A lot of people are taking the liberty of challenging many of Swedenborg’s theological ideas. This activity is motivated by the belief that the human race is smarter today and more enlightened than those who lived in Swedenborg’s era (and that Swedenborg himself formed his ideas from this archaic era).
Well, I am a little fatigued with trying to convince people that Swedenborg’s search (including scientific) for truth was way ahead of its time. I have even written several books on this topic. So I will focus on something that never changes—the process of spiritual regeneration. This process is also now being challenged by a paradigm shift among those who profess to follow Swedenborg’s theology yet they see flaws in it because of postmodern social sensitivities.
Many Neo-Swedenborgians seem to want to dismiss this operation of salvation, simply because they have embraced the Doctrine of Love/Charity without further reflection. They are correct in putting love and charity back into the essentials of faith and salvation, but have overlooked the spiritual steps and challenges that the Lord God wishes we would each endure to adopt such a noble life.
Swedenborg’s own life provided the clues to the nature of this serious spiritual process. He didn’t simply have his spiritual eyes opened up one fine day. He first had to personally face the music.
During the dynamic period of Swedenborg’s life when he was making the transfer from being a natural scientist to a theologian, he was taken behind the wood shed. For instance, in one visionary experience he found himself being asked by the Lord God if he “had a certificate of health.” Swedenborg understood this to mean that he was being asked about the inner quality of his heart and mind (he was already performing important uses and sharing his knowledge with the world). The real work of purification had to take place before the Lord would allow him to explore the spiritual realm.
During this time of purification, Swedenborg also experienced horrifying dreams, which pointed out his character flaws. In one dream he saw himself being boiled in water. In another dream he tried to make love with a beautiful woman but she told him that he “stank.” He also fought off evils during the day. In one case he was so overwhelmed by negative influences that he began frantically singing “Jesus is a friend of mine” over and over again. He also began to painfully perceive how important his ego and status had been to him in his worldly efforts.
Why should any sincere follower of Swedenborg’s theology expect to dodge this discomfort and still reach heavenly happiness?
Many of today’s crop of Swedenborgian followers seem to prefer an easier, less disturbing route. As I hinted above, they simply try to add more love and empathy into their activities. But this direct and “shortcut” strategy towards a spiritual goal overlooks the real and vile influences that lurk within each of us and that have to be removed before love can become sincere and spiritually innocent. Evidence for this assumption is the emphasis today on community action and togetherness rather than on the fact that spiritual evolution is based on personal effort.
The reason for my counter-intuitive premise is that Love is not ours to give. It is the Lord’s to give. And we cannot receive more of God’s Love without actively working on removing the negative traits of our character.
Also, it has been brought to my attention that amusing changes have been made in some Sunday Worship Service books where statements concerning the acknowledgement of our ignoble character have been replaced with more positive phrases such as imploring God to “make us conduits of spiritual love.” Here, people are using “hope” to override and comfort us from the more painful activity of personal introspection and spiritual purification.
The descent of the Lord God’s Holy City, the New Jerusalem, will not be ushered in by increasing our acts of kindness, but by our ability to find and remove our inner “dirt” first!