Goodness

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The Lord, in His essence, is love itself, perfect and infinite. From that love His entire focus and effort is on loving us and making us happy – which can only be done to its fullness if we freely choose to accept His love and be conjoined with Him.

To that end, we also have the capacity to love – we can allow that conjunction to happen by receiving the Lord’s love and returning it, and the way we do that is by aligning our loves with the Lord’s. Obviously the Lord is infinite and perfect and we are finite and imperfect, but we can work to love as He loves, and closer we get the more we are “good” – the more we will desire to be good, delight in what is good, actually do what is good, and live in peace, harmony and joy both in this life and in heaven.

Achieving that, of course, is not a matter of saying a little prayer and being changed, and it’s not a matter of simply deciding or force of will. As anyone who has mooned over an unrequited romance knows, our loves are simply not changed that easily, and indeed seem largely out of our control.

Consider, for instance: Say you are in desperate need of money, and see a man drop his wallet as he climbs into an expensive car and drives away. You pick up the wallet, and find several thousand dollars there. The fact is, at that moment you (unless you are a better person than 99.9 percent of us) really really want to keep that money. You might not do it. You know what’s right, and you may well make yourself do what’s right. But you can’t just change that “want” and make it go away. You don’t have that kind of control.

So how can we actually become good? The answer is what the Writings refer to generically as “truth.” From the time we are small children we are constantly learning what’s right and wrong and being forced to apply that knowledge. Over time those ideas get deeper – from “don’t hit other children!” to “you need to think about what makes other people happy” to “love your neighbor as yourself” – but they all to some extent run contrary to what we want. Consider that wallet: The reason most of us would call the guy and give him his money is that we know it’s the right thing to do, even though it’s not really what we want to do.

If you think about it, those truths – those ideas of right and wrong – come into use from the outside, and sort of work their way from outer layers of our minds (“don’t hit other children!”) to deeper, more thoughtful ones (“love your neighbor as yourself”). The Writings tell us that even as we are absorbing truth from the outside, the Lord is secretly planting desires for good in our souls, in the inmost levels that we’re not even aware of. Among the most important of these desires is, in fact, the desire for truth, which urges us to gather and accept that truth coming to us from the outside.

As we build that storehouse of knowledge, we come to the key decision point (or a lifelong series of decision points, really). We can decide to embrace that truth, to determine for ourselves that we want to do what’s right because it is right. Or we can ignore it and wallow in our base desires.

If we do the former – determine to follow what’s true – that truth crosses from the exterior parts of our mind to more interior ones. And in the more interior areas it can mix with the desires for good the Lord has hidden away there.

And then what happens? The Writings have some beautiful passages about how good loves truth, how it will seek it and embrace it, fill it with life and make it its own. This is a little hard to imagine, but consider falling in love with someone. Don’t you want to know everything about him or her? Don’t you want to know every little thing that makes him or her happy so you can provide it? Your desire to love embraces truth so it can put love into action. Much the same happens with the desires for good inside us and the attendent truths – the good desires seek the real truths, the ones that fit, and make them their own.

This does not, of course, happen all at once in every aspect of our being. It is the work of a lifetime and entails many battles with the evil desires that pollute our souls. But the process can be increasingly joyful, and the end result is spectacular – eventually the desires for good will be so empowered that they can actually take the lead role and extend out to the outermost parts of our minds. In that state we no longer even want what’s wrong; our joy of life is in doing what’s good. This, of course, is the state that angels enjoy in heaven.

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Uses

New Christian Bible StudyNew Christian Bible Study

By Mr. Joseph S. David

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Women in the Wheat Fields, by Charles Caryl Coleman

Uses are the tangible, expressed forms of love to the neighbor. We can think of things we might do to help a neighbor, and we can want to do something to help, but it’s not until we deploy the thoughts and act on our will, that we actually perform a use.

Doing actual useful service completes the trilogy of end, cause, and effect, the action being the effect. Furthermore, we are taught in the doctrines of the New Church that the primary theater for charity is not the giving of alms to various people or causes, though that is important, but to do the job or fill out the office we are in honestly, justly, and industriously as best we can, not because it helps us but because it helps the common good. And because this is what the Lord requires of us.

Heaven is called a kingdom of uses because all angels are busy doing a useful task every day, and angels love it so, because these tasks are perfectly suited to the angel doing them, allowing each angel to delight in what he is doing every day to his or her heart’s content.

