Is the Second Coming a Physical Event or Spiritual Event?

Jesus promised his disciples and those who followed Him that He would come again. This is known as the Second Coming. There are several “mainstream” interpretations of the Second Coming which has formed some false expectations in the minds of many. With these false expectations, many will not see the reality of the true Second Coming. False expectations can blind people to the truth – for example, the Jews expected a literal Messianic King, who would lead them to conquer the world. This false expectation is diametrically opposed to the spiritual truth of the Word, and because of it, the Jews completely missed recognizing the identity of Jesus Christ.

As it was then, so it is now. There are several false expectations that have been formed regarding the Second Coming. To be specific:

  1. There will be a visible appearance of Jesus in the sky, seen by everyone.
  2. At some point in time, Jesus will descend upon the Mount of Olives.
  3. Related to #2, there will be a third temple established in Jerusalem.
  4. There will be a rapture of Christians into the clouds of the sky.
  5. There will be a literal physical resurrection of the body.

So lets examine expectations surrounding each of these subjects, and look at what the New Testament actually has to say on this.

IS THE SECOND COMING A PHYSICAL RETURN OR A SPIRITUAL REVELATION?
Let’s start with a verse may indicate that there will be a physical return, visible to everyone:

Behold, he comes with the clouds; and every eye shall see him, and they also which pierced him: and all kindreds of the earth shall wail because of him. Even so, Amen. (Rev. 1:7)

There is a similar passage in Matt. 24:30. This at first seems that He will make a visible appearance, and that every eye shall see Him. But Jesus counters this argument in what at first seems to be a conflicting statement:

And when he was demanded of the Pharisees, when the kingdom of God should come, he answered them and said, The kingdom of God comes not with observation: Neither shall they say, Lo here! or, lo there! for, behold, the kingdom of God is within you. (Luke 17:20-21).

This is important, the word “observation” means “visible evidence” or “outward show” – something that can be seen with one’s literal eyes. This means there will not be outward visible evidence of the Second Coming.  So what does it mean that “every eye shall see him”? What it means is that those who have spiritual sight, that is spiritual understanding, will be able to see the truth of the Second Coming. That this is the spiritual meaning of “eye” can be seen from the following passage:

And if your right eye offend you, pluck it out, and cast it from you: for it is profitable for you that one of your members should perish, and not that your whole body should be cast into hell. (Matt. 5:29)

This Jesus commands after stating one should not look upon a woman lustfully, for even the thought of it is considered adultery (Matt. 5:28). It’s one’s internal thought or intent that counts. Thus he is of course not literally stating that we should pluck our eye out, but rather, that one should correct how one sees things. These false thoughts should be searched out and removed. Thus “eyes” in the spiritual sense signify one’s spiritual understanding in a good sense, or a false understanding in the bad sense.  Correcting how one sees things falsely is again portrayed as removing a “beam” out of one’s “eye” before removing a speck of dust out of another person’s “eye” (Matt. 7:3-5).

So let’s pick out another passage, which causes problems to many:

For the Son of man shall come in the glory of his Father with his angels; and then he shall reward every man according to his works. Truly I say unto you, There be some standing here, who shall not taste of death, till they see the Son of man coming in his kingdom. (Matt. 16:27-28)

Some early Christians had interpreted this that the Second Coming should have taken place in the lifetime of the disciples. That the early Christians had this expectation, can be seen from the following passage, where Jesus singles out the disciple John after Peter asks what would become of him:

When Peter saw him, he said to Jesus, “Lord, what about this man?”Jesus said to him, “If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you? You follow me!”
So the saying spread abroad among the brothers  that this disciple was not to die; yet Jesus did not say to him that he was not to die, but, “If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you?” (John 21:21-23)

And, in the literal sense, it was John who literally saw the Second Coming take place, in a spiritual vision as recorded in the book of Revelation.  That Jesus is talking about one’s spiritual vision is easily proven in the book of Revelation. Before John’s grand vision, John states this:

I was in the Spirit on the Lord’s day (Rev. 1:10)

Which means he was in a spiritual visionary state. That “in the spirit” means one was in a spiritual visionary state can be seen from Ezekiel:

The hand of Jehovah was upon me, and he brought me out in the Spirit of Jehovah (Eze. 37:1)

After which Ezekiel sees a vision of a valley of bones coming to life. John would later mention he was caught up into heaven “in the Spirit” (Rev. 4:1), that he was carried away to a wilderness “in the Spirit” (Rev. 17:3), and he was taken to see the New Jerusalem “in the Spirit” (Rev. 21:10).

Combining Jesus’ statement of His Second Coming, with the fulfillment of it by John seeing it in a spiritual vision, we can infer that John is a type of the future, where the Second Coming will be seen in spiritual vision.

THE MOUNT OF OLIVES PROPHECY

There are a couple of passages that are used as proof that Jesus will return in physical form upon the Mount of Olives east of Jerusalem. One is the scene of the ascension of Jesus at the Mount of Olives. After Jesus commands his disciples to return to Jerusalem to await the coming of the Holy Spirit, He then ascends into heaven. There is unfortunately a mistranslation here in most English translations, I will select the NASB:

And after He had said these things, He was lifted up while they were looking on, and a cloud received Him out of their sight. And as they were gazing intently into the sky while He was going, behold, two men in white clothing stood beside them. They also said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into the sky? This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in just the same way as you have watched Him go into heaven.” (Acts 1:9-11)

This is stating that Jesus will return “in just the same way” or as other translations have it, “in like manner” (KJV).  The problem here is this phrase is added by the translators, the Greek simply has “as.”  So the last sentence should read as follows:

This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come as you have watched Him go into heaven.” (Acts 1:9-11)

It simply says He will come again from heaven.  It does not say “in just the same way” or “in like manner.”  This phrase was added by translators.  I double checked this with an online Greek interlinear tool, you can see the entire chapter here: Greek Interlinear of Acts 1. The same Greek word (Strongs #5158) is simply translated as “as” in Acts 7:28, 15:11, 27:25.

Another point, when Jesus appeared to others after the resurrection, in many cases He manifests Himself by opening up their spiritual vision:

And it came to pass, as he sat at meat with them, he took bread, and blessed it, and brake, and gave to them. And their eyes were opened, and they knew him; and he vanished out of their sight. (Luke 24:30-31)

With the corrected translation of Acts 1:11, it is saying Jesus will come “as you have watched” or “as you have seen.” If they were seeing Him with their spiritual vision opened, then this means He will return in a manner that is seen in spiritual vision.

Now, there is the case of a prophecy of Zechariah which speaks of the Lord standing on the Mount of Olives:

Jehovah shall go forth, and fight against the nations. . . . His feet shall stand in that day upon the mount of Olives, which is before the face of Jerusalem . . . and the mount of Olives shall cleave asunder, that a part thereof shall remove toward the east, and [a part] toward the sea, with a great valley; and a part of the mountain shall remove toward the north, and a part of it toward the south (xiv. 3, 4).

