Guilty feelings mistaken or helpful?

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Guilty feelings mistaken or helpful?

Health education points out the dangers of over-indulgence in eating and drinking and sitting around. You may take the view that if you really like doing something, you shouldn’t feel guilty about it. Or you may think you should moderate your guilty pleasures when they negatively affect others.

Then again you may think you ought to spend less time or money on yourself for the sake of the family. Also remain loyal to your partner despite temptation to carry on behind their back with some other attractive person. Or perhaps you believe that infidelity can be guilt free and harms no one as long as it remains a secret liaison. When you are feeling guilty what should you do? Shrug your shoulders and try to forget the unpleasant feeling? Or deal with it in some other way? Are your guilty feelings mistaken or potentially helpful to you?

Anxiety, shame and guilty feelings

It’s difficult to disentangle guilt, anxiety and shame.

You may be in charge of a child who has a temper tantrum in a supermarket. Not your fault – but that doesn’t prevent you feeling deeply self-conscious and embarrassed by the stares and ‘tut tuts’ of other shoppers who are assuming it is. It might not even be your child. You’ve done nothing against your conscience to warrant any guilty feeling.

When the second world-war ended some French women underwent public humiliation by having their heads shaved for sleeping with the enemy. Their conduct had been okay by them as long as it gave them nice things and favours.

Guilt does not apply if only getting exposed to public gaze is the problem. Like the person who has no conscience and thus no guilt about secretly having more than one sexual partner. Only anxiety about being found out.

Mistaken guilt feelings

There seem to be inborn individual differences in conscientiousness. Some people have a tendency towards thoughtfulness and impulse control. They tend to complete tasks. Others are less thoughtful and more inclined towards impulsiveness taking less care of things. The conscientious ones are more prone to guilt feelings.

When you notice a guilty feeling you may be being unfair on yourself. Your guilt may be illogical and mistaken or at any rate exaggerated. But nevertheless you end up going on a guilt trip. So you keep quiet about whatever it is you have a guilty feeling about. You keep it secret because you think you will be judged by it. But you have already judged yourself. You may be afraid to tell the truth as it will be proof that you are unworthy and unlovable.

For many years this was true of Ronda Brittain. She was the middle child of three girls, and was the target of her divorced father’s physical and emotional abuse. At the age of 14, she was the only witness to her father shooting and killing her mother and then shooting himself. She tried to commit suicide three times until she realised that she was being unfair on herself.

“I thought the world was going to swallow me whole. But instead, I found that I was the only one who had been judging me.” (Ronda Brittain founder of the Fearless Living Institute)

Awakening to a spiritual dimension

But are all guilt feelings based on a mistaken conscience? Those who are starting to awaken to the spiritual dimension of life might well develop a conscience about conspicuous consumption; feeling guilty about spending money on the latest gizmo, a more powerful car, fashionable property, or an expensive foreign holiday.

“Anyone who has a sensible conscience will inevitably feel anxiety of guilt whenever they go against it. It may be going against what deep down one realises is just and fair.” (Harry Barnitz, philosopher and Swedenborgian)

Sometimes we act against a heartfelt and deep awareness of what we feel to be right – not acting against a mistaken conscience but against a true one. We rightly feel bad about it even if sometimes we have acted in error on impulse without thinking. Not only feeling guilty about what we have been doing that we know deep down in our hearts is wrong but also what we have failed to do; the so-called sins of omission and unfulfilled potential.

Potential helpfulness of guilty feelings

Sooner or later we all do bad or foolish things that we feel tarnish or taint us.

“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)

The existential psychotherapists have pointed out that one cannot reason away those guilt feelings which come from an awareness of actual transgressions. 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.

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’. Instead, 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 forgiveness when we change our actions for the better. Change get rids of that guilty feeling and encourages forward thinking.

“I’m just going to say it: I’m pro-guilt. Guilt is good. Guilt helps us stay on track because it’s about our behavior. It occurs when we compare something we’ve done – or failed to do – with our personal values.” (Brene Brown, professor of social work)

Copyright 2017 Stephen Russell-Lacy
Author of Heart, Head & Hands Swedenborg’s perspective on emotional problems

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Spiritual Awakening in children-is this possible?

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Spiritual awakening in children – Is this possible?

At times children seem untidy, noisy, and demanding. Some appear even empty-headed, selfish, and endlessly bickering. At the same time many of us feel a sense of vague longing for our own childhood. There is something about being a child that pulls at our heart strings. Probably this is to do with how in children the ‘here and now’ is central. They are said to live in the moment and have a natural energy and spontaneity about them. But do children show any signs of spiritual awakening? Do they have transcendent awareness?

