1 The Knowledge of the Afterlife

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1 The Knowledge of the Afterlife

“In My Father’s house are many mansions. If it were not so I would have told you, I go to prepare a place for you.” John 14: 2

Few deny that man has a mind as well as a body. And since time immemorial it has been felt—in a parallel fashion— that there is an unseen realm of spiritual life, the abode of souls, the real home of the human mind, beyond or within, the material world.

But in this pragmatic century any mention of a “spiritual world” will likely cause embarrassment or misgivings unless the reference is simply to the familiar haunts of our own mind. Even from Christian pulpits the doctrine of man’s immortality is often spoken of only in apologetic whispers. And when the more conservative among the clergy speak at a funeral, it is only to announce in dolorous tones that the departed will sleep in the grave until a mythical day of general resurrection. Nothing is said of the bourne to which the deceased has departed, nor of the life-functions which might now become his, or the spiritual treasures which he takes with him. Since the churches are silent, it is not surprising to find a credulous multitude who draw a confused comfort from the report of mysterious and unusual happenings which they interpret as interventions by the spirits of the dead in our human affairs.

Nor is it any wonder that the respectable scientist shies off from the study of such a field—wherein fact and fancy seem to intertwine. When the imagination has once been aroused, a less cautious mind may easily overstep the evidence. Even science has bred a fiction of its own, and there has been a recrudescence of a specific brand of popular literature which solemnly gathers hearsay evidence not only about apparitions and “poltergeists” who play noisy havoc in haunted houses and spirits who at will assume “ecto-plastic” bodies, but about space-wanderers in “flying saucers” which defy gravity and dematerialize in a moment!

Such fantasies are enough to discourage sober minds from an acceptance of inconclusive claims. Yet the failure to prove the presence of spirits by sensual demonstrations does in no wise disprove the existence of a spiritual world which influences our lives intimately and in orderly ways, but which by its very nature eludes experimental approach. And although there is much self-delusion, and much trickery and deception among the so-called “mediums” who claim contact with spirits, there is also evidence at hand to show that mankind is still confronted with unsolved problems and that there are undiscovered depths within the human mind itself which transcend our rational analysis. Empirical science has not given any satisfying explanation even of the ordinary processes of our thought, memory, and emotion. Nor can it with any surety deny the visionary experiences of many who assert that they have “seen spirits.”

Revelations about the Spiritual World

Besides all this: Can we ignore the testimony of all the prophets, philosophers, saints and seers, many of whom we still reckon among the most enlightened of men, and who not only sincerely believed in guardian spirits but whose eyes were at times open to glimpses of the world of the hereafter ? Did not our Lord Himself confirm the age-long conviction of mankind when He said, “In My Father’s house are many mansions. If not, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you”? Yet He also intimated that the time was not yet ripe to speak openly of the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven. He could speak of them only in parables. “These things have I spoken unto you in proverbs,” He said, “but the time cometh when I shall no more speak unto you in proverbs, but I shall show you plainly of the Father” (John 16:25). “When the Spirit of Truth is come, He will guide you into all truth” (John 16:13).

The promise of such an explicit revelation was fulfilled in an unexpected way. It was granted to Emanuel Swedenborg, the Swedish savant and philosopher of the eighteenth century, to become a citizen of two worlds for a period of twenty-seven years. Inspired by the Spirit of Truth he was given to write down his experiences gathered during his intercourse with spirits and angels in the spiritual world, and to publish the truth about the afterlife, lest the spirit of denial which was already then beginning to rule the worldly-wise should also corrupt the simple in heart and the simple in faith.1Only a Divine revelation could disclose to our race the truth about heaven and hell. At the same time Swedenborg, after diligent study of the Sacred Scriptures, was inspired to find its internal or symbolic meaning which accorded in every part with the doctrine known to the angels in heaven.