One of the key descriptions of heaven in the doctrines is that of a single grand human being, not because of shape but because of function. Modern science has learned a lot about the human body. We can know that we are made up of billions of different kinds of cells, brain cells, muscle cells, bone cells, and on and on, and that all these cells are busy little shops, taking in raw materials from the blood and turning out products the body needs and sending them around. We can see that each cell in our body is analogous to a society of angels, as we are told that there are societies in the provinces of all parts of the body performing the spiritual correspondent of what the various body parts do in an anatomic or physiologic way. So just as our cells all perform uses in our body to keep the whole body healthy and active, so do all angelic societies, and within those individual angels. Thus heaven can continue to exist, grow and perform its uses toward those of us still down here in the material world.

A similar kind of picture, though in a more imperfect way, shows how a political entity, a country, or state, or city can operate with all the various jobs contributing to a vibrant commonwealth, with people trading goods and services and doing all the things that make a community live. But it works better when all the citizens are led internally by love to the neighbor rather than love of self.

(References: Arcana Coelestia 454, 997, 4222, 4984, 7038; Divine Love and Wisdom 65, 213, 297; Heaven and Hell 64, 387, 403; Heaven and Hell 517 [2])

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What Do Your Cravings Say About You?

Swedenborg Foundation

by Morgan Beard

It’s human nature to crave things. Sometimes it’s as simple as, “Hey, I could go for some ice cream right now.” Sometimes it’s a deeper desire, like craving money or fame. It may not seem like anything unusual—after all, who doesn’t like something delicious to eat, and who couldn’t use a little extra cash? But Emanuel Swedenborg says that what we crave might reveal more about us than we think.

blog_craving

What we crave sometimes tells us what we lack. If we’re craving specific types of food, our body might be telling us that we need more vitamins or other nutrients. A desire for sweets could mean that we need a pick-me-up from the jolt of energy and the feel-good chemical serotonin that comes with eating something sugary. On an emotional level, craving items that we don’t need might indicate stress or negative feelings—getting some new luxury can give us a little rush of pleasure. Or, on a less tangible level, craving attention can mean that we feel unloved or unappreciated.

Swedenborg writes, “Craving is love reaching out. Whatever we love we constantly crave, and it is our delight, since we feel delight when we get what we love or crave. There is no other source of our heart’s delight” (Heaven and Hell 570). From the context, it’s clear that love here means something broader than love for another person. He’s saying that when we love something, it fills us, and we seek out more of it.

This can work in good ways or not so good ones. For example, let’s say a woman grows up without a lot of money, goes to school, gets a good-paying job, and is suddenly able to buy herself all the things she never had. Her self-esteem goes up; she feels better about herself. She works to get more and more money until all she can focus on is making money so that she can keep feeling better. Swedenborg calls this “love of the world”—a situation where people keep chasing material pleasures and are never satisfied with what they have. That love of wealth, power, or whatever it is we’re chasing becomes a fundamental part of ourself, the core of our identity. And no matter what, we always crave more.

Let’s say that same woman who grew up without a lot of money but got educated and became a wealthy professional puts love of others over love of self. Now she donates money back to the community where she grew up and mentors kids growing up in limited circumstances to help them achieve career success. This is what Swedenborg calls “love for one’s neighbor”—when we focus on using what we have to help other people rather than helping ourselves. And again, he says, the more we do good, the more that we want to do good. We crave opportunities to help others.

People are complicated. All of us are capable of being selfish one day and selfless the next, and it can be hard to know if we’re on the right track, spiritually speaking. Are all of our actions adding up to a positive inner state or a negative one?

When Swedenborg writes, “craving is love reaching out,” he’s letting us know that just as our physical cravings can be an indicator of our body’s health, our emotional cravings give us a barometer for our spiritual state. Those little impulses, itching desires, and outright compulsions that strike us throughout the day are indicators of what is happening within us. The things we are pulled to do tell us which way our inner status—or our “ruling love,” in Swedenborgian terms—is leaning. The things we crave most often are the things that dominate us mentally and therefore spiritually.

But what if we find that we’re being drawn toward these selfish types of desires? Swedenborg says there’s a remedy for that: regeneration, the path to spiritual growth. You can read more about it here, or for a really in-depth discussion, check out this compilation of Swedenborg’s writings on the subject.

http://www.swedenborg.com/