How does God Govern Humankind? Is God Actively Involved in our Lives?

Why does God let us experience pain and suffering?

Clearly all is not right in our world. The daily news brings us more death and disaster, pain and suffering than we would ever desire. How could a loving God allow so much evil in our world?

First, we must understand that while we humans usually focus on our own immediate pleasure or pain, God focuses on our eternal happiness. Yes, God would like us to be happy here on earth. But compared to eternity, our few years here are relatively short and insignificant.

God’s goal is to form us into angels who can be part of the joyous community of heaven. And God will allow us to experience pain and suffering here on earth if that is necessary to bring about our eternal happiness.

After all, most evil exists in the first place because we humans have been given the freedom and the rationality to make our own choices, whether good or evil. God will not violate our freedom and rationality. But God is continually working in our hearts and through our hands to overcome the evil in the human spirit and in this world of ours.

Is God aware of what’s going on down here?

One look at the world around us—or at the headlines in the news—shows that everything is not right with the world. We read of wars and famines, shootings and burglaries, stark contrasts of fabulous wealth right next to grinding poverty.

If God is so loving and wise, how could there be so much injustice and evil, pain and suffering in this world? How could a loving God see what’s going on and not do something about it? Is God paying attention? Does God even care? Could there be a God at all, considering the horrible cruelties suffered by innocent men, women, and children alike?

These and similar questions have disturbed thoughtful, caring people for ages. We may never fully understand how God operates in our world, and why specific wrongs are allowed to happen. Yet there are some general principles that can be helpful in understanding the ways of God compared to human ways.

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” says the Lord. “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts.” (Isaiah 55:8–9)

What are God’s thoughts?

Our ways as humans usually relate to getting by in this world, and our thoughts usually have to do with our situation here and now. If things are going well for us right now, we are happy, and life is grand. If things are going badly for us right now, we are troubled, and life is terrible. During the good times, if we’re religious, we may think to offer up a prayer of thanks to God. During the bad times we’re more likely to shake a fist at God and complain about the unfairness of life.

Another way of saying this is that our human view of life is usually bound to what we are experiencing right here and now.

God looks at things from an entirely different perspective. Modern physics tells us that time and space are properties of matter. Therefore God, who exists above and beyond the material universe, is not limited to any particular time and place as we are. Being infinite and eternal, God is present in all time and all space at once. God does live in the present. But God’s present includes what we think of as past, present, and future.

In other words, God’s thoughts are not focused only on what we are experiencing right here and now. God’s thoughts consider our past, our present, and our ultimate future all at once. And since the past has already happened and cannot be changed, in everything God does or allows to happen, the primary consideration is its effect on our eternal state. Once we understand this, we can begin to understand how God acts in our world.

To God, our present pain or joy, though important, is far less important than whether we will have eternal pain or joy. After all, what is the present moment compared to eternity? We humans may be short-sighted and foolish enough to ignore the long-term results of our actions in favor of immediate gratification. But God is not so foolish, and will always act in ways that are most likely to bring us long-term happiness.

What is God aiming at?

In the Gospel of Matthew Jesus mentions “the kingdom of heaven” over thirty times. The very first message that both John the Baptist and Jesus himself preached was, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near” (Matthew 3:2, 4:17). Clearly the kingdom of heaven is the goal of Jesus’ teaching and preaching. Following his lead, Emanuel Swedenborg said that “the Lord’s divine providence has as its goal a heaven from the human race” (Divine Providence #27).

What does this mean?

It means that in everything God does in governing human affairs, God’s goal is to bring as many people as possible into heaven.


Because heaven is a community in which we live in the joy of loving God and loving our fellow human beings. That is the greatest happiness we can experience. And the God of love wants all created beings to be happy—and humans in particular to be happy not just temporarily, but forever.

Once again, God’s aim is not so much our present happiness (though God does prefer that we enjoy happiness in the present), but our eternal happiness. Heaven is God’s eternal kingdom for those who will accept heaven into themselves. And the goal of God’s love and wisdom in governing human affairs is to bring us into that kingdom of eternal joy—a joy that comes especially from willing and joyful service to God and to our fellow human beings.

A God of love . . . and a God of laws

To understand how God accomplishes this goal of building a heaven from the human race, we first have to understand that God is a God of wisdom, of truth, of laws, of principles.

