Biblical Science vs. Reductionism

Traditional science has worked under the assumption that reality can be reduced to smaller and simpler elementary parts. This is called reductionism.

However, some pioneering thinkers have taken the view that nature is complex even on its most fundamental levels. Physicist David Bohm believed that quantum entities contained subtle and complex inner structure.

Theologically speaking, if the universe was created by an Infinite God, then it must have had its beginning in unfathomable complexity.

This raises an interesting question. If the Word, which existed before creation was God, and all things in the created world came from the Word (John 1:1-3), does Scripture contain a pre-space and non-physical substrate that is infinitely complex?

Like science, traditional theology believes that the biblical stories are reducible to the simple meaning of its words. But, if the Holy Word was communicated to the human race from God in heaven, shouldn’t its stories contain deeper and more complex ideas?

This is exactly what scientist/theologian Emanuel Swedenborg actually discovered. The Holy Word, like the physical world it generated, contained a similar patterning principle and template, whereby the deeper one probes, the more wonderful the spiritual message becomes – gaining new powers of abstraction until its message finally transcends the comprehension of mortal men and women.

Angels can grasp these more intricately beautiful teachings woven into Scripture, but its deeper levels of God’s truth and divine wisdom ultimately transcend angelic comprehension as well. Angels call the Holy Word “the great deep.”

Swedenborg suggested, that because all earthly men and women are interiorly spiritual beings, they too possess the higher levels of mind that angels enjoy. But these higher cognitive functions only represent latent powers, which need to be opened up through a willingness to learn deeper spiritual truths and a commitment to spend some effort on training the mind to think in new ways.

Swedenborg labored nearly thirty years of his life to help people acquire this deeper knowledge through extraordinary books that challenge and exercise the mind to distill higher meaning from mundane language. If this interests you I recommend that you contact the Swedenborg Foundation and order Vol.1 of Swedenborg’s Arcana Coelestia (Secrets of Heaven).

It is a wonderful opportunity to make your life more valuable to the Lord God in heaven and to humanity on earth.

Posted on January 8, 2009by thegodguy

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Only One Fountain of Life

Lastchurch - The Eternal PurposeFrom Heaven and Hell ~ Emanuel Swedenborg

Abide in Me and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself except it abide in the vine, no more can ye, except ye abide in Me. I am the vine, ye are the branches. He that abideth in Me and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit, for without Me, ye can do nothing. John 15:4, 5.

… from that one fountain of life, which is the Lord, nothing proceeds except Divine Good and Divine Truth which affect each one in accordance with the reception. Those who receive them in faith and life find heaven in them, but those who reject and suffocate them turn them into hell, for they turn good into evil and truth into falsity, thus life into death. The fact also that everything of life is from the Lord … all things in the universe have reference to good and truth – the life of a man’s will, which is the life of his love, relating to good, and the life of a man’s understanding, which is the life of his faith, relating to truth. Therefore, since everything good and true comes from above, it follows that so does everything of life.

This being the belief of the angels, they refuse all thanks for the good that they do and are indignant and withdraw if anyone attributes good to them. They are astonished that anyone believes that he is wise from himself or does good from himself. Doing good for one’s own sake they do not call good because it is from self; but doing good for the sake of good, they call good from the Divine, and they say it is this good that makes heaven because this Good is the Lord.

Such spirits as have confirmed themselves during their life in the world in the belief that the good that they do and the truth that they believe are from themselves or are appropriated to them as their own – which is the belief of all who attach merit to good actions and claim righteousness to themselves – are not received into heaven. The angels avoid them, regarding them as stupid and as thieves, stupid because they continually have themselves in view and not the Divine, thieves because they would take away from the Lord that which is His. These are opposed to the faith of heaven that the Divine of the Lord present with the angels makes heaven.

(Heaven and Hell 9-11)
April 26, 2017

Will and Understanding

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As human beings, we get stuck all the time in conflicts between what we want and what we know. We want to eat that extra piece of pie, but we know over-eating is bad for us. We want to just keep the extra groceries the cashier missed when he was scanning items, but we know it wouldn’t be honest. We’re flattered when the cute new co-worker acts flirtatious, but we know we shouldn’t even play around with anything that could cause us to think outside of marriage.

