Two Essentials of All Things of Man’s Life

Lastchurch - The Eternal Purpose

Selection from Divine Love and Wisdom ~ Emanuel Swedenborg
The Divine Essence Itself Is Love And Wisdom
Sum up all things you know and submit them to careful inspection, and in some elevation of spirit search for the universal of all things, and you cannot conclude otherwise than that it is Love and Wisdom. For these are the two essentials of all things of man’s life; everything of that life, civil, moral, and spiritual, hinges upon these two, and apart from these two is nothing. It is the same with all things of the life of the composite Man, which is … a society, larger or smaller, a kingdom, an empire, a church, and also the angelic heaven. Take away love and wisdom from these, and consider whether they be anything, and you will find that apart from love and wisdom as their origin they are nothing.
Love together with wisdom in its very essence is in God. This no one can deny; for God loves every one from love in Himself, and leads every one from wisdom in Himself. The created universe, too, viewed in relation to its order, is so full of wisdom coming forth from love that all things in the aggregate may be said to be wisdom itself. For things limitless are in such order, successively and simultaneously, that taken together they make a one. It is from this, and this alone, that they can be held together and continually preserved.

It is because the Divine Essence itself is Love and Wisdom that man has two capacities for life – from one of these he has understanding, from the other will. The capacity from which he has understanding derives everything it has from the influx of wisdom from God, and the capacity from which he has will derives everything it has from the influx of love from God. Man’s not being truly wise and not loving rightly does not take away these capacities, but merely closes them up; and so long as they are closed up, although the understanding is still called understanding and the will is called will, they are not such in essence. If these two capacities, therefore, were to be taken away, all that is human would perish; for the human is to think and to speak from thought, and to will and to act from will.

From this it is clear that the Divine has its seat in man in these two capacities, the capacity to be wise and the capacity to love (that is, that one may be wise and may love). That in man there is a possibility of loving [and of being wise], even when he is not wise as he might be and does not love as he might….

(Divine Love and Wisdom 28-30)
May 13, 2017

Is Hell Eternal?

Most people who belong to traditional faith-systems assume that damnation in Hell is eternal and don’t give it a second thought.

But based on the visionary insights and theological writings of Emanuel Swedenborg, a spiritual seeker is given much to think about. Swedenborg’s systematic theology offers the most detailed look at life in Heaven and Hell. One of his most unique ideas is that heaven is not closed off to anyone, yet many individuals choose hell and choose to stay!

To understand this novel concept one must grasp that neither Heaven nor Hell is a place you go to. They are not physical destinations. Rather, each is the spiritual reality one creates or cultivates from his or her life-choices while on earth. The spiritual world, which is beyond space, time and physical coordinates, reflects the quality of one’s spirit.

A person gravitating to either heaven or hell simply follows the path of their own life principles. The human spirit simply follows its heart. That is why the ultimate purpose of religion is to direct the heart to make the best choices—which often requires us to transcend our selfish motives and self-interests.

A person who puts themselves above others and has inner contempt for others cannot stand being around those who have embraced mutual love. Such individuals actually find heaven a suffocating experience and flee from angelic beings of their own FREE WILL!

But the big question is if, after the death of the physical body, one takes the wrong spiritual path—from a life of putting themselves always above others—is there a way out of hell? Even those who study Swedenborg intently argue whether Hell is a forever thing. Those who contend that a God of Infinite love would not allow for hell to be an eternal situation cannot bear the thought of such a thing. Yet, nowhere in his writings does Swedenborg concur. For instance, Swedenborg says this about those who falsely believe that God can do anything when it comes to salvation:

For he supposes that if the Lord wills, He can save everyone, and this by means innumerable – as by miracles, by the dead rising again, by immediate revelations, by the angels withholding men from evil and impelling them to good by an open strong force, and by means of many states, on being led into which a man performs repentance, and by other means. But he does not know that all these means are compulsory, and that no man can possibly be reformed thereby. (Arcana Coelestia, Vol 5, n. 4032).

But can’t an individual come to his or her senses after enduring hell for eons? Again, in hell, a person simply is faced with one’s own evil.  However, the full answer to this question comes from Swedenborg’s scientific background. He observed that a person’s Ruling Love formed the bio-structure of person’s spiritual body. A person therefore becomes who he or she really inwardly is—this is very fabric of one’s being. If God could change this He would in effect destroy that person’s individuality and life.

I have just touched on a few areas of this important issue. I invite you to add to this discussion by sharing your own views.

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Changing lives: God is with us, taking care of us

“Ours is a journey for heaven, not for this earth. And mine has taught me that God is with us, taking care of us, and will sustain us even through the darkest times—and this he does through love.”

by Lisa Childs, transcribed and edited by Chelsea Odhner

“Ours is a journey for heaven, not for this earth. And mine has taught me that God is with us, taking care of us, and will sustain us even through the darkest times—and this he does through love.”

InJuly of 2009 we found out that my husband Garry had stage-four lung cancer. It had metastasized to his hip, there were twenty spots in his lungs, and it was also in his lymph system—a very grim picture.

Around the same time that we started chemotherapy for Garry, health problems for my eight-year-old twin children came to the surface. My daughter was diagnosed with asthma and my son was diagnosed as failing to thrive. My world was being totally flipped upside down.

I was determined to find some way to deal with the cancer, to fight it. That summer I happened to go to a lecture about a natural health center called the Well of Life Center. I was blown away by what I learned. It confirmed everything I had thought to be true about health, that God designed our bodies to be self-regulating and self-healing. God brought us to the Well of Life and gave me something to hold on to. It was a ray of hope for me.

We started our journey working against all odds. Lung cancer has a no cure prognosis. All four of us started going to the Well of Life and we changed our diets in many ways. I set up nutritional supplements for four people every day, different ones for each person, morning, noon, dinner, and night, but every time I did I said, “Thank you, God!” I felt like God was there in a tangible way, helping me by giving me something useful to do in my day to day life. He gave me a clear path. It was a lot of work, it was not easy, but I had direction, I believed in it, and I did it from love. That’s how I survived.

It worked! We had two years of incredible progress. My daughter’s asthma was healed and my son has gained fifteen pounds in three years. Even with Garry—for an entire year, even till he died, his lungs were clear, his hip was clear, and his lymph system was clear, and he had a good quality of life. We got so close to healing him and he did not suffer the death of someone with cancer in their lungs.

But they never scanned his brain. Lung cancer commonly spreads to the brain, but we did not know.

Near the end of the second year, Garry’s thirty-year-old daughter, Eva, was killed in a head-on car crash. Six days later, he started having a headache. Garry was always prone to headaches and he was grieving so we thought it was grief.

He went on with his headache for awhile. He didn’t tell me how bad it was. He got more and more tired and we kept thinking it was grief. Finally I said, “You need a break.” I told him, “You’re getting a scan in ten days. Your doctor talked about giving you a break from the chemotherapy. Why don’t we start the break now when we are on vacation?” He agreed and went off the chemo. We went to Virginia for a vacation and he started having problems. He looked to me to have Lyme symptoms and I gave him supplements to help with that.

Down in Virginia, we ended up having to take him to the ER on day six of our vacation. They did a CAT scan and found what looked to be brain cancer. They helicoptered him to another hospital for further diagnosis. There I was, watching my husband be flown away and I had to take the kids back to where we were staying, prepare for an overnight, and drive across the Skyline Drive to the hospital, not knowing what to expect when we got there. We got to the hospital and Garry was sitting in the ER waiting to be seen. They did an MRI but wouldn’t have the results soon. It was late and I had to get the kids to bed, so we sadly had to leave Garry a second time late at night. We drove to the condo (an hour and a half away). On that drive, I looked for God anywhere I could find him. We were crossing the Skyline Drive and there was the full moon. I felt like God was pouring his light on us in this dark moment.

The next morning we packed up the condo for leaving and went back to the hospital. It all seemed surreal. They gave us the results of the MRI and said, “You can take him home. We think he’ll be okay for the car ride, but if you have a problem go immediately to an ER.” By the time they could release him it was late for the five-hour drive home. So there I am, crossing the Skyline Drive again in the middle of a July night and there’s that full moon. Garry was lying in the back of the van sleeping and the kids eventually fell asleep as well. It was just me and the moon, and I felt like God came in and touched me. I looked at that moon the whole way back. It kept me going and it kept me focused. With two little kids and my husband in so much pain, I felt like I was all I had. The one place I could turn was to God. He brought me home that night. He also sent us two angels: our close friends and neighbors Lisa and Chris Knight were waiting for us to help us unpack in the middle of the night.

After we got back, the doctors said to him, “There’s nothing we can do for you, so we want to give you palliative treatment and do whole brain radiation.” The doctors would not listen to my concerns about Lyme disease and no biopsy was done that summer. At that point, I went to a really bad place for two days, a place of absolute despair, a place with no hope. After those two days, I said, “I can’t live my life in this state. I have to have hope.” I chose to live in hope and walked away from that dark state.

The radiation didn’t help but rather started damaging his brain. We were not allowed to go to Well of Life during radiation. Garry suffered tremendously. Then the third and last time we admitted Garry into the hospital they said, “He’s got more spots that are wrapped around his spinal cord. We can do whole back radiation, but we don’t think it’s worth it.” They said he only had a few weeks left. He actually only had about six days.

I realize now that I was dealing with circumstances I couldn’t change. His brain was deteriorating. But instead of giving up I kept trying to help in any way I could, even if that meant simply staying by his side, caring for him and loving him. God’s love also reached us through the many caring people that surrounded us.

Despite how hard it was, the love that we experienced together during that time was powerful. We were in a heavenly sphere even as we were going through all this hell. Just as God gave me the gift of the moon, he gave me this sphere during those last few weeks. I look back and I feel like God was there. During that time, I’d say, “I love you Garry,” and I’d go to kiss him and he’d kiss me back, even though he couldn’t say anything. He knew I was there with him. Our love transcended the moment, as it does to this day.

That last night, a family member was taking a turn staying by Garry’s side. I had a sense about it and said, “I need to sleep here tonight.” (A brother of Garry’s, Robin, had spelled for me one night so I could get some sleep.) The kids said, “If you’re going to be down here, we’re going to be down here!” So we went up and dragged another twin bed downstairs, and the three of us slept down with Garry. He was in his hospital bed. We said the Lord’s prayer and then the kids said, “I love you daddy,” and the one standing next to him said that at that moment he smiled. He could hear that. He didn’t respond to anything by that point, but he heard them and smiled. He died the next day.

It is a gift to have the belief that death is about the person transitioning to the next world. We knew he was being released from his body. He wasn’t just dying, he was going to the other world and we had this precious time to love him before he left.

I learned in the recent Journey program that you need to store up good things to help you with the bad, and I finally understand how those good things help sustain you so that you can handle all the hardship. The spiritual level, that heavenly sphere, was sustaining me through all the other struggles and challenges. Mentally I was frazzled, emotionally I was devastated, physically I was deteriorating, but spiritually I was thriving.

I realize now how this life is all about the other world. For a while Garry had resisted our dietary changes. Later, after attending a men’s gathering in Bryn Athyn, PA, a light switched on for him and he said, “I didn’t get it before. I’m totally committed now.” He made more changes in his lifestyle, and I thought to myself, “We have had more than six months of clean scans”—at that point—“He’s gotten so much healthier. He’s going to survive this!” And then all of sudden, he’s dead. I realize now that I thought his changing was to help his physical body live. Instead, it was a spiritual transformation he needed to go through on this earth, in preparation for his work in the other world. Only when you look at things from a spiritual perspective do they really make sense.

Ours is a journey for heaven, not for this earth. And mine has taught me that God is with us, taking care of us, and will sustain us even through the darkest times—and this he does through love.