If we look at the physical universe around us we see that it operates according to very definite laws: the law of gravity, the law of inertia, the law of conservation of mass . . . all the laws of physics, chemistry, biology, and the rest of the sciences. These laws originated in God and reflect God’s nature, because God is not only a God of love, but a God of law.

This means that God does not act in arbitrary and haphazard ways in governing the universe and the human beings in it, but operates by clear and definite laws. Understanding the laws that God works through to govern our affairs will help us as we struggle to understand why our world is the way it is, and what God is doing about it.

Let’s look at a few of these laws, drawn from Swedenborg’s book Divine Providence.

Why does evil exist in the first place?

If God is all-powerful, surely it would have been easy to make everyone and everything good, and not even allow for the possibility of evil and pain in our world.

Then why in the world does evil exist? Why did God figuratively make the tree of knowledge of good and evil to grow in the Garden of Eden (Genesis 2:9)? Why even introduce the possibility of evil into creation?

Let’s think about it. If God’s purpose is to create a heaven from the human race, the first thing needed is a human race.

What makes us human? It is not the fact that we stand upright on two legs and have opposable thumbs and a big brain. In fact, it is nothing physical that makes us human. Rather, it is the human qualities of our mind and spirit. Beyond the basic fact that we have human loves and human intelligence, what makes us human is our ability to make free choices based on our own ideas, beliefs, and desires. Without this, we could not be human, and we could not have a real relationship with God.

Put in terms of a law of divine providence, God has created us so that we may act in freedom according to our own reason. And God will not take away our freedom and reason, because to take them away would be to take away our humanity.

Yet if we are to be truly free, we must be free not only to accept God’s will, but to reject it. And since everything good comes from God, the freedom to reject God means the freedom to twist good into evil.

The existence of evil is a result of the very humanity that makes it possible for us to freely choose to become angels of heaven.

Okay, so evil exists. Now what?

Let’s be honest. Many of our thoughts and feelings, and some of our actions, are not good. If we were to act on everything we felt like doing to other people, there would be a lot more maimed and dead people than there already are. The fact of the matter is that we humans are motivated by many evil and destructive desires along with our good and caring ones. Most of the evil in the world is a result of human greed, selfishness, and striving for wealth and power.

If we are going to be angels of heaven, we can’t take those evil desires with us. They must be rooted out of our personality. No, we’ll never be perfect. But we could be a whole lot better than we are.

God’s goal is to make each one of us a better version of ourselves so that we are no longer driven by self-centered and materialistic desires, but by a desire to love God by loving our neighbors here on earth (see Matthew 25:31–46). And because our freedom and rationality is essential to our existence as human beings, another one of God’s laws in governing the human race is that we must freely make our own decision to turn away from evil and toward good. God will not force us to do it.

Then what do I have to do?

Once we have made that decision, the next law is that we must do the work of making those changes in ourselves, without being compelled by outside forces such punishment and reward, or fear of death and hell. It must not only be our free choice to become better people, but we must put out the effort to make it happen by struggling against our old ways, and beginning a new and better way of life. Of course, God and the angels will help us, giving us the strength we need when we sincerely pray for it.

If we are unwilling to put out the effort ourselves, we are choosing to be the same old person that we were before. In the end it is not what we say, but what we do that matters. The choice of what we will do with our life is in our own hands. God will not make that choice for us, because that would take away our humanity and make us into slaves. God loves and respects us enough to let us make our own choices, and be the person that we decide to be.

Well then, what does God do?

This makes it sound like God doesn’t do anything at all, and that it’s all up to us.

That’s precisely how God wants it to seem to us. If we believed that it doesn’t matter what we do because God will just step in and clean up the mess for us anyway, we wouldn’t have much motivation to clean up our act, would we?

As a matter of fact, it is really God’s power that accomplishes everything. If God’s spirit were not present and working within us every moment, not only would we be unable to make these changes in our lives, we would instantly cease to exist! God not only created us in the beginning, but God is continually creating us each moment, giving us the power to make choices, and giving us the life we need to live by the choices we have made.

Another way of saying this is that God works through human beings to accomplish all of God’s goals for us. God is continually working to make our lives better, not only eternally, but here on earth. And God is doing that, not by some magical and miraculous outside forces, but by continually placing the desire and the ability in human hearts throughout the world to change their own lives for the better, and to do the work of making life better for their fellow human beings.

