|ABBREVIATIONSCONCERNING GODImportance of a Just Idea of God
God is One
God is very Man
God is not in Space
The very Divine Essence is Love and Wisdom
The Divine Love and the Divine Wisdom are Substance and Form
God is Love itself and Life Itself
The Nature of the Divine Love
The Infinity and Eternity of God
The Omnipotence of God
The Omniscience of God
The Omnipresence of God
Knowledge respecting God only possible by RevelationCREATIONGod created the Universe from Himself, not out of Nothing
All Things in the Universe were created from the Divine Love and the Divine Wisdom of God-Man
Two Worlds, the Spiritual and the Natural
Two Suns, by means of which all Things in the two Worlds were created
Atmospheres, Waters, and Earths, in the Spiritual and Natural Worlds
The Origin of Matter
The Divine Object in the Creation of the Universe
All Things of the Created Universe viewed from Uses, represent Man in an Image
What Man is
The Nature of the Fall
SIGNIFICATION OF VARIOUS TERMS AND SUBJECTS IN THE WORD
REPENTANCE, REFORMATION, AND REGENERATION
The common Doctrine of Imputation
The Church Universal
THE FIRST OR MOST ANCIENT CHURCH
THE THIRD OR ISRAELITISH CHURCH
THE FOURTH, OR FIRST CHRISTIAN CHURCH
THE FIFTH, OR NEW CHRISTIAN CHURCH
A Priesthood and Ecclesiastical Governments in Heaven
INFLUX, AND INTERACTION BETWEEN THE SOUL AND THE BODY
THE INTERMEDIATE STATE OR WORLD OF SPIRITS
The Origin of Evil and of Hell
Month: January 2014
The Trinity: Aspects of One Divine Essence
The Trinity: Aspects of One Divine Essence
In the New Church we whole-heartedly believe in the Holy Trinity. In fact, we are very interested in the “trinity” concept. But to us, a trinity does not consist of three similar things on the same level (which might be regarded as a “trio”), but a trinity consists of one thing on three different levels. For example, three houses in a terrace do not form a trinity, but one house with three stories is a trinity. (Noah’s Ark was like that; it had “lower, second and third stories.” [Genesis 6:16]) Three oranges do not make a trinity; but one orange does, if you consider its skin, its flesh, and its pips or seeds. Three people do not make a trinity; but one person does, if you consider his soul, his body, and his influence or outflowing life.
The Holy Trinity—False View
The old, false idea of God was that he was, is, and ever has been, a trinity of three persons: Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, all existing side by side since before the creation of the universe. The theory is that at a certain point in time, one of these three persons, the Son, came into the world as a baby, grew up here to adult status, was crucified, was buried, and then ascended back to Heaven, to rejoin the Father and the Holy Ghost; after which everything was as it had been.
No “Son from Eternity”
The main error here is the supposition that the Son of God existed as a second person of the Holy Trinity since the beginning. We have already discussed this in Chapter 11, but let us recapitulate some reasons for disbelieving it.
(1) A son must have a mother, and there were no women available before the creation. Mary of Nazareth was the mother of Jesus, and she came comparatively late in the story.
(2) If the Son had been there from the beginning, surely he would have been mentioned in the Old Testament, which he isn’t! On the contrary, Jehovah declares in Isaiah: “I am God, and there is none else.” (Isaiah 45:21)
(3) If the Son of God had been in existence from eternity, presumably an adult, how was it that he came into Mary’s womb as an embryo, then a fetus, and finally a sucking baby? Surely he would have arrived a full-grown man, knowing everything!
It is true that Jesus claimed to have been in existence since “before Abraham was.” (John 8:58.) He was not a created being, like other men. His soul was Jehovah himself, the great “I am.” That is why, when Jesus said, “Before Abraham was, I am!” the Jews tried to stone him for blasphemy. He did not say, however, that he had been the Son of God prior to his birth in Bethlehem.
Let us make this point perfectly clear. In so far as Jesus was divine, he was God. Not the Son of God (which he was when mixed with Mary’s heredity) but simply God.
Three Essentials in One Person
We have seen that everyone is a trinity, consisting of three essentials in one person. You have a soul or spirit, a physical body, and an “influence” or sphere or outgoing personality by which others know you. There is also another kind of trinity involved in every project you undertake: love, wisdom, and power (or, in the terms of the old philosophers: end, cause, and effect.) Suppose you set out to mend an electric fuse. (1) There must be the love—the desire to have the fuse mended, which is in your heart, or will. This is the end in view. (2) You must have the wisdom—the know-how, which is in your head, or understanding. This is what causes the project to be undertaken. (3) Lastly, you must have the power, which resides in your hands. This produces the effect.
In the beginning, God was a trinity like this. At heart, he was just love. But love cannot exist alone, it needs others outside itself whom it can love and make happy. So love produced wisdom, which set to work to plan the creation of a finite universe full of creatures, including people. His wisdom was (as it were) the architect, the builder. “In the beginning was the Word; all things were made by him.” (John 1:1, 3) Finally, the divine wisdom sent out energy from the divine love to accomplish its plans, rather as an architect employs construction workers. This energy was the divine power. In Old Testament times, then, the holy trinity consisted of love, wisdom, and power, three essentials in one person, that person being Jehovah God.
The Word Became Flesh
When, later on, God wished to enter his universe as a man, he naturally came as the divine wisdom or Word, which had created the universe in the first place. “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth.” (John 1:14) Now, in Bethlehem, for the first time, we have the Father-Son relationship within the Godhead. The divine love was the Father, and the divine wisdom was (as it were) the Son. And their outpouring energy was the Holy Spirit.
This Father-Son relationship lasted for only only 33 years, from the birth of Jesus until his resurrection from death. After the ascension, the Holy Trinity consisted of (1) the divine Inmost, (2) the divine Human, and (3) the outflowing divine life. These three essentials correspond to the heat, light, and radiation of the spiritual Sun in Heaven, which is the Lord as seen by the angels.
We will now place these trinities together, side by side, and we think you will see how similar they are. In fact, they are really the same, under different names! God’s nature has not essentially changed, and we are in his image and likeness.
The Holy Ghost
Nobody seems to know why the Holy Ghost should be addressed as “him,” and called a “person.” The word “ghost” simply means spirit, breath or wind, and suggests “outflowing life or activity.” At the baptism of Jesus (Luke 3:2) the holy spirit entered him from Jehovah and was seen as a dove; only after receiving it was he enabled to do his redemptive work. He later promised his disciples that, when he was glorified, or united completed with his Father, this same holy spirit would overflow from him into them, as the comforter. (John 14:26 and 7:39) Thus, immediately after the resurrection, Jesus “breathed” on them in the upper room, and said: “Receive ye the holy ghost.” (John 20:22) A few weeks later, at Pentecost, the same holy spirit came down in full force upon all who believed in him—”as tongues of fire and a rushing mighty wind.” (Acts 2:2-4) Since then, the holy spirit was, and still is, the powerful stream of life that flows into men’s hearts and minds from the glorified Lord Jesus Christ; i.e., from the Divine-Human. Those who receive it are said to be “baptized with the Holy Spirit.”
Was Jesus Man or God? The Divine-Human
In our last chapter, we saw how Jesus Christ redeemed humanity nearly 2000 years ago. It was a definite act, which was performed once and for all. In this chapter we shall be dealing with the formation within him of the “Divine-Human,” which became a permanent element in the divine nature. The two processes took place simultaneously, so there is bound to be some repetition in this chapter of what has already been said. But the emphasis will be different, for here we shall be leading up to what Jesus is today and the radical change that his life introduced into the relationship between God and humanity.
Before the days of Jesus Christ, there was no direct link or bridge between the divine and the human, between the infinite and the finite. Apart from a few religious geniuses, people could not approach their maker, except through a priesthood, and all worship had to be in the form of ritual. This had lead to alienation of people from God, resulting in the uprise of the hells (as described in the last chapter). To prevent the situation from arising again, God took steps to assume a human nature, which would bring him into direct personal contact with every individual member of his human family. No more need of a sacrificial priesthood, not even of a temple! “The tabernacle of God” (Revelation 21:3) was to be with people.
The plan was for God to fertilize an ovum in the womb of a certain woman, Mary of Nazareth, who would bear a son to be called Jesus (meaning “Jehovah saves”). Jesus was to grow up as a normal human being. As he regenerated, God would replace, bit by bit, all that was finite in him, substituting for it what was infinite and divine, so that eventually the young man would be entirely infilled with the Godhead, and be (as it were) absorbed back into his divine Father. He was to “come forth from the Father and come into the world again, he was to leave the world and go to the Father.” (John 16:28)
Like other children, Jesus had a dual heredity, paternal and maternal. His paternal heredity was, of course, divine. (His birth was not strictly a “virgin birth” or parthenogenesis, which would necessarily have produced a female offspring; Jesus did have a Father, but the Father was God.) His maternal heredity was like that of any other child. Mary gave him his flesh and bones, his physical senses, his natural intelligence. He began life in complete ignorance and had to learn everything, like any other child. He could grow weary. He could become angry and weep. In those days Jesus did not seem to be “God in human form.” Indeed, if his divinity had been too obvious, how could he have lived and mixed with people on earth—or they with him? He could not have performed the work he was sent to do. The whole point was that he should be completely human as well as completely divine.
Due to his corrupt human heredity, Jesus could be, and was, tempted by evil spirits (as we saw in the last chapter). But, as he drove out the evil spirits who were tempting him, that “temptable” part of his nature was replaced bit by bit with divine substance from his Father. Therefore, as his infirm human grew less and less with regeneration, his Divine-Human grew more and more. (The three disciples saw something of the Divine-Human on the Mount of Transfiguration: the Lord’s face shone as the sun, and even his garments glowed. [Matthew 7:2]) His infirm human was completely destroyed by the crucifixion, after which his Divine-Human took over, even down to his flesh and bones, so that there was nothing left in the tomb.
An illustration can be taken from the building of a stone house. When a house is under construction, scaffold poles are first erected. Sometimes these rough poles are set up all around the site, and passers-by might even mistake them for the intended building! But when all is completed, the scaffold poles are removed, and there stands a beautiful stone edifice. In the case of Jesus, the parts of his nature that he inherited from Mary were like the scaffold poles, whereas the parts he inherited from his Father were the stones. The scaffold poles ensure that the stones are placed in the right position; they are afterwards removed. So, the parts from Mary enabled God to form his Divine-Human, but they were eventually discarded.
