APPROPRIATING GOOD AND EVIL

A Sermon by the Rev. James P. Cooper

Toronto, August 24, 2008

If a man believed, as is the truth, that all good and truth are from the Lord and all evil and falsity from hell, he would not appropriate good to himself and consider it merited, nor evil to himself and make himself responsible for it. (DP 320)

It is a remarkable truth that everything of good and truth that enters our mind actually flows in from heaven, and that all falsities and evil lusts flow in from hell. It may feel to us as if these ideas and feelings originate in our own minds, but they do not. They flow in from others, outside of ourselves.

The idea that all the activity in our minds comes from others may be upsetting at first – but this concept is essential to our understanding of our own responsibility for the evils that we think about and do, and at the same time our understanding of our part in the good that we do.

If we try to step back from our own personal involvement in this issue, if we try to be objective, perhaps we can see that there really is only one life in the universe, and that is God. He created the universe and continually re-creates it by flowing into the ultimates of nature which have been created by Him to receive His life.

This view of creation is quite different from the popular scientific theories of the day where it is believed that life arose spontaneously when the proper mix of chemicals happened to occur. Today, scientists dig deeper and deeper into the molecular structure of the cell in order to discover life, but can only be frustrated in their search, for they are looking at a structure created to receive and hold life, not life itself.

The belief that life can be found within the physical structure of natural things is quite old. It leapt to dominance with the invention of the microscope in the 17th Century. Emanuel Swedenborg was one of many scientists who believed that the microscope would be the tool to help them discover the soul within the fibbers of the body itself. We know that Swedenborg spent many years studying human anatomy in order to find the soul, and wrote a series of books detailing that search. The results of his search led him away from science to philosophy, and again, he wrote several important books documenting his search for the soul within the human mind. But the only thing he proved to himself is that the soul could not be found by philosophy either, and so finally from being a philosopher, he became a theologian. His eyes were opened to see the spiritual world, and he then experienced first-hand the influx of the Lord’s life through the heavens into each individual human being.

Swedenborg saw that the heavens had not been created merely as some kind of cosmic playground for favoured spirits, but that it had a specific use to men on earth. Just as the earth itself has a series of atmospheres that protect those on its surface from the full effects of the power of the sun, the heavens serve as spiritual atmospheres to protect us from the full power of God’s presence. The Divine life flows into the celestial heaven where it is received by the angels there, modified by them, and passed on to the spiritual heaven. There it is modified again and passed on to the natural heaven, and from there into the world of spirits. There, in the world of spirits, are those who have recently died and who have not yet made the choice between heaven and hell. The states of these spirits are most like our own, and therefore it is these spirits, both good and evil, that are most closely associated with us while we live in the world, and who serve to pass the Divine influx on to us. We sense this kind of inflowing life as the various ideas and feelings that pop into our minds during the day.

However, even though these ideas originate in the spiritual world, we still have the power to direct our mind in certain directions, to invite certain kinds of thoughts and the spirits associated with them. One way of understanding how this works is to think how a radio works. Our atmosphere is full of electro-magnetic pulses over a great range of frequency and power. Anyone who has ever played with a short-wave receiver has a feeling for how many different signals are available at any given time, and there are many other kinds of signals as well:  FM, television, and microwave. But we do not hear them now, because we are not “tuned in,” we don’t have a radio. When you turn the radio on, you can then spin the tuning dial and hear all kinds of different programs, and you stop when you find something that appeals to you. Your mind works in a very similar way.

The spiritual world is broadcasting all kinds of thoughts all the time, both good and evil. This is why the Lord taught in the Sermon on the Mount, as read in our second lesson, that we had to be concerned not only with actual evils, but also with the thoughts that flow in and cause them. But the choices we have made, the kind of character we have developed makes us more susceptible to certain kinds of ideas, and to be completely deaf to others. A person who enjoys a warm, happy relationship with his wife simply doesn’t hear the lustful ideas that pass through. He is “tuned out” to them because they do not make a one with his affections.

On the one hand, our basic character effectively filters out a lot of the ideas, but still we are free to turn our minds to any that appeal to us, we can direct our thought and concentrate in a particular direction, or on a particular subject. In our analogy, it is like “fine-tuning.”

There is a common perception with people that evil ideas come from hell, and that good ideas come from the Lord through heaven. Who has not heard a story where the devil tempts some poor soul with the promise of some great achievement now in return for his soul later? And who has not seen the cartoons that represent our temptations by showing a little angel and a little devil, each sitting on a shoulder and whispering in the ear?