Whose job is it to deal with evil?

In other words, all those times we’ve been angry at God or in disbelief of God because we see so much evil around us, we’ve been looking in the wrong place. Yes, God wants to overcome the evil in the world. And God is continually putting it in our hearts to do exactly that.

The question is not whether God is doing anything about all the evil in the world. The question is whether we ourselves are doing anything about it. Are we following the Lord’s commandment in John 13:34 to love one another as God loves us? If people all around the world would make this simple change and commitment, then not only would most of the evil in the world become a thing of the past, but God would have succeeded in creating the kingdom of heaven both in the hereafter and right here on earth.

What about all the evil in the world? God is ready. The choice is ours.

For more information

If you would like to know more about God’s government of the world, please read the book Divine Providence, by Emanuel Swedenborg. Here are a few of the many laws of divine providence that are explained more fully in that book:

  • It is a law of divine providence that we should act in freedom and in accord with reason.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Divine providence focuses on eternal matters, and focuses on temporal matters only as they coincide with eternal ones.
  • Evils are permitted for a purpose: salvation.
  • Divine providence is for good people and evil people alike.
  • Everyone can be reformed, and there is no such thing as predestination.

This article is © 2013 by Lee Woofenden


Lee Woofenden is an ordained minister, writer, editor, translator, and teacher. He enjoys taking spiritual insights from the Bible and the writings of Emanuel Swedenborg and putting them into plain English as guides for everyday life.

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Posted in All About God
9 comments on “How does God Govern Humankind? Is God Actively Involved in our Lives?
  1. Aruthra says:

    Its not always that we suffer because of sins. Book of Job says that Satan persuaded God to “test” his most faithful servant Job. Please explain why.

    • Lee says:

      Hi Aruthra,

      See my reply to your other comment on this general question, here.

      To add to what I said there:

      People in a low, obedience-based mindset need to believe that God has the power to do both good and bad to us. Otherwise they will consider God to be a weak and pathetic God, and will not pay any attention to what God is telling them to do.

      People in an obedience-based mindset, which is a low and rudimentary state of spiritual life, really want to do what is wrong and evil. They want to kill, commit adultery, steal, and bear false witness, and they do covet everything that belongs to their neighbor. These things look very attractive and alluring to them. In their minds, such things feel good to do.

      Since such people are motivated primarily by earthly and physical pleasure and pain, the only thing that will stop them from engaging in evil and destructive behavior is the fear that if they do, they will face serious punishment that will involve losing their reputation and their possessions, and experiencing great physical pain. When the local populace gathered to see offenders stripped and whipped or put in stocks in the public square, their thought was, “That’s whats going to happen to me if I break the law. So I won’t break the law, even though I really want to.”

      Today, thankfully, corporal punishment is on the way out. For well over a century now, more and more societies have been phasing it out and banning it. That’s because human society is moving beyond the old external authority- and obedience-based mindset that existed for much of human history. Today, scenes of corporal punishment and public shaming that occasionally show up in the news turn people’s stomachs. Rather than serving as a warning, they cause people to lose respect for governments and authorities that still engage in such barbaric and medieval forms of punishment. Of course, governments and authorities must still punish offenders, or society would descend into chaos. But in most areas of the world this is no longer done through inflicting physical pain in a public setting.

      In the days when the book of Job was written, however, people were still very much in an external authority- and obedience-based mindset. For such people, a God who is capable of sending Satan to inflict pain and suffering even on such a good man as Job was one that they had better pay close attention to. Today we may view God’s actions in the book of Job as highly objectionable. And even back then, people might be inclined to protest. But they had to admit, a God who had that kind of power, and who would not hesitate to use it, was a God to fear and obey, and to pray to that they would not have to suffer as Job suffered.

      Beyond that, as I said in the other comment that I linked above, Job does convey a message of steadfastness and faith in the face of great pain and suffering, whether that pain and suffering comes from God or from Satan. At minimum, we know that God does not prevent us from experiencing great pain and suffering, even if today we might not view God as actually inflicting pain and suffering on us.

