Selection from True Christian Religion ~ Emanuel Swedenborg
If there were no Word there would be no knowledge of God, of heaven and hell, or of a life after death, still less of the Lord.
As there are some who hold, and who have thoroughly convinced themselves, that man may know without the Word of the existence of God, and of heaven and hell, and of other things taught by the Word; such cannot properly be appealed to from the Word, but only from the light of natural reason, since they do not believe in the Word, but only in themselves. Inquire then, from the light of reason, and you will find that there are in man two faculties of life, which are called understanding and will — the understanding is subject to the will, but not the will to the understanding; for the understanding merely teaches and points out what ought to be done from the will; and for this reason many who are of an acute genius, and who understand better than others the moral principles of life, still do not live according to them; but if their will favored them it would be otherwise. Inquire further, and you will find that man’s will is his selfhood [proprium] and that this is evil from birth, and that from this comes the falsity in the understanding. When you have found out these things, you will see that man of himself has no wish to understand anything except what is from the selfhood of his will, and if this were his only source of knowledge, he would have no wish from his will’s selfhood to understand anything but what pertains to self and the world; and everything above this would be in thick darkness. For instance, in looking at the sun, moon, and stars, if he should think about their origin, he could not think otherwise than that they exist from themselves. Could he raise his thoughts higher than many of the learned in the world, who while knowing from the Word that all things were created by God, yet acknowledge nature? If these had known nothing from the Word what would they have thought? Do you suppose that the ancient wise men, such as Aristotle, Cicero, Seneca, and others, who wrote about God and the immortality of the soul, obtained this knowledge primarily from their own understanding? No; they obtained it from others by its having been handed down from those who first knew of it from the ancient Word…. Neither do the writers on Natural Theology derive any such knowledge from themselves; they merely confirm by rational deductions what they knew from the church where the Word is, and possibly some among them confirm and yet do not believe.
Rituals and imagery are important in helping us understand how the Lord works.
by Rev. Dr. Jonathan S. Rose; transcribed and edited by Chelsea Odhner
Scripture uses wonderfully tangible language to help explain abstract spiritual concepts with examples we know with our senses to demonstrate some very complex ideas. Blood is referenced quite often in the Bible because it is something with which we all have experience. We each live, breath, and have blood flowing through our veins, and so blood is something we recognize and understand. It is likewise with water. When someone describes something as fluid like water, we know what they mean because we visualize the properties of water. This type of scriptural imagery works to make the invisible become visible.
A problem arises when people take this imagery literally, when they believe the tangible element in the Bible is physically how a spiritual action occurs.
Baptism is an example, it stands for a repentance process that we go through. But because the ritual of baptism involves water, many believe it is actually the physical water that becomes holy and washes away their sins.
Then why have rituals or scriptural imagery at all? They are important in helping us understand how the Lord works in our lives. You can’t physically see your whole process of repentance, reformation, and regeneration; it’s interior and it stretches out over years and years. But we know about water. The ritual of baptism is a way for the Lord to communicate with us. He gives us something we can experience in a moment. We can say, “Oh, I get that, because I saw it with my physical eyes. I went there and they took water and there was a kind of washing motion.” It makes the invisible become visible. You can see there’s a washing. Does that mean that the ritual of baptism washes away sins? I submit that it doesn’t, for which there’s powerful scriptural evidence. It serves as a symbol, which we can see, of something otherwise invisible.
To demonstrate my point, let’s look at passages where blood is involved in the remission of sins. Remission is from the Greek word fidhmi meaning literally “to send away.” How do you send away sins? It both means the removal of them and also the forgiveness of them. How are sins remitted or forgiven? In Romans 3:25 we read about Jesus Christ “whom God set forth as a propitiation by His blood, through faith, to demonstrate His righteousness, because in His forbearance God had passed over the sins that were previously committed.” Here the blood is involved in not having to pay a penalty for your sins. In Ephesians 1:7 we read again about the Lord, that “in Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of His grace.” Alright, by now you would understandably think that His blood did something to redeem us and forgive our sins.
