CONCERNING THE DIVINE HUMAN OF THE LORD
CONCERNING THE DIVINE HUMAN OF THE LORD
By Mr. Joseph S. David
Uses are the tangible, expressed forms of love to the neighbor. We can think of things we might do to help a neighbor, and we can want to do something to help, but it’s not until we deploy the thoughts and act on our will, that we actually perform a use.
Doing actual useful service completes the trilogy of end, cause, and effect, the action being the effect. Furthermore, we are taught in the doctrines of the New Church that the primary theater for charity is not the giving of alms to various people or causes, though that is important, but to do the job or fill out the office we are in honestly, justly, and industriously as best we can, not because it helps us but because it helps the common good. And because this is what the Lord requires of us.
Heaven is called a kingdom of uses because all angels are busy doing a useful task every day, and angels love it so, because these tasks are perfectly suited to the angel doing them, allowing each angel to delight in what he is doing every day to his or her heart’s content.
One of the key descriptions of heaven in the doctrines is that of a single grand human being, not because of shape but because of function. Modern science has learned a lot about the human body. We can know that we are made up of billions of different kinds of cells, brain cells, muscle cells, bone cells, and on and on, and that all these cells are busy little shops, taking in raw materials from the blood and turning out products the body needs and sending them around. We can see that each cell in our body is analogous to a society of angels, as we are told that there are societies in the provinces of all parts of the body performing the spiritual correspondent of what the various body parts do in an anatomic or physiologic way. So just as our cells all perform uses in our body to keep the whole body healthy and active, so do all angelic societies, and within those individual angels. Thus heaven can continue to exist, grow and perform its uses toward those of us still down here in the material world.
A similar kind of picture, though in a more imperfect way, shows how a political entity, a country, or state, or city can operate with all the various jobs contributing to a vibrant commonwealth, with people trading goods and services and doing all the things that make a community live. But it works better when all the citizens are led internally by love to the neighbor rather than love of self.
. . . bad apples . . .
. . . bad avocados . . .
What makes these things so bad? Sure, a fruity disappointment is one thing, but human beings are so quick to describe something as bad. From a theological standpoint, what makes something “bad”?
Everyone has ideas about the difference between a bad thing and a good thing. Emanuel Swedenborg discusses this often in his theological works, where he talks about the impact of God’s love and how people can feel heavenly happiness in their own lives. But before things can go from bad to good, he says, we have to understand what makes those two things different from a spiritual perspective.
To be truly “bad,” Swedenborg says that beings must be free and able to choose rationally between things that will make them happy in good ways or bad ways. In this scenario, “bad” refers to things that are harmful to those around us (in Swedenborg’s theology, this is what evil means), but that we choose anyhow because it benefits us personally: selfishness, greed, riches—any love that serves the self more than other people.
Objects, however, can’t make that choice. A knife is great while it’s serving a constructive purpose. But when it’s used to harm someone, it is an awful weapon. Swedenborg says that objects cannot be inherently good or bad—they are good or bad depending on how people use them. People are the only things that can be good or bad, depending on the choices they make freely. Someone must decide, without being forced one way or another, to use something for good or bad ends—to either serve selfish loves or serve heavenly and neighbor-loving ones.
“Why, then, ‘tis none to you, for there is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.” — William Shakespeare, Hamlet
Anyone who comes into contact with dogs knows that they make their own decisions—what their owner wants is not always as important as their own instincts. They see a squirrel, and they choose to either run after it and risk their fate to an owner-enforced consequence, or stay and miss the chance to catch that darn squirrel.
However, when a dog jumps up on the counter to eat some fresh-from-the-oven chicken pot pies (or twelve chocolate cupcakes, from personal experience), it’s hard to blame the cute little beast that just had a hankering for some food. Why is it so hard to blame them? Swedenborg writes that in order for one to truly be free to make a choice, they must also be rational.
