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
(2  Love of the Neighbor
(3) Love of the World
(4) Love of Self

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.

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