Colossians 1:14 also tells us that it is the Lord “in whom we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins.” We learn more in Hebrews 9:18-22: “Therefore not even the first covenant was dedicated without blood. For when Moses had spoken every precept to all the people according to the law, he took the blood of calves and goats, with water, scarlet wool, and hyssop, and sprinkled both the book itself and all the people, saying, ‘This is the blood of the covenant which God has commanded you.’ Then likewise he sprinkled with blood both the tabernacle and all the vessels of the ministry. And according to the law almost all things are purified with blood, and without shedding of blood there is no remission.” A lot of people on the basis of these four scriptures have believed that Jesus’ physical blood was involved in the remission of our sins. However, in Matthew 26: 27-28, which is during the last supper, it says “Then He took the cup,” speaking of Jesus, “and gave thanks, and gave it to them, saying, ‘Drink from it, all of you. For this is My blood of the new covenant, which is shed for many for the remission of sins.’” Here the blood is something for the remission of sins and yet what did he hand them? A cup of wine, not blood! He hands them a cup of wine and he says “this is the blood that forgives your sins.” He’s trying to communicate with us in a language we will understand but also trying to lift our minds. He drives in a bit of a wedge into the literalists’ mindset by handing them a cup and saying, “This is my blood,” when it’s really wine.
In Acts we read that “the God of our fathers raised up Jesus whom you murdered by hanging on a tree. Him God has exalted to His right hand to be Prince and Savior, to give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins” (5:30-31). That didn’t mention a cup, or wine, or blood! It said repentance! Is blood absolutely necessary if repentance will do it? Does it have to be blood? It said it had to be blood and yet there are these other passages that say it doesn’t have to be blood. So what’s going on?
The Lord has to use physical things that we understand. We don’t understand Divine Truth. We don’t even think it exists. If we think about it, it just seems like some abstraction when in fact it is the living force that fills the spiritual and physical worlds and creates everything. We don’t know anything about that, but we know about blood, so the Lord can describe his Divine Truth as blood.
If you understand blood as Divine Truth, and most specifically, that it’s the instructions for repentance on how to overcome things, that’s why blood has to do with remission of sins. It’s because the blood of the Word, the living blood is truth, but it is truth with a pump! It’s warm truth with a pump that’s serving some purpose. Love is driving this truth out. This is what blood really is—Divine Truth which is the Lord’s love saying, “Here’s the instructions on how to get out of hell; here’s how to overcome the problem that you have; here’s how to be transformed: by practicing repentance.” This is the blood that gives us forgiveness of sins. This is the blood that we have to drink. This is why blood is said to be involved in the remission of sins.
The Rev. Dr. Jonathan Rose is a pastor in Bryn Athyn, PA and works as a translator of Emanuel Swedenborg’s works.
It’s a question that people have wrestled with for ages: Why would an all-powerful God, one whose essence is literally love and wisdom, allow evil and suffering to exist in the world?
Swedenborg devotes an entire book to answering this question: Divine Providence. In it, he explains that the Lord’s goal is the formation of a heavenly community, bringing everyone—every human being on earth—into heaven. Divine providence is the way he works to do that. But he will not do this without our freely given consent and cooperation. In other words, there can be no true salvation without free will; nor can there be a full commitment to spiritual growth without first understanding the role that evil plays in our lives.
The Laws of Divine Providence
Swedenborg systematically describes the way that divine providence works in our lives by condensing it into five laws:
1. We should act in freedom and in accordance with reason
Freedom, in this case, means spiritual freedom. Our bodies limit what we can see and hear and do. Governments have laws that prevent us from acting in certain ways. But in the privacy of our own minds, we can think and feel just about any way that we like. In other words, we can choose to inwardly embrace thoughts and feelings that are either good or evil. Swedenborg tells us:
The origin of evil is the abuse of the abilities proper to us called rationality and freedom. By rationality, I mean the ability to discern what is true and therefore what is false, and to discern what is good and therefore what is evil. By freedom, I mean the ability freely to think, intend, and to do such things. (Divine Love and Wisdom #264)
The actions that we choose—and, more importantly, the underlying attitudes that motivate those actions—become a part of us. Swedenborg may have anticipated modern psychology when he observed that the thoughts and feelings we embrace never truly leave us. We may repress them, or deny them, but the thoughts and feelings that we dwell upon become part of our essential self. Ancient wisdom teaches, “For as he thinks in his heart, so is he” (Proverbs 23:7). Swedenborg takes it a step further, saying that “we are what we love.” (Divine Love and Wisdom #1). The more we are motivated by and act upon our noblest desires, the more that nobility becomes a part of our very being. This is the way we cooperate, connect, and come into communion with God. But it must be done freely, and we must make that decision rationally rather than acting out of fear or external pressure.