Doctrinal Preliminaries

Since the present little book may find its way into the hands of readers who are not familiar with the doctrines of the New Church, it seems well at the outset to review some of the leading truths which New Church readers take for granted. These teachings, which must be postulated if we are to understand the Scriptures rationally and explain the phenomena of the mind and of nature, may be summarized as follows:

  1. The Divine purpose in creation is to provide a heaven from the human race.
  2. Man is a spirit or mind clothed, while on earth, with a material body.
  3. There are two distinct worlds—a material world in which men live as to their bodies, and a spiritual world where angels and spirits dwell. The spiritual world is substantial, yet independent of what we know as “space” and “time”—which are properties of nature.
  4. The spirit or mind of man is immortal. At death he lays aside his material body, never again to assume it.
  5. No angels were created directly into the spiritual world, nor did any spiritual beings exist before the creation of mankind. The spiritual world contains a heaven and a hell, both of which consist of the spirits of men who have been born on some earth in the vast universe. There are no angels, spirits, or devils who were not born as men.
  6. Between heaven and hell there is a “world of spirits,” which is the realm or state into which all spirits pass immediately after death to prepare for their chosen heaven or for their chosen hell. When evil becomes predominant in this intermediate realm, it is ordered by a general “last judgment.” The final of these judgments—symbolically predicted in the Book of Revelation—took place in the year 1757.
  7. The inhabitants of the spiritual world constantly exert an influence on the human race on earth analogous to the influence which a man’s own spirit exerts on his body.
  8. Nonetheless the two worlds are utterly separate in appearance and invisible to each other, lest the freedom of man or the progress of spirits be disturbed.
  9. It is therefore disorderly and injurious for men to seek open intercourse with spirits, and it is also forbidden for spirits to seek to obsess men.
  10. The only legitimate way to learn about the afterlife is through the teachings of Divinely appointed prophets and seers: “If they hear not Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded though one rose from the dead” (Lu. 16:31). The doctrines given through Swedenborg constitute a final revelation granted for the sake of the restoration of a true Christian religion or a New Church.

The title of our book does not imply any claim that it covers all the relations of spirits and men. Nor is it our purpose here to describe the spiritual world or to define the nature of the soul and its life. But in the voluminous Writings of Swedenborg we have an inexhaustible field of information about the arcana of the spiritual world “from things seen and heard” and about the laws which govern the impact of that world upon our lives. There, also, are shown the different angelic influences which succeed each other as man advances along the path of regeneration.

What we here wish to stress is that man’s character is finally formed by the spiritual influences which he invites from the unseen world. It is often claimed that man is merely a product of his heredity and his environment. But while the parental strain determines the initial form of his mind and the more active loves and abilities with which he starts in life; and while his surroundings are at first predetermined and certainly limit his opportunities for knowledge and usefulness; yet within the range of these two factors of heredity and environment man exercises a choice which gradually builds within him a character quite individual and free. For as to his mind he moves in a spiritual environment which always corresponds to his own states of mind. The ability of man to become responsible for his own inner character and final destiny is due to the fact that he can—in freedom and according to his reason—choose what kind of spirits shall inspire his thoughts, purposes, and decisions. Although he feels at all times as if he were moved by his own affections, his spirit is actually held, unknowingly, in an equilibrium between influences from heaven and from hell, and is motivated either by the affections of angels or by the lusts of evil spirits. He does not live from himself. He is only a receptacle of a life which originates from God but which is mediated by the souls, good and evil, who inhabit the spiritual world.

And the purpose of the following essays is to examine some of the manifold ways in which our lives are moulded for good or ill by the influx of these invisible agencies.

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Ends

HR90 THE SCIENCE OF CORRESPONDENCE

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ENDS

app 78THE END OF CREATION HAS FORM [existat] IN OUTMOSTS, WHICH END IS THAT ALL THINGS MAY RETURN TO THE CREATOR AND THAT THERE MAY BE CONJUNCTION.