This many have taken to be a prophecy of the Second Coming. But that is not the case, it is a prophecy of the First Coming, foretelling how a new church would be established that would withdraw from the Jews and go out towards the Gentiles. The spiritual sense of this prophecy is explained by Swedenborg in Heavenly Arcana:

“Here the Lord and His coming are the subject; by the mount of Olives is signified the good of love and of charity and thus the church, for these goods make the church. That the church would remove from the Jewish nation, and would be established among the Gentiles, is signified by the mountain being cleft asunder toward the east, toward the sea [the west], and toward the north, and the south; in like manner as by the words of the Lord in Luke: Ye shall be cast forth without. And they shall come from the east, and the west, and from the north, and the south, and shall sit down in the kingdom of God (xiii. 28, 29). In a universal sense by Jehovah going forth and fighting against the nations, and by His feet standing upon the mount of Olives which is before the face of Jerusalem, is meant that the Lord from the Divine love would fight against the hells; for the nations are the evils which are from the hells (n. 1868, 6306), and the mount of Olives, on which were His feet, is the Divine love.” (Heavenly Arcana, n. 9780.13)

The massive work Heavenly Arcana goes through several passages that prove that in the spiritual sense, mountains signify love (or in the opposite sense selfish pride), and nations in a bad sense signify the evils of hell. It is also known to some that Jesus made a descent into hell between his death and resurrection and effected a last judgment. In these spiritual judgments, this is portrayed in the spiritual world as the upheaval and upturning of mountains (see Rev. 6:14-16). The upturning of mountains in the spiritual world is further described in Swedenborg’s vision in the work The Final Judgment. That “mountain” has a spiritual meaning can simply be seen from the gospels:

For truly, I say to you, if you have faith like a grain of mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move, and nothing will be impossible for you.” (Matt. 17:20)

Jesus is obviously not literally speaking of a literal mountain. Following the description of the splitting of the Mount of Olives, Zechariah then describes a river that proceeds out of Jerusalem toward the west, and toward the east through the split Mount of Olives, which again has a spiritual meaning:

In that day living waters shall go out from Jerusalem; part of them to the eastern sea, and part of them to the hinder sea (xiv. 8).
“Living waters from Jerusalem” signify truths from a spiritual origin in the church, which are the truths that are received by man when he is illustrated by the Lord while he is reading the Word. “Jerusalem” is the church in respect to doctrine, the “sea” signifies the natural man, into which those things that are in the spiritual man descend; the “eastern sea” signifies the natural man in respect to good; and the “hinder sea” the natural man in respect to truth; and as the natural man is in the generals of truth, “sea” also signifies the general of truth.” (Apocalypse Explained, n. 275.20)

This river is again described in the vision of a new temple in Jerusalem in Ezekiel, which literalists interpret as a future third temple. However it is symbolic, and it spiritually signifies the Christian Church that would be established. This is shown in detail in the blog post The Spiritual Symbolism of Ezekiel’s Vision of the Third Temple. There are several items in Ezekiel’s vision which show that it cannot be taken literally, but should be interpreted in a spiritual manner.

IS THERE SUCH A THING AS A RAPTURE?

Next, associated with many Christians’ expectation of a physical Second Coming of Jesus is the idea of a rapture, where they will suddenly be caught up in heaven to be with the Lord. This mainly comes from the letters of Paul:

For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first: then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord. (1 Thes. 4:7)

The original prophecy of this was probably taken from the gospel of Matthew:

And they shall see the Son of man coming in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. And he shall send his angels with a great sound of a trumpet, and they shall gather together his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other (Matt. 24:30-31)

The original does not even mention the word “rapture” but instead “gather together.” Nevertheless, from the letter of Paul he mentions that those who are alive and remain will be “caught up” and from this Greek word we have the word “rapture.”  There are two interpretations of this. It can indeed mean a sudden physical transportation, as in the case of Philip:

And when they were come up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord caught away Philip, that the eunuch saw him no more: and he went on his way rejoicing. But Philip was found at Azotus: and passing through he preached in all the cities, till he came to Caesarea. (Acts 8:39-40)

The word “caught away” is the same as “caught up” in 1 Thes. 4:7 where we get the term rapture. So from this, many assume there will be an actual physical ascension into the sky. However there is another, perhaps more interesting interpretation. The same word is used by Paul in a completely different context:

I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven—whether in the body or out of the body I do not know, God knows. And I know that this man was caught up into paradise—whether in the body or out of the body I do not know, God knows— and he heard things that cannot be told, which man may not utter. (2 Cor. 12:2-4)

Some surmise Paul had this near death experience when he nearly died from being stoned to death. The word “caught up” or “rapture” is used twice in this verse. Here it does not refer to a physical ascension, but rather the rapture is to be caught up or enraptured in a spiritual visionary state.  And this is exactly what happens to John in his vision of the Apocalypse:

After this I looked, and behold, a door standing open in heaven! And the first voice, which I had heard speaking to me like a trumpet, said, “Come up here, and I will show you what must take place after this.” At once I was in the Spirit, and behold, a throne stood in heaven, with one seated on the throne. (Rev. 4:1-2)

With the apostles and select individuals throughout history, such visions took place on a limited individual basis. But the promise of the future is that such a visionary state will become more widespread:

And it shall come to pass afterward, that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh; your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, and your young men shall see visions. (Joel 2:28)

In parallel with that, the majority of cases have been of those who are false prophets. So in each case they should be tested to determine if what they are stating is valid. But the point here is this: the expectation of a “rapture” can be fulfilled by a widespread outpouring of the Spirit, allowing people to enter a visionary state. At the moment, this is not permitted for most everyone, as most people’s minds have been lowered into material and carnal desires away from the love of the Spirit.

IS THE RESURRECTION OF THE PHYSICAL BODY, OR THE SPIRITUAL BODY?

So somewhat related to all this is the doctrine of the resurrection. There are many, at this day, who expect a literal physical resurrection, where people will rise out of their graves. This view is related to a literal appearance of the Second Coming, where everyone assumes all things take place in this material physical world. But this is not the case: one is resurrected in the spiritual world, in a spiritual body. One can take the same passages and interpret them either way. For example:

Behold! I tell you a mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed. For this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality. (1 Cor. 15:51-53)

This would indicate we will be raised in a spiritual glorified body. Will it be visible in this world? Not necessarily. And then there is this one:

Do not marvel at this, for an hour is coming when all who are in the tombs will hear his voice and come out, those who have done good to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil to the resurrection of judgment. (John 5:28-29)

To interpret these references to a resurrection, one must have spiritual knowledge of the afterlife. In the spiritual world, midway between heaven and hell, there is an intermediate state where souls gather, good and evil, who were not judged right after death. Many enter into a state of sleep. John sees them in one of his visions of the Apocalypse, where souls “under the altar” are told they must rest or sleep a little longer (Rev. 6:9-11). There are three heavens signified by the three divisions of the temple; the lowest heaven is represented by the outer court and this is where the altar was located. Those “under the altar” are those in this intermediate state between heaven and hell.

It is in this intermediate state, where many are unaware or asleep, is where the last judgment takes place. One is judged after death, some immediately who go to heaven or hell, but many will gather in this intermediate spiritual world. Thus, it is in the spiritual world where last judgments take place. And indeed, the Second Coming is this event – a judgment of souls in the spiritual world:

For the Son of man shall come in the glory of his Father with his angels; and then he shall reward every man according to his works. (Matt. 16:27)

At this time, there is a separation between the good and evil. This is described in the parable of Matthew 25, where the righteous are signified by “sheep” and the evil by “goats” –

When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. (Matt. 25:31-32)

As this is a common misconception, one of the primary revelations given to Swedenborg is a complete explanation of the afterlife, the spiritual resurrection there, and how people are judged according to their works in a complete life review. For further information on this see Heaven and Hell as well as The Final Judgment.  This is becoming more well known among those who study the Near Death Experience from a variety of witnesses who have been brought back to life.

