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

http://www.spiritualquestions.org.uk/

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

5 Spirits and Human States

Swedenborg Study.comOnline works based on the Writings of Emanuel Swedenborg

5 Spirits and Human States

“My name is Legion, for we are many.” Mark 5:9

The World of Spirits after the Last Judgment

After the Last Judgment, the spirits who are in the “world of spirits,” or—what is much the same—the spirits who attend man more nearly, are reduced into such an order that they cannot for long arrest the progress of a novitiate spirit, that is, cannot for long evade judgment nor for long hinder him from entering either heaven or hell.

This new order makes it impossible for false religions to establish permanent strongholds in the spiritual world, as was often the case before the last judgment. Spirits from each religion do, as formerly, flock together, and engage in common life and worship. But their doctrines and principles of life are continually challenged, their societies are repeatedly broken up, and the individual spirits are separately judged soon after their death. Within about thirty years, each spirit has passed through the three states of the world of spirits, and enters his heaven or his hell (See LJ 64).

This new order is referred to, when it is stated that in the year 1770, on the nineteenth day of June, after the True Christian Religion had been written out, the Lord sent His twelve disciples into all parts of the spiritual world, proclaiming the gospel that “the Lord Jesus Christ reigneth.”140

A new light came into the world of spirits.141 For whereas spiritual truth had before been revealed to men and spirits only in the forms of natural and moral truth, as in the New Testament, the second advent of the Lord was a revelation of Divine truth in the forms of rational ideas and in terms of open doctrine. Thenceforth all judgment took place on the basis of rational thought, and this penetrates through all possible human disguises and makes impossible any evasion, any hiding of evil motives behind external piety or by a nominal adherence to church bodies and their symbolic creeds. This new law of judgment, which produced a new order in the world of spirits, is now eternal. “Of His kingdom there shall be no end.” The Lord governs the spirits of that world and—from His will, His good pleasure, His leave or His permission142—assigns what spirits shall remain in the Intermediate State and who shall attend each man.

The spirits now in the world of spirits are being prepared for judgment and are thus destined either for heaven or for hell. And some of these spirits surround the spirit of every man living on earth, and act upon him according to their own particular genius and state. Man is free to choose between good and evil, and as he does so, he receives influences from spirits who accord with his choice. But he still has near him the opposite type of spirit. And, moreover, his choice does not extend very widely or deeply. If he shuns some suggestion or intention of evil that is formulating itself in his conscious mind, this may indeed cause that certain evil spirits no longer take any pleasure in the things then active in his mind, and thus remove themselves for the time being. But it does not mean that he has changed his whole spiritual association, his mental state, or his mood. Such a general change is achieved very gradually. It involves many things over which man can have no control.

Spirits and Man’s Progressive States

We may see this in connection with adolescence. An infant is attended, in general, by spirits and angels of a celestial type—and no exertion on the part of the infant or his parents can change this general fact, and its resulting states. We cannot hasten growth. We can disturb it somewhat, by unwise treatment; but we cannot stop it nor accelerate it. The same applies to later ages: spiritual angels and spirits, and then natural ones, come by degrees to dominate the child’s spiritual environment and thus influence his states. No choice of man’s can change this orderly progression of general states, although at each moment particular states may be changed as if of man’s will.143

The Lord rules these progressions by means of angels and spirits. If the Lord should remove the spirits proper to such states, man would perish. If He removed all evil spirits from man, man would die—for his natural heredity is in the perverse form of self-love, and requires for its nutriment or life the mediating presence of some evil spirits.144Only gradually can these be displaced by good spirits. In the meantime they must be controlled or kept in the external order which is proper to society.

It is the same with the adult. He is free to choose between good and evil when he discerns that he is faced by a clear choice: if he evades his clear responsibility, it means that he is choosing evil. On the other hand, he often feels himself captivated by a mood, a state which he can hardly understand and cannot shake off. He becomes conscious of a limitation in his mind, a sense of obscurity, confusion, discouragement, or unhappiness. He can sometimes see its causes, but usually he does not. If he sees its natural causes, he might find a way out, a remedy which he may regard as orderly and good, or at least such that it does not lead into worse states. But if he is wise, he sees that the natural cause of a state is never the whole cause! That there is something intangible and spiritual which is beyond any sudden remedy; something which cannot be changed or removed “except by prayer and fasting”—except by the Lord’s help.

