Parenting in Imitation of God

Swedenborg Foundation

By Coleman Glenn

Our early impressions of God are strongly intertwined with our early impressions of our parents. After all, when we are young children, our parents are the ones who clothe us, feed us, teach us, and sustain us—they act in some ways as surrogates for God. It’s no surprise that so many religious traditions, including Christianity, refer to God as a divine parent.

parenting_full

If it’s true that our ideas about parenthood shape our ideas about God, it’s also true that our understanding of God shapes how we raise our children. If we think of God as stern and dictatorial, we’re likely to be stern and dictatorial as parents. If we think of God as gentle and warm, we’re likely to act gently and warmly as parents (or at least try to!).

The Swedenborgian understanding of God comes from reading the Bible with the firm conviction that God is love and that Jesus is God. The picture of God that emerges in this reading is one of a God who loves each and every person in creation, who protects human freedom as the apple of his eye, and who always acts for the eternal welfare of all. Looking at those attributes, we can draw insights into how we might better imitate God in our parenting.

Here are three ideas that have been particularly valuable to me as a father of two young kids:

1.  Loving your child means loving everyone else’s children, too.

There are passages in the Bible that explicitly suggest acting in imitation of God. Several of them have to do with loving as God loves. This means loving not only ourselves, our own families, or people who agree with us, but loving even our enemies:

But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous. (Matthew 5:44–45)

What does this mean for parenting? Because we know our children’s hearts, we can be tempted to assume that in any conflict, they are in the right. But if we’re called to love as God loves, then we’re called to extend love to other people as much as we extend love to our own kids. Obviously, we will feel a stronger affection for our own children, but we are called to act as lovingly even toward strangers and those who seem to be our enemies.

This doesn’t mean we have to choose between loving our children with all our hearts and loving everyone else. One of my favorite Swedenborgian concepts is that in the long run, caring for an individual and caring for the good of all make for one and the same thing. For example, if we teach a child to care for the less privileged, we’re serving the less privileged and our child by creating the foundation for a life—an eternal life!—of joyful service. It’s not an either/or situation, so it’s a useful exercise to ask in any situation whether there is a course of action that will be best both for our children and for everyone with whom they are interacting.

2.  Protect your child’s freedom and sense of self—even if it’s easier not to.

My personality is such that I find it much easier to just do things myself than to try to help others do them. In some situations, this is a useful trait; in many others, though, it’s a failing. This is particularly true in parenting: it is much easier to pick up after my kids than it is to coax them to pick up after themselves. It is much easier to wrangle over my son’s head whatever shirt I choose than it is to patiently wait while he tries to choose between dinosaurs and robots.

It is significantly harder to offer a child freedom and a sense of self than it is to do everything for them. It takes much more work, but I remind myself often that the work is worth it. We do have to set limits, of course. But within those limits, it is vital that children be free to make choices and to have a sense that they are acting from themselves.

The book Divine Providence expresses just how much the Lord cares about human freedom. One of the Lord’s greatest gifts to us is heavenly freedom: the sense that we act from ourselves and that from this we have the ability to act with free will. According to Swedenborg:

The Lord protects our freedom the way we protect the pupil of our eye. The Lord . . . is constantly using our freedom to lead us away from our evils, and to the extent that he can do so through our freedom, he uses that freedom to plant good things within us. In this way, step by step he gives us heavenly freedom in place of hellish freedom. (Divine Providence §97)

It’s not easy to watch my kids make choices I don’t want them to make. But I remember that it’s not easy for the Lord to watch me make choices he’d rather didn’t make—and yet, he keeps giving me the freedom to make those choices. I think it’s important that I offer the same gift to my kids.

3.  Discipline with a purpose.

I firmly believe that there is no inherent value in punishment—it must always be for a purpose and never simply for payback. The prophet Ezekiel records God as saying, “I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from their ways and live” (Ezekiel 33:11). If God allows punishment, it is never for its own sake; it is always so that the person may “turn and live”:

People have charity and mercy . . . when they exercise justice and judgment, punishing the evil and rewarding the good. Charity is present in the punishment they inflict, because zeal moves them to reform the wrongdoer and to protect others from the harm such a person might do. In the process they are looking out for the best interests of the wrongdoer, their enemy, and are wishing that person well. At the same time they are looking out for and wishing well to others, and to their country itself. (Secrets of Heaven §2417)

As parents, we are required to instill discipline in our kids. While discipline is much broader than consequences or punishments—involving other such things as establishing routines—it does still have to include these kinds of corrective actions. With all our choices in this area, we need to be asking ourselves the following questions:

  • How will this disciplinary action help my child make a better choice next time?
  • How will it help protect the child herself and the people around her?

