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What is temptation? Let’s join hosts Curtis Childs and Jonathan Rose to learn what eighteenth-century philosopher and theologian Emanuel Swedenborg had to say on the topic.
For Curtis, Swedenborg’s understanding of temptation—which this show covers—has been really helpful. Even more important to him is the fact that God does everything that is good. This frees him to relax and let good work be in God’s hands.
When Jonathan’s in a tough spot, he finds it useful to remember that there are always thoughts coming from both evil spirits and angels—and that the evil spirits are only louder because they’re a little closer to earth.
Weekly Swedenborg Keywords
In this section, Curtis and Jonathan focus on Swedenborg’s very unique definition of temptation. In modern English, we often use the word temptation to mean “a craving for something that we know we shouldn’t have,” like junk food. But, as Jonathan observes, when Swedenborg talks about temptations, he seems to be referring to a much more intense and painful process. For that reason, the new translations of Swedenborg’s books don’t often use the word temptation—more often, they talk about trials or spiritual crises.
Only people who are being regenerated experience spiritual crises, because spiritual crises are times of mental anguish for people whose lives are devoted to goodness and truth. These crises are brought about by evil spirits. