According to scientist/theologian Emanuel Swedenborg, the human emotion of love must be educated by the intellect. This is called human reasoning, which can ultimately lead to wisdom. When Jesus was asked, what were the greatest commandments, he answered Loving God and loving the neighbor. This answer, while straightforward, involves unique knowledge.
Having studied the likes of Swedenborg and also George Gurdjieff, I have become convinced that such Love goes beyond kindness or going to church or donating money to worthy causes. What these two unique men revealed was that spiritual growth involves more than kind acts. Certainly all kind acts are beneficial, but do they make someone spiritual in the way that our Lord hoped for?
Some people believe spiritual growth means to jump in and start being nice and pleasant to others. So they immediately decide to perform acts of goodness—especially when others are looking. However, being nice and doing good can actually blind us from taking a true spiritual path. We have to look beyond kindness and make a real inventory of our inner motives and expectations. True spiritual love emerges, based on the depth of one’s sincerity and innocence.
Being nice in order to increase one’s standing, reputation, honor or wealth can be motives so deeply entrenched in our psyche that they can lie undetected and hidden from our normal daily consciousness. Such “worldly” acts of kindness lack real sincerity and easily corrupt innocence.
That is why Emanuel Swedenborg claimed that the first operation in achieving spiritual goodness was identifying hidden and negative dispositions—then asking for God’s help in resisting them. This is the only way to make our acts of charity truly innocent.
The reason Swedenborg spends so much time writing about and describing the hateful and negative behavior of evil spirits (in all its horrible detail) is so that the reader can indirectly recognize and see these things in him or herself. Today, most people go to church to feel good about themselves and want only to be comforted (and few ministers will dare to challenge them or say things that make them uncomfortable for fear of losing parishioners).
Gurdjieff’s genius was putting people in situations that allowed them to make unflattering self-discoveries. Left to ourselves, we drown out such rude awakenings by various means of illusion. Few people want to have their masks removed.
Love is not one simple concept, either. There are three universal types of love: love of self, love of the world, and spiritual or heavenly love. Only through sincere self-exploration can we determine which love guides and rules our heart. The future of religion will depend on its ability to provide the proper training for this inner journey of self-exploration. And, that will depend on how many church leaders have actually gone through the grindstone themselves and successfully emerge from this procedure to obtain legitimate spiritual development (something not taught in seminary).
We are born not for our own sakes, but for the sakes of others. Otherwise, society would not last long. God’s heavenly kingdom could not be anything other than a society where there is mutual love from spiritual principles.