2. We should reject any tendencies toward evil that we notice coming into our mind
What is evil? In its most basic form, it refers to any desire or any tendency to turn away from God, or from the highest principles we know. Swedenborg describes angels as perpetually turned toward God—not in the literal sense of always facing the same direction no matter which way they’re walking, but in the spiritual sense that their minds, their inner selves, are always guided by the Lord’s love and wisdom. In the same way, he says, evil spirits are always turned away from God, guided by their own obsessions with power and prestige.
We should not think of “evil spirits” as medieval characters in fictional literature. They are real influences masquerading as our thoughts and feelings. While these thoughts and feelings may feel like our own, they do not become a part of us until we identify with them, embrace them, and lead our lives by them.
The process of noticing the negative thoughts and feelings that arise in our minds, and then rejecting them, begins on earth. This is a basic aspect of our common humanity. None of us is born “perfect,” but we can strive to become better. As Swedenborg notes, we are all born with a tendency to be selfish and to crave material pleasures. And yet, more deeply, we are also born with an inner spiritual essence that comes from God. In Hindusim this is called “Atman”; in Buddhism it is our “Buddha nature”; and in Swedenborg’s theology it is “the innermost.” It is in this “innermost” part of us where we connect with God, allow God to guide us, and become cooperative channels through whom God’s love and truth can flow.
When Swedenborg talks about rejecting evils, then, he is talking about our tendency to be selfish—to always act in what we regard as our own best interest rather than our neighbors’; to love power and crave domination over others; to steal, or kill, or otherwise do harm.
But what we do isn’t the whole story. Why we do it goes deeper. For example, let’s say that a man working for a large corporation—overworked, underpaid, and perpetually mistreated by his tyrant of a boss—discovers a loophole that will allow him to steal money from the company without anyone noticing. Over the course of a couple of years, he’s stockpiled enough money to quit and start his own business. No big deal, he tells himself. Nobody got hurt. The corporation is so large that nobody even noticed the money was missing. Anyhow, he deserves the money as compensation for the way he was treated.
Though it may not seem like a big deal, this kind of rationalization and justification of actions that we know are wrong (rather than acknowledging and rejecting them) leads us away from the Lord. The more we tell ourselves that it’s okay to help ourselves at others’ expense, the farther away we get.
However, if instead we make a concerted effort to reject those selfish thoughts and feelings, try to make amends for past actions, and truly work to become better people, we open the door for God to enter our lives and put us on the path to heaven.
3. We cannot be compelled to think or believe in a certain way
Swedenborg asserts that nobody can be reformed by threats and punishments, or even by miracles and visions of the afterlife. In order for faith to be real, and for reformation to be actual, we have to examine ourselves in the light of our highest values and see if we are living in accordance with them. It is only when we choose to act consciously in accordance with our faith that the process of reformation really begins.
An external event like a miracle may make a big impression, and it may even force us to rethink our beliefs. However, “force” is the key word here. If we have a vision of God telling us to go help the poor, we may feel compelled to do so simply because of the overwhelming experience we’ve just had. It’s no different from acting to help others because an authority figure has told us that we must do so. If we have not consciously chosen to become a better person, to do good simply because it is good, then our inner selves are not changing—and deep inside is where it really counts. What we actually do doesn’t matter if we’re motivated by fear or external pressure.
For the same reason, people who have mental illnesses, or who suffer from some other disability that prevents them using their freedom and rationality, are not held spiritually responsible for their actions. This also includes emergency situations where a person is acting out of instinct or desperation, or times and places where people are genuinely ignorant of spiritual truths.
4. We are taught and led by the Lord, although it may appear that we are acting independently
In many places throughout his writings, Swedenborg emphasizes that all life comes from God, that his love, wisdom, and energy flow into everything. If God were to withdraw from anyone, even for a moment, that person would simply cease to exist. Because of this, even people who have chosen to do evil still have God’s presence in their lives, sustaining them. God never stops trying to lead people to do good things and to love each other, and as long as we are on earth it’s never too late to change. (Although the longer we wait, the harder it gets!)
5. We will not feel the workings of divine providence in our lives
We are not allowed to see God at work in our lives for the same reason that we can’t be converted to faith by miracles: we have to choose to do good because we truly believe it is right, not because we are forced to or because there will be an immediate reward for doing so.