Garry and Lisa are both 1972 Academy of the New Church graduates. Garry died Sept. 25, 2011, also father of: Norah (36), Amanda (30), and Adam (28). Lisa lives in Bryn Athyn with her twins, Ryan and Abigail who are currently in fifth grade. Lisa does part-time publication and marketing work for New Church organizations as she navigates the roles of being a single parent and leading her family through grief.

Full issue

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DAILY INSPIRATION

“We are, because God is.”

Divine Providence 46

Discovering the True Significance of Mary Magdalene: An Easter Surprise

Swedenborg Foundation

 

By Soni Soneson Werner, Associate Professor Emerita of Psychology at Bryn Athyn College

 

“Mary Reaching for His Garment” by Soni Soneson Werner

With Easter Sunday soon upon us, my thoughts turn to the role and nature of Mary Magdalene in the gospel Easter story. In modern times, she has emerged as one of the most intriguing figures in the New Testament. When my interest in Mary Magdalene piqued years ago, I began collecting and critically analyzing evidence about whom she really was. I have gone to France, England, and Israel in search of stories about her and have found illustrations in stained glass, architecture, statues, paintings, and mosaics.[1] I have reviewed literature from both ancient and modern theological scholars and have studied contemporary Broadway plays, novels, and movies that engage Mary Magdalene in some way. I visited two chapels where their followers were worshipping her relics. At this point in my quest, I have come to the conclusion that she has been misrepresented by the conventional Christian traditions, by French politicians, and by artists. People have rewritten her story to fulfill their own needs and desires.

For my reading of Mary Magdalene, I look to Emanuel Swedenborg, who provides clues about her significance that are more profound than what is said about her by any of the other legends. First, let’s review what is not in Swedenborg’s works about Mary Magdalene. There is nothing about her:

  1. sex life as an adulterer or prostitute;
  2. using the ointment from the alabaster jar;
  3. being married to Jesus or being pregnant;
  4. traveling to France to spread the good news;
  5. being a saint;
  6. representing a divine feminine spirit;
  7. holding a red egg when preaching;
  8. being represented by a rose or “V”;
  9. relics being involved in spiritual practices; and
  10. in relationship to the Holy Grail.[2]

Swedenborg’s works focus on the events of Easter morning and furnish an internal sense of the importance of Mary Magdalene’s role. In the four canonical Gospels, we find stories in the plain sense of the text that describe aspects of her Easter role:

  1. Coming to find Jesus in the burial tomb/sepulcher;
  2. Seeing brightly clothed angels at the tomb;
  3. Talking to the angels and Jesus (who had not yet ascended);
  4. Witnessing the earthquake.
  5. Going to tell others the good news.

Swedenborg provides an interpretation of these remarkable events that I have not found anywhere else in either scholarly or popular literature about Mary Magdalene. Throughout his works, Swedenborg’s approach is to describe the internal sense of the biblical stories. For instance, that Mary came to the tomb (sepulcher) and “met brightly clothed angels” corresponds to her spiritual sight being opened by God. At that moment, she was ready to receive and perceive the deeper truths being shown to her:

That . . . angels appeared clothed in garments is evident from [those] who sat at the Lord’s sepulcher, and were seen in shining white garments by Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of James . . . and especially is the same thing evident from the Lord himself when seen in his glory by Peter, James, and John, in that his [clothing] was then white and glistering, and was like the light . . . by which [clothing] there was also represented the Divine spiritual, that is, the Divine truth which is from him. (Arcana Coelestia §9814:2)[3]

The earthquake Mary beheld refers to an enormous change that was about to happen in the state of the church and to the fact that Christianity was being born with the new awareness of the afterlife as demonstrated by Jesus’s ascension:

Concerning the earthquake which took place when the angel descended and rolled away the stone from the mouth of the sepulcher, it is thus stated:When “Mary Magdalene came and the other Mary to see the sepulcher; and, behold, there was a great earthquake; for the angel of the Lord descended from heaven, and came and rolled away the stone from the mouth, and sat upon it” (Matt. xxviii. 1, 2). Those earthquakes took place to indicate that the state of the church was then being changed; for the Lord, by His last temptation, which He sustained in Gethsemane and upon the cross, conquered the hells, and reduced to order all things there and in the heavens, and also glorified His Human, that is, made it Divine. (Apocalypse Explained §400:14)

That Mary met Jesus as he was ascending and was instructed not to touch him signifies that she was brought into the spiritual understanding that Jesus’s human aspect was being united with his divine aspect and was becoming the Divine Human:

In heaven, by [the Lord’s] death and burial, are not meant death and burial, but the purification of His Human, and glorification. That this is the case, the Lord taught by the comparison with wheat falling into the earth, which must die, in order that it may bear fruit. The same is also involved in what the Lord said to Mary Magdalene:“Touch me not, for I am not yet ascended to my Father” (John xx. 17).By ascending to His Father, is meant the [union] of His Human with His Divine, the human from the mother being completely rejected. (Apocalypse Explained §899:14)

The unity of the triune God lies in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ. There is only one God, and Mary felt confident in this truth and that he was the promised Messiah.
Then Mary was urged to tell what she had seen to the Lord’s brethren, signifying that she must go back to all of his followers and tell them what happened so that she might encourage goodness in everyone she met:

Jesus said to Mary, “Go to my brethren, and say to them, I ascend to my Father” ([John] xx. 17). Similarly here the disciples are called brethren, because the disciples, equally as brethren, signify all those of His church who are in the good of charity. (Apocalypse Explained §746:8)

What an astounding significance for the role, nature, and purpose of Mary Magdalene in the biblical narrative![4] In my search to better understand Mary Magdalene, I have sorted through many of the resources and in turn have come to appreciate the following:

  1. the Eastern Orthodox Church, which never followed along with other traditions that conflated the name of Mary Magdalene with unnamed sinful women;
  2. the artists of the Medieval and Renaissance eras who created remarkable images of the Easter story;
  3. scholars, such as Karen King (see Suggested Readings, below), who have analyzed the non-canonical Gospels that mention Mary Magdalene;
  4. the Russian Romanov family, who built my favorite Magdalene shrine in Jerusalem;
  5. Swedenborg, who provided readers with a powerful and penetrating spiritual interpretation of the Easter story; and
  6. Mary Magdalene, herself, who bravely followed Jesus and spoke up even when it was against the custom of the times for women to have a voice regarding spiritual matters.