William Blake and William Wordsworth in their poetry Songs of Innocence and Ode: Intimations of Immortalityevoked the awakening of a magical freshness of childhood perception as well as a natural kinship with all that is seen.

Ideas about spiritual awakening during childhood

Abraham Maslow who studied ‘peak’ experiences in adults, thought that children also undergo an awakening of visionary experiences but usually lack the words to talk about them. Even if you happen to remember having a deeply moving event many decades ago, you may not recall it with total accuracy.

Dr. Elisabeth Kűbler-Ross, famous for her books about the terminally ill, surprised medical science in the late 1970’s by revealing in her book On Children and Death, the transcendent perceptions of her patients.

“It is impossible to ignore the thousands of stories that dying patients – children and adults – have shared with me. These illuminations cannot be explained in scientific language.”  

Hoffman’s findings about children

Clinical psychologist, Edward Hoffman collected memories from adults regarding inspirational awakening during their early life. He discovered a pattern of childhood spirituality in the memories of early years detailed in his book Visions of Childhood.

These involved deep meaning, beauty and great harmony, often involving the awareness of a different kind of reality. Uplifting experiences happened in ordinary places, as well as whilst encountering nature, and during near death or crisis episodes.

Remembered are spontaneous moments of bliss, and profound insights about life and oneself in childhood: memories having an enduring significance into adulthood.

Profound intuitions in children

Hoffman’s respondents reported accounts of experiences when as children they speculated about life and death, and engaged in reflections regarding personal existence and self-transcendence.

For example a man reported that as a child his family had a mortuary in a small town in Colorado. Consequently, he grew up with a certain familiarity with death. He remembers constantly pondering where dead people go. “Do they just go into a hole in the ground? What does it feel like to be dead?” When aged nine he recalls sitting on a park bench imagining his dead grandfather being in a dark, lonely, black expanse of ‘nothing and no one’ forever and ever.

A terrible and chilling dread came over his entire body. But then instantly it vanished. It was replaced by a warm comfortable, and bright feeling – and a kind and loving presence. “I seemed to hear my grandpa saying, ‘See, it’s all right. I’m just in a place that’s different.’ ”

From that day on he remembers “I never again had a fear of death.”

One woman from Connecticut reported that her older child when aged three would occasionally ask her questions about God. One day he was standing still for a long time next to a window in their home. Just staring and not moving. An unusual thing to see in someone so young. Eventually he moved away and when asked what he was doing he replied in a matter-of-fact way “I was talking with God”. He remained subdued and then went on playing as usual. He didn’t want to share the experience with her and when asked about the incident at a later point in his life apparently didn’t recall it.

How common is spiritual awakening in children?

Are deeper experiences common but stay hidden from ourselves? That would be true if misunderstood by the child experiencing them. Or perhaps they seem unusual because they were never shared with others due to being so private, hard to put into words and unique to the individual. Or perhaps parents and childhood friends reacted negatively causing the child to clam up?

Implanting of spiritual feelings in children

One way of understanding what is going on is the idea of spiritual philosopher Emanuel Swedenborg. He suggests the infant mind is especially open to what might be called the heaven of innocence.

spiritual awakening childrenSo states of wonder and trust in life being basically good inflow into little children from a higher spiritual realm. As a result of this inflow the young child looks with eyes of wonder, thinks with a mind of imagination and feels with a heart of innocence.

Part of this state of innocence is a willingness to believe one does not produce all the good things which come to one. It is acknowledging a certain insufficiency.

Also the heavenly trust in the divine reality and consequent sense of the ‘eternal now’ can arguably be seen in the infant’s lack of any sense of time.

He suggests the inflowing higher feelings about the goodness of life vary according to age.

  • Little children trusting in life as good.
  • In middle childhood wanting to know about what is good.
  • In adolescence wanting to understand why it is good.

According to this view when we are young these unconscious feelings and inner awareness forms deep intuitions, like seeds that remain dormant as we grow up. But later we need to draw on them for our spiritual awakening in adulthood.

Importance of re-connecting to our childhood spirituality

These memories of our early years suggest there is ‘a small forgotten child who is our past self’ yet who ‘still lives within each of us’. Hoffman maintains that strengthening the link to our childhood is crucial for achieving greater happiness. Not only connecting to both the wounded child within but also to those moments of spiritual awakening in childhood.