Never forget that the soul of Jesus was Jehovah God. Your soul is a finite vessel containing God’s life; and, because it is finite, you will always be finite. You will never merge with God. But Jesus was different. God was his Father, so his soul was God. It was not a vessel containing God: it was God himself. Therefore, Jesus had no finite limitations. His regeneration went on and on without halting, until his humanity was dissolved into the divinity of God making one person only. Thereafter, Jesus was that part of God that could approach humanity, and that humanity could approach.
Stages in the Development of His Consciousness
(1) “The Lord from His earliest childhood up to the last hour of His life in the world, was assaulted by all the hells, against which He continually fought, and subjugated and overcame them.” (Arcana Coelestia 1690:6) The evil spirits from the spiritual world could, of course, enter his “infirm humanity.” However, Jesus told the Apostles almost nothing of his interior battle so there is almost nothing said in the Holy Scripture except for its treatment of the temptation in the wilderness. (Arcana Coelestia 1690:2)
During his childhood and youth in Nazareth, Jesus was conscious as the son of Mary.
(2) He resisted the evil spirits and drove them away to Hell. As he did so, God’s life poured in and replaced the corruptible elements in his nature, and the “Divine-Human” began to develop. While tempted, he was conscious as the Son of God. His consciousness kept switching over from one side of his nature to the other (which, of course, is rather like what happens with us also, only both sides of our nature are finite).
(3) By the time of the crucifixion, he had put away almost everything which he had inherited from Mary. He still retained his physical body and his physical senses, including the sense of pain. His last temptation was in this area.
(4) In the sepulcher after the crucifixion, his Divine-Human impregnated the very atoms of the physical body, absorbing them into itself. Thus he was “glorified” or made wholly divine. The process was not completed all at once, so that for a few more weeks his disciples could still see him, and he retained the wound scars in his hands, feet and side.
(5) Eventually, nothing from Mary was left, except that he was still in the human form. He was now merged with God, having “all power in Heaven and on earth” (Mattthew 28: 18) no longer visible to finite human eyes.
Has God Changed?
Basically, God does not change; he is the same yesterday, today and forever. But, by taking upon himself a human nature and glorifying it, he added another aspect to his divinity. Previously, everything human was necessarily finite. That is why, when evil spirits attacked humanity, God could not directly intervene. But after the life, death and ascension of Jesus Christ, God himself became “human,” in the sense that he now has a permanent foothold in humanity and can reach down into the hearts and minds of all humanity even penetrating down into Hell.
Previously, God had a divine celestial and a divine spiritual degree, but no divine natural degree. Jesus provided him with a divine natural degree.
It has become misleading now to use the term “Son of God.” After all, Jesus was the Son of God for only some 33 years, long ages ago. After the ascension, Jesus became (as it were) the “body” of God. Jehovah was the soul, the newly-formed Divine-Human was the “body.” And as, when we approach anyone, we go to him in his body, and communicate with his soul through his body, so, when we approach God, we meet him in his Divine-Human.
Worship Addressed to Jesus Christ
Jesus said we were to worship the Father through the Son. This does not mean we are to address our prayers to God-theFather and add a formula at the end: “through Jesus Christ our Lord.” What it means is that we must approach God in and through his Divine-Human. The Divine-Human (i.e., the glorified Jesus Christ) is the “mediator” between God and humanity: it is “Godwith-us. ” No one can come to the Father except through me.” (John 6: 44) In other words, all our prayers should be addressed directly to Jesus Christ.
Our God is not a God afar off, but one very near to us— human, yet divine. And he has infinite power with which to help us. He does not take our cause to another person, his Father, for he and the Father are one and the same person. Jesus, after his resurrection from the dead, was worshipped by his disciples, and he accepted their worship. Even doubting Thomas declared, “My Lord and My God!” (John 20:28) The glorified Lord Jesus Christ has literally become One with our Creator. There is none other.
“I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God, “who is, and who was, and who is to come, the Almighty.” (Revelation 1:8)
Swedenborg wrote, in True Christian Religion No. 827: “It was once granted me to speak with Mary. She was then passing by, and appeared in Heaven over my head, clothed in white raiment like silk. Pausing for a little, she said that she had been the mother of the Lord, for he was born of her; but that he, having become God, had put off all the human he had had from her; and therefore she now worships him as her God, and is unwilling that anyone should acknowledge him as her son, because the whole divinity is in him.” See also True Christian Religion No. 102.
The Redemption of the World From a Flood of Evil
We have now concluded our brief survey of the spiritual world, and so we are in a position to take up again what Swedenborg calls the doctrine of the Lord, continuing the inquiry we began in Chapter 3 with “God the Creator.” In the next few chapters we shall be dealing with such sublime subjects as the Incarnation, the Redemption, the Glorification, the Trinity, Salvation, and the Divine Providence. But first we must ask who Jesus actually was, and why he came into the world when he did. We must determine as far as possible what his relationship was with God the Creator, what he achieved on earth, and where he is now.
Whole libraries of books have been written about our Lord’s outer life in Palestine— his journeys, his teachings, his miracles, and finally his crucifixion, burial, resurrection and ascension. But to understand his mission intelligently we must look below the surface and see what he was doing on the inner side. Briefly, his purpose was three-fold: to redeem humanity from the growing power of Hell, to glorify the human nature he derived from Mary of Nazareth, and to establish the Christian church.
Jesus lived his life on two levels simultaneously. He was in the world, tramping the lanes of Galilee with his disciples, but at the same time he was consciously active on the spiritual plane. On earth, he taught and healed, and set an example of Christian living, which led to the founding of the Christian church. In the spiritual world he performed the redemption and glorified his humanity.
Most Christians today ignore what he did on the spiritual plane, because they do not understand it. The old explanations are so irrational, even unethical, they have been generally abandoned, and even numbers of the clergy will confess that the redemption doesn’t mean much any more. But to those of us in the New Church, the redemption was our Lord’s crowning work, one of the pivotal turning-points of human history. We will consider it somewhat fully in this chapter.
To “redeem” means to rescue someone from slavery or captivity. In can be done by payment of a large sum of money as a ransom, or it can be achieved by force. At the time we are considering, two thousand years ago, the human race was enslaved by the devil. A general redemption had become imperative, and we believe it was effected by Jesus.
The early church used to teach that Jesus did it by paying the ransom money of his own blood to the devil. Later, people said, “No, no! Surely he did not pay the ransom to the devil! That would make the devil mightier than God!” So the church changed things around and said that Jesus paid the ransom to God-his-Father.
The theory was developed late in the 11th century, somewhat like this: God-the-Father had intended to destroy humanity as a punishment for sin. However, his son Jesus, who had always been with him in Heaven, was persuaded to go down to earth to be punished on humanity’s behalf. (“How wonderfully kind of God-the-Father to send him,” people used to say!) So Jesus came on earth and lived a life of exemplary sinlessness, at the end of which he was unjustly tortured and nailed on the cross. This entirely satisfied the “justice” of his Father, who thereupon forgave the sins of the human race, and humanity was saved! The only requirement now is that we should “believe” that Jesus died on our behalf; this will bring us into the redemptive scheme, and all will be well.
Such an explanation of the redemption does not make much sense, as you will agree; yet it has found its way into thousands of sermons and hymns, and into countless prayers which end: “For Jesus Christ’s sake,” or “For the sake of Thy Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.”
If we abandon this myth of the “vicarious atonement, which is nowhere taught in the gospels (nor even in Paul’s epistles, despite their legalism), do we have to drop all belief in the redemption? By no means. But, it must be interpreted correctly.
The Lord did not redeem humanity by payment of a ransom. To “pay the price of sin” would have actually increased sin’s resources, and strengthened the power of Hell. No; he redeemed us by fighting single-handed against Hell, thus breaking the power of evil that was becoming too great for humanity to resist.
Who was the Enemy?
There was at that time an enormous accumulation of evil spirits from this earth who had not yet passed on into their final home in Hell, but were occupying the World of Spirits alongside this earth. These evil spirits were dominating people’s minds, and even, in some cases, their physical bodies. The equilibrium between good and evil was being upset. As a result, this world was ceasing to produce angels. The old process of salvation was no longer working; a new church was needed. But first, the human race had to be rescued from the mess it was in. To do this, God himself came into the world, which was the arena where the evil spirits were operating. He could not come in his unshielded majesty and glory, or he would have destroyed everybody, which he did not want to do. (He loves even the devils and satans: they are still his children, though they have turned against him.) So he came as the man Jesus. The evil spirits were acting on the human plane, in human heredity, so God assumed a human nature, complete with its evil heredity, and came to grips with them where they were operating.
Jesus was God and human. He was God as to his inmost soul and human as to his conscious thought, his physical desires and sensations, and, of course, as to his physical body. Being a man, he was tempted and attacked by devils and satans, like every other person at that time; but, being inwardly God, he had power to resist, which no other person could do. “He trod the winepress alone.” (Isaiah 63:3)
God Himself was the Redeemer
It is a basic teaching of the New Church that God himself, Jehovah our Creator, was the Redeemer. (“Before Abraham was,” said Jesus, “I am.”)(John 8: 58) The human nature he assumed was merely the instrument by which he accomplished his redemptive work. There was no “second person” involved. Jesus was God himself in human form, or God in human focus.
The Old Testament affirms this great truth over and over again. “Hear, 0 Israel, the Lord our God is one Lord.” (Deuteronomy 6:4) “There is no God else beside me, a just God and a savior; there is none beside me. Look unto me and be ye saved, all the ends of the earth; for I am God and there is none else.” (Isaiah 45:21-22) “Is my hand shortened at all, that it cannot redeem?” (Isaiah 50:2) “Thus saith the Lord your redeemer, the Holy One of Israel.” (Isaiah 43:14.) These passages prove that the one God of the Old Testament is himself the redeemer and savior. “Blessed be the Lord God of Israel; for he has visited and redeemed his people.” (Luke 1:68) No mention here of a second person!
The Son of God
By the “Son” of God is meant the humanity that God took upon himself when he came into the world. Jesus “came forth from God” rather as a son comes forth from his father. Thus (note this well) there was no “Son of God” before the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem. The expression “Son of God” does not appear anywhere in the Old Testament. The first time we read of the Son of God is when the angel Gabriel says to Mary: “That holy thing which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God.” (Luke 1:35) In other words, there was no Son of God up to that time, but there would be a Son of God when Jesus was born of Mary, and God was his father; therefore Jesus was the son of Mary and the son of God. The parts of his nature that he derived from Mary were finite, corruptible, and not divine; therefore, Mary was not the mother of God, as some people believe. God cannot have a mother!
Jesus was never separated from God in the way that the seed that produced you was separated from your father at conception. Always God was within Jesus as his soul, even while he was still a fetus in his mother’s body, and all the time he was growing up in Nazareth—first as a child, and then a young man at the carpenter’s bench. He spoke of God as his Father who was within him doing the works. “He that hath seen me,” he said, “hath seen the Father. I and the Father are one.” (John 14:9 and 10:30)
The Son of Mary
All of us derive something from our fathers and something from our mothers. So with Jesus. What he derived from his Father (God) was divine. What he derived from his mother (Mary) was just the same as what other Jewish boys were inheriting from their mothers at that time, corrupt with evil tendencies of every kind. Because of this, Jesus was “tempted in all points like as were are” (Hebrews 4:15) and a thousand times worse than any of us are today. He passionately desired to commit every kind of sin: to love himself and dominate others, to seize their possessions, to commit adultery, to bear false witness, to covet . . . and so on. But he never once yielded. He never committed sin in thought, word or deed. He fought and overcame his tempters, with power drawn from within himself—the divine side of his nature. He said, “Get thee behind me, Satan!” (Matthew 16:23) This was not easy for him; it was a perpetual struggle, with real pain and anguish. While being tempted, he did not feel himself to be divine, far from it! On the contrary, he felt that God had deserted him. He had to pray constantly to the Father within him for strength and courage. But each time, after the battle was over and another gang of evil spirits had been deprived of their power, he felt once again that he was the “Son of God”—God in human form.
Freedom for Humanity
When we speak of the redemption, then, we mean that Jesus fought and conquered the evil spirits who were dominating the world from the intermediate region of the spiritual world. He drove them down into Hell, and actually formed them into a new Hell. By doing this, he released from bondage all people on earth who had been reduced to slavery by them. After their crushing defeat, the devils and satans in the spiritual world could no longer compel men and women on earth to obey them, tempting them beyond their powers of resistance. Hence forward, anyone wishing to be saved could be so, in the Savior’s strength. Jesus restored free will to the world. He “redeemed” humanity, making everybody spiritually free. He did not, of course, bring an end to sinning and evil (there has been plenty of sin and evil in the world since the redemption!), but he ended the human race’s slavery to evil.
If you could study the inner history of the human race, you would find that, during the lifetime of Jesus on earth a new spirit of freedom came into the world, not only in Palestine but also in India, China, Europe, Africa, America, Australia—wherever there were people. This freedom was of the soul, and resulted in a bubbling up of new spiritual life everywhere. It was, in fact, a New Church.
As well as bringing spiritual freedom to the human race on earth, Jesus liberated the good spirits in the intermediate region of the spiritual world, who had been dominated and enslaved by the evil gangs there. These good spirits he raised up and formed into a new Heaven. This separating of the evil from the good is referred to in the gospels as the “Judgment.” Jesus said, “I beheld Satan as lightning fall from Heaven.” (Luke 10:18) And we are told that, after the crucifixion, “The graves were opened, and many bodies of the saints which slept arose and came out of the graves.” (Matthew 27:52-53) This all took place in the intermediate region of the spiritual world, seen only by those whose spiritual eyes were opened.
Some people think that Jesus redeemed us simply by suffering death on the cross, and that the crucifixion was the redemption. According to this view, his life and teachings were of no particular importance, it was only his death that mattered! Well, of course, this is not true. Actually, the redemption was almost complete before the crucifixion.
Yet the crucifixion must be given its due place in the picture. It was the most grievous of our Lord’s temptations, because it came right down into his physical body. The devils, powerless over his spiritual life, were fighting a rear-guard action by tormenting him physically. While he was nailed on the cross and hung there dying in agony, the temptation to hate his torturers and to use his divine powers against them, must have been almost overwhelming, especially as he was made to feel (as in all his temptations) that God had forsaken him. Where were his disciples? All had deserted him! Was it worth all this suffering? Yet he must continue to love the whole human race, good and bad alike. If he had ceased to do this for one instant, the evil spirits would have a resounding victory, and his redemptive work would have been undone. Instead, he said, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” (Luke 23:34) His unwavering love, even in the face of torture, broke the power of Hell.
Yet what of himself as a man of flesh and blood? What was to become of him? His whole conscious life was ebbing painfully away. Before him lay a vast emptiness, a void of nothingness, into which he had to plunge.
When he rose from the sepulcher on Easter Sunday, he was in his Divine Humanity only. Everything from his mother, Mary, had been annihilated, and the redemption had been accomplished.
Sex and Marriage (in Heaven Too)
Sex and Marriage (in Heaven Too)
The true human unit is neither a man nor a woman, but a married pair. It is a partnership or team. Neither the man nor the woman lives for himself or herself, but both live for the team. The man is only half a complete “person,” and so is the woman. See Genesis 5:2—”God created them male and female, and called their name Adam” (Hebrew for a human being).
Think of an article consisting of two component parts, such as an axe head and shaft, a hook and eye, or the two blades of a pair of scissors. The components are manufactured separately, using different machines; then they are matched and fitted together. So with the two partners of a marriage. Men and women are made separately, as boy and girl, bachelor and spinster. The “sorting out” and matching takes place during courtship. When suitable mates are selected, the two components are united in marriage. At first they may be in for trouble, especially if both are strong characters. The two parts do not fit so perfectly as was anticipated, and there are painful spots of abrasion. Fortunately, the raw material is slightly malleable and pliable, and the two parts will adjust and adapt themselves if the drive is sufficiently strong. Once they are working together, they will soon fit so snugly that you might think they were specially made for each other!
If, as in many cases, there is no marriage, and individuals grow up single, then the Lord makes subtle adaptations to enable a man to continue living as a bachelor, or a woman as a spinster, in a tolerably satisfactory life. The man is given some female qualities, and the woman some male qualities, so that each can stand alone. Incompleteness is always present, but various compensations are provided.
The Spiritual Side of Sex
Sex is spiritual as well as physical. Men differ from women in mind as well as in body. Swedenborg devotes a large part of his great work on Marriage Love (Conjugial Love in older translations) to a searching analysis of the differences. Broadly speaking, man has intelligence on the surface and love beneath, whereas woman has love on the surface and intelligence beneath. When they unite in marriage, the intelligence of the man is accepted by the woman, and she tends to take over most of his opinions. His interior love then becomes the driving force of the partnership in all major matters, while her love operates in all other affairs of their life together, giving color and cohesion to the relationship. Thus the two sexes have been so designed that they can be fitted together on every level. The bonding material is love, both his love and her love. And so, love must be present on every level, if the marriage is to be a success.
The physical side of sex is much the same with human beings as it is with animals, a powerful drive towards procreation. It has its use, of course. Without it, the idea of marriage might never arise! But, though physical sex provides a strong pairing-off tendency, it is utterly unreliable as a match-maker. It is “erratic” as well as “erotic!” The male dog does not bother about the personal character or spiritual qualities of the female dog: he thinks only of her body. When the seed is implanted he runs off and seeks other mates. So it is with human beings, if their sex-love is in the physical body only. They are not concerned with achieving a full union with one member of the opposite sex, but merely desire pleasure, with as much variety as possible. Such activity deadens the spiritual elements, which should be present in all mating, reducing a human being to the state of an animal.
Physical attraction is useful in narrowing the field of choice, saying, “This one or that one would be desirable as a partner.” But within that field, judgment should be exercised. The man should seek out a woman with whom he believes he could be united mentally and spiritually as well as physically; and the woman, in accepting him, should look for the same qualities. The Lord will surely help them in their search, if they pray constantly for guidance. It is particularly important that they should both have the same religious outlook; that is to say, they should both have the same attitude towards God. If two are united in their love to the Lord, everything else will follow. When once a couple have chosen one another and made their vows, they should never again listen to sex-love as a matchmaker. It will go on dropping hints and suggestions, but they are almost certainly temptations from Hell; they are wholly mischievous, and if not ignored will lead to trouble and unhappiness for everybody.
Regeneration in Marriage
Married partners have a great advantage over single people; they can regenerate together in the privacy of their homes! Each must now consider the partner’s needs, whims and fancies, and (later) the children’s. They must overcome their love of dominion (inherent in all of us): the itch to have one’s own way, the pride that demands its “rights,” that will not apologize or break the deadlock of a sulk. Marriage is a long and often painful process of mutual adjustment. Sex and love-making undoubtedly help the partners to get over the hurdles, however; and after every victory of unselfishness, there is such a shower of sweetness that the renunciation of self becomes a delight! And when the two have learned to live satisfactorily together, they will have made considerable progress along the road to Heaven.
As the partners begin to develop their spiritual natures with regeneration, the Lord gives them a special bonding material with which to unite themselves together on that inner level. This bonding material is Marriage Love, “Conjugial Love” in older translations, using an old poetic form of the Latin word “conjugal.” It is love between the spirit of a man and woman. Having its source on the spiritual plane, it flows down into their bodies also, producing physical attractions and joys that are much stronger than before, and that never go stale but actually increase in freshness and delight as old age sets in. (Swedenborg uses the analogy of a rose garden, ever producing new blossoms.) Marriage love, being from the Lord, is chaste, pure and holy, even in the body, whereas merely animal love in man and woman is unchaste, unclean and self-destructive.
Conjugial love is not given all at once. It is not served up on a plate at the wedding, however deeply the bride and groom seem to be committed to one another; nor probably for some years afterwards. It grows slowly and develops gradually over the years. It deepens as the partners regenerate together, looking to the Lord for love and wisdom; and eventually it unites them together as “one human being.”
Almost any pair who have a mutual desire to become marriage partners can obtain conjugal love from the Lord. There is no predestination about it. Sometimes when people fall in love, they think of one another as “soul-mates”–created for one another at birth. It is true that they may be potential soul-mates, but they will not become actual soul-mates until they have done a lot of work towards it. Unless this is understood, a couple who believe they are soul-mates may get disillusioned at their first quarrel, think they have made a mistake, break it off, and start looking for their true soul-mates elsewhere! In the early days of the New Church, many of its members did not get married at all, because of a fear of not choosing the “right person.” But there is no “right person!” Or, to put it in another way, almost any couple can become “right” for each other, if they really wish it and are prepared to work hard at qualifying for conjugal love.