The appearance is, of course, that our various moods are the results of our physical states of health or disease, weariness, penury or struggle, lack of proper food or pleasure or of mental stimulus or companionship. Many people unhappily married seek to reach an elusive bliss by divorce and remarriage, only to find that the source of their unhappiness still pursues them. It is not their conditions that are at fault, but their state and attitude. Others seek increased wealth or comfort as an assurance of content. Certainly the restoration of health or fortune does produce remarkable changes in a man’s perspective. Still, these physical blessings do not by themselves give happiness. They give the natural man a sense of well-being and self-sufficiency. And the Lord knows that some can stand such blessings without detriment to their spiritual states. But a complete natural satisfaction—if alone —is apt to hold a man enthralled in externals, while he becomes somnolent as to his soul and evasive of all spiritual issues.

Happiness—eventual, eternal happiness—cannot be gained except by the struggles of the mind against evils or sins. It is not reached unless man undergoes spiritual temptations. For it is only by temptations that the spiritual environment of the man’s spirit is radically changed. It is only by temptations that new and different groups of spirits can become associated with man, and a new spiritual orientation be accomplished. The result of a temptation-period is a general change of state, and with this, of course, there is the appearance of a new freedom, a freedom to progress, to come nearer to the heaven of one’s final destiny.

Spiritual Temptations

The state of temptation is not to be confused with the act. of choice. In choice, man is active from a conscious freedom granted by the Lord. In temptation, man feels relatively passive, from lack of freedom to progress. Even during temptation, man is interiorly free145 and acts from the love already established with him, and as it were combats as of himself, cooperating with the good spirits who oppose the evil spirits who attend him. But he does not feel free. He is in anxiety, suffering, feels himself surrounded by his own evils and falsities as by mighty walls; scandals and doubts are insinuated against goods and truths; so that there is an apparent shutting up of his interiors, and of the capacity of thinking from his own faith and willing from his own love. His interior love is hemmed in—it cannot find a resting place in his conscious mind.146

Nevertheless, when the temptation has passed its climax of despair, the general state of man is changed. He feels a new peace, a unity of mind, a consolation that perhaps there may be salvation, after all. This feeling comes not from any reflection upon the good things he may have done, but from a realization that evil comes from evil spirits whose main object is to discourage man and make his own cooperative efforts seem useless. When man admits that his efforts indeed are in vain, and that the victory must be from the Lord, then the temptation is soon over.

The fact that good is from the Lord alone, does not imply that man should fold his hands and wait for influx. In temptation man must fight—urged by the necessity of the moment. If he does not fight it means that there is no heavenly love within him to resist the onslaught of evil. He then gives in to the delights which the infesting spirits seek to instil, and they remain with him and consolidate their position in his mind.

Man must fight for the love and the faith which he seems in danger of losing. He must fight from the knowledge and affection of truths and goods, (rather than from himself, or from pride in what he believed as his state of good). And he prays to the Lord for deliverance, for a change of state. Yet often the Lord does not hear the prayers that are offered during temptations !147

Prayer to the Lord is a powerful means of changing a man’s particular state, or aiding man to choose aright in clear issues and matters that lie waiting for his conscious decision. But general states involve too many elements that are beyond man’s scrutiny. He must wait for the Lord. The temptation must run its course, the state of the spiritual society from which the infestation originates, must be judged. And this takes time.

Nor is the time wasted. For man is not ready for the new state, is not ready for the extension of his freedom. His progress is held back in mercy. Man may have free choice: but—fortunately—the Lord rules the circumstances.

Man’s mind is very complex. Each idea of his thought has hidden connections with all his past states, long forgotten. But to the spirits and angels who are with him, all these states are available as bases of their own perceptions. Thus man’s thoughts and affections extend unbeknownst into societies both in the world of spirits and in heaven; yea, also in hell. The Lord governs man’s mind by ruling these societies and controlling their emissaries or “subject spirits.” Man may long to change an unpleasant state, but if this is to be done, the Lord must change or reorder and gradually transplant the deep-lying roots of his whole being, one by one.148

How States Are Changed

Much, however, is still left for man to do. Whether he is conscious of it or not, he is continually changing his particular states—every moment of his life. So, for instance, he often seeks some recreation to change his mood. He is so busy changing his states that he seldom reflects that he is doing it. And certainly he is quite unaware that by so doing he is also “changing spirits.”