So we should keep some things in mind:

  • Encourage our children to think about what they might have done wrong and what other choices they could have made.
  • Help them come to those conclusions themselves; but if they are unable to do so, always be very clear with them.
  • Demonstrate, when possible, a clear connection between consequence and behavior (e.g., “I am going to take away the baseball bat for a week because you had trouble stopping yourself from hitting the walls with it, and that hurts the walls.”)
  • Let them know they are still loved, and let them know you believe they can make a better choice next time.

There are thousands of different perspectives on exactly the right way to set up discipline. Find what works best for you and your family, but make sure it follows these guidelines: it will work to help the child in the long run, and it will work to keep the child and others safe. Remember the first principle mentioned above: from the eternal perspective, loving our children well and loving our neighbor well make for one and the same thing. This is the perspective of God, who desires what is best for all of his children.

Coleman Glenn is an author and a New Church minister currently working with General Church Outreach in Bryn Athyn, Pennsylvania.

http://www.swedenborg.com/

Religious education – What should children learn?

religious educationAsk parents what is deeply important for their children to learn in life and they will often say things like being a decent human being, having meaningful relationships, leaving the world a better place, and being freed from personal hang-ups. How can children be helped to form their own personal and spiritual goals? Religious education is seen as an opportunity to provoke challenging questions about the ultimate meaning and purpose of life, beliefs about God, the self and the nature of reality, issues of right and wrong, and what it means to be human.

Religious fundamentalism

The rise of prejudice, discrimination and violence associated with religious fundamentalism has led more people to question the certainties of any religion, and there is growing doubt concerning even the need for any kind of system of spiritual belief. Given the decline in belief of the traditional Christian version of God — particularly in north-west Europe — there is a tendency for thinking adults not to see ultimate reality as fixed into any certainty: it being likely to change with different experiences. Thus religious education tends to be sidelined.

The question is sometimes asked about the individual who knows love and does good works that grow out of that love and is content with the richness of the life that love brings. What need have they of any sacred writings or of any belief system?

Religious education and history of spiritual ideas

Clearly, some humanists and agnostics live a better life than some of those who are affiliated with a religion. Nevertheless, I would claim that religious education can reflect the historical source of spiritual concepts: not just concepts that can help one to see through the illusions of the natural world to a deeper reality within, but also that are essential to bring about the good life for all.

These days, the aim of teachers in religious education is to provide information about a range of faith traditions — especially now in multicultural Britain where pupils in one classroom often come from a range of ethnic backgrounds. In its latest report into religious education in British schools, the Government agency Offsted concludes

“There is uncertainty among many teachers of RE (religious education) about what they are trying to achieve in the subject.”

Need for religious education despite non-religious language

In our increasing secular society, there is a growing trend to use non-religious language. We use such terms as getting in touch with one’s higher self, becoming calm through meditation, gaining a better understanding of one’s attachments and cravings, recognising the life force all around. In other words spiritual ideas are seen as potentially useful and important even if they are usually not explicitly linked to traditional religious teachings.

I would say what we appreciate as the ‘Good’ in life is difficult to get a handle on and  communicate without ideas taught in religious education. Don’t you need an awareness of ethical ideas and spiritual teachings to guide your actions? For example the golden rule ‘Do unto others as you would wish them to do unto you’ is an idea in the mind about the `Truth’. This is something which puts into words your appreciation of the importance of where other people are coming from when you are dealing with them i.e. what can be ‘Good’ about your relationship with other people. Knowledge about what is ‘True’ tying in with awareness of what is ‘Good’.

Here are a few other spiritual ideas:

  • We should take care of the earth and protect the environment.
  • Rules defining right and wrong should not be based on enlightened self-interest but on the needs of all.
  • Learn from your mistakes and move on.
  • Something must have started the universe.
  • Your life does not cease at bodily death.

Don’t you need such worthy ideas to guide your thoughts and intentions? From such ideas come systems of belief that can give you hope especially when you get discouraged by the set-backs in life. In other words I feel it does matter what you think, as your understanding about things guides your actions — what you do, how you do it and how confident you can be you are on the right track.

According to Emanuel Swedenborg an awareness of deeper ideas concerning what is ‘Good’ and ‘True’ is essential. Without a religious education and thus knowledge about such things, how could there be a channel for deeper understanding: arguably without understanding, you cannot find a system of spiritual belief that will give you hope and confidence in the good life.

I would say unless they first learn about deeper ideas children are not protected from the illusions of life. Teachers in religious education however can only go so far in helping the young. They can impart information, but isn’t it up to the learner what to do with it?