It is true that Swedenborg speaks in one of his Memorable Relations of two young people meeting, as if by accident, and recognizing one another instantly as conjugal partners: he saying in his heart, “She is mine” and she saying, “I am his!” (Marriage Love 316 and 229.) But it seems he is speaking here of those who die in childhood and are reared in the spiritual world. With them there is a kind of predestination; but here on earth conditions are different. If there were predestination with regard to one’s married partner to eternity, there would have to be predestination in everything else, which would contradict the whole principle of free-will.
For example: Tom marries Mary, and, by mutual adjustment of their characters, they become conjugal partners, living together to eternity. But Tom might have married Betty and become united with her, and Mary might have married John and become united with him. In that case, all the people concerned would have ended their lives quite different in character from what has actually been the case, because one’s marriage relationship has a vital effect upon the development of one’s character.
Sex After Death
Since sex is spiritual as well as physical, it exists in the spiritual world as well as on earth. Even after the death of the physical body, men are still male and women female, and there is strong mutual attraction between them, leading to sex relations, which, if between conjugal partners, give much keener pleasure than on earth. The sex act, of course, can be good or evil, clean or unclean, depending on whether it is performed to bring the two partners closer together in a permanent love-relationship, or merely for the sensual pleasure it provides.
In Heaven, all the angels are married pairs (except in the case of new arrivals who are still awaiting their partners). They are so completely one in heart and mind, that often, when together, they are mistaken for one person. Swedenborg would see what looked like a single angel approaching him; but when closer he would discover that it was in fact a husband and wife. They were “no more two, but one.” Husbands and wives in Heaven are not always at each other’s side. They have their work to do, which may take them temporarily apart. But always there is perfect telepathy between them.
As we have already seen, husbands and wives have sexual intercourse in Heaven, but no children are produced. Only on the physical plane (“in ultimates,” as Swedenborg would say) can children be conceived and born. If an angel, male or female, is particularly fond of babies or young children, he or she can care for them in the intermediate region, as we saw in our last chapter.
In Hell there is no true marriage, no uniting of two into one, because the evil spirits are entirely self-centered, and wish only that others should serve their own pleasure. Their sex life consists of a passionate courtship, mixed up with jealousy and violence, and ends in quarreling, hatred and misery. Then it begins again with someone else.
Why are Angels Married Pairs?
The Lord has arranged things so that each complete angel shall be “two, yet one.” This has the effect of excluding the possibility of selfishness in Heaven. If the angels were single, sexless beings (as the conventional idea has it), then each would live for “itself” alone, and so would tend to be selfish, even in approaching God. As it is, each angel lives and works and worships as part of a team, and so selfishness is avoided.
Who will be your Partner in Heaven?
We have already seen that each of us will go, after death, to our own particular “place” in the spiritual world, determined by our ruling love and our attitude towards the Lord. That one place will be our “home,” and we shall only be at rest when we are there. In Heaven, therefore, one’s partner to eternity must be the member of the opposite sex whose spiritual home is the same as one’s own: that is to say, whose ruling love is the counterpart of one’s own. Thus after death, conjugal partners automatically find one another; there is no possibility of error.
As a general rule it can be said with confidence that marriages that are successful on earth will continue after death. That is the normal thing. No marriage, of course, will be completely perfect here. In this world, everything is in a state of equilibrium between Heaven and Hell. Also, here we are independent physical units, male and female, with our own independently operating wills and understandings. Complete merging is impossible. However, if the will to unite is present in both parties, then the perfect union will be effected after death. How could it be otherwise? Here, husband and wife face the same temptations together, and regenerate along the same lines. Their ruling loves inevitably tend to go in the same direction. It is most unlikely that any other woman will be “nearer” to a man than the wife whose company he has enjoyed for many years on earth. It follows, therefore, that, in the normal course of events, a couple who is happily married on earth will be reunited permanently in the spiritual world after death.
There is a beautiful teaching in Swedenborg, which many widows and widowers have confirmed in their own experience, that when one partner of a happy marriage passes over into the spiritual world, he or she keeps in close contact with their partner still on earth, especially during sleep. When the second partner also dies, the one on the other side will be waiting to welcome him or her, presumably in the intermediate region. One can imagine it being like a reunion at an airport, after which the two will go off together, as soon as possible after the formalities have been completed, to their future home; and I am sure there will be a meal ready for them!
(Do angels eat? Of course they do, when they experience spiritual hunger and thirst, or when they want to celebrate. Eating and drinking on earth “correspond” to the drawing in of love and wisdom from the Lord; and having a meal together “corresponds” to the cementing of mutual relationships.)
Marriage, however, does not always work out as it should. This is not necessarily anybody’s fault. Take the following example. A young man marries a beautiful girl. They are deeply in love and completely happy together, hoping for conjugal love. But tragically the girl dies giving birth to their first baby. The man, with a new baby on his hands, eventually marries again—who can blame him? He lives with his second wife, for say, fifty or sixty years, during which time he becomes united with her. Then he dies and meets his first wife again in the spiritual world. (Couples who have once been in love usually want to see each other again after death.) But they will perceive at once whether they are any longer one in spirit, and so they will stay together or part amicably and go their separate ways.
Many couples who find themselves quite unable to unite spiritually, nevertheless hold together out of loyalty, or for the sake of the children, or for respectability, or because their religion forbids divorce. There are all sorts of difficult cases, as every marriage counselor knows. It is impossible to tell what these people will be like after death, when they are stripped bare, with only their ruling love driving them. The only possible answer to the question: “Who will be my spouse in Heaven?” is “The one whose spirit is closest to yours.”
As a general rule, the wisest thing to do is to work on the assumption that your present partner will be your final one. Otherwise, if you start experimenting with other members of the opposite sex, you may end up losing your capacity for conjugal love altogether!
Our Lord’s Reply to the Sadducees
How do the New-Church teachings regarding sex in the spiritual world fit in with our Lord’s reply to the Sadducees in Matthew 22:29-30?
The Sadducees were members of a Jewish sect which did not believe in a life after death. They tried to trip Jesus up on this matter, by telling the story of a woman who married seven brothers in succession; and asked him sarcastically which of the seven would she have “in the resurrection.” Jesus replied (perhaps rather sharply), “You do err, not knowing the Scriptures nor the power of God.” The kind of situation they were envisaging had nothing whatever to do with marriage in Heaven. The remarrying of widows by their brothers-in-law was a social convention among the Jews, devised to keep the inheritance within the family: it took no account of spiritual principles or internal states. “Marrying seven times in succession” might be possible in Hell, but not in Heaven. There, as we have seen, the correct pairing takes place automatically, as the direct result of such character formation as has already taken place on earth. The marrying, in fact, was effected on Earth, not in Heaven. So Jesus replied to the Sadducees: “In the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are as the angels of God in Heaven.”
Swedenborg also gives a deeper meaning to our Lord’s words, relating to the union of good and truth, which must have taken place in one’s heart before one ever gets to Heaven.
For further reading on this subject, see
Answers to Tough Questions on Life After Death
Answers to Tough Questions on Life After Death
|We have already learned something about the middle region of the spiritual world, called the “World of Spirits,” where people first wake up after death, and where they are prepared for their final homes in Heaven or Hell. Let us see what this preparation involves in the case of children, old folk and those from non-Christian pagan lands.
Death in Infancy
“As soon as little children are resuscitated, which takes place immediately after death, they are taken into heaven and confided to angel women who in the life of the body tenderly loved little children and at the same time loved God.” (Heaven and Hell 332)
When children die, they wake up as children in the spiritual world, since their spirits, like their bodies, are immature and unformed. They have to grow up and develop into adult men and women before they can become angels. This growth takes place in the middle region, very close to its frontiers with Heaven.
They are cared for by foster mothers: women angels who, when on earth, loved children dearly. (No one is their “father,” except the Lord, the Father of us all.) These children have a very happy upbringing, as all their lessons are in the form of games and play.
Naturally, angel children are not always good, for they inherit evil tendencies from their earthly parents. But they are taught from the very beginning to struggle against selfishness and bad temper, and to look to their heavenly Father, doing nothing contrary to his will.
As they grow older, the boys go to male angels who instruct them further, while the girls are cared for and taught by married women (angels).
It appears that some of the “children” had been mentally defective adults in the world. Because they had had the mentality of babies, they quickly reverted to babyhood in the spiritual world and had to begin their growth and development there from the beginning, as if they had died in infancy. If a teenager on earth has a motorbike accident, which permanently damages his brain, so that for the rest of his life he is unable to be responsible for his own choices and decisions, then, even though he may grow to be a very old man, he will begin his life on the other side at the point he had reached when he had his accident, that is to say, as a teenager.
When the children have quite grown up in the World of Spirits and have learned all they need to know, they graduate as angels and enter one of the numerous societies of Heaven. It is a firm teaching of the New Church that no one who dies in childhood goes to Hell. All are saved; and this has nothing to do with whether or not they were baptized, as churches used to teach. All end up as angels in Heaven. Probably they are of a tender and sensitive character, as compared with those who bore the heat and burden of the day while on earth, and no doubt they have to be protected and helped in many ways by their tougher brethren. But there is work of a delicate nature that only they can perform. (Swedenborg compares them with the “eye” of the body.) We can be sure they are entirely and blissfully happy in their own way, just as other angels are in theirs. Thus, even the obvious evil of premature death is over-ruled by the Lord for good.
Death in Old Age
Those who die in old age, naturally wake up as “old folk” in the spiritual world. There is never any immediate change in one’s appearance after death. However, once the physical body has been dropped, the effects of old age soon begin to wear off. If the old man is good at heart, he finds his health improving and his body growing more vigorous. He wants to run and dance and play strenuous games. Finally he reaches the state of virile early manhood and develops a radiant youthfulness of face, body and manner, combined with ripe experience and wisdom. He then moves forward into Heaven and becomes an angel in the usual way. So also with the female sex. “Women who have died worn out with age,” writes Swedenborg, “if they have lived in faith in the Lord and charity towards their neighbor, come more and more into the flower of youth and early womanhood, and into a beauty which exceeds all idea of beauty perceivable by our sight. The angels in Heaven are continually advancing into the springtime of life; and the more thousands of years they live, the more delightful and happy is the spring to which they attain. “People in heaven are continually progressing toward the springtime of life. The more thousands of years they live, the more pleasant and happy is their springtime…. In a word, to grow old in Heaven is to grow young.” (Heaven and Hell 414)
On the other hand, evil people, whether old or young, grow more and more ugly and ill-favored after death, as their ruling love comes to the surface, until they end up as devils or satans in Hell.
