A personal God for thinking about

Spiritual Questions & Answers

Discovering inner health and transformation

Personal GodMany people believe there is a higher spiritual energy they call God that transcends the mundane material world. This for them is not a personal God but rather a higher power that ensures there is order in nature the laws of which can be discovered by science.

Idea of a personal God

Another view is that God is the origin for all that is humanly good in the universe — the  higher principles of ethical living, human virtue, creative inspiration, depth of the human soul and its capacity for wisdom and compassion and so on.

Those who favour a personal God suggest that any idea of God as as an infinite force or abstract law behind the facts of science, that is anything other than a Divine person, actually makes God something less than we ourselves.

It is argued that without our sense of God’s human dimension there would be no point to looking for the benefit of communication through prayer and no chance of sensing God’s personal presence.

But if God is to be thought of as a personal God ie divinely human, is God merely an image of us or are we an image of God?

Literal or symbolic understanding of God

David Wulff has pointed out that many religious people interpret images and rituals in a symbolic way. Many others, however, interpret such things in a literal manner. Most Evangelical Christians will say that the whole Bible should be taken as factually true, but even they will accept that ‘the mountains skipped like rams’ (Psalm 114:4) is not a factual description of a major earthquake; it’s a poetic metaphor.

But where do you draw the line? How much is factual? Did Jesus do miracles? Was his a virgin birth? And so we find different attitudes towards the Christ of history: either a view that the truth about the Divine needs to be metaphorically or figuratively expressed (if it is to be communicated at all) or an acceptance that Christ was literally ‘the Son of God’. Do we have to have to believe in the Chirst of history as divine in order to be able to relate to a personal God?

The interpretation of Christ by Carl Gustav Jung as a central archetype is an example of the symbolic orientation. This is because Christ’s quality is said to be intimately related and continuous with the figure of the Father. This is probably an easier position to accept because Jung was not talking about any God but rather our image of God: he was writing as a psychologist and not a theologian.

There are many mainstream Christians who although not requiring that all the events and sayings in the Bible are literally true, nevertheless,

“… just want so much to be told that at least this one really happened, that at least this one saying was really uttered by Jesus. They do not want to hear that stories are legends or that they emerged from the consciousness of the primitive church.” (James Barr)

Personal God of church dogma

Apparently a lot of Christians are still prepared to go along with church dogma about Jesus as part of a Divine Trinity of Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Others are searching for a more rational understanding. For example in their rejection of what they see as an illogical doctrine of the Trinity, Unitarians deny that Jesus is their personal God.

A different so-called Christian heresy, Monarchianism, which began before AD 200, also rejected the Trinity, holding that there is only one God, not three divine persons of the Godhead. It saw Trinitarian belief as polytheism. Instead it claimed that the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit are all one being, simply performing three different roles, like an actor playing several parts and thus implied that the Father suffered on the cross.

Swedenborg’s idea of a personal God

Something similar to this view of a personal God is found in Swedenborg’s books. Here we find a new concept that of Divine Humanity, a central feature of God, which became fulfilled in the life of Jesus Christ.

According to this view, in Jesus, God took on a human nature, which could bring the Divine into more direct contact with every individual member of his human family. Jesus was to grow up as a normal human being. He could grow weary, become angry and weep. But because his paternal heredity was divine, he never gave in to temptation but grew in love and wisdom. The tendencies towards being self-centered, that he had along with us, were gradually removed, until he fulfilled his divine potential.

And so the position is that before the days of Jesus there was no direct link or bridge between the infinite and the finite, between the perfect and the imperfect. But after his life he was fully human and fully divine and a more direct link was established so that people could approach the Lord Jesus in prayer as the one person of God in whom there is a heart of compassion (symbolised by Father), a head of wisdom (symbolised by Son) and hands of power (symbolised by Holy Spirit).

“Jesus is the God whom we can approach without pride and before whom we can humble ourselves without despair ” (Blaise Pascal)

http://www.spiritualquestions.org.uk/

Copyright 2011 Stephen Russell-Lacy
Author of  Heart, Head & Hands  Swedenborg’s perspective on emotional problems

Posted on24th November 2012CategoriesMeaning of life, ReligionTags,, , , , , ,, , , , , ,, , , , , ,  Leave a comment

Who is saved?

by Rev. Dr. Ray Silverman

In the predominately Catholic neighborhood where I grew up, most of my friends went to St. Matthew’s Catholic School while the rest of us went to public school. But religious differences did not separate us. In fact, we never argued about, and hardly ever discussed, religion. What was most important to us was whether or not we could get enough kids together to have a baseball game in the summer or a football game in the fall. In the winter we wondered whether or not the ice at Roger Williams Park was thick enough for a hockey game. On Elmwood Avenue, in Providence Rhode Island, in the 1950s the world of sports was far more important to us than religion!