That’s why some people choose to abandon their belief in God. They are looking for an immediate reward—or even an eventual reward—for being good, and are disappointed when they do not see divine providence working in their lives. They do not realize that the God “who neither slumbers nor sleeps” is always working in their lives, bringing the best out of everything that happens, no matter how dark the moment appears to be. This is a hard but important lesson—especially when there has been a serious misfortune. Sometimes it’s not until long after the fact that the lessons we learned or the positive results that ensued become clear.
Disasters and Personal Suffering
But what about innocent people who are doing their best to lead good lives and yet still suffer misfortune? What about natural disasters like floods and earthquakes that kill thousands of people? What kind of lessons do we learn from that?
The evils in the world are real, Swedenborg says, but are permitted to happen so that we can grow:
Saying that God allows something to happen does not mean that he wants it to happen but that he cannot prevent it because of his goal, which is our salvation. . . . [Divine providence] is constantly focused on its goal; so that every moment of its work, at every single step of its course, when it notices that we are straying from that goal it leads and turns and adapts us in accord with its laws, leading us away from evil and toward good. . . . This cannot be accomplished without allowing bad things to happen. (Divine Providence #234)
Following a natural disaster, there might be an outpouring of love and support that inspires people to treat everyone better. Perhaps a person who helps during this time might decide to dedicate their lives to helping others, affecting thousands of lives for the better. Technologies may be developed that prevent bigger disasters down the road. With our limited perspective, it’s impossible to see all the positive consequences that might arise from a personal crisis or natural disaster. Part of faith is learning to trust, as Swedenborg assures us, that the Lord will not allow anything to happen if it cannot eventually be turned to good (Secrets of Heaven #6574).
Disaster, crime, disease, and other misfortunes also force us to confront the fact that evil exists in the world. When everything is going well, when there is peace and prosperity and nobody is suffering, we tend to take things for granted. We relax and enjoy the good times without thinking too much about it. Disasters make us realize what’s important to us; they wake us up to the fact that we matter to each other. From that starting point, we can think about who we are and, more importantly, who we want to be. Ultimately, if we let them, even the worst events in life can be the first step on the path to heaven.
Scientists who embrace a materialistic philosophy cannot conceive of how the topic of LOVE could ever be considered an exact science, like physics, chemistry, astronomy or biology. In fact, church-going scientists would have serious doubts as well. After all, Love is not something that can be studied like matter, even though Love’s importance to our lives may get everyone’s confirming head nod.
Love is what separates a human being from a robot with artificial intelligence. It is not simply a matter of intelligence. Remove human affection and feeling from speech and you get the monotone sounds of an automaton.
Only recently have neuroscientists begun to suspect that emotion and feelings (derivatives of love) operate the cockpit of the human intellect. What we love (embrace) focuses our attention, introduces sensory data to the brain’s memory and more importantly, organizes the material and sensory data of the memory into a coherent system with real order and orientation. Human understanding relies on a person’s ability to put knowledge into some organized structure. The result of this psychical process to grow coherent structure spontaneously is a person’s worldview or value system. How we act in the physical world is determined by our value system. We value what we love.
Evidence that love is substantial and assists causal process is the fact that the quality of one’s love determines the living complexity of his or her worldview. A love of worldly things organizes the mind to value physical or bodily pleasure. A love of knowledge organizes the mind to seek and find pleasure in mental activity. Obtaining wisdom comes from a deeper spiritual love from the study of God’s tenets. This nobler love disposes information in the human memory to value putting others and God before self.
More and more scientists are coming to the conclusion that existence is relational. Nothing exists unless it consists of co-existing things from within and can co-exist with things from without. Nothing exists from itself (called the contingency argument). That is why the universe is unified.
The essence of Love is to unite.
I have written a new book Proving God, which demonstrates that Love must be an ontologically real primary causal force perpetually directing creation and evolution. I could go on and on but it is that time of year to lighten up and share more “lovable” information. So for those of you who would like to approach Love and Valentine’s Day from the customary tradition of romance, perhaps I can offer you a truly spiritual appreciation of giving gifts (candy), cards and flowers to those close to your heart.
Valentine cards represent communication and intimate connection between two souls. Giving candy symbolizes the sweetness of the relationship (love is indeed sweet). Giving flowers represents the beauty of anticipating a continued fruitful relationship and the “harvest” of shared love, since flowers precede the production of seeds and fruit, which represent all the useful things predicated from the quality of an individual’s love and sincere goodness.
