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

Psychology of the Future

by Stanislav Grof,  Suny Series in Transpersonal and Humanistic Psychology, State University of New York Press. 2000. ISBN 0 7914 4622

This book is about modern consciousness research. It is written by one of the founders of transpersonal psychology and covers his ideas regarding non-ordinary states of consciousness. His term for these is ‘holotropic’ experience which signifies ‘moving towards wholeness.’

His discussion draws on for example such fascinating human states of consciousness as past-life experiences, peak experiences, communication with spirit guides and channelling, near-death experiences, crises of shamans like witch-doctors, states of possession, and awakening of Kundalini. He also reports findings from his original research into ‘psychedelic therapy’ and ‘holotropic breathwork’.

One critic has commented ‘If more psychiatrists could be persuaded that human consciousness transcends the limitations of the physical brain and instead is but an aspect of what may best be described as ‘cosmic consciousness,’ we could not only expect treatment modalities to change, but we could also anticipate the possibility of culture-wide rethinking … about the nature of personhood.’

Grof was formerly Chief of Psychiatric Research at the Maryland Psychiatric Research Centre and Assistant Professor of Psychiatry at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine.

Dr Stanislav Grof

He claims that many mental states that modern psychiatry considers pathological and treats with suppressive medication are instead psychospiritual crises that have a healing and transformative potential.

He worked with his wife Christina for many years inducing and supporting holotropic states of consciousness with emotionally troubled people. They used a combination of accelerated breathing, evocative music and a technique of bodywork claimed to release blocked physical and emotional energy. Grof suggests that this approach brings together and integrates various elements from ancient and aboriginal traditions, Eastern spiritual philosophies and Western depth psychology.

People vary as to how they respond to the holotropic sessions. Some remain quiet and still whilst reporting later they were having profound inner experiences. Others are agitated perhaps showing violent shaking and complex movements. One can observe a wide range of emotions. People appear to relive traumatic memories. But Grof argues this is not a case of re-traumatisation. They are no longer experiencing the event as a child. Now they can analyse and evaluate the memory with therapeutic support from a mature adult perspective.

It is claimed that the therapeutic results of holotropic breathwork have been dramatically and meaningfully connected with specific experiences in the sessions. Grof says that they have seen over the years numerous instances when participants were able to breakout of depression that had lasted several years, overcome various phobias, free themselves from irrational feelings, and radically improve their self-confidence and self-esteem.

Also observed has been the disappearance of severe psychosomatic pains such as migraine headaches. It is also claimed that this therapy leads to large improvements of physical conditions that in medical textbooks are described as organic diseases such as chronic infections.

He writes:

‘In holotropic states, consciousness is changed qualitatively in a very profound and fundamental way…. We typically remain fully orientated in terms of space and time and do not completely lose touch with everyday reality. At the same time our field of consciousness is invaded from contents from other dimensions of existence in a way that can be very intense and even overwhelming. We thus experience simultaneously two very different realities, having each foot in a different world.’

He goes on to say that holotropic states are characterised by dramatic perceptual changes in all sensory areas. When we close our eyes we may see images drawn from personal history or visions portraying plants or animals, scenes from nature, or of the universe. We may be experiencing realms of archetypal beings and mythological regions. And even when we open our eyes, our perception of our surroundings can be illusively transformed by vivid projections of this unconscious material. Various sounds, physical sensations, smells and tastes may also be involved.

He also describes emotions characteristic of these states. Feelings can be very intense. They may range from ecstatic rapture, content and peacefulness, to terror, murderous anger, utter despair, or consuming guilt. Such states of mind seem to match either the celestial paradises or hellish realms described in sacred scriptures of the world’s religions.

He reports that, in these non-ordinary states of consciousness, we may not be able to rely on our judgment of everyday practical matters but we can be flooded by remarkable valid information on a variety of subjects as well as deep insights concerning our personal history, unconscious dynamics, and life problems. He writes that we can also “experience extraordinary revelations concerning various aspects of nature and of the cosmos that by a wide margin transcends our educational and intellectual background.”

Finally he comments that the most interesting insights that become available revolve around philosophical, metaphysical and spiritual issues. And so he thinks heloptropic states of consciousness facilitate deep personality changes and spiritual opening. He believes that systematic disciplined self-exploration using helotropic states in a good setting sooner or later tends to take the form of a deep philosophical and spiritual quest.

‘I have seen on numerous occasions that people, whose primary interest in psychedelic sessions or in holotropic breathwork was therapeutic, professional or artistic, suddenly started asking the most fundamental questions about existence when their inner process reached the transpersonal level.’

He argues that experiences of this kind are the main source of mythologies, philosophies and religious systems describing the spiritual nature of existence.

‘They are the key for understanding the ritual and spiritual life of humanity from shamanism and sacred ceremonies of aboriginal tribes to the great religions of the world.’

Over 200 years before Grof’s book, another explorer of consciousness was the 18th century spiritual philosopher Emanuel Swedenborg, who meticulously reported what he found. He discovered that his own holotropic experiences also showed that the spiritual dimension of reality can come across in a way that is as convincing as our daily familiarity with the material world.

An early step in his case towards a full state of awareness of what he termed ‘the spiritual world’ was apparently seeing things with his inner vision simultaneously with natural sight. Then came the perception of smells and still later the hearing of the speech of whom he called spirits. Finally there was complete perception of his presence in the spiritual world. He said he was awake to his physical surroundings on earth but was also aware of being part of the other dimension in which he saw, heard, spoke and acted.

The wakefulness of spirit came to appear to him to be exactly the same as bodily wakefulness. At first this perception was probably only occasional. And to start with he was a passive witness of events in the spiritual realm rather than someone interacting with them. However after his full admission he was to make the amazing claim that he was active in both worlds at the same time for the best part of the last 27 years of his life.  He reported conversations with both good and bad spirits.

Swedenborg found that the spiritual world mirrors the spiritual state of people. Likewise, as Grof says, ‘Artists do not limit their topics to those that are beautiful, ethical and uplifting. They portray any aspects of life that can render interesting images.’ Beauty can be found where people are caring and considerate; ugliness where people are resentful or spiteful.

Grof’s book is entitled Psychology of the Future. Swedenborg’s spiritual world reflects not just our inner spirit now but also the future realm we will fully experience as an afterlife following our bodily death. Swedenborg says that in what part of the spiritual world we feel at home depends on the state of our inner character. That applies now as well after our bodily death. According to his spiritual philosophy we form our own inner character not from what we do but from why we do things. Our inner motivation counts towards our destiny.

Grof has a chapter about our reunion with the divine source. How it is fraught with many hardships, risks and challenges. What he says about organised religion could have also come from Swedenborg’s pen. Grof writes :

‘The dogmas and activities of mainstream religions tend to obscure the fact that the only place where true spirituality can be found is inside the psyche of each of us. At its worst organised religion can actually function as a grave impediment for any serious spiritual search, rather than an institution that can help us connect with the divine. By denigrating its members, it makes it difficult to believe that the divine is within them. It might also cultivate in the followers the false belief that regular attendance of formal divine service, prayer, and financial contributions to the church are adequate and sufficient spiritual activity.’

As Swedenborg would say – it is not what we do or what we believe but why we do it and believe it that matters. For it is our inner life that is reflected in our spiritual realm. And so the celestial part of the spiritual world where lived good-hearted people appeared to him as beautiful as the physical world but with nothing of its menace. He reports that true happiness can be found there – not in lazy self-indulgence but in useful active lives of kindness. The hellish part is just the opposite. No friendship can be found there because those in this negative state of spirit are too self-concerned to want to share with or put any trust in others.

For Grof – unlike Swedenborg – holotropic experiences are not unequivocal proof of survival of consciousness after death. However, he points out that according to Western neuroscience, consciousness is a product of the physiological processes in the brain, and thus critically dependent on the body. Very few people, including most scientists, realise that we have no proof that consciousness is actually produced by the brain and that we do not even have a remote notion of how something like consciousness could possibly happen in terms of physical matter.

‘In spite of it, this basic metaphysical assumption remains one of the leading myths of Western materialist science and has profound influence on our entire society.’

Whilst remaining an agnostic about what happens after death, Grof is absolutely clear that none of the interpretations based on careful study of altered states of consciousness are compatible with the monistic materialistic worldview of Western science. At the same time he acknowledges that a belief in survival and karma will have a profound impact on our behaviour. He quotes Plato as saying that disconcern for the postmortem consequences of one’s deeds would be a ‘boon to the wicked.’

As some modern authors have emphasised massive avoidance and even emotional denial of death leads to social pathologies that have dangerous consequences for humanity. Grof writes that modern consciousness research certainly supports this point of view.

Grof has an encyclopaedic knowledge of the transpersonal world and it shows. However the reader should be warned about a tendency towards repetition. Many scientists will probably feel he has over-stated his case. Nevertheless I warmly recommend this book and give it a five star rating.

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

Unwanted thoughts – How to be rid of them?

unwanted thoughts‘I must wash my hands again’, ‘I bet she fancies him’. ‘I might as well have another piece of cake.’‘Aren’t I stupid’. These sorts of ideas or mental pictures may pop into your head unasked. They are unwanted thoughts if they are repetitive, unpleasant or difficult to resist. They exacerbate compulsive acts, jealousy, temptation, or unreasonable guilt.

Unwanted thoughts seem to be more common during times of stress or changing circumstances e.g. when you take on the extra responsibility of a new job, or when having children.

Swedenbrog’s unseen spiritual world

According to Emanuel Swedenborg, there is an unseen spirit environment around us inspiring all our thoughts and feelings – both good and bad — although we are unaware of this.  People sometimes speak about “when the spirit moves me” and about “getting into the spirit” of something. Sometimes you may have noticed a guiding light that inspires hope and confidence. Other times you may have been aware of a negative idea that gnaws away unsettling you.

Relevance of spirits to unwanted thoughts according to Swedenborg

Swedenborg claimed the following 6 things:-

  1. He could communicate with the spirits of people in the after-life.
  2. After their bodily death, the earthly memories of individuals are gradually shut off and become inactive. So that in the next life, being aware only of the spirit realm, one will gradually become more conscious of one’s inner life and become less bound to what is external and worldly such as the imagery of spatial objects.
  3. Yet, some spirits, particularly those newly raised from bodily death, still instinctively hunger for things on the material plane.
  4. Being fixated on certain worldly things that have special associations for them, these spirits may try to fasten your attention upon such things.
  5. Just as you are unconscious of their presence, so they are not aware of you, as being a separate person from themselves, but believe that your thoughts are their own.
  6. When you have an affinity with them, you are liable to unconsciously attract those spirits who are the source of your obsessions.

Swedenborg’s method of tackling his unwanted thoughts

Swedenborg records that in one of his struggles against certain spirits who were obsessing his mind, he finally found refuge by fixing his gaze on a piece of wood, and from this his thought was led to the wood of the cross, and then to the thought of God. By a shift of attention, he thus broke the hold of the evil spirits.

CBT technique for tackling unwanted thoughts

Another way of shifting attention, that is used widely these days in cognitive-behavioural psychotherapy, is the following straightforward technique. If you notice you are obsessing about something, you need to shout the word `Stop’. If shouting out aloud is inappropriate because you are not alone, you can instead imagine that you are shouting the word. Immediately the train of obsessive thought is disrupted. For the technique to work you have to be able to believe that thinking can both block or promote your ability to cope.

Arguably, what Swedenborg is saying adds power to this approach. If you are plagued with obsessive thoughts, you probably assume that such thoughts have a compulsive power over you. This is understandable given their intrusive persistent nature. Also such a belief is likely if you assume that you are responsible for the obsessions.

A helpful change of attitude about unwanted thoughts

However, you may be able to accept what Swedenborg reports — that you are unconscious of both creative and unhelpful thoughts flowing from spirits. If so, then you will no longer attribute either the creative inspiration or the obsession to yourself but instead to sources outside of yourself.

The consequence of this changed belief is that you can be confident that it is possible to start to free yourself from the hold of the infesting spirits as long as you do not identify yourself with their desires and ideas. With practice you can more easily neglect to pay attention to what comes from them and so they will gradually leave you alone.

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

The World of Spirits

The World of Spirits

A Sermon by the Rev. James P. Cooper

Next Sunday is the 19th of June, the day we traditionally celebrate as the “birthday” of the New Church, for it was on that day in the year 1770 that the Lord sent forth His twelve disciples throughout the spiritual world to preach the gospel that the Lord God Jesus Christ reigns, and that His kingdom shall be for ever and ever. This event was significant in that it signalled the completion of a judgement that took place in the spiritual world and brought us into a new spiritual era.

Next week we will be speaking specifically about that judgement, but this week it is our intention to lay the foundation by speaking about the many things that have been revealed about the World of Spirits, the “place” in the spiritual world where the judgement happened, because it will help us in our understanding of the last judgement to know more about the place and use of the world of spirits.

The first thing we must do is to define terms and describe the “geography” of the spiritual world. First of all, “heaven” is a word with several meanings which can only be distinguished from context. For example, in the most general sense, “heaven” refers to everything in the life after death. We say, “When people die, they go to heaven,” and by that we mean that we believe in a life after death. For clarity, when we are talking about the whole of the Lord’s kingdom, the term “spiritual world” will be used instead of “heaven.”

In a more specific sense, we talk about how good people go to heaven, while evil people will go to hell. In this context, “heaven” means that place where good people go after death (and this is the sense that will be used most often in this sermon).

Sometimes we distinguish heaven into celestial, spiritual, and natural degrees, and each of these is also referred to as a heaven, but this usage is apparent from the use of the adjective “celestial,” “spiritual,” or “natural.”

The whole of heaven, that is, the whole of the spiritual world, is divided into three major divisions: heaven, where the good live to eternity, hell, where the evil are, and the world of spirits, which is an intermediate between them, and where heaven, hell, and the world meet. It is important to keep the distinction between the “spiritual world” and the “world of spirits” clear. The “spiritual world” means, as said before, the entire spiritual realm, while the “world of spirits” is only that part of the spiritual world which lies intermediate between heaven and hell.

The world of spirits is needed as a place of introduction for people who have just died, for although we have all been created to live to eternity in the spiritual world, none of us are ready to be introduced into heaven or hell immediately upon the death of our natural bodies. Each of us has elements of good and evil, and these need to be sorted out to see which is dominant before we can enter our final home. Each of us is accustomed to life in the natural world, and we need to be shown the new and different things, and learn the new ways before we can find our eternal, spiritual home. The world of spirits lies between heaven and hell just so that it can be a place where both the good and evil from the world can be gathered, instructed, and prepared to enter their home society in heaven or hell.

When a person dies, he is greeted in turn by celestial, spiritual, and natural angels who nurture him and instruct him until he is fully resuscitated, at which point the new spirit is permitted to explore his new world. We are told that the world of spirits is so much like the world of nature that the new spirit soon forgets what the angels have told him, and believes that he is still in the world and not a spirit at all. The new spirit explores his new world, moving from place to place, led by his affections.

We have probably all experienced the sensation of coming to a new place and finding that we are very uneasy and uncomfortable, that something in that place just does not agree with us, although we may not be able to put our finger on the exact cause. At other times, we may come to a place and immediately feel as if we have come home, again without being able to describe exactly why we feel that way. When new spirits move around in the world of spirits their reaction to each new place is according to their own states, according to whether or not the people in the new place love the same kinds of things the new spirit loves, or whether they hold the same beliefs as he does. The more similar to his own character they are, the more comfortable he feels, the less similar, the less comfortable.

Each one of us, while we live in the world, is a mixture of good and evil, truth and falsity. The reason we live in the world of nature is to learn truth which will lead us away from the evil tendencies in our heredity and towards the good that the Lord has revealed in the Word. While we live in the world, the mixture of good and evil, truth and falsity is acceptable, but once we die, we must either remove all the evil and falsity before entering heaven, or remove all good and truth before entering hell, for there cannot be a confusion or mixture of good and evil in either heaven or hell, and no one in heaven or hell is allowed to have a “divided” mind, that is, a mind that contains both good and evil loves.

The world of spirits partakes of the world because all men who are in the natural world as to their bodies are in the world of spirits as to their spiritual life (although they are not conscious of the other spirits while they continue in the body). It also partakes of heaven and hell in that there men are prepared for their eternal lives in heaven or hell. Since the world of spirits is the meeting ground where heaven, hell, and the world meet, divided minds are permitted there.

Once the new spirit has left the world of nature, he is no longer able to make changes to his basic character which has been fixed and made permanent through changes to the very organics of his mind while he was in the world of nature. And since he cannot any longer change his basic nature, the Lord then knows where that spirit’s eternal, heavenly home will be, and the spirit is associated with it. However, since the spirit has not yet thrown off those things that do not belong in his home society, and he is yet very curious about the new world that he is in, he is free to wander and associate with friends and family that have come into the spiritual world before him.

However, the new spirit quickly finds that one cannot hide their true feelings behind a facade of friendliness in the spiritual world, and is unable to pretend to like people who do not share his ruling love – nor can they pretend to enjoy his company, and so the visits are quickly over unless they are of similar ruling loves, that is, unless they are guided by similar affections and desires. Such visiting takes place only in the world of spirits before they have been brought into a permanent state which is in accord with their ruling love.

While in the world of spirits, each new spirit is prepared for their new spiritual home by a series of steps whereby those things that do not belong to the dominant feature of their character are removed from them forever. The person who has allowed and harboured hatred and revenge to rule in his heart all his life has everything of good and truth removed. The person who has tried his best to do what the Lord teaches will have all things that inhibit that love removed. In short, each person has all those things that are not a part of their ruling love are permanently removed. No good is carried into hell, and no evil into heaven.

When the process is complete, when the spirit is wholly in agreement as to his spiritual state, he leaves the world of spirits for his eternal home in heaven or hell. In order for those of us who are still in the natural world to have some grasp of this, the world of spirits has been described as a great valley in which a great many people live. Along the sides of this valley there are many gates or doors that lead to paths that lead upwards to the various societies of heaven. There are also many caves and holes behind the rocks which lead downwards to the various hells. We are told that although there are many paths leading out of the world of spirits, they cannot be seen until the spirit himself is fully prepared to leave, and then he only sees the passage that leads to the society which will become his home to eternity.

The passages leading from the world of spirits correspond to the way the life from the Lord inflows into the human mind, for there are two ways that lead to the rational mind of a person; a higher or internal way through which good and truth from the Lord enter, and a lower or external way through which evil and falsity enter below from hell.

The rational mind itself is at the middle point to which the ways tend. As light from heaven is admitted, a person becomes rational; but so far as it is not admitted he is not rational, no matter how rational he may seem to himself to be.

With those preparing for heaven, the regions above the rational mind are opened, but those below are closed to the influx of evil and falsity; while with those preparing for hell, the parts below it are opened, and the parts above it are closed to the influx of good and truth. The result is that the evil can look only to what is below themselves, that is, to hell; while the good can look only to what is above themselves, that is, to heaven.

All the above describes what happens when all things are orderly and when those people who come into the world of spirits have sufficient truth to open the rational degree of the mind. But when a church is coming to its end, as when the Jewish church became totally external in their worship, or when the leaders of the Christian Church divided God into three separate persons, there was longer sufficient truth available for people to be able to make their choices between heaven and hell freely. When the church on earth is failing, it has two immediate effects: The world of spirits is brought into a state of confusion and disorder from the lack of truth; and the Lord prepares to restore truth on earth through a new revelation. When He came on earth for His first coming, the temptations that He suffered were actually battles with the evil spirits who had invaded the world of spirits, and His teachings were the new revelation which brought judgement and order back to the spiritual world.

The evil spirits were only able to cause disorder and confusion in the world of spirits because the church on earth had failed to the extent that new spirits entering the world of spirits did not have enough truth to be able to make a judgement about the other spirits. In other words, speaking specifically about the judgement that took place at the time of the Lord’s Advent, evil spirits were able to set up false heavens in the world of spirits through craftiness and deceit. They would approach a spirit newly arrived from the world and tell him that they were his friends, and that they would take him to heaven with them. They would overcome the new spirit with so much apparent friendliness that he would not be able to see their true nature. We can imagine it as a similar process to that which the religious cults use to ensnare and entrap new members. The evil spirits were only able to create these false heavens and entrap innocent spirits because there was so little truth about spiritual things known by people in the world. The new spirits were unable to make any good judgements on their own as to what was good or evil, true or false, and so through their own ignorance they were made prisoners in false heavens set up in the world of spirits.

But when the Lord came on earth and began to teach the truth, it was also heard in heaven, and when the spirits heard the truth, it was like a bright light coming on. They could then see their “friends” for what they were, they could see the evil and falsity and slavery that they were in, and when they could see it in the light of truth, they could make a rational decision to leave it. The light of truth revealed the false heavens for what they were, and made it possible for all there to make good judgements for themselves, thus bringing the world of spirits back into order.