      And it is significant that it was Satan, not God, who actually inflicted the pain and suffering on Job. In other words, as Swedenborg says, God does not inflict evil, but rather permits it to happen if God sees that the results of intervening would be even worse, and that a greater good can come from the trials and struggles. In the case of Job, his faith remained steadfast through all of his suffering, and in the end he rose to even greater status and pleasure than he had enjoyed before Satan afflicted him so severely. Though today many of us are not so focused on material punishments and rewards, spiritually it remains true that people who pass through great struggles can attain to a higher level of spiritual life and joy than people who never have their faith seriously tested.

      In fact, Swedenborg tells us that if God sees that our spiritual life is not sufficiently strong to withstand and prevail in spiritual temptations, God will not allow us to experience such temptations. (This is not the same as saying God won’t allow us to experience material struggles and privations.) If we see people skating along on the surface of life and having a grand old time in life, with no apparent troubles, that doesn’t necessarily mean they are blessed by God. It may be that such people are so superficial and weak morally that God doesn’t allow them to face struggles that would indeed cause them to “curse God and die,” as Job’s wife urged him to do (Job 2:9). Such people will be lucky if they make it into the doorway of heaven. They will certainly not experience the greater joy and bliss of the higher heavens. They do not have the spiritual roots to experience the higher levels of spiritual life and joy.

      I hope these thoughts give you a little more perspective on that troublesome book of Job!

  2. Seeking to understand says:

    Hi Lee,

    I have a question regarding where you said “in everything God does or allows to happen, the primary consideration is its effect on our eternal state”. This makes sense – that’s how it should be – but what bothers me is that, there are cases where it seems for all the world as if suffering in the form of chronic childhood abuse and traumatization can turn people who could potentially have gone to heaven into abusers themselves who perpetuate a vicious cycle and whose hearts end up so hardened and blackened that they sure don’t seem like they would enjoy or choose Heaven when they cross over…

    Is that just an appearance and not really what is happening in those cases at all? If so, what reassurance can be found (either in Swedenborg’s writings or the Bible or logic or whatever), on which one could base a belief that these appearances are misleading and no one’s childhood suffering and trauma *actually* changes where they end up? (Uh…for the worse, I mean…?)

    Or…is it the other way around, and people abusing other people really *can* lead to the abused person leaving the path to Heaven, but it’s simply against the laws you mentioned for God to intervene in some of these cases? Like – I’m imagining for example that in a community where there is no one else willing and able to feed and shelter the abused child besides the abuser, perhaps these situations are simply unavoidable until that community collectively “gets it together”, so to speak? In other words, if the required intervention would simply have to be *too* overt and obvious, then the laws of Divine Providence prevent God from intervening to protect the child?

    I don’t know if I’m on the right track here or not… But I know your answers have always helped bring clarity for me in the past, so thank you so much for that, and thank you in advance for answering this question as well!

    • Lee says:

      Hi Seeking to understand,

      These are all very good, and very difficult, questions. We may never fully understand why God allowed particular tragedies to happen, such as a child growing up being physically and sexually abused. God is omniscient. We are not. However, there are some general principles that we can hold onto in trying to come to some answers.

      The most important of these principles is that no one goes to hell because of any external circumstances. The only way people can go to hell is if they consciously and intentionally choose to live a life of selfishness and greed when they were perfectly capable of choosing to live good and considerate life instead. If someone’s mind has been so warped by a toxic upbringing and environment that he or she is not able to think straight enough to make that decision in a state of freedom, the default destination is always heaven, not hell. Here is an article that goes into this principle in more detail:

      Can Gang Members Go to Heaven? (Is Life Fair?)

      Another principle that may seem harsh, but is actually a mercy in the face of an evil world, is that if God sees that the only possibility for our life is that we will go down to hell, God will allow (not cause) us to die so that we are not doomed to hell, or to a worse hell than we would otherwise go to.

      This is a dangerous world. Every day there are thousands of ways we could die. We stay alive, I believe, mainly through the grace of God protecting us at every moment. (It is also a very good idea not to do stupid, dangerous, and self-destructive things!)

      God keeps us alive on this earth for one primary reason: so that we can grow spiritually into angels of heaven. God will, of course, allow us to make the opposite choice, and go to hell instead, once we have become self-responsible adults. (Children who die before reaching self-responsible adulthood always go to heaven.) If God sees that heaven is no longer a possibility for a person, God will not, of course, kill that person. But in the case of an adult, God will step back a bit, so to speak, because the person has rejected God, and God’s protection along with God. Then the person’s own evil life will take over, and this commonly leads to an earlier death than the person otherwise would have had.

