“All freedom is of love, insomuch that love and freedom are one; and as love is the life of a person, freedom also is of their life.”
Emanuel Swedenborg, Divine Providence 73
“All freedom is of love, insomuch that love and freedom are one; and as love is the life of a person, freedom also is of their life.”
Emanuel Swedenborg, Divine Providence 73
“It [is] impossible for any good to take root in a person except in their freedom, for that which does not take root in freedom is dispelled at the first sign of evil and of temptation. “
Emanuel Swedenborg, Arcana Coelestia 3854
Discovering inner health and transformation
People have random eye movements under closed eyelids (REM) from time to time when they are asleep and if wakened at these times they report dreaming. In this way sleep researchers found that most people dream for about a fifth of their sleeping time. A person of age seventy-five will not only have slept twenty-five years, but will have spent five years dreaming! We need this for, if deprived of REM sleep for a while, we become disturbed and even psychotic. Although occasionally there is speech in dreams, it is mostly composed of dramatic visual representations. There are no proven scientific theories to explain the experience. So why is it important? How can we understand it?
Clinical psychologist Wilson Van Dusen, wrote that dreams tend to deal with a wide range of present-life concerns of the person. The precise meaning of any one however is unclear, even though it makes use of people, situations and objects familiar to the sleeper.
Because of familiarity with the content, it isn’t immediately apparent that the dream uses things and people in a symbolic manner. In this way whilst getting an inkling of what is going on — we are protected from a blunt expression of those inner concerns and desires we would rather keep from daytime awareness.
Dreaming is thus a personal process that need to be understood in a personal way. And so a book offering a general meaning of dream symbols is probably not valid.
If you haven’t worked with your own dreams, they can easily seem to be a mishmash of elements into which one could read almost anything.
In using images in a symbolic way it is as if the dream is allowing you, the dreamer, to remain in freedom to listen or ignore its message. If your dream simply said you boast too much or waste too much money, it would not only would be a distressing insult but one you could not fail to see. Instead it offers an intriguing drama you can try to remember and work out only if you wish.
Carl Gustav Jung suggested that dreams come from a level more objective than one’s subjective point of view. Dream images are not from the dreamer’s usual subjective sphere of thought and language. It is as if what the dream is saying goes beyond our daytime conscious understanding to reveal something true about the inner quality of our life. It possesses a higher wisdom and knowledge about all our memories, hopes and fears.
In his books The Natural Depth In Man and The Presence Of Other Worlds, Van Dusen gives a clear picture of the hidden reality of our inner world. His understanding not only comes from his own experience as a psychotherapist working with his patients dreams but also his study of Eastern and Western philosophy, particularly the extraordinary insights and often frightening experiences of Emanuel Swedenborg. Van Dusen concludes that in a wide range of states of consciousness (including that of dreaming) an inner world is revealed as precisely Swedenborg describes.
This is a hidden realm of spirit which will become fully conscious to us all following our bodily death: a spiritual world which permeates all our human minds, whilst we still live on earth, with inflow of high and low desires, pure and corrupt thoughts, as well as beneficial and harmful impulses; an influx of good and bad influences that are perfectly balanced to preserve our inner human freedom.
Copyright 2012 Stephen Russell-Lacy
Author of Heart, Head & Hands Swedenborg’s perspective on emotional problems
Posted on18th December 2012
Have you ever wondered why some days we can wake up feeling bright and able to cope with the day and other times, for no obvious external reasons, we can feel ‘down’ or even depressed?
External events can help create positive and negative states and behaviour in us but they are not the only cause. What makes two patients who have been admitted to hospital with kidney failure react in such different ways? One bewails his bad luck and finds fault with everything and everyone whereas the other is thankful that it is not more serious and that he has such a caring family who will support him in the future.
Our outer mind tends to be focussed on the world around us because our physical senses dominate. So it is natural to fall in with the idea that all there is to life is what we can see, hear and touch, and that we are separate from others. When we believe this and rely solely on our own abilities and ideas we can easily feel overwhelmed and vulnerable to negative states.
The reality is, however, that we are all interconnected at the spiritual level. If we are honest with ourselves we know that we need people and rely on others all the time.
“No man is an island, entire of itself” (John Donne)
This network of interdependence and connectedness involves more people than we are aware of in this world. Emanuel Swedenborg said that all our thoughts and feelings flow into us through unseen spiritual companions. This may sound strange to you if you haven’t thought about it before but it explains how an idea can suddenly pop into our mind. So where is the real ‘me’ in all of this?
We have been given the freedom to choose which thoughts and feelings to identify with and make our own. We are in control of the tuning switch and can choose whether to tune into Radio Heaven or Radio Hell.
The choice is yours – choose to identify with your positive thoughts and feelings today!
“Smile, God loves you” is an easy thing to say but if God loves us why does he allow us to suffer? How can we reconcile a God of Love with our everyday experience of the world in which we live?
To try and get some idea of how God loves us we could start by thinking about parents and their children. It is a very human thing for parents to try to love their children equally whatever their different characters and abilities and to seek the best for them as individuals whatever happens. Now parenthood is tough and however idealistically parents approach the bringing up of their children it is often the case that one child will think that mother or father loves their sister or brother more than them. And yet that is not what the parents really want or strive to achieve. And if children grow up and go in very different directions to those envisaged by their parents, truly loving parents will continue to love their children just the same.
Now God loves his children, you, me and everyone else, not with the imperfect love which we express in our lives, that has limits and conditions, but with an unconditional love that has no limits and no boundaries and is shared equally with all. And it is the nature of God’s love that it is given with the freedom for us to accept it, reject it or misuse it – there are no conditions in which God’s love is not given – it is unconditional.
In our human relationships we know how wonderful it is if our love for someone else is freely returned – not because they have to love us but because they want to love us. Paradoxically the more freedom we give to those whom we love the greater and stronger is the love that is returned. Force someone to love you and no real mutual love develops. Now offering to love someone and leaving them the freedom to respond or not is a high risk and potentially painful strategy – as most people find out at some stage in their lives when love is not returned.
And this, in a very human and finite way, is an image and likeness of how God loves us. He offers us love and gives us the freedom to say yes or no. God knows that if we return his love then a deep relationship can develop but if we are unable to respond to his love then he feels pain for what might have been.
One of the hardest things a parent has to do is to let their child make mistakes – despite realising the probable pain and suffering that will ensue. Children have to grow and develop and make their own way in the world and not feel they are being manipulated or directed by their parents. They will make the right decisions and the wrong decisions and yet the loving parent has to stand back and not intervene. They just offer advice to their child as to what they should do and then leave their child the freedom to make up their own mind.
And this is how God’s love works with us. God wants us to be happy and to be fulfilled. He wants us to respond to his love in freedom and he shows us how we should live. But because God values our freedom above all else he cannot intervene when he sees things going wrong. If he intervened in the greatest disasters that beset mankind surely he would also have to intervene in even the smallest personal problems in life and then where would we be – we would be like puppets being controlled by God in the play of life.