If we sort through the legends, conflations of characters, politics of religion, and fanciful tales, we are left with the simple essence of Mary’s role in the Easter story. Then, if we consider the internal sense of those powerful, biblical accounts of her experiences (based on the writings of Swedenborg), we are given a great gift: the chance to vicariously sense the Lord Jesus Christ ascending to heaven and urging us to share the Easter story. Both men and women have been writing and speaking about this story for centuries; but I am particularly appreciative of Mary Magdalene, who found her voice and blazed the trail for female scholars like myself.

[1] For a more in-depth summary of this pilgrimage, see my book entitled Searching for Mary Magdalene: Her Story of Awareness, Acceptance, and Action.

[2] Soni Werner, Searching for Mary Magdalene: Her Story of Awareness, Acceptance, and Action (Rochester, MI: Fountain Publishing, 2011), 81.
[3] Secrets of Heaven is the New Century Edition translation of Swedenborg’s Arcana Coelestia.
[4] Werner, 180. See also Emanuel Swedenborg, Arcana Coelestia §§720, 5063, 6472, 9263; Apocalypse Explained §§198, 586; Conjugial Love §100; Heaven and Hell §257; True Christianity §§443, 508.

Suggested Readings

Currie, Susannah. “Mary Magdalene, companion of the Lord.” Unpublished manuscript (see http://www.bridgewaternewchurch.org).

Ehrman, Bart D. Truth and Fiction in The Da Vinci Code: A Historian Reveals What We Really Know about Jesus, Mary Magdalene, and Constantine. NY: Oxford University Press, 2004.

Haskins, Susan. Mary Magdalen: Myth and Metaphor. NY: Riverhead Books, 1995.

The Holy Bible: Matthew 28:1–10; Mark 15:1–11; Luke 24: 1–11; John 20:1–18. 

King, Karen L. The Gospel of Mary of Magdala: Jesus and the First Woman Apostle. Santa Rosa, CA: Polebridge Press, 2003.

Swedenborg, Emanuel. Apocalypse ExplainedWest Chester, PA: Swedenborg Foundation, 1997.

_____. Arcana CoelestiaWest Chester, PA: Swedenborg Foundation, 1997.

_____. Charity: The Practice of Neighborliness. West Chester, PA: Swedenborg Foundation, 1995.

_____. Conjugial LoveWest Chester, PA: Swedenborg Foundation, 1998.

_____. Heaven and HellWest Chester, PA: Swedenborg Foundation, 2010.

_____. True ChristianityWest Chester, PA: Swedenborg Foundation, 2010.

Werner, Soni. Searching for Mary Magdalene: Her Story of Awareness, Acceptance, and Action. Rochester, MI: Fountain Publishing. 2011.

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Equilibrium

THE SCIENCE OF CORRESPONDENCE

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EQUILIBRIUM >> Good and Evil >> Truth and Falsity >> Heat and Cold >> Light and Darkness

equilibriump_500_333 THE EQUILIBRIUM BETWEEN HEAVEN AND HELL.

For any thing to have existence there must be an equilibrium of all things. Without equilibrium is no action and reaction; for equilibrium is between two forces, one acting and  the other reacting, and the state of rest resulting from like action and reaction is called equilibrium. In the natural world there is an equilibrium in all things and in each thing. It exists in a general way even in the atmosphere, wherein the lower parts react and resist in proportion as the higher parts act and press down. Again, in the natural world there is an equilibrium between heat and cold, between light and shade, and between dryness and moisture, the middle condition being the equilibrium. There is also an equilibrium in all the subjects of the three kingdoms of nature, the mineral, the vegetable, and the animal; for without equilibrium in them nothing can come forth and have permanent existence. Everywhere there is a sort of effort acting on the one side and reacting on the other.

[2] All existence or all effect is produced in equilibrium, that is, by one force acting and another suffering itself to be acted upon, or when one force by acting flows in, the other receives and harmoniously submits. In the natural world that which acts and reacts is called force, and also endeavor [or effort]; but in the spiritual world that which acts and reacts is called life and will. Life in that world is living force, and will is living effort; and the equilibrium itself is called freedom. Thus spiritual equilibrium or freedom has its outcome and permanence in the balance between good acting on the one side and evil reacting on the other side; or between evil acting on the one side and good reacting on the other side. [3] With the good the equilibrium is between good acting and evil reacting; but with the evil the equilibrium is between evil acting and good reacting.  Spiritual equilibrium is between good and evil, because the whole life of man has reference to good and to evil, and the will is the receptacle. There is also an equilibrium between truth and falsity, but this depends on the equilibrium between good and evil. The equilibrium between truth and falsity is like that between light and shade, in that light and shade affect the objects of the vegetable kingdom only so far as heat and cold are in them. That light and shade themselves have no effect, but only the heat that acts through them, is evident from the fact that light and shade are the same in winter time and in spring time. This comparison of truth and falsity with light and shade is from correspondence, for truth corresponds to light, falsity to shade, and heat to the good of love; in fact, spiritual light is truth, spiritual shade is falsity, and spiritual heat is good of love (see the chapter where light and heat in heaven are treated of, n. 126-140). [HH589]