So the idea that there’s part of us that wants and feels and another part that thinks and knows is not exactly new. But according to Swedenborg, those two parts of us are extremely important, both reflecting the essential duality of the Lord and also making it possible for us to accept the Lord’s love and go to heaven.

That all starts – as everything in Swedenborg does – with the idea that the Lord is love itself, perfect, all-powerful and infinite. That love takes form as wisdom itself, and through His wisdom the Lord can pour His love out on all of us constantly, expressed as ideas that we can grasp and use. So love is the Lord’s “wanting, feeling” part and wisdom is His “thinking, knowing” part.

The Lord’s deepest desire is for us to open our wanting, feeling part – which Swedenborg calls “the will” — to His love, and to opening our thinking, knowing part – which Swedenborg calls “the understanding” – to His wisdom. That way He can fill us with life and be conjoined to us, bringing us all joy and delight in heaven.

But the Lord also created us to be free, and the only way to do that was to open our wills to evil loves as well as good ones. That’s why we are, from our beginnings, so beset by the desire to be selfish, to be greedy, to look out for ourselves and please ourselves above all else.

But the Lord also gave us a mechanism to overcome that selfishness. Our understanding – our ability to think – operates separately from our will. That means we can use our understanding to gather ideas about what is right and good and loving, and can force ourselves to act on them even though they run contrary to our desires. This is, in fact, the great task we face in life.

What the Lord promises, though, is this: If we do that work from a desire to be good people, He will step in and slowly start removing our evil loves so that His perfect love can flow in. It’s a long process – lifelong, actually – but the results are priceless. When our will is cleared of evil and becomes a receptacle for the Lord, then our understanding becomes wisdom and our will becomes love. Then, instead of acting from what we know and over-riding what we want, we can act from love, with the love given form through wisdom. That is the life of angels, and the life of heaven.

http://newchristianbiblestudy.org/

(References: Arcana Coelestia 7179; Divine Love 18; Divine Love and Wisdom 399; True Christian Religion 397)

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Why Swedenborg Says You Don’t Have to Be Christian to Be Good

Swedenborg Foundation

By Karin Alfelt Childs

No bones about it: Emanuel Swedenborg was a Christian. He states in his books that Jesus Christ is the incarnation of God and that Jesus Christ is the one who saves people and brings them to heaven. Swedenborg also wrote that people do not have to be part of the earthly Christian belief system to go to heaven. How do we reconcile these two seemingly opposite statements?

The important thing, from Swedenborg’s perspective, is to be someone who inwardly follows Christ, not outwardly. Someone can belong to the Christian religion and profess a belief in Jesus Christ and yet live in a way that’s totally contrary to Christ’s teachings. Those people, Swedenborg tells us, cannot get into heaven. That is why Jesus said, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven” (Matthew 7:21).

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On the other hand, there can be people who have been born into a religion that worships the Divine by a different name, or who have become so turned off by hypocrisy in the earthly Christian religion that they cannot find God there. But such people can nevertheless be living in the way Christ taught us to live: by loving God and their neighbor (Matthew 22:36–40); by refraining from judging others (Matthew 7:1–5); by resisting evil in their actions, thoughts, and feelings (John 8:34, Matthew 5:22); by working out their differences with others before coming before God (Matthew 5:24); by treating others the way they themselves would like to be treated (Matthew 7:12), etc. Regardless of their outer, earthly beliefs, they are inward followers of Christ, and after death they will recognize the Lord as the one they have been following all along. Swedenborg’s experiences led him to understand that when the Bible talks about the “name” of Jesus Christ, it means the quality or character of Christ. That is what we must follow in order to be able to recognize the Lord after death.

That’s why on earth, we should be paying attention not to someone’s outer belief system, but rather to the kind of life they are leading. This is what is looked at by the Lord and the angels after death, says Swedenborg, and this is supported by others who have had spiritual or mystical experiences. For example, in Lance Richardson’s near-death experience story “The Message” he also describes good people from many different earthly faith traditions having no problem with recognizing the loving presence of the Lord after death. The variety in earthly religion is something that the Lord is pleased with, because the Lord’s love is not petty and exclusive, wanting people to “get it exactly right.” If so, none of us could make it! In fact, Swedenborg saw many Christians in the afterlife unable to get into heaven because they were so sure they already “had it right” that they were unable to open their minds to learn the ways in which they were mistaken about God (which, of course, can happen in any religious belief system).