Rationality is an important concept—it means that people are able to weigh decisions, looking at cost vs. benefit, taking in long-term effects, looking at impact on other areas of life, and being able to be more objective and look at the whole picture rather than just a snapshot. This is why some teenagers seem to make bad decisions. (“Don’t they ever think about the consequences of their decisions?!” says every parent in the history of teenagers.) People have to grow into their ability to consider options objectively and make decisions rationally. This is also why it’s hard to blame dogs for their decisions—they don’t have that rational, considerate type of brain.
Swedenborg asserts that human adults are the only beings that can look at situations and make entirely free and rational decisions. And even adults aren’t always reliable in the rational decisions department—look at most reality TV shows, where the rational brain tends to take a backseat to emotional outbursts. People are only human—prone to mistakes and assumptions. Dogs are not only not human, but tend to be prone to decisions that hurt the people (or squirrels) around them. They aren’t “bad,” just accident-prone, because they lack the rationality to make clear decisions.
Humans: This is the hardest part, because it involves freedom, rationality, self-awareness, choice, and perspective.
To figure out if a choice is working toward bad things or good things, Swedenborg says that human beings must look at the effects of a decision on their life and the lives of the individuals around them. This means that if someone’s goal is to get their own way in everything, their version of happiness would be to control or manipulate others, to advance their careers at the expense of others, to make money without worrying about the effects their business decisions will have on others. Swedenborg would call these hellish types of happiness.
Now, Swedenborg recommends personal goals that lead toward heaven, as the negative goals lead more toward separation from God and heavenly joy. If someone’s goal is to be “good,” they have to look at the decisions they make and see if the effects are good—does the decision make other people happy? Does it make people happy in good ways, positive ways that lead toward that heavenly happiness we talked about earlier? Does it add positive things to life, or does it tear down positive things?
Whether we chose the negative ends or the positive ones, the cycle is a never-ending one of regeneration—looking for truth, bringing that truth into our life, deciding what our goals are, and making decisions that lead toward those goals. This involves lots of rational ideas, like self-examination and looking at the true happiness of the people around us. No easy task!
However, Swedenborg states again and again that this hard process has the potential for so much love and happiness. People are able to be much happier because they can choose with freedom and rationality and continue to build on their choices to grow closer and closer to God. They can grow to have more and more heavenly happiness (or evil delight), which means they have the potential to be united with the Lord.
Looking back, it’s easy to see that:
The answer is, “no.” God never withdraws from us – He is always present and loving us. We are however, left in freedom and we can use that freedom to turn away from the Lord if we choose. The Writings for the New Church also teach that when we are going through temptation that the Lord draws even closer to us, but that it can feel like He’s farther away. This is because the closer the Lord is to us, the more freedom we are in, and the more it feels like we are doing things on our own. The bottom line is that God is all loving and ever present. He doesn’t choose to leave us or back away.
“I will never leave you nor forsake you.” Joshua 1:5
“Love and wisdom, apart from usefulness, are only imaginary things. That is, they do not become real unless they are used.”
Apocalypse Revealed 875
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It might be tempting to keep quiet about what you really believe or hide behind a book that gives your view rather than talking about it yourself; especially if you are afraid if you share ideas they might be discarded or even trampled on.
But don’t we each have some sort of responsibility for freely offering a word of wisdom freely received?
I would argue that it’s only when we share ideas and beliefs that we can build deeper relationship. But how many of us fail to do this, preferring to say the comfortable thing, and conform to what we assume is expected? Conversations that touch on important issues really give satisfaction; one soul has touched another.
“Communication leads to community, that is, to understanding, intimacy and mutual valuing.” (Rollo May)
Perhaps you are reticent to share ideas about your hopes, values and convictions. Do you avoid any honest talk about politics and religion, or quickly pass over difficult subjects like the meaning of death or human suffering, or your personal aims in life. Is this because you have little to say or are unhappy about being your real self?