While we instinctively understand and agree with this illustration of the good and evil influences in our lives, hardly anyone actually uses these commonly known truths in their own lives! We act as if all the evil ideas that pop into our minds are our own – and because we think they are ours, we love them and try to think up all many of ways to defend them! We learn to weave truths and falsities together so as to make evil seem to be good.

This is exactly what the hells want us to think. They know that if we took one second to think rationally about where these ideas come from, we would know that they come from hell, and flee from them. We could easily fight temptation if we believed, truly believed, that our desire to do evil comes from hell, outside of ourselves. Think about how often we resist doing something just because it was somebody else’s idea. Again, think how often we can be convinced to do something if we can be tricked into thinking it was our own idea in the first place! As we read in the first lesson, that’s how Bathsheba and Nathan were able to make David reverse his own policy of letting his sons fight it out and come out in favour of Solomon as the next king, coincidentally saving the lives of Nathan and Bathsheba who were not loved by David’s other sons. If we think another person is forcing us to do something, we resist, even if it is something pleasant, because our freedom of choice is more precious to us than anything.

The Humanists will tell us that man is inherently good and therefore does not need to be saved. The Reformed Christian Church tells us that mankind since the fall is inherently evil and can only be saved by faith. The New Christian Church says that man, by birth, is neither. He is nothing other than the sum total of the choices he freely makes during the course of his adult life.

Neither good nor evil are ours from birth. We have a hereditary tendency to evil, but it is only an inclination to certain evils, not the actual evils themselves. The Lord has seen to it that our inclination to evil is exactly balanced by an equal inclination to do good through our remains of good and truth. Just as we are not compelled to act according to our hereditary tendencies to evil, neither are we compelled to act according to our hereditary goods, or remains. We are free to choose what we do and whom we shall be for ourselves.

Since our hereditary inclination to evil is from our parents, and our remains are the Lord’s things with us, we actually begin life with nothing of our own and so must choose those things that will be ours to eternity, goods and truths or evils and falsities, that are in accord with our affections and delights. As we read in the lesson, if we will only remember that all life is from the Lord, and that all these things flow in from Him, then we are free to pick what will be a part of our own spiritual character. Both evil and good are outside of us, and we can choose to bring them in by our own actions, that is, appropriate them.

It is an absolute principle of the New Church that the Lord continually strives to protect and provide for man’s spiritual freedom. We feel this freedom while we are on earth in the fact that we can think and believe anything we wish. And, to a large extent, we are free to do whatever we want, except as we are restrained by our fears of the loss of our reputation among men, our honour, and our personal gain. We are even free to believe that we live from ourselves, although this belief is the source of most of our spiritual difficulties. We are even free to do evil from intention or by accident.

In reality, we are only vessels created to receive life from the Lord. The living vessel is flawed, and tends to evils of every kind. The Lord counteracts this by inflowing into the secret parts of our minds with affections for good and truth. Thus we live in a balance, an equilibrium between what is evil on the one hand and what is good on the other. We are even given the feeling that we live from ourselves so that we can feel the delights of life as our own.

Our character becomes the sum of the choices we make from an infinite array of ideas and feelings that flow in from the spiritual world, and which we can then make our own by living according to them. We are in control of our own lives only when we believe and live according to the truth that the ideas and feelings are not ours, but inflow from the spiritual world. We must not feel guilty for evil thoughts and feelings unless we invite them, encourage them, cherish them, and through intention and act make them our own.

If we could really believe that temptations of evil are from hell, that they are hell trying to pull us down by deception, to make us do what the devils want, it would be much easier to reject those temptations. But, if we persist in our belief that we live from ourselves, then the devils of hell can easily persuade us that evil is ours as well, that it is from our own personal loves, and will therefore delight us.

We become guilty of evil only when we believe that we live from ourselves, and that all our thoughts and ideas are our own. We could just as easily choose good if we would accept the truth that life is a gift from the Lord for us to freely use.

If a man believed, as is the truth, that all good and truth are from the Lord and all evil and falsity from hell, he would not appropriate good to himself and consider it merited, nor evil and make himself responsible for it (DP 320). AMEN.


