Verse of the day / daily inspiration

1 Corinthians 10:13


New International Version


No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it.

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“Love and thoughts are not in space and time.”

Emanuel Swedenborg, Divine Providence 50

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Temptation: What is it?

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Most of us would welcome a life without temptation. It would be so easy to be good!

According to Swedenborg, however, a life without temptation would actually guarantee the opposite: It would leave us mired in evil and bound for hell. In fact, his theology says that temptation is the only way we can root out our evils and let the Lord into our hearts, so we should recognize it as an opportunity even if we can’t exactly embrace it as a good time.

The reasoning behind this starts with the idea that we are what we love; that what we care about actually determines our character and defines our identity. That might sound odd at first, but consider: If you say that you “know” someone, you’re really talking about an awareness of what they love, not an awareness of all their thoughts. What we love is who we are.

And from the beginning of our lives, what we love is highly self-centered. Much as we love babies for their innocence, they can’t even form the concept of putting someone else’s needs first. And while children and teenagers learn to be kind and considerate, that kindness is more in their external levels – inside they are busy with the work of becoming themselves, and that remains a self-involved process.

Somewhere between there and the end of life, we’re called on to change completely, setting our self-interest aside and replacing it with a genuine love for others and love for the Lord. That, however, involves uprooting the things we love most. And since those loves form our identity, that’s really hard, and has to be done in many, many steps.

The key element working for us is the mind: from our knowledge and thoughts we can know what’s right even when we don’t want it. In fact, from our knowledge and thoughts we can actually want to be better people, while in our hearts we still want to wallow in those attractive evils.

Elevating the mind this way creates a conflict between “the person I want to become” and “the person I am,” between “what I want” and “what I want to want” (sort of like, “I want to be craving celery, but I’m really craving cookies”). And since the hells want to keep you enslaved by cookies, they go on the attack, using both blunt desire and twisted logic and argument to try to break you down.

Key to the hells’ attack is the fact that what we want forms our identity; giving up each evil thing we crave feels like sacrificing a little part of who we are. But the Lord’s promise is this: If we actually do it, stick through it and let that piece of ourselves be sacrificed, He will eventually replace it with the desire for something good, pure and loving.

An interesting twist is that if we tried to do this all at once, we actually would lose our identity, destroying every love we have at once. This may sound odd – wouldn’t we want such a transformation- – but imagine someone you think of as thoroughly evil: Hitler, perhaps, or Caligula, or Vlad Dracula. Then imagine removing, in one swipe, all their evil desires. Would we even recognize them anymore? Would they be themselves? Would they be anything?

But imagine a child’s stuffed bear, loved so much that it loses an arm. You replace the arm, and then it is loved so much that it loses the other arm. And then the legs, and the head, all replaced one at a time. Finally the body wears through and you replace that too. So what you have is the same bear, but with every part replaced. That’s kind of how the Lord works on us: Through a lifelong series of temptations we can root out and replace one little bit at a time until we emerge all-new and ready for heaven while still being who we are.

It’s clear, then, how crucial a role temptation plays. If we never had that conflict between what we want to be in our minds and what we are in our hearts, the evil would just stay in our hearts untouched. We have to take on those battles, one by one over a lifetime, to become the people the Lord wishes us to be.

http://newchristianbiblestudy.org/

(References: Arcana Coelestia 730, 739, 755, 757, 1690, 2334, 2338, 4274, 5246, 8403)

Sexual culture — how to live in it?

Spiritual Questions & Answers

Discovering inner health and transformation

sexual culture

‘Women should avoid dressing like sluts in order not to be victimised’ said  policeman PC Michael Sanguinetti in Toronto, whilst advising students about safety on campus. In so saying he unleashed a storm of outrage. Hundreds of scantily clad young women took to the streets in North America carrying placards ‘My short skirt and cleavage have nothing to do with you.’ ‘It’s my hot body: I do what I want.’ But just how should men and women conduct themselves in the Western world’s sexual culture?