In the first place, something shall be said about ends. There are three things that follow in order, called first end, middle end, and last end; they are also called end, cause,  and effect. These three must be together in every thing, that it may be anything. For a first end without a middle end, and at the same time a last end, is impossible; or, what is the same, an end alone, without a cause and an effect is impossible. Equally impossible is a cause alone without an end from which and an effect in which it is, or an effect alone, that is, an effect without its cause and end. That this is so may be comprehended if it be observed that an end without an effect, that is, separated from an effect, is a thing without existence, and therefore a mere term. For in order that an end may actually be an end it must be terminated, and it is terminated in its effect, wherein it is first called an end because it is an end. It appears as if the agent or the efficient exists by itself; but this so appears from its being in the effect; but if separated from the effect it would instantly vanish. From all this it is evident that these three, end, cause, and effect, must be in every thing to make it anything. [DLW167]

EndsIt must be known further, that the end is everything in the cause, and also everything in the effect; from this it is that end, cause, and effect, are called first end, middle end, and last end. But that the end may be everything in the cause, there must be something from the end [in the cause] wherein the end shall be; and that the end may be everything in the effect, there must be something from the end through the cause [in the effect] wherein the end shall be. For the end cannot be in itself alone, but it must be in something having existence from it, in which it can dwell as to all that is its own, and by acting, come into effect, until it has permanent existence. That in which it has permanent existence is the last end, which is called effect. [DLW168]

These three, namely, end, cause, and effect, are in the created universe, both in its greatest and least parts. They are in the greatest and least parts of the created universe, because they are in God the Creator, who is the Lord from eternity. But since He is Infinite, and in the Infinite in finite things are one distinctly (as was shown above, n. 17-22), therefore also these three in Him, and in His infinites, are one distinctly. From this it is that the universe which was created from His Esse, and which, regarded as to uses, is His image, possesses these three in each and all of its parts. [DLW169]

The universal end, that is, the end of all things of creation, is that there may be an eternal conjunction of the Creator with the created universe; and this is not possible unless there are subjects wherein His Divine can be as in Itself, thus in which it can dwell and abide. In order that these subjects may be dwelling-places and mansions of Him, they must be recipients of His love and wisdom as of themselves; such, therefore, as will elevate themselves to the Creator as of themselves, and conjoin themselves with Him. Without this ability to reciprocate no conjunction is possible. These subjects are men, who are able as of themselves to elevate and conjoin themselves. That men are such subjects, and that they are recipients of the Divine as of themselves, has been pointed out above many times. By means of this conjunction, the Lord is present in every work created by Him; for everything has been created for man as its end; consequently the uses of all created things ascend by degrees from outmosts to man, and through man to God the Creator from whom [are all things] (as was shown above, n. 65-68). [DLW170]

To this last end creation progresses continually, through these three, namely, end, cause, and effect, because these three are in the Lord the Creator (as was said just above); and the Divine apart from space is in all space (n. 69-72); and is the same in things greatest and least (77 – 82); from which it is evident that the created universe, in its general progression to its last end, is relatively the middle end.  For out of the earth forms of uses are continually raised by the Lord the Creator, in their order up to man, who as to his body is also from the earth. Thereafter, man is elevated by the reception of love and wisdom from the Lord; and for this reception of love and wisdom, all means are provided; and he has been so made as to be able to receive, if he will.  From what has now been said it can be seen, though as yet only in a general manner, that the end of creation takes form [existat] in outmost things; which end is, that all things may return to the Creator, and that there may be conjunction. [DLW171]

That these three, end, cause, and effect, are in each and every thing created, can also be seen from this, that all effects, which are called last ends, become anew first ends in uninterrupted succession from the First, who is the Lord the Creator, even to the last end, which is the conjunction of man with Him. That all last ends become anew first ends is plain from this, that there can be nothing so inert and dead as to have no efficient power in it. Even out of sand there is such an exhalation as gives aid in producing, and therefore in effecting something. [DLW172]

Author: EMANUEL SWEDENBORG (1688-1772)

http://www.scienceofcorrespondences.com/ends.htm

http://www.theisticscience.org/

The State of a Vastated Church

Lastchurch - The Eternal Purpose

 Selection from Arcana Coelestia ~ Emanuel Swedenborg
Scarcely anyone knows how the case is with the rejection of an old church and the adoption of a new church. He who does not know man’s interiors and their states, and consequently man’s states after death, cannot but infer that those who are of the old church, and in whom good and truth have been laid waste, that is, are no longer at heart acknowledged, are to perish, either as the antediluvians perished by the flood, or as did the Jews by expulsion from their land, or in some other way. But when the church has been laid waste, that is, when it is no longer in any good of faith, it perishes chiefly in respect to the states of its interiors, thus in respect to its states in the other life. Heaven then removes itself away from them – and consequently the Lord – and transfers itself to others, who are adopted in their stead; for without a church somewhere on the earth there is no communication of heaven with man; for the church is like the heart and lungs of the Grand Man on the earth.

