Government shutdown. The border wall. New party leadership in Congress. Questions of national leadership and the public good are dominating the news right now, and divisions are deep.
Emanuel Swedenborg offers some thoughts on what makes a good leader:
“[Good leaders] do not control and command but minister and serve, for doing good for others out of a love for what is good is serving, and making sure that it happens is ministering.” (Heaven and Hell §218)
As we roll into a new year, the U.S. government is in the headlines every day: A budget standoff centering around Donald Trump’s proposed border wall results in a government shutdown. A new class of representatives is sworn in, marking a change in party leadership for one house of Congress. In a deeply divided nation, reactions to these events are both strong and mixed. Can we find common ground in the kind of government we might hope or strive for?
Emanuel Swedenborg’s visionary experiences offer a new perspective on good government and leadership. In his classic Heaven and Hell, he tells us that communities in heaven have governments, but there things are very different:
All the forms of government [in heaven] share a central focus on the public good as their end, and within that good, the good of each individual. This is because everyone in all heaven is under the guidance of the Lord, who loves everyone and who from his divine love arranges things so that it is the common good from which individuals receive what is good for them. Each individual receives benefit in proportion to his or her love of the whole, for to the extent that they love the whole they love all the individuals. Since this love is the Lord’s they are proportionally loved by the Lord and are benefited. (Heaven and Hell §217)
There are some important pieces there to think about in our lives on earth: God loves everyone, regardless of what they believe or even what they do. And a heavenly mindset is one where love for others is the first and most important thing.
But how does that help us grapple with a political system that seems to be dominated by selfishness and self-promotion? Actually, Swedenborg says, even the leaders who seem to have the greatest moral failings have an important role to play:
I need now to say something about why divine providence allows people who are irreligious at heart to be raised to high rank and to become wealthy. Irreverent or evil people can be just as useful as devout or good people. In fact, they can be more ardent about it because they are focused on themselves in the good they do and regard advancement as intrinsically useful. The stronger their self-love grows, then, the more intense is their passion for service for the sake of their own renown. Devout or good people do not have this kind of fire unless it is subtly fueled by rank. So the Lord controls people of high rank who are irreligious at heart through their concern for their reputation. He inspires them to do what is good for the commonwealth or the country, for the community or the city in which they live, and also for their own fellow-citizens or neighbors. This is the Lord’s government, his divine providence, with people like this. The Lord’s kingdom is in fact an organized realm of constructive activities; and where there are only a few individuals who perform service for the sake of service, he works things out so that people who worship themselves are raised to the higher offices where they are inspired to do good by their own love. (Divine Providence §250:3)
In other words, God uses people’s own selfishness to bring about a good end. What do you think? Can you see the good that can come out of the events around us?
You can also watch “Leadership in Heaven,” an episode of our webcast series News from Heaven, for more insights from Swedenborg about what it means to be led by the God. Or, for another perspective, this blog post discusses the spiritual dimension of the 2016 presidential election.