If we are going to understand the cycle of judgement and revelation, we must understand the function of the world of spirits, for only in the world of spirits do heaven and the world meet in freedom and without harm. It was in the world of spirits where the prophets saw their visions, and it was there where the prophecies actually came true as the Lord fought the hells and subdued them by the truth of the Word in the only place where they could fight for control of the spiritual world without destroying human freedom. AMEN.

Lessons: Psalm 2, Rev. 6, HH 428-429

Entrance into Heaven and the Church

Entrance into Heaven and the Church

A Holy Supper address by Rev. James P. Cooper

And he carried me away in the Spirit to a great and high mountain, and showed me the great city, the holy Jerusalem, descending out of heaven from God. …She had a great and high wall with twelve gates, … and the twelve gates were twelve pearls: each individual gate was of one pearl. And … its gates shall not be shut at all. (REV 21:10,12,21,25)

The Holy city New Jerusalem, first seen by John in a vision while on the Isle of Patmos, is a beautiful image and symbol of heaven, and at the same time a vision of the Lord’s New Church which was to be established when men on earth were ready to receive the spiritual truths contained within the letter of the Word. John’s description of the New Jerusalem makes it sound heavenly indeed: a city in the sky with golden streets, with walls made of precious stones, and the gates each made of a single great pearl.

All the readings from the threefold Word today have been selected because they had “gates” as their central focus. Throughout the Word, gates represent a person’s entrance into the church or heaven, because a city represents the doctrine of the church, and to enter into the doctrine of the church by living according to the truths of faith, that is, by entering into it voluntarily, as if going through a gates, is to prepare oneself for heaven.

Gates are the means by which those who are on the outside of something are able to come in, whether it be an historical figure in the Word entering a walled city, whether it stand for a person joining the church, or whether it stands for a person who has passed on into eternal life and then finding the doorway that leads to their own particular home in heaven.

There are also gates into the mind through which we can, by our choices to do good or evil, invite evil spirits to enter, or through which the Lord may enter with peace and life if we invite Him. But most of all gates are important to our considerations today because they are the way that someone who is alone and unhappy on the outside can come in and find a comfortable, spiritual home.

We have all felt like outsiders at one time or another. When as adults we are compelled to follow our career to a new and unfamiliar place, or as children when we are suddenly moved into a new school, we feel extremely disoriented and uncomfortable because we don’t know the ground rules, the customs, and we feel that we are outside of the group. We’ve all felt this way at one time or another, and we don’t like to feel that way. When faced with such a situation, we feel a lot of stress, and we compensate by concentrating very hard on learning the things we need to know to find our way into the group, to feel a part, to feel comfortable and at home.

We are all outsiders in one way or another. For one thing, we are all outside of the Lord’s heavenly kingdom, and we are here today to try to learn the ways of His kingdom so that we may enter it one day, we are all standing outside the gate, hoping to be ready to enter when the time comes. If we want to learn about a new school, we find a friendly student and ask lots of questions. If we want to find out about a new neighborhood, we look for a friendly face and again, we ask lots of questions about the way we should act, the things we should do, the things that are expected. We should stand at the gate of the church and heaven and ask the same questions of our Heavenly Father. We need to ask Him what we should do. We need to ask Him what we need to learn. We need to ask Him how we should treat each other in order to fit into the heavenly neighborhood. If we regularly study the Word and pray for enlightenment, He will help us find these essential truths.

The first gate for us to enter is called Baptism, and through its symbolic washing away of evils, we represent our intention to shun evils as sins so that we can thereby enter into the church where we can learn how to live in the world, how to live with one another, how to be useful, how to forgive, and how to love the Lord.

The next gate for us to enter is called Holy Supper, for the Holy Supper is the sign that we have actually begun to shun evil, that we have examined our own spiritual state, found sin there, prayed to the Lord for forgiveness and help, and have then taken steps to sin no more. The Holy Supper, when taken worthily throughout life, is the process of passing through the gate of the holy city New Jerusalem.

Finally, when reflecting on the gates, or entrances to the church and heaven, we should take a moment to think about the two distinct views of the New Church seen from our readings today, the Holy City New Jerusalem seen by John, and the Nunc Licet temple seen by Swedenborg. While they both stand for the New Church, they represent that same church from different perspectives: John’s vision of the New Jerusalem descending stands for the ties between the Jewish and Christian foundations of the Word, the Old and New Testaments, while Swedenborg’s vision of the Nunc Licet temple stands for the Heavenly Doctrines, the New Word. The one thing that ties these two visions of heaven together is the fact that the gates of both the New Jerusalem and the Nunc Licet temple are made of pearls.

In the Word, the pearl, the precious pearl that signifies the ultimate treasure, the treasure that we should sell all that we have to obtain, is the knowledge and acknowledgment that the Lord Jesus Christ is the one God of heaven and earth. When we know and acknowledge the Lord as God, it means we not only understand what that means, but that we live according to its implications, that is, we live a life of charity towards the neighbor. This pearl of wisdom is the basis on which we are judged worthy to enter heaven. That is why the gates to the Holy City each made of one pearl.

But in our effort to clarify that central theme, let us not forget one other important feature of the entrances to the Holy City: there are twelve of them, three on each side. In the Word, the number twelve stands for all things that are good and true, while the number three stands for what is complete. By the fact that there are twelve entrances to the Holy City we are to understand that there are as many entrances into heaven as there are goods and truths — as many ways to attain eternal life as there are people striving to bring the Lord’s Word into their life.

Therefore, as we prepare ourselves to communicate with the Lord by means of His Holy Supper, let us reflect on the wonder of His creation, that He celebrates our individuality, that He has created a heaven that is perfected and made more whole by the variety brought to it by those who enter. And let us prepare ourselves to enter through those pearly gates into the Holy City by shunning evils as sins, by careful regard of the neighbor, and by keeping the Lord God Jesus Christ as the center and focus of our lives. AMEN.

Hear now from the Word of the Lord as it is written.…

1st Lesson: Psalm 24:7-10

Lift up your heads, O you gates! And be lifted up, you everlasting doors! And the King of glory shall come in. Who is this King of glory? The LORD strong and mighty, The LORD mighty in battle. Lift up your heads, O you gates! And lift them up, you everlasting doors! And the King of glory shall come in. Who is this King of glory? The LORD of hosts, He is the King of glory. Selah

Isaiah 26:1-3

In that day this song will be sung in the land of Judah: “We have a strong city; God will appoint salvation for walls and bulwarks. Open the gates, that the righteous nation which keeps the truth may enter in. You will keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on You, because he trusts in You. Amen.

2nd Lesson: Matthew 7:13-14

“Enter by the narrow gate; for wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and there are many who go in by it. Because narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it.” Amen.