They who are then of the old church, and thus are removed from heaven, are in a kind of *inundation as to their interiors, and in fact in an inundation over the head. This inundation the man himself does not observe while he lives in the body, but he comes into it after death. In the other life this inundation plainly appears like a thick cloud by which they are encompassed and separated from heaven. The state of those who are in this thick cloud is that they cannot possibly see what the truth of faith is, and still less what is its good; for the light of heaven, in which is intelligence and wisdom, cannot penetrate into this cloud. This is the state of a vastated church.

(Arcana Coelestia 4423)

[*inundate – to cover with a flood]

May 19, 2010
http://lastchurch.blogspot.ca/

God’s purpose for human beings

God is Love

If you, like me, have ever pondered the ‘big’ questions, you will almost certainly have asked yourself the question “Why am I here?”  I’m always dumbfounded when I recall that humans are sentient beings with a body specially evolved to survive for a short time in this world.  Is it not amazing that we are in the image of God? [Genesis 1:26,27]

So why are we here?  In True Christian Religion paragraph 773, Emanuel Swedenborg writes:

… the creation of the universe had as its purpose a heaven of angels formed from the human race, and at the same time a church on earth, as the means by which a person may pass into heaven, and because the salvation of people, which depends upon people being born in the world, is thus a continuation of creation.

In other words, human beings are destined to become angels. The implication of this is that angels are not a separate race of celestial beings with wings and haloes.  Instead, an angel is a man or woman who has lived and died in this world and whose spiritual self has awakened in the next world. When a male and a female angel share identical beliefs and motivation they are joined together as one mind, and the love that they share together is called marriage love. They are so close that in heaven a married pair is spoken of, not as two, but as one angel.

How do you feel about this idea?  Is it new to you?  Are you comfortable with it, or shocked by it?

Swedenborg calls the process of journeying along the path to heaven regeneration.  This simply means learning to follow God’s rules for living a kind, generous and selfless life while recognising and putting aside our faults.  It can be compared with the process of regeneration of urban areas, where the renewal process takes place in successive steps over a significant period of time, and old buildings and infrastructure are replaced by new.  For us humans, regeneration involves making spiritual progress throughout our lives.  It is hard work that never ends.  It starts when we are born again. Remember that Jesus said to Nicodemus no-one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again [John 3:3].

The first stage of being born again is called reformation, a process affecting what we think; the second stage is called regeneration, a process affecting what we do, and thus what we think. The whole process is triggered when we recognise a fault, that is, a sin within ourselves, and repent this fault. This changes the way we think about the fault (the reformation step), and God will encourage us to try to put into practice a procedure that will enable us to avoid the sin in future (the regeneration step).  This process is repeated until we have successfully marginalized the sin, and then started again for the next sin.  Notice that each sin is not removed.  It will always be part of us, hence the reason that it is marginalized.

Some people feel that they are ‘born again’ every time they identify one of their many flaws or faults and ask God to forgive them.

However, not everybody becomes an angel.  We all experience a personal last judgment when we pass from this world to the next.  The process is described in the following passage from Matthew’s gospel, chapter 25, verses 31-33:

When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his glorious throne.  All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left. [NIV]

The sheep represent people who are destined to become good spirits, that is, angels in heaven, while the goats represent people who are destined to become evil spirits in hell.  The decision is made based on God’s laws about how we behave in our lives in this world.  But it’s not a decision based on reward or punishment.  Instead, God does his best to find a place for us in the spiritual world where we would be happiest.  It follows that people who have been good citizens in this world would be happiest in heaven, while people who have been self-centred and nasty would be miserable in all the peace and joy of heaven, so God finds a place for them in hell amongst other evil spirits who are similarly self-centred and nasty.

So the answer to the question “Why am I here?” is, – to become an angel.  The natural world that we live in is the training ground for the spiritual world in which we will spend the rest of eternity, hopefully as angels. All we have to do is become good citizens.  How?