Swedenborg tells us that God looks at the heart, the intent, the effort. The Lord’s love is big and all-encompassing and all-inclusive. The Lord wants people to be able to follow whatever earthly religion suits them best as being a tool for forging a relationship with God, according to background, circumstances, and disposition. Christ is not the exclusive character that he is often made out to be. Christ is the embodiment of God’s love for the whole human race.

http://www.swedenborg.com/

The Natural Mind is Formed by the Lord ‘by means of’ The Spiritual Mind

Lastchurch - The Eternal Purpose

 Selection from Apocalypse Explained ~ Emanuel Swedenborg
When a man’s spiritual mind has been opened and formed then the Lord forms the natural mind; for man’s natural mind is formed by the Lord by means of the spiritual mind; and for the reason that man’s spiritual mind is in heaven, and his natural mind is in the world; for it is only from heaven, and when communication and conjunction with heaven have been effected, that the natural can be formed to the idea of such things as are in heaven. This formation is effected by the Lord by an influx out of the spiritual mind into the natural, by means of which the things that are in the natural mind are so arranged as to correspond to those that are in the spiritual mind. (This correspondence is treated of in many places in the Arcana Coelestia, and also in the work on Heaven and Hell.) These things that are in the natural mind out of the spiritual are called rational truths, moral truths, natural truths, and in general, truths of knowledge [vera scientifica]; while the goods that are in the natural mind out of the spiritual are called affections and desires for those truths, and for thinking about, speaking about, and doing those truths from such affections, and these are in general called uses. All those things that are in the natural mind out of the spiritual mind come under man’s intuition and into his perception.

It is to be known that this formation of the two minds with man goes on from his infancy to his old age, and afterwards to eternity; and sometimes from the middle age of man to his last age, and afterwards to eternity; but still in another way after the life in the world than during the life in the world. And as man is formed, so is he perfected in intelligence and wisdom, and becomes a man. For no man is a man from his natural mind; from that he is rather a beast;but he becomes a man through intelligence and wisdom from the Lord, and so far as he is intelligent and wise he is a beautiful man and an angel of heaven. But so far as he rejects, suffocates, and perverts the truths and goods of the Word, thus of heaven and the church, and therefore rejects intelligence and wisdom, so far he is a monster and not a man, because he is so far a devil. From this it can be seen that man is not a man from his parents, but from the Lord, of whom he is born and created anew. This, therefore, is regeneration and a new creation.

(Apocalypse Explained 7,8)
April 17, 2017

Are Married Couples Still Married in the Afterlife?

Swedenborg Foundation

by Morgan Beard

It’s a common belief across many cultures that people in love will be reunited after death, and people who have had near-death experiences consistently describe deceased friends and family being there to greet the newly departed. For a couple who is married, or deeply in love, it can be a wonderful promise . . . or the source of some awkward questions. What if one spouse dies and the living one remarries? What if your relationship wasn’t happy and you don’t want to see your spouse again? What if you’re in love with someone but not interested in marriage? What if a person never finds “the one” at all?

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Over the course of decades, Emanuel Swedenborg had the extraordinary experience of traveling back and forth between this world and the next; and he wrote detailed accounts of the things that he saw and heard there. It’s up to his readers to decide if they believe him or not; but for those who do, he offers a unique perspective on marriage in the afterlife.

Swedenborg describes seeing married couples reunited after death. But did they stay together eternally? Well . . . maybe:

It often happens that married partners meet [in the afterlife] and welcome each other joyfully. They stay together as well, but for a longer or shorter time depending on how happily they had lived together in the world. Ultimately, unless they had been united by real marriage love (which is a union of minds from heavenly love), they separate after having been together for a while. (Heaven and Hell 494)

This is where Swedenborg departs from the popular view of love in the afterlife: he says that if two people who were together in life weren’t really in love, then they won’t be together in heaven either. Swedenborg describes incompatible couples as gradually growing farther and farther apart. Each is attracted to people with whom they have more in common: “Like are drawn toward like.” However, if two people are truly in love, they will grow closer to each other in heaven.