Ordinarily, the spirits who are affected by his sudden changes are those associated with the surface, the superficial ripples, of his mind. Yet all his changes of state have their roots in the world of spirits, and occur according to spiritual laws. A man who, visiting friends at a distance, feels a certain homesickness, is quite unaware that some of the spirits who are with him are attached to the idea of objects and things which are not so sharply in his mind while he is away from home. If he returns home, the nostalgia ceases.

Here, indeed, we meet with an important law which governs the presence of spirits with man. Swedenborg records that after he had been long in one room, he could better command his ideas there than in some strange room. A certain tranquillity was induced among the spirits attending him, when he was in his own familiar surroundings. He noted the fact that “spirits wish to have their ideas connected with a place”; their ideas, which are spiritual, are in themselves not determined, defined, terminated, or limited, without space or structure, and this is provided for them in the material ideas which are available in the men with whom they are.149

Every one knows that the crucial changes of our thought and thus the determination of the important trends of external events are often clearly occasioned by trivial things. We might see a certain book on a shelf. We might stop to pick up a paper flying in the breeze. Our whole earthly career may turn on such a chance-event, on certain coincidences, in themselves trivial. But spiritual doctrine makes us realize that there is no “chance”; that the Divine Providence, in order to be universal, must also be most detailed, in every single thing, in the fall of a sparrow, in the turn of a page, or the twist of the dice. If the Divine government is in all things, it must see and rule things as a whole, somewhat in the manner that the soul rules the body. All the states of human consciousness, whether in this life or the next, must —in some way—be a unit, an interdependent whole, a cooperative scheme in which each state contributes its distinctive element to every other.

Thus it should be realized that angels (of each heavenly degree), spirits (interior and external), and men, all have their own distinctive function in that spiritual world the outskirts of which man senses in what he calls his “mind.”

After some reflection, few would deny that the crowning purpose of creation lies in the development of the human mind. Many would also see that in the mind, the gifts of created nature are turned to eternal uses; and that we truly live, not in the physical world, but in our mental world, in our states, our thoughts, our moods of consciousness. It is also evident that the mind is formed largely by means of the senses and especially by the experience of sight and hearing. Objects, images, enter through the physical organs of the body into the interiors of the brain and nervous system. There they are given an interpretation, a meaning, a value; in each man, the same object may be given a different value, according as it has been associated with some previous mental state of delight or pain. A rare stamp is by some discarded into the wastebasket, while by a collector it becomes cherished as a symbolic center of his own small world of ideas and delights. Children hug objects to their bosoms which to adults are utterly meaningless. Lovers attach a sentiment to a withered rose, perhaps, and the sight of one sends the echoes of past states trembling through the chambers of their hearts! In adult life, we have inexplicable aversions to, or preferences for, certain colors, or melodies, or names, or objects; having long forgotten why, or what they stand for in our slumbering past. Perhaps we never knew; but the instinctive association was caused by spirits who were once with us.

It should not be so incredible, then, when Swedenborg tells us in his Diary that certain spirits with him pressed him to use one certain tea-cup, others another; that some spirits had one of his bound journals as their special ultimate, while other spirits chose another! They were particular about what garments he wore. It sounds childish, this preference, until we realize that our own minds work in the same way. We are, in the state in which we are on earth, utterly lost without ultimates of thought. We wish to be surrounded by objects which bring a memory that is cherished or a field of ideas that stimulates certain delights. We attach strange values to things that are valueless in themselves.150 In dreams we may sometimes suffer tortures because of the impending loss of something utterly trivial.

Spirits are in a different situation after death. For many good reasons, their natural memory—the chronological record of their earthly experience, fixed in space-time imagery, or as material ideas—is gradually closed and becomes quiescent. Otherwise they could not progress into interior states, into thought which is spiritual and not bound to the imagery of spatial objects.

