"For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them." (Matthew 18:20)

"For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them." (Matthew 18:20)

Is this really in God’s plan? (small group Bible study)

In individual or small group study, explore the ways providence works, according to the book Divine Providence by Emanuel Swedenborg. This work “explores the classic problem of why evil exists, and shows how our inner life connects directly to the conflicts between heaven and hell.” (Divine Providence New Century Edition translation-back cover)

Click on a week, below, to see an outline for weekly study.

Week one: how the Lord leads us and cares for us (an introduction)

Overview of the whole system. There is a system and guidelines that set up the universe. There is a plan. End goal: heaven from the human race, our eternal life in heaven. The Lord has set up rules and a way to make it all work, He’s told us elements of this system so we can understand what we’re working within.

Readings

“The way the Lord’s divine love and divine wisdom look after us is what we call divine providence.” (Divine Providence 2)

The Lord has set up a universal environment for the human race—His laws of Divine Providence. They are:
“1. It is a law of divine providence that we should act in freedom and in accord with reason.
2. It is a law of Divine Providence that we should put aside evils in our outer nature, regarding them as sins and doing so in apparent autonomy, and that this is the only way the Lord can put aside the evils in our inner nature and in our outer nature alike.
3. It is a law of Divine Providence that we should not be compelled by outside forces to think and intend and so to believe and love in matters of our religion, but that we should guide ourselves and sometimes compel ourselves.
4. It is a law of Divine Providence that we should be led and taught by the Lord, from Heaven, by means of the Word, and teaching and preaching from the Word, and that this should happen while to all appearances we are acting independently.
5. It is a law of Divine Providence that we should not sense or feel anything of the workings of Divine Providence, but that we should still know about it and acknowledge it.”
(Divine Providence, Table of Contents)

Discussion questions

  • Do any of these ‘laws of providence’ resonate with you? Which ones surprise you?

Focus/task

This week look for evidence of these “laws” in your life. Write down 5 ways you see evidence of these laws in your life this week.

Week two: freedom of choice

It is a law of divine providence that we should act in freedom and in accord with reason. Rationality and freedom are in us as gifts from the Lord. It is by means of these two abilities that the Lord reforms and regenerates us. We can be reformed and regenerated by means of these two abilities to the extent that we are brought to a realization that anything good and true that we think and do comes from the Lord and not from us. The Lord’s union with us and our responsive union with the Lord comes about by means of these two abilities. Our choice is whether we want to be on the journey in the first place. We have to CHOOSE to live a spiritual life, move forward, have a relationship with the Lord, etc.

Readings

Read Divine Providence 72 (8 point list)

“You will realize that you are in me and I am in you.” (John 14:20)

"The person who follows the Lord in freedom is led by Him out of evil into good, and thus into Heaven." (Married Love 444)

“Since the Lord does want to be united to us for the sake of our salvation, he has provided a means of mutuality. For us, that means is the appearance that the good we intend and do freely and the truth that we think and speak rationally from these intentions originate in us. It is the appearance that the goodness in our intentions and the truth in our minds seem to be our own. In fact the appearance that they come from us as though they belonged to us is so complete that they do seem to be ours. There is no way to tell that they are not.” (Divine Providence 92.3)

“There is a difference, though, between acting freely and rationally or on the basis of our freedom and our rationality on the one hand, and acting in ways that are truly free and rational or on the basis of genuine freedom and genuine rationality. This is because people who do evil out of a love for doing evil and who justify it are, in a way, acting freely and rationally. However, their freedom is not freedom in essence or real freedom. It is actually a hellish freedom that in essence is slavery. Their reason is not reason in essence, either. It is an imitation of reason, or distorted reason, or a façade made up of rationalizations.” (Divine Providence 97)

Discussion questions

  • Where in your life do you feel enslaved? Free?
  • How could you own the freedom you have to choose in any situation?
  • Do you feel free?
  • What would it look like to have a mutual relationship with the Lord?
  • Share any other responses to the above readings.

Focus/task

You are free to think and act as you wish. It is through this freedom that we are able to connect with the Lord. Remember that all goodness is from the Lord. Take an old glass jar, clean it, and begin to make note of the goodness you see from the Lord in your life. Put each idea on a sheet and in the jar each day. When struggling to remember this goodness, take out old notes and review them.

Week three: we need to change our natural behavior to match our spiritual beliefs-the Lord will help us.

It is a law of divine providence that we should put aside evils in our outer nature, regarding them as sins and doing so in apparent autonomy, and that this is the only way the Lord can put aside the evils in our inner nature and in our outer nature alike. The essential quality of our outer thinking is determined by the quality of our inner thinking. Our inner nature cannot be cleansed from compulsions to evil as long as the evils in our outer nature are not banished. The Lord cannot rid us of the evils in our outer nature without our help. It is the unceasing effort of the Lord’s divine providence to unite us to himself…in order to give us the joys of eternal life. (Paraphrase of Divine Providence 102)

Readings

“On the basis of reason alone everyone can see that the Lord who is goodness itself and truth itself, cannot enter us unless what is evil and false in us has been banished.” (Divine Providence 100)

“In the spiritual world where we all arrive after death, no one asks what our faith has been or what our beliefs have been, only what our life has been, whether we are one kind of person or another.” (Divine Providence 101.3)

“All this leads to the conclusion that it is a law of divine providence that we should rid ourselves of our evils. If we do not, then the Lord cannot be united to us and bring us to Himself in heaven.” (Divine Providence 102)

“The Lord is at work in the center of our being and works from that center into everything that depends on it all the way to our boundaries, and we are living at these boundaries while this is happening.” (Divine Providence 119)

For the person who prays in his heart, the whole world is a church. (Sylvain of Athos)

The place to begin the task of eliminating evil is within yourself. (Gary Zukav - from "Seat Of The Soul")

Discussion questions

  • What do you see as the connection between integrity and our inner and outer lives?
  • How does the idea of ‘ridding yourself of evils’ sound?
  • What is happening at the boundaries of your life?
  • How does your view of life change when you consider the Lord working from the center into the boundaries?