IF THE SECOND COMING IS “NONE OF THE ABOVE” THEN WHAT IS IT?

So its not a literal physical return, there is no literal physical resurrection, there is no rapture into the sky… all I have said so far is what it isn’t, and that one must look for a higher spiritual explanation.  It is very simple: in the First Coming, the “Word was made flesh.” The Word, or Greek Logos, is the Lord as to Divine truth made manifest in human form. In the Second Coming, the Word or Divine truth has been made manifest in the spiritual sense of the Word itself. This spiritual sense has been made manifest in the many volumes of revelations given in waking visions to Emanuel Swedenborg in the 18th century. It is a more internal revelation, not an external visible revelation.

That this is so, is indicated by Jesus, who always describes the Second Coming as the coming of the “Son of Man.”  In the New Testament, “son of Mary” is used to refer to Jesus in His ordinary human form, “Son of God” is used to refer to Jesus in His glorified Divine Human form, but “Son of Man” is used to refer to the Lord as to the Divine truth. To appear “in the clouds of heaven” does not mean He will appear in the sky, but rather He will appear in spiritual vision. The “clouds” is the obscure truth that appears in the literal sense of the Word; for the Son of Man to “appear in glory” signifies the revelation of the spiritual sense of the Word. This He did in the 18th century to Emanuel Swedenborg over a period of 27 years of continuous waking visions, where incorrect doctrines of Christianity have been corrected, for there are many false teachings that have corrupted the core of Christianity where very little truth means. And that is the other point: the Second Coming will take place when there is little or no faith left on earth:

When the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth? (Luke 18:8)

And there will be a general falling away from Christianity, where a false religion will come to take its place:

Let no man deceive you by any means: for that day shall not come, except there come a falling away first, and that man of sin be revealed, the son of perdition; who opposes and exalts himself above all that is called God, or that is worshipped; so that he as God sits in the temple of God, shewing himself that he is God. (1 Thes. 2:3-5)

This particular prophecy is probably taken from Dan. 11:45. A “falling away” is an apostasy from the true faith, a “man of sin” indicates that the falling away is where sin is disregarded, and to show oneself as God is to have an incorrect understanding of God Himself. Thus to see and recognize the Second Coming, one has to first recognize the falsehoods that are propagated in one’s own religion. Very few question what they are taught to believe. Falsehoods from within is what causes a true church to come to its end:

“A church is brought to an end by various means, especially by such as cause falsity to appear as truth; and when falsity appears to be truth, then the good which in itself is good and is called spiritual, is found no more.” (True Christian Religion, n. 754)

Thus what to expect? A true revelation of Jesus Christ and Christianity, a revelation of the spiritual sense of the Word, revealed through spiritual vision. This will establish a New Church, which will be among the few and opposed by the many. This is signified by the 2 witnesses (Rev. 11), the sealing of the 144,000 (Rev. 7 and 14), and the woman who flees to the wilderness (Rev 12) which signifies a state of truth in obscurity known to few. This will be opposed by a false form of Christianity, signified by the dragon, beast and false prophet (Rev. 13) as well as the whore of Babylon (Rev. 17-18). That the Second Coming is a heavenly revelation of the spiritual sense of the Word, can be seen by the coming of the Lord on a white horse, where we have this statement:

And his name is called The Word of God (Rev. 19:13)

As for the hidden spiritual sense of the Apocalypse, see further in the works Apocalypse Revealed and Apocalypse Explained. The good news here, is the Second Coming has taken place, to reveal a more spiritual Christianity where further heavenly secrets are revealed. This was revealed in spiritual vision by Jesus Christ to Emanuel Swedenborg in the 18th century:

“We read in many places that the Lord will come in the clouds of heaven (as in Matt. xxiv. 30; xxvi. 64; Mark xiv. 62; Luke xxi. 27; Apoc. i. 7; xiv. 14; Dan. vii. 13; see also Matt. xvii. 5; Luke ix. 34, 35). But hitherto no one has known what was meant by the clouds of heaven; they have believed that He is to appear in them in person. But that by the clouds of heaven the Word in the sense of the letter is meant, and by the glory and power in which also He is then to come (Matt. xxiv. 30) the spiritual sense of the Word is meant, has been heretofore concealed, because hitherto no one has even by conjecture reached the conclusion that there is a spiritual sense in the Word such as this sense is in itself. Now because the Lord has opened to me the spiritual sense of the Word, and it has been granted me to be together with angels and spirits in their world as one of them, it has been disclosed that by the clouds of heaven is meant the Word in the natural sense, and by glory the Word in the spiritual sense, and by power the Lord’s power through the Word.” (True Christian Religion, n. 776)

Friday, March 24, 2017

Miraculous cure – Is this possible?

miraculousA 74-year-old woman’s lower right leg was covered in waxy lumps, eruptions of angry red and livid purple. Tests confirmed the worst suspicions: it was carcinoma, a form of skin cancer. Despite receiving no treatment over a period of a few months the tumours miraculously disappeared. There was nothing in the biopsies, or the scans. The patient believed it was the hand of God; she had kissed a religious relic just before what she saw as miraculous healing set in. However, medics call this a rare case of spontaneous remission although they cannot account for it scientifically.

Like the patient, believers in faith healing assert that the miraculous curing of disease and disability can be brought about through prayer and/or other religious rituals that, they say stimulate a divine presence and power. The term miracle means an event that is contrary to natural law. There have been claims that faith can cure blindness, deafness, cancer, AIDS, and many other disorders and injuries.

Attitude of religious people to miraculous healing

Miraculous healing was said to happen in biblical times like Christ’s healing of the blind, deaf, lame and other diseased people. If it really happened then, why not also now?

One might wonder about the many millions of Catholics who have made their pilgrimage to Lourdes over the years where the waters are alleged to have miraculous healing powers. Some amazing recoveries have been claimed as miraculous cures but little is said about the vast majority who make no dramatic improvement.

When most don’t get miraculous healing does this make them doubt their religion? Or do they assume they are not good enough for God to want to heal them?

The lack of cure didn’t put off the 72 percent of Americans in 2004 who said, according to a Newsweek poll, they believed that praying to God can cure someone, even if science says the person doesn’t stand a chance.

Can this be true or is it just wishful thinking? Is this attitude just a historical remnant of a pre-scientific age when the Christian church depended on the belief in miracles and superstition? Aren’t people today in secular society more likely to be more rational about such things?

Miraculous events in biblical times

According to Emanuel Swedenborg, spiritual philosopher, in biblical times, there was less capability than now of perceiving the deeper side of life without myths to engage and illuminate the mind. These narratives were usually believed as literally true and people were more naturally-minded. Many needed to believe in miraculous events as a way of thinking about a higher power.

The followers of Christ believed in their leader’s bodily resurrection only because they said that he came to eat with them after his death. According to the Gospel account, one of them, Thomas, was not even convinced until he was allowed to personally examine the wounds in Christ’s hands and side that had been inflicted during the crucifixion.

If miracles were to take place today, such events would soon dominate the mass media and be regularly seen on television news, and nearly everyone would be compelled to believe in supernatural power even against their inclinations. Swedenborg argues that such compulsion would take away our freedom to think clearly about the pros and cons of a spiritual orientation to life.