If people in the afterlife find themselves incompatible with their former partners, or if they never experienced that kind of deep love while on earth, Swedenborg says, they can find their match in heaven:

Throughout heaven, people who are similar gather together and people who are dissimilar part company. This means that every community consists of like-minded people. Like are drawn toward like not by their own will but by the Lord. In the same way, spouse is drawn toward spouse when their minds can be united into one. So at first sight they love each other most deeply, see each other as married partners, and enter into their marriage. This is why all of heaven’s marriages are the work of the Lord alone. (Heaven and Hell 383)

What does it mean to be truly in love? Many people have many different definitions, but Swedenborg has a term for it—marriage love (or, in older translations, conjugial love). This is a huge topic in his theological writings, and if you want to explore it in detail, check out this episode of our weekly webcast. But in a nutshell, for Swedenborg, marriage love means a spiritual union of souls. According to him, the earthly institution of marriage isn’t the same thing as a spiritual marriage; and the experience of being in love with someone doesn’t necessarily equate to the kind of compatibility needed to bond on the level of the soul. To really understand what he means by marriage requires a quick theological detour.

Swedenborg often expresses spiritual principles in binary: Love and wisdom. Good and truth. Will and understanding (or, in some translations, volition and discernment). Throughout his writings, he often associates these characteristics with specific genders; he might say, for example, that wisdom is masculine and love is feminine. That doesn’t mean that only men can be wise and only women can love. Rather, he’s describing a type of complementary energy that’s very similar to the Chinese concept of yin and yang. In Chinese thought, yin (receptive energy) is feminine and yang (projective energy) is masculine. Although that principle is sometimes applied very literally to men and women, philosophically what’s being described are two complementary types of energy that are in their most ideal state when they are joined together in perfect balance.

For Swedenborg, this is the essence of marriage love—two complementary forces or energies merging into one, and he frequently emphasizes the importance of balance between the two, with neither one dominating the other. When discussing concepts like love, good, and will, he’s describing a motive force or energy—something that pushes us into action or guides and supports us when we feel lost. Principles like wisdom, truth, and understanding, on the other hand, are all about structure; it’s about gathering the knowledge and developing the perception to take that positive energy and direct it where it will do the most good. Neither one of these principles will work properly without its other half.

So a spiritual marriage happens when two people who embody these complementary ideas come together, each bringing different perspectives to the union but at the same time like-minded in their goals and values. Although Swedenborg stresses that only two people can share this state at any one time, he leaves open the possibility that we might have more than one potentially right partner—in other words, that it’s not a matter of finding the one person in all the universe who’s right for you, but just a matter of finding a person who’s right for you. And once partners have chosen each other, he adds, their love brings them closer and closer in the afterlife until they appear to be a single person.

For those who aspire to spiritual union with another person, Swedenborg cautions that true marriage love is very rare in this world. While he stresses that people who are married on earth should respect their vows as a sacred obligation, he also says that most people (married or not!) don’t achieve an ideal state until they cross into the afterlife—and maybe not even then. He describes a diverse heaven where the differences between people help to create a greater perfection. People who would rather live alone can do so forever if they like, but people who want a spiritual union can always find that too.

How do you imagine your ideal companion?

http://www.swedenborg.com/

For more on what happens after we die and people we might meet in heaven, check out The Lives of Angels, a volume of excerpts from Swedenborg’s writings. His longest work on the subject of earthly and spiritual marriage is Conjugial Love (or, for a more modern translation, Love in Marriage).

What should we think about suicide?

by Rev. John Odhner

Suicide brings up a lot of pain and grief for those affected by it. There is usually anger, guilt and depression surrounding it, and the process of working through these feelings can take time. Unfortunately, these feelings are often compounded by expressions of criticism, judgment and blame. We think: “If only this person had behaved differently,” or, “That person should have done something sooner.” We may pass judgment on the person who commits suicide, or we may place the blame on family or friends. Either way, it puts an additional, unnecessary burden on people who are already burdened.