Limits of religious education

According to Swedenborg’s theory, religious education has its limits: an awareness of ethical and spiritual ideas by itself is merely something in the head: personal choice and heart-felt desire are also important. So he asserts that an inner thirst for what is really ‘True’ and ‘Good’, based on a memory of ethical and spiritual ideas, when put into practice will result in enlightened understanding. In other words a heart of good intent coupled with a head full of good ideas will lead to an inspired system of belief that not only provides meaning, but can lead to the hope and confidence needed for personal transformation and commitment to some worthy goal in life.

“It’s what you choose to believe that makes you the person you are.” (Karen Marie Moning, Darkfever)

What should religious education teach

So what should religious education teach children?

Government has identified a difficulty in structuring and defining a clear process of learning in religious education. I believe this difficulty reflects an emphasis on religious diversity in practice and belief across different faith traditions, at the expense of offering clarity regarding beliefs that different faiths have in common. Are pupils being expected to work all this out for themselves without being offered spiritual ideas about what is universally “Good” and “True”?

Copyright 2013 Stephen Russell-Lacy
Author of Heart, Head & Hands Swedenborg’s perspective on emotional problems

Childhood — How do I tackle unhappy memories?

childhood

Even living as independent adults in their forties, people can still be haunted by their experience of being mistreated as a child. Such individuals also tend to have recurring negative moods and worry, and long-lasting problems like poor self-esteem, or low self-confidence. From my experience of over thirty years as a clinical psychologist, I can say that an unhappy childhood is usually one of the main causes.

Whether therapy for an unhappy childhood is necessary

It is probably unhelpful to dwell on very bad memories and re-open deep wounds without a good therapist. However, not everybody with an unhappy childhood needs help. If you have not suffered serious abuse, it may not be necessary. There is much you can do to help yourself start to turn your life round. Partly, this will involve reflecting on how you respond to life’s challenges now. But also, it will involve reconsidering your past, through adult eyes, to gain a more mature perspective on yourself as a child and on your parents at that time.

Clinging to childhood wounds

It can be surprising for adults to learn how their behaviour is so unconsciously influenced by the ‘hurt resentful child’ still in their heads. If we cling to childhood wounds, they can distort our current relationships, produce  emotional blocks and lead us to make inappropriate responses.

For example, one’s response to authority figures, as an adult, can be governed by the kind of thoughts and feelings one had as a ten-year old child facing a punitive parent. As an adult it may mean difficulty tolerating any form of criticism or direction at work. It is as if the supervisor were like one’s parent who was punishing or dominating.

If the response to an over-critical parent has been ‘You blame me for everything’, then one is likely to be ready to feel blamed for mishaps and errors at work.

If the response to an over-controlling parent has been ‘If it weren’t for you I could have …’, then one is likely to feel prevented from gaining a bonus or promotion.

Looking at one’s childhood through adult eyes

The adult mind can understand things in a more mature way than can a child. For life isn’t as black and white as it is to the youngster who doesn’t appreciate the effects of stress and responsibility on parents’ behaviour. The child has only a dim knowledge about the real dangers lurking in the outside world that parents seek to protect him or her from. As a child you probably will not appreciate the time constraints on busy people preventing them attending to all what you want.

Your feelings may be based on an accurate perception. On the other hand whilst your parents mistreatment of you should not be dismissed as insignificant, have you missed any good qualities in them? You might see anger in your parents as dislike and intolerance of you. Could it at least in part have been due to a concern for your knowing right from wrong as they saw it. Or if you thought of a parent as stubborn or dogmatic could you now see his or her views as having conviction and strength?

Looking for positive aspects of one’s childhood

For some people it is relatively easy to recall a pleasant experience with a parent. For others, however the process is a bit more difficult. And for some it feels impossible. Without an effort to look at the positives as well as the negatives, you can get yourself into a negative mood and miss out on any sense of appreciation for your parents positive qualities and fail to recall the good times.

 I believe that to dilute some of that sense of hurt from past mistreatment, one has to take another look at the whole picture of one’s childhood through the eyes of love and compassion. Don’t just consider parent’s bad points but ask yourself about any acts of kindness you can remember. What were their strengths as well as their weaknesses? Can you recall any words of good sense they passed on. Have you acted on their useful advice?

Parents’ criticism of us and attempts at directing us when we were teenagers, may have been unappreciated at the time but could have derived from concern and hopes for our future well-being. A parent giving more time and energy to someone else, with their own unique needs, doesn’t necessarily mean she or he didn’t love you as much.

When we take a holiday flight, the plane flies above the clouds where all is gloom, into the bright sunshine. Likewise, if we try to raise our minds above any exaggerated negativity we can find positive ideas that illuminate the past and provide a more balanced view not just of our parents but of people we now meet in our everyday lives.