The notion that the innocence of childhood may harbour special intuitive and spiritual sensitivity is reflected in the words of Jesus Christ who said

“Unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.”

Copyright 2017 Stephen Russell-Lacy
Author of  Heart, Head & Hands  Swedenborg’s perspective on emotional problems

Satisfaction – how to find and keep it?

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Satisfaction – How to find and keep it?

satisfactionDo you ever find yourself wondering “Is this all there is? This home? This partner? This job? Shouldn’t things be better?”  The popularity of the song ‘I can’t get no satisfaction’ by the Rolling Stones suggests that a certain element of impatience with life, even futility and disillusionment, is not uncommon.

“I can’t get no satisfaction
‘Cause I try and I try and I try and I try
I can’t get no, I can’t get no
When I’m drivin’ in my car
And that man comes on the radio
And he’s tellin’ me more and more
About some useless information
Supposed to fire my imagination
I can’t get no, oh no no no”

(Rolling Stones) Listen here

So why can’t we find and keep that feeling of satisfaction?

A perspective from positive psychology

The field of positive psychology suggests some obstacles to satisfaction.

The first obstacle is a hedonistic attitude. This is mistakenly assuming personal satisfaction only comes from ‘wine, women and song’. The sensory pleasure of the moment may come from any number of things e.g. watching exciting sport or letting your hair down at a party, or enjoying good drink and food. But by prioritising pleasure one neglects engagement in meaningful activity and personal relationships that furnish a sense of satisfying purpose to your life.

A second obstacle to satisfaction is being focused on possible dangers around us. This is having a negativity bias. For example being more likely to remember and take seriously a putdown, criticism or insult than a piece of positive feedback or compliment. No wonder you are unhappy if this is preoccupying your thoughts.

A third obstacle is the attitude of ‘Keeping up with the Joneses’ Comparing oneself with others often results in feeling diminished e.g. if our furniture, car, holiday, or clothes happen to be less smart than theirs.

A fourth obstacle is having low self-control. We tend to act as if satisfaction results from giving in to our natural desires. So we want something now rather than later. However, it is the controlling of such impulses that actually leads to happiness in the longer run. Putting off pleasures until later is necessary if we are to consistently pursue goals. For example if our aim is to repay a debt, then we may never achieve this if we spend money when we feel like it. Being impulsive can just create problems and frustration.

A spiritual perspective on satisfaction

I would suggest that a deeper appreciation of who we are profoundly influences  our state of happiness.  The obstacle here is our natural minded tendency. We each have a strong natural sense of self-awareness as a self-contained individual.  We think ‘I am myself.’ ‘This is my body’. ‘This is my mind’. So we each seem to have a separate consciousness and life of our own. We live as if we were each an island unto ourselves. Out of contact with the notion of being connected to something bigger.

How then can this self-awareness reduce satisfaction? After all, my sense of self is crucial. It gives me a sense of individuality and thus an important feeling of freedom and responsibility for personal choices.

We feel full of life, we have the experience of feeling and thought. So it comes as a bit of shock to hear it suggested that we’re actually not what we think we are. That all our feelings and thoughts are not our own but come from outside of ourselves.

Yet this is exactly what several spiritual traditions maintain. They say this perception of oneself as independently real is a mistake. Instead, it is suggested that there actually is only one Self. Not myself but rather the Self that is my creative origin and spiritual source. The Self that is for example the higher power of the Alcoholics Anonymous movement which has the ability to transform and heal the addict.

Or the Self of the mystics who speak of the One as the only reality. The one goodness we can all learn to experience. Theravada Buddhists analyse the human mind and soul as a cluster of forces. So they have a doctrine of no-self meaning that one’s self-hood is an illusion. Christians say God created us. Our life is not our own but a gift. For the Christian inspiration, higher thought and good intentions are actually the Spirit of God’s life present in us.

Likewise, the spiritual philosophy of Emanuel Swedenborg teaches that the only real life that gives happiness and satisfaction comes from the Divine Source Itself.  If all of nature on earth is created by this spiritual origin of life, then it follows that we have no life of ourselves and are merely receivers of life from a higher source. In other words, as long as we only rely on ourselves for happiness then we will never gain real peace and satisfaction.

By the way this is not a way of claiming we cannot accept responsibility for how we lead our lives. I would suggest we have been gifted the freedom to choose to turn one way or the other.  Nevertheless, if all goodness comes from the Source of Goodness then it follows that just of ourselves we have no power to do good or make ourselves happy.