In the two great commandments Jesus said:

Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one.  Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.  The second is this: Love your neighbour as yourself.
[Mark 12:29-31 NIV]

Swedenborg sums this up beautifully in Heaven and Hell 558:

Moreover, the extent to which people are in a state of heavenly love, which means loving useful services and acts of goodness, and feeling joy in their hearts when they perform them for church, for country, the community at large and their fellow citizen, dictates the extent to which they are led by the Lord, because that is the love in which He exists, and has Him as its source.

But what about people who do not get to heaven because of the way they behaved in this world? Swedenborg goes on to explain that they do not take guidance from God but are led by their inner self, and the inner self is altogether evil, because people have inherited from their ancestors the fault of loving themselves more than they love God, and loving the world more than they love heaven.  They perform services and acts of goodness for personal benefit and gain instead of for the good of the community.

So we are all on a spiritual journey that takes us to the next world, hopefully to heaven. It’s not a short journey, nor is it instant salvation.  It takes the rest of our lives in this world to complete.  Performing useful services and acts of goodness is not a one-off event but a lifetime of preparation for an eternity of continuing to perform useful services and acts of goodness as an angel in heaven.

http://www.god-is-love.org.uk/twelve-key-teachings/our-regeneration-is-mirrored-in-the-bible-story-of-creation/gods-purpose-for-human-beings/

https://havau22.com/emanuel-swedenborg/biography

Why does a loving God permit evil?

 by Rev. Dr. Ray Silverman
The brutal murder of twenty children in Newtown, CT remind us that tragedies happen suddenly, unexpectedly, and in the most unlikely places—even in elementary school classrooms. But sudden tragedies are not limited to the insane actions of deranged people.

Highway accidents claim the lives of 40,000 people each year, leaving behind grieving friends, bereaved spouses, and children who will be raised without their parents; a fire sweeps through a community, destroying thousands of homes and taking numerous lives along the way; an underwater earthquake erupts, unleashing a tsunami whose killer waves destroy over 200,000 people.

When things like this happen, sometimes well meaning people try to comfort one another by saying things like “It’s God’s will.” “It’s for the best.” “There’s a reason for everything.” “God must have needed your loved one.” “Someday you will look back and see the silver lining.” Some people push back with a different answer. “This proves that there is no God,” they say. “If there were a God, things like this would not happen. This was simply a senseless act of violence in a world without God. ”

Each of us tends to judge the reality of God by what happens on earth. At a recent championship hockey game, when the penalties all seemed to be going against Bryn Athyn College (where I am a professor), I found myself in sympathy with the fans who were complaining about the unfair officiating. But when things changed, and the opposing college was appropriately penalized, I heard myself shouting, “Yes, there is a God!”

Of course, I knew better, but that’s just how it feels. When things are going badly or unfairly, it seems that we live in a world without divine justice—in a world without God. But when something wonderful happens in our life, we quickly change our tune. We begin to feel that God must exist. “God is so good,” we say. “God is so good, to me.” In either case, it comes down to this: the denial or acceptance of God is based on what happens on earth.

And this is precisely where we miss the point. What we see happening in this world cannot be used to prove or deny the existence of God. I’d like to believe that Bryn Athyn College’s victory, which clinched the league championship, is an example of divine justice—but that just isn’t so. It is wrong thinking. It may be that a senseless act of violence in Newtown shakes our foundation, but it would be wrong to conclude from this that God does not exist. And it would be worse to conclude that this is some sort of divine punishment.

Were the Galileans worse sinners?

We cannot make a case for the goodness of God, or even the reality of God, based on outward circumstances. Nor can we make a case, based on outward events, for the idea that God punishes sinners.

Two thousand years ago, the prevalent idea was that a God of justice punished people for their sins. In the Gospel of Luke, for example, there is a story about some Galileans who were brutally murdered by Pilate (Luke 13:1-5). “Do you suppose,” said Jesus, “that these Galileans were worse sinners than all Galileans because they suffered these things?” (Luke 13:2). And then, He added, “I tell you, ‘No.’”