Yet spirits newly risen instinctively hunger for the objects which by them were vested with symbolic importance. With these they wish to clothe their thought. To them they look as a source of past states of delight, as a stimulus to fields of ideas and affections. And they find plenty of such objects in the natural thought of man: for man’s mind unconsciously is a part of the spiritual realm—a realm where space does not intervene, and where ideas are transmitted between all who are in common states of affection. “Into whatsoever state a man comes, spirits with whom a like passion had been dominant in their life-time”151 attach themselves to the material ideas and sensory memories of his mind, and give meaning to these things, so that man can—according to his state—sense them, understand them, interpret their life-value, their possible mental worth.

This law of spiritual association is of course the underlying principle of all symbolic ritual as was shown in a former chapter. But it also operates in our most ordinary life.

Spirits and the Objects of Man’s Thought

Spirits have the peculiar power to lead man to fix his attention upon such ultimates of thought as please them, i.e., they run through all the possible states of his mind in a moment until they find something familiar to them, and then they come into their own life. Sometimes, when spirits thus fix man’s reflection on objects, they create trouble for a man; they cause accidents, break his line of thought, cause worries, deliriums and even insanities.152 They are not aware of the man, however, but believe that they think from themselves. Evil spirits love to fix his mind on objects which to the man are invested with a sphere of the forbidden, or with suggestions of disease, cruelty, monstrosity, stagnation, hatred, pride, disorder, excrementitious or lascivious things, or filthy

language. Indeed, it may indeed in this sense be true that cleanliness—mental cleanliness—is next to godliness. There is a sphere of spirits even around the words we use, spirits of holiness, zeal and use; or spirits of contempt, of obscenity., of impatience and cruelty.

That spirits seek for evil ultimates which correspond to their states is illustrated and symbolized by the spirits called Legion, who—on being driven out of the man at the Gadarene shore—fled into the herd of swine.153

A change even of a word may change the spirits who are with us, Swedenborg reports.154 And here the power of man to change his states, enters in. That power is not from himself. He is kept in freedom by the fact that no one spirit, or no one group of spirits, can totally dominate him, as long as he is in this world. Nor can there now be any such corporeal obsessions by spirits as we read of in the Gospel. For the Lord holds man in freedom, through the presence of angels.

Even the wisdom of angels finds its basic focus and resting point in material ideas such as are with man, and especially in the sense of the letter of the Word. But the values which angels attach to such ultimates is not the same as that which good spirits would see, or still less what man sees. Man sees mostly material uses for the objects he beholds. Spirits see more interior delights and uses, suitable to their life and their ideas. But angels see the spiritual and celestial uses and meanings of each object. In their eyes, man’s material ideas and scientifics are valued and endowed with meaning so far as they are “open even to the Lord” and thus contain a sphere of charity and faith, wisdom and love to the Lord.154b In the ideas man has derived from the Word they see Divine uses, Divine eternal values; yea, they see the presence of the Lord Himself. And therefore our attending angels imbue the objects in man’s memory-world with new values and thus new uses. They instil into man a delight in the interior implications of the things of man’s thought, and if man receives this delight through them, evil spirits depart.

Swedenborg records in his Journal of 1744 that in one of his struggles against infesting spirits who sought to obsess 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 the Lord. By a shift of attention, he thus broke the hold of the evil spirits upon his mind.155

A normal, wholesome life implies a variety of experiences, and changing states. The Lord therefore ordains for us a life of active uses, by which the objects which we see and remember are associated with useful values, states of charity and service to others, to society and to the church. Evil spirits who love idleness put a value on things merely so far as they favor our self-indulgence.

But the Lord also ordains that the Divine Word shall be with men, so that by means of its Divinely ordered field and sequence of material ideas—historicals, propheticals, and parables—the angelic hosts may have their own ultimates with men. Every word, every natural idea in the Scripture possesses a spiritual value and meaning for the angels. If we habitually read the Word in reverence, we invite ever new groups of angelic societies into our mind; and we are thus led to travel an orderly road in the pilgrimage of our spirit towards heaven; to progress under the Lord’s own protection through the many stages of life.

http://www.swedenborgstudy.com/index.html

New book: Starting Science from God.
Links theism (religion) to science (psychology and physics) without reduction.

http://www.sacred-texts.com/swd/index.htm

http://www.smallcanonsearch.org/

 

 

Temptation – Giving in to it – So what?