Illusion as an obstacle to satisfaction

I’m saying then that this natural fallacy of the senses – that we possess life, abilities, strength and goodness of our own – can lead us astray.

Furthermore, because of the illusion of having life of oneself, we are at risk of falling into self-orientation with its dangers of self-serving and self-interested behaviour.  Aren’t we thus liable to forget the needs of others, of the principles of living we have learned, and lapse into a state of feeling alone, empty and dissatisfied with life?

“In this negative state we are open to all the evils that accompany it. And closed to all that is good and true”(Michael Stanley, spiritual teacher).

Egotistically, believing in only ourselves, we come to assume that happiness can only come from bodily comfort, social status and power.

Copyright 2018 Stephen Russell-Lacy
Author of  Heart, Head & Hands  Swedenborg’s perspective on emotional problems

Learning and Growing                   

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 Learning and Growing                   

Although all newborn babies look remarkably similar in a wrinkled, reddish sort of way, each child is a unique and fascinatingly complex individual. Each child possesses a physical, emotional and intellectual inheritance from both its parents. Scientists can now trace back the patterns of our genetic inheritance almost into the mists of time and are constantly discovering different ways in which this inheritance impacts not only on our physical characteristics but also on our personality and its growth. But not only do we have a natural inheritance we also have a spiritual inheritance, latent potentialities towards self-centredness, that can ultimately lead us to live contrary to the wish of our loving Creator.

The physical birth and nurturing process in a newly born child reflects and parallels the process of regeneration in a mature adult. Just as the creation of an adult from a baby is a lengthy process so is the creation of a spiritually reborn adult a lifelong process. We are all, like small children, essentially self centred, and just as a young child has to become aware that he/she is not the centre of the universe and that others have needs, so we too need to be aware that spiritually speaking God should be at the centre of our life and love and that humanity should take precedence over ourselves.

Our environment affects our physical and intellectual growth in the natural world and adds its layers to our basic personality. Our parents, our family, our friends, our religious upbringing, our education all contribute to the making of the adult from the child. It may seem that some individuals may have unfair advantages over others, but God always seeks to provide a person with a basic store of loving experiences at some stage in the early years of his/ her early natural life and provides unseen spiritual opportunities for an individual to follow the right pathway. Emanuel Swedenborg refers to this ‘store of loving experiences’ using the term remains as in this quotation from Arcana Caelestia:

Remains are all things of innocence, all those of charity, all those of mercy, and all those of the truth of faith, which a person has acquired from God and learned since early childhood. Every single one of them lies stored away. And if a person did not acquire them, no innocence, charity, or mercy could possibly be present in his thinking and actions, and so no good and truth at all could be present.

A young child needs to know that he/she is loved and cherished and in the same way we need to know that we too are loved unconditionally by our Heavenly Father who seeks always what is best for us. Just as a child needs to be fed, a human being also needs to be fed spiritually. We are fed spiritually by the teachings given to us in the Word of God, by the good examples that other people set us and by the myriad everyday experiences that help to develop our attitudes and our characters. This spiritual learning is vital for our inner development and growth.

As a child grows it acquires knowledge at an amazing rate. The understanding of the knowledge that is acquired usually comes much later. For example we may know that you divide two fractions by turning the second one upside down and multiplying but a true understanding of the reasons why may not come until much later. In the same way in our regeneration, as we read and learn about God and his purposes, a fuller understanding and perhaps most importantly an affection or love for that wisdom develops. This takes a lifetime to acquire, not just in this world but to eternity.

http://www.spiritualwisdom.org.uk/meaning-of-life.htm

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Wisdom

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Wisdom once was a universally admired quality. In the present world this has changed especially in the “developed” Western world where there is an ambivalence about it. In the world of commerce and government where the emphasis is on materialism, knowledge, competitive performance, efficiency and results, wisdom tends to be dismissed. But at the same time amongst the public there is a demand for books of the collected wisdom from different cultures.

For Swedenborg wisdom cannot be found in a book. It is not a collection of ideas but, along with love, it is an essential of a truly human life. He explains that everyone is born with two receptacles to receive life from God, the will and the understanding. The will receives love and the understanding wisdom. They are completely interdependent. Love is dependent on the quality of its wisdom and vice versa. Their relationship is like that of the heat and light of a flame.

It is this association of heat with love and light with wisdom that is the origin of the use of heat and light in many sacred scriptures.

As part of the gift of life we are given free will and an ability to reason. So we have a choice about the kind of love we have and whether or not we become wise.