There is a perpetual equilibrium between heaven and hell. From hell there continually breathes forth and ascends an endeavor to do evil, and from heaven there continually breathes forth and descends an endeavor to do good. In this equilibrium is the world of spirits; which world is intermediate between heaven and hell (see above, n. 421-431). The world of spirits is in this equilibrium because every man after death enters first the world of spirits, and is kept there in a state like that which he was in while in the world, and this would be impossible if there were not a perfect equilibrium there; for by means of this the character of everyone is explored, since they then remain in the same freedom as they had in the world.  Spiritual equilibrium is freedom in man and spirit (as has been said just above, n. 589). What each one’s freedom is the angels recognize by a communication of affections and thoughts therefrom; and it becomes visible to the sight of angelic spirits by the ways in which the spirits go. Good spirits there travel in the ways that go towards heaven, but evil spirits in the ways that go towards hell. Ways actually appear in that world; and that is the reason why ways in the Word signify the truths that lead to good, or in the opposite sense the falsities that lead to evil; and for the same reason going, walking, and journeying in the Word signify progressions of life.{1} Such ways I have often been permitted to see, also spirits going and walking in them freely, in accord with their affections and thoughts. [HH590]

0017 Evil continually breathes forth and ascends out of hell, and good continually breathes forth and descends out of heaven, because everyone is encompassed by a spiritual sphere; and that sphere flows forth and pours out from the life of the affections and the thoughts therefrom.{1} And as such a sphere flows forth from every individual, it flows forth also from every heavenly society and from every infernal society, consequently from all together, that is, from the entire heaven and from the entire hell. Good flows forth from heaven because all there are in good; and evil flows forth from hell because all there are in evil. The good that is from heaven is all from the Lord; for the angels in the heavens are all withheld from what is their own, and are kept in what is the Lord’s own, which is good itself. But the spirits in the hells are all in what is their own, and everyone’s own is nothing but evil; and because it is nothing but evil it is hell.{2} Evidently, then, the equilibrium in which angels are kept in the heavens and spirits in the hells is not like the equilibrium in the world of spirits. The equilibrium of angels in the heavens exists in the degree in which they have been willing to be in good, or in the degree in which they have lived in good in the world, and thus also in the degree in which they have held evil in aversion; but the equilibrium of spirits in hell exists in the degree in which they have been willing to be in evil, or have lived in evil in the world, and thus in heart and spirit have been opposed to good. [HH591]

Unless the Lord ruled both the heavens and the hells there would be no equilibrium; and if there were no equilibrium there would be no heaven or hell; for all things and each thing in the universe, that is, both in the natural world and in the spiritual world, endure by means of equilibrium. Every rational man can see that this is true.  If there were a preponderance on one part and no resistance on the other would not both perish? So would it be in the spiritual world if good did not react against evil and continually restrain its uprising; and unless this were done by the Divine Itself both heaven and hell would perish, and with them the whole human race. It is said unless the Divine Itself did this, because the self of everyone, whether angel, spirit, or man, is nothing but evil (see above, n. 591); consequently neither angels nor spirits are able in the least to resist the evils continually exhaling from the hells, since from self they all tend towards hell. It is evident, then, that unless the Lord alone ruled both the heavens and the hells no one could ever be saved. Moreover, all the hells act as one; for evils in the hells are connected as goods are in the heavens; and the Divine alone, which goes forth solely from the Lord, is able to resist all the hells, which are innumerable, and which act together against heaven and against all who are in heaven. [HH592]

The equilibrium between the heavens and the hells is diminished or increased in accordance with the number of those who enter heaven and who enter hell; and this amounts to several thousands daily. The Lord alone, and no angel, can know and perceive this, and regulate and equalize it with precision; for the Divine that goes forth from the Lord is omnipresent, and sees everywhere whether there is any wavering, while an angel sees only what is near himself, and has no perception in himself of what is taking place even in his own society. [HH593]

How all things are so arranged in the heavens and in the hells that each and all of those who are there may be in their equilibrium, can in some measure be seen from what has been said and shown above respecting the heavens and the hells, namely, that all the societies of heaven are distinctly arranged in accordance with goods and their kinds and varieties, and all the societies of hell in accordance with evils, and their kinds and varieties; and that beneath each society of heaven there is a society of hell corresponding to it from opposition, and from this opposing correspondence equilibrium results; and in consequence of this the Lord unceasingly provides that no infernal society beneath a heavenly society shall gain any preponderance, and as soon as it begins to do so it is restrained by various means, and is reduced to an exact measure of equilibrium.  These means are many, only a few of which I will mention. Some of these means have reference to the stronger presence of the Lord; some to the closer communication and conjunction of one or more societies with others; some to the casting out of superabundant infernal spirits into deserts; some to the transference of certain spirits from one hell to another; some to the reducing of those in the hells to order, and this also is effected in various ways; some to the screening of certain hells under denser and thicker coverings, also letting them down to greater depths; besides other means; and still others that are employed in the heavens above the hells. All this has been said that it may in some measure be perceived that the Lord alone provides that there shall be an equilibrium everywhere between good and evil, thus between heaven and hell; for on such equilibrium the safety of all in the heavens and of all on the earth rests.[HH594]

Author: EMANUEL. SWEDENBORG (1688-1772)

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2 Spirits and Men

Swedenborg Study.comOnline works based on the Writings of Emanuel Swedenborg

2 Spirits and Men

“What is man that Thou art mindful of him?” Psalm 8:4

Faith and Superstition

The ages preceding the dawn of the New Church were steeped in superstition. Every graveyard was peopled with spectres. The Devil made his appointments with witches and wizards, and ministers of the church solemnly cooperated with panicky magistrates to prevent unlawful intercourse with spirits. Diseases were often treated by exorcism—by driving the obsessing demons away.

Today most of us sneer at superstitions. And when we of the New Church nevertheless proclaim our faith in the proximity and influence of the spirit-world, there are those who sneer at us.

But true faith is a very different thing from superstition. Superstition wishes to assign to the supernatural all unknown causes of natural happenings and evades reasonable explanations. It lacks authority. It creates fear rather than understanding. It advances elusive claims to special sanctity or unusual enlightenment which some will capitalize for their own gain or repute. It leads not towards freedom and charity and social progress, but to a slavery to forms and castes, and often engenders distrust and persecution.

Superstition does not draw its origin from Divine revelation, but is conceived from human anxieties and undue ambitions while it is mothered by ignorance. It is not satisfied with the revealed knowledge and shows a lack of faith in the Lord’s omnipotent laws.