Spiritual Questions & Answers

Discovering inner health and transformation

temptationWho hasn’t at one time or another felt cross with him or herself for acting on some urge of the moment, giving in to temptation to do something which was enjoyed at the time but which later causes regret?

Perhaps it was overeating and now you are fearful of looking fat and becoming unhealthy: or maybe it was spending money you could not afford on a whim buying something not really needed and now you are concerned about paying off the credit card: or perhaps it was verbally lashing out at someone who angered you at the time and now you fear losing the benefits of the relationship.

Actions like these may bother you but the chances are you will be quick to forget all about such things. and any sense of embarrassment and even guilt will be short lived. Many people are probably like this. It is not that they are bad or stupid. It is simply that they saw they had been tempted to behave against their own interests. They do not consider that succumbing to the impulse of the moment would lead to any long-term serious consequences.

And perhaps they are right. So what is so bad about giving way to temptation? Why should anyone feel guilty about going against the social rules that are expected to be followed?

Temptation and social conformity

You might be tempted to harm the person who bothers you, but a society in which everyone gave in to the temptation to hurt those who made them angry, would quickly devolve into chaos. Therefore social roles are developed.

Psychologists have tested how people behave with and without being watched. It is clear that when they think they can get away with it, many will succumb to temptation to pinch things they fancy (for example from hotels), exaggerate their expenses claims, and even fabricate the contents of their CV’s.

Some people thus only follow rules because it seems to be in their interests to do so. If they believe other people are not following the rules or that other people won’t know if they break them, then they are also likely to break rules. Their conscience is one of social conformity rather than high principle.

Temptation and genuine conscience

Many spiritual writers have written that human problems can arise when one lacks a firm foundation of values. Without ethical principles you may be tempted to live a life in which “anything goes,” or be unable to discern what is right and wrong in any given situation.

A well-known moral principle is the golden rule that one should treat others as one would like others to treat oneself — that is with patience, tolerance, trust, and respect. This is not just for the sake of getting back what you give but rather as a spiritual principle in itself. Another example is that of conserving nature and protecting it from unsustainable exploitation not just as a way of protecting our resources but also as a way of recognising something which is valued for itself.

Let us return to the examples given at the beginning about eating, spending money and lashing out. The impulse to eat too much tests one’s inner contentment with the inflow of the spirit rather than attachment to bodily pleasure.

“The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.”   (Jesus Christ)

Likewise attractive advertising of luxury goods also tests a commitment to prioritising money for what is useful: and being provoked to anger tests the ethic of forgiveness.

Consequences of spiritual temptation

A moral consciousness gives you the option of deliberately doing wrong. Having the power of rational and ethical discrimination gives you the responsibility to make the right choices.

Who doesn’t give in to temptation sometimes? Doing so can leave you feeling dissatisfied, guilty or empty because it might be suggested that you have distanced yourself a little from the spirit of goodness that had been inspiring and uplifting your life. I suspect even people of faith who have had a deep trust in their Lord, can find themselves losing confidence when circumstances are tough, becoming anxious about the future or the past, and being tempted with negative attitudes or selfish thoughts. Their faith is indeed being tested.

One idea of religion I like is that of a forgiving God who is always willing to give us another chance.

Victory in temptation

My view of spiritual growth is that it is a gradual process and that for a long time perhaps to a lessening extent your worldly orientated and self-centred habits of thought still attract you. See here for what John Odhner has written about what the new Testament describes as a conflict between the “old man” and the “new man.”  The spiritual teaching is that the more you turn away from what in your heart you know is wrong, then the more you will be transformed into a better character.

“Every trial endured and weathered in the right spirit makes a soul nobler and stronger than it was before.” (William Butler Yeats)

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

http://www.spiritualquestions.org.uk/

Posted on6th November 2013CategoriesEthics, Private Ethics Leave a comment

Trust vs. Certainty

Evil

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 Evil

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The essence of the Lord – what He’s made of; what he actually is – is love. It’s perfect love, boundless and pure and complete.

Love, of course, innately desires an object. We can’t just love in a vacuum; we want to love someone or something, and in loving them we want to be close to them and ultimately conjoined with them. To fulfill Himself, then, the Lord created the universe and ultimately created us so that he could have something outside Himself to love.