To be truly wise a person loves God and their neighbour and therefore they love what is good and true because it is good and true. A person who has no such love but only loves the self and world may be theologically knowledgeable and intellectually clever but will never be spiritually wise because he has no desire for genuine wisdom. Neither will a person who dismisses spiritual things and relies solely on worldly and natural ideas because spiritual wisdom is based on spiritual concepts and awareness. People such as these may be “wise” in the eyes of the world but they cannot be truly wise.

In ancient cultures wisdom was often associated with not only spirituality but also old age because people only reach their potential by making a spiritual journey. They move from a self-centred love to a God centred and unselfish love. This takes a lifetime so true wisdom became associated with age.

A wise person develops many qualities, such as, a love for what is good and true, humility, integrity, compassion, empathy, honesty, justice, and innocence. Throughout the history of every culture and religion these are the qualities that have been recognised in people who are wise. This does not mean that they become naïve. As Jesus succinctly put it, “Be as wise as serpents but as innocent as doves”

It is encouraging to read of a few people such as Charles Handy in his book “The Hungry Spirit” stating that such qualities are essential in the modern Western world and no business or political party can continue to function for long if they ignore or dismiss them.

Here are three quotes on wisdom:

It is obvious from actual experience that love generates warmth and wisdom generates light. When we feel love, we become warmer, and when we think from wisdom, it is like seeing things in the light. We can see from this that the first thing that emanates from love is warmth and that the first thing that emanates from wisdom is light. Emanuel Swedenborg in Divine Love and Wisdom 95

 Wisdom is not a product of schooling but of the lifelong attempt to acquire it  Albert Einstein

Wisdom ceases to be wisdom when it becomes too proud to weep, too grave to laugh, and too selfish to seek other than itself.  Kahlil Gilbran

http://www.spiritualwisdom.org.uk/meaning-of-life.htm

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God Loves You

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God Loves You

 god loves you“Smile, God loves you” is an easy thing to say but if God loves us why does he allow us to suffer? How can we reconcile a God of Love with our everyday experience of the world in which we live?

To try and get some idea of how God loves us we could start by thinking about parents and their children. It is a very human thing for parents to try to love their children equally whatever their different characters and abilities and to seek the best for them as individuals whatever happens. Now parenthood is tough and however idealistically parents approach the bringing up of their children it is often the case that one child will think that mother or father loves their sister or brother more than them. And yet that is not what the parents really want or strive to achieve. And if children grow up and go in very different directions to those envisaged by their parents, truly loving parents will continue to love their children just the same.

Now God loves his children, you, me and everyone else, not with the imperfect love which we express in our lives, that has limits and conditions, but with an unconditional love that has no limits and no boundaries and is shared equally with all. And it is the nature of God’s love that it is given with the freedom for us to accept it, reject it or misuse it – there are no conditions in which God’s love is not given – it is unconditional.

In our human relationships we know how wonderful it is if our love for someone else is freely returned – not because they have to love us but because they want to love us. Paradoxically the more freedom we give to those whom we love the greater and stronger is the love that is returned. Force someone to love you and no real mutual love develops. Now offering to love someone and leaving them the freedom to respond or not is a high risk and potentially painful strategy – as most people find out at some stage in their lives when love is not returned.

And this, in a very human and finite way, is an image and likeness of how God loves us. He offers us love and gives us the freedom to say yes or no. God knows that if we return his love then a deep relationship can develop but if we are unable to respond to his love then he feels pain for what might have been.

One of the hardest things a parent has to do is to let their child make mistakes – despite realising the probable pain and suffering that will ensue. Children have to grow and develop and make their own way in the world and not feel they are being manipulated or directed by their parents. They will make the right decisions and the wrong decisions and yet the loving parent has to stand back and not intervene. They just offer advice to their child as to what they should do and then leave their child the freedom to make up their own mind.

And this is how God’s love works with us. God wants us to be happy and to be fulfilled. He wants us to respond to his love in freedom and he shows us how we should live. But because God values our freedom above all else he cannot intervene when he sees things going wrong. If he intervened in the greatest disasters that beset mankind surely he would also have to intervene in even the smallest personal problems in life and then where would we be – we would be like puppets being controlled by God in the play of life.

Bad things happen. God does not want them to happen. But God cannot intervene because of the freedom he gives us to choose to respond or not to his unconditional love. This is the nature of the God who loves you. God loves everyone equally but what we receive of his love depends on our openness to his love and our acknowledgement that all love comes from God. If we respond to his love we can feel loved, free and forgiven and we will then want to share God’s love with those around us.

