Probably the most contested statement by Emanuel Swedenborg from “Swedenborgians” themselves is that the human race “is filled with evil of every kind.” Such an unflattering statement seems anti-intuitive to the human post-modern mind. Hell and evil seem like archaic notions concocted to keep our minds in prison.
However, this is precisely the one big statement by Swedenborg that I have been able to verify by personal experience!
One such example occurred to me in a supermarket not too long ago. I was shopping with my wife and I was pushing the shopping cart. She had to go to the ATM for a moment so I pushed the cart off to the side so that I wouldn’t be in anyone’s way. I am unusually conscious about not being an obstruction in a shopping aisle and consider this practice a form of Christian sensitivity and empathy.
As I was parked, seemingly out of the way of any anticipated floor traffic, I suddenly heard a man’s voice behind my back saying, “Could you move aside.” Being in complete dismay that I could still be blocking someone’s path I turned around to get a look at who this knucklehead was.
It was an elderly man about 6’4” tall with very bad legs. He had come up from behind and got stuck there because his legs could not get him and his cart around me. Apparently he had not been paying very much attention as to whether I was moving or not. The tone of his statement implied that I was some kind of offender.
Since I had already made a conscious effort not to be in anyone’s way, my blood suddenly began to boil. Since I was getting angry that I was the one who had to move (again) I told him that, “It’s not my fault that you have bad legs.” My words were filled with deadly venom.
In fact, I had a moment of unusual mental clarity in which I had a real inner perception of growing fangs, accompanied by enjoyably vicious thoughts. One of those thoughts was the desire to deck the guy and knock him out cold with a single punch to the jaw. (This provides evidence for another Swedenborgian premise—the idea that evil actions and hatred emerge from one’s love of self.) But I fought off this temptation and moved my cart aside. (If I had not become aware of—and offered resistance—to this shameful inclination I would have taken it with me into the spiritual world where such negative revelations are even more painful to deal with.)
Since becoming a follower of Swedenborg’s theology this is the kind of self-observation and introspection that has been steadily developing within me. There are even intense moments of self-reflection that show me how my whole life has been profoundly delusional. These unflattering observations, revealing real conflicts between who I am and who I think I am, are the inner conflicts that Swedenborg talks about concerning spiritual regeneration. These issues have to be reconciled within us before any acts of kindness can become truly angelic—that is, done in innocence. Skipping this step tarnishes all our good deeds.
God actually allows various ignoble leanings to appear as temptations only in those individuals who have proper humility and are ready for serious spiritual purification.
Sadly, many of these negative outbreaks, when noticed by those who are not ready, simply cause people to believe that they are “having a bad day” and such personal contradictions are considered nothing to get upset about. They know God loves them and “has their back”—in spite of themselves.
If I have any credentials at all for being an advanced student of Swedenborg’s theology, it is my growing openness and willingness to let the Lord teach me about the many unflattering character traits that lie hidden deep inside my psyche.