Do We Underestimate God’s Intelligence?

We often describe our lives as having peaks and valleys. No one misinterprets these words as meaning geological formations. Metaphor, that is, using physical objects to represent psychological qualities is a common part of our language. It is an example of the human cognitive function of thinking in abstract terms.

Why is it that we do not ascribe this ability of abstract thought to God, who reputedly possesses Infinite Wisdom?

For instance, in Genesis 11:2, we are given a scenario in which a population of people journeyed from the east and settled into a valley in the land of Shinar. It is in this valley that the people begin the construction of a tower that would reach up into heaven itself.

This biblical story is taken as historical truth by most theologians, clergy and the laity.

But a funny thing happens when we look at this story as a metaphor. It becomes much more theological, more doctrinal, and provides a much more potent lesson that is relevant to our lives.

So let’s put on our thinking caps and move beyond our habitual minds. Let’s look at Scripture with an eye to seek out not simply historical truth but deeper, psycho-spiritual truths.

In ancient times people would turn to the east to worship God. Since the sun rose in the east, this gesture symbolized orienting oneself to God’s enlightening truth. Therefore, when we read Genesis 11:2, journeying from the “east” means people putting distance between themselves and God. In fact, it symbolizes turning one’s back on God.

Settling in a “valley” represents that they had settled into a lower form of worship with a diminished and inferior understanding of religion. In other words, the worship of God hit a new low, and had sunken to a new level.

It is from this low and inferior level of faith that they decided to build an edifice that could reach heaven. Such an edifice was founded on a worship built on incorrect and false principles. This false worship is further underscored by their choosing to build the tower with bricks. Since bricks are man-made, they signify worship made artificial, that is, a fabricated worship.

Like bricks fired and baked hard in a kiln, all false principles are forged from the “fire” of self-love and self guidance – further evidence of a people putting psychological distance between themselves and God.

Bitumen was used for the mortar. Bitumen is a sulfurous or inflammable substance. It denotes the passion of self-love that can burn in people’s hearts. Self-love is in opposition to loving God and the neighbor. Only true spiritual love keeps things connected and glued. Therefore, the mortar (bitumen), which represented the quality of their selfish love, could not hold their edifice of perverted doctrine and worship together. As a result, they became a confounded people and were at variance with each other.

If you do not think that God would stack levels of deeper meaning within the words of Holy Scripture then you are most certainly underestimating the true nature of Infinite Wisdom.

 

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Chapter VI. The Internal and the External Mind.

THE mind is here drawn in two planes-the internal or spiritual mind B and the external or natural mind C.

The spiritual body D though separately drawn, is yet closely conjoined with the external mind, and in the Writings is generally inclosed in it.

The internal mind is the primary and special abode of love to the LORD and of love to the neighbor. The external mind is the abode of self-love and of love of the world. (DLW 396; DP 324; TCR 401, 402; AC 9701-9709; NJHD 36-53.)

Divisions of the degrees into internal and external other than this occur in the Writings, and the same degrees are differently designated in different passages. A certain degree may in one passage be called the internal man, in another the spiritual man, in another the inmost man, in another the middle man, in another the rational man, and yet in others classed with and called the exterior or external man; all arising from different points of view.

In this diagram the internal mind B in the individual man or angel answers to the plane of the angelic heavens, and the external C answers to the region of the world of spirits.

In Apocalypse Explained, AE we read, –

“When the interior of man is purified from evils then the internal is opened which is above the interior, and which is called the spiritual internal; this communicates with heaven. There are two internals in man, one beneath and the other above. The internal which is beneath is that in which man is, and from which he thinks while he lives in the world, for it is natural this, by way of distinction, will be called the interior. But the internal which is above is that into which man comes after death when he comes into heaven; all the angels of heaven are in this internal, for it is spiritual.”- AE 940.

It should be noted that in the above passage the degree C is the natural internal, and is said to be below the spiritual internal which is B. This lower or natural internal is also called in this number and elsewhere in the Writings the interior.

In Apocalypse Explained, AE 940, this natural C is called natural internal in distinction to an extreme degree of the natural mind close to the body, which constitutes a natural external not here drawn, but to be drawn in Diagram XI

In the original Latin the internal mind is frequently called Mens, and the external mind and spiritual body together are called Animus, though Animus is sometimes restricted to the natural mind merely. In a wider sense Animus includes also that part of the external mind formed of natural substances as mentioned in Divine Love and Wisdom, 257. (See Diagram XV.)

In the prayer “Thy will be done as in heaven so upon the earth”, “as in heaven” means “as in the spiritual mind” and “so upon the earth” means “so in the natural mind.” “That your days and the days of your sons may be multiplied as the days of the heavens upon the earth,” (Deut. xi, 21), means that with the regenerate the states of the natural mind will accord with the states of the spiritual mind.

Evil – Can anyone be so characterised?

evil
Ratko Mladic

Ratko Mladic was the key player and commander of the Bosnian Serb forces that tried to eliminate Muslims from large parts of Bosnia. His forces were responsible for much social evil, massacring eight thousand Muslim men and boys at Srebrenica in 1995: the brutal siege of Sarajevo between 1992 and 1995 resulted in the death of 10,000 people. His capture and trial for war crimes reminds us of the torture, mass rape, arson and genocide that formed part of this ‘ethnic cleansing’.

