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.
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.
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