Belief compelled by miraculous events

I would suggest that in the 21st century we live in new times when we are able to explore rational ideas and have the freedom to hold reasonable doubts. Swedenborg’s point is that it is only in this free way can we really sense and willingly take on board the idea of a higher degree of reality that transcends the material world. Belief freely adopted endures in the heart. It lasts because it is not based on what is sensational, or what others say but comes from an inner acceptance and commitment to a different way of life.

This freedom is said to be vitally important. It allows us to adopt what beliefs we choose and within social boundaries conduct our private lives as we please. It permits us to observe what we get up to and form our own assessment of our conduct as we wish either from the perspective of the world or from our idea of higher values. It allows us to take responsibility for what we do and feel remorse and try to reform only if we so choose.

This is the freedom of thought we have when looking up at the night sky to stand in awe at its vast majesty. To feel wonder at the spell of the sea with its fathomless depths. To marvel about the dreams that fill every period of sleep and what might be their personal meaning. For some people the very breath they take each day of their life is amazing and life itself is a miracle. They don’t need it proved to them by supernatural events that defy any rational explanation.

Seeing the miraculous in the ordinary

The body heals itself. When a virus invades it, the body sets up a process to repel the invader and, after illness, recovery sets in. Medicine and other therapies help this process that according to religious people originates from a God of healing love and wisdom. They say if you put your faith in this miraculous Source it opens your mind to an inner world that goes beyond time and place taking you to quite a different level. This is a kind of faith healing although not what is usually meant by the term.

Your spiritual beliefs may affect your chances of recovery from disease not through a miraculous cure but rather by connecting you with what you perceive as the loving essence of life, encouraging your moderate healthy life style and providing social support and thus emotional help that can only improve your mental state and immune system. Is it this spiritual inflow rather than a supernatural event that can nurture your healing?

“Miracles occur naturally as expressions of love. The real miracle is the love that inspires them. In this sense everything that comes from love is a miracle.” (Marianne Williamson spiritual writer)

Copyright 2016 Stephen Russell-Lacy
Author Heart, Head & Hands

Posted on28th February 2016CategoriesLatest post, Other aspects of spiritual healing,Spiritual healingTags, ,

The Lord Jesus Christ and The Divine Trinity

 

The Teachings of Swedenborg

Concerning

The Lord Jesus Christ and The Divine Trinity

by Philip N. Odhner

The One Infinite God.

Swedenborg teaches that there is one Infinite Supreme Being who created the universe and all things in it out of His Divine Love and Wisdom.

The human mind can see that God is infinite. For if God were finite, or limited, there would have to be something that made Him finite and limited. And in that case that thing which made Him finite and limited would be the real source and origin of all things, and thus would be the real God. So also the human mind can see that God is eternal. For if God were not eternal, then He had a beginning in time. And if He had a beginning in time, then there was something previous to Him from which He had origin, and that previously existing thing would be God.

Because God is infinite and eternal He is one. There cannot be two infinite Beings. If there were two or more supposedly infinite Beings, one would limit and finite the other, and thus neither would be infinite. To think or speak of two or more infinite Beings is a contradiction in itself. Such an idea cannot enter the understanding of man.

That the one infinite God is Wisdom can be seen by man from a view of the starry heavens, in which the suns and planets can be seen held in a wonderful order. It can be seen also from a view of anything in nature in its smallest parts. For the microscope reveals the most wonderful order in the least things of creation, even as the telescope reveals such an order in the greatest things.

God is Love. This can be acknowledged by man from the fact that the order existing in the created universe bespeaks a Divine Purpose therein. And especially can it be seen that God is Love in our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, who showed forth the most perfect love for the eternal salvation of the whole human race.

The Divine Purpose in Creation.

God is Love and Wisdom. In all that He does His Love and His Wisdom are present. Everything that exists is therefore part of His Purpose in creation. But what is the Divine Purpose in creation? Can this be expressed in a way that the human mind can grasp? Swedenborg teaches as follows: “There are two things that make the Essence of God. Love and Wisdom; but there are three things that make the essence of His Love: to others outside of Himself, to will to be one with them, and to bless them from Himself. . . . These things of the Divine Love were the cause of the creation of the universe, and are the cause of its conservation.” (The True Christian Religion, 43, 46.)

It is the nature of love to love others outside of self, to will to be conjoined with them in love, and to make them happy. This is evident in all true human relationships. It is preeminently true of God. In Him is all life, all love and all wisdom. His will therefore is to create others outside of Himself whom He can bless with the gift of His Life, His Love, His Wisdom. His will is to give to others that which is in Him. This is the cause of all creation.

But God, being infinite, cannot create another infinite Being, or another God or gods, to receive His Love and Wisdom. It is impossible for there to be two or more infinite Beings. If there were a God from God, that God from God would either have to be not infinite and not eternal, and thus not a real God, or He would have to be infinite and eternal and thus absolutely one with the first God. For God to create and love another God would thus be God loving Himself in Himself. And this is contrary to the essence of God, which is to love others outside Himself.

God could not create others who have life and love and wisdom in themselves, but He could create finite beings who could be formed into vessels of His Life and Love and Wisdom. For this reason God first created the physical universe. Out of His own Love and Wisdom, which are the origins of all life and motion, He made the physical universe and the dead and inert matters therein. Some idea of how God so created the physical universe out of His Love and Wisdom can be gathered from the discoveries of modern science, in which it is seen that the dead and inert matters of the earth are in fact composed of things in the highest motion.

Out of the dead and fixed things of nature God formed vessels which can receive His Life. These vessels are men, the human race. These vessels God gifts with liberty and rationality, so that they can if they will receive understanding from God in ever increasing measure, and by the perfection of their lives receive the Love of God in ever increasing measure. These vessels can become images and likenesses of God. In such images and likenesses of God the Divine Purpose of creation can find its fulfillment, for such beings can receive God’s love and wisdom freely, can feel them to be their own, and can freely return the love of God. Between the infinite God and such beings there can be eternal conjunction. In this way a true and everlasting relationship can be established between God and those created by Him outside of Himself. But because God’s Love is infinite therefore He looks to an eternal increase of those who can receive His life, and out of them He forms for Himself an eternal Heaven in an eternal world, which is the Spiritual World. In this Heaven those who have become images and likenesses of God advance forever in the understanding and love of God and their neighbours.

Consider carefully the Divine Purpose of creation here set forth. It means that God’s Purpose in creating you is to make you an image and likeness of Himself, to make you an angel of heaven, to give you into eternity an increasing understanding of Him and an increasing love of what is good and true from Him. That is His interest and concern with you and with everyone in the human race.

Consider whether there can be any other cause of creation, or any other reason for your existence? Have you heard of any other explanation that is in agreement with the Scriptures and with the dictates of your own reason concerning God?

The Advent of the Lord into the World.

Swedenborg teaches that mankind in their first state of creation were as children, innocent and obedient. From the influx of the Love of God into their minds they were able to perceive the truths concerning God in all things of creation. They loved God and they loved their neighbour. This is the state of mankind that is described in the Bible as the Paradise of Eden.

But as the knowledge and the natural understanding of mankind increased they began to feel and believe that they could lead themselves in all matters of faith and wisdom. They began to believe that they were good and wise, and denied the truth that they were only vessels of good and of wisdom from God. This is represented in the Scriptures by the eating of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Because of this disorder men fell from their state of love and wisdom. More and more they removed themselves from the influx of God into their souls and minds. Finally the human race came into a state in which the Divine Purpose of creation was threatened and the human race itself was threatened with spiritual destruction.