How does one explain these evil crimes against humanity? How could someone like Mladic fundamentally go against human values, and be outside of what civilisation universally sees as acceptable behaviour?

Can a person be evil?

When someone, like Mladic, or one of his followers, harms another person, should they be considered as evil? Or are they so out of harmony with themselves, they should be seen as sick or ill rather than wicked? This may be so. But even if no individual person is evil, this does not mean that some human behaviour cannot be properly considered evil. According to this second view evil is part of the process of individual choice rather than the quality of the person doing the choosing.

Is evil a useful term?

Some people ask whether the social context in which harm to human beings is done, calls into question the idea that such acts can be universally considered as evil. For them, standards of good and evil are only products of local culture, custom, or prejudice and that the very word ‘evil’ is an outmoded concept no longer fit for purpose.

However, others point out that what counts as evil is all to do with the individual intent, independent of culture. Arguably, those who are willing to go against moral codes will justify their actions if it suits them to do so, whether they be those ship captains and plantation owners who engaged in the slave trade, the Nazis who found mass extermination of the Jews acceptable, or the leadership of the United States Union Army’s massacre of “savage” Native American Indians.

Is evil an illusion?

The results of evil intent are real enough whether they be seen in times of war, suffering of victims of serious crime, or simply those on the end of spiteful gossip. But should we understand evil as a powerful identity that causes suffering in the world? Or is it just a man-made idea that has no reality? Should we ditch the idea of Satan as just old hat?

In one sense perhaps we should. Ever since Thomas Aquinas, the Catholic Church has defined evil as the absence of good. Just as cold is defined as the lack of warmth, and darkness the deprivation of light, so evil is defined in terms of good. To understand evil one thus needs to understand what is meant by good. For evil is its opposite. To appreciate cruelty one first needs to experience tender care. To comprehend malice one needs to know love. To understand a state of ignorance one needs to fathom a state of knowledge.

Where does evil come from?

Likewise for Swedenborg, evil is the inversion of good. He reckons disorder is the inversion of order, and falsity the inversion of truth. Evil is a quality of life which has no independent origin, but is a distortion of the one Divine life.

Using his psychic vision, he describes a way of life of human spirits in a hidden spirit realm, who choose hatred over love, and crime over justice. One is not normally conscious of their influence but if one continually allows their presence into one’s heart and mind, they are said to then prompt and urge cruelty, sexual violence, and self-ascendancy without any concern for human suffering. We don’t know if people like Mladic will join them in his after-life. But allowing himself to be constantly swayed by their impulses and thoughts, he can become crazed with evil, caught up in a crowd baying for blood. The madness feels overpowering and the individual is swept along apparently helpless to fight against the current.

Actually, Swedenborg says this seeming overwhelming power of evil is an illusion. For there is also a divine sphere of justice and humane concern which is available to us all. This good balances the evil flow. And so we have the freedom to inwardly turn in which direction we wish. But without turning towards what is good we would all be vulnerable to the inflow of cruelty and malice.

Many of us human beings sometimes choose to turn our back on the one Source of happiness and opening ourselves to evil impulses. This is when we put self above all else. That is when what we want determines all our actions together with the fear, pride and greed that accompanies self-love. Just look in at the criminal courts of justice and see what trouble can then be reeked; never mind the international court in the Hague where crimes against humanity are tried. Perhaps the Serb nationalists who still support Mladic will then realise the full extent of the evil their hero has really caused.

Copyright 2011 Stephen Russell-Lacy
Author of  Heart, Head & Hands  Swedenborg’s perspective on emotional problems

Self-Love and Mutual Love contrasted

Self-Love and Mutual Love contrasted

There is something inflammatory in self-love, and its lusts; and a delight therefrom, which so affects the life, that one scarcely knows but that eternal happiness itself consists in it. And therefore many make eternal happiness to consist in becoming great after the life of the body, and being served by others, even by angels; while they are willing to serve no one except with a secret view to themselves, that they may be served. When they say that they shall then be willing to serve the Lord alone, it is false; for those who cherish self-love would have even the Lord Himself serve them; and so far as He does not, they draw back. Thus the desire of their hearts is that they themselves may be lord, and rule over the universe. Any one may imagine what sort of government this would be, when there are many, nay when all are such. Would it not be an infernal government, where every one loves himself above others? This lies concealed in self-love. From this the nature of self-love may be seen; also from the consideration that there lurks within it hatred against all who do not subject themselves to it as slaves; and because hatred, therefore revenge, cruelty, deceit, and many atrocities. But mutual love, which alone is heavenly, consists in this: that one not only says, but acknowledges and believes, that he is most unworthy, and that [in himself] he is a vile and unclean thing; and that the Lord out of infinite mercy is continually drawing and keeping him out of hell, into which he is continually attempting, nay desiring, to plunge himself. That he acknowledges and believes this is true because it is true. Not that the Lord, nor any angel, desires that he shall acknowledge and believe this for the sake of humbling himself; but lest he should be puffed up, when yet such is his nature. As if refuse should say that it is pure gold! Or a fly of the dunghill that it is a bird of paradise! In so far then as a man acknowledges and believes that his nature is such as it is, he withdraws from self-love and its lusts, and abhors himself; and in the degree that this is done he receives heavenly love, that is mutual love, from the Lord, which is a desire to serve all others. These are they who are understood by the least who become greatest in the kingdom of God (Matt xviii. 1-4, xx. 26-28; Luke ix. 46-48). (AC n. 1594)

