It is easy to turn evil into good, but much harder to turn good into good

charityI am aware that the above heading sounds anti-intuitive. Most people simply do not look deeper than the mere outward expression of goodness.

However, the notion that not all good deeds and kind acts are really good is a most important distinction that is made in the theological works of Emanuel Swedenborg (Arcana Coelestia 10134). This important distinction separates those merely worldly do-gooders from the true spiritual seekers. Unfortunately, we are not trained to look deeper into our seemingly positive actions.

Donating food, clothing, money or even one’s time is fairly easy to do. But such actions are mostly motivated (and tainted) by terrestrial qualities like self-centeredness, ambition, reward, reputation and status.

Most personal evil is carefully kept hidden from others and is easily camouflaged by outward acts of goodness. For instance, even a politician with unlimited ambition and desire for personal power can sign legislation that actually helps society and the community. While this outer goodness is indeed beneficial to others, it doesn’t help much toward the politician’s personal salvation. Genuine goodness goes much, much deeper.

True goodness frees us from fantasy and ego.

Swedenborg brought a new dynamic into the process of salvation—a dynamic that gets lost through most of our so-called “good deeds” in the world. Those actively choosing the path of spiritual transformation must learn to turn their good deeds into spiritual (genuine) good. This process demands extra knowledge, special vigilance and humility.

Goodness does not originate in the human heart. It flows into our hearts (will) from the Lord God of heaven. Period! But, becoming convinced of this fact often takes a long time and with many painful life experiences.

Why painful?

Well, God’s goodness can only flow where there is a receptive plane of innocence  (Swedenborg called this plane the “remains”). That is why heavenly goodness flows into our lives when we are infants and again later, when we mature and can intentionally choose to be humble children of God.

(One’s spiritual destiny is dependent on how well each of us allows our “remains” to grow and flourish. The Seven-Day Creation Story in Genesis symbolically depicts the emergence and spiritual evolution of one’s remains.)

The problem with connecting to this God-given plane of innocence is that we often fear meaningful self-examination—to humbly and sincerely look deeply into our motives and clean out any dirt we find harbored within us. This cleansing process is often unbearable and too deflating to most people who rather seek continual confirmation for their imagined specialness. Instead, we often block this sacred cleansing process by seeking religion for the purpose of self-affirmation instead of self-observation and sincere introspection. But God’s goodness only flows in, and innocence only grows to the degree that our flawed character traits are discovered, acknowledged and removed (with the Lord’s help).

Today, I have observed that even among those who follow and teach Swedenborg’s theology, many are letting their guard down while emphasizing goodness and feeling good—not how to turn their good into good. This degradation and inertia is goodness sidestepping spiritual regeneration, which leads to trance and fantasy!

When “community” is promoted over “salvation,” and “goodness” is stressed over one’s personal responsibility to nurture his or her remains, it is a sign that inertia has set in.

The evidence that this approach is fantasy is because nothing essential changes.

For more detailed information on these unique ideas click on:

About thegodguy

EDWARD F. SYLVIA, M.T.S. Philosopher/Theologian Edward F. Sylvia attended the School of Visual Arts in New York and received his Master of Theological Studies at the Pacific School of Religion in Berkeley, CA and a Certificate of Swedenborgian Studies from the Swedenborgian House of Studies. He is a member of the Center for Theology and the Natural Sciences (C.T.N.S.) and the Swedenborg Scientific Association (S.S.A.). Award-winning author of "Sermon From the Compost Pile: Seven Steps Toward Creating An Inner Garden" and "Proving God," which fulfills a continuing vision that God’s fingerprints of love can be found everywhere in the manifest universe. His most recent book, "Swedenborg & Gurdjieff: The Missing Links" is an edgy collection of anti-intuitive essays for personal transformation that challenges and inspires. He has been a student of the ideas of both Emanuel Swedenborg and George I. Gurdjieff for over thirty years. Read more about TheGodGuy, his books and his ideas at
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4 Responses to It is easy to turn evil into good, but much harder to turn good into good

  1. Forrest Dristy says:

    Dear Edward Sylvia,
    I appreciate the work you are doing in explaining the writings of Swedenborg and describing the work of Gurdjieff. Do you know whether Gurdjieff had any direct knowledge of Swedenborg’s
    books, and if so what he thought about them? Do you find the teachings of these two men to be
    in complete agreement with each other? By that I mean no direct contradictions.
    Forrest Dristy

    • thegodguy says:

      Dear Forrest,

      There is some speculation that Gurdjieff was aware of Swedenborg’s writings (certainly some of his followers were). I know that a former manager of the Swedenborg Foundation had actually met him.

      Gurdjieff would contradict and challenge the way Swedenborgianism is taught today – not the New Church principles for legitimate spiritual growth. Your question can only be answered (and understood) by those who are truly being regenerated by the Lord. It would be meaningless for me to say whether there are contradictions or not because the matter involves deep understanding rather than brain data. Both men have helped me towards understanding each other’s teachings. This question seems to have come up before. You may have to be more specific about what concerns you!

      Spiritually yours,

      • Forrest Dristy says:

        Dear God Guy,
        Thanks for replying to my comment. I think your book is providing a much-needed wakeup call to
        Swedenborgian churches and their members. We do need to make a greater effort to advance toward those difficult spiritual temptations–the ones that Swedenborg says are unknown to almost all of us nowadays.

        However, when we recite the Lord’s prayer, we ask that He “leadeth us not into temptation.” What is your understanding of exactly what it is we are asking for in that phrase?

        I am reading a book called “Our Life with Mr. Gurdjieff” by Thomas de Hartmann, and it is giving me some idea of what Mr G was like. Are you familiar with it?


  2. thegodguy says:

    Dear Forrest,

    The purpose of a church is for the sake of salvation. Swedenborg (and Gurdjieff) brought in new details to this serious process and called it regeneration. Having attended Seminary I have first hand experience that regeneration isn’t seriously covered, and instead, kindness and empathy is being implored. Only those who are actively regenerating can help others through the difficult and humbling steps of spiritual transformation. In other words, spiritual regeneration is not the domain of intellectuals, scholars and philosophers but of the simple hearted and those who seek heavenly innocence. Temptations are a lawful means used by the Lord to make people aware of their inner flaws so that they can be personally sensed, identified and fought against.

    The Lord’s Prayer, like the rest of God’s Word, has three distinct levels of meaning. The literal meaning of “leadeth us not into temptation” seems to contradict Swedenborg’s claim that God uses temptations for our spiritual progress. My “inner” take on the passage is that we are to pray to the Lord for help so that our evil inclinations (temptations) do not overtake our hearts in our spiritual combat and struggles.

    I have read the de Hartmann book.

    Thank you for your interest. I am taking heat from some in the Swedenborgian Church for my unflattering remarks.


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