3rd Lesson: AC 2851

As regards the signification of a ‘gate,’ there are in general two gates with every man; the one opens toward hell, and is opened to the evils and falsities therefrom; in this gate are infernal genii and spirits; the other gate opens toward heaven, and is opened to good and the truths therefrom; in this gate are angels. There is thus a gate which leads to hell, and a gate which leads to heaven.…

There are two ways which lead into man’s rational mind — a higher or internal one, through which good and truth from the Lord enter, and a lower or external one, through which evil and falsity come up from hell. The rational mind itself is in the middle, and to it these ways tend.

That mind, from the goods and truths which are in it, is compared in the Word to a city, and is called a ‘city.’ And because it is compared to a city, and is called a ‘city,’ gates are attributed to it, and it is often described as being besieged and stormed by enemies, that is, by evil genii and spirits; and as being defended by angels from the Lord, that is, by the Lord.

Sacred Scripture 36

The Word in its ultimate or natural sense, which is the sense of the letter, is signified also by the wall of the holy Jerusalem, the structure of which was of jasper; and by the foundations of the wall, which were precious stones; and likewise by the gates, which were pearls; for Jerusalem signifies the church as to doctrine.

True Christian Religion 508:1-5

One day there appeared to me a magnificent temple. It was square in form, and its roof was in the shape of a crown, with its lofty arches rising on high all round. Its walls were continuous windows of crystal and its gate of pearly substance. Within on the south side, and facing the west was a pulpit on the right of which lay the open Word, surrounded with a blaze of light whose brightness enveloped and illumined the whole pulpit.

In the center of the temple was the shrine, before which a veil was hung. This was now drawn back, and there stood a golden cherub having in his hand a sword which he waved this way and that. While I was looking at these things there flowed into my thought a perception of what they all signified.

The temple signified the New Church; the gate of pearl, entrance into this church; the windows of crystal, the truths which enlighten it; and the pulpit, the priesthood and preaching. The Word open upon the pulpit and illuminating the upper part of it, signified its internal sense, which is spiritual, now revealed; the shrine in the center of the temple, the conjunction of that Church with the angelic heaven; and the golden cherub within it, the Word in the sense of the Letter. The waving of the sword in the hand of the cherub signified that the sense of the Letter can be turned this way and that, provided this is done in application to some truth; and the drawing aside of the veil before the cherub signified that the Word is opened.

When I approached nearer I saw this inscription over the gate, ‘Now it is permitted’; which signified that one may now enter with understanding into the mysteries of faith. On seeing this inscription I was impressed with the thought that it is extremely dangerous to enter with the understanding into the dogmas of faith which are the product of man’s own intelligence, and therefore consist of falsities; and still more dangerous to confirm them from the Word.…

It is otherwise, however, in the New Church. Here one is permitted to enter with the understanding into all its interior truths, and also confirm them by the Word. The reason is that its doctrine are truths in series from the Lord, revealed by means of the Word; and confirmation of these by rational considerations opens the higher reaches of the understanding and so elevates it into the light which the angels of heaven enjoy. This light in its essence is truth, and in this light the acknowledgment of the Lord as the God of heaven and earth shines in all its glory. This is meant by the inscription over the gate of the temple, ‘Now it is permitted’, and also by the veil of the shrines being drawn aside before the cherub. For it is a canon of the New Church that falsities close the understanding and truths open it.

True Christian Religion 721

…Baptism is an introduction into the Church; and … the Holy Supper is an introduction into heaven. These two sacraments are like the two gates to eternal life. Baptism is the first gate, through which every Christian is admitted and introduced into what the church teaches from the Word concerning the future life; and all this teaching is the means whereby man may be prepared and led to heaven. The other gate is the Holy supper, through which every one who has permitted himself to be prepared and lead by the Lord is admitted and introduced into heaven; there are no other universal gates. Amen.

Here end the lessons. Blessed are they who hear the Word of God and keep it. Amen.

Equilibrium: The Balance Of The Worlds

A Sermon by the Rev. James P. Cooper

Equilibrium: The Balance Of The Worlds

                                                                              revcooper.ca 

(Spiritual Freedom) is given to man with his life as if it were his; and this is done that man may be reformed and saved; for without freedom there can be no reformation or salvation. (Heaven and Hell 597)

The Lord created the world so that there would be a heaven from the human race. He created both the spiritual and natural worlds so that people might be able to receive His life and live to eternity in heaven; and He created the universe in such a way that each person could be a vessel receiving His life and at the same time be separate from Him. This separation makes it possible for His love to be received, and then returned. To further provide for people to be able to freely return His love, He provides a spiritual environment which is kept in perfect balance or equilibrium. Our purpose today is to see the operation of this equilibrium provides a fundamental order for our spiritual lives, and makes it possible for us to make the changes necessary to prepare ourselves for heaven.

The most important function of equilibrium, or what is the same, spiritual freedom, is to make it possible for a person to express his own will, to act as if of himself, to freely enter into the joys of heaven if he wishes to – or even the freedom to embrace the insanity and filth of hell – all according to what he himself freely chooses.

Equilibrium is essential because, as to our spirits, we live between two powerful forces. On the one hand, all of hell is striving to pull us down. On the other hand, the angels of heaven are constantly working to draw us up into heaven. Both the angels and the devils are anxious that we should join them, and they would prevent our free expression of our will if they could and if it would bring us closer! Fortunately for us, the Lord holds our spiritual freedom to be the most important thing in His government, and He protects it every moment. He constantly acts to keep the spiritual forces around us in perfect dynamic balance so that we are free to act as we ourselves wish to act.

The key word in this idea is “dynamic.” We sometimes think of a balance or equilibrium as something that remains static, completely still. We may think of a scale with the pointer steady, or a sheet of financial figures that all adds up the way it’s supposed to. However, real equilibrium is achieved through the constant activity of action and reaction (See HH 589, 593). With those who are good, the activity is from within with the hells reacting to it. With those who are evil, the activity again comes from within, but the balance is achieved by the reaction of heaven.

If we are to reform our lives, we must first be free to choose to make changes in the way we live. The Lord provides our spiritual freedom by allowing us to associate, as to our spirits, with spirits from hell who love the same evil things we love. These evils spirits serve the use of serving as a conduit for that evil to come to us from hell, thus giving it life and reality in this world. We are also associated with spirits from heaven who serve to stir the good loves within us. They too serve as conduits, directing the influx of good from the Lord into our lives, giving our heavenly delights life. In order to keep us in freedom and balance, the Lord does not allow us to associate directly with angels and devils for their states are too different from ours. Instead, our closest spiritual associates are those who have recently entered the spiritual world and are still mostly in the sphere of the natural world. We still have much in common with such spirits, and they can associate comfortably with us. These associate spirits are in turn watched over by more experienced spirits, and so on, until it reaches to the Lord Himself on the one hand, or to the depth of hell on the other. This connection of one life and one state to another is what the Writings call “mediate” influx, for it flows into each man from the Lord by means of other spirits. (See HH 599-600)

Writing in the Arcana Coelestia, Swedenborg tells how he personally felt and perceived the sphere of spiritual freedom. For many years I have observed the general sphere of the influxes around me. It consisted on the one hand of a continual endeavor by the Lord to do good; by these endeavors opposite to each other I have been constantly kept in equilibrium. Such endeavors and consequent equilibrium are with every one; from this all have freedom to turn withersoever they please; but the equilibrium varies in accordance with the good or evil that reigns with the man. (AC 6477)