Because of the removal of man from his first state of reception of the Love of God, it was necessary that a new kind of conjunction between God and man should be established. This was accomplished by the coming of God the Creator into the world.

In the Scriptures of the Old Testament, which were Divinely inspired and given to men by God during man’s gradual decline from his first state, it is foretold and promised many times that He who created the world would come into the world to redeem and save mankind.

We here quote a few such places from the Old Testament:

“For thus saith the Lord (Jehovah) that created the heavens; God Himself that formed the earth and made it; He hath established it, He created it not in vain. . . . He formed it to be inhabited: I am the Lord (Jehovah) and there is none else.” (Isaiah 45:18.)

“Behold the Lord God (Lord Jehovih) will come with a strong hand, and His arm shall rule for Him.” (Isaiah 40:10.)

“Sing and rejoice, O daughter of Zion; for lo, I come and will dwell in the midst of thee, saith the Lord (Jehovah). (Zechar. 2:10.)

“Behold, the days come, saith the Lord (Jehovah), that I will raise up unto David a just Branch . . . and this is His Name whereby He shall be called, THE LORD (Jehovah) OUR RIGHTEOUSNESS.” (Jeremiah 23:5,6.)

“And all flesh shall know that I Jehovah am thy Saviour and thy Redeemer, the Mighty One of Jacob.” (Isaiah 49:26.)

“For I know that my Redeemer liveth, and that He shall stand in the latter day upon the earth.” (Job 19:25.)

“Let Israel hope in Jehovah … He shall redeem Israel from all his iniquities.” (Ps. 130:7,8.)

“Yet I am Jehovah thy God from the land of Egypt . . . and thou shalt know no other God but me; for there is no Saviour beside me.” (Hosea 13:4.)

From these passages it is clear that the Old Testament teaches that there is one God, who is called Jehovah God, and that this God calls Himself the Saviour and the Redeemer, as well as the Creator. But now consider the following passages from the Old Testament, which foretell the Coming of the Creator into the world, and which clearly refer to the Coming of the Lord Jesus Christ:

“The voice of him that crieth in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the Lord (the way of Jehovah), make straight in the desert a highway for our God.” (Isaiah 40:3.) It is said in the New Testament that this is a prophecy of John the Baptist, who prepared the way for the Lord Jesus Christ. Here, in the Old Testament, the one for whom John prepared the way is called Jehovah and “our God.”

“Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a Son, and shall call His Name Immanuel.” (Isaiah 7:14.) This prophecy is quoted in Matthew with reference to the birth of the Lord, and it is there added about the name Immanuel, “which being interpreted is, God with us.” (Matt. 1:23.) Here therefore the Lord is called God with us, in both the Old and the New Testaments.

“Lo, this is our God; we have waited for Him, and He will save us: this is the Lord (this is Jehovah) ; we have waited for Him, we will be glad and rejoice in His salvation.” (Isaiah 25:9.)

“Unto us a Child is born, unto us a Son is given; and the government shall be upon His shoulder: and His Name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The Mighty God, the Everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace.” (Isaiah 9:6.)

From the above passages from the Old Testament it is clear that the one infinite and eternal God, Jehovah God, the Creator of the universe, promised that He would come into the world, and that this promise refers to the Coming of the Lord Jesus Christ.

Swedenborg in his works shows not only that the Old Testament prophesies the coming of the Creator into the world, but also that the New Testament teaches that the Lord Jesus Christ is that Creator come into the world. This is taught in John, as follows:

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. (or, God was the Word.) The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made by Him; and without Him was not anything made that was made . . . And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.” (John 1:1-3, 14.)

How the Incarnation of God Took Place.

But how did God come into the world, and what did He do here that brings about the Redemption and salvation of the human race and makes possible again the conjunction of mankind with Him in the reception of His Love and Wisdom?

Swedenborg teaches that God came into the world by taking on a human body by means of birth from the virgin Mary. Consider what is said in the New Testament concerning the conception of the Lord Jesus Christ:

“And the angel answered and said unto her, The Holy Spirit shall come upon thee, and the Power of the Highest shall overshadow thee; therefore also that Holy thing which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God.” (Luke 1:35.)

This teaching can mean nothing else than that the one Infinite God was Himself the Father of the Lord Jesus Christ.

The Lord had no human father, as do all other human beings, but the infinite and eternal God was His Father. This means that the Lord had that in Him which was infinite and eternal, that which was life in itself. But because the Infinite cannot be divided as can the finite, this also means that God Himself was in Jesus Christ.

In the Lord Jesus Christ when He was first born into the world there were two distinct natures: that which He derived from Ilis Father, which was infinite and Divine, and that which He derived from Mary, which was merely human and which had within it the heredity of the human race.

Because the Lord had with Him that heredity from Mary He had with Him that which was mortal and vulnerable. In the heredity from Mary was the heriditary evil of the human race. He thus took on Himself the sins and iniquities of us all, and in His life in the world He overcame those evils in Himself. In that maternal heredity, which Swedenborg calls the maternal human of the Lord, the Lord met and conquered the evils which had taken possession of human minds and bodies. Through that maternal human the hells could attack His Divine Love for the salvation of the human race, and in it the Lord from His Divine soul met and conquered that attack.

Swedenborg teaches that two things took place by the incarnation of the Divine in the Lord Jesus Christ. First, the evil of the human race, hell itself, was subjugated by the Lord. The second thing was that the Lord during His life in the world reordered that human mind and body which He assumed through Mary, and conjoined and at length united it to His own Divine soul which He had from conception. This is what is called the Lord’s glorification. Through His glorification the Lord put off what He had derived from Mary and put on a new Human, the Divine Human, from His own Divine soul. Thus He made His Human Divine, and the Divine Human in Himself. Even as to the Human He became Life itself, Love itself and Wisdom itself.

As to His very soul, and also as to those things of His mind and body which the Lord had made one with the Divine, Jesus Christ was altogether one with the Father. As to those things of His human which had not yet been made Divine, He was as another person. This is why the Lord sometimes spoke of Himself as one with His Father, and at other times spoke as if the Father were another than Himself. But at His Resurrection the process of the glorification of His Human was complete, and then He was altogether one with the Father as to person and essence.

This may be illustrated in the following diagrams:

The Lord in His Human made Divine (D) is not another person than the Father, or another infinite and eternal God, but is the Father Himself clothed with the Human made Divine.

The Lord’s soul was Divine from conception. It was the Father in Him. And this is why the Lord taught that the Father was in Him. As the Lord glorified His Human, so that Human also was made Divine, and this is why the Lord says that He is one with the Father.

The one infinite and eternal God, now clothed in His Divine Human, is the Lord Jesus Christ glorified. He is God made Man, and Man made God. And in His Divine Human He has power over all things in heaven and on earth, as the Lord Himself says in Matthew:

“All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth.” (Matt. 28:18.)

In the Divine Human the one infinite and eternal God has so embodied and accommodated His Divine Love and Wisdom that He may be seen and approached by man in man’s fallen state. In His Divine Human He can inflow into our minds and influence us in the love of what is good and true in spite of the heriditary corruption of our nature. And in the Divine Human we can if we are willing come to the idea of God in a truly rational human form. Thus through His incarnation we can see Him and understand Him and love Him in a way that is far superior to anything that ever existed previous to His Advent into the world. For in His Divine Human the Lord is seeable, approachable, able to be understood and loved.

