2.11. Spiritual Providence
Sources refer to the Ramchal's Derech Hashem.
It is important understand that God's system of providence is perfectly fair. Verses that stress this point include "A fair scepter is the scepter of Your kingdom" (Psalms 45:7) and "The King causes the land to endure through justice" (Proverbs 29:4).
We also know that we are God's children and He only wants what's good for us. Sometimes, however, that means that He has to reprimand us. To that end, Deuteronomy 8:5 tells us that "Just like a father disciplines his son, God disciplines you." When He punishes us, it's not vengeance, it's loving correction. This has two ramifications: (1) God's love for us mitigates the severity of the punishments we endure and (2) sometimes God suspends punishment altogether and treats us with mercy rather than justice. God reserves this right as He told Moses, "I will show favor to whom I will show favor; I will have mercy upon whom I will have mercy" (Exodus 33:19).
Since God wanted man to have free will to choose his own path, and He decided that a person's deeds would determine his fate, it follows that God subordinated His providence to man's actions; a person will receive goodness or evil as he has earned. However, God is never bound or obligated to follow a particular course of action. He always retains the ability to act as He chooses. God directs the world through His system of justice because that's how He chooses to, not because He must. He is free to override the system at any time. This is exactly what He does when He chooses to overlook our sins and not mete out punishments.
Therefore, there are two types of Divine providence: the basic providence, which is that of God's justice, and the providence with which He overrides the system at His discretion. It is through this second providence that the world endures rather than being destroyed as a consequence of mankind's evil deeds. [II, 8.1]
We must also understand that God exerts His influence upon us in two spheres: the physical and the spiritual. We have already addressed the physical, which includes a person's prosperity in life. The spiritual aspect includes a person's intellect and the manner in which he draws closer to God.
The most desirable state of creation is when people follow the path of wisdom and strive to connect with their Creator. In this condition, the truth is clear to all, evil is subdued and deception is eradicated. Everything revolves around service to God so that the forces of goodness are strengthened and those of evil are decimated. In such a state, peace and security reign and suffering is a thing of the past. In a world like this, God rejoices in His handiwork.
The opposite state is when people pursue the objects of their physical urges, rejecting wisdom and distancing themselves from it. In a world like this, little attention is paid to spiritual matters. Good traits are obscured and evil ones flourish. There is no peace or security, only suffering. God conceals Himself from such a world, leaving nature to take its course. Evil people prosper, the good are subjugated and God does not rejoice.
Each of these scenarios depends on God's influence in the realm of the spiritual. [II, 8.2]
We have already described (in section 4) how the tendency towards mundanity and the physical is inherent in a person though, as he matures, he can acquire enlightenment. God’s revealing (or concealing) His presence is the cause of a person’s intellectual growth, which is what enables (or impedes) this enlightenment. Everything in creation is the result of God revealing and concealing His presence to varying degrees, which leads to the desired traits and characteristics. [II, 8.3]
Looking at history, we can see that mankind progresses through four different stages, much the same way that an individual grows and matures through different stages. The first stage of mankind was one of darkness and ignorance. The Sages of the Talmud (Sanhedrin 97a) referred to this as the “2,000 years of emptiness.”
We live in the second stage, which is better than the first. In our era, we know much more about God, since He has revealed Himself through His Torah. However, we lack true enlightenment. A person can get closer to God through his own efforts but this pales before the proximity one could achieve if God were to enlighten him spiritually.
The third stage will be better still, and it is the condition the world was in when the Temple stood. In this stage, miracles are seen and prophecy can be found, if only among a few who manage to achieve it. Prophecy may be difficult to achieve, and certainly not by the average person, but it is not unheard of in this reality.
The fourth and final stage is the greatest of them all, the world that has been promised for the future. In the future world, mankind will be infused with Divine inspiration without requiring any effort on man’s part. This was promised in such verses as “Hashem your God will circumcise your heart and the hearts of your descendants, to love Hashem your God with all your heart and all your soul that you may live” (Deuteronomy 30:6) and “It will come to pass afterward, that I will pour My spirit upon all flesh; your sons and your daughters will prophesy, your old men will dream dreams, your young men will see visions, and also upon the servants and the maidservants in those days I will pour out My spirit” (Joel 3:1-2), and throughout the Books of the Prophets. When this occurs, the human race will have achieved its full maturity. At that time, mankind will be perpetually elevated. [II, 8.4]
The amount and manner of spiritual providence that God grants a person is dependent on a number of factors, including (but not limited to) the time and place in which a person lives; God has arranged it that more spirituality is revealed in some circumstances than in others. As with other things, God balances all the factors so that the result is what’s most appropriate for the ultimate perfection of the world. This is why certain days and certain places are holier than others. On those days and in those places, more of God’s spirituality is revealed to man, more readily facilitating his enlightenment. [II, 8.5]