But over against Superstition stands Skepticism, which proudly spurns admitting the existence of any invisible factors in life except the purely physical. Not unlike a company of physicians of whom Swedenborg speaks in one of his memorable relations, and who claimed to have cured the pains of conscience by mustard-plasters and cupping-glasses, many skeptics now explain all unusual mental states as mere symptoms of digestive disorders, wrong diet, or glandular deficiencies, and deny any other cause for crime than physical appetites and social maladjustments.2

A rational faith in the interdependence of the inhabitants of the spiritual world and those of the natural, and in the normal but unconscious communion of spirits and men, stands free from both superstition and skepticism. Such a rational faith is derived solely from Divine revelation. Yet it is also founded on the primary testimony of man’s own consciousness —that he is essentially a spiritual being, a free thinking mind, although he is clothed by a body of carefully selected material substances which in many ways limit the expression of his mental powers. Nor can any authentic experience upset our faith in the continual operation of the spiritual world—the proper world of human minds and living forces—into the world of nature. Without any hesitation we can postulate, and challenge any one to disprove, that life does not inhere in matter but inflows from an inner source. Indeed it is beyond the scope of science ever to deny that—ultimately—matter is derived from life.

The mode by which the Lord created the universe is a subject far afield from our present discussion. Still it must be premised that the spiritual can act upon the natural, that the mind can be present in the body, and that there can be an influx of the life of spirits into men living on earth. And this because the world of matter is created and sustained by the Lord mediately through the spiritual world.3 The natural originates from the spiritual, as an effect is produced from its cause.4 The material world is therefore an “open world” which constantly receives a formative influx from the spiritual world. It is the spiritual world which—as the soul of the mechanical universe—imposes patterns and forms and at length moulds material substances to its own purposes, imaging its own forms in the forms of living organisms, whether plants or men. Only when the necessity of this is seen and acknowledged, can our faith in the existence of the spiritual world become rational.

Faith, to be rational, must be calm. It must not be based in hysteria or upon passing moods, or on the testimony of purely exceptional and questionable phenomena; nor on research conducted in darkened chambers. Faith must see the operation of the soul upon the body and of spiritual things upon natural, not as a mechanical process or as a transfer of energy from one physical realm to another, but as the bestowal of the qualities of life upon visible things of nature, which, so far as their own substance and motions are concerned, are dead. Such a bestowal of qualities takes place, we conceive, by what the Writings call “influx.” The spiritual does not act upon matter as do physical forces; instead, it bestows qualities.

When the Writings expound the doctrine that the life of God is mediated for human minds by the spiritual world, or by the spirits and angels there, they are not discussing the currents of natural energy which fashion corpuscular matter and course through the bodies of men, but the transmission of human qualities—of good and evil—qualities which make the natural activities of one man vastly different from those of another; different throughout, different in intention, different in mode, different in effect. The things of dead, elemental nature have attributes, dimensions, conditions, motions. But in a strict sense, nature has no qualities, no “states” of life. Its only state is one of death. Its only quality is its inertia, its lack of any power to change its state. All appearance of life in nature is borrowed from the spiritual world. In plants and in animals we see something added that is not of nature, something which gives an appearance not of blind motion but of purposeful change—a conatus or endeavor, an appearance of aspiration, will, and freedom.

Human Freedom

In man, this freedom becomes self-conscious. He is sensitive to the qualities of life. He is subject to various states and attitudes, and feels that he can to an extent determine them. He can choose between right and wrong. He cannot change his natural environment of a sudden, although this also will yield somewhat to his will. But in the inner realm of his spirit he feels himself above the conditions of nature, feels himself part of a free world in which he can will and think as he pleases; and for what he does in that world he feels responsibility.

But even in his mind man is not utterly free. His natural mind is built up out of elements drawn from heredity and from education, from early impressions and unconscious influences. Is he solely accountable for all the changes within his mind— all the suggestions and impulses of his inner world? If he were, would it not be a terrible responsibility—beyond his power to bear ? One moment of impulse could determine his entire spiritual destiny—one decision might send him into anguish forever—if that were so! And if thus determined, he would no longer be free to change his general state.

Even spiritual freedom is therefore governed most carefully by the Lord. The Lord leads man gently into his freedom. Even the spirit of man has to be surrounded by restraining conditions and circumstances. Its freedom has to be limited to a few things, tested. Its bounds have to be let out gradually, his states have to change by degrees.

Therefore it is provided, that man’s spirit should be surrounded with attendant spirits, good and evil, through whom the influx of life may be accommodated so that his choice and his responsibility can be particularized and limited to his capacity at each moment. It is of Divine mercy that this is so; otherwise man could never be saved, but he would plunge himself into hell with the first evil choice. Instead of being at once introduced into the responsibility for his whole spiritual destiny, he is therefore gradually introduced into a choice between particular states, or between the delights offered by particular spirits, good and evil. He is not made responsible for the state of his whole mind at once.

This, then, is the explanation of the many shifting and contradictory states of a man. He is held in an equilibrium between good spirits and evil spirits. He is given his chance to change his general state, by countless particular opportunities of choice. His spiritual freedom is doled out to him “piecemeal,” and from his moments of choice, a series of free decisions, his character is built up and gradually matures, and becomes able to enter an ever wider choice, a more intelligent freedom.

This is, of course, illustrated by the gradual way in which one acquires freedom in natural affairs in youth and adult age. Parents, teachers, masters or employers will give the youth more freedom, more autonomy, so far as he can be trusted to understand what he is actually committing himself to. But when it is seen that he does not yet have any real insight into a situation or into the consequences of his actions, but is blinded by prejudice or simply borne away by impulsive desires, so far his freedom is—if possible—prudently withheld by wise governors.

The spirit of man is therefore free and responsible only when he realizes the spiritual situation in which he is, and feels himself free to choose. In order that this may be the case, the Lord so orders the lives of men and spirits, that men should not sensibly feel the presence of spirits, or their influx into his mind. If we felt our will as the will of another prompting us we would not feel free—whether the prompting were good or evil. Yet at the same time, if we were never able to know how the case actually is, we would not be able to realize the nature of our choice. From doctrine we are therefore taught about the functions of the spirits who are with us; so that we may see the importance of our choice, the inward nature of our responsibility, the fact that in our consent or resistance to various states, suggestions, desires, and moods, we are in fact turning either towards heaven or towards hell.