And in the work Heaven and Hell, he further teaches: The hells have no power on their own. Life and activity, even for the hells, is nothing but a gift from the Lord to which a person is free to respond in any way he chooses. The reason that spirits who communicate with hell are also adjoined to man is that man is born into evils of every kind, consequently his first life can only be from them. Therefore, unless spirits of a nature like his own were adjoined to man he could not live, nor indeed could he be withdrawn from his evils and reformed. He is therefore held in his own life by means of evil spirits and withheld from it by means of good spirits, and by the two kept in equilibrium. Being in equilibrium, he is in his freedom, and can be drawn away from evils and turned towards good, and good can also be implanted in him, which would not be possible at all if he were not in freedom. Freedom is not possible to man unless spirits from hell act on one side and spirits from heaven on the other, and man is in between.… (HH 293)

The Heavenly Doctrines here teach an amazing doctrine of mercy. Because of his corrupt native (or hereditary) will, a person could not live in the natural world if he were only in the association of good spirits. There would be nothing to communicate with the delights of his own spiritual life, nothing to stir his native will, nothing to arouse his reactive life, nothing to enable him to enjoy conscious life in his initial corrupt state, and as a result, he would not even be conscious! (See AC 2886,2887) Therefore, the Lord provides that evil spirits be adjoined to man so there can be a means of conjunction between the person in the world and his life inflowing in through the heavens. If he could not be adjoined to spirits who had a will similar to his own, he could not receive the influx of life through the world of spirits, and thus would not have conscious thought. If a person cannot have conscious thought, it is obvious that neither can he repent, reform, or be regenerated. Thus, without this connection with the spiritual world, we could not be prepared to enter heaven.

The Lord uses evil spirits to enliven a person’s own life, and yet still protects his freedom by using good spirits so that He Himself can subtly inflow and gently withhold the person from the lusts of his own evils.

The angels, on the one hand, seek to fight for a person against his evils. But, because they love his freedom, they hold themselves back until they are invited to help. On the other hand the devils want nothing more than to drive the person from his own body so that they can enter it and so return to the delights of the natural world (See SD 2656, D. Min. 4693, AC 4793). Obviously, as it is the devil’s intent to enslave, a person’s freedom is not highly regarded by them. The Lord, however, oversees the whole process, so that neither the hells get too strong, nor the angels too enthusiastic, and that these two forces are kept in perfect balance. Thus, any activity of a person’s will is able to move towards heaven or hell according to his own freely chosen reasons and delights.

The way spirits are adjoined to a person reflects the very nature of mankind itself. Within each of us are two conflicting, or balancing, elements: the one is our corrupt native will, the other element is a special gift from the Lord called “remains.” Remains are all those things that are good and true which are secretly implanted by the Lord in a person’s mind from the first moment of life, and which remain with him throughout his life as a kind of connection with heaven (See AC 8, 19, 561, 1906). These two elements, remains and the native hereditary evils, correspond to heaven and hell. Our conscious life exists in the place between these, and therefore corresponds to the World of Spirits. The Lord alone controls remains in order to keep them in perfect balance with the strength of the native will.

As a person matures, the kind of spirits associated with him must change. We sense this when we feel the wonderful sphere of a little newborn baby. We are actually feeling the presence of the angels who are with the baby. Little children also have their appeal, but it is a different kind of sphere, and not as strongly felt. This happens because the sphere of heaven has withdrawn as the child’s own personality and character has grown. The same process continues throughout life, only it is not so easily felt in young people and adults. The spiritual reason for this is that the mind, which is the medium of conjunction to the spiritual world, has itself changed. In infancy, the mind is sensual, interested in receiving and organizing sense impressions of the world around it as it becomes aware. In childhood, the mind opens up into the area called memory-knowledges, and from there it matures to the level of youth where there are the beginnings of rational thought. As the mind goes through this process of opening, it enters into a series of new states which correspond to new affections and therefore attract different kinds of spirits (AE 739:2,3). As these changes take place, the Lord oversees the operation, and adjoins spirits to each person in such a way that he is kept in a dynamic balance between the forces of good from heaven and the forces of evil from hell. The Lord also does this in such a way that each person is kept completely unaware of the spiritual activity surrounding him and providing a sphere in which he may exercise his freedom of choice in spiritual things.

Even if a man is of such a nature that he delights in doing evil, and deliberately chooses to do that which he knows to be evil, the Lord adjoins good spirits who, although not in his immediate presence yet, moderate that love in him, to hold him in some kind of order, and in some kind of proper thought while he yet lives in the world so that if possible he might be withheld from plunging into the deepest hell. He is still completely free to choose hell if he desires it, but he is let down into it gently, so that at any time before his actual entry into the spiritual world, it is still possible that he may see the truth, choose to obey it, and begin his life anew. (See AC 868, 929, 3318:5, 9333:2) Until a person leaves the natural world, it is always possible for him to turn away from falsity and towards truth. He can always begin to amend his life when he chooses to live the truth for himself, when he chooses to flee from evils as sins against the Lord. That is what spiritual freedom is – the ability to turn away from the loves of self and the world and turn towards the Lord by means of the truth from the Word. This can happen at any time during our life in the natural world because the Lord has provided spiritual equilibrium for us.

It is the Lord alone who maintains the balance between the forces of good and the forces of evil, for He alone has the power to do it, and He alone is without a proprium that is wholly evil and turned to hell – so nothing selfish can creep into His motives and affect His Mercy and Justice as it would if mere humans were making these decisions.

A spiritual equilibrium in its essence is freedom because it is an equilibrium between good and evil, and between truth and falsity, and these are spiritual. Therefore to be able to will either what is good or what is evil and to think either what is true or what is false, and to choose one in preference to the other, is (spiritual freedom). This freedom is given to every man by the Lord, and is never taken away; in fact, by virtue of its origin it is not man’s but the Lord’s, since it is from the Lord. Nevertheless, it is given to man with his life as if it were his; and this is done that man may be reformed and saved; for without freedom there can be no reformation or salvation.… (HH 597) AMEN.

1st Lesson: GEN 12:1-9

Now the LORD had said to Abram: “Get out of your country, From your family And from your father’s house, To a land that I will show you. {2} I will make you a great nation; I will bless you And make your name great; And you shall be a blessing. {3} I will bless those who bless you, And I will curse him who curses you; And in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” {4} So Abram departed as the LORD had spoken to him, and Lot went with him. And Abram was seventy-five years old when he departed from Haran. {5} Then Abram took Sarai his wife and Lot his brother’s son, and all their possessions that they had gathered, and the people whom they had acquired in Haran, and they departed to go to the land of Canaan. So they came to the land of Canaan. {6} Abram passed through the land to the place of Shechem, as far as the terebinth tree of Moreh. And the Canaanites were then in the land. {7} Then the LORD appeared to Abram and said, “To your descendants I will give this land.” And there he built an altar to the LORD, who had appeared to him. {8} And he moved from there to the mountain east of Bethel, and he pitched his tent with Bethel on the west and Ai on the east; there he built an altar to the LORD and called on the name of the LORD. {9} So Abram journeyed, going on still toward the South. Amen.