Non-Christians After Death
It used to be fashionable for Christians to condemn all non-Christians to Hell. But in the New Church we know that it is the ruling love that makes a person an angel or a devil, and the ruling love of a Hindu or Islamist or so-called heathen savage is just as likely to be good as that of a “civilized” Christian.
When Jesus was on earth, the Samaritans were regarded as heathen and were despised and cold-shouldered by the strict Jews. Yet Jesus obviously liked them, and spent so much of his time with them that the Pharisees complained: “Thou art a Samaritan and hast a devil!” (John 8:48.) In the parable of the Good Samaritan, Jesus actually compared a Samaritan favorably with a Jewish priest and a Levite and pointed to him as the “neighbor who is to be loved.” And remember, it was a Samaritan woman who first recognized Jesus as the Christ. (John 4:29.)
In two other of our Lord’s parables, he seems to have been referring to the gentiles or non-churchgoers of his day.
(1) The story of the rich man at his dinner table, and the beggar Lazarus lying at his gate, full or sores. (Luke 16:19-31.) Here the beggar stands for the gentiles, while the rich man represents the complacent members of the dying church.
Evidently Jesus had a great deal of sympathy with the gentiles of his day; and in fact the Christian church took root among the gentiles more readily than among the Jews. Swedenborg gave grounds for believing that the New Church also would develop most freely among the gentiles, especially the Africans; and it is a fact that the New Church organizations in South and West Africa have far more members today than all the branches in the rest of the world put together.
This raises a very interesting question. If the heathen or gentiles have just as good a chance of getting to Heaven as Christians, why try to convert them to Christianity? Why have missions? This is a deep matter, which cannot be dealt with briefly. Suffice it to say that Jesus commissioned his disciples to “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature.” (Mark 16:15.) Indeed, it is only natural for us to want to share with others what means a lot to us, to give them the wonderful and exciting information that they don’t know about. Then there is the important consideration that, by spreading the New Church doctrines, we are helping to make this world a better place to live in. This world will always be a hell, so long as falsities reign in it. If it is to become more like Heaven, then people on earth must learn the heavenly doctrines and try to live according to them.
Nevertheless, the teaching still holds good that in individual cases, however false a person’s beliefs may be, however his religion may violate our sense of right or wrong, he will surely get to Heaven in the end, if his ruling love is good.
It is probable that when some of the heathen first wake up in the spiritual world they will appear full of sores, or maimed, crippled and blind, like the guests at the feast in our Lord’s parable. This will be because their spirits are diseased and their beliefs twisted and corrupt. If their religion involved cruel rites and ceremonies, they will unthinkingly begin to practice them, as far as they are able, in the spirit. But angels will come and stop them, and explain to them about the true God, our Lord, who is love itself and mercy itself, and who came into the world to redeem and save humankind. If they are good at heart, they will listen eagerly and be deeply touched; they will receive the good news gladly and cease altogether from their base practices. At the same time, they will freely submit to the pain of having their twisted bodies straightened out; and eventually, when they have accepted the Lord as their God, and learned something of his Word, they will become angels and enter Heaven. Some will no doubt go even to the Celestial Heaven, the Heaven of love to the Lord, which is the highest Heaven of all.
The same principle applies to members of the great world religions, such as Hinduism, Buddhism and Islam. Or the smaller cults, some of which have quite beautiful features although they do not acknowledge Christ as God. And what of the gentiles in our own culture, those outside the Christian church—agnostics, freethinkers, atheists? Are we to cold-shoulder them, as the Jews did the Samaritans? And how about the present-day Jews? Are we to cold-shoulder them? The answer is the same in every case. We must do all we can to encourage Christian ways of life in this world; but one of the outstanding characteristics of true Christianity is toleration. We should not condemn anyone who believes differently from us. They may, in fact, be nearer to the kingdom of Heaven than we are!
There will be plenty of opportunity to learn the heavenly doctrines after death, even for those who never heard of them on earth. But in the spiritual world no one can absorb wisdom unless their heart is good. The evil turn away in disgust from their would-be angelic instructors; they deny any truth presented to them; or, if they accept it, they profane it by turning it to evil uses. Perhaps the worst of such profaners are those who actually belonged to the Christian church on earth but did not live according to its teachings. The good news brought to them by the angels makes not the slightest impression on them, because they are already familiar with it. “That’s old hat!” they jeer, “as stale as moldy bread!”— and they make off towards Hell. Such are the lepers of the other world—who blend truth with evil, mixing their knowledge of holy things with base desires.
We who belong to the Christian church on earth should take warning from this and realize that with special privileges comes special responsibility. More is expected of us than of others. As Jesus said: “That servant which knew his Lord’s will, and prepared not himself, neither did according to his will, shall be beaten with many stripes. But he that knew not, and did commit things worthy of stripes, shall be smitten with a few stripes. For unto whomsoever much is given, of him shall much be required.” (Luke 12:47-8.)
Self-Judgment Rather than Divine Judgment
Self-Judgment Rather than Divine Judgment
The First State after Death
When we die, we wake up in the intermediate region of the spiritual world, neither in Heaven nor Hell, but in the neutral “no man’s land” which Swedenborg calls the World of Spirits. There is no immediate change in our situation; we are the same as we were before we went to sleep. In fact, we may not even realize that we have passed over. As to our characters, we shall probably be a mixture of good and evil. Those whose ruling love is overlaid and hidden (as it is with most of us) will continue to disguise their motives. This is the first state after death—one of continuity. But it doesn’t last for long!
After a short or longer period in the World of Spirits, a person’s ruling love begins to reveal itself, and he no longer cares whether it is seen or not. All the thoughts, affections and beliefs which he brought with him but which are not in harmony with his ruling love, begin to fall away; they are not really his own, and so he discards them, becoming completely integrated—”himself.” He can no longer play a role or “put on an act” or pretend to be what he isn’t.
This stripping of one’s self bare, even to one’s most secret thoughts and intentions, is the judgment. “There is nothing covered that shall not be revealed, nor hid that shall not be known.” (Matthew 10:26.) No need for a great white throne and a recording angel; one’s innocence or guilt is there for all to see!
The Second State after Death
The second state can produce some surprises. Many who, while on earth, appeared to be good and wise and were respected by everybody are now seen to have been motivated by self-love or love of the world. All their respectability now falls away, and they plunge into unrestrained selfishness or acquisitiveness. Another person may have been a drunk or wastrel on earth, scorned by “good” people; or perhaps even a criminal—who knows? Yet in their heart they may have longed for better things: in which case, their good ruling love will now take over, and their disreputable exterior will fall away, leaving them sweet and angelic, as they always wanted to be.
At this stage the person is a spirit and begins to forget what they had been in the world, nor will they cling to their former opinions and beliefs unless they have confirmed them and made them a part of themselves. In some cases, attachment to a particular situation on earth, in which they were intimately involved, may hold them back, and they will need to be released from it. Or they may have died in a state of extreme confusion and emotional stress (as, for example, in a case of suicide). Such people will need “straightening out” before they can progress further. Others of a hypocritical nature will be so convinced of their own self-righteousness that they will need to be reminded of their selfish motivation, in which case they may have to be presented with a play-back of incidents in their earth lives, drawn from their own inner memories. Always the principle is the same. Every single individual has to “come to himself’” after death, before he can pass on to his final home in Heaven or Hell.
It is impossible to determine how long people remain in the intermediate region before passing on, because time is not fixed and measurable in the spiritual world. During some eras in ancient times, they remained there for hundreds of years. But in this New Age it is probable that very few, if any, who died, say, thirty years ago, are still in the intermediate region.
Preparation for Heaven
If the newly-awakened spirit is good at heart, then he rejoices to find he is free from the restrictions and bad habits that perhaps drove him to sin while in the world. He can now express his love to the Lord and the neighbor much more freely than before, and he finds an increasing happiness in doing so. His face and expression become more relaxed and attractive. Many questions will be stirring in his mind. He may have regarded himself as an atheist in reaction to the false and even absurd ideas of God put out by some of the churches in the past. He now sees how mistaken he was in his negative attitude and feels an urgent need for enlightenment. People from a pagan culture will need to be released from their former religious convictions and be led to a clearer understanding of divine truth. In every case, the emerging soul finds his old false misconceptions falling away and begins to feel a “hunger and thirst after righteousness.”
Instruction is given in various ways, adapted to the needs of each individual. Fictitious “heavens” are provided, so that people can experiment with what they have believed Heaven to be like, to see whether it really satisfies their needs. Others are made to face mind-expanding situations, or to take part in guided discussion groups. The glorified Lord Jesus Christ is presented to them in all his divine beauty, and they are encouraged to open themselves to the inflow of his love and wisdom. Only when they have become Christians in the purest sense are they ready to enter Heaven, for in Heaven Christ alone is king.
How different is the progress of newly-awakened spirits whose ruling love is evil! As inhibitions fall away, they find themselves doing and saying blasphemies that they would never have dared to utter on earth, and not caring what anyone thinks! When angels come to help these spirits, they curse them and run away. They soon become bored with the companionship of decent people and seek out associates of a more spicy flavor. Their faces begin to take on cunning and repulsive expressions. They laugh with derision at his former religious beliefs and think up a lot of false ideas to justify their new attitudes.
Finding One’s Eternal Home
Eventually, everyone in the intermediate region begins to feel the “pull” of their ruling love. They cannot resist it; they must move in the direction it draws them, like water finding its own level.
The evil go first. They are repeatedly warned that they are heading for Hell, but what do they care? It seems a pretty good place to them, the best they have ever been in! All the other inhabitants there are like themselves: they quarrel and lust and spit invectives at one another to their hearts’ content.
Who sent them to Hell? Nobody but themselves. There is no inquiry as to their faith or former church affiliations, or whether they were baptized, or even what kind of life they lived on earth. They migrate toward a hellish state because they are drawn to its way of life, and for no other reason. What makes an insect buzz around a pile of manure? Catch it and put it on a rose or sweet pea, and it will get back to the filth as quickly as it can! Presumably at any time evil spirits could go into reverse and become angels in Heaven. What a rejoicing there would be if they did! But no. At this point it is too late. They prefer to live among their own kind in Hell.