“There are some people who have the quality of richness and joy in them and they communicate it to everything they touch. It is first of all a physical quality; then it is a quality of the spirit.” (Tom Wolfe)
Here are some suggestions about how to share ideas.
1. Be clear about what you would want to say if you had the chance. One possible reason why you might sometimes gloss over matters, is you haven’t thought through your ideas; have not understood what is important to you about your beliefs; or are not yet clear about what ideas you want to share.
“First learn the meaning of what you say, and then speak.” (Epictetus)
2. Find an appropriate person to speak with. You cannot expect to share ideas about the local football team with someone who is bored by sport. Nor can you expect to talk about your spiritual beliefs with someone who is disinterested in the deeper aspects of life.
3. Even then you cannot just launch into a topic out of the blue. Only by listening carefully, will you be in a position to show the relevance of what you want to say to the other person, beginning where they are at. This means being sensitive and aware of the other person’s feelings.
“To effectively communicate, we must realize that we are all different in the way we perceive the world and use this understanding as a guide to our communication with others” (Tony Robbins)
4. I would advise not tackling a passionately held attitude head on. It will get you nowhere. Only by listening can you learn what switches someone off or where to tread carefully. One would walk warily around certain topics where the other person has strong feelings. Raising a certain topic like gay marriage, re-incarnation, vegetarianism, human suffering may feel like walking over broken eggs.
Instead try to share ideas by testifying to our own experiences and thoughts and their relevance to the person’s situation and practical issues.
5. Share ideas by offering your views for consideration rather than telling someone in an authoritative way what to think. This means asserting your thoughts without dominating; listening to the other person’s attitude even when they don’t oppose you.
“The most important thing in communication is hearing what isn’t said.” (Peter Drucker)
6. Wait for the right time to mention what you have in mind; looking for opportunities to steer the conversation towards the topic that interests you
7. Share ideas by keeping to the point.
“The ability to simplify means to eliminate the unnecessary so that the necessary may speak.” (Hans Hofmann)
8. Share ideas by using words in common parlance avoiding jargon or terminology with socially unacceptable connotations. When talking with someone you don’t know too well from a different background it is important to check out any misunderstanding of words with a specialised meaning that do crop up.
When it comes to deeper ideas, any language can be inadequate especially when you are trying to express the inexpressible. For example if you want to share your spiritual beliefs then be wary about the way the word ‘God’ is used. Some people have rightly rejected a distorted image of God. Nevertheless they may still have a feeling that there is an underlying divine source of what is good and true in life.
10. Only suggest an idea if it might lead to something useful for the other person. There is a chance that what you want to say is not needed by a particular individual.
11. Don’t assume listeners will agree that what is said is self-evident. Nothing can be more annoying than for someone to share ideas by telling us what to think as if they must be right. It sounds arrogant and dogmatic.
Better to say “This is my opinion; here is my experience and evidence; look for yourself and decide.”
12. Don’t voice your opinion as a way of winning an argument and getting the better of someone. People use their inner freedom to search for meaningful notions because they love what makes sense. We should encourage such people to exercise their freedom to rationally weigh up our beliefs. We cannot assume everyone we speak with is able to intuitively perceive the truth of what we say. After all we may be wrong.
13. Welcome questioning of what you say.
“A powerful idea communicates some of its strength to him who challenges it.” (Marcel Proust)
Look upon a conversation as a two way process. You can learn from the other person and hopefully they can learn from you.
Spiritual philosopher Emanuel Swedenborg wrote that we never achieve truth as it is in itself, but that all of our insights are only approximations to genuine truth, mere appearances of what is true adapted to human understanding. In communicating with people we need to accommodate our message to where each is coming from in terms of the appearances and illusions they have. And to share ideas with them we need to listen to what they have to say in terms of our own misapprehensions.
Copyright 2013 Stephen Russell-Lacy
Author of Heart, Head & Hands Swedenborg’s perspective on emotional problems
Posted on13th August 2013