They who are in the loves of self and of the world can by no means believe that they are in such filthiness and impurity as they actually are; for there is a certain pleasurableness and delight which soothes, favours, and flatters them, and makes them love that life and prefer it to every other; and so they think there is no evil in it. For whatever favours the love and therefore the life of any one is believed to be good. Hence also the rational consents and suggests falsities which confirm; and which causes such blindness that they see nothing of the nature of heavenly love, or if they see they say in their heart that it is something miserable, or a thing of nought, or something like fantasy, which keeps the mind in a state of disease. But every one may see that the life of the love of self and the world with its pleasures and delights is filthy and impure, if he will but think according to the rational faculty with which he is endowed. It is the love of self from which all evils come that destroy civil society. From this, as from a foul pit, stream forth all kinds of hatred, all kinds of revenge, all cruelties, yea all adulteries. For whoever loves himself either contemns, or disparages, or hates, all others who are not subservient to him, or do not show respect to, or favour him; and as he entertains hatred he breathes out revenge and cruelty, and this in proportion as he loves himself. Thus that love is destructive of society and of the human race. (ibid. n. 2045)

Mutual love in heaven consists in this, that they love the neighbour more than themselves. Hence the whole heaven presents as it were a single man; for they are all thus consociated by mutual love from the Lord. Hence it is that the happinesses of all are communicated to each, and those of each to all. The heavenly form itself is therefore such that every one is as it were a kind of centre; thus a centre of communication and therefore of happiness from all; and this according to all the diversities of that love, which are innumerable. And as they who are in that love perceive the highest happiness in the fact that they can communicate to others what flows into themselves, and this from the heart, the communication is thereby made perpetual and eternal. From this cause, as the Lord’s kingdom increases the happiness of every individual increases. As the angels dwell in distinct societies and mansions, they do not think of this; but the Lord so disposes each and all things. Such is the kingdom of the Lord in the heavens. (ibid. n. 2057)

The Nature of Self-Love

The Nature of Self-Love

I wondered at first why it is that the love of self and the love of the world are so diabolical, and that they who are in those loves are such monsters to look upon; since in the world little thought is given to self-love, but only to that puffed-up state of mind [animus] outwardly manifest which is called pride, and which alone is believed to be self-love, because it appears to the sight. Moreover self-love, when it does not so inflate itself, is believed in the world to be the fire of life, by which a man is incited to seek employment, and to perform uses, in which unless a man saw honour and glory his mind would grow torpid. Who, it is said, has done any worthy, useful, and distinguished action, but for the sake of being celebrated and honoured by others, or in the minds of others? And whence is this but from the ardour of love for glory and honour, consequently for self? It is therefore unknown in the world that self-love in itself regarded is the love that rules in hell, and which produces hell in man.

The love of self consists in a man’s wishing well to himself alone, and to no others except for the sake of himself,—not even to the church, his country, or any human society; as also in doing good to them for the sake of his own reputation, honour, and glory; which unless he sees in the uses he performs to others, he says in his heart, What does it concern me? What does it concern me? Why should I do this? Of what advantage is it to me? And so he lets it pass. Whence it is evident that one who is in the love of self neither loves the church, nor his country, nor society, nor any use, but himself alone. His delight is only the delight of the love of self; and as the delight that comes from his love constitutes the life of a man, his life is a life of self; and a life of self is a life from a man’s proprium, and the proprium of man, in itself regarded, is nothing but evil. He who loves himself loves also his own; who in particular are his children and grandchildren; and in general, all who make one with him, whom he calls his own. To love these is also to love himself; for he looks upon them in himself, as it were, and himself in them. Among those whom he calls his are also all who praise, honour, and reverence him. (HH n. 555, 556)

Such indeed is the nature of the love of self, that in so far as the reins are given to it, that is, in so far as external restraints are removed,—which are the fear of the law and its penalties, and of the loss of reputation, of honour, of gain, of employment, and of life,—in so far it rushes on, until at length it not only desires to rule over the whole terrestrial globe, but also over the whole heaven, and over the Divine [Being] Himself. It has no limit or bound. This propensity lurks within every one who is in self-love, although it is not evident before the world, where the above-mentioned restrains keep it back. That this is so no one can fail to see in potentates and kings, with whom there are no such curbs and restraints; who, so far as they succeed in their purposes, rush on and subjugate provinces and kingdoms, and aspire after unlimited power and glory. That it is so is still more manifest from the Babylon of this day, which has extended its dominion to heaven, and transferred to itself all the Divine power of the Lord, and lusts continually for more. (ibid. n. 559)