Man’s Dependence on Spirits

It is therefore revealed as a truth in the Gospel, that man can do nothing except it be given him from above. And this general truth is in the Writings filled in with infinite particulars which show that man cannot lift hand or foot or think the least idea from his own will or understanding: for his will and understanding are vessels responsive to the spheres of spirits and angels. Swedenborg, in order that he might be instructed, was brought into a state in which he perceived the operation of spirits, yet—by a miracle—was at the same time not deprived of freedom.5 He then received “the clearest experimental proof that all human thought, will, and action are directed determinatively by the Messiah alone”; that there was “not even the least of thought that did not sensibly inflow” from spirits who were themselves also “ruled as passive powers” by the Lord. The spirits sensibly ruled the very movements of his body; convincing him that what appears to be our own deeds is the doing—or rather the willing—of spirits.6 Yet a man is free so far as he can decide what spirits shall attend him!

Spirits who use man as a subject in this manner are not aware that they are with man. Such a spirit “knows so little of the man that he is not even aware that the man is anything distinct from himself.” Man is thus nothing in the eyes of spirits. And if they knew him—as they did Swedenborg— they might chide him with “being nothing” or at best an inanimate machine. Meanwhile the man all the time supposes himself to be living and thinking and the spirits to be “nothing!”7

In his Diary Swedenborg tells that, despite the fact that he could not make the least little motion of his body from himself, yet at the same time there was insinuated into him a faculty of choice in whatever he did. Spirits then supposed (hat he might have acted otherwise. But it was shown them that as a matter of fact the circumstances and the spiritual influxes had conspired and led Swedenborg to what he had (afterwards) decided to do; and also that they themselves had effected nothing from themselves but were subjects of other spirits and societies in an unending chain. It then seemed to these spirits that, if so, they were “nothing”; and they were unwilling to admit this. But Swedenborg insisted that this was indeed true; still, it was enough for them that they seemed to themselves to be able to think, speak, and act as from themselves, and to be their own. What more did they want?8

Surprisingly, Swedenborg instructed some spirits that only when they acknowledge that they are nothing, can they begin to be something. Nor was it enough to know or say that one is nothing; one must believe it.9 “Such is the equilibrium of all in the universal heaven, that one is moved by another, thinks from another, as if in a chain; so that not the least thing can [occur from itself]; thus the universe is ruled by the Lord, and indeed with no difficulty !”10

But when some spirits were unable to tolerate the expression “that they were nothing,” the seer consoled them by saying that “they are always something, but that something is from the Lord.”11 And it is the same with man: “Unless the Lord saw the man to be something,” the whole world of spirits would see him as nothing—or as an inanimate thing. He is “something—not a mere idea of being !”12 And this something is something of reception. Man cannot control the experiences that come to him: but he can receive or reject, react affirmatively or negatively. Heaven consists in every one regarding himself as nothing.13 The celestials know this. They know that to attribute anything to themselves, except reception, is of evil. No doubt this is involved in the Lord’s saying: “Your speech shall be Yea, yea, Nay, nay; whatsoever is more than these, cometh of evil!”

The Non-appropriation of Evil

Evil has no power over one who in sincerity of faith believes himself to be nothing !14

How vitally important and practically effective this truth of faith is, may be judged from the doctrine which describes how evil enters into man. Evil is continually infused by unclean spirits into man’s thoughts, and is as constantly dispelled by the angels. This does not actually harm man.

“Not that which enters the mouth defileth a man,” but that which proceedeth from the heart! It is by detention in the thought and by consent and afterwards by act and enjoyment that evil enters into the will.15 If so, it is appropriated to man—imputed to him as his. But the reason that it is appropriated to a man is that the man believes and persuades himself that he thinks and does this from himself. He identifies himself with it—and so takes sides with the evil. Believing that it is his own, all his self-pride upholds it and defends it.

The evil was not produced by man! Evil spirits—the whole network of hell—produced it, infused it, and subtly made man to feel as if he did it from himself. “If man believed as the case really is, then evil would not be appropriated to him, but good from the Lord would be appropriated to him; for then, immediately when evil flows in, he would think that it was from evil spirits with him; and when he thought this angels would avert and reject it. For the influx of angels is into that which a man knows and believes and not into what man does not know and does not believe.”16

If an evil is appropriated it can be removed only by the arduous and long road of self-examination and of actual repentance. But here we are shown an easier way! Shown how to shun evils before they become man’s own or before they become actual or confirmed; shown how faith defends men from evil! And if a man really believes that the good that prompts him inflows from the Lord through heaven, he is thereby freed from any self-righteous reflection on his own act—a thought which would poison the good which he has received and turn it into the evil of merit and the pride and the contempt of others that follow in its wake.

The knowledge and belief that all our affections, emotions, and moods are the actual results of the presence of spirits, good or evil, must become a watchman who must never shimmer. This faith—that good inflows from heaven and that evil inflows from hell, and that man, except for reception, is “nothing”—must be firmly fixed in definite knowledge. And to the New Church the knowledge is given in a vast body of information about spirits of all types and classes. From the instruction given in the Writings we may perhaps also gather information as to how to say “Nay, nay” to the spirits who produce various evil moods that captivate us; as to how we can to some extent modify or change these states into which we fall—or rather withdraw from them by degrees.