Good spirits also leave the intermediate region, but in the opposite direction, towards Heaven. Their ruling love takes them to precisely that point in Heaven where they feel at home and are at rest. All the other inhabitants there are of the same nature; they even resemble one another, like members of the same family, and they welcome them as new-found brothers or sisters.
In our material world, a person can settle down and live almost anywhere; but in the spiritual world there is only one place where any individual can feel at home, and this is determined by his or her deep-down attitude towards God and the neighbor. Those are near together who are alike in character. Love attracts, and hate repels. “Birds of a feather flock together.”
It is possible, of course, to leave one’s home for short periods at a time; but, if one does so, there is always a feeling of strain and anxiety, a “home sickness” until one returns.
Ruling Love Fixed after Death
Theoretically it might be possible to change one’s ruling love at any time, even after death; but in practice nobody ever wants to do so because, especially after settling down in Heaven or Hell, one is totally committed either to good or to evil. Spirits can change in a hundred different ways in the course of their development to eternity, but it is always within the framework of their ruling love.
This could be illustrated in terms of one’s vocation or field of employment in this world. We choose our profession, more or less, while still at school: minister, doctor, lawyer, engineer, electrician, etc. This leads to specialized training at college which confirms us in our choice; and eventually we embark upon our life’s work. After that, we are not likely to switch to another line of employment; but our development does not cease, it goes on and on as we become more and more advanced and expert within our chosen sphere of activity. Far more so does this apply after death. The angels take up their varied “uses” in Heaven, according to the characters they have formed on earth. Their ruling love remains essentially the same thereafter, but they go on developing along the lines it indicates.
No angel ever wants to become a devil, and no devil ever wants to become an angel. Between them there is a “great gulf fixed.” (Luke 16:19-31) This great gulf is not fixed by God, but by the total incompatibility of the characters on the two sides. Only in the equilibrium or balance between Heaven and Hell that exists in this earth life does anyone change his ruling love, which is what makes this earth life so important!
Ruling Love Determines the Path
Ruling Love Determines the Path
|Before continuing our study of life after death, we must pause to consider what Swedenborg calls the “ruling love,” because it is the ruling love that takes us to Heaven or Hell. Most people do not realize this. They think it is a person’s faith that determines their future lot, or their beliefs, or the particular church or religion with which they were associated, or (more usually nowadays) the kind of life they lived while in the world. Naturally all these things can contribute to the formation of a person’s ruling love; but it is actually their ruling love itself, at the time of their death, that determines the nature of their after-life.
Our Changes of State
In this world we are in a state of balance between good and evil, so we keep changing our attitudes from day-to-day and even from hour-to-hour. We are up and down, cheerful and depressed. Sometimes we yearn for a more spiritual way of life; sometimes we seem to plunge into the depths of Hell. We are not altogether responsible for these fluctuations. They come to us from the angels and evil spirits who are with us, who tip us up and down like a pair of scales. The Lord allows all kinds of spirits to influence us, so that we can experience good and evil, and choose what we like best. Whatever we favor is drawn into us and becomes our own, to be used for the furnishing of our spiritual minds. What we reject is left outside us, and, although it may still be attached to us (and our friends may still think it is part of us), it will drop away at death.
A Little Kingdom
The affections or loves that constitute our spiritual mind are arranged like a little kingdom, and each new affection we develop takes its place in relation to the others, and works together with them. Anything which is not in harmony gets pushed to the outside.
If it is a kingdom, it must have a king! There must be a ruling love inside each one of us, which organizes our other affections, promoting some to positions of importance, and demoting others. This ruling love is not seen in the hurly-burly of our everyday lives. Rather it has to do with our motivation: why we do the things we do, why we are living in the way we are. It has to do with ultimate values, and therefore it is essentially religious. It does not necessarily appear in our outward behavior. Even our closest friends cannot tell for certain what our ruling love is. We may not even know ourselves! But nevertheless the whole color and character of our spiritual mind is derived from our ruling love.
Four Classes of Ruling Love
There are no two ruling loves exactly alike; each person’s is unique. But Swedenborg defines four classes or categories of ruling love, which cover every possible kind. The first two classes are heavenly, and the last two hellish if they are not in their proper place, in which case they do not serve the first two..
(1) Love of the Lord
All these loves are good and acceptable in their proper place; but only one or other of the first two should be allowed to rule. Nos. 3 and 4 should be subordinate.
(1) Love of the Lord
If our ruling love is directed towards the Lord, then a desire to please the Lord is behind everything we think and say and do; it governs all the choices we make. There will be times and occasions when we fail in our service to the Lord. We may make mistakes; we may even betray our Master. But if we fail, we judge our actions by the effect they have on our relations with God, and we love the neighbor only because we see something of God in him. Love of the Lord is the highest type of ruling love.
(2) Love of the Neighbor
Those whose ruling love is directed towards the neighbor do everything with the underlying purpose of helping others. Perhaps they will slip up sometimes and act in a harmful or unkind way, but they will be sorry afterwards and try to make amends. Such people will undoubtedly love God also, but they will be quite unable to understand how anyone can possibly love God except through his fellow person! These are the people whose religion tends to become the “Social Gospel.”
(3) Love of the World
The opposite of “love of the neighbor” is what Swedenborg calls “love of the world”—meaning, love of the pleasures, comforts and possessions of the world (which can be enjoyed in the other life just as keenly as on earth.) Those who have this as their ruling love are motivated solely by concern for their own ease and convenience. Even if they are helpful and charming to other people, it is only to avoid unpleasantness for themselves and to make life go more smoothly. Since money can buy pleasure and ease, such people generally seek wealth. Money is important to them, either to spend profitably or to cherish. They avoid getting involved in anything outside themselves or taking on tiresome responsibilities, so they may try to keep themselves in the background. Always they are thinking, “How can I profit from this?”
(4) Love of Self
“Love of self'” is the opposite of “Love of the Lord,” and is the worst of the four ruling loves. When we inwardly love ourselves first and foremost, we put ourselves in the place of God; we worship ourselves, and want other people to worship us also. In conversation, such a person always brings the talk round to themselves and their own affairs. If they do a good action, they want everybody to know about it. They are easily hurt and take offence; yet they would rather be hurt than ignored. Paradoxically, they may even “hate” themselves, castigate themselves, confess themselves the worst of all sinners and suffer all sorts of discomforts, even to martyrdom, so long as it makes them feel important! Money and pleasure mean little to them; they will expend themselves in a good cause, and be a great asset to their business or profession, so long as they can get their own way and dominate everything. If a clergyman, he or she may be a successful preacher and bask in the admiration of his congregation. What holiness! What self-sacrifice! What eloquence! What a wonderful person!
I am not suggesting, of course, that all conspicuous people are motivated by self-love, nor are all bossy people necessarily bad. What I mean is that you cannot judge anyone’s interiors by the way in which they behave. “The Lord seeth not as man seeth; for man looketh on the outward appearance, but the Lord looketh on the heart.” (I Samuel 16:7.)
Changing the Ruling Love
As we have seen, the ruling love largely controls our thoughts and affections, motivates our choices, and plans our actions from within. Normally we obey its dictates without question. But in every kingdom there can be a revolution! A king can be deposed by a coup, and another ruler enthroned in his place. So, it is always possible, while we are living in the equilibrium of this earth-life, to change our ruling love. “Conversion” is precisely this: altering our direction and substituting a new value-system for the old. Conversion is difficult, especially as we grow older and our ruling love becomes more settled and secure on its “throne,” but, with the Lord’s help, it can be achieved.
Here the church should be of assistance to us, because religion is chiefly concerned with our relation to God on the one hand, and our neighbor on the other. (Remember the two Great Commandments: “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God, with heart, soul, mind and strength;” and “Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.”) (Matthew 22:37-40) The church should help us with every means in its power, to redirect our ruling love from self and the world, towards the Lord and the neighbor. It is a tragedy that so few church organizations really undertake this paramount responsibility.
Heaven and Hell as States of Being
Heaven and Hell as States of Being
|Swedenborg’s wonderful book, Heaven and Hell, should be read by everybody. It is crammed full of detailed information about the spiritual world, “from things heard and seen,” about the life after death, which we shall one day experience. In a short chapter like this we can consider only a few points.
Distance and Position in the Spiritual World
Since the spiritual world is non-material, everything there springs from and reflects the spiritual nature of the local inhabitants. This includes nearness and distance in relation one to another; also the character of their surroundings, which corresponds exactly to their states of mind. The actual position each spirit occupies is determined by the way he loves the Lord. Those who love God most deeply are “nearest” to him; whereas those who detest, hate and fear God are “farthest” away. All others occupy positions somewhere in between, according to their ruling love. Heaven consists of those many regions where good spirits or “angels” dwell, whereas Hell is where the evil spirits (“devils” or “satans”) live. Heaven and Hell appear to be far apart, because the characters of the inhabitants are far apart.
The Intermediate Region, or World of Spirits
There is also another region, neither Heaven nor Hell but in equilibrium between the two. The existence, nature and function of this intermediate region (called “The World of Spirits”) is basic to the Swedenborgian philosophy of life after death. The region lies alongside our natural or physical universe; we are living in it, as to our spirits, while we are in the natural world, and we wake up in it when we “die.” Superficially, it closely resembles our world in almost every respect, which is not surprising, since our physical world and the World of Spirits are closely linked together, like soul and body. There are, as one might expect, regions in the World of Spirits corresponding to all towns and villages on earth, because wherever people are living here in this world, their spirits are (unconsciously) in the World of Spirits, coloring it with their quality. Here, then, is where the “dead” find themselves when they first become conscious on the other side, and here they remain for a while, before passing on to their eternal homes.
Sub-Divisions of Heaven and Hell
Jesus said that in Heaven there are “many mansions.” In other words, there are hundreds of thousands of communities or societies, comparable to our cities, towns and villages, each differing from the others. The same applies, of course, to Hell.
The Two Realms
In general, these communities fall into two categories or realms. This is because there are two basic types of people: those who think (as it were) with their hearts—the “affection” type; and those who think with their heads—the “intellect” type. The two types can be found right through Heaven and Hell, like the blood system and the nerve system in the human body. Swedenborg calls the “affection” type “celestial” and the intellect type “spiritual.” These terms are continually recurring in Swedenborg’s writings, and should be understood.