Bad things happen. God does not want them to happen. But God cannot intervene because of the freedom he gives us to choose to respond or not to his unconditional love. This is the nature of the God who loves you. God loves everyone equally but what we receive of his love depends on our openness to his love and our acknowledgement that all love comes from God. If we respond to his love we can feel loved, free and forgiven and we will then want to share God’s love with those around us.
The love of God is broad like beech and meadow,
wide as the wind, and an eternal home.
God leaves us free to seek him or reject him,
he gives us room to answer ‘Yes’ or ‘No’
There are three things which make up the essence of God’s love – loving others more than oneself, wishing to be one with them, and devoting oneself to their happiness.
It should be known that God is constantly present, continually striving and acting on a person, and touching his free will but never forcing it. For if God were to force a person’s free will, his dwelling in God would be destroyed, and he would be left only with God’s dwelling in him.
Online works based on the Writings of Emanuel Swedenborg
New book: Starting Science from God.
Links theism (religion) to science (psychology and physics) without reduction.
“The very hairs of your head are all numbered.” Matthew 10:30
There is No Blind Chance
As was pointed out in another chapter, man is not responsible for all his general states. A child is not responsible for his childishness, and no adult can be blamed for having passed into maturity or old age. Neither can any arguments or any deliberate effort bring a woman into the state of a man or a wife into the state of her girlhood. Whenever our bodies grow tired after a day of activity, our minds inevitably come into new states, less strenuous; until we sink into oblivion of all cares, and spirits of a celestial type environ us.
How little we are (at least consciously) responsible for certain of our general states, seems to be clear from that which is called “fortune” or “luck.” Men commonly blame many of their disappointments on “bad luck,” or ascribe their windfalls to a lucky chance. But the Writings declare to us that there is no such thing as blind chance. For the Divine providence operates even in the least and most detailed circumstances of our lives, and thus “in the most singular things of man’s thoughts and actions.”250
It is easy to see that the real causes behind man’s general states lie in the presence with him of spirits of different types, and thus in the different spiritual mediations which modify the influx of the Lord’s life into men. We can also see that evil spirits could lead men into many kinds of accidents and misfortunes. Swedenborg records that such spirits at times caused his feet to stumble, and that they were responsible for certain slips and errors in his manuscript. Not that they actually willed such particular results—a thing which they entirely denied—but that they held him in a state of ignorance and obscurity which led to the errors. The common evil which flowed from the self-love of these spirits naturally produced such effects! Certain spirits, by their arts, have a special skill to produce a sphere from which unfortunate circumstances naturally flowed in a way which wholly resembled pure chance. Such spirits do not foresee the misfortunes they cause with a man, but they are nevertheless punished for producing such spheres from an effort to be destructive.251 “Unforeseen misfortunes are nothing else than the perpetual endeavors of evil spirits . . . and unforeseen goods come forth from the Lord. This appears incredible; but still it is so.”252
“They who trust in the Lord continually receive good from Him.” For whatever happens, whether it appears as prosperous or not, is still good for them, conducing to their eternal happiness. But with the wicked the unforeseen goods which come from the Lord are turned into an evil effect.253
Swedenborg comments that it seems incredible that spirits should be the cause of misfortunes. Yet it may seem still more incredible that even the course of what is called “a streak of luck” in cards, dice-games, etc., is intermediated through the spiritual world. “Hardly any one” knows this. But spirits convinced Swedenborg that the turns of fortune in a game of dice could be predicted by them from the unfailing appearance of certain signs—a dark cloud about him if he was to lose, a white one if he was to win!254 The “dark cloud” was of course not the cause of the misfortune; but it was a spiritual manifestation or representation of the state in which he was—a state which because of his own needs permitted him to immerse himself into a natural series of events which in their very nature would lead to “bad luck.”
Seemingly there is nothing less determined beforehand than the outcome of a lottery or the fall of a pair of dice. The only predictable factor in the fall of the dice seems to be a definite ratio of probabilities which in the long run is almost fixed, but which leaves the outcome of each single throw in uncertainty. There appear to be certain natural laws which limit the uncertainties and operate to balance the probabilities. And the more we analyze a situation, the clearer it becomes that to an all-seeing eye there is no “chance”; but that for the sake of man’s freedom it is not given him to see all the contributing contingencies or all the operations even of the natural laws involved. Swedenborg learned things about this which he was forbidden to make known.255
Providence in the Ultimate of Order
“Chance” is defined in the Writings as the operation or influx of the Divine providence into “the ultimate of order, in which all things are comparatively inconstant.”256
The Lord rules, and has always ruled, human minds, and thus the heavens and the hells, from primes through ultimates. In the ultimates of the world we may observe a fixed and constant order founded on space and time. We find orderly changes and progressions over which man has no power, and inevitable chains of cause and effect which will and thought cannot budge. Untold subatomic units moving ceaselessly at random without any purpose are gathered into great mass-actions which apparently have both order and use and which fall under the inexorable cycles of changes and of seasons. Countless data of knowledge without seeming order or connection are gathered into man’s mind. Yet in the view of man’s rational mind they may be arranged into categories and classifications which reveal a purpose or a law. One can examine the scattered details by themselves, and see only blind chance and chaos in their “comparative inconstancies.” Or one can behold the ordered movements and groupings as a whole in their constant recurrence and static presentation, and see therein an evidence of Divine government and providence which “by things constant and things inconstant deals wonderfully with human prudence and yet conceals itself.”257 So far as we can see, the constant and regular effects of natural law by which Providence operates in the ultimates of its complex order, are not disturbed in favor of man. Despite the varied states of the human mind the seasons of summer and winter come and go in their independent and fixed routine. The sun shines on the evil and on the good. The rain falls on the just and on the unjust. It is as if the life of man has been fitted into a set of disciplinary circumstances of external law or into a general fixed mould of natural routine in time and space.
If the Lord rules our minds from ultimates, it would seemingly be a contradiction to say that fortune and chance depended on the kind of spirits which are with man. But, actually, spirits need certain kinds of ultimates, depending on their states. And in various ways, hidden to man, they lead him through his own affections to seek such correspondent ultimates. In the apparent inconstancies and details of nature there is a profusion of correspondent foci. According as man places undue value on selected external objects or objectives, he becomes a source of delight for either good or evil spirits. Their sphere affects him. He steps into an unknown and uncontrollable stream of events. Evil spirits would then distract his attention from truthful circumstances and would find a way of avoiding the order and purpose of the whole by taking the parts and constructing out of them a series or order of their own—an order conducive to “ill luck” or apparent misfortune.