Some people say those who commit suicide cannot go to heaven, or will suffer terribly after death because of their crime. Perhaps this idea is intended as a deterrent to suicide. I think it actually is not an effective way to prevent suicide, since it can make a suicidal person feel even more unloved and distant from God.

I also believe it causes extra pain for the family and friends, who then have to deal with the thought that someone they love is headed for hell or suffering horrible punishments. They are already in a very painful situation, dealing with real hurts, and don’t need imaginary and hypothetical ones added. Furthermore, I believe it is wrong to pass such judgments on people, living or dead.

Suicide does not end our problems

Emanuel Swedenborg had the ability to be conscious in both the spiritual world and the natural world at the same time.  Because of this he was able to tell us what happened to people after their death, and also to see how people who have gone on to the spiritual world influence people who are still on earth. In Swedenborg’s unpublished diary we read what happened to a person who committed suicide:

A certain one in the life of the body had committed suicide by stabbing himself with a knife, having been driven to desperation through depression, to which he had been driven by diabolical spirits. He came to me complaining that he was being miserably treated by evil spirits, and said that he was among the furies who were continually provoking him. The place where he was, was in the lower earth, a little to the left. He also seemed to me to have a knife in his hand which he wanted to drive into his breast. He labored hard with that knife, wanting to throw it away from himself but without success. For whatever happens in the last hour of death remains for a long time before it disappears, as I was told. (Spiritual Diary 1336, 1337)

This shows us that whatever inner problems we have in this life we will generally have to face in the next life. If we look at this passage negatively, we might conclude that people who commit suicide will after death be tormented by evil spirits and will continue to have suicidal experiences. But before we make such generalizations, we should note that this passage is describing a particular person’s experience, and with other people suicide may have different effects.

We should also note that this person’s difficult time was temporary. He had to go through painful experiences in order to come into a better state. By struggling with the evil spirits who were attacking him, he could eventually overcome his depression and suicidal tendencies. What happens at the time of death is likely to have a big impact on a person’s subsequent thoughts and actions but this does not mean that all who commit suicide will respond in the same way. In fact, the next two passages indicate that this does not happen with every suicide.

Are people punished after death for suicide?

The fact is that no one is punished in the next life for deeds committed in this life. When people are drawn to suicide through evil that they have deliberately chosen, that evil will probably stay with them, and they will suffer as a result. But when the suicide is from pressures beyond their control (such as insanity), they will not suffer for it at all in the next life. The following passages do not speak specifically of suicide, but the connection is clear:

No one in the other world suffers punishment on account of the evils that he had done in this world, but only on account of the evils that he then does; although it amounts to the same . . . , since everyone after death returns into his own life and thus into like evils and the person continues the same as he had been in the life of the body. . . . But good spirits, although they had done evils in the world, are never punished, because their evils do not return. Moreover, I have learned that the evils they did were of a different kind or nature, not being done purposely in opposition to the truth, or from any other badness of heart than that which they received by inheritance from their parents, and that they were carried into this by a blind delight when they were in externals separate from internals. (Heaven and Hell 509; emphasis added)

But as regards good spirits, if perchance they speak or do evil, they are not punished, but pardoned, and also excused. For their end is not to speak or do evil, and they know that such things are excited in them by hell, so that they have not come to pass by their fault; and the same is also observed from their resistance, and afterward from their grief. (Arcana Coelestia 6559)

From this we can see that a person who is basically good who commits suicide will not be punished at all for this in the other life, because his or her intention in committing suicide is not to hurt other people.

Suicide permitted to protect a person’s soul

Another passage in Swedenborg’s private diary speaks of evil spirits who attempt to kill the people they are with:

It was told me they were such as had formerly [in their lifetime] slaughtered whole armies, as is recorded in the Scripture histories, having induced insanities upon them, for they rushed into the chambers of their brain, and then inspired such terror that one slew another. That they were able to strike such terror I was assured, but it is seldom done at the present day. It is extremely rare that the bonds are loosened to any of them at this day, and only takes place in the case of some one who is of such a quality that it were better that he should be permitted to perish as to his body than as to his soul, and in regard to whom, unless he perished bodily in this manner, by means of insanity and suicide, he could not well be prevented from perishing to eternity. (Spiritual Diary 1783; compare Arcana Coelestia 5717)

This passage also may not apply to every suicide, but like the first passage, it shows us that suicide can result from insanity induced by evil spirits. Perhaps more important here is the teaching that suicide is permitted in order to keep a person from perishing eternally . This is quite different from the teaching of some other religions: that people who commit suicide go to hell. The truth is that the Lord may allow people to commit suicide when He sees that it is the only way they can come into heaven.