Many working mothers feel torn between staying at home to look after the children and going out to work to earn needed money. With the high cost of housing in the UK, being ‘a stay-at-home mum’ is often not an option.
Yet such working mothers may feel guilty about not being around for their children to give them sufficient needed love and support. So when can mothers go back to work and what more can fathers do to help? Different family circumstances obviously influence what parents feel about these questions. Nevertheless there is usually some scope for personal choice. Here are some questions that might guide the judgment.
After child-care costs and extra travel are taken into account, is the extra income worth the candle?
Even a small candle might make a huge difference when money is extremely tight. Could the father earn more money by taking on over-time or extra responsibilities at work? Or even trying to find a better paid position? For exactly what are the extra earnings thought to be needed? Is the money required to pay vital bills like food, and house rent? Or is it wanted to keep up the same standard of nice things bought before the children came along, like fashionable clothes, good mobile phone, stylish car. Could some lifestyle aspirations like wanting a better house be postponed?
In addition to financial reason does the mother want work partly because of boredom?
Many a mother longs for a change from nappies, toys, stories, and crying kids to an interest outside the home. Variety is the spice of life and personal fulfillment is something that is multifaceted.
Does social pressure play a role?
‘Stay at home mums’ are widely thought to be ‘old-fashioned’ whereas working mothers more with it. I get the impression the message from government is ‘go back to work’ and for young children to go to nursery, often full time.
Would a job and contacts made at work stimulate the mother?
This might result in a energised state of mind at home. Or is the job likely to make her so tired that she has less get-up-and-go for doing things with the children and less patience with their ordinary demands, noise and untidiness? If so, can the father help compensate by say doing more housework, taking the children places, and re-organising his own work to create time for looking after them. Could the couple afford a cleaner if there is extra income?
To what extent could others provide caring love?
At unpredicatable times children need attentive listening, kind words, physical expressions of love, family fun times. With both parents working, there would be less shared meals for the whole family to come together in harmony. Could this be offset by more contact from family friends and relatives invited to visit the home?
Do the parents feel it is their role to be around to show the children what is right and wrong?
Choice of a suitable child-minder with values shared by the parents may be an acceptable alternative. On the other hand a succession of child-carers, with none of whom the child able to form an attachment, might mean to some extent loss of a good role model with whom the child identifies. The legal responsibility of being in locus parentis does not necessarily imply exercising all parental responsibility for administering discipline and instruction.
Are the children old enough to learn some measure of self-resourcefulness by experiencing being on their own more?
Children might benefit by being obliged to get their own tea, to take responsibility for securing the home, and to get on with self-planned activities. It is also potentially useful to learn to be a bit street-wise. However, depending on where one lives, this might lead to getting into mischief if easily led. The age and maturity of the child dealing with independence comes into play. Are they ready to look after themselves until an adult is around? I understand that loneliness, boredom and anxiety are more likely to occur in children when left in the house alone if younger than 10 years of age.
Is it necessary for a parent’s career to be put on hold for several years until it is possible for it to be resumed with full-time working when the children are old enough?
If so, re-training will probably be expected. And the worker may need to accept a drop in position due to interrupted experience. Is the parent in question prepared to accept this sacrifice?
How is putting under-three olds into a full-time nursery being considered?
What is the attitude of working mothers to the psychological theory that children need to form a secure attachment to at least one special person if they are to thrive and that if mother and child are separated too soon, this attachment is undermined and health and well-being can be impaired. An alternative view holds that infants can receive good child-care outside the home and that the attachment to the mother is not broken but merely put under strain as contact is resumed each day after work.
Is it thought that women on the whole are no better than men looking after small children?
If so, then whichever parent would earn the less might be the one chosen to stay at home. What attitude is there about working mothers replacing working fathers?
Spiritual philosopher Emanuel Swedenborg suggests that women are more suited for this role. He writes that women tend to be more in touch with their emotional side and that there is a spirit of tender affection for children that they more readily receive into their hearts than do men. He attempts to explains this in terms of a spiritual sphere of innocence and peace from heaven which he says directly affects infants and is expressed in them. More about possible gender differences.
Copyright 2013 Stephen Russell-Lacy
Author of Heart, Head & Hands Swedenborg’s perspective on emotional problems