What we know as the laws of nature are formulations of the series of physical causes and effects from the cumulative experience of human observers ; although actually natural laws should be regarded as the effects of spiritual laws. Men are apt to think of the government of Providence from the picture which they have of nature, in which one thing occasions another in a chain of fixed “necessities.” To counter this viewpoint, the Writings record some conversations which Swedenborg had with angels and spirits.253 He tells of certain spirits who, knowing that the Lord leads men through apparent necessities,259 had the idea of a preordained fate or absolute necessity by which the entire life is necessity, so that even the Lord was bound by necessity. But since this idea of the Divine was colored by our concepts of human necessities, attention was called to the fact that man has freedom, and he who acts from freedom of choice is not under necessity; the very idea of choice implies this. There converge many circumstances—”contingencies” or happenings—which can carry man in opposite directions. The moments of a man’s life are like pebbles which a man scatters at pleasure, from freedom rather than from any necessity. Yet the Lord foresees the form in which man will eventually arrange his life, and His providence is in every single detail, “but not according to such an order as man proposes to himself.” From the Divine foresight the Lord sees the relationships between the “pebbles”— as an architect sees the design behind a heap of building materials—and fills in what is lacking, to provide for consequences a thousand years later. “All the things which are from the Lord are most essential, but they do not follow in order from necessity, but in application to the freedom of man.”260
Thus the Lord “foresees with an unceasing accommodation” how man as it were leads himself.261 Every change and variation in the human mind produces a change in the series of things that follow, and this progressively to eternity. But the drift of all the sequences of human states which man determines, would go far wide of the goal of creation “if the Lord did not lead the states of human minds every least moment”—and this through spirits and angels. This leading is secret and does not interfere with human prudence or choice, but is “accommodated” to man’s free agency. For each single thing which man does, sees, or thinks, the Lord does and sees infinite things. On the surface, the history of the race and the life of each man and each church seems to be determined by human decisions. If it were not so, man might just as well not exist, for he would have no sense of accomplishment, no incentive either to will or to think, still less to work or take responsibility. But the Lord acts to correct human mistakes, through unforeseeable things. He acts through heaven, mediately, and also immediately from Himself, not only into the will and thought of man, with or without man’s consent, “but also at the same time into the many things which befall him.”262 These “contingent” things, or providential circumstances, are the means by which the Lord, from His infinite resources, supplies the links between the moments of human decision, and by which He fills in the interstices which man has not thought of !
Yet man speaks of “chance.” We do not believe that spirits have any power over nature or nature’s laws. They did not even know beforehand how the dice would fall at Swedenborg’s backgammon table. But such is the inscrutable intricacy and detail of the Providence of God, that the “white cloud” of good fortune or the “dusky cloud” of warning are tokens before spirits of His foreknowledge of the chances which shall befall; unpredictable events into which He permits a man to be led for eternal reasons which look to the needs of spirits and also to the needs of the man—lest he should become the prey of morose disappointment, or lest he should come to rely on his “luck” rather than on his reason and his labor.
The Lord, in His essence, is perfect, infinite love given form through perfect, infinite wisdom. Because He is love, and love wants something to give itself to, he created human beings so that we could accept his love and return it, and thus be conjoined with Him.
Two things had to be done for this to work. First, we had to be structured so we would fit into a state of union with the Lord – which means we had to be forms of love and wisdom ourselves. Second, we had to be free to reject the Lord’s love, or the choice would be meaningless (in fact, if we were purely good, with no choice, we would be extensions of the Lord; in that case loving us would the Lord loving Himself, which is contrary to His nature).
The things that make us human, then, are the fact that we have thoughts and feelings (thoughts come from wisdom; feelings come from love), and that we can choose – in freedom – to use those thoughts and feelings to open ourselves up to the Lord’s love and be conjoined to Him.
And how do we do that? By bringing our thoughts and feelings into line with the Lord’s love and wisdom, so His love and wisdom can flow into us. We accomplish this first through our thoughts, which are more external and more under our control than our feelings are. We can fill our minds with the Lord’s teachings through the Word, through ministers, teachers and parents and through the wisdom of people around us. Using those ideas of what is right and wrong, we can force ourselves to stop doing what is wrong and instead do what is right. If we stick to it out of a desire to be good people, the Lord will start rewarding us with joy in doing the right thing, and will eventually change how we feel so that we genuinely love to do what’s good.
If we do that, we will eventually become angels – who are also human, people who once lived in our world and followed the Lord. If we don’t, instead letting selfish loves rule us, we will eventually become evil spirits in hell – who are also human, though barely so, since they reject the Lord’s love.
An interesting aspect of this is the role of freedom. Free choice is essential to our humanity, but it seems like the more we force ourselve to follow rules the less freedom we have, until as angels we do nothing but obey. Following our urges and doing whatever we want seems like a much greater degree of freedom. This, however, is exactly wrong on a spiritual level. If we follow our urges we will end up desiring only evil. Since evil wants only to hurt and dominate others, we will face constant obstacles and resistance to our desires. That will be all the more true in hell, where the Lord prevents evil spirits from doing any actual long-term harm. On the other hand, if we force ourselves to be hind and loving, the Lord will eventually fill us with the desire to be kind and loving – and in heaven, with everyone in such a state, there is no need for rules at all. Every angel does exactly what he or she wants to do.
There is one other aspect of humanity that is worth mentioning. The Writings also tell us that because both heaven and the natural world were created by the Lord, they are in human form just as we are. That means every aspect of life has some analogy to the human body, and to the human spirit. Since humanity is modeled on the Lord, this also means that every aspect of heaven and earth has some analogy to the nature of the Lord. Think about this next time you go for a hike – every leaf on every tree could tell us something about the Lord, if only we could understand it. And every leaf on every tree could tell us something about ourselves, as well.
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Discovering inner health and transformation
When it comes to discussing sexual imagery in the media, society as a whole tends to take polarised views. Emotive language is used by those on both sides of the debate – one side being labelled as narrow-minded, prudish and moralistic and the other as being decadent, indecent, and exhibitionist.
Those with a more balanced perspective use more moderate language. They ask whether a relaxed attitude, towards public display of explicit sexual imagery, simply amounts to being liberal, open-minded and tolerant. But they also wonder if sexual explicitness is to do with a lack of spiritual awareness about the deeper significance of the sexual relationship. Are we pushing permissiveness too far?
Whatever your view of the rights and wrongs of the situation, there is no doubt that sexual imagery is becoming increasingly overt in the western world. We have started to see the sale of sexually suggestive clothes for children. In Britain the television programmes that people have traditionally watched as family viewing, such as talent shows and soap operas, are starting to push the boundaries of acceptability by including more sexual imagery and suggestiveness.
The rapidly changing technological environment has its benefits in so many ways but has also made the seamier side of humanity inescapable. Sexual imagery showing provocative dress and intimate contact are being used not only in the content of television programmes, music videos, websites, magazines and newspapers, but also by the commercial world through advertising and marketing.
There has been a blurring of boundaries between ‘adult soft porn’ material and the mainstream. More television drama and movies depict sexual intercourse as entertainment
In a sense the exercise of sexual freedom means people can be more honest about who they really are; no longer forced to pretend to want to act in certain ways. Many are exercising freedom to express what they want.
Today, those who believe that human beings are sufficiently mature to be trusted with how to live their lives — the right to make choices, not necessarily the best ones — support permissiveness. Liberals support the right to choose because they believe that it is only through having to make choices that people gain the maturity that is needed to conduct their private and public affairs.
Although there is currently insufficient evidence to prove conclusively there is harm to children caused by an openly sexualized society, the ‘Letting Children Be Children’ Report by the Mothers Union, points out that this does not mean that no harm exists.