As a confirmation of the fact that people who commit suicide can go to heaven, note that the Writings imply that Judas, who committed suicide, is now in heaven. (True Christian Religion 791, Matthew 27:5)

Swedenborg’s suicidal urges

Swedenborg himself had suicidal urges. He wrote: “I wanted to kill myself with a knife. This desire grew so strong that I hid the knife in my desk.” (Spiritual Diary 4530) This feeling was the result of a woman who had hated Swedenborg during her life in this world. She carried that hatred into the spiritual world and there she tried to get revenge by inspiring him to kill himself. Swedenborg also mentions spirits who apparently tried to make him step in front of a moving vehicle or jump off a bridge. (Spiritual Diary 253, 1043) This reminds me of the demon-possessed person who would throw himself into the fire or try to drown himself. (Matthew 17:15)

From this we can see how useless and even hurtful it can be to blame suicide on the individual who kills himself, or on the person’s family or friends. It’s possible that we are at fault for harboring evil desires that draw such evil spirits to us, but it could also be something that is completely out of our control and not at all our fault.

Better to die than to be drawn away from the Lord

I suspect that some people may commit suicide because they see their life headed in a bad direction and feel it would be better to die than to be drawn further along the path to hell. Consider this experience that Swedenborg relates:

When any wish to lead astray the spirits of that earth, and draw them away from faith in the Lord, or from humility toward Him, and from uprightness of life, they say that they wish to die. Then little knives are seen in their hands, by which they seem to wish to pierce their breasts. When they are asked why they do so, they say that they would rather die than be led away from the Lord. Sometimes the spirits of our earth laugh at these things, and infest them with questionings why they do so. But they answer that they know very well that they are not going to kill themselves, and that this is only an appearance proceeding from the will of their mind, showing that they would rather die than be drawn away from the worship of the Lord. (Arcana Coelestia 8950)

These spirits knew they would not kill themselves because they were already in the spiritual world, so they could not die. If they had been alive in the natural world, might they have possibly killed themselves? I don’t know, but I suspect a similar kind of motivation enters into some suicides in this world.

Giving up your life to find life

All of us, in order to come into heaven, must in some sense be willing to voluntarily give up our lives. We must be willing to give up the life of selfishness and materialism, which is the death of our selfish and worldly desires.

He who loves his life shall lose it; and he who hates his life in this world shall keep it to eternal life. (John 12.25)

Whoever will save his life shall lose it: and whoever will lose his life for My sake shall find it. (Matthew 16:25, 10.39, Mark 8:35, Luke 9:24, 17:33)

If anyone comes to Me, and does not hate his father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brothers, and sisters, yes, and his own soul also, he cannot be My disciple. (Luke 14:26)

And they loved not their soul unto death. (Revelation 12:11) This means they did not love themselves more than the Lord. “Loving their soul” means to love themselves and the world, for the soul means the person’s own life, which everyone has by birth, which is to love himself and the world above all things. Therefore “not loving his soul” means not to love himself and the world more than the Lord and the things which are the Lord’s. “Unto death,” means to be willing to die instead. Consequently it is to love the Lord above all things, and the neighbor as one’s self (Matthew 22:35-39) ; and to be willing to die rather than recede from those two loves. (Apocalypse Revealed 556)

Happy are the dead who die in the Lord … “the dead” mean those who afflicted their soul, crucified their flesh, and suffered temptations; . . . “and that they may rest from their labors,” means that those who are tempted will have peace in the Lord, . . . “Temptations” here mean spiritual temptations, which take place with those who have faith in the Lord and live according to His commandments, when they drive away the evil spirits that are with them, who act as one with their lusts. . . . The reason why they are meant by “the dead” who have afflicted their soul, crucified their flesh, and suffered temptations, is, because thereby they have caused their former life to die, and therefore are become as it were dead before the world. (Apocalypse Revealed 639)

I believe that sometimes suicide may involve letting go of and giving up our excessive interest in ourselves and in worldly things.