Spirit of loving kindness

Many people have come to realise that looking for the good in other people has opened them to receiving a spirit of loving kindness rather than mistrust and wise discernment rather than uncertainty. I strongly feel that being able to see people for what they really are – their good points as well as any bad ones — does actually reduce the intensity and frequency of negative moods and cynicism. The improvement in communication and quality of relationship that ensues, can improve one’s self-confidence and increase one’s sense of self-worth.

But how can we hope to do this if we are carrying around bitterness and disrespect for the parents who had some unappreciated good as well as bad qualities?

Copyright 2012 Stephen Russell-Lacy
Author of Heart, Head & Hands Swedenborg’s perspective on emotional problems

Honouring Father and Mother

Sermon: Honouring Father and Mother

I preached this sermon on May 8, 2011, at the Olivet New Church in Toronto.

HONOURING FATHER AND MOTHER

“Honour your father and your mother, that your days may be prolonged upon the land which Jehovah your God is giving you.” (Exodus 20:12)

The Writings for the New Church tell us that there are deeper senses within the literal sense of the Word, although this does not do away with the importance of the literal sense.  Within the literal sense there is a spiritual sense, which is primarily about love toward the neighbour; and even deeper than this is a celestial sense, primarily about love to the Lord.  All of the Ten Commandments contain both of these deeper senses.  But the first three commandments in particular focus on love to the Lord, and the final six – the list of thou-shalt-not’s – particularly focus on love toward the neighbour.  Today, though, we’re focusing on the bridge commandment, the one that most clearly conjoins the two tables of love to the Lord and love to the neighbour.

In the literal sense, this precept commands us to honour our parents.  In this sense, the commandment is especially important for children, since in childhood parents stand in for the Lord, and much of a person’s relationship with God as an adult will be coloured by his childhood relationship with his parents.  Even as adults, though, we ought to follow this commandment in the literal sense.    Although we no longer owe them obedience, we still owe our parents gratitude and love.

It is impossible to list all the things parents do for their children – giving birth, feeding and clothing them, giving them protection and love.  They also introduce them into religion, into following the Lord.  The Writings describe that in the Most Ancient Church, or the golden age represented in the Word by Adam and Eve, people did not live in cities of countries, but in clans and families.  They did not have rulers as we do now, but they honoured the head of their family and showed gratitude to them because of the spiritual gifts their parents gave them, for their love and their wisdom, and especially for introducing them into the worship of the Lord.

Of course, not all parents do introduce their children into the worship of the Lord.  Parents make mistakes, and there are parents who do harm to their children.  Sometimes as we grow older we move away from parents who continue to hurt us, and sometimes this is a healthy thing, just as sometimes the healthiest thing for a marriage is for a couple to separate.  But even in these extreme cases, we have this commandment to honour our parents.  We are not to honour the evil in them – but as with anyone else, there is good in them, and we are commanded to honour whatever good there is, and to focus on that more than on the evil.  All of us – no matter what our relationship with our parents – are asked to find forgiveness for whatever harm they’ve done, and show gratitude for the goodness in them.

In the strictest literal sense, this commandment refers to honouring one’s actual parents, or legal guardians who stand in their place.  But the book True Christian Religion says that in a wider sense – although still on a natural level – this commandment refers to honouring our country and her leaders (TCR 305).

Just as our parents provide us with necessities of life and protection from harm when we are children, our nation provides us with necessities of life and protects us from invasion.  We call our homeland out “motherland” or “fatherland.”  The word “patriotism” comes from the Greek word “pater,” meaning father.

Our country does not just mean our government – it means all the people who make up our nation, and honouring our nation as parent extends beyond honouring our government.  But True Christian Religion says it also does mean showing honour to our leaders almost as parents, and teaching children to do the same.  The idea of honouring our leaders, or even expressing patriotism for our country, can make many of us today feel uneasy.  The twentieth century saw terrible abuses of nationalistic fervour, and the thought of honouring leaders and nations as parents for many people calls to mind frightening images of blind obedience to corrupt causes.

But honouring our country does not mean blind allegiance – it means supporting what is truly good in it, showing gratitude for this, and honouring our leaders’ efforts to promote the country’s welfare.  The book Charity, written as a manuscript by Swedenborg and published after his death, gives the example of the way that a Protestant born in Venice or Rome could love his homeland, even though those were Catholic cities at the time.  We read as follows:

For example: if I had been born in Venice or in Rome, and were a Reformed Christian, am I to love my country, or the country where I was born, because of its spiritual good? I cannot. Nor with respect to its moral and civil good, so far as this depends for existence upon its spiritual good. But so far as it does not depend upon this I can, even if that country hates me. Thus, I must not in hatred regard it as an enemy, nor as an adversary, but must still love it; doing it no injury, but consulting its good, so far as it is good for it, not consulting it in such a way that I confirm it in its falsity and evil. (Charity 86)

The way we honour a country as our father and mother is not by ignoring its evil, but by supporting whatever is good in it while as much as possible discouraging its evil.