According to their research nearly nine out of 10 parents surveyed agreed with the statement that ‘these days children are under pressure to grow up too quickly’ with the pressure to take part in a sexualized life before they are ready to do so being a major factor. Sadly, some parent contributors even felt that there is ‘no escape’ and, for children, no ‘clear space’ where they can simply be themselves. It would seem that many mass media editors are out of touch with concerns of parents.
People may ask:
To answer yes to these questions may be correct but it is to miss the point, for it ignores the sense of purity, innocence, and decency with respect to a valued sexual partnership. And so how one views sex seems to go to the heart of the matter. Some would say that it is pleasurable experience that can be enjoyed in its own right. For others it is also a way of forging intimate connections. And yet others feel that it is delightful expression of love in a monogamous relationship perhaps leading to procreation.
For Swedenborg sexual union ideally mirrors what he termed ‘conjugial love’, an exclusive close relationship between a man and woman that enables love and wisdom to act together fully in their lives more so than either partner could achieve alone. And so Swedenborg recommends sexual restraint, modesty and purity of thought.
A deep desire for the success of a one to one relationship means not wanting to hurt your partner by having sexual relationships outside the partnership. According to this view, sexual pleasure can increase alongside the growth of deeper happiness if we do not permit ourselves infidelity. Also if we avoid loose sexual conduct and smutty thoughts about someone. Likewise a Buddhist precept is to avoid sexual misconduct.
Most what I call ‘sexual disorder’ involves error of judgment, human shortcoming, going astray, acting contrary to Divine order, and failing to follow spiritual principles. I believe such behaviour is associated with ignorance, or self-interest and may result in skin-deep pleasure that cannot last.
The argument is that living in spiritual order is being in a better position to receive heavenly influx. It enables people to experience the depth of joy and fulfillment. There is a parallel between order at an individual level and the degree of social order within a group or community. All people ideally need to live in external order.
Brian Kingslake a student of Swedenborg’s writings once wrote:
“The Epicureans in ancient Rome, who made the search for happiness their goal and were the experts on the subject, found that permissiveness was not the solution to their problem. If they over-ate, they got indigestion; if they over-drank, they got a headache, which were far from being happy states! And if they had too much sex, sex ceased to give them pleasure. Their conclusion was that moderation and self-control were necessary if you were to enjoy life to the full.”
Copyright 2011 Stephen Russell-Lacy
Author of Heart, Head & Hands Swedenborg’s perspective on emotional problems
Posted on21st June 2011
THE SCIENCE OF CORRESPONDENCE
There is infernal freedom, and there is heavenly freedom. Thinking and willing evil and also speaking and doing it so far as civil and moral laws do not prevent, is from infernal freedom. But thinking and willing good and speaking and doing it so far as opportunity offers, is from heavenly freedom. A man perceives as his own what he thinks, wills, speaks and does in freedom. The freedom anyone has always comes from his love. The man in an evil love cannot but deem infernal freedom to be real freedom, and a man in love of the good perceives that heavenly freedom is real freedom; consequently each regards the opposite of his freedom as bondage. No one can deny that one or the other must be freedom, for two kinds of freedom opposed to each other cannot both be freedom. Furthermore it cannot be denied that to be led by good is freedom and to be led by evil is bondage. For to be led by good is to be led by the Lord, but to be led by evil is to be led by the devil.
 Inasmuch as all he does in freedom appears to a man to be his own, coming as it does from what he loves, and to act from one’s love, as was said, is to act freely, it follows that conjunction with the Lord causes a man to seem free and also his own, and the more closely he is conjoined to the Lord, to seem so much freer and so much more his own. He seems the more distinctly his own because it is the nature of the divine love to want its own to be another’s, that is, to be the angel’s or the man’s. All spiritual love is such, preeminently the Lord’s. The Lord, moreover, never coerces anyone. For nothing to which one is coerced seems one’s own, and what seems not one’s own cannot be done from one’s love or be appropriated to one as one’s own. Man is always led in freedom by the Lord, therefore, and reformed and regenerated in freedom. On this much more will be said in what follows; also see some things above, n. 4. [DP43]
The reason why the more distinctly a man seems to be his own the more plainly he sees that he is the Lord’s, is that the more closely he is conjoined to the Lord the wiser he becomes (as was shown, nn. 34-36), and wisdom teaches and recognizes this. The angels of the third heaven, as the wisest angels, perceive this and call it freedom itself; but to be led by themselves they call bondage. They give as the reason for this that the Lord does not flow immediately into the perceptions and thoughts of wisdom, but into the affections of the love of good and by these into the former, and this influx they perceive in the affection by which they have wisdom. Hence, they say, all that they think from wisdom seems to be from themselves, thus seemingly their own, and this gives reciprocal conjunction. [ DP44]
As the Lord’s divine providence has for its object a heaven from mankind, it has for its object the conjunction of the human race with Him (see nn. 28-31). It also has for its object that man should be more and more closely conjoined to Him (nn. 32, 33); for thus man possesses a more interior heaven. Further, it has for its object that by the conjunction man should become wiser (nn. 34-36) and happier (nn. 37-41), for he has heaven by and according to wisdom, and happiness by wisdom, too. Finally, providence has for its object that man shall seem more distinctly his own, yet recognize the more clearly that he is the Lord’s (nn. 42-44). All these are of the Lord’s divine providence, for all are heaven and heaven is its object. [ DP45]
How far distant heavenly freedom (which is from the affection of good and truth) is from infernal freedom (which is from the affection of evil and falsity), is evident from the fact that when the angels in heaven merely think about such freedom as is from the affection of evil and falsity, or what is the same, from the cupidities of the love of self and the world, they are immediately seized with internal pain; and on the other hand, when evil spirits merely think about the freedom which is from the affection of good and truth, or what is the same, from the desires of mutual love, they at once come into anguish; and what is wonderful, so opposite is the one freedom to the other, that the freedom of the love of self and the world is hell to good spirits; and on the other hand, the freedom of love to the Lord and mutual love is hell to evil spirits. Hence all in the other life are distinct according to their kinds of freedom, or what is the same, according to their loves and affections, consequently according to the delights of their life, which is the same as according to their lives; for lives are nothing else than delights, and these are nothing else than affections which are of the loves. [AC 2873]
0179a Because Jehovah hath hearkened to thine affliction. That this signifies while it was submitting itself, is evident from what was said above (n. 1937), in that to “humble and afflict oneself” denotes to submit to the sovereign control of the internal man, which submission was there treated of, and it is shown that this is to compel oneself; also that in compelling oneself there is freedom, that is, what is spontaneous and voluntary, by which compelling oneself is distinguished from being compelled. It was also shown that without this freedom, that is, spontaneity or willingness, man cannot possibly be reformed and receive any heavenly Own; and further that there is more of freedom in temptations than out of them, although the contrary appears to be the case, for the freedom is then stronger in proportion to the assaults of evils and falsities, and is strengthened by the Lord in order that a heavenly Own may be conferred upon the man; and for this reason the Lord is more present with us while we are in temptations. It was shown further that the Lord never compels anyone; for he who is compelled to think what is true and do what is good is not reformed, but thinks falsity and wills evil all the more. All compulsion has this effect, as we may see from the records and examples of life, for from them we know these two things: that consciences do not suffer themselves to be compelled, and that we strive after what is forbidden. Moreover everyone desires to pass from non-freedom into freedom, for this belongs to man’s life.