These things God has done out of His infinite Mercy and Love for the human race, to make possible again His Divine Purpose with men, that He might bless them with eternal life and be conjoined with them in Love.

These things are meant by this in John:

“No man hath seen God at any time; the only begotten Son, which is in the bosom of the Father, He hath declared Him.” (John 1:18.)

The Fruit or result of the Advent and Glorification of the Lord may be illustrated in the following diagrams:

1. A represents the Love and Wisdom of the one Infinite God flowing into men.
    B is the interior mind of man, into which the Lord could inflow before the fall.
    C. is the conscious or external mind of man into which the Lord also inflowed through the interior mind with those before the fall.
2. After the fall of man the interior mind was blocked up with evils, and the influx of God into man was obstructed.
3. A here represents the infinite Love and Wisdom clothed in the Divine Human. By means of this accommodation God can inflow directly into the conscious mind of man and enlighten it with truth and affect it with good. Through this man receives from the Lord the ability to fight against and remove the evils obstructing the interiors of his mind.

The Divine Trinity.

The New Testament speaks of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Many have understood this to mean that God is in three Divine Persons, each of whom is infinite and eternal, and each of whom is God and Lord. But the New Testament does not speak of Persons in God at all, much less of three Divine Persons existing from eternity.

It is admitted by many that the question of how three persons make one God is past all human understanding. And because of this mystery many people do not think deeply about God, believing that their minds are not capable of entering into such thought.

What does Swedenborg teach concerning the Divine Trinity?

From what has gone before in this lecture it can be seen that the Father, the one infinite and eternal God, is not one Divine Person and the Son another Divine Person. but that they are one. as soul and body are one. The Son. the Divine Human, is the Divine Body, and the Father is the Divine Soul in that Divine Bodv. Even as the soul and body of a man are not two people, but one person, so the Father and the Son, the Divine and the Divine Human of the Lord are one Divine Person.

But what then of the Holy Spirit?

Swedenborg teaches that the Holy Spirit is the Lord’s own Divine Spirit going forth from Him to men and angels. It is the Divine Love and Wisdom proceeding out of the Divine Human of the Lord to work the regeneration and salvation of mankind. This can be seen perfectly represented in the Gospel of .John:

“And when He had said this. He breathed on them and said. Receive ye the Holy Spirit.” (John 20:22)

This was said after the Lord’s Resurrection. The Holy Spirit is there represented as the Breath of the Lord. His Breath is His Divine Truth going forth from Himself to men. Swedenborg calls this the Divine Proceeding, or, the Divine Operation.

That the Holy Spirit is the Divine proceeding from the glorified Human of the Lord is also taught in these passages from the New Testament: “But this He spake of the Spirit, which they that believe on Him should receive: for the Holy Ghost was not yet given; because that Jesus was not yet glorified.” (John 7:39.) The original Greek reads “The Holy Spirit was not yet, because that Jesus was not yet glorified.”

“It is expedient for you that I go away; for if I go not away, the Comforter will not come to you; but if I depart, I will send Him unto you.” (John 16:7.)

After the Lord was glorified, that is, after His Human was made Divine, the Comforter, the Holy Spirit, which leads men into all truth, could come to men, because through the Divine Human the Divine Good and Truth can inflow into our minds.

The conclusion therefore is that the Divine Trinity is not a Trinity of Persons, but that it is a Trinity of essentials in the one Divine Person, our Lord Jesus Christ. The Father is the Divine itself, present in Him as the Soul. The Son is the Divine Human, which is the Body of that Divine Soul, and the Holy Spirit is the Divine Operation, the Divine Good and Truth proceeding from God to men.

This is taught also by Paul, in these words concerning the Lord:

“For in Him dwelleth all the fulness of the Godhead bodily.” (Col. 2:9.)

If you see God as one Divine Person, one Divine Man, and the Trinity in Him as Soul, Body and Proceeding, you will have an understandable idea of God and of the Divine Trinity in Him. This teaching is that which is given in the Old Testament and in the New Testament. It is the Supreme Truth concerning the Lord.

This truth may be summarized thus: That the Lord Jesus Christ is the one God of heaven and earth, that He is Jehovah, the Lord from eternity, that He is the Creator from eternity, that He is the Redeemer in time, that He is the regenerator into eternity, and thus that He is at the same time the Father, and the Son and the Holy Spirit.

The Lord Jesus Christ is our God. There is no other. To Him we owe all that is good and all that is true. All power in heaven and on earth is His. To Him alone should we pray. To Him alone should be our worship, our love, and the service of our lives.

jesus christ

“Some one has said that we should read the Bible only from one standpoint, to know the Lord Jesus Christ; and if one studies the Bible for any other purpose he will not understand it. The Bible begins with Jesus ( Gen. 3:15), and ends with Him. In fact it is a revelation of Jesus Christ. The revelation of “God in Christ” – II Cor. 5:19. Christ is not only the central fig!cid_F83AEC9E81FD41B58C1E3173639C4571@DomenicHPure of the Bible, but the “First and the Last.” – Rev. 1:8; 22:13, Isa. 41:4; 43:10.

Inferiority – How to heal this feeling?

inferiorityDo you feel lower in status or ability than others? Perhaps you find yourself engaging in self-disparaging self-talk from time to time. ‘I can’t do this as well as them’; ‘I fall behind because I’m basically too slow’; ‘They look down on me because I’m not good enough’. Here we have a sense of inferiority causing doubt and uncertainty, feelings of not measuring up to standards, and a lack of self-worth.

Consequences of feelings of inferiority

As a result, others around you may note that you are the sort of person who seems unsure of yourself often seeking attention and approval, someone who feels inadequate to deal with anything without relying on them for encouragement and reassurance. When these feelings of inferiority really get you down then you have a state of mind that you may inwardly realise needs healing.

Being at risk for a sense of inferiority

To have a sense of inferiority, you don’t have to be a member of an ethnic minority, be poor and out of work, have a physical disability or have a childhood memory of failing to live up to parents expectations, but, if you do have any of these, you may be more at risk.

Perhaps you happen to believe that people who are successful are more important, or that people of a certain race, or state of health are at the top of the list. Maybe your self-criticism has some measure of truth but, even if true, does this make you a lesser mortal than the majority of humanity? An inferior sort of human? Doesn’t everyone have their own weaknesses as well as strengths?

Some healing suggestions

Open yourself to healing by:

1. Catching yourself running yourself down. Instead get into the habit of being fair and reasonable regarding your strengths and weaknesses. What you say to yourself may be unfair if you are exaggerating your negative side.

2. Affirming the idea that no matter how others denigrate you, we all deserve respect and happiness because of unconditional love that is the spiritual source of all things. A good parent loves the disabled child as much as the able-bodied one not because of their abilities but because of their needs.

3. Watching out for manipulators – individuals who seem to like to put you down in subtle ways that are not obvious. Perhaps this can be heard in their tone of voice, sarcastic asides, and focusing on negatives about you without much in the way of any positives. These people want to feel superior and so they try to cause you inferiority feelings. They are practised at knowing how to detect weaknesses and once found, they use someone’s weaknesses against him or her.

4. Remembering a spiritual perspective. I really believe that healing of the spirit will happen if you have a deep desire for living a full life of usefulness unencumbered by self-doubt, and anxiety.

Story

There is a story in the Bible about a loving mother who approaches Christ for help because of her concern for her suffering daughter said to be possessed by demons. The mother is a Canaanite – a nation in the story the Jews despise.