The Lord gave up His life voluntarily

Jesus said: “No one takes My life from Me, but I lay it down of Myself.” (John 10:18) The Writings say that it was through this the Human was united to the Divine:

It was not in respect to His Divine but in respect to His Human that the Lord suffered, and by this an inmost – thus complete – union was brought about. This may also be illustrated by the fact that when a person suffers physically his soul does not suffer, but only grieves; and after the victory God takes away this grief and wipes it away as one wipes away tears from the eyes. (True Christian Religion 126)

Biblical people who desired death

Besides Judas and Jesus, there are a number of other people in the Bible who expressed a desire to give up their lives. Saul saw that the Philistines were 340 new church life: july/august 2015 about to capture and kill him:

Then Saul said to his armor bearer, “Draw your sword, and thrust me through with it, lest these uncircumcised men come and thrust me through and abuse me.” But his armor bearer would not, for he was greatly afraid. Therefore Saul took a sword and fell on it. And when his armor bearer saw that Saul was dead, he also fell on his sword, and died with him. (1 Samuel 31:4)

The Writings say of this that the “uncircumcised” Philistines represent filthy, selfish, materialistic loves. (Arcana Coelestia 1197, 4462) Is it possible that a motive in suicide might be to avoid being captured by such desires?

Just before Samson brought the whole building down, killing the crowd of Philistines who held him captive, he said: “Let my life die with the Philistines.” (Judges 16:30) When Jesus spoke of His own coming death, Peter said: “I will lay down my life for You.” (John 13:37)  Jonah also expressed a desire to die:

“Therefore now, O Lord, I beseech You, take my life from me; for it is better for me to die than to live . . . “ And it came to pass, when the sun rose, that God prepared a strong east wind. And the sun beat on the head of Jonah, so that he fainted, and wished in himself to die. And he said, “It is better for me to die than to live.” (Jonah 4:3, 8, explained somewhat in Apocalypse Explained 401:36)

Elijah also wished to die when he was despairing about Israel’s rejection of the Lord:

Elijah requested for himself that he might die; and said, “It is enough. Now, O Lord, take away my life; for I am not better than my fathers.” (1 Kings 19:4)

Samson, Peter, Jonah and Elijah may have had rather selfish motives for wanting to die. For Samson it may have been revenge; for Peter, glory; for Jonah, self-centeredness. But on a deeper level these stories are all about the fact that temptation is a kind of spiritual death, and the selfishness in us must die in order for us to progress spiritually.

The heroism of giving up one’s life

Every act has its quality from the motivation. Suicide can be a very selfish act which shows complete disregard for other people. Yet giving up one’s own life is a heroic act if the purpose is to protect others. It is the ultimate expression of unselfish love.

Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. (John 15:13)

If the country is threatened with ruin from an enemy or any other source, it is noble to die for it, and glorious for a soldier to shed his blood for it. (True Christian Religion 710)

In the other life all goods are immeasurably increased, and the life in the body is such that people can go no further than loving the neighbor as themselves, because they are in the things of the body, but when these are removed, the love becomes purer, and at last angelic, which consists in loving the neighbor more than themselves. The possibility of such love is evident from the married love that exists with some people, who would suffer death rather than let their married partner be injured. It is also evident from the love of parents for their children, in that a mother will endure starvation rather than see her infant hunger, and this is true even among birds and animals. It is likewise evident from true friendship, in that we will undergo perils for our friends. (Arcana Coelestia 548)

Suicide and heroism

When a person commits suicide as an escape, or worse, as a way of causing suffering to others, it is a selfish and cowardly act – just the opposite of heroism. Yet at times the line between heroism and suicide becomes blurred. It is the motive more than the action that makes the difference, and looking at others we see only the apparent motive. We may not know the real reason a person takes his or her own life.