 Hence it is evident that anything which is not from freedom, that is, which is not from what is spontaneous or voluntary, is not acceptable to the Lord; for when anyone worships the Lord from what is not free, he worships from nothing that is his own, and in this case it is the external which moves, that is, which is moved, from being compelled, while the internal is null, or resistant, or is even contradictory to it. While man is being regenerated, he, from the freedom with which he is gifted by the Lord, exercises self-compulsion, and humbles and even afflicts his rational, in order that it may submit itself, and thereby he receives a heavenly Own, which is afterwards gradually perfected by the Lord, and is made more and more free, so that it becomes the affection of good and thence of truth, and has delight, and in both the freedom and the delight there is happiness like that of angels. This freedom is what the Lord speaks of in John:
The truth shall make* you free; if the Son makes you free, you shall be* free indeed (John 8:32, 36).
 The nature of this freedom is utterly unknown to those who do not possess conscience, for they make freedom consist in doing as they please and in the license of thinking and speaking what is false, of willing and doing what is evil, and of not compelling and humbling, still less of afflicting such desires; when yet the very reverse is the case, as the Lord also teaches in the same gospel:
Everyone that committeth sin is the servant of sin (John 8:34).
This slavish freedom they receive from the infernal spirits who are with them and who infuse it, and when they are in the life of these spirits they are also in their loves and cupidities, and an impure and excrementitious delight breathes upon them, and when they are being as it were carried away by the torrent, they suppose themselves to be in freedom, but it is infernal freedom. The difference between this infernal freedom and heavenly freedom is that the one is that of death, and drags them down to hell, while the other, or heavenly freedom, is of life and uplifts them to heaven.
 That all true internal worship comes from freedom, and none from compulsion, and that if worship is not from freedom it is not internal worship, is evident from the Word, as from the sacrifices that were freewill offerings or vows, or offerings of peace or of thanksgiving; which were called “gifts” and “offerings” (concerning which see Num. 15:3, etc.; Deut. 12:6; 16:10-11; 23:23-24). So in David:
With a free-will offering will I sacrifice unto Thee; I will confess to Thy name, O Jehovah, for it is good (Ps. 54:6).
So again from the contribution or collection which they were to make for the Tabernacle, and for the garments of holiness, spoken of in Moses:
Speak unto the sons of Israel, and let them take for Me an offering; from every man whom his heart impels willingly ye shall take My offering (Exod. 25:2).
Whosoever is of a willing heart let him bring it, Jehovah’s offering (Exod. 35:5).
 Moreover the humiliation of the rational man, or its affliction (from freedom, as before said), was also represented by the affliction of souls on days of solemnity, as mentioned in Moses:
It shall be a statute of eternity unto you; in the seventh month, on the tenth of the month, ye shall afflict your souls (Lev. 16:29).
On the tenth of the seventh month, this is the day of expiations; there shall be a holy convocation unto you, and ye shall afflict your souls; every soul that shall not have afflicted itself in that same day, shall be cut off from his peoples (Lev. 23:27, 29).
It was for this reason that the unleavened bread, in which there was nothing fermented, is called the “bread of affliction” (Deut. 16:2-3).
 “Affliction” is thus spoken of in David:
Jehovah, who shall sojourn in Thy tent? who shall dwell in the mountain of Thy holiness? He that walketh uprightly, and worketh righteousness; he that sweareth to afflict himself, and changeth not (Ps. 15:1-2, 4).
That “affliction” denotes the mastering and subjugation of the evils and falsities that rise up from the external man into the rational, may be seen from what has been said. Thus “affliction” does not mean that we should plunge ourselves into poverty and wretchedness, or that we should renounce all bodily delights, for in this way evil is not mastered and subjugated; and moreover some other evil may be aroused, namely, a sense of merit on account of the renunciation; and besides, man’s freedom suffers, in which alone, as in ground, the good and truth of faith can be inseminated. (Concerning “affliction” as denoting also temptation, see above, n. 1846.) [AC 1947]
The reason why the evil succeed in accordance with their skill, is that it is according to order that everyone should do what he does from reason and also from freedom; and therefore unless it were left to a man to act in freedom according to his reason, and thus also unless the consequent arts succeeded, the man could not possibly be disposed to receive eternal life, because this is instilled when the man is in freedom, and his reason is enlightened. For no one can be compelled to good, because nothing compulsory cleaves to the man, for it is not his. That becomes the man’s own which is done from freedom, for that which is from the will is done from freedom, and the will is the man himself; and therefore unless a man is kept in the freedom to do evil also, good from the Lord cannot be provided for him. [AC 10777]
Author: EMANUEL. SWEDENBORG (1688-1772)
http://www.thegodguy.wordpress.com/Love is the ultimate science
|Copyright © 2007-2013 A. J. Coriat All rights reserved.|
Online 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.
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.
I call heaven and earth to witness against you today, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse. Therefore choose life, that you and your offspring may live, loving the Lord your God, obeying his voice and holding fast to him, for he is your life and length of days, that you may dwell in the land that the Lord swore to your fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, to give them.
[Deuteronomy 30:19-20 ESV]
In the historical setting of the Old Testament this quotation from Deuteronomy comes just before Moses dies and his successor Joshua leads the Children of Israel across the Jordan into the Promised Land. It was a timely reminder to the people that they continued to have a choice – they could choose to follow the Lord and his way, holding fast to him, or to turn away from him – they had freedom to choose between life and death, blessing and curse.
Freedom to choose is something that we experience to varying degrees in every aspect of our lives – the freedom to choose where we live, what job we do, what food we eat, what clothes we wear and so much more. This freedom may seem an important aspect of our chosen life-style but what we choose as a result is really rather superficial compared to the fundamental and deeper spiritual freedom we have to make the choice between what is true and what is false, what is good and what is bad – to essentially choose to move closer to God or to move further away from God. This is the type of freedom to choose that is described in Deuteronomy 30:19-20. It is God given and maintained equally to all as part of our essential human nature.
In his book Heaven and Hell, Emanuel Swedenborg wrote the following about this type of freedom:
Essentially, spiritual equilibrium is freedom, because it is a balance between what is good and what is bad, and between what is true and what is false. All these are spiritual realities. Therefore, to want to do something good or something bad, and to think something true or something false, and to choose one over the other, is freedom. This freedom is given by the Lord to every human being, and is in no way removed from anyone.
[Heaven and Hell 597]
But we might ask Why does God gives us this freedom?
We can perhaps find an answer by thinking about the way a wise and loving parent treats their children. One of the hardest things such a parent has to do is to let their child make mistakes despite realising the probable pain and suffering that will ensue. Children have to grow and develop and make their own way in the world and not feel they are being manipulated or directed by their parents. They will make the right decisions and the wrong decisions and yet the loving parent has to stand back and not intervene. They just offer advice to their child as to what they should do and then leave their child the freedom to make up their own mind. The loving relationship of parent and child is similar to other loving relationships in that, paradoxically, the more freedom we give to those whom we love the greater and stronger is the love that is ultimately returned. Force someone to love you and no real mutual love develops. However, offering to love someone and leaving them the freedom to respond or not is a high risk and potentially painful strategy as most people find out at some stage in their lives when love is not returned.
