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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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We all have a pretty clear idea of what “natural” means – it includes anything having to do with nature, the physical reality we live in, and extends to the impulses we have that arise from the natural world. So it’s natural for the sun to shine, for water to flow and for plants to grow. It’s natural for us to want food, water and shelter. And it’s natural for us to want want sex, wealth, children, respect, control over ourselves and even control over others – all things that serve the natural goals of surviving and passing on our genetics. In the modern world that extends to desires for success in our jobs, for physical attractiveness, for the ability to compete for a respected place in the world, and other basic urges.

If you think about it, most of those urges are ones shared by animals, and those that aren’t are extensions of desires animals do have. For instance, an animal would not desire a promotion at work, but they do desire enhanced social status and access to resources, which is a more general expression of the same thing.

That’s one way Swedenborg uses the term “natural” – it distinguishes the physical reality we’re aware of from the spiritual reality we’re not aware of. And he says that within that physical reality, we are pretty close to being animals, driven by basic urges and instinct. But Swedenborg also says that the human mind is a spiritual organ, that within our minds we can rise above nature to see things in spiritual light. That’s how we can perceive a better possibility for ourselves as spiritual beings, and can decide to act contrary to our urges and instincts in pursuit of more exalted goals – things that animals can’t do.

But Swedenborg also uses the word “natural” to identify the lowest level of spiritual reality, and the lowest level of heaven. Angels of the natural heaven love to understand what the Lord wants and to do it, and love each other equally to themselves. Their orientation is toward outward action, putting deeper ideas from other sources into play. The same could be said of the natural level we all have in our minds: That’s where the deeper spiritual concepts get translated into specific ideas that can be put into action. It’s also where gather natural knowledge – scientific knowledge and other ideas arising from the natural world – so that it can be used in our spiritual thoughts.

What a Bad Apple Can Teach You About Happiness

Swedenborg Foundation

by Hanna HyattNot much is worse than a bad batch of fruit. An apple can look all delightful and ready to be eaten on the outside, but on the inside it can be a mealy and squishy surprise. An avocado can look like it’s going to be the best thing to happen to the world of guacamole, but on the inside it can be all brown and rotten.

. . . bad apples . . .

. . . bad avocados . . .

What makes these things so bad? Sure, a fruity disappointment is one thing, but human beings are so quick to describe something as bad. From a theological standpoint, what makes something “bad”?

Everyone has ideas about the difference between a bad thing and a good thing. Emanuel Swedenborg discusses this often in his theological works, where he talks about the impact of God’s love and how people can feel heavenly happiness in their own lives. But before things can go from bad to good, he says, we have to understand what makes those two things different from a spiritual perspective.

Can an Apple Be Bad?


To be truly “bad,” Swedenborg says that beings must be free and able to choose rationally between things that will make them happy in good ways or bad ways. In this scenario, “bad” refers to things that are harmful to those around us (in Swedenborg’s theology, this is what evil means), but that we choose anyhow because it benefits us personally: selfishness, greed, riches—any love that serves the self more than other people.

Objects, however, can’t make that choice. A knife is great while it’s serving a constructive purpose. But when it’s used to harm someone, it is an awful weapon. Swedenborg says that objects cannot be inherently good or bad—they are good or bad depending on how people use them. People are the only things that can be good or bad, depending on the choices they make freely. Someone must decide, without being forced one way or another, to use something for good or bad ends—to either serve selfish loves or serve heavenly and neighbor-loving ones.

“Why, then, ‘tis none to you, for there is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.” — William Shakespeare, Hamlet

“Bad Dog!” — Can Dogs be Bad?

Anyone who comes into contact with dogs knows that they make their own decisions—what their owner wants is not always as important as their own instincts. They see a squirrel, and they choose to either run after it and risk their fate to an owner-enforced consequence, or stay and miss the chance to catch that darn squirrel.

However, when a dog jumps up on the counter to eat some fresh-from-the-oven chicken pot pies (or twelve chocolate cupcakes, from personal experience), it’s hard to blame the cute little beast that just had a hankering for some food. Why is it so hard to blame them? Swedenborg writes that in order for one to truly be free to make a choice, they must also be rational.

Rationality is an important concept—it means that people are able to weigh decisions, looking at cost vs. benefit, taking in long-term effects, looking at impact on other areas of life, and being able to be more objective and look at the whole picture rather than just a snapshot. This is why some teenagers seem to make bad decisions. (“Don’t they ever think about the consequences of their decisions?!” says every parent in the history of teenagers.) People have to grow into their ability to consider options objectively and make decisions rationally. This is also why it’s hard to blame dogs for their decisions—they don’t have that rational, considerate type of brain.

Swedenborg asserts that human adults are the only beings that can look at situations and make entirely free and rational decisions. And even adults aren’t always reliable in the rational decisions department—look at most reality TV shows, where the rational brain tends to take a backseat to emotional outbursts. People are only human—prone to mistakes and assumptions. Dogs are not only not human, but tend to be prone to decisions that hurt the people (or squirrels) around them. They aren’t “bad,” just accident-prone, because they lack the rationality to make clear decisions.