When a devastating earthquake tore through Haiti in 2010, leaving 250,000 people dead, some religious leaders said that the Haitian people had brought this upon themselves because they had not turned to Christ. In other words, some people believed that they were being punished by God for their pagan beliefs. According to Pat Robertson, a leading Christian fundamentalist, “This is what happens when you swear a pact with the devil.”

This kind of thinking is similar to the thinking of the people who supposed that the Galileans were murdered because they were sinners. But Jesus corrects their wrong thinking. “Do you suppose that these Galileans were worse sinners than all Galileans because they suffered these things?” He says. “I tell you, ‘No.’” And then He adds, “But unless you repent you will all likewise perish” (Luke 13:3).

In another story, the disciples see a man who was blind from birth, “Who sinned,’ they ask Jesus, “this man or his parents that he was born blind?” (John 9:2). Jesus tells them that “neither this man nor his parents have sinned, but that the works of God should be revealed in him” (John 9:3). Jesus again corrects their wrong thinking, teaching them that God did not cause the misfortune, but He will use the misfortune to bring about great works.

Returning to the story about the Galileans, Jesus tells his questioners, unequivocally, that their thinking about divine punishment is wrong. “I tell you, ‘No,’” He says. Jesus wants them to know that God is never angry; and He wants them to know that God never punishes.

But here we must make an important qualification. It is true that God never punishes us for our sins; rather, we are punished BY our sins. For example, those who hate others, and hate God—and do not repent—will eventually be consumed by the fire of their own hatred. That’s why Jesus adds, “But unless you repent you will all likewise perish.”

To repent means literally to change ones thinking. In this case, Jesus is urging them to change their thinking about “divine punishment” for sin. He wants them to see the world rightly. He wants them to know that the world is not a divine theatre where God inflicts punishments for sin and doles out rewards for righteousness. Rather, the world is the unceasing operation of God’s love and wisdom, flowing continually into all who are willing to receive.

The still, small voice

Consider the story of Elijah—the prophet who took refuge in a cave during a violent storm. Like Elijah, we sometimes find ourselves so discouraged by the storms of life that we find ourselves in a dark cave, unsure about what is true. Outside there is “a great strong wind that tears into the mountains and breaks the rocks in pieces. . . . And after the wind an earthquake. . . . And after the earthquake, a fire (see 1 Kings 19:11-18).

The violent death of innocent children in Newtown, Ct, the massacre of college students in Blacksburg, VA, a tsunami in Japan, or an earthquake in Haiti can shake our core beliefs in a loving God. And when misfortune hits closer to home, our faith is challenged. The loss of a loved one, the failure of a business venture, a car accident, an unwelcome medical diagnosis, even a fight with a dear friend can leave us uncertain and unsure. We feel the tremors at our very foundation.

It is clear that a physical cave cannot protect us for long—not when the rocks are already breaking, the mountain is shaking, and the fire is raging. These are the times when we need something deeper—something more potent than the most powerful wind or storm or fire. This is when we need to listen for the “still, small voice” within us. It is the quiet, inner call to come out of the cave—to come out of our ignorance—and into the light of spiritual truth.

It is “still” and “small” because it does not force or compel. It is just a gentle whisper; and yet, it is infinitely more powerful than any force in the world. It is the power of truth from love.

Indeed, it is the truth from love that leads us out of our caves and into even greater light. Standing in the light of new truth, we begin to see that although the winds of misfortune may smash our business enterprises, God is not in the wind. We begin see that although earthquakes may shatter our homes and ravage our communities, God is not in the earthquake. We begin to see that although there are times when fires may rage, devouring fields and forests, God is not in the fire.

This is because God’s kingdom is not of this world. God’s kingdom is within each of us, in a still small voice that continually whispers, “Come out of the cave, and see the truth! I am not in the wind, or earthquake or fire. I am in you, leading you, guiding you strengthening you, whenever you freely choose to hear My voice and turn to Me.

God cares

The story about the murdered Galileans teaches us that God is not a God of punishment, nor is He the cause of human misfortune. Life will have its storms, and its tragedies, but God is not in the storms or the tragedies. When Elijah came out of his cave, he clearly saw that God was not in the wind, not in the earthquake, and not in the fire.

