Once upon a time in heaven there lived a loving angel named Andy. One day he was summoned before the Lord God to take on a particular holy assignment. Protecting his face from the powerful glow of God’s infinite purity, he was ready to serve.
“Andy,” said the Creator, “as you know, I changed things around up here and because of this new reorganization I also found it necessary to enter the mind of a scientist/theologian on earth so that he could write down in various books the new information necessary for earth-beings to properly align their hearts and minds for receiving this new divine data. Well, as you can see, even those who have these special new books in their possession are arriving in the Spiritual World still needing lots more work—work that should have taken place during their physical existence. I hate to see people put this work off, then suffer the consequences up here as they are purged and cleansed of their flaws. I have to fill three levels in heaven but am only succeeding in getting earth-beings to squeak through to the lowest heaven. And that’s the good news.”
“Yeah,” replied Andy, “it seems that less people are reading Scripture down there and even less of them are contemplating on its many rich levels of meaning. I am having a harder and harder time getting my spiritual thoughts to find a place to land and take hold in their psyche.”
“I need you to go back down to earth and see what is holding things up,” said the all-loving Creator.
Several earth days later Andy was properly fitted with a physical body and descended to earth, whereupon he approached a special church in the town he had been directed to visit.
Andy walked up several steps and knocked on the large door. As the door opened a friendly face greeted him. It was the minister of the church.
“Hello, my name is Andy. I just moved into town and am looking for a church where I can worship. May I come in and ask you about your church and its teachings?”
“Come in,” said the minister who was obviously delighted by the prospect of adding a new member to the congregation. “Follow me.”
Andy followed the minister to his study, where they both sat down at a table.
“What makes your church special?” asked Andy quite bluntly.
“We have a wonderful community of people here joyfully doing God’s work,” explained the minister with great pride. “We believe in living a life of love and usefulness.”
“Forgive me,” said Andy, “but the few churches I have already visited before this one also greeted me with warm kindness and friendship. What makes this church different and better able to prepare its members for a life of spiritual love and friendship?”
The minister smiled and pointed to the wall behind where Andy was sitting. The wall contained many bookshelves filled with theological books. “That is our difference.”
Andy turned in his chair and pulled a book out from the bookcase. It was one of many books titled Arcana Coelestia.
“Those books represent a new dispensation from the Lord who opened the interior levels of scientist/theologian Emanuel Swedenborg’s mind to receive new divine instruction in order to reveal to the men and women of earth the deeper, heavenly secrets contained within the stories of the Lord God’s Holy Word,” explained the minister who was happy about Andy’s question.
Andy feigned ignorance of this and asked, “What secrets?”
“Basically, God’s Holy Word contains three discrete levels of interpretation. There is a literal level, which can be understood by everyone who can read. However, above that literal level of interpretation the same stories treat, symbolically, of humankind’s inner history—providing inexhaustible details of how we humans turned from God and the orderly steps and process by which the Lord saves us. Above this level is yet another level that depicts what the Lord Jesus experienced and overcame while living in this world. In a nutshell, each of us goes through all these steps in order to be reborn.”
”Wow!” exclaimed Andy. “Does everyone get taught this symbolic language and learn all the techniques involved in this complex spiritual process?’
“Well, no,” said the minister thinking seriously about the question. “These things are much too complicated for the average member of my congregation. It is easier for them to focus on being loving and useful to others. Everyone can understand that. The bottom line is that God wants us to be loving and useful to each other.”
“Then why did Swedenborg write so many books if salvation was that simple?’ inquired Andy.
“It is my job to lead people to the truth that will show them the way to goodness,” responded the minister with furrowed eyebrows, trying to get more comfortable in his chair. “I simply provide a place and atmosphere where people can form a loving and supportive community. When people are in goodness to each other they know they are experiencing God’s Love and Truth in their hearts and minds.” It was then that the minister noticed that Andy had opened to a page in the Arcana Coelestia and was intently reading it.”
“What are you so engrossed in?” asked the minister.
“I get the impression from reading this book that the closer God gets to us, the worse we feel about ourselves.” observed Andy.
The minister straightened his back upon hearing this. “What do you mean?’
“It says here that love towards God and the neighbor cannot exist except through innocence,” quoted Andy.
“Well yes, but . . .”
“And innocence is only obtained through temptations which force us to address the flaws and compulsions we harbor within ourselves. Swedenborg states that these negative traits are activated when the Lord comes near us. We feel this as remorse and even despair,” commented Andy. “The more we resist these unflattering and negative influences, the more the Lord fills us with heavenly love and truth.”
“Yes but . . . “
“But you teach people that they will experience the beauty of God’s love and truth before this important step. In fact, it seems that this church skips over this step and encourages people to be loving and good without the proper preparation. This preparation is so exact, detailed and personally challenging that it took Swedenborg all these books to explain it.” Andy then looked straight into the minister’s eyes. “Does your ministry include preparing people to have a healthy attitude towards digging up the dirt in their lives? If they do not do this on earth it gets no easier in the other world—in fact, by waiting, one is throwing the dice.”
The minister sank into his chair a bit and let out a slow groan. “My congregation wants me to make them feel good about themselves. So I assure them that God loves them all, is always looking after them, and because of their being an active participant of this church community, help them feel they are on the right path. Nobody in my congregation has made any serious attempt to understand the symbolic language of Scripture. In fact, there is not as much interest in the Arcana Coelestia as there was even 30 years ago. If I were to encourage people to find their dirt they would feel shattered and lose their self-esteem. So as a minister, I feel it is my job to offer support and a shoulder. Otherwise, people would leave my church and go somewhere else where they could be hugged and catered to. Besides, I am not trained to strengthen their abilities for making indefatigable critical self-evaluations.”
“It would seem to me that one would learn this from those who have had real success at enduring their inner contradictions,” Andy pointed out.
Then, having learned about what he was sent to investigate, Andy suddenly disappeared from his chair in a puff of smoke, leaving the minister deep in thought about the process of salvation.