I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.
[John 15:5 ESV]
In him we live and move and have our being.
[Acts 17:28 ESV]
Are we conscious that, as Jesus puts it, apart from me you can do nothing? Do we feel that, as Paul states, in [God] we live and move and have our being? Most people would probably answer that we do not have such a direct experience.
On the contrary all the evidence of our senses and everyday life is that we act in all things from our life within us.
We can see this very early on in the life of a new born baby. Initially the baby is completely helpless and totally reliant on those around. But gradually its sense of the outside world develops and then an awareness of itself. The baby learns to move, just small motions of eyes, head and limbs. Then the ability to reach out and touch comes into play and from sitting up crawling and then walking soon develops. And then as language begins miraculously to appear the small child starts to separate the people around into different people. However they refer to themselves they know they are a person in their own right. Our development from infancy through to mature adulthood is only achieved because we have a clear sense of who we are and an ability to direct our daily life as we wish.
But if we accept that there is only ONE life, the Divine life, and this is the source of all life and everything that is involved in living then none of us and nothing in the created world has a life of its own. Rather, we are all simply receivers of life. A simple analogy may illustrate this concept (or principle). Think of a light bulb which when working properly and connected to the mains glows brightly. We are all so familiar with how a light bulb works that it is hard to imagine how someone would view it from say 300 years ago. They would probably see it as a wonderful source of light that somehow existed entirely within the light bulb. To them the light bulb would seem to have light in itself. Yet we know that the light bulb is merely a receptacle and receiver of the power of electricity designed in such a way as to produce light.
We can see ourselves then as people created by God to be receivers of the Divine life but able to live in a way where we are not conscious of that fact. But suppose it was different. What if, instead of feeling that our life was our own, we were really aware at all times that it was God’s life within us from which we lived and moved and had our being?
We can perhaps glimpse what this might be like from our own experiences of growing up. As a child we are totally dependent on our parents for our food, clothing and a place to live as well as direction in what we should or should not do and ambitions for our future. In many ways we become an extension of our parent’s lives until the point comes in teenage years when we desperately feel the need to break free and establish ourselves as separate individuals. It is a painful process, but it is vital for our development. If we could really feel God’s life within us wouldn’t it be like a teenager yearning and fighting to be free, a puppet on a string unable to cut the parental cords? How could we develop our unique potential in such circumstances?
It appears that we have a life of our own despite the reality that our life is from God alone. It is because of this appearance that we are able to grow and develop and regenerate as spiritual beings.
Emanuel Swedenborg wrote extensively about the appearance that we live as if of ourselves. Here is a quotation from Divine Providence 156:
To say that we are led and taught by the Lord alone is to say that the Lord is the only source of our life, since it is the intentions of our life that are led and the intelligence of our life that is taught. This is not the way it seems, though. It appears to us as if we live on our own, when the truth is that the Lord is the source of our life and we are not. As long as we are living in this world, we cannot be given a palpable sense that our life is coming from the Lord alone. We are not deprived of our sense of living on our own, because that is what makes us human.
Every one of us is perfectly free to stay in this appearance and live thinking our life is our own. But this is not what Jesus calls us to do. He says: I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing [John 15:5 ESV].
Our Lord Jesus Christ longs for us to acknowledge that our life is from him and that, really, without him we can do nothing. Why? Not because he wants or needs our adulation. No. It’s because he wants us to abide in him so that he can give us his joy, not because we are forced to but because we want to return to him, the source of our life.
These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.
[John 15:11 ESV]
We should live ‘as if of ourselves’, but at the same time fully acknowledge that our life is from the Lord alone.