But I do remember one summer evening, under the street lights, when my friends and I were hanging out on the corner. We were probably around thirteen or fourteen years old, and someone said, “If you don’t believe in Jesus, you can’t go to heaven.” This was not spoken in an accusatory manner. It was a mere, offhand statement that someone had simply heard and was now repeating.

“If you don’t believe in Jesus, you can’t go to heaven.”

While it was no more than a casual utterance, that statement caught my attention. It just didn’t sound right to me. It did not ring true.

Looking back, I can vividly recall that moment in time. There we were, about six or seven of us, gathered together near John’s Market. Some of us were sitting on wooden steps, and some of us were standing. It was around eight in the evening, and the street lights had already come on. I don’t know why, but suddenly I found myself saying,

“If you are a good person you can go to heaven.”

No one argued with me. And that was the end of the discussion. We were on to other subjects…the Yankees…the Red Sox…the batting averages of Mickey Mantle and Ted Williams…. My words had already drifted off into the summer evening, like fading light, but the conviction behind them remains to this day as a firm belief.

Many years later I discovered the Writings of Emanuel Swedenborg, and to my great delight I found out that you could indeed “go to heaven” if you were a “good person.”

But what did it mean to be a “good person”?

According to Swedenborg one becomes a “good person” through a process called “regeneration”—a process through which we gradually become less selfish and more loving. This process is not mystical, mysterious, or instantaneous. Rather, it is, as Helen Keller says, “a change that comes over us as we hope and aspire and persevere in the way of the Divine Commandments.” Swedenborg puts it succinctly: “All can be saved, and those are saved who acknowledge God and live good lives” (Divine Providence 325).

It was clear, then, that good people could be saved.

But what about believing in Jesus? After all, my friend had said, “If you don’t believe in Jesus, you can’t go to heaven.” Are Christians the only ones who get into heaven? Is everybody else condemned? In her book Light in My Darkness, which is a tribute to the teachings of Emanuel Swedenborg, Helen Keller deals with this question eloquently:

I had been told by narrow people that all who were not Christians would be punished, and naturally my soul revolted, since I knew of wonderful men who had lived and died for truth as they saw it in the pagan lands. But in Heaven and Hell number 74 [by Emanuel Swedenborg] I found that ‘Jesus’ stands for Divine Good, Good wrought into deeds, and ‘Christ’ Divine Truth, sending forth new thought, new life and joy into the minds of men; therefore no one who believes in God and lives right is ever condemned (emphasis added).

These words capture the essence of what I was trying to tell my friends on that street corner in Providence on that summer evening so many years ago. And this is why the New Church, with its profound belief in Jesus Christ, and with its loving acknowledgement that all who strive to keep the commandments will be saved, has become my religion. As Jesus said, “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father” (Matthew 7:21).

If I were back on the street corner today with my friends I would tell them that they are right — no one comes into heaven if they do not believe in Love, which is what “Jesus” (the principle) represents and what Jesus (the Divine Human) came into the world to give.

I would also add that we do not get into heaven by merely confessing that we believe in “Love,” or that we believe in “Jesus.” We must prove this by living what Christ teaches — practicing loving-kindness, offering mercy, demonstrating courage, giving understanding, manifesting patience, dedicating ourselves to useful service and, in the process, being filled with every benevolent emotion and noble thought that we associate with a loving and wise God.

In 1957, when I was thirteen years old, I could not possibly have said all these things, nor would I or my friends have been able to understand them. So maybe it was best that the Lord led me to say, quite simply, “If you are a good person you can go to heaven!” And I still believe that this is true!

newchurch.org

jesus said

jesus said; i have cast fire on the world, and see, i guard it until the world is afire… the truth has to appear only once in one single mind, for it to be impossible for anything ever to prevenByOGixJIMAA0ly0t it from spreading universally and setting everthing ablaze. a lie can travel halfway around the world, while the truth is putting on its shoes.. there is no greater drama in human record than the sight of a few christians, scorned and oppressed by a succession of emperors, bearing all trails with a fierce tenacity multiplying quietly, building order while there enemies generated chaos, fighting the sword with the word, brutality with hope, and at last defeating the strongest state that history has known, caesar and christ had met in the arena, and christ had won.