Choice versus Freedom

Man’s spirit is free. Yet it is bound up with the states of the men and spirits around him. No one can deny that our thoughts and affections are influenced by the men of the society with which we are associated in the world’s work and pleasures. Even the church undergoes its cycles of common states, its temptations, its progression in which all take part. Even angelic societies whose uses are intertwined by marvelous modes experience common states, recurrent mornings, noons, and evenings; for each angel is a center for the influx of all others.17

Man’s spirit is free, but never independent! It cannot alter its general spiritual environment by any sudden decision, any more than a man in the world can change the face of nature. The speed of the growth of the mind and of the progression of a man’s spirit is not measured by the fixed time which is associated on earth with the clock and the calendar and the orbit of the planets. Yet spiritual states have their durations—require a preparation and a gradual growth, have their own cycles, rhythms, and climaxes which cannot be circumvented. And the development of the state of one spirit often waits upon that of another, for it depends upon the progressions of the society of which he is a part.

How men’s spirits are affected by the spirits who live in the world of spirits is seen from the state before the coming of the Lord, when no flesh could have been saved unless the spirits of that world had been reduced into order. And history repeats itself. For Swedenborg notes that in his day the, whole world of spirits had become evil, and therefore it could not but be that mankind should become worse through the nearer influx of hell. The good inflowing from the Lord availed less and less, until man could hardly be bent to any genuine good.18

A general judgment then became inevitable; and it took place in the world of spirits in the year 1757.19 Its result was to restore spiritual freedom. Men and spirits had been in spiritual captivity—had been in states which they could not alter or change. The progression of their spiritual life of reformation and regeneration had been arrested because they had been intricately entangled with evil spirits from whom they had no power to separate.

It is not to be thought that men living before the last judgment did not have free agency in spiritual things. All men have free choice, then as now. In the issues which they discerned from time to time they had their choice. But freedom implies more than choice. It implies that one should be free to follow out one’s choice, to progress according to the choice, and find and enter into the delights of his ruling love. Interiorly, all salvable spirits in this world and in the “lower earth” of the other life had made a choice of good as over against evil. Yet they were so much a part of the perverted world of spirits that they could not shake off their infesters who stole their delight in spiritual good and truth, insinuated unhappiness, destroyed cooperation, induced obscurity and confusion as to what was right and wrong, and prevented them from finding their way to heaven—or to the true uses of heavenly life.

The freedom to progress requires an ability to perceive interior truths. It was this new freedom that was “restored” when the Lord ordered the world of spirits by His redemptive work.20 The ordering was done by separating the spirits there according to their various qualities, so that spirits in different spiritual states might be seen in contrast, in their true colors, or—in the light of heaven.

The light of Divine truth which brought about the judgment and reduced the spiritual world into order is still present in that world; and that Divine light is spreading also into this world of ours, through the teachings of the Writings of the New Church. It is the same light. It passes “not through spaces, like the light of the world, but through the affections and perceptions of truth.”21 It affects, and tends to distinguish and order, the spirits who are with us. We would surmise that it also orders the things which go on—subconsciously—within man’s thinking; and thus ensures the free operation of the rational faculty with men, for good or for evil. But consciously and directly it reaches us in the Writings. The teaching is, therefore, that after the last judgment (when the group of spirits which the Apocalypse calls “the Dragon” was cast down), “there was light in the world of spirits. . . . A similar light also then arose with men in the world, from which they have a new enlightenment.”22

The Writings are shedding a new light on all the states through which men pass on earth. They also disclose the character of the spirits who are responsible for our moods of sadness, temptation, melancholy, enthusiasm, rashness, confusion. They give us a knowledge by which to judge wisely how far we can resist such states, and how far they should be left to the Divine providence. It is our purpose to consider this new approach to a rational and spiritual life thus opened to the New Church. But before we enter upon this task it is necessary to recount the perils which attend any mortal effort to break open the gates of the unseen world.

New book: Starting Science from God.
Links theism (religion) to science (psychology and physics) without reduction.

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Is your body “you”?

It sure doesn’t feel that way, does it? Your body is “yours,” you inhabit it, but the real “you” is inside, thinking and feeling and aware. “You” don’t sense “yourself” as something physical.

This is something that has confounded scientists and philosophers for centuries. That feeling is universal, and it’s awfully hard to say it’s not true, but there’s no way to demonstrate it scientifically or to even define its functions in concrete terms philosophically. If you’re not physical, then what are you made of? How does the “you” affect the physical world? How do “you” even control your own body?

There are no good answers from the natural world, so people have jumped to the hazy idea that there is a spiritual reality which parallels and interacts with natural reality, and the real “you” is a spirit, made of spiritual material.

Swedenborg says that not only is this true, but that spiritual reality – what he calls the “spiritual world” – is actually more real than the physical world, and is actually the source of physical reality. In fact, he says that every detail of the natural world is a sort of projection of a detail of the spiritual world, and if we understand those relationships we can see the spiritual reality within natural things, much as we see lines and curves on paper and understand them as words.

Often, then, the word “spiritual” is used by Swedenborg and on this website as a sort of catchall for non-material reality, everything about heaven and hell and our deeper loves and thoughts, when those loves and thoughts extend beyond physical things.

But Swedenborg also divides spiritual reality into three layers, and (somewhat confusingly) uses “spiritual” to describe the middle of those three layers.

The inmost level of spiritual reality is referred to as “celestial,” and is marked by a pure love of the Lord, which flows forth directly as wisdom. This is the highest state humans can reach, and is the state of the highest heavens, where people live in complete innocence and harmony from the Lord’s love.

The outermost layer of spiritual reality is referred to as “natural,” and is marked by a love of doing the Lord’s will and a knowledge of what the Lord teaches. This level exists in all of us, and is where we put what we know and love into action, where everything becomes tangible. Those in the natural heaven live simply, loving to do what’s right and taking joy in understanding what’s right.

Between those two is the midde, or “spiritual,” layer of spiritual reality. It is marked by love of other people, and a love of exploring and understanding the things the Lord teaches, making it in a way the most intellectual of the three. Those in the spiritual heaven love to explore what is true for its own sake, and marry that to a love of those around them, a love of serving and being good to them.

(References: Arcana Coelestia 4286 [2]; De Verbo 3 [1-3]; Divine Love and Wisdom 174, 251; Doctrine of Life 86; The New Jerusalem and its Heavenly Doctrine 48)

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