God gives us the freedom to choose his way or to reject it because he wants to develop a relationship with each one of us based on mutual love not the relationship of a master to a servant but of friends, as Jesus makes clear in John’s gospel.
You are my friends if you do what I command you. No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you.
[John 15:14,15 ESV]
Jesus also talks about the mutual nature of the relationship he wishes us to enter into.
Remain in me and I in you. He who remains in me, and I in him, bears much fruit.
[John 15:4, 5 ESV]
And the mutual or reciprocal nature of this desired relationship is also mentioned in Revelation:
If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I shall come in to him, and dine with him, and he with me.
[Revelation 3:20 ESV]
Freedom to choose allows everybody the possibility of forming a link with God, holding fast to him and coming closer and closer to him or we can go in the other direction and break the link with God and move further and further away from him it is our choice.
Emanuel Swedenborg comments on this linking with God as follows:
The link between the Lord and a person is reciprocal; and it follows inevitably from this that a person ought to link himself with the Lord, so that the Lord may link himself with him. It also follows that the consequence would otherwise be not linking, but removal and separation, though this is not on the Lord’s part, but on a person’s. In order to make the link reciprocal, a person has been given freedom to choose, allowing him to set foot on the road to heaven, or the road to hell.
[True Christian Religion 371:2]
Swedenborg also refers to coming closer to God:
It is a law of the divine design that the closer and closer we come to God, which is something we have to do as if we were completely on our own, the closer and closer God comes to us.
[True Christian Religion 89]
In the gospels Jesus emphasises that He who remains in me, and I in him, bears much fruit. Some of the spiritual fruit to which he refers are listed in Galatians 5:22,23:
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control;
We have been given freedom to choose the Lord’s way or our own. But it is in choosing his way that we can begin to develop true spiritual fruits. Not only will this development bring us closer to the Lord and him to us but we will become truly spiritually free!
So Jesus said to the Jews who had believed him, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free”. They answered him, “We are offspring of Abraham and have never been enslaved to anyone. How is it that you say, You will become free?”
Jesus answered them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who practices sin is a slave to sin. The slave does not remain in the house forever; the son remains forever. So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.”
[John 8:31-36 ESV]
I put myself in an intense spiritual practice training regimen. It’s a simple style, but it requires every ounce of intention I can muster. By the second day, I already wanted to quit. What is it? Smiling. Maybe you’ve heard of the popular, albeit crass, term “resting bitch face” (RBF). You could call my new practice “purposeful resting smile face” or PRSF. I’m the goofy looking person you drive by that seems to be smiling happily at nothing when you pass them in the intersection. I don’t know how long I’ll last, but the insights I’ve had so far have been revelatory.
Why am I smiling? Not because anyone is telling me to. Not to try to counteract my RBF. There’s nothing wrong with RBF. Some sources define RBF simply as an expressionless face. The fact that a woman’s neutral expression gets categorized as bitchy is symptomatic of the pervasive sexism in our culture. Tatyana Fazlalizadeh started a public art series in 2012 called Stop Telling Women to Smile. It addresses gender-based street harassment. The project has struck a chord in women around the world, myself included. I’m reminded of a time I walked into Whole Foods and a gentleman whom I passed as he was leaving thought it was worth voicing that I should smile. Apparently, the neutral position of my cheeks and lips weren’t satisfactory. Hillary Clinton’s smile continues to be the target of commentary this U.S. election year. It seems no woman is exempt from being told by men to smile more, and media sources continue to use this convergence of experiences to shine a greater light on this often overlooked form of sexism.
A smile is a powerful thing. It’s also a very personal thing. There’s a stark difference between the experience of choosing to smile and being told to smile, whether directly or indirectly. Swedenborg writes that this difference marks a boundary that is integral to our soul:
What is inside us resists compulsion from the outside so definitely that it turns the other way. This is because our inner nature wants to be in freedom and loves its freedom. (Divine Providence §136:3)
Freedom is a critical element of our spiritual growth. And as antithetical as compulsion from the outside is to that growth, our freedom to compel ourselves is paramount. Demanding someone to smile is overstepping bounds. Self-compulsion, on the other hand, is not at odds with our freedom, even though technically we’re often forcing ourselves to do something that on some level we don’t want to do. Swedenborg writes,
Self-compulsion is not inconsistent with rationality and freedom. . . . Since we are human because of our inner thought, which is actually the human spirit, it follows that we are compelling ourselves when we force our outer thought processes to consent, or to accept the pleasures of our inner desires, the benefits that arise from our caring. We can see that this is not inconsistent but in accord with our rationality and freedom, since it is our rationality that starts this struggle and our freedom that pursues it. Our essential freedom, together with our rationality, dwells in our inner self, and comes into our outer self from there. So when the inner conquers (which happens when the inner self has brought the outer self into agreement and compliance) then we are given true freedom and true rationality by the Lord. Then, that is, the Lord brings us out of that hellish freedom that is really slavery and into the heavenly freedom that is truly, inherently free. (Divine Providence §145:1, 3–4)
It turns out, the greatest freedom we have is in what we choose to compel ourselves to do. Self-compulsion is the tool with which we shape our identity. It’s a sacred personal space. This is why inwardly we can feel so alone when faced with life’s most weighty decisions. God gives us the Word, exhorts us to follow it, but does not and cannot compel us to do so. It’s up to us, if we want to.
Self-compulsion as a spiritual practice could be called, in contemporary terms, “living with intention.” Our intention has the power to shift our spiritual association from hell to heaven:
The purpose that focuses our inner sight or thought is our volition, since our intentions determine our aims and our aims determine our thoughts. So if we aim for heaven, we focus our thinking on it, and with our thinking, our whole mind, which is therefore in heaven. (Heaven and Hell §532:3)
My smiling as spiritual practice came about when I was reading Sadhana of the Heart: A Collection of Talks on Spiritual Life by Gurumayi Chidvilasananda. In one chapter, she encourages the reader to “smile at your destiny” (pp. 69–92). The phrase struck me. From a Swedenborgian perspective, the idea of smiling at your destiny hits a sweet spot between acknowledging divine providence and emphasizing our personal engagement with life. I decided to take the bait and try literally smiling at my destiny as a daily practice.
The very first thing my destiny had in store for me was to drive my youngest to preschool just after the large school bus drove by our house to pick up the horde of elementary school children waiting on the corner. We were stuck behind it. “Smile at your destiny,” the words echoed in my mind. I did not feel like smiling, but I forced one. If someone caught a glimpse of me in that moment, it probably looked more like a grimace. But I kept at it as I watched parents help their kids onto the bus and then stand back to wave them goodbye. Then several of the parents began to sign “I love you” by pointing to their eye, their heart, and their child—the exact same way I sign “I love you” to my kids. Something clicked, and my smile became genuine. I was laughing at the sweetness of the moment.