The Lord’s goal for us, then, is to accept His love and to be conjoined with him. For that relationship to work, though, there are two essential elements. First, we have to have a choice; if we didn’t have a choice it would be compulsion, not love, and would be no more meaningful than the instinctive love a dog has for its master. Second, we have to remain separate from the Lord; if we became part of Him, he would be loving Himself.

The first of those elements creates the potential for evil to exist. To give us a choice, the Lord created us with the ability to refocus His love and turn it on ourselves – to use the power and life He freely gives us to love and worship ourselves instead of loving and worshipping Him. That is pretty much the definition of evil, and the Writings tell us that it is the state we are all in from birth and the state we would all return to instantly if it were not for the loving influence of the Lord.

Many find that idea upsetting. Why would the Lord let us be born into evil? Shouldn’t we be essentially neutral if we are to have a choice? And surely we can’t be saying that babies are evil!

In a way, though, the fact that we’re born into evil is the Lord’s way of balancing things out. He is pouring love on us constantly, leading us toward good in countless ways; if we were not innately evil we would be overwhelmed by His love and would lose our ability to choose. As for babies, the Writings do say that babies and young children have a degree of natural goodness, which shows as a love for their parents and kindness toward other children. As they get older and begin to be more rational, the Lord draws this into their interiors so He can continue to affect them as they grow. They are also innocent, lacking the ability to choose either good or evil.

But for all their innocence and sweetness and the powerful love they inspire in us, children are, if you think about it, deeply self-centered. And that self-centered state often persists through adolescence into adulthood, when real choices begin.

This means that we all enter adulthood with some degree of self-love, love of wealth, love of dominating others, love of being in charge, pride in our intelligence and a sense of entitlement. It might not be dominant, but it’s there. What do we do?

Well, remember that the Lord is pouring love on us constantly; our problem is that we are full of evils and there’s no place for that love to attach itself. What we need to do, then, is start attacking those evils. If we can uproot them, the Lord will fill the space with love.

And that, the Writings tell us, is the work of our lifetimes. We are called on to learn what is good and use that knowledge to shun evils – to push them aside so the Lord can replace them with desires for good. Do it long enough and diligently enough and the Lord will set the evils aside permanently and fill us with love – the state of angels. We will then go to a society in heaven to be with people whose loves are similar to ours.

There are a few points worth making about this process:

● It is slow. Our loves are our life, so if the Lord simply took all our evils away at once it would kill us. It’s a process.

● We have to know evil to fight it. The Lord has given us the capacity to know what is right even while we desire what is wrong; we can use that power to examine ourselves and identify our evils so we can combat them.

● Temptation is key. The only way to really uproot an evil love is to fight it, and the battle can only come when that evil desire is active, eating at us, calling to us, trying to drag us away. This is not to say we should seek temptation – the Lord will provide it at the right time – but we can recognize it as an opportunity to grow spiritually.

● We can’t make ourselves good. Only the Lord can do that; our part is to try not to be bad and ask for His help.

● We’re not necessarily responsible for evil thoughts. Just as the Lord is constantly leading us toward goodness and light, the hells also want us to join their ranks in evil and darkness. One way they do this is by bombarding our minds with evil thoughts. But our thoughts are not our life; our loves are. If we let evil thoughts go on by us and don’t make them part of what we intend to do, we’re not responsible for them.

● We’re not necessarily reponsible for evil intentions or actions. Some people are raised without any knowledge of right and wrong, and have no idea that things they desire are evil. Those evils don’t become a permanent part of them unless they embrace them while knowing they are wrong.

And if we fail, then what? Well, that’s a mirror image of the “going-to-heaven” process – if we choose to embrace evils and knowingly make them our own, we will ultimately go to hell to be with others who have similar evil loves.

But here’s an interesting point: The Writings say that the Lord never really takes our evils away, even if we become angels in heaven. He pushes them aside and negates their power, but he doesn’t remove them. Why?

The answer lies in the second of the two elements we mentioned earlier, that we have to stay separate from the Lord in order to be loved by Him. If the Lord actually removed our evils and made us fully pure and good, He would also remove the element that makes us separate, the part of ourselves that is not part of the Lord. The Lord can’t be evil, so the evil in us will always be outside Him. This maintains our identity even in the most exalted angelic state we could reach.