If a person dies in battle, we assume the motives were noble, although the person could have been suicidal. For example, in the opening scene of Dances With Wolves , the soldier is depressed because he is about to have his leg amputated. He recklessly charges into the crossfire hoping to be killed, but other soldiers think he is bravely leading a charge. They follow him, and so his attempted suicide accidentally leads a charge which turns the tide of the battle. He gets decorated as a hero although he had no heroic intentions. In this case, what looked like heroism was actually an attempt at suicide.

It can also happen that a person may have heroic motives when all we see outwardly is an attempt at suicide. When a person commits suicide, we do not know what kind of battles he is going through, and what good reasons he may have for giving up his life. Perhaps what seems to us a selfish act is actually a heroic effort to give up selfishness. We cannot judge.

Broader teachings about death and evil

Some of Swedenborg’s teachings can help us understand suicide better even though they are not directed specifically at suicide. Rather than going into detail, I will very briefly mention a few specific examples:

Every evil is permitted for the sake of salvation. (Divine Providence 275)

Only that which is done from freedom according to the individual’s reason remains with the person. (Divine Providence 78)

The Divine Providence is in the smallest details of a person’s thoughts and affections, even if the person is evil. (Divine Providence 287)

There are evils we do that are not our fault, and ones that are our fault. (Arcana Coelestia 4171, 4172)

The Lord’s providence governs the time of a person’s death. (Spiritual Diary 5002, 5003)

Everyone is protected by angels during the process of death. (Heaven and Hell 449)

Swedenborg wrote so much about life and death that we will find many other teachings that may be helpful and comforting when we face death in any form. Here are just a few:

  • The Lord is infinitely loving, merciful and forgiving.
  • All our thoughts and feelings flow in from the spiritual world, and only the ones we come to love and approve of become a permanent part of our character.
  • Death is not the end of life, but a continuation of life, and we live in the spiritual world a life similar to the life we live here, with the difference that in heaven things are much closer to perfection.
  • The Lord wants everyone to go to heaven, and He always protects our freedom to choose heaven. Only people who genuinely prefer hell will go there.
  • Bad things we do out of ignorance or when we are overpowered by strong emotions are relatively easy to overcome, as long as we recognize that they are wrong.
  • People who are mentally ill are not free and rational, so they are not spiritually responsible for their behavior.
  • Everyone who dies before becoming an adult is taken directly to heaven to be raised by angels.

Each of these ideas could fill a chapter in a book, so there is much more that you can explore, question and grow from if you wish.

Summary

Suicide can leave us feeling that life is extremely confusing, complex and painful. It will often seem to make absolutely no sense at all. The teachings here will not take away all the pain, but they may bring a little clarity and comfort to people who have been faced with suicide. To summarize:

  • A person may take his or her own life for good reasons, bad reasons, or a mixture of both. We cannot judge the inner motivations involved in suicide, only the outward appearances. Sometimes what looks like suicide may have a heroic motive hidden inside.
  • The act of suicide is always wrong and painful. It is an evil which comes from hell, just like war and disease. But this does not mean that a person who commits suicide is evil. The person who commits suicide may be a victim of forces entirely beyond his or her control.
  • Suicide is caused by the influence of evil spirits who love to harm people. These spirits can cause suicidal compulsions and temporary insanity. The individuals involved may or may not be at fault in opening themselves up to evil spirits.
  • Suicide is permitted for the sake of eternal good that can come to those who are affected by it. Committing suicide does not prevent a person from entering heaven, and may in fact help keep a person out of hell. Good can also come from it to loved ones left behind.
  • The quality of our life after death is based more on how we live our life in this world than on how we die. A moment of death-bed repentance will not make an angel of someone who has enjoyed a life of evil. And one act of evil at the end of a person’s life, even committed deliberately, will not destroy all a person’s good loves and intentions.

The Lord is infinitely loving and merciful, both to those who feel that love and to those who feel isolated from it. All the evil that the Lord permits, and all the blessings He provides, come from that infinite mercy which is constantly seeking to lead each one of us to heaven as far as we are willing to go, each on the unique path that is best for us. Suicide can leave us feeling that life is extremely confusing, complex and painful. It will often seem to make absolutely no sense at all. The teachings here will not take away all the pain, but they may bring a little clarity and comfort to people who have been faced with suicide.

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