The Three Heavens
A different kind of division can be made into three Heavens and three Hells, three separate countries or nations, as it were, corresponding to the head, trunk and limbs of the human body. The characters of the inhabitants are as follows:
We shall deal more fully in our next chapter with the different kinds of ruling love which are responsible for producing these divisions.
It is quite easy to travel within one’s particular Heaven or Hell, though not so easy beyond its borders. If you want to visit somebody at a distance, all you have to do is to bring yourself temporarily into harmony with their state, and you find yourself traveling towards them. You may be “walking” if the distance is short; or “flying” if the distance is considerable. This “flying” is a rapid projection from one place to another. Angels do not have wings! (The Bible refers to angels flying but does not mention wings.) If a journey is to be made to a distant region, where the state of the inhabitants is alien, a kind of flying machine is used, referred to in the Bible as a “chariot,” or “chariot of fire.” (II Kings 2:11, and 6:17)
It is easier still to speak to someone at a distance. For this you do not have to bring yourself into harmony with their state; you simply focus your thoughts on them, and they appear in front of you, and you can converse with them. When the conversation is ended, you cease to think of them, and they disappear like a video chat.
There is only one language in the spiritual world, the language of thought. When you want to express yourself, your thoughts come out of your mouth as sound, and other people, hearing the sound, know at once what you are thinking. The language of thought can be written as well as spoken; the thoughts themselves are set down by little marks, and anyone seeing the characters can at once recognize the thoughts.
You do not have to study and learn the spiritual language. Anyone in the spiritual world can express himself, in speech or writing, so that everyone else can understand him. For example, a baby who has not learned any language can make sounds meaning, “I’m hungry,” “I’m tired,” “I’m bored,” “I’ve a pain in my tummy,” “I’m frightened,” “I’m cross,” and anyone in the world can understand it! Lovers can also communicate across language barriers by pure sound! Probably the polyglot crowd at Pentecost had their consciousness opened into the spiritual world and so could hear one another speak, each in his own tongue, the wonderful works of God. (Acts 2:4-11.)
Objects and Surroundings
All objects and surroundings in the spiritual world are a projection of the states of the people in the vicinity. The whole landscape is like a mirror reflecting their thoughts and affections by a system of symbolism. The rocks are formed by their basic beliefs; the birds are molded by their rapidly-flying thoughts, the animals by their affections, and so on. For example: if a group of angels is engaged in a lively discussion on spiritual matters, horses might appear, galloping around them, or they might seem to themselves to be riding on horseback—because horses correspond to an affection for intellectual truths. Angels who are particularly innocent are surrounded by sheep and lambs, because these soft woolly animals correspond to innocence. Angels who delight in “drinking in” truth live in regions of lakes and rivers, because water corresponds to truth. Angels of a “lofty” disposition live in high places, thus celestial angels live on mountains, spiritual angels on hills, and natural angels on level plains. Evil spirits dwell in deep valleys or holes in the ground, because they are of a “low” mentality.
In consequence of this law of correspondence, Heaven is a paradise of beautiful flower-gardens and orchards, wide pastures with flocks and herds, and pleasant streams of water—a perfect reflection of the beauty of character of the inhabitants. On the other hand, the scenery of Hell is, to the angels, threatening and repulsive. The inhabitants of these regions do not dislike the kind of country and climate in which they live. It agrees with them, because it is in harmony with their own inner nature. They would find Heaven intolerable!
The Spiritual Sun
The Sun of Heaven is the Lord himself as he first appears in his finite creation. The heat of the Sun is his love, and its light is his wisdom. Now here is a strange thing: since the angels always have the Lord in the forefront of their minds, the Sun is always directly in front of them, no matter which way they turn! It never sets; they are always in brilliant daylight. Clouds, however, sometimes cover the sun, as when they cease to think of the Lord for awhile and turn inward to themselves; then, temporarily losing their contact with him, they go to sleep. When eventually they awake, their Sun is brighter than ever! The inhabitants of Hell hate the Lord. They reject the divine Sun, putting it permanently behind their backs. Thus, no matter which way they turn, they are always in their own shadow.
Angels derive a great deal of their happiness from serving one another or performing “uses,” without thought of reward or any kind of recompense. Thus Heaven is a very busy place, everybody fully occupied with work that suits them and that they can do well. There are far more types of employment in Heaven than on earth, many of them being the spiritual equivalent of worldly occupations. Besides serving one another in a thousand different ways, the angels care for people still on this earth—as our guardian angels— and also receive, help and guide new arrivals in the World of Spirits. Certain of the wisest and most loving of the angels are given the difficult and thankless job of policing the hells.
It is true we are told in the Bible that “the dead shall rest from their labors.” But this refers to the work of resisting evils during the process of regeneration. Once we have left this world and entered Heaven, temptation combats cease, and in this sense we enjoy eternal rest. But how bored we should be if we had nothing to do!
There are employments in Hell, also. These are mandatory, because being busy keeps the evil spirits away to some extent from the itch of their sinful desires; and so, the harder they have to work, the less miserable and frustrated they become. Of course, they don’t like having to work and object strongly.
The Natural and Spiritual
The Natural and Spiritual Worlds
Where is the Spiritual World?
The world in which we are now consciously living, with its earths, rocks and water, plants and animals, the air we breathe, the sky above us, the sun, moon and stars … these all constitute the natural world, which is also called the “material” or “physical” world. Our physical bodies are part of it, including our eyes, nose and mouth, our brain, our sense of touch. Thus we can only see, hear, taste and touch natural, physical or material objects.
We know, however, that there is also a spiritual world. Where is it? Some say, “Up in the sky!” Yet, however high up you go in a jet or rocket, you will not find it there. We have already visited the moon, and one day we will travel to the planets, and even perhaps to the stars; yet, wherever we go, the things we see will be natural, material or physical, just like the ones here on earth. The truth is that the spiritual world is here—all around, below and above us, just as the natural world is. If someone were to ask you where the natural world is, you would have to answer, “Here!” The same answer would be correct if they asked you where the spiritual world is.
But, the spiritual world is on an entirely different plane of being and is made of a different kind of substance altogether. It is not made of matter but of spiritual substance. Therefore our eyes, which are made of matter, cannot see it, nor can our hands feel it. We can walk right through its most solid objects. Because of this, some people have doubts whether the spiritual world exists; yet it is here, quite as “real” as anything physical—even more real; and we are part of it, just as we are part of the natural world.
The Spiritual World Visible after Death
When a person is said to “die,” it is only the physical body that dies. He is drawn out of it, and it rots away, since the spiritual body is no longer vitalizing it. It has served its purpose. He no longer needs it, just as an ocean diver no longer needs his diving suit when his work at the bottom of the sea is completed. The dead person’s consciousness slips over into his or her spiritual body, which indeed he or she had always possessed, but without being conscious of it previously. The spiritual body becomes adapted to life on the physical plane. Moreover, spiritual substance appears just as “solid” to the spiritual eyes as physical objects appear to the physical eyes. At first after death there is no awareness of any change. The newly-awakened spirit finds themselves in a body closely resembling their former body, with all the organs and limbs complete: eyes, ears, hands, feet; a blood system, breathing apparatus, and so on, but all made of spiritual substance and responding to spiritual stimuli. The person’s situation is now reversed: natural objects are now invisible. He or she walks right through them as if they did not exist, since the person now lacks the organs with which to register them. But they now exercise sensory organs that make them fully conscious of spiritual objects.
All who have discarded their physical bodies and are living consciously in the spiritual world are called “spirits.” The good ones are “angels” and the evil ones are “satans” or “devils.” They are not at all like a breath of air or a puff of smoke, nor do they appear to one another as ghosts. On the contrary, if a spirit could see you now, he would probably think you were a ghost or a puff of smoke! Are you a ghost? Of course not! You seem to yourself to be real and solid, with your organs and limbs complete. So you will feel yourself to be, after death. Maybe you have a physical handicap now? Perhaps a missing hand, arm or leg? After death your body will be perfect.
Death, then, merely involves a switch-over of consciousness from the physical body to the spiritual body, after which the physical body is disposed of. You will not need it again: it can be buried, burnt, cut up by medical students, eaten by wild beasts. You yourself will never know what happens to it, nor will you care.
When people die, they do not make a journey of any kind; they just stay where they are. But they now look out into the spiritual realm instead of into the natural realm. The process of death is so smooth and easy, and the new environment so closely resembles the old, that many people, when they first wake up after death, do not realize what has happened to them. Those of a materialistic nature who have confirmed themselves in a denial of life after death continue to deny it, even after they have been “dead” for hundreds of years by earthly reckoning! Swedenborg met many such, who argued hotly that they were still alive on earth, and that when they died they would be snuffed out like a candle!
While we are in the natural world, our spiritual body is, as it were, “asleep.” In special cases, however, it can be awakened, allowing us to have glimpses of the life beyond. Abraham, Gideon and several other characters in the Bible, met and conversed with angels as with people. Elisha’s servant had his inner eyes opened at Dothan, and saw horses and chariots of fire in the spiritual world. (II Kings 6:17.) On the Mount of Transfiguration, Peter, James and John saw Moses and Elijah, hundreds of years after these men had “died.” Emanuel Swedenborg enjoyed this gift to a remarkable degree: for nearly thirty years he was conscious, sometimes in the natural world, sometimes in the spiritual world, and sometimes in both simultaneously.
Quite ordinary people have been known to see spirits or ghosts. This can be explained by saying that their spiritual eyes have been half-opened but not properly focused, like our physical eyes when we first awake from sleep. Such ghosts may actually be real people in the spiritual world, only they are not seen clearly. Remember how Jesus once restored the sight of a blind man, who at first saw “men as trees walking,” and only afterwards perceived them clearly. (Mark 8:23-25.) Spirits can sometimes see into our natural world through the eyes of someone living here. For example, spirits were able to look out through the eyes of Emanuel Swedenborg and see what he saw in Stockholm or London.
Angels and Devils not a Separate Species
All human beings live forever. Everyone who was ever born since the Creation still lives—first in this world and then in the spirit. The converse is also true. Everyone now in the spiritual world came originally from the human race, on this earth or some other earth in the material universe. Death is the only gateway into eternal life. No angel was ever created as an angel and there are no “fallen angels” in Hell.
Angels do not have wings, as is so often believed. True, the Bible says they can “fly,” but we are never told they have wings. (Surely Abraham would have noticed it if his three visitors had wings? [Genesis 18:1-16.]) Nor do devils have horns, hooves and tails. I don’t know where this idea came from, but anyway it is utter nonsense! Angels and devils are just “people,” ordinary human beings, like you and me. One day we shall be of their number, angels or devils, as we wish. (See also “Do Angels fly?”)
