

“I’ve had trying times on this cruise, but as a person I believe I’ve grown from the experience. I’ve learned more about who I am, and truly had my faith and beliefs put to the test. I’ve had to reach deep inside myself and take a close look at what I believe and ask the Lord to navigate me through the rough waters and hard times to a peaceful shore. I’m gonna just pray and let the Lord’s providence guide this situation.”

Something good happened in the life of that soldier as a result of that war. But the Lord isn’t at work only in soldiers’ lives. He makes sure that good things are happening on the home front as well. For example, each time we watch the news or read the headlines in time of war, we’re reminded of the horror of war and of the loves that prompt unjust aggression. At times like that we may quietly vow to shun such evil loves as they show up in our own lives. When we do, our hearts are touched by the Lord’s goodness. Something good (small as it may be) has come from the evils of unjust aggression.

And finally, we can be sure that the Lord is working, even in the lives of those who perpetrate war: Think of a person who is tried and convicted of war crimes years after the fact. For the first time that person may realize the atrocity of things that he’s done, and he may then for the first time turn to his God and pray for deliverance from filthy loves, which prompted his actions.

The Lord never stops caring for people. He’s always there, in His Providence, guiding every least affair of our lives. He’s always there, governing even the smallest affairs of war. That’s the assurance we can have about the Lord. That’s the assurance on which confidence in Him, and courage, can be based. That’s the assurance that allows a soldier to ‘raise his mind, before battle, to the Lord, to commit his life into his hands, and afterwards to become brave’. That’s the assurance that each one of us can carry with us, day by day, hour by hour, moment by moment–until the time when ‘nation will no longer lift up sword against nation, neither will they learn war any more.’