By Morgan Beard
Making decisions is hard. We can muddle through questions like “What should we eat for dinner?” or “What should I wear today?” but then we get down to the hard life choices. “Should I take a new job offer or stick with the place I’m at?” “Do I want to spend the rest of my life with this person?” “How do I deal with a conflict that’s tearing my family apart?”
In times like these, we might wish for some divine direction. And Emanuel Swedenborg asserts that God does, in fact, guide us in our daily lives. For example:
Peace holds within itself trust in the Lord, the trust that he governs all things and provides all things, and that he leads toward an end that is good. When we believe these things about him we are at peace, since we fear nothing and no anxiety about things to come disturbs us. How far we attain this state depends on how far we come to love the Lord. Everything bad, especially trust in ourselves, robs us of the state of peace. (Secrets of Heaven §8455)
Having this sense of peace and trust is a beautiful thing, but in times of crisis or indecision, we might wish for something more specific. A revelatory text message, maybe, or a road sign that says, “The rest of your life—this way.” In the absence of such things, is there some other place where we can look for guidance?
Swedenborg writes about being open to divine influence in many places throughout the volumes of his writings, but in his work Divine Providence, he spends a chapter (§§154–174) describing some methods that God uses to lead us. Swedenborg says that from the moment we’re born, we become part of the Divine, and so we all have the potential to be led by divine love and wisdom, even though we may later choose to reject it (§164). The more we love the Divine, the more that God’s presence flows into us and guides us, a process that Swedenborg calls enlightenment.
But he also describes another way that God leads people: through the Word. “Read the Bible” might sound like the type of advice you’d get from any devout Christian. But for Swedenborg, the Word is more than just the literal text of the Bible; it encompasses a deeper inner meaning that, at its core, is all about what it means to live and grow as a spiritual person: “‘The Word’ means what is divine and true coming from what is divine and good, or in other words, divine wisdom from divine love” (Divine Providence §172:3).
He goes on to say:
The only way the Word can be taught is indirectly, through our parents, teachers, preachers, and books, and especially by our reading it. Still, these are not our teachers: the Lord is, using them as means. This is derived from what preachers know, too. They say that they are not talking from their own resources but from the spirit of God and that everything true, like everything good, comes from God. They can talk and can convey things to the minds of many, but not to anyone’s heart; and anything that does not enter the heart dies in the mind. (Divine Providence §172:6)
This quote contains an important key to the puzzle: love. “Anything that does not enter the heart dies in the mind” means that even if we hear a tremendous piece of wisdom, we don’t really hear it unless there’s also divine love in our hearts to resonate with it. If we don’t love the Divine, and if we don’t embrace the love of other people that is characteristic of the Divine, then we can’t be led.
So if we think of the “the Word” as the earthly representation of divine love and wisdom, and if its lessons can be expressed by the people we know, then maybe receiving divine guidance is just about paying attention to the teachers all around us. Maybe God speaks to us every day, in the people that we meet and the lessons that we learn from life itself.
How does all this help on a practical level? If being led by the Lord means being led by love, then the answer to almost any question in life is, “What would love lead me to do?” The answer to whether or not you should take a job offer becomes, “What would do the most good for the greatest number of people?” If the question is, “Where do I find a good relationship?” the answer might be, “Where do I find someone who shares the same type of joys that I do?”
Where do you think love might lead you?
For more on the different types of love and how they might impact your life, watch “How to Love,” an episode of our weekly webcast Swedenborg and Life. For other ways to connect with the Divine, see “What Does Prayer Do?” or our short video “The Wrong Question to Ask.”
For more ways to bring love into your life, see our article “5 Ways to Experience Divine Love Today”; or, for more on God and love in Swedenborg’s own words, read an excerpt from his work Heaven and Hell called “The Lord’s Nature is Love.”