Focus/task

Write down a list of unhealthy, bad habits that you have observed in yourself today. Circle one you’d like to start working on today. Pray for help and courage from the Lord. Name one positive step you can take to move away from this unhealthy way of living.

Week four: self compulsion: just do it

It is a law of divine providence that we should not be compelled by outside forces to think and intend and so to believe and love in matters of our religion, but that we should guide ourselves and sometimes compel ourselves. No one is reformed by miracles and signs…visions…conversations with the dead... threats or…punishment, because they compel. No one is reformed in states where freedom and rationality are absent. Self-compulsion is not inconsistent with rationality and freedom. Our outer self has to be reformed by means of our inner self, and not the reverse.

Readings

“Everyone recognizes that none of us can be compelled to think what we do not want to think or to intend what we think we do not want to intend. So we cannot be compelled to believe what we do not believe, and certainly not anything that we do not want to believe; or to love what we do not love, and certainly not anything that we do not want to love.” (Divine Providence 129)

“It's not the load that breaks you down, it's the way you carry it.”(Lou Holtz)


“Do you want to know who you are? Don't ask. Act! Action will delineate and define you.” (Thomas Jefferson)

“The problem, often not discovered until late in life, is that when you look for things in life like love, meaning, motivation, it implies they are sitting behind a tree or under a rock. The most successful people in life recognize, that in life they create their own love, they manufacture their own meaning, they generate their own motivation. For me, I am driven by two main philosophies, know more today about the world than I knew yesterday. And lessen the suffering of others. You'd be surprised how far that gets you. “ (Neil deGrasse Tyson)

Discussion questions

  • What is something you’ve been wanting to compel yourself to do?
  • Have you been successful? Unsuccessful? Why do you think so? Do these readings impact your resolve?

Focus/task

Find some things you can do to improve your life. Go for a run, meditate in the morning, go off a food you find addicting. Or maybe put up motivational quotes around your room and above your bed. Just do it!

Week five: we are constantly led by the Lord, even when it doesn't feel like it.

It is a law of divine providence that we should be led and taught by the Lord, from heaven, by means of the Word…and that this should happen while to all appearances we are acting independently. We are led and taught by the Lord alone through and from the angelic heaven. We are led by the Lord through an inflow and taught by being enlightened. We are taught by the Lord through the Word, and teaching and preaching from the Word. Outwardly, we are led and taught by the Lord to all appearances as though we were leading and teaching ourselves. Practice being led by the Lord. Look back and see where He has led us. Put specific things in His hands and see Him lead.

Readings

“To say that we are led and taught by the Lord alone is to say that the Lord is the only source of our lie, since it is the intentions of our life that are led and the intelligence of our life that is taught. This is not the way it seems, though. It seems to us as though we live on our own, when the truth is that the Lord is the source of our life and we are not.” (Divine Providence 156)

“The more closely we are united to the Lord, the more clearly we seem to have our own identity, and yet the more obvious it is to us that we belong to the Lord.”(Divine Providence 158)

“The Lord, though, is what is essentially true and essentially good, or love itself and wisdom itself; and these are the Word that was in the beginning with God, that was God, and that was made flesh.” (Divine Providence 172.4)

“Without me you cannot do anything. (John 15:5)

“Faith never knows where it is being led, but it loves and knows the One who is leading.” (Oswald Chambers)

"For those who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God." (Romans 8:14)

Discussion questions

  • We are supposed to be led by the Lord “through the word.” What does that look like for you?
  • What does it mean to be led by the word?
  • Do you like the idea that the Lord is doing the leading and not you?
  • When in your life do you wish you could be leading? Where do you only want the Lord to?

Focus/task

Read the word for 5-15 minutes each day this week and listen to the Lord’s voice leading you.

Week six: handing it over to the Lord: letting go

It is a law of divine providence that we should not sense or feel anything of the working of divine providence, but that we should still know about it and acknowledge it. If we sensed and felt the working of divine providence, we would not act freely and rationally, and nothing would seem to be really ours (176). If we saw divine providence clearly, we would interfere with the orderly sequence of its processes and corrupt and destroy it…[and] either deny God or make ourselves God. We are allowed to see divine providence from behind but not face to face, and when we are in a spiritual state, not in a materialistic state.

Readings

“People who ignore God ignore divine providence as well. After all, God and divine providence are inseparable. Spiritual people think and speak differently, though, within themselves. Even though they do not sense the ongoing workings of divine providence in their thoughts or see it with their eyes, they still know and acknowledge it.” (Divine Providence 175)

“The unceasing effort of the Lord’s divine providence is to deliver us from our evils.” (Divine Providence 177)

“People who have become spiritual by virtue of their recognition of God and have become wise by casting off their sense of self-importance see divine providence in the whole world and in every least part of it.” (Divine Providence 189)

Some of us think holding on makes us strong, but sometimes it is letting go.(Herman Hesse)

Discussion

  • Describe a time you saw Divine Providence in your life in hindsight?

Focus/task

Trust the Process; the big picture. Choose one of the quotes from above (or another!) to commit to memory. Hold it as a mantra, a reminder of letting go and letting God run the universe.

Full issue

Daily Inspiration

"To believe in the Lord is to have confidence that He saves; and because only those who have good lives can have such confidence, this too is meant by believing in Him."

True Christian Religion 2