It matters to me that life is fair. I know that life isn’t fair—naturally—but one of the ways that New Church teachings have really come to life for me is in finding the ways that life is fair spiritually. It has always felt very important to me to believe in a fair God. I have spent a lot of time over the past few years thinking about Divine Providence, and I think when I first was looking it seemed sort of flat and lifeless. But now it feels like one of the most healing, wonderful, and epic teachings in my life because it has showed me that God is universally fair.
Here are some of the passages that articulate some of the ideas that really matter to me. I’m including some long readings here, but bear with me. The story of Joseph from Genesis is quite long (you can read it starting here). It is a story that includes pain, difficulty and loss, much of which is referred to in the quote I am including, but to save space I’m not going to include more of the story.
And they sent a message unto Joseph, saying, Thy father did command before he died, saying, So shall ye say unto Joseph, Forgive, I pray thee now, the transgression of thy brethren, and their sin, for that they did unto thee evil. And now, we pray thee, forgive the transgression of the servants of the God of thy father. And Joseph wept when they spake unto him. And his brethren also went and fell down before his face; and they said, Behold, we are thy servants. And Joseph said unto them, Fear not: for am I in the place of God? And as for you, ye meant evil against me; but God meant it for good, to bring to pass, as it is this day, to save much people alive. Now therefore fear ye not: I will nourish you, and your little ones. And he comforted them, and spake kindly unto them.” Genesis 50:16-21
“The words which Joseph here spoke to his brothers: “You thought evil against me, God thought it for good, in order to do as it is this day, to make alive a great people” are words which contain within them a secret of heaven, which secret is this. In the other life the Lord permits hellish spirits to lead the good into temptation, consequently to pour in evils and falsities; which also they do with all endeavour; for when they are doing this, they are in their life and its delight. But the Lord Himself is then present with those in temptation, both directly, and indirectly by angels, and resists by rebutting the falsities of the hellish spirits, and by dissipating their evil, thus giving refreshment, hope, and victory. Thus with those who are in the truths of good, the truths of faith and the goods of charity are more inwardly implanted and more strongly confirmed. This is the means by which spiritual life is given. From all this it is evident what is signified in the internal sense by the words in this verse, namely, that they who have been alienated from truth and good, as are the spirits who induce temptations, intend nothing but evil, but that the Divine turns it into good, and this according to order from eternity, whence comes life to those who are in the truths of good. For be it known that the hellish spirits who are permitted thus to trouble the good, intend nothing but evil; for they desire with all their might to drag them down from heaven and cast them into hell; because it is the very delight of their life to destroy anyone as to his soul; thus to eternity. But not one whit is permitted them by the Lord, except to the end that good may come of it, namely, that truth and good may be brought into shape and strengthened with those who are in temptation. In the universal spiritual world reigns the end which proceeds from the Lord, which is that nothing whatever, not even the least thing, shall arise, except that good may come from it. Hence the Lord’s kingdom is called a kingdom of ends and uses.” Secrets of Heaven 6574 (emphasis added)
To me it’s helpful to think that every evil can be brought to good at its very core because it has to be allowed in order for ALL people to be free, and that in itself is good. God wants us to be free so that we can choose a true and loving relationship with Him for ourselves. If we could choose only good, only God’s way, then we would be slaves to that and not actually able to love God in a growing and independent way. Prosperity gospel teachings about God loving people based on their faith or belief have always bothered me because it feels unfair and manipulative. I understand the comfort of believing your life will be blessed if you believe hard enough, but where is the freedom? The only way to put freedom for all people everywhere above everything is to allow evil to exist. He doesn’t want evil things to happen to people, but He can’t stop them without impinging on someone’s freedom. But He has ways of helping us there too.
“[those who trust the Lord] know that for those who trust in the Divine all things advance toward a happy state to eternity, and that whatever happens to them in time is still leading toward this…. Be it known that the Divine Providence is universal, that is, in things the most minute; and that they who are in the stream of Providence are all the time carried along toward everything that is happy, whatever may be the appearance of the means.” Secrets of Heaven 8478
I was thinking about this recently as I listened to a sermon about Divine Providence (I highly recommend it and you can listen to it here). It struck me with a very epic, almost Lord of the Rings, sort of tone. There is evil in the world, and it will attack the good. Bad things will happen, and every person has to fight this fight within themselves. We will each be tempted to give in to selfish thoughts but on a larger scale many people—the world over—will also be victims of terrible crimes and hate. And in those times of difficulty it can be very easy to lose track of the prize – freedom for a real relationship with God for every single person.
Bringing these ideas down to a personal level, I was reflecting recently on a certain conflict between my husband and me. Part of me still feels the pain deeply and wishes that it could just be undone, fixed by someone outside of me. I was wishing that the loss and grief – which are the real source of pain in that conflict – had never been felt in the first place. But what I realised in my most recent time thinking it all through is that I am a happier, more understanding, and kinder person because of the things I have learned through the grief and loss. The pain is still palpable, but I can also see that changes have happened in many small ways that mean I am genuinely happier than I was before this conflict. I couldn’t have seen it when the conflict was more active, I could only feel the pain. But now in retrospect I can see that I wouldn’t actually want it undone. I wouldn’t be this happy without it.
“It is granted a person to see Divine providence from behind and not from in front, and in a spiritual state and not in the person’s natural state. To see Divine providence from behind and not from in front is to see it afterward and not beforehand. And to see it from the perspective of a spiritual state and not from that of a natural state is to see it from the perspective of heaven and not from the perspective of the world.” Divine Providence 187
I fought an epic internal fight against temptation and self-pity, and it wasn’t fun, and I did face loss as a part of the fight. But I can already feel the Lord bringing good out of it and feel sure that those benefits will carry on.
When I read these passages I can understand and feel that this is a fair God. He is offering the same relationship to all people, and it is the people who vary in their response. And the way that the promises in the Bible and the Writings about being successful and happy and saved all feel the most powerful to me is if I understand them on the spiritual plane. Not every person has access to natural wealth. Not every person even has access to water or food. Many people fall victim to horrible crimes and hatred that others never know or understand. I can’t blame these differences on God’s favour because then I am left with debilitating guilt. Why did I only have to take care of twins with a large support team, in the comfort of my own home, with the financial security to pay for natural conveniences that make the chaos of twins simpler when another woman had to give birth to quadruplets while in a refugee camp, living in a tent, close quarters and limited resources? It cannot be simply because I “believed” better. Why are some women raped and yet I have not been? It cannot be because I am somehow more morally upright. That is not a way of looking at the world that brings me happiness – especially since I know it not to be the case based on conversations I have had with other women.
I cannot believe the point is to somehow live life perfectly and become God’s favourite. I feel that the point is not somehow to pick the right path, make the right choices and thereby avoid all pain. I am learning that the pain has to be there. That is how we learn. And the pain is not the problem. Being crippled by the pain or the regret and NOT learning and moving forward in our relationships with other people and the Lord, THAT is the problem. The Lord values our freedom to grow and become more perfect, and He wants that for every single person and is providing that for everyone. The pain and the evil have to be allowed to make the freedom real, but God does everything He can to help us on a spiritual plane and turns it to work for our good as Joseph says in the story “…ye meant evil against me; but God meant it for good” (Genesis 50:20).