So far all the aspects of the commandment we’ve looked at are part of the literal sense.  But it is easy to see how this commandment as an internal sense as well.  Throughout the Word, God is called our Father.  The Lord even said, “Do not call anyone on earth your father; for One is your Father, He who is in heaven” (Matthew 23:9).  This does not literally mean that we cannot call our fathers “father,” but that we should acknowledge that in a truer, deeper sense, God is our Father.  Honouring our father means loving and revering Him.

It may not seem as obvious at first, though, what it means to honour our motherin the spiritual sense.  But upon a close reading of the Word, a clear picture begins to emerge.  Throughout the prophets, the nation and people of Israel are referred to as “the mother” of the individual Israelites living there at the time.  In Ezekiel, the children of Israel are told, “Your mother was like a vine in your bloodline, planted by the waters, fruitful and full of branches because of many waters” (Ezekiel 19:10), talking about the way that the Lord established them as His people.  In the New Testament, John saw the Holy City New Jerusalem “prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.”  Through this imagery, it becomes clear that the “bride” of the Lord, and the mother of each person, is the Lord’s people, or His church.  And so honouring our mother in the spiritual sense means revering and loving the church.

But what is this church that we are supposed to love and revere?  In the simplest sense, the church is a group of people who subscribe to the same doctrine.  In the strictest sense, it’s a local congregation.  Before we look deeper and beyond this, it’s important to recognize this simple view of the church.  It’s easy to feel general goodwill toward all the people who follow the Lord, which is the church in a broader sense; but it is sometimes harder to revere and love the actual people in a church congregation, the real people sitting in the pew next to us.  We may have disagreements or conflicts, or a clash of personalities.  But still we are to honour our church community for the good and truth that it contains and teaches.

What makes the church like a mother, according to True Christian Religion, is that just as a mother provides natural food, the church provides spiritual food.  From the church ministers we learn truths from the Word; from church members, we have encouragement and support in living by the Word.

The spiritual sense of this commandment is to love and revere God and the church.  Deeper than this, there is a celestial sense.  In the celestial sense of “honour your father and your mother,” “father” refers specifically to the Lord Jesus Christ, and “mother” refers to what is called the communion of saints, the church scattered throughout the world.

The Lord Jesus Christ is our heavenly Father.  The prophet Isaiah wrote, “Unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given…” – and one of the names of the Son who would be born is “everlasting Father” (Isaiah 9:6).  The Lord Himself said, “He who has seen me has seen the Father” (John 14:9).

The Lord is our Father – and He describes the Holy City, the New Jerusalem, as His bride, adorned for her husband.  In this sense, our mother is not only our local church, or even the church throughout the world, but the Lord’s kingdom, which exists within people in this world and throughout heaven, in whoever acknowledges the Lord and has faith in Him and charity toward the neighbour (see True Christian Religion 416).  Although we cannot always feel their influence, the angels and good spirits act as our spiritual mothers.  The Lord flows into the heavens, and through the heavens into our minds.  This marriage of the Lord’s life with the responses of the angels gives birth to all the infinite truth and goods in our minds and hearts.

We can also think of the kingdom of God, though, apart from thinking of individual angels or other people.  The Lord said, “The kingdom of God is within you.”  And even this sense, the kingdom of God, or the church within us, is our mother.  What is the church within an individual?  The Writings tell us that in particular, the church within us that acts as a mother is the truth of the church.  We learn truth, and it becomes as if it were our own.  When we act according to the truth we know, the Lord joins His good to it – that is, the Lord adds love to it.  For example, we know in our ourselves that it is wrong to lie; as if of ourselves we resist the tendency to lie; and we gradually find over time that wedislike lying, that we would rather tell the truth.  The Lord has added His goodness to our truth.  This results in a new birth in us – a new perception of what it mean to follow the Lord, a new love for acting by that truth.

In this sense, our truth is the church, and it’s married to the Lord’s goodness and love. But in actuality, we know, even that truth that seems to be ours is really the Lord’s.  Even the effort to live by that truth is the Lord’s, even though it feels to all appearances as if it is from ourselves.  The Lord’s kingdom is our mother, but in the truest sense, the Lord’s kingdom is the Lord himself with us.  The angels acknowledge that heaven is heaven from the Lord in it, not from anything that belongs to themselves.  It is the same with the Lord’s kingdom on earth, which we call the church: anything good in it, anything that makes it the church, in reality is the Lord’s, although He allows us to experience it as if it belonged to us.