2nd Lesson: MAR 6:45-51

Immediately He made His disciples get into the boat and go before Him to the other side, to Bethsaida, while He sent the multitude away. {46} And when He had sent them away, He departed to the mountain to pray. {47} Now when evening came, the boat was in the middle of the sea; and He was alone on the land. {48} Then He saw them straining at rowing, for the wind was against them. Now about the fourth watch of the night He came to them, walking on the sea, and would have passed them by. {49} And when they saw Him walking on the sea, they supposed it was a ghost, and cried out; {50} for they all saw Him and were troubled. But immediately He talked with them and said to them, “Be of good cheer! It is I; do not be afraid.” {51} Then He went up into the boat to them, and the wind ceased. And they were greatly amazed in themselves beyond measure, and marveled. Amen.

3rd Lesson: DLW 68

68. Regarding the elevation of a person’s interior elements which are those of his mind, the following, too, must be known.

Everything created by God has present within it a reaction, life alone being capable of action, and the reaction is occasioned by the action of life. This reaction appears as though it were a property of the thing created because it occurs when the thing is acted upon. Thus the reaction in a person appears as though it were his, because he has no other sensation than that life is his, when in fact the person is only a recipient of life.

It is because of this that a person prompted by his evil heredity reacts against God. However, to the extent that he believes all his life to be from God, and that all goodness of life is owing to the action of God, and all evil of life to the reaction of man, to that extent his reaction becomes one of action, and the person acts in concert with God as though of himself.

The equilibrium of all things is owing to a simultaneous action and reaction, and everything must be in equilibrium.

This much has been said to keep people from believing that they ascend to God of themselves rather than from the Lord. Amen.

THEY LIE IN WAIT FOR MY LIFE

THEY LIE IN WAIT FOR MY LIFE

A Sermon by Rev. Donald L. Rose Preached in Bryn Athyn February 2, 1997

“All their thoughts are against me for evil. They gather together, they hide, they mark my steps, when they lie in wait for my life” (Psalm 56:6).

There was a shepherd boy, strong and handsome. The meaning of his name is “beloved.” The name is David. The shepherd boy was destined to become king, destined to live a life of great adventure.

It was a life repeatedly attended with mortal danger. There were dangers that he was aware of. They were clear enough: danger from a lion and a bear; danger from a giant named Goliath; danger from hosts of Philistines with swords and spears.

But there were other dangers, more subtle but very real. And if he had not been told about those dangers, his life would have been short indeed. What we see happening in the story of David is his being warned of such dangers, particularly being warned about the intentions of King Saul. Saul was his king, his protector, his benefactor, and beneath it all his deadly enemy. Jonathan, David’s dear friend, saved his life by warning him. And David’s wife Michal warned David one night when the house was surrounded, saying, “If you do not save your life tonight, tomorrow you will be killed” (I Sam. 19:11).

Two of the psalms were composed at a time when David had learned that his life was in peril. Psalm 59 was composed that night when Michal revealed Saul’s plot and when David knew that he was in a house surrounded by those ready to kill him. The psalm begins as follows: “Deliver me from my enemies, O my God. Defend me from those who rise up against me … For look, they lie in wait for life … Not for my transgression nor for my sin, O Lord.”

Another psalm was written when David had sought refuge in Gath but there found that people were talking about him and planning to kill him. “Now David took these words to heart and was very much afraid of Achish king of Gath” (I Sam. 21:12). Because he knew of the danger he was in, he was able to pretend madness and make his escape. The fear he felt before he made that escape is evident in the psalm which he then composed. But infinitely more is contained in the psalm, for it is the Word of God. In it David says, “All day they twist my words; all their thoughts are against me for evil. They gather, they hide, they mark my steps when they lie in wait for my life” (Psalm 56:5, 6).

The psalms sometimes portray man as under siege. He is in a predicament, surrounded by dangers and anxieties and fears. The psalms continually speak of “enemies.” Man is portrayed as being the object of threat and hatred. What is the reality? The Writings say that an incredible “intense hatred” prevails in the spiritual world against things relating to love and faith in the Lord. In fact they say that unless the Lord defended a person every moment he would perish as a result of this hatred (see AC 59). Jesus warned His disciples, “You shall be hated” (Matt. 10:27, Mark 13:13).

In our lesson from Divine Providence 211, we read that Divine Providence is like a person “in company with an enemy who intends to kill him which at the time he does not know, and a friend leads him away by unknown paths, and afterward discloses his enemy’s intention.”

When we say that a person is his own worst enemy, we are usually talking about a person who does not know is not aware of his problem. If only the person realized how much he or she is sabotaging his or her own happiness. It is not easy for another person to get the message across. To do it takes patience and tact and real caring. In the Divine Providence in time we learn about the things in our lives which we thought were our friends, which are our enemies. We walk through life with some loves which do a lot for us, just as Saul did a lot for David. There are many examples, such as a pride that has us taking credit and basking in the warmth of self-merit, even thinking that taking credit and bragging can be a source of happiness. If we think that, we have a lot to learn, and we may learn it very slowly through many experiences.

The Lord said, “A man’s foes shall be they of his own household” (Matt. 10:36). Our own evils, as dear to us as the inhabitants of our house, can be the foes of which the Word warns us.

But there is another sense in which we are in danger. The danger is from outside the house; it surrounds the house. We mean those forces from hell which intend us harm. The evil spirits who associate with us can stir up the evils within us.

There is a chapter in the book Heaven and Hell that is entitled “The Malice and Nefarious Arts of Infernal Spirits” (HH 576). In it we learn that evil spirits are subtle and devious, and we learn that they have a malice, that is, that they intend harm. “All their thoughts are against me for evil. They gather, they hide, they mark my steps, when they lie in wait for my life” (Ps. 56:5, 6). The teaching is that “so far as anyone is innocent they burn to do him harm; therefore they cannot bear to see little children, and as soon as they see them they are inflamed with a cruel desire to do them harm” (HH 283).

What are some of the things they endeavor to do? They are in a constant endeavor to dissolve marriages (see HH 382). They endeavor to stir up enmities. They lead a person into thoughts about himself (see HH 558a). Indeed, by leading a person into thoughts about himself, they can stir up those enmities. We read, “There is a certain kind of spirits, who … stir up enmities, hatreds, and fights among others. I have seen the consequent fights and wondered at them. I inquired who they were, and was told that they were that kind of spirits who excite such passions because they are bent on being sole rulers, according to the maxim, Divide and rule” (AC 5718). “Wondered” at them. Do you ever wonder at the fights you observe, or have you ever stood back far enough from the fights in which you have been involved to wonder at them?

We will return to that word “divide” in a moment, because the effort of evil spirits is to tear asunder, to dissolve, and to divide so that they can rule.