“He’s the Bad Guy!” — What about People?

Humans: This is the hardest part, because it involves freedom, rationality, self-awareness, choice, and perspective.

To figure out if a choice is working toward bad things or good things, Swedenborg says that human beings must look at the effects of a decision on their life and the lives of the individuals around them. This means that if someone’s goal is to get their own way in everything, their version of happiness would be to control or manipulate others, to advance their careers at the expense of others, to make money without worrying about the effects their business decisions will have on others. Swedenborg would call these hellish types of happiness.

Now, Swedenborg recommends personal goals that lead toward heaven, as the negative goals lead more toward separation from God and heavenly joy. If someone’s goal is to be “good,” they have to look at the decisions they make and see if the effects are good—does the decision make other people happy? Does it make people happy in good ways, positive ways that lead toward that heavenly happiness we talked about earlier? Does it add positive things to life, or does it tear down positive things?

Whether we chose the negative ends or the positive ones, the cycle is a never-ending one of regeneration—looking for truth, bringing that truth into our life, deciding what our goals are, and making decisions that lead toward those goals. This involves lots of rational ideas, like self-examination and looking at the true happiness of the people around us. No easy task!

However, Swedenborg states again and again that this hard process has the potential for so much love and happiness. People are able to be much happier because they can choose with freedom and rationality and continue to build on their choices to grow closer and closer to God. They can grow to have more and more heavenly happiness (or evil delight), which means they have the potential to be united with the Lord.

Looking back, it’s easy to see that:

  1. Apples can’t be happy. They have no choice.
  2. Dogs can be happy, but they can’t rationally choose it. Happiness is a thing that happens to them, not a thing they create.
  3. People create happiness through freedom and rational decisions, leading them on a path towards their goals.
Apples don’t have the happiness that dogs have. Dogs, as great as they are, don’t have the same happiness that people have. People have the ability to be good or bad because they can choose it, freely and rationally.

The Human Understanding – A Refining Vessel

Lastchurch - The Eternal Purpose

From True Christian Religion ~ Emanuel Swedenborg

A man’s knowledge of God is his mirror of God, and that those who know nothing about God do not see God in a mirror with its face toward them, but in a mirror with its back toward them; and as this is covered with quicksilver, or some dark paste; it does not reflect the image but extinguishes it.

Faith in God enters into man through a prior way, which is from the soul into the higher parts of the understanding; while knowledges about God enter through a posterior way, because they are drawn from the revealed Word by the understanding, through the bodily senses; and these inflowings meet midway in the understanding; and there natural faith, which is merely persuasion, becomes spiritual, which is real acknowledgment. Thus the human understanding is like a refining vessel, in which this transmutation is effected.

(True Christian Religion 11:3)
April 20, 2017

Faith or Good Works?

There has been a long, ongoing battle between Christians as to whether one is saved by faith alone or with the augmentation of good works. Something as important as eternal salvation needs resolution.

An effective means for throwing light on a particular subject is through the use of analogy. Analogy lets us tie together something unknown with something known and experienced. So I would like to use the power of analogy to help us get to the bottom of this most important issue and settle the debate over faith and good works.

The difference between faith and good works is analogous to the difference between sowing seed and growing seed. Having faith and belief (along with its religious doctrine) is like God sowing spiritual seed in our mind – which is the soil of our spirit. But only having faith and belief in the Lord as savior is like leaving seeds sitting on top of the soil.

It is a scientific fact that the seeds of nature’s plant kingdom will not take root and grow until the soil conditions are favorable. Same thing with the seeds of faith, which remain as mere data in one’s memory, until the conditions of the heart and mind become favorable.

The “perfect” conditions that allow for faith to take root and grow have to do with spiritual love. It is a desire to be helpful to others from a spiritual principle. This state of the human spirit is called loving God and loving the neighbor (which are the two principles of religion that all the commandments hang on).

Love (like the vernal warmth of Spring) provides the spiritual warmth that releases the productive principle within the seeds of faith, allowing God’s lessons to take root and in our hearts and mind, where it then grows into living activity.

Growth is action. Likewise, faith must grow, blossom, and bear fruit. Faith has no life unless it grows and is productive. In other words, faith cannot reach its potentials without good works. Good works (spiritual love) are the very life and living activity of faith.

Love is faith put into action.

This is why the Lord said to “judge them by their fruits.” The Lord did not say to “judge them by their faith.” Good works are one’s faith manifested in the world, that is, finding concrete reality in action.

However, there is a caveat. Good works must be carried out with humility, be aligned to a true love of the Lord God, and an acknowledgment that God is the Gardener. Otherwise, we take merit for our charitable actions and good deeds.

What say you?

Posted on August 17, 2008by thegodguy

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