I had forced a smile, not because anyone told me to, not for perfection or to align with a societal expectation, but for freedom—choosing to smile at my destiny.
I was still smiling when the bus left and I could make the turn to head to the preschool. In a glance, I caught the eyes of a mother getting into her car. And in a flash, her expression bloomed into the sweetest smile reflecting mine. I had forgotten that I was even smiling, but I had inadvertently inspired a smile in another! My own happiness surged in response.
Since that day, I’ve held the intention to practice smiling—PRSF: smiling at my destiny. It has brought a valuable level of contrast into my spiritual awareness. I’ve realized I can have mental cloud cover for hours and even days on end and that I just get used to it. Whenever I remember to smile-as-neutral, it’s like light cutting through. It doesn’t clear the clouds away, but I then see plainly the negative fog I’ve been functioning in as if it were my only neutral option.
Some days get really hard. And certain times of day are the hardest. At bedtime with my children, at the end of a long day, I feel like something in a chronic state of having too much static electricity: anything that reaches my senses gets zapped. But I think, “Smile.” I force a smile. I tighten the muscles in my cheeks, the edges of my mouth stretch to the sides and tip upward slightly. Then I add the eyes. Smile in my eyes. And something happens. I remember what it feels like to be happy. It feels like a shell of happiness, but that’s when the thought dawns in my mind that even though I can choose happiness, I can’t create it. And at that moment, when I’ve chosen it knowing full well I can’t create it, I begin to feel how there is a very full presence of a power much greater than me that is happiness, that can make it feel real, that wants to help me, and that has no interest in holding on to whatever state was gripping me before. It’s just happy I opened the door. I soften into the sunlight and let go of the cloud I thought was mine.
Chelsea Rose Odhner is a freelance writer who contributes regularly to the Swedenborg & Life show on the offTheLeftEye YouTube channel.
It’s a question that people have wrestled with for ages: Why would an all-powerful God, one whose essence is literally love and wisdom, allow evil and suffering to exist in the world?
Swedenborg devotes an entire book to answering this question: Divine Providence. In it, he explains that the Lord’s goal is the formation of a heavenly community, bringing everyone—every human being on earth—into heaven. Divine providence is the way he works to do that. But he will not do this without our freely given consent and cooperation. In other words, there can be no true salvation without free will; nor can there be a full commitment to spiritual growth without first understanding the role that evil plays in our lives.
Swedenborg systematically describes the way that divine providence works in our lives by condensing it into five laws:
Freedom, in this case, means spiritual freedom. Our bodies limit what we can see and hear and do. Governments have laws that prevent us from acting in certain ways. But in the privacy of our own minds, we can think and feel just about any way that we like. In other words, we can choose to inwardly embrace thoughts and feelings that are either good or evil. Swedenborg tells us:
The origin of evil is the abuse of the abilities proper to us called rationality and freedom. By rationality, I mean the ability to discern what is true and therefore what is false, and to discern what is good and therefore what is evil. By freedom, I mean the ability freely to think, intend, and to do such things. (Divine Love and Wisdom #264)
The actions that we choose—and, more importantly, the underlying attitudes that motivate those actions—become a part of us. Swedenborg may have anticipated modern psychology when he observed that the thoughts and feelings we embrace never truly leave us. We may repress them, or deny them, but the thoughts and feelings that we dwell upon become part of our essential self. Ancient wisdom teaches, “For as he thinks in his heart, so is he” (Proverbs 23:7). Swedenborg takes it a step further, saying that “we are what we love.” (Divine Love and Wisdom #1). The more we are motivated by and act upon our noblest desires, the more that nobility becomes a part of our very being. This is the way we cooperate, connect, and come into communion with God. But it must be done freely, and we must make that decision rationally rather than acting out of fear or external pressure.
What is evil? In its most basic form, it refers to any desire or any tendency to turn away from God, or from the highest principles we know. Swedenborg describes angels as perpetually turned toward God—not in the literal sense of always facing the same direction no matter which way they’re walking, but in the spiritual sense that their minds, their inner selves, are always guided by the Lord’s love and wisdom. In the same way, he says, evil spirits are always turned away from God, guided by their own obsessions with power and prestige.
We should not think of “evil spirits” as medieval characters in fictional literature. They are real influences masquerading as our thoughts and feelings. While these thoughts and feelings may feel like our own, they do not become a part of us until we identify with them, embrace them, and lead our lives by them.
The process of noticing the negative thoughts and feelings that arise in our minds, and then rejecting them, begins on earth. This is a basic aspect of our common humanity. None of us is born “perfect,” but we can strive to become better. As Swedenborg notes, we are all born with a tendency to be selfish and to crave material pleasures. And yet, more deeply, we are also born with an inner spiritual essence that comes from God. In Hindusim this is called “Atman”; in Buddhism it is our “Buddha nature”; and in Swedenborg’s theology it is “the innermost.” It is in this “innermost” part of us where we connect with God, allow God to guide us, and become cooperative channels through whom God’s love and truth can flow.
When Swedenborg talks about rejecting evils, then, he is talking about our tendency to be selfish—to always act in what we regard as our own best interest rather than our neighbors’; to love power and crave domination over others; to steal, or kill, or otherwise do harm.
But what we do isn’t the whole story. Why we do it goes deeper. For example, let’s say that a man working for a large corporation—overworked, underpaid, and perpetually mistreated by his tyrant of a boss—discovers a loophole that will allow him to steal money from the company without anyone noticing. Over the course of a couple of years, he’s stockpiled enough money to quit and start his own business. No big deal, he tells himself. Nobody got hurt. The corporation is so large that nobody even noticed the money was missing. Anyhow, he deserves the money as compensation for the way he was treated.
Though it may not seem like a big deal, this kind of rationalization and justification of actions that we know are wrong (rather than acknowledging and rejecting them) leads us away from the Lord. The more we tell ourselves that it’s okay to help ourselves at others’ expense, the farther away we get.
However, if instead we make a concerted effort to reject those selfish thoughts and feelings, try to make amends for past actions, and truly work to become better people, we open the door for God to enter our lives and put us on the path to heaven.
Swedenborg asserts that nobody can be reformed by threats and punishments, or even by miracles and visions of the afterlife. In order for faith to be real, and for reformation to be actual, we have to examine ourselves in the light of our highest values and see if we are living in accordance with them. It is only when we choose to act consciously in accordance with our faith that the process of reformation really begins.
An external event like a miracle may make a big impression, and it may even force us to rethink our beliefs. However, “force” is the key word here. If we have a vision of God telling us to go help the poor, we may feel compelled to do so simply because of the overwhelming experience we’ve just had. It’s no different from acting to help others because an authority figure has told us that we must do so. If we have not consciously chosen to become a better person, to do good simply because it is good, then our inner selves are not changing—and deep inside is where it really counts. What we actually do doesn’t matter if we’re motivated by fear or external pressure.
For the same reason, people who have mental illnesses, or who suffer from some other disability that prevents them using their freedom and rationality, are not held spiritually responsible for their actions. This also includes emergency situations where a person is acting out of instinct or desperation, or times and places where people are genuinely ignorant of spiritual truths.
