Oliver, a young man, was down on himself. He had just broken up with his third girlfriend in two years. In spite of attending regular church services, joining various volunteer organizations, giving money to worthy charities and wanting to be a positive force in life, he felt his personal life was still plagued by nagging negative traits and hurtful knee-jerk reactions which caused him to hurt even the ones he loved. This happened so often that he could no longer dismiss such ongoing behavior simply as having “bad hair days.”
Believing that all things were providential, he reached toward his bookshelf, which contained dozens of books written by scientist/theologian Emanuel Swedenborg. He happened to pull out volume nine of the Arcana Coelestia (Secrets of Heaven) and read paragraph 7442, which discussed how difficult it was to regenerate the lowest level of the human mind. It seemed anti-intuitive to Oliver that most people would have a whole level of their lives be untouched by God’s influence, so he pondered this odd predicament.
He wondered what difficulty stood in the way of “full” top-down spiritual development.
Suddenly an angel appeared in his room! Oliver gasped. “Do not be startled,” she said with a heavenly smile that put him completely at ease.
“Few people reach the threshold that you have come upon,” said the beautiful angel. “The Lord God has sent me to you to discuss some of the finer points of spiritual salvation; points that only a real angel would know.”
The angel told Oliver to turn back the pages of his book to read paragraph 7398. After going over the information, Oliver admitted that he did not grasp the material.
“The problem with regenerating a person’s lowest level of life is that it is not psychical, but mechanical,” said the angel with all seriousness. “Many of the negative traits a person picks up during life become deeply ingrained into our automatic behavior. You know that the Lord has commanded us to love God and the neighbor. Some people like you have even studied the importance of self-examination so that negative influences could be detected and resisted in order that his or her acts of kindness become innocent and sincere. The deeper one looks into the unflattering aspects of our personality the more effectively we can cooperate with the Lord God in purifying our spirits. But there is a structural element that limits self-examination.”
The angel paused briefly then continued. “Here in paragraph 7398, Emanuel Swedenborg is revealing an unfortunate and overlooked obstacle that makes the exploration of our imperfections unexpectedly difficult,” remarked the heavenly woman. “It is relatively easy to restrain from committing the more obvious sins in life, such as murder or robbing a bank, because there are laws of society that punish such observable and blatant actions. However, humans have a complicated psychology by which mischievous intentions can easily hide from our normal personal scrutiny.”
The angel carefully observed Oliver’s face to get a fix on his reaction to her words. “During life we pick up good traits and bad traits. But mostly, because of self-love and love of the world ruling our lowest corporeal/sensual minds, we automatically tend to prefer ideas that favor notions of self-importance. Unbeknownst to us, as we grow into more mature and rational beings, these egoistic traits become habitual—hidden and ingrained into our unconscious or involuntary mind. These traits become so familiar that they begin to flow into our psyche spontaneously, as a second nature, where they operate just under our conscious level and are no longer noticed. What you do not notice, you cannot change.”
The angel then looked deeply into Oliver’s eyes. “This means that spiritual salvation can advance beyond a straightforward battle between obvious good and evil. We have to take notice of our mechanical manifestations in order to get a handle on our more illusive negative traits, because, so many hurtful compulsions have become locked into our involuntary and automatic behavior.”
An anxious expression grew across Oliver’s face, “Are you saying that, in spite of my church involvement and desire to be a positive force in the world, I remain a mere automaton instead of a fully conscious being? That self-discovery would completely shatter my image of myself!”
“Yes, and you would find true humility,” replied the angel point blank. “The process of spiritual re-birth requires popping our balloons. Evil and false beliefs can become so easily and deeply ingrained into one’s inner fabric that it takes very special knowledge from the Lord God to counter against it. Besides, I am sure you have noticed your automatic behavior every time you drive your car someplace while daydreaming. This automatic behavior takes place in our lives more than we are willing to admit.”
“Are you suggesting that I will be damned to hell if my efforts at inner growth are less intense than what you are suggesting?” blurted Oliver.
“No,” responded the angel. “But the deeper you go into the weeds, the less corrective measures and hardships you will experience when you are being prepared for heaven in the spiritual world. Remember, you have been taught that there are three levels in heaven. The more crap you allow to be uncovered and removed, the higher the level of heaven you can ascend to. I have personally helped the Lord prepare novice spirits for entry into some society in heaven. Because many negative traits have been fused so deeply within one’s inner organic fabric, I can assure you, that most candidates for heaven still go through a temporary period of painful purification that brings them right up to the edge of despair. Humans can minimize this painful process if it is started while still living on Earth.”
“Shouldn’t you be emphasizing the positive side of people?” questioned Oliver.
“There is no positive side inherent in people. The legitimate goodness of people represents the amount of God’s love that we each allow to enter into and to rule our hearts. You are all recipient organs of God’s life, and not life itself. The only way to receive more of God’s life and love is to jettison things pertaining to our egoism. Unfortunately, much of this rubbish remains hidden from us.”
The angel then swung his arm in the direction of Oliver’s bookshelves. “One does not need all these books if warm smiles and simple goodness is what you expect from God’s NEW JERUSALEM. There is a reason why the Lord God commanded Swedenborg to write so many books! The Lord God is hopeful that a New Church will arise which will contain individuals who even suffer to learn about and battle against their lowest, mechanical nature. How else will a new church truly become special?”
After this, the angel made Oliver a special offer. “I have received Divine permission to visit with you from time to time to both teach you and act as your personal guide for more intensive training in spiritual growth. It will not be easy. Are you up for such a challenge?”