How are we to understand this? Does it mean that God is not concerned with the outer events of our daily lives? Does it mean that God is not involved when misfortune comes our way? It cannot be so. Emanuel Swedenborg writes, “The least things of all, down to the least of the leasts, are directed by the Lord’s providence, even as to our very steps” (Secrets of Heaven6493).

Somehow, then, God is deeply involved in every moment of our lives. But there is an important difference between seeing God as involved in our lives and seeing Him as the cause of our misfortunes.

In other words, God permits evils but does not cause them.

OK. But why does He permit them? Again, we turn to the teachings given through Emanuel Swedenborg: “Nothing whatever, not even the least thing may arise except that good may come of it” (Secrets of Heaven 6574). Misfortune, calamity, and disaster are permitted only if God foresees that some good may come out of them.

In itself, there was nothing good about Pilate’s murder of the innocent Galileans. But Jesus was still able to bring good out of this incident. He used it to teach a new way to think about the relationship between external events and God. And He used it to remind His listeners that they would be miserable unless they changed their way of thinking: “Unless you repent,” He said, “You will all likewise perish.”

Jesus then makes a similar point about how to understand misfortune. This time it’s not about a cruel murder, but rather about a natural accident: “Or those eighteen upon whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them, do you think they were worse sinners than all other men” (Luke 13:4). Again, Jesus tells them “No.” This accident did not occur because these men were sinners. It was not a divine punishment for human sin. Jesus then uses it to illustrate His main point, which He reiterates: “Unless you repent, you will all likewise perish” (Luke 13:5).

In itself, there is nothing good about the massacre of innocent children in Newtown, the cold- blooded murder of college students in Blacksburg, a tsunami in Japan, or an earthquake in Haiti. But God can use any earthly event, no matter how tragic, to strengthen our faith and deepen our love. This is how He can bring good out of evil. But a good and useful result never turns evil into good, or wrong into right. And it never means that God caused it in order to bring about a greater good. Allowed it, yes; caused it, no.

The Kingdom of God

This world is filled with ups and downs, successes and failures, victories and defeats. There are storms, earthquakes and fires that destroy thousands of lives. These things happen—but God does not will or cause them. To look for evidence of God’s will in the outer events of our lives, whether it be the murder of the Galileans, the fall of a tower in Siloam, an earthquake in Haiti, or a bad call at a college hockey game, is to miss the whole point of Jesus’s teaching. As He said Himself, “My kingdom is not of this world” (John 18:36).

It all comes down to this: the kingdom of God is not of this world. It is within us, above and beyond the vicissitudes of time and space. Evil is permitted, it is true, but only so that good may come from it. It is never a divine punishment. Although God allows evil, He is constantly endeavoring to lead us away from evil into goodness, away from ignorance into light. Wonderfully, secretly, God is doing this continually in each of our lives—just as He led Elijah out of the cave so many years ago.


Rev. Dr. Ray Silverman serves as a professor at Bryn Athyn College and has authored many books including Rise Above It and The Core of Johnny Appleseed.

This article is an excerpt from Audio DVD’s “Introduction to the New Church” (updated and revised by Rev. Dr. Ray Silverman)

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DAILY INSPIRATION

“In the spiritual world, someone’s “name” does not mean her or his name alone but also her or his full nature.”

True Christian Religion 300:1

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Celestial

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Photo by Gretchen Keith

In some ways, the Lord is simplicity itself. Taken in His essence, He is love. His attitude toward us is also simplicity itself: He loves us. And He expresses that love in an unending stream that works completely and constantly to get us to freely accept and return His love. When you start looking at how that process works, it can start to seem complicated. But in essence, it could hardly be more simple.

It makes sense, then, that the best state we can achieve as humans is to receive the Lord’s love and love Him back. That’s the state Swedenborg means by “celestial”: It is the highest, best, most pure, most innocent and most joyful state human beings can experience, one powered by love of the Lord. It is also the state of the highest, inmost heaven, and is in some degree present in everyone as the recipient of the Lord’s love.

Not all of us receive and manifest the Lord’s love in the same way, though (in fact, none of us do), so the pure simplicity of the celestial state gets complicated as people open themselves up only partway to the Lord and redirect His love toward lesser things. Swedenborg’s works tell us that this results in three distinct “levels” of existence, based on what people love. The celestial is the highest of these levels, based on love of the Lord; the “spiritual” is based on love of other people, and the “natural” is based on the delight we feel in being good. The spiritual is more external and less pure then the celestial, and the natural is more external and less pure than the spiritual.