This is why the book Arcana Coelestia says that in the supreme sense, honouring our father means honouring the Lord as to good, and honouring our mother means honouring the Lord as to truth, which is loving the Lord’s kingdom.  We read, “’mother’ signifies truth, and in the supreme sense the Lord as to Divine truth, thus His kingdom, because the Divine truth which proceeds from the Lord makes heaven” (AC 8896).  Honouring the Lord as to truth is honouring His kingdom.  The Lord’s truth within angels is married to the Lord’s love.  This marriage – the marriage of the Lord’s good with the Lord’s truth, taking place within us and with our participation – is what makes heaven with a person.  That is why this commandment contains a promise: that if you follow it, “your days shall be prolonged upon the land which Jehovah your God is giving you.”  In the internal sense, these words mean that goodness will increase in a person in heaven to eternity because the Lord flows in wherever goodness and truth are joined together.

In the supreme sense, “mother” signifies the Lord as to Divine truth.  This does not mean that we are to picture the Lord as a woman, or as our mother, or as some kind of androgynous being.  The Lord came into the world as Jesus Christ, and we worship Him under this form.  It is vital that we worship Him as a human, and this includes even worshipping Him with the form He had in this world, although now glorified.

Still, though, in Himself, the Lord is the source of all good feminine qualities as well as masculine.  All the positive traits that we associate with motherhood come from the Lord.  When He was in the world, the Lord wept over Jerusalem, and said, “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the one who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing!” (Matthew 23:37).  This image of a hen protecting her chicks describes a universal sphere that flows out from the Lord, a sphere of protecting what has been created.  In people, this sphere manifests itself as a love for little children.  This sphere directly affects women in a special way that it does not affect men, although it flows through women and from them does affect men.  The nurturing role of a mother stems from this nurturing sphere in the Lord, and when a good mother looks after her children, she is acting from the Lord’s love.

When we respond in gratitude to a mother’s love, then, we are in fact responding in gratitude to the Lord.  And so when we follow this commandment – to honour our father and our mother – on any level, we may in fact be following it on the deeper levels without being aware of it.  When we honour the good things in our parents, and in our country and leaders, we are really honouring the Lord and His church, since these qualities all come from the marriage of the Lord with his church.  And the more we learn about the internal senses within this commandment – that it means loving and revering God and the church, or specifically the Lord Jesus Christ and His kingdom – the more we learn about these things, the more consciously and fully we can follow the commandment on every level, and the more we can become aware of the blessings it gives.  We come into the fulfillment of that promise – “that your days may be prolonged upon the land which the Lord your God is giving you.” Amen.

Lessons: Exodus 20:1-17; Mark 3:31-35; True Christian Religion 305-307

True Christian Religion 305. Honour thy father and thy mother, that thy days may be prolonged, and that it may be well with thee upon the earth.

So reads this commandment in Exod. 20:12; Deut. 5:16. In the natural sense, which is that of the letter, “to honour thy father and thy mother” means to honour parents, to be obedient to them, to be devoted to them, and to return thanks to them for the benefits they confer, which are that they provide food and clothing for their children, and so introduce them into the world that they may act in it as civil and moral persons; and introduce them also into heaven by means of the precepts of religion, thus providing both for their temporal prosperity and their eternal happiness. All this parents do from a love which they have from the Lord, in whose stead they act. In a relative sense it means that if parents are dead, guardians should be honoured by their wards. In a broader sense, to honour the king and magistrates, is meant by this commandment, since these provide for all in general the necessities which parents provide in particular. In the broadest sense this commandment means that men should love their country, since it supports and protects them, therefore it is called fatherland from father. But to country, king, and magistrates honour must be rendered by parents and by them be implanted in their children.

306. In the spiritual sense, “to honor father and mother” means to reverence and love God and the church….

307. In the celestial sense, “father” means our Lord Jesus Christ, and “mother” the communion of saints, which means the Lord’s church spread throughout the whole world….

Coleman’s Blog | The thoughts and reflections of a New Church (Swedenborgian) minister

http://www.patheos.com/community/goodandtruth

THE LORD IS MERCY ITSELF

THE LORD IS MERCY ITSELF
A Sermon by Rev. Daniel W. Heinrichs
Preached in Boynton Beach, Florida, April 14, 1991

“Bless the Lord, O my soul, and all that is within me bless His holy name. Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all His benefits: who forgives all your iniquities, who heals all your diseases, who redeems your life from destruction, who crowns you with lovingkindness and tender mercies” (Psalm 103:1-4).

“Restore us, O God of our salvation, and cause Your anger toward us to cease. Will You be angry with us forever? Will You prolong Your anger to all generations?” (Psalm 85:4,5).