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Finding Your Inner Freedom

Swedenborg Foundation

personalfreedom

Religious freedom has been popping up in the news quite a bit lately: The US Army considers whether to relax its regulations on dress and grooming to allow Sikhs—whose religious practices include men wearing turbans and growing beards—to serve in the military. A town in New Jersey debates whether to allow construction of a local mosque, as residents voice fears of a terrorist attack. And religious freedom has become a buzzword on the US campaign trail, as conservative voters protest laws that contradict their beliefs.

All of these debates center around the practice of religion: when, where, and how groups and individuals can put their religious convictions into action. Emanuel Swedenborg offers a different perspective: What if the real question isn’t how we practice religious freedom but how we practice spiritual freedom? And what’s the difference between the two?

First, though, it needs to be clear that all freedom is a matter of love, even to the point that love and freedom are the same thing. Since love is our life, freedom is also essential to our life. (Divine Providence §73:2)

Freedom is a characteristic of everything that belongs to love and everything that belongs to our will. Anyone can see this from the statement “I want to do this because I love it,” and the other way around, “because I love this I also want to do it.” (True Christianity §493)

When Swedenborg speaks in terms of freedom and love, he’s referring back to one of the core ideas of his philosophy: a person’s dominant or ruling love, which you could think of as the emotions, desires, or needs that drive us on a deep inner level. If we love ourselves or our reputation more than anything else, then we’re motivated by selfish love; if we put others first and if we love the divine (in whatever form that takes for us personally), then we’re motivated by positive, selfless love. When we’re doing what we love, Swedenborg says, we feel free.

In his writings, he talks about different levels of freedom that correspond to different levels of our inner being. We have earthly, or bodily, freedom in the sense that we can control our own actions. We can do whatever we want, except to the extent that laws, moral codes, or fear of social consequences hold us back. We have rational, or mental, freedom in that we can think whatever we want; we can reason through problems and decide what we think. We can also use our rationality to override our lower impulses—restrain ourselves from acting out of anger, for example, or giving in to temptation.

Our spiritual freedom, he says, works in a similar way. We can use our spiritual understanding not only to override our ego-driven urges but to untangle the mess of confusion that sometimes arises from overthinking a situation. The difference between spiritual freedom and mental or bodily freedom is that spiritual freedom comes from the Divine:

Spiritual freedom comes from a love for eternal life. The only people who arrive at this love and its pleasure are people who think that evils are sins and therefore do not want to do them, and who at the same time turn toward the Lord. The moment we do this, we are in spiritual freedom, because it is only from an inner or higher freedom that we can stop intending evils because they are sins and therefore not do them. This kind of freedom comes from an inner or higher love. (Divine Providence §73:6)

Swedenborg describes turning toward the Lord—regeneration, or spiritual rebirth—as a long and challenging process of personal growth. The end result is as much a freedom from the limits of the body and mind as it is a freedom to express divine love:

All the freedom we enjoy in earthly matters comes down from this higher freedom; and because freedom originates there, it has a share in all the free choices we make in earthly matters. From among our earthly options, the love that is dominant in us on the highest level selects everything that is well suited to itself. That higher freedom is present the way a spring is present in all the water that flows from it, or the way the fertility of a seed is present in each and every part of the tree that results from it—especially the fruit, in which the seed renews itself. (True Christianity §494)

From this perspective, spiritual freedom is a freedom without walls or limits. Even a person living in an oppressive regime or whose physical movements are restricted can live a full and beautiful life by first seeking out that source of divine love and then allowing that love to guide his or her life. And that love—that spiritual freedom—can be expressed through even the smallest actions, regardless of whether those actions are overtly religious. If everything that we do comes from divine love, then there’s no way to stop that love from flowing through the world.

What does spiritual freedom mean to you?

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For an in-depth look at spiritual freedom in Swedenborg’s writings, watch “Spiritual Freedom,” an episode of our weekly webcast Swedenborg and Life (or read the recap here).

For more on the idea of dominant love, see our blog post “How Spiritual Growth Makes You More You”; and there’s also more about divine guidance in the post “Led by the Lord? The Spiritual Questions to Ask Yourself.”

Regeneration: Spiritual Growth and How It Works is a collection of Swedenborg’s writings on spiritual growth that outlines both the process and the internal factors at work.