Each of those levels is further divided, however, between those who are led directly by the level’s defining love and those who are led by the ideas that spring from that love. Some celestial angels, then, are led by the love of the Lord itself, while others are led by the exquisite concepts that express love to the Lord. Unfortunately, Swedenborg also uses the words “celestial” and “spiritual” to identify that division, with “celestial” representing the love of each level and “spiritual” representing the truth and wisdom of each level. So the celestial level – centered on love of the Lord – has a celestial aspect and a spiritual aspect. The spiritual level – centered on love of other people – also has a celestial aspect and a spiritual aspect. And the natural level – centered on the delight of being good – has a celestial aspect and a spiritual aspect.

That might sound awfuly complicated – maybe even unnecessarily complicated – but it makes sense if you think about it. We all know people who are simply motivated by the desire to be good and to do things the “right” way. That’s an example of the natural level of existence, focused largely on external things, but aligned with the Lord’s wishes. Within that group, there are those who do what’s right pretty much by instinct, following their good affections; they would be the celestial natural. There are also those who like to know the rules and think about the instructions, so they can know intellectually that they are doing things right; they would be the spiritual natural. There are similar distinctions on the spiritual level and the celestial level.

One other thing is worth noting: Swedenborg’s works say that very few in the modern world are capable of reaching the celestial level, due to the amount of knowledge we have, the external nature of our lives and the need we have to use our minds to advance spiritually. The celestial heavens are largely populated by people from ancient times, who were able to live in closer, more direct communion with the Lord. As we understand the Lord’s wishes on a deeper and deeper level, though, we can open up greater possibilities for ourselves and for future generations.

(References: Arcana Coelestia 162, 1470, 1824, 3887, 9868; Arcana Coelestia 4286 [2]; Arcana Coelestia 9915 [2]; Arcana Coelestia 9993 [1-2]; Heaven and Hell 23, 31)

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Make everyone in your household an enemy!

Why would a God of love instruct us to hate our closest relatives? Isn’t this a contradiction to the spirit of “loving the neighbor”—one of the two prime commandments upon which all the laws of the prophets hang?

The reason for the apparent contradiction comes from the fact that the true wisdom of this “odd” biblical passage lies much deeper than the literal meaning of its message. The path to becoming more spiritual includes the challenge of reading Scripture not just with one’s worldly eyes, but interpreting its passages with the eyes of one’s inner spirit.

When we switch from one set of “eyes” to another, an amazing transformation can take place in our understanding of the Lord God’s revealed wisdom. As an experiment, let’s see how this applies to the biblical passage of “making everyone in your household an enemy.” How can we see this biblical phrase through the eyes of our spirit?

The trick is to take any worldly term or physical object and find its psycho-spiritual equivalence (correspondence). God has created the physical world in such a way that all things in it represent some spiritual idea.

For instance, we entertain certain thoughts and feelings in the same way we invite special friends and guests into our home. Even more intimate to us are the ideas that make us feel the most at home. One’s belief system or worldview, and all its related values, constitutes one’s spiritual household. Our ideas and personal beliefs are the habitation of our soul.

This inner abode is where each of us really lives. We are what we think and love. And that is exactly where God takes aim when He wants to bring about spiritual change in out lives.

When the Lord came into the world, His ministry involved changing people’s value systems. He challenged us to make the many selfish and worldly ideas that we entertain in our hearts and minds, our real enemy. This requires us to make an inner inventory and a follow-up housecleaning. So we must kick these bad influences out of our house (spiritual abode).

Scientists and non-believers have often ridiculed religion because having a strong faith meant putting all the power of belief in ignorance alone. But true faith leads one out of ignorance. The Lord’s Holy Word is designed to lead us out of ignorance because its lessons are inexhaustible and contain layers of meaning.

I hope my example of “making one’s household an enemy” shows how the Holy Word can be easily misinterpreted by a culture which no longer is sensitized to these higher meanings and teachings.

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