The love of God is broad like beech and meadow,

wide as the wind, and an eternal home.

God leaves us free to seek him or reject him,

he gives us room to answer ‘Yes’ or ‘No’

Fred Kaan

Emanuel Swedenborg wrote in True Christian Religion:

There are three things which make up the essence of God’s love – loving others more than oneself, wishing to be one with them, and devoting oneself to their happiness.

It should be known that God is constantly present, continually striving and acting on a person, and touching his free will but never forcing it. For if God were to force a person’s free will, his dwelling in God would be destroyed, and he would be left only with God’s dwelling in him.

http://www.spiritualwisdom.org.uk/meaning-of-life.htm

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Disasters

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Boxing Day 2004 was shattered by the developing news of the tsunami disaster in the Indian ocean and as more and more details of the horrific results of this tragedy emerged we have had to try to come to terms with one of the greatest natural disasters of the last 50 years.

Of course ‘disasters’ happen all the time and often they are close and personal or in our extended families. And then there are the larger events such as train crashes which affect dozens of lives. But this ‘tsunami’ event we have witnessed has affected millions of lives across many countries not just because of the widespread effect of the giant waves crossing the ocean but also because of the large number of people on holiday in those parts. It is, perhaps, this all encompassing effect that has made this tragedy so prominent in our news programmes and newspapers and such a challenge to our thinking about God and the way God works in the world.

To those who profess no belief in God, such a violent and destructive event tends to reinforce those views. To those who do believe in God, it raises questions about why God allows such things and why he does not intervene – and these questions inevitably bring doubt and disbelief. After all we might not be surprised if bad things happened to bad people but when bad things happen to good people or innocent people we are at a loss to explain it.

But how might we begin to try and make sense of all of this?

I think we need to start with asking ourselves who we really are. Are we just a wonderful human body driven by a vastly complex brain and so able to operate in the natural world around us? Or are we really deep inner spiritual beings with the potential to grow as we come to terms with the events that affect our lives?

I certainly feel that we are indeed spiritual beings and that the greatest gift God gives us is the freedom to choose on the one hand to be selflessly loving in our relationships with others or on the other hand to be selfishly loving towards ourselves. As we take what this freedom offers and choose the selfless pathway, then we grow spiritually, and this growth can continue past the death of our physical bodies and on to eternity.

But what if God did intervene in a disaster? What scale of disaster would merit this divine intervention? Would it only be something on the scale of the ‘tsunami’ event or would smaller scale disasters also receive God’s attention? Would family tragedies also be avoided by God’s intervention? Commonsense suggests that if God intervened at all there would be no limit to that intervention and ultimately nothing in the world would go wrong, whether caused by nature or caused by men and women. Our world would become a world in which we existed like robots, with no problems or difficulties to face and where choices to act selflessly or selfishly would be meaningless.

So we have an apparent paradox that whilst we can think of God as all powerful, nevertheless God cannot act against his love that we should live in freedom. God doesn’t want disasters or accidents or terminal illness but these are allowed because only in that way can true spiritual freedom be maintained.

Now this is an easy thing to say if you are not watching a loved one being swept away by a tidal wave or if you are not caring for someone dying as a result of some terrible accident. In these situations no words can really give comfort, however true they maybe, it is only love that can make a difference.

But don’t we often say that God is Love?. We might ask the question – “where is God at work in the ‘tsunami’ disaster?” and if we cannot find an answer it is probably because our understanding of God is limited in some way (perhaps by thinking that God should act as we act in a “quick fix” kind of way). But if this is so then we should ask instead – “where is Love in this disaster?” And surely an answer to this question comes immediately! We have seen love at work in the desperate attempts by people to save those overwhelmed by the gigantic waves, even if in that attempt they lost their own lives. We have seen love at work in the rescue workers searching hour after hour, day after day, to find those whose lives could be saved. We have seen love at work in the outpouring of concern and giving around the world. And in all this love, is God.

Bad things happen. We know that from our own personal experience and we also know it from observing the world around us. But however bad the situation it is love that can lift us up and lead us forward again. And the source of all the true love we can experience and share with others is God.

“Saying that God allows something to happen does not mean that he wants it to happen but that he cannot prevent it because of his goal, which is our salvation.”

Emanuel Swedenborg in Divine Providence 234

For a further article on disasters covering Hurricane Katrina follow this link:

What lies beneath?

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