The effort of evil spirits is to destroy happiness. One way they do this is to accuse. They stir up memories of anything that one has done wrong, and they even take innocent memories and turn them into subjects of accusation. “They call up all the wrong things that from his infancy a man has either done or even thought … and condemn him” (AC 741). “They call forth from a person’s memory whatever he has thought and done from his infancy. Evil spirits do this with a skill and malignity so great as to be indescribable … This a person perceives “only by the recalling of such things to mind and a certain anxiety therefrom” (AC 751).

The word in the New Testament that is related to worry or anxiety is the word merimnao. Its root connotation is dividing. The root word to “divide” is merizo. It is used in the saying, “If a house is divided against itself, that house cannot stand” (Mark 3:25, Matt. 12:25, Luke 11:17).

The Writings mention an old maxim, “Divide and rule” (see AC 5718, SD 1793, TCR 133e). There are spheres that can affect us inwardly that can divide things in our minds. We read of spheres which pose blocks in our minds between faith and charity. We read in TCR: “I have felt this sphere, and at such times, when I thought of the conjunction of faith and charity, it interposed itself between them and violently endeavored to separate them” (TCR 619:6).

An experience described in the Arcana Coelestia seems a little closer to what we experience. “The effect of this sphere was to take from me the power of close application, and to make it so irksome for me to act and to think in serious matters, true and good, that at last I scarcely knew what to do. When such as these come among spirits, they induce on them a similar torpor” (AC 1509).

Does this relate to times when we just can’t make decisions of what to do or to times when we simply procrastinate and seem somehow unable to do the thing that most needs doing? Here is the same passage in more recent translation: “Their sphere was such that it took away from me my whole concentration and made it so extremely troublesome for me to carry out and to think about serious things, true and good, that at length I hardly knew what to do. When such individuals as these come among spirits, they bring upon them a similar listlessness” (AC 1509). There is a word used particularly in psychiatry which describes an inability to get started doing something or to decide what to do. The word is “abulia.”

If the core of happiness is in useful activity, then we are not surprised if the enemies of our happiness in various ways cripple our application to use. If they endeavor to harm innocence, to dissolve marriages, and to stir up fights among friends, they will undermine our love of use. Idleness is said to be “the devil’s pillow” (Charity 168). For, “In idleness the mind is spread out to various evils and falsities, but in work it is held to one thing” (SD 6088:4).

In the book Conjugial Love there is a chapter on causes of cold in marriage. One of the causes given is a lack of devotion to any useful pursuit or business. Here we read, “While a man is in some pursuit and business, that is, in some use, his mind is bounded and circumscribed as by a circle, within which it is successively integrated into a form truly human. From this as from a house he sees the various lusts as outside of himself, and from sanity of reason within, banishes them” (CL 249).

Any focus we have on what is useful is like a house, a house in which we can find comfort and from which we can view life with good perspective. If you know that your purpose in life is to promote the happiness of others, you look out upon the world with a sane perspective and with some taste of heaven’s delight.

The text from the psalms seems to picture one looking out from a house threatened with dangers. “They hide, they mark my steps, when they lie in wait for my life.” Does the knowledge that there are dangers make us feel less secure? Do we get a paranoid attitude, a persecution complex, from the knowledge that evil spirits would divide our house, would dissolve our marriages and interfere with our delight in use?

Well, the context of statements about this is not a fearful one, but rather one that has a special sense of security. We are reminded of the Lord’s saying, “In the world you will have tribulation, but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33). The Lord said, “Blessed are you when men hate you” (Luke 6:22). “Blessed are you when they revile you and persecute you, and say all kind of evil against you falsely for My sake. Rejoice and be exceedingly glad” (Matt. 5:11).

Let us conclude with one example from the Writings and one from the Psalms. In the Arcana Coelestia we read: “I have sometimes been surrounded by thousands to whom it was permitted to spit forth their venom, and infest me by all possible methods, yet without their being able to hurt a single hair of my head, so secure was I under the Lord’s protection” (AC 59).

And in the Psalms it is said, “I will not be afraid of ten thousands of people who have set themselves against me all around” (Ps. 3:6).

There are indeed dangers and threats that surround us. Let the knowledge of this make us value all the more what we have. And let us, if we know there is a danger, always know at the same time that we have a Divine Protector. This is the reality of our lives. The passages about our enemies shows them turned backward, confounded, defeated and subjugated.

We have a shield, a rock, a fortress, a shepherd who prepares a table before us in the presence of our enemies, the Lord Jesus Christ who says, “If the world hates you, you know that it hated Me before it hated you … If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you” (John 15:19, 20). “In the world you will have tribulation, but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33). Amen.


Lessons: I Samuel 19:1-18, 21:10-15, Matt. 10:22-39, AC 5718, 1509, DP 211

Arcana Coelestia 1509

For several days such spirits were with me as during their life in this world had cared nothing for the good of society, but only for themselves, being useless members of the commonwealth, and who had had no end but to live sumptuously, to be clothed splendidly, and to grow rich; being well practiced in simulation, and in ways of insinuating themselves by various forms of flattering assent and a display of services, but only that they might seem devoted, and be intrusted with their master’s goods, while they looked down with contempt upon all who were earnestly employed. It was perceived that they had been courtiers. The effect of their sphere was to take from me the power of close application, and to make it so irksome for me to act and to think in serious matters, true and good, that at last I scarcely knew what to do. When such as these come among spirits, they induce on them a similar torpor. In the other life they are useless members, and are rejected wherever they come.

Divine Providence 211

The reason why the Divine Providence operates so secretly that scarcely anyone knows of its existence is that man may not perish. For man’s proprium, that is, his will, in no wise acts as one with the Divine Providence, against which man’s proprium has an inborn enmity; for it is the serpent that seduced our first parents of which it is said, “I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed; it shall bruise thy head” (Gen. 3:55). The serpent is evil of every kind, its head is self-love; the seed of the woman is the Lord; the enmity that is put is between the love of man’s proprium and the Lord, and thus between man’s own prudence and the Divine Providence of the Lord. For man’s own prudence is continually raising that head, and the Divine Providence is continually putting it down.

If man felt this he would be enraged and exasperated against God, and would perish; but while he does not feel this he may be enraged and exasperated against men and against himself and also against fortune, without perishing. Hence it is that the Lord by His Divine Providence continually leads man in freedom, and the freedom appears to him to be none other than his own; and to lead man in freedom in opposition to himself is like lifting up a heavy and resisting weight from the ground by means of screws, through the power of which the weight and the resistance are not felt; or it is like what happens to a man in the company of an enemy who intends to kill him, an intention he is not aware of; and a friend leads him away by unknown paths and afterwards discloses to him his enemy’s intention.

Arcana Coelestia 5718.

There is a certain kind of spirits who, because they wish to have dominion, and to be sole rulers over all others, to this end stir up enmities, hatreds, and fights among others. I have seen the consequent fights, and wondered at them. I inquired who they were, and was told that they were that kind of spirits who excite such passions because they are bent on being sole rulers, according to the maxim, Divide and rule. It was also granted me to talk with them, and they immediately said that they rule all. But it was given to answer that they were insanity personified if they sought to establish their rule by such means …

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