What is the true nature and quality of God? Is He a God of infinite love and mercy, as taught in our first text a God who forgives all our iniquities, heals all our diseases, redeems us from destruction and crowns us with lovingkindness? Or is He a God of anger, wrath and vengeance as implied in our second text a God who never forgets our backslidings and punishes us for them? Or is the Lord, like mortal men, subject to both of these feelings and emotions? Is He moved by love and mercy at certain times and by anger and wrath at others? The answer to the latter two questions is an unqualified NO! Our first text presents the Lord as He really is, while our second text presents Him as He appears to the wayward, self-led person.

The Writings declare: “The Lord is love itself, to which no other attributes are fitting than those of pure love, thus of pure mercy toward the whole human race, which [love] is such that it wills to save all and make them happy to eternity, and to bestow on them all that it has, thus out of pure mercy to draw to heaven all who are willing to follow … by the strong force of love” (AC 1735). They further state that “the Lord never curses anyone. He is never angry with anyone, never leads anyone into temptation, never punishes anyone … for such things can never proceed from the Fountain of mercy, peace, and goodness” (AC 245).

The Lord, who is mercy and goodness itself, regards all people from mercy and never turns away His face from anyone. It is we, when in evil and disorder, who turn our faces away from the Lord. This is what the Lord was speaking of in Isaiah, when He said: “Your iniquities have separated between you and your God, and your sins have hid His face from you” (59:2).

Even though we may turn away from the Lord and reject His love, still the Lord does not desert us. He is ever present waiting to be received. He continually breathes into us His own life. And even though we may not respond to it according to order, it nevertheless gives us the ability to think and reflect, and to discern whether a thing is good or evil, true or false (AC 714). Thus the Lord provides that, even though we may reject Him and close the door of our minds to Him, yet we retain the ability to distinguish between good and evil, truth and falsity, so that we may, at any time, change our ways and admit the Lord into our life. The Lord spoke of this saying: “Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and dine with him, and he with Me” (Rev. 3:20).

The mercy of the Lord is perpetual with everyone, for the Lord wills to save all people, whoever they are; but His mercy cannot be received until evils are removed, for it is evils which oppose and prevent the reception of the Lord’s mercy (see AC 8307). While the Lord’s love and mercy go out to everyone, a person must have that in himself which is receptive to love and mercy; and that which receives love and mercy is truth. Where there is no truth, there can be no good, mercy or peace because there is nothing to receive them (see AC 10579:8).

Divine love and Divine wisdom are inseparable, for in the Lord these two are one. And since mercy is of love and justice is of wisdom, therefore these two are also inseparable. Therefore, when a person rejects the Lord as to truth, that is, when a person rejects Divine truth or the Word, he rejects the Divine mercy also, for, as said before, he has nothing to receive it. And since Divine truth is the Divine order according to which all creation operates, therefore those who reject Divine truth are judged from the laws of justice and truth separated from love, not because the Lord withdraws His love, for it is always joined with Divine truth, but because man has rejected His love and mercy along with the Divine truth. On the other hand, those who willingly receive Divine truth are judged from justice tempered with mercy because they have the vessels in themselves which receive it (see AC 5585:6).

The Lord wills that everyone should enter into the happiness of heaven. This, in fact, is His purpose in creation. But since heaven is within man according to one’s reception of good and truth from the Lord, therefore only those are received into heaven who have heaven within themselves. When the evil are punished, it is not because the Lord wills it, but because such people have separated themselves from the Divine love. So we are told in the Writings: “The Lord in no case sends anyone down into hell, but man sends himself” (AC 2258).

Looking at this question of Divine mercy from another point of view, we should bear in mind that it is of mercy to the good that the evil are separated from them. For if they were not, the evil would do harm to the good, and would be continually attempting to destroy order, for this endeavor is inherent in all evil. The same thing is true on earth. If breaches of civil and moral order were not punished, and the offenders removed from society, society would soon be infected with evils and disorders, and would eventually perish. For this reason, we are told, a judge shows greater love and mercy by punishing evils and those guilty of them than by exercising inappropriate clemency on their behalf (ibid.).

These teachings make it clear that the Lord’s mercy is with everyone according to the person’s state. With those who are receptive to good and truth, the Lord’s mercy bestows peace and heavenly joy. With the evil, who undergo punishment as a result of their breaches of Divine order, the Lord’s mercy bends the penalty of evil to the person’s eternal welfare. Thus, even with the evil the Lord’s mercy is operative, but it takes another form with them than with the good (see AC 587:2). The Lord says: “As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten. Therefore, be zealous and repent” (Rev. 3:19). “Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts; and let him return to the Lord, and He will have mercy on him, and to our God, for He will abundantly pardon” (Isaiah 55:7).