As a woman she is a second class citizen in a culture dominated by men. This was the case two thousand years ago in Palestine and is still the case in some parts of the world now. Considered more like property, she functions more like a servant, and a producer of children than someone to be cherished as a loving companion. She has a husband who by law is allowed to divorce her for any reason. Enough, one might think, to give anyone strong feelings of inferiority.

On top of that she is intimidated by this religious teacher – first ignored, then told to go away, and then suffering his stinging words saying his mission is not for her people’s benefit and that she is nothing better than a dog.

Nevertheless, she is not put off by his inattention and rudeness but shows humility and love in her renewed plea. As a result the story tells us the healing takes place.

In his book 12 Miracles of Spiritual Growth, E. Kent Rogers suggests that if we are possessed by feelings of inferiority, we would be wise like the woman in the story to be persistent in our efforts to find healing and be willing to struggle with God as the source of all healing.

If we are tired of the way our self-depreciation, inhibits our ability to love and connect with others, if we are saddened by the way our self-hatred affects others negatively then we will be empowered to tenaciously petition God for healing until we receive what we want. “(E. Kent Rogers, Swedenborgian writer)

So if you are troubled by a feeling of inferiority why not be persistent in humbly asking for help in private prayer?

Copyright 2014 Stephen Russell-Lacy
Author of  Heart, Head & Hands  Swedenborg’s perspective on emotional problems

Can I find forgiveness?

longer version

Spiritual healing can be needed for guilty feelings. Not all that is going on in our mind is the working of a true conscience. Some of us find ourselves at times on a guilt trip. Even if we have a sound mind, we may sometimes feel guilty over the smallest thing – without rhyme or reason painstakingly worried about something we have done that really is unimportant.

One example is children who, having been trained by their parents to follow certain rules, like never putting one’s elbows on the table at meal times – feel guilty when they have grown into adulthood feeling guilty if they ever break this rule. Other examples of illogical guilt are saying `sorry’ a lot of the time and unfairly criticising ourselves. Trying too hard to get friends to like us, feeling easily embarrassed when asking for favours or doing anything that might displease them.

Many hopelessly sick people feel constantly guilty. http://www.freefoto.com This may result from the suspicion that their sickness and fate are self-inflicted and their own fault. Alternatively, they may assume, more or less, the role of the utterly dependent child. Some consciously apologize for the trouble and fuss they are causing. (Our Western culture fosters a sense of guilt in most of us when illness places us in the dependent role). If we are dying, we may even feel as if we are forcing the living to face the necessity of their own deaths for which we suppose they will not be thankful.

Psychoanalysis is interested in throwing light on our unconscious emotional impulses, and the conflicts between these and the demands of the real world around us. Feeling frequently guilt-ridden comes about from our worldly concerns – like wanting to be well thought of and desiring popularity.  According to Sigmund Freud, neurotic guilt should be approached by working through the sense of badness and the unconscious wish for punishment. People tend in varying amounts to be troubled by all manner of false guilt feelings resulting from a distorted perhaps puritanical viewpoint of human reality – and I would say that in the uncovering of such false guilt feelings, the Freudian psychotherapists have done a good service to the general psychological health of modern people.

We can start to feel a little less uptight about our behaviour when we see the unreasonableness of some of these guilt-laden habits of thought and learn how to face up to them. For example realising that looking after oneself does not necessarily make us selfish. If we did not spend money on food and clothes for ourselves, we would not be able to do useful work. If we do not have any respect for ourselves, how can we hope to respect anyone else? If we do not look after ourselves how can we expect to look after anyone else? As I have earlier suggested, if we can better accept ourselves for what we are – warts and all – then we will depend less on being looked upon well by those who know us.

If we can learn to notice our strengths as well as our failings, we will feel less bad about our mistakes. We can let go of some unpleasant guilt feelings and illusory  ideas they tend to generate.

Our True Conscience

Our true conscience is more than mere knowledge in the head – it also involves the heart. It is different from unconscious fear of the ingrained experience of parental displeasure or disappointment in childhood that psychoanalysts point to in the notion of `superego’. It is not the same as the feelings of shame triggered by social pressures about which some other psychologists talk.

Sometimes we act against a heartfelt and deep awareness of what we feel to be  right – against a true conscience. We rightly feel bad about it even if sometimes we act in error on impulse without thinking.

 

“Anger, intoxication, obstinacy, bigotry, deceit, envy, grandiloquence, pride and conceit, intimacy with the unjust, this is what defiles one.”
(Sutta-Nipata, ii, 2,7. – Buddhist tradition)

In other words sooner or later we all do foolish things. The existential psychotherapists have pointed out that one cannot reason away those guilt feelings which come from an awareness of actual transgressions against true conscience and unfulfilled potentials. The important thing is to try to disentangle feelings of guilt arising because of a true conscience from feelings of guilt arising from other causes. For example, it may be reasonable and fair to accept guilt about the avoidable bad things that we have done. No longer can the individual comfortably rely on such alibis as `I didn’t mean it’, `It was an accident’, `I couldn’t help it’, and `I followed an irresistible impulse. Such acknowledgment of guilt arising from a true conscience is helpful if it can lead to a change of behaviour. It is easier to feel a sense of being forgiven when we change our actions for the better.

Misguided Conscience

We may be being unduly hard on ourselves when we castigate ourselves for past wasted time, or unfinished tasks when we have been in a situation where we have been beset with difficult problems. It is easy to look back with hindsight and notice lost opportunities not seen at the time. The chronically sick person who blames him or herself for talents withering in disuse is listening to a mistaken conscience for no one can be expected to lead an active and full working life whilst struck down with illness beyond their control. How can one forgive oneself for such past behaviour when there is nothing one can do to make amends?

A couple had recently fallen in love and got married.  They were sublimely happy. But tragically within weeks of the wedding, the woman was given a diagnosis of cancer and soon found herself needing a mastectomy, radiotherapy and chemotherapy. She became bald due to hair loss, developed mouth sores and painful bowel movements and had to face the devastating likelihood of an early death with no chance of having a child. In order to be with his wife through her ordeal, her husband, who was a writer of world renown in his field, chose to stop writing and generally turned his life over to her fight against cancer. This was an emotionally draining responsibility. He assumed he could not voice his own needs because of her suffering. Not surprisingly she came to take his support for granted.

In the middle of this, he himself went down with a medium-term debilitating illness of unknown origin. Due to exhaustion he even stopped his daily meditation – a spiritual practice that had previously given him huge benefit. For over a year he completely submerged his own interests, his own work, his own life. Up to that period, writing had been his life-blood. He defined himself by his writing and when that suddenly stopped he was suspended in mid-air, so to speak. In other words, his mistaken conscience was dictating altruistic but psychologically unhealthy behaviour that could not last indefinitely.

He was to say that he would have done all this again unhesitatingly under the same circumstances but would have done it differently with more of a support system for himself in place. The grinding role of a full-time carer takes a devastating toll unless this is available.

The need for one to find a balance between one’s own needs and the needs of one’s family or one’s work is quite a challenge these days with so many pressures to withstand – let alone the extra pressure of being a full-time carer. It is a mistaken  conscience that gets us to perform our useful caring roles without setting aside any time for ourselves – for our recreation and other personal needs.

Phoney Conscience

Although caring for oneself may be important, sometimes underneath our actions are mixed motives. We may do things ostensibly for others when our real motivation is also looking for what we gain in the situation for example the good regard of others or an escape from criticism. This is a phoney conscience at work.  Cynics call this `enlightened self-interest’. Spiritual teachers instead urge that we do not act wisely and well from the thought of reward and concern only for ourselves.