Our sexual culture

These days flaunting oneself seems to be the norm. Our sexual culture is a far cry from the days before feminism when women were supposed to repress their sexuality and act all demurely. But does modesty have to be completely thrown out of the window?

Of course the ‘slut walk’ marchers have a crucially important point. As one placard says ‘Sex is something people do together – not something you do to someone.’ They are  challenging the attitude of our sexual culture that women are sex objects, that ‘women ask for it’, that men can do nothing other than act on impulse. They are saying rape is a terrible crime.

Attitudes to rape

Justice minister Kenneth Clark found out to his cost, just how serious a crime rape is considered to be in our sexual culture, when implying there can be less serious kinds of rape. When asked about the average rape sentence, he explained: “That includes date rape, 17 year-olds having intercourse with 15-year-olds”, adding that the tariff for “serious rape” was much longer. He was talking about a proposal to halve prison sentences for those who plead guilty early. He later clarified his position by saying all rape was serious. But he had well and truly put his foot in it by the way he expressed himself such is the sensitivity of the issue.

Ethics of a sexual culture

Is the spirit of the protesters’ message all about men taking responsibility for their own behaviour and about valuing sex as part of a human relationship in a sexual culture rather than only  a bodily pleasure?

If so, such a point of view is echoed in the value of virtue reflected in the ethical guidelines of the great religions.

The marchers seem to be implying that sexual signals have no meaning in the world of human interaction. Some feminists claim that all men are rapists. This is clearly not literally true although probably many men can be tempted by sexual signals to take the sexual initiative. For what other reason does the prostitute wear low cleavage and sluttish garb if not to attract sexual business? Are these marchers in denial about their responsibility in arousing desire? The individual who leaves their front door open should not be surprised if a burglar takes the opportunity to help himself to their belongings. Has the person who leaves valuables showing in the parked car not any responsibility for facilitating a higher likelihood of car theft?

If women think they can dress sluttishly, why do feminists object to Miss World contests and to scantily dressed page three girls? The answer seems to be that they are showing their right to dress as they like in revealing what they want. But people express their right to drink as much as they like and vomit all over the street. Having a right to do something is not the same thing as exercising that right responsibly.

Spiritual perspective on sexual culture

Men are not all rapists or car thieves but who could claim never to act badly whatever the circumstances one finds oneself in? In saying their Lord’s prayer, Christians ask not to be led into temptation. This raises a question for everyone. Just how susceptible are we all to criminal impulses? Perhaps more so than it is comfortable to assume.

The spiritual philosopher Emanuel Swedenborg wrote about sexuality and the ideal quality of love that can unite a couple as one in heart, mind and body – a quality he termed the ‘conjugial’ relationship. Swedenborg lived in the 18th century before feminism and before a sexual culture. However what he said is as arguably as relevant today as it was 300 years ago.

He compares a natural love of people of the other sex with a spiritual love of one person of the other sex. In other words he says that although we have a natural desire for sexual contact with many people – something we have in common with most animals – nevertheless we are able to rise above our natural animal desires to love only one person in a continuing sexual relationship; something only we as humans can achieve.

One common notion in feminism is that sexual attitudes in society can change as a result of changes in sexual politics; that it is mainly a matter of social norms. However, from a spiritual angle, we get an additional perspective – that of individual freedom and responsibility for healing and self-improvement.

Swedenborg wrote of this spiritual perspective in terms of overcoming temptation; a dynamic process that is central to personal change. According to his view, part of this process is our resistance to unacceptable impulses that come from we know not where but which should be acknowledged and faced. For we are all capable of turning towards what is destructive of the good life. We are all fallible and susceptible to falling for the excitement of the moment that can have serious consequences for the well-being of others.

A need for personal transformation implies something bad associated with us that needs to change. The area of sexual behaviour is no exception to this general condition we all find ourselves in. Don’t we all have a responsibility not to throw temptation in people’s way?

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

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Posted on23rd May 2011CategoriesEthics, Private EthicsTags, ,, , , , , ,, , , , , , ,  Leave a comment