      In the case of children, from an earthly perspective we know that child mortality is high in environments where there is a lot of violence or poverty or abuse. This is a tragedy. But another principle that should be mentioned is that physical death is not evil in itself. It is simply our transition from our temporary home here on earth to our permanent home in the spiritual world. See:

      When Death is a Celebration

      When we humans here on earth fail so miserably to care for a child that the child dies, the result is a tragedy here on earth. But for the child, it is a blessing. Now he or she will be received by loving angel parents who will raise her or him not only to adulthood, but to angelhood. And so, in partial answer to your question, some children who grow up in terribly toxic environments never make it to adulthood because their young life has been so blighted that they would have too much to overcome here in this world.

      Once again, to be crystal clear, God never kills anyone. But God allows deaths to happen when the alternative would be even worse than preserving that person’s life on earth. And once again, God is always looking at things from the perspective of our eternal life. God therefore allows early deaths in many cases in which a person’s eternal state would be worse if he or she continued to live on this earth.

      A corollary to this is that as long as a person is alive and breathing here on earth, there is still the opportunity for that person to go to heaven, no matter how evil the person’s heart may be. All self-responsible adults, even the worst and most horrible, still have the opportunity to make the choice to repent, leave behind their old life of evil, and begin walking the path toward a new and better life. If they don’t make that choice, it is their own fault, not God’s.

      I could go on, but for now I hope this much is helpful to you. Here is the first part of a four-part article that digs much more deeply into some of these difficult and painful questions about why God allows so much evil in this world:

      How can we have Faith when So Many Bad Things happen to So Many Good People? Part 1

      Feel free to continue the conversation here or at the end of any of the linked articles if there are particular issues your mind and heart are continuing to struggle with.

    • Lee says:

      Hi Seeking to understand,

      In response to your request for reassurance from the Bible, here are a few passages to read:

      • Matthew 18:6–14 assures us that it is far worse for those who harm children than it is for the children themselves; that children are associated with and under the protection of very high angels; and that it is not God’s will that any of them should die. (Hence my statement that God does not actually kill anyone, even though it may sometimes appear that way to us.)
      • Luke 12:47–48 assures us that no one will be severely punished (i.e., go to hell) for doing things that they didn’t know were wrong. If a person has been raised in a terribly immoral environment, and never had the opportunity to develop a good knowledge of the difference between right and wrong, that person will certainly suffer for wrong behavior, but will not receive the ultimate “beating” of eternal life in hell.
      • Romans 2:12–16 similarly assures us that people who did not grow up with a clear understanding of right and wrong (as indicated by “the law” here) will be judged according to whether or not they lived according to their own conscience.

      In short, the spiritual life of children is under the protection of the Lord and the angels, and those who grew up in toxic environments will be judged, not by an absolute standard, but on a sliding scale according to their own knowledge, conscience, and ability to choose right over wrong.

      As for Swedenborg, I invite and encourage you to read his book Divine Providence. It’s not easy reading. It will bend your brain. But it is the best book ever published on the age-old question of how there can be a loving God when there is so much evil, pain, and suffering in the world.

      • Seeking to understand says:

        Hi Lee,

        Sorry for the long delay in replying (got very busy), but I do have a follow-up question…

        First though, thank you so much for your great answers (as usual)!

        I hate to bug you again, but this question has kept coming up in my mind every so often all these months… When you say things like, even gang members, traumatized children who grow up to be violent, and others who seem hopelessly lost, can still manage to turn their spiritual direction around and end up in Heaven, it feels like almost everyone probably ends up in Heaven – and I *really* want to believe that’s the case, but I worry about that verse (Matthew 7:14) that says that only a few find the narrow gate that leads to life (whereas the previous verse says many enter the wide gate to destruction).

        I hope it doesn’t mean what it sounds like on the surface! Would you mind giving your take on those verses?
        Thank you so much!

  3. Delia says:

    are you believing in pre existence?
    that our souls existed before the human body were operating?
    i‘ve started to read many NDE accounts and many talking about existing priot to human life and choosing their parents, life circumstances etc
    what are your thoughts about this?

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