The Bible refers to certain symbolic figures which appear sometimes in the spiritual world, usually representing the state of the church: creatures with four faces and cows’ hooves; composite figures looking like a mixture of a human, a lion and an eagle, and so on. Isaiah saw a seraph with six wings that carried a live coal from the altar. In just such a way do our artists represent symbolic figures, such as a horse with wings, Hermes with wings on his feet, and such like. But these symbolic figures are not angels! You might just as well conclude, because artists in Victorian times painted pictures of winged Cupids shooting arrows into lovers’ breasts, that chubby babies in those days fluttered about like birds!
Postscript on Reincarnation
Owing to the influence of Asian religions, many people today believe in reincarnation. This is not supported by Swedenborg; and indeed it seems to pose more questions than it answers.
(1) How could a mature adult come back into the world as an ignorant baby? And what would be the use if he could not remember any of his former experiences? And what guarantee would there be that he would not merely repeat his former mistakes? Would not a mature adult after death, who felt he had missed out on some element of his education, prefer to attend adult classes rather than go back to kindergarten?
(2) Can the theory of reincarnation account satisfactorily for the inequalities of life on earth? How about the millions of Jews rounded up and put to death in Nazi concentration camps: did they all have exactly the same need of expiation? And the millions of Blacks taken into slavery? And the whole villages in India and elsewhere, rendered homeless by earthquake and flood?
(3) Reincarnation is supposed to account for infant prodigies and child geniuses, like Mozart. Swedenborg would explain these by emphasizing the tremendous influence that attendant spirits have upon each one of us, more on some than on others, depending on receptivity. Many creative artists have gladly acknowledged that they have been inspired from within. The presence of spirits also accounts for what the reincarnationists call “long memory”- where a person seems to remember scenes and events which took place “in a former incarnation.” The true explanation is that the person concerned has unconsciously tapped into the latent memory of an attendant spirit who actually did live in that long ago time and far-distant place. He has understandably mistaken the spirit’s memory for his own.
God the Creator
|We are now to begin our look at the doctrines of the New Church—the “Heavenly Doctrines,” as revealed by the Lord through the writings of his servant, Emanuel Swedenborg. We shall start with some thoughts about God, because a person’s deep-down idea of God is the source from which all his other ideas flow. To judge the quality of a person, or a church, all you need to know is what that person or church thinks inwardly about God. After death, the “place” we shall occupy in the spiritual world will be precisely determined by our idea of God. This chapter, on God the Creator, is merely introductory; the grand theme will be continued in later chapters.
The Uncreated Creator
God is infinite; God is love itself, wisdom itself, and power itself; God is always “there.” We are advised not to try to think how God came into existence; such speculations might drive us crazy! God is simply the uncreated Creator of everything. He created the entire universe, and many other worlds and universes we know nothing of; and he continues to hold them in being, through every moment of time. Scientists tell us of the enormous energy continually operating in every atom of matter; this comes direct from God. Also the life-force in every plant, insect and animal, and in every man, woman and child. He is the Creator and Preserver of all things.
Because God is loving and wise, we must think of God as a person. That is to say, God is not a blind force, like wind or gravitation; he is a Person, albeit a divine person. He is, in fact, the only self-existing or real person. We human beings are persons because we are made in the image and likeness of God; we are finite replicas of the One Infinite God. I do not mean we are in God’s “shape,” because God, being infinite, can have no “shape.” (You cannot say he is “here” but not “there,” because he is everywhere.) We are like him because we can love and think, albeit only in a finite way since he is love and wisdom itself. We are persons because God is personal. He knows us and loves us—every one of us. In fact, he is fully present with us. And if you find it difficult to understand how he can be fully present with me and with you and with every one of the billions of people alive on earth, and the billions of billions of people still alive in the spiritual world… well, we are only finite and obviously cannot conceive of the nature of the infinite.
As God is all-powerful, he must be ONE. It is self-contradictory to say there is more than one being who is all powerful! If there was more than one God, each would have to give way to some other, or one would destroy the other. (In a polytheistic system, all the “gods” are strictly limited in power and responsibility.) God has many attributes. He has several planes of being and works on several levels; this has led people to think of him as consisting of several different “persons.” But the splitting-up of God, even to make him Father, Son and Holy Spirit, produces a multi-headed monster which would, in the end, destroy itself. (In later chapters, we shall see how the trinity of Father, Son and Holy Spirit are all one person, who is the glorified Lord Jesus Christ.)
Basically, all creation—the creative act itself—is motivated by love. The power within the universe that makes it operate is love. The Lord himself is the divine powerhouse: he is the source of the power that is love. Hence we say God is Love. This does not mean merely that God is loving and kind. It means he is love itself.
Our love is only finite, but it derives from his infinite source, and so it resembles his love, though on a finite plane. Think of a happy family among ourselves. The parents love their children. (It was their love which conceived the children in the first place.) This gives them a strong desire to make the children happy. The parent wants to give himself or herself out to them, and as it were, “unite them with himself.” If they love the parent in return, the parent’s happiness is complete; they ask for nothing more. The parent wants their family to grow in numbers: first one child, then another, then another. Each new child is someone else for the parents to love and make happy; so they grow with their family.
This brings out two important principles about love:
(1) There must be self-conscious beings outside of oneself whom one can love and make happy, and who are free to reciprocate one’s love. Love finds no satisfaction if turned inwards to self; it must be directed outwards to others. And those others must be responsible beings, not robots or puppets.
(2) Love grows by giving itself out to others. If you love twenty people, your love is twenty times as great as if you love yourself only. (More than twenty times, as there is a bonus added!) The more love you give away, the more you have. This strange arithmetic is illustrated by our Lord’s feeding of the five thousand. (Matthew 14:13-22.) Spiritual commodities, such as love and wisdom, increase equally whether you multiply or divide them. (That is spiritual arithmetic!) They only decrease if you ignore them or have nothing to do with them: then they wither, dry up and fade away. Or they are “taken away,” like the talent buried in the ground. (Matthew 25:28.)
God is love itself. The two principles we have mentioned apply infinitely to him.
(1) There must be someone “outside of” God, or “other than” God, whom He can love and make happy, and who can reciprocate His love in freedom. Hence the need for a finite universe, with finite people in it. (Only what is finite can be “outside” or “other than” the infinite.) You can think of the created universe as consisting of a number of “vessels” capable of receiving and holding God’s outpouring life. A person’s innermost soul is like a wine glass which God fills with the choicest wine. The glass is never dissolved into the wine—if it were, the wine would be lost. Always the infinite and the finite exist side by side within us, the finite giving shape to the infinite, but never merging with it. (Swedenborg says the two are “conjoined” but never “united,” except in the case of Jesus Christ, as we shall see in a later chapter.) Any religion or philosophy that teaches that human beings are divine, that they can be merged with God or grow into God, is, in that matter, based on falsehood. The truth is that God is the infinite creator, and the human being is the finite creature: the finite can never become infinite, the creature can never become its own creator. The three main world religions that correctly emphasize this distinction between God and the universe are Judaism, Islam and Christianity.
( 2) Love grows by giving itself out to others. God, since he is love itself, actually “needs” to have finite beings whom he can love and make happy. He never stops creating. New babies are always being born. And he likes as much variety as possible, within human limits: white, yellow, brown and black; clever and dull, distinguished and commonplace. Each individual is unique, yet he loves them all equally, no one more than another. (Good parents have no favorites among their children!) God never grows weary as a creator, because love actually increases with its own out-pouring. On the human analogy, one might say that God is far “stronger” now than he was at the beginning of the creation, because he now has so many human beings to love!
How was the Universe Created?
God created the universe by pouring out divine substance from himself, and then, in some mysterious way we cannot understand, withdrawing himself from it, until it became dead matter, therefore finite. This might be explained in mathematical terms by saying “Infinity divided by infinity equals any finite number, or all finite numbers.”
If this proposition is correct, then this symbol could represent the “big bang” which exploded into stars, planets, oceans, forests, fertile lands, the whole tremendous universe!
We are on firm ground when we assert that creation started with dead matter, of the lowest and most inert degree—gases, water, rocks, minerals, etc. God then fashioned these into forms capable of receiving life on a higher level: first the vegetable kingdom, then the animal kingdom, which is sustained by the vegetable kingdom; then, from the animal kingdom, humanity. Somehow at this stage a “soul” must have been implanted, but when exactly this was done, and how (perhaps by a virgin birth?) we cannot tell, because we are part of the process. We know that love was the driving force, and that wisdom was the controlling factor. Divine love set the process going, and divine wisdom planned the action. And, when you have love and wisdom working together, then you have power.
Why were We Created?
Many different answers have been given to the question, “Why did God make us?”—such as, “So that we can serve him” (just as if he needed our assistance!) or, “So that we can worship and praise him.” The true answer would be, “So that he might love us, and make us happy from himself.” However, he does want us to serve and worship him, because he knows we are happiest when we are doing so. To be happy we must cooperate from our side, and reciprocate his love, thus completing the circle. If we misuse our freedom and turn away from him (which he lets us do if we really want to), then our creation has been a failure. Can God fail? Yes, when dealing with his children; because he has given us freedom to love him or not. Only because we have this freedom will our love be worth anything to him. Does God still love us if we are evil? Of course, he does! Parents still love their children, even when the children go wrong. They yearn after the children, and suffer on account of them, but still they love them. That is their nature.
Human Beings are Immortal
It is not God’s will that any of his children should perish or cease to exist. Their physical bodies will die in due course, but their souls will go on living to eternity. The good ones will become “angels,” and where they are will be Heaven. The bad ones will become “satans,” or “devils,” or just “evil spirits,” and where they are will be Hell. We are all potential angels. Life on earth is provided for the development of the angel-nature within us. The whole purpose of the world and everything in it, the whole purpose of Creation itself, is: To form a heaven of angels from the human race.
N.B.—Although human beings are finite, even as to spirit (the angels are still finite), yet our souls are immortal. We do not call ourselves “eternal” because we are not self-sustaining; yet, we go on living forever, because the eternal God perpetually sustains us. By way of analogy, think of an electric light bulb. It goes on giving light for as long as electricity from the powerhouse is fed into it: but in itself it is quite dead.