KEEPING IN A STATE OF HOPE

KEEPING IN A STATE OF HOPE

A Sermon by Rev. Donald L. Rose    Preached in Bryn Athyn October 8, 1995   It is written in the Psalms,

“Why are you cast down, 0 my soul? And why are you disquieted within me? Hope in God; for I shall yet praise Him” (42:5, 11). And again in the Psalms: “But I will hope continually, and will praise You yet more and more” (71:14).

The Writings speak of “a bright state of hope” (AC 8165). Our lesson this morning says that the angels endeavor to “keep the person in a state of hope” (AC 2338). “If he suffers himself to be cheered by hope, he stands fast in what is affirmative.”

A valuable truth about life is that we should live in the present, and many of us consciously try to do that. But this is a sermon about hope. And hope, you may say, has to do with the future. Hope may be related to the future, but it is something you feel in the present. It is a present experience. Yes, try to live in the present, but live with hope.

Hope is both something of the rational mind and something of the heart. The book Divine Providence says that it is reason’s delight to contemplate a coming effect not in the present but in the future. And then it is said, “This is the source of what is called hope” (DP 178). We find pleasure in contemplating, anticipating, and thinking of particular things to come. We like to have things we are looking forward to.

Hope as expressed in the psalm is also something that flows in and warms us. It is a heart gift. The Writings speak of three things that come to a person who is praying or has prayed: “hope, consolation, and a certain inward joy” (AC 2535). When we are assaulted by evil spirits, we are told that an answer from the Divine flows in. This scarcely comes to the perception otherwise than as “hope and the resulting comfort” (AC 8159).

The Hebrew word for hope in the Psalm is yachal. In a couple of contexts yachal is rendered “trust.” For example, in the book of Job: “Though He slay me, yet will I trust Him” (13:5). It is also translated to “wait.” “Mine eyes fail while I wait for my God” (69:3). Hope is a waiting with good expectation, like one who in the darkness watches for the morning, like one who enters a new enterprise or a new year of work with good anticipation. I will hope continually. “My mouth shall tell of Your righteousness and Your salvation all the day long” (Psalm 71:15).

When we speak, we know we should speak in terms of hope. We are asked how a sick friend is doing. “Well, we hope he will soon be feeling better.” And if the condition is deteriorating, we hope he will be given strength. And if he dies, we hope that his passing will be understood by us, and of course we hope for his welfare in the world to come. Yes, we hope and hope and hope.

Is this realistic? Is it psychologically sound? Does it square reasonably with the actuality of human life? If the Lord is all-powerful, it is realistic. If the Lord sees and knows and cares, it is realistic. He is all-powerful. He sees and knows all things, and His love is ardent and everlasting. To an extent we know this. “They know that for those who trust in the Divine, all things advance toward a happy state to eternity, and that whatever befalls them in time is still conducive thereto.” “They are in the stream of Providence who put their trust in the Divine and attribute all things to Him” (AC 8478).

“Let Thy mercy, 0 Lord, be upon us according as we hope in Thee” (Psalm 33:22). Why are you cast down? Hope in God. The gift of hope makes life’s other gifts sparkle. Hope makes the good things of life enjoyable, and it makes adversities bearable. It makes the disappointments and apparent failures endurable. We have hope. And we note that hope is ranked with the two elements of charity and faith. Now abide these three: “faith, hope and charity” (I Cor. 13:13). Love bears all things, hopes all things, endures all things (v. 7).

The early Christians knew this well. The Christians who first endured in the city of Rome received word from the Apostle saying, “The sufferings of the present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us … Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation or distress or persecution or famine or nakedness or peril or sword? … I am persuaded that neither … principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:35,38,39).

Perhaps we appreciate hope especially in contrast to its absence. If you don’t have any hope, your plight is grievous. It is the state of despair. Every temptation we experience is attended, the Writings say, with some kind of despair (see AC 1787). It is a diminishing of hope. And in despair, particulars that might otherwise cheer us hold no joy for us. On the other hand, when we have hope it seems to have many particular facets. We have hopes for country, community and family, hopes for the church and hopes for specific uses. We look upon other people, and our love for them has specific hopes. The things they need are present with us when we are praying.