First Lesson:  1KI 1:11-31

So Nathan spoke to Bathsheba the mother of Solomon, saying, “Have you not heard that Adonijah the son of Haggith has become king, and David our lord does not know it? {12} “Come, please, let me now give you advice, that you may save your own life and the life of your son Solomon. {13} “Go immediately to King David and say to him, ‘Did you not, my lord, O king, swear to your maidservant, saying, “Assuredly your son Solomon shall reign after me, and he shall sit on my throne”? Why then has Adonijah become king?’ {14} “Then, while you are still talking there with the king, I also will come in after you and confirm your words.” {15} So Bathsheba went into the chamber to the king. (Now the king was very old, and Abishag the Shunammite was serving the king.) {16} And Bathsheba bowed and did homage to the king. Then the king said, “What is your wish?” {17} Then she said to him, “My lord, you swore by the LORD your God to your maidservant, saying, ‘Assuredly Solomon your son shall reign after me, and he shall sit on my throne.’ {18} “So now, look! Adonijah has become king; and now, my lord the king, you do not know about it. {19} “He has sacrificed oxen and fattened cattle and sheep in abundance, and has invited all the sons of the king, Abiathar the priest, and Joab the commander of the army; but Solomon your servant he has not invited. {20} “And as for you, my lord, O king, the eyes of all Israel are on you, that you should tell them who will sit on the throne of my lord the king after him. {21} “Otherwise it will happen, when my lord the king rests with his fathers, that I and my son Solomon will be counted as offenders.” {22} And just then, while she was still talking with the king, Nathan the prophet also came in. {23} So they told the king, saying, “Here is Nathan the prophet.” And when he came in before the king, he bowed down before the king with his face to the ground. {24} And Nathan said, “My lord, O king, have you said, ‘Adonijah shall reign after me, and he shall sit on my throne’? {25} “For he has gone down today, and has sacrificed oxen and fattened cattle and sheep in abundance, and has invited all the king’s sons, and the commanders of the army, and Abiathar the priest; and look! They are eating and drinking before him; and they say, ‘Long live King Adonijah!’ {26} “But he has not invited me; me your servant; nor Zadok the priest, nor Benaiah the son of Jehoiada, nor your servant Solomon. {27} “Has this thing been done by my lord the king, and you have not told your servant who should sit on the throne of my lord the king after him?” {28} Then King David answered and said, “Call Bathsheba to me.” So she came into the king’s presence and stood before the king. {29} And the king took an oath and said, “As the LORD lives, who has redeemed my life from every distress, {30} “just as I swore to you by the LORD God of Israel, saying, ‘Assuredly Solomon your son shall be king after me, and he shall sit on my throne in my place,’ so I certainly will do this day.” {31} Then Bathsheba bowed with her face to the earth, and paid homage to the king, and said, “Let my lord King David live forever!”

Second Lesson:  Mat 5:21-30

“You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder, and whoever murders will be in danger of the judgment.’ {22} “But I say to you that whoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment. And whoever says to his brother, ‘Raca!’ shall be in danger of the council. But whoever says, ‘You fool!’ shall be in danger of hell fire. {23} “Therefore if you bring your gift to the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, {24} “leave your gift there before the altar, and go your way. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift. {25} “Agree with your adversary quickly, while you are on the way with him, lest your adversary deliver you to the judge, the judge hand you over to the officer, and you be thrown into prison. {26} “Assuredly, I say to you, you will by no means get out of there till you have paid the last penny. {27} “You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ {28} “But I say to you that whoever looks at a woman to lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart. {29} “If your right eye causes you to sin, pluck it out and cast it from you; for it is more profitable for you that one of your members perish, than for your whole body to be cast into hell. {30} “And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and cast it from you; for it is more profitable for you that one of your members perish, than for your whole body to be cast into hell.

Third Lesson:  BE 69 (port.)

“Who cannot see, that every man has freedom to think about God, or not to think about Him, consequently that every man has the same freedom in spiritual things, as he has in civil and moral things. The Lord gives this freedom continually to all: wherefore man becomes guilty or not guilty as he thinks. … Man is capable of reforming and regenerating himself as of himself, provided he only acknowledge in his heart that his ability is from the Lord. Every man who does the work of repentance, is reformed and regenerated. … In a word, act of yourselves, and believe that it is from the Lord, for thus you will act as of yourselves. … Everyone, however, contracts guilt, who believes that he does of himself either good or evil; but not he who believes that he acts as of himself. For whatsoever a man believes that he does of himself, that he appropriates to himself; if he believes that he does good of himself, he appropriates to himself that good, and makes it his own, when nevertheless it is of God and from God; and if he believes that he does evil of himself, he also appropriates that evil to himself, and makes it his own, when yet it is of the devil and from the devil.”


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