 

“Be careful not to do your ‘acts of righteousness’ before men, to be seen by them.”
(Matt 6,1)

 

“Let right deeds be your motive, not the fruit which comes from them.”
(Krishna. Bhagavad-Gita, ii, 47. – Hindu tradition)

There even comes a point when self-love amounts to vanity and narcissism. Are we worried about not shopping for the latest cosmetic? Perhaps a false conscience is at work. A true conscience would encourage us to care for ourselves  – doing our own thing – as long as this does not totally ignore the needs of loved ones, or the values that give our life deeper meaning.

Blame Game

We may try hard to put the past behind us and forget about what we feel ashamed. However, the past keeps coming back to haunt us so that we may end up feeling miserable. This can happen especially when throughout our upbringing we have been repeatedly blamed for any sign of self-centredness and pleasure seeking. Freud has shown the damaging impact of those traditional religious doctrines that support an account of God in terms of a persecutory superego that looks down upon mortals, judging and often condemning their behaviour. Instead of finding a sense of self-acceptance that enables us to move on putting the past behind us, we may instead feel we deserve condemnation or even punishment before this can happen.

Sometimes we may want to be punished in the hope that this will put things right. Perhaps we yearn for God’s forgiveness but cannot experience this because we believe we deserve only his judgment. Many people hold – what I believe to be a mistaken view – that he is keeping a little book totting up our sins as well as our good actions so that we can be rewarded with paradise or be punished with hell-fire depending on which list is longer. They believe that they and others deserve to be blamed when they are bad. Instead, I believe our destiny depends – not on past behaviour but rather on our future character. Those who become considerate, compassionate and kind-hearted – no matter what terrible things they may have previously done – are destined to continue enjoying underlying heavenly peace and joy despite any circumstantial trials and problems. On the other hand those who never progress beyond a self-orientated self-serving attitude are destined to continue suffering underlying miserable states of mind despite any enjoyment of the pleasures of the moment.

Mistaken Attributions

We need to make a distinction between the experiencing of temptation and whether or not we succumb to it. After all, good and bad impulses and thoughts arise from what we see and hear on a daily basis from television and radio, from what those around as at work and home say in our hearing and from what we read in newspapers, books and magazines. They stir up associations in our memory. Without realising it, although inspiring or alluring images and ideas may stir us up, nevertheless we can take no responsibility for their rising up within us.

We should not take the credit for any originality they may inspire – only perhaps for the effort and work we put in to turning them into something worthwhile. Neither should we take the blame for any shameful desires they excite in us; unless we dwell on their fantasies, act them out and then justify to ourselves our indulgence in them.

 

“What goes into a man’s mouth does not make him ‘unclean,’ but what comes out of his mouth, that is what makes him ‘unclean.’ ”
(Matt 15, 11)

In other words, it is not the having of bad ideas and impulses arise in us, but how we respond to them that begins to shape our character.

Swedenborg says that anything that is genuinely good comes from God and heaven and so we can claim no merit in ourselves for it. This is at the centre of the correct religious attitude. The trouble is this idea has been misused to justify the notion we should focus on our religious belief rather than try to do good and useful work. Actually although I believe God is the power of goodness itself and the source of all virtues such as patience, tolerance, and kindness, nevertheless we human beings should do our best to take on board these divinely inspired qualities. Leave us to our own ways of doing things, and we would not act well. However, divinely inspired goodness and light can shine through our actions. Turning in the right direction towards God, we act as a channel for heavenly influence on earth and we become suitable vessels to receive spiritual gifts that enrich our lives and help us to gradually grow in love and faith. What many Christians call being reborn. The religious person is saying that the motivation for all that he or she does that is good comes from heaven.

Some of us tend to feel guilty believing all the bad things we think come from ourselves. Yet, only extremely vain conceited individuals make a mistake in claiming credit for every good idea they happen to have. Surely if it is mistaken to attribute all virtuous impulses to oneself it is also an error to believe that we are responsible for all bad things we think? Can we really be blamed for all the shameful desires that pop into our hearts if we neither entertain them for long nor fall for their tempting allure?

For me the answer is simple. Is not the hidden influence of hell the source of all vice such as malice, cruelty or condemnation? All we can do is try to avoid hells way. If we do not, then what is bad will stick fast to us and we will find it rather difficult to wash ourselves clean from all the dirt.

 Personal Growth

Swedenborg taught that God is the source of pure compassion. Loving us as he does, he puts aside our faults and blemishes. Such a picture of the divine is one that accepts us fully regardless of any of our past flawed actions. Although God never condones our wrongdoing, it is an image of a forgiveness. For our experience of living is one of temptation to put self before other people and bodily pleasure before principles of what is right and good e.g. to act greedily, deceitfully, or unfairly. God is just as much concerned for the cruel and evil-minded person as he is for the good person. In giving honest criticism to those in the gospel accounts who behaved badly, Jesus Christ encouraged them to change their ways and he revealed an inner attitude not one of contempt, but rather of concern and forgiveness. For example in speaking to the woman caught in an act of adultery – a crime punishable by death in her culture – he explicitly said that he did not condemn her. (John 6:11). Likewise to the Samaritan woman he met at the well, who was living with a man not her husband (John 4:10), instead of criticism he offered living water.

He wants us all to be able to freely choose good over bad, sense over foolishness, rather than becoming or remaining enslaved to the powers of darkness. For this reason God entered into the material plane of life to overcome the forces of ill-will and malice by responding with love and forbearance. By his doing this, he preserved our inner freedom.

Ideally, we would always adopt good impulses and illuminating ideas. Nevertheless, there are many times, when we abuse these spiritual gifts, by indulging in the bad desires and illusory notions that keep impinging on our hearts and minds. In other words, it is we at times who often distance ourselves from the divine by acting out base urges and following mistaken or self-centred notions. One example is when we continue to hold a grievance or feel resentful towards someone who has wronged us rather than adopting a forgiving heart. How can we expect to experience the forgiveness of others or to be able to forgive ourselves – let alone the forgiveness of God for our own wrongdoing, if we do not develop a forgiving heart towards those who do us ill. It is we and not God who creates our resulting unhappiness.

What is bad in our behaviour brings it own reward. If we drink too much alcohol, we suffer cirrhosis of the liver and may lose our livelihood. If we go round, being nasty to people we soon will not have any friends and will become a social outcast. Bad behaviour results in bad consequences. It is we who tend to guiltily condemn ourselves for any wrongdoing. A God of love and wisdom cannot condemn anyone but only continually try to help us in the predicaments we create for ourselves.

Only by responding to the still small voice of our inner conscience can we hope to resolve to change. Swedenborg concludes that what is needed is acknowledgement of error, heartfelt repentance and sincere resolve not to repeat the error. We can experience a guilt-free state of peace and contentment if we, like little children, innocently allow God to lead us in all we do instead of primarily following our own agenda and own misguided self-interests.

 

“There is divine, that is, infinite love; and there is divine, that is, infinite mercy… (that) continually excuses, and continually forgives.”
(Swedenborg. Arcana Coelestia section 8573 2)

Extracted from the book Heart, Head and Hands by Stephen Russell-Lacy

Posted on13th December 2010CategoriesEssaysTags, , ,, , , , , , ,, , , , , , ,