In many places throughout his writings, Swedenborg emphasizes that all life comes from God, that his love, wisdom, and energy flow into everything. If God were to withdraw from anyone, even for a moment, that person would simply cease to exist. Because of this, even people who have chosen to do evil still have God’s presence in their lives, sustaining them. God never stops trying to lead people to do good things and to love each other, and as long as we are on earth it’s never too late to change. (Although the longer we wait, the harder it gets!)
We are not allowed to see God at work in our lives for the same reason that we can’t be converted to faith by miracles: we have to choose to do good because we truly believe it is right, not because we are forced to or because there will be an immediate reward for doing so.
That’s why some people choose to abandon their belief in God. They are looking for an immediate reward—or even an eventual reward—for being good, and are disappointed when they do not see divine providence working in their lives. They do not realize that the God “who neither slumbers nor sleeps” is always working in their lives, bringing the best out of everything that happens, no matter how dark the moment appears to be. This is a hard but important lesson—especially when there has been a serious misfortune. Sometimes it’s not until long after the fact that the lessons we learned or the positive results that ensued become clear.
But what about innocent people who are doing their best to lead good lives and yet still suffer misfortune? What about natural disasters like floods and earthquakes that kill thousands of people? What kind of lessons do we learn from that?
The evils in the world are real, Swedenborg says, but are permitted to happen so that we can grow:
Saying that God allows something to happen does not mean that he wants it to happen but that he cannot prevent it because of his goal, which is our salvation. . . . [Divine providence] is constantly focused on its goal; so that every moment of its work, at every single step of its course, when it notices that we are straying from that goal it leads and turns and adapts us in accord with its laws, leading us away from evil and toward good. . . . This cannot be accomplished without allowing bad things to happen. (Divine Providence #234)
Following a natural disaster, there might be an outpouring of love and support that inspires people to treat everyone better. Perhaps a person who helps during this time might decide to dedicate their lives to helping others, affecting thousands of lives for the better. Technologies may be developed that prevent bigger disasters down the road. With our limited perspective, it’s impossible to see all the positive consequences that might arise from a personal crisis or natural disaster. Part of faith is learning to trust, as Swedenborg assures us, that the Lord will not allow anything to happen if it cannot eventually be turned to good (Secrets of Heaven #6574).
Disaster, crime, disease, and other misfortunes also force us to confront the fact that evil exists in the world. When everything is going well, when there is peace and prosperity and nobody is suffering, we tend to take things for granted. We relax and enjoy the good times without thinking too much about it. Disasters make us realize what’s important to us; they wake us up to the fact that we matter to each other. From that starting point, we can think about who we are and, more importantly, who we want to be. Ultimately, if we let them, even the worst events in life can be the first step on the path to heaven.
On YouTube: “The Wrong Question to Ask” approaches daily frustrations from a whole new angle.
You can read more about this in Swedenborg’s own words in this chapter from Divine Providence: “Evils Are Permitted for a Purpose: Salvation.”
Bruce Henderson gives an engaging overview of Swedenborg’s teachings on divine providence in Why Does God Let It Happen?
You can also download a booklet by Donald Rose called “Chance, Good Fortune, Divine Providence” here.
Not So Difficult to Live the Life of Heaven
Selection from Heaven and Hell ~ Emanuel Swedenborg
It is not so difficult to live the life of heaven as some believe can now be seen from this:
How are people so awful?
Police shooting unarmed man . . . refugees . . . another massacre . . . bomb threat . . . terror . . . death.
Being entrenched in these nasty ideas, and living in a world where these things happen every week, fills people with all kinds of terror. This terror sometimes leads to people looking to God for some answers.
According to Swedenborg’s theology, people have to be free to be horrible because they have to be free to be good. People must be free to do bad things and good things, so that they can freely choose to love and follow the good stuff and reject the bad stuff.
(If you’d like to know more about Swedenborg’s theology of freedom, check out this page on divine providence. Or, if you’re the visual type, there’s a quick video overview on our offTheLeftEye YouTube channel and a more in-depth discussion in “How You End Up in Heaven or Hell.”)
When people are choosing between good and evil, Swedenborg describes three degrees of decision-making: love, thought, and action. The first step has to do with what we love or value; these are the feelings that, for better or for worse, drive everything we do. In the second step, the love that drives a person connects with their thoughts (“I could do the dishes so no one else has to suffer through them”); and the third step is about what we actually do. Each of these degrees of decision-making helps people connect the things they love with the things they do—and it can lead to good things or to bad things, depending on the person.
People are all motivated by love, even when they do awful things that destroy something beautiful. People can be motivated by every love that exists in the world: domination, success, fear, horror, helping, leading and guiding others—the list never ends.
Swedenborg says that because people are in this jumbled world, they have a mix of all sorts of loves. They love thousands of things every moment. So a person could be motivated by a good (selfless) love in one decision, and then a bad (selfish) love in the next. That’s just part of being human. But he also says that over time, we will tend toward one type of love or motivation more than any other—what he calls a “dominant love.”
Before we bring love to life by acting on it, we must start to plan or dwell on certain thoughts. Swedenborg notes that people have many loves, and usually people cannot know which love inspires them to think, process, and plan in every moment. The responsibility of human beings on earth is to be careful of the thoughts we entertain; if our goal is to be loving or kind, we should reject thoughts of harming others.
It’s impossible to constantly control individual thoughts, but it’s possible to control the ideas one invites back to stay for a while. Thoughts create a bridge between loving something and doing something about it, and this bridge comes in the form of a plan or developed idea. Usually, these thoughts are fun for the brain to dwell on; fun ideas are fun because of the love that influences them—but for a bad person, it’s the negative thoughts that are fun to dwell on, and for a good person, it’s the loving, caring thoughts.
Acting on loves happens in good and bad ways. Someone can love hurting other people, think about and plan ways to hurt others, and then act on that love, making it real and impacting others in potentially awful ways. Someone could love sharing with their neighbor, and think about ways to make delicious food to share with their family, and in that decision, they are acting on that love.
Swedenborg notes that our responsibility lies primarily in action—we can control our actions much more easily than we can control what we love. If everyone could easily control their loves, the world would be a much different place.
In most ways, this is a comforting thought. We are responsible for the actions we take, not the thoughts that wander into our heads or an occasional wish for acclaim or power, even though those aren’t things we would want to rule our lives.
People make awful decisions because they dwell on awful ideas that come from terrifying loves. They are responsible for their actions, because they are acting on wrong and/or harmful ideas that they love. Every person has the ability to do awful things. It’s a necessary choice for people to have, because without the choice, people wouldn’t be free.
Swedenborg says that God allows for terrible things to happen to preserve this most-important freedom for humanity. These bad situations aren’t always hopeless—they also present a chance for humankind to step up and love the people around them, which is why people create GoFundMe accounts for survivors of tragedy or “Take Them a Meal” accounts for people with hardships.
“When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’ I am always comforted by realizing that there are still so many helpers—so many caring people in this world.” —Fred Rogers