The truth of these teachings concerning the Lord’s mercy is evident when we reflect upon the relationship of wise and loving parents with their children. When the children act according to order, they perceive and feel the love which their parents have for them, and they experience states of happiness, confidence, peace and security. However, when they depart from orderly behavior, they are no longer receptive to their parents’ love, but come under the rule of truth. If the parents are wise they do not punish in and from anger but from love, which expresses itself as zeal, but the child does not perceive the love. Temporarily the child is estranged from his parents and therefore mistakes the zeal for anger. It is because of this appearance that the Lord is alternately pictured as a God of love and mercy, and a God of wrath and anger, particularly in the Word of the Old Testament.

While we recognize the truth of the matter from doctrine and the application of logic, we too are inclined to be deceived by the appearance. There are occasions when we are apt to regard the Lord as a hard taskmaster. When we read something in the Word, or hear teaching from the Word, which makes us aware of our evils and shortcomings, we are often inclined to think that the Lord requires more of us than can be reasonably expected. It even appears that He has put stumbling blocks in our way. The truth then seems hard and cold it seems to rebuke us, and we unconsciously attribute something of harshness, or even of anger, to the Lord.

To many people the life of religion seems to be a stern, restrictive discipline instead of a source of inspiration and delight. And for this reason they are inclined to absent themselves from the church and from participating in its functions. They do not want discipline. Furthermore, they do not wish to be made aware of their shortcomings, for it destroys their equanimity and enjoyment of life.

The fact is, however, that the Lord, from infinite love, reveals Himself in the Word and established His church to teach the Word for the sake of human happiness. The Lord seeks to lead mankind to true and lasting happiness through the teaching of the Word in the church. In its essence, the church is not a human institution; it is a product of Divine love. In the family of man the Lord is our Father and the church our spiritual mother. The Lord’s love, directly and through the church, reaches out to us and, like children, we should respond affirmatively to that love. If we do not feel the love which goes forth from our spiritual parents, if we do not experience the states of happiness, peace and security which attend that love, it is because of a state of disorder within ourselves. The love is there, but we may not receive it; we may be aware only of the truth, which seems hard, cold and stern.

We know that this need not be. We are rational beings, and we can see, if we are willing, that this is merely an appearance an appearance caused by our own lack of receptivity. Recognizing this, we should not regard the Lord’s commandments as hard laws which seek to deprive us of the delight of living. Nor should we regard the church as a demanding institution which seeks to confine and restrict us. The Lord seeks our real happiness, and through His church seeks to promote our real, eternal welfare. We are able to see, if we elevate our thought above the senses, that if we will freely walk in the way of truth the path of life we will feel the warmth and reassurance of Divine love.

In this state of elevation we will look upon the Lord and His church as “the source of all our blessings.” We will acknowledge that “before His gifts earth’s richest boons grow dim,” that “resting in Him, His peace and joy possessing, all things are ours, for we have all in Him” (Hymn 30, Liturgy). Amen.

Lessons: Psalm 103:1-13, Luke 15:11-32, HH 522, 523

Heaven and Hell

522. But first let us consider what the Divine mercy is. The Divine mercy is pure mercy toward the whole human race, to save it; and it is also unceasing toward every man, and is never withdrawn from anyone, so that every one is saved who can he saved. And yet no one can be saved except by Divine means, which means the Lord reveals in the Word. The Divine means are what are called Divine truths, which teach how man must live in order to be saved. By these truths the Lord leads man to heaven, and by them He implants in man the life of heaven. This the Lord does for all. But the life of heaven can be implanted in no one unless he abstains from evil, for evil obstructs. So far, therefore, as man abstains from evil he is led by the Lord out of pure mercy by His Divine means, and this from infancy to the end of his life in the world and afterwards to eternity. This is what is meant by the Divine mercy. And from this it is evident that the mercy of the Lord is pure mercy but not apart from means, that is, it does not look to saving all out of mere good pleasure however they may have lived.

523. The Lord never does anything contrary to order, because He Himself is Order. The Divine truth that goes forth from the Lord is what constitutes order, and Divine truths are the laws of order. It is in accord with these laws that the Lord leads man. Consequently, to save man by mercy apart from means would be contrary to Divine order, and what is contrary to Divine order is contrary to the Divine. Divine order is heaven in man, and man has perverted this in himself by a life contrary to the laws of order, which are Divine truths. Into this order man is brought back by the Lord out of pure mercy by means of the laws of order; and so far as he is brought back into this order he receives heaven in himself; and he that receives heaven in himself enters heaven. This again makes evident that the Lord’s Divine mercy is pure mercy and not mercy apart from means.