There is something special about our hopes for children, whether our own children or others. Because their life stretches out before them, we look on them with hope. We have hope for their success, overcoming their problems, healing their woes. When children are very young our hopes for them are often much better than their own hopes for themselves.

That helps us appreciate the Lord’s view of our hopes. It helps us when we pray that the Lord’s will be done rather than our own. For His will for us is better than our own.

In one place the Writings speak of “the hope of becoming an angel” (HH 517:2). What a hope for us of finding a life in which what we do is useful for others and makes a difference for good.

We should all be stirred by the doctrinal knowledge that the Lord’s purpose is a heaven from the human race, and that our life is related to that purpose. The elderly who seem to have lost much in terms of worldly hopes should in particular know the benefit of the hope that is from the Lord. It is part of our identity, our destiny.

An angel is not always in an intense state of joy. Swedenborg was given to observe at close hand a whole spectrum of angelic states, states compared to the time of day, morning, noon, and evening. He was allowed to talk to angels when zest for life was at its lowest. And it is remarkable that in that state they spoke about hope. “But they said that they hoped to return soon to their former state, and thus into heaven again, as it were” (HH 160).

We know something similar to this. We converse with each other about our disappointments, and we can do so with a smile. We are even able to say to each other, “I have been very depressed lately. I have been feeling so low.” But we can say even that cheerfully, because we have hope.

There is a beautiful passage in Conjugial Love that says, “When the partners tenderly love each other, they think of their covenant as being eternal and have no thought whatever concerning its end by death; and if they do think of this, they grieve; yet, at the thought of its continuance after death, they are revived by hope” (CL 216). They are revived or strengthened by hope.

The mention of conjugial love may remind us of our wondering on the grand scale about the future of true love in this world. So much comes to our attention that can make us regard the human race in a declining plight. Once an angel spoke of the way the precious gift of conjugial love has declined. But note his final words: “Yet, I am nourished by the hope that this love will be resuscitated by the God of heaven, who is the Lord; for its resuscitation is possible” (CL 78). “I am sustained by the hope that the God of heaven, who is the Lord, will revive this love, because it is possible for it to be revived.”

Let us be willing that the Lord shall cheer us with His gift of hope. Remember the phrase “but still, if he suffers himself to be cheered by hope, he stands fast in what is affirmative” (AC 2338). “I will hope continually. And I will praise You yet, more and more.” Amen.

Lessons: Psalm 43, 130, Luke 10, AC 2338, 6144, 8165


Arcana Coelestia

2338. Temptations are attended with doubt in regard to the Lord’s presence and mercy, and also in regard to salvation. The evil spirits who are then with the man and induce the temptation strongly inspire negation, but the good spirits and angels from the Lord in every possible way dispel this state of doubt, and keep the man in a state of hope, and at last confirm him in what is affirmative. The result is that a man who is in temptation hangs between what is negative and what is affirmative. One who yields in temptation remains in a state of doubt, and falls into what is negative; but one who overcomes is indeed in doubt, but still, if he suffers himself to be cheered by hope, he stands fast in what is affirmative.

6144. … There are many reasons why despair is the last of desolation and of temptation (n. 5279, 5280), of which only these following may be adduced. Despair causes those who feel it to acknowledge in an effectual and feeling manner that there is nothing of truth and good from themselves, and that from themselves they are condemned, but that they are delivered from condemnation by the Lord, and that salvation flows in by means of truth and good. Despair also causes them to feel the happiness of life which is from the Lord; for when they come out of that state, they are like those who have been condemned to death and are set free from prison. Moreover, by means of desolations and temptations, states contrary to heavenly life are felt, the result of which is the implantation of a sense and perception of the satisfaction and happiness of heavenly life; for a sense and perception of what is satisfying and happy is impossible without comparison with the opposites. To the end therefore that full comparisons may be made, desolations and temptations are brought to their utmost, that is, to despair.

8165. … Those who are in despair, which is the last of temptation. … are as it were on the slope, or are as it were sinking down toward hell. But at this time such thought does no harm whatever, nor do the angels pay any attention to it, for every man’s power is limited, and when the temptation arrives at the furthest limit of his power, the man cannot sustain anything more but sinks down. But then, when he is on the downhill course, he is raised by the Lord and thus liberated from despair; and is then for the most part brought into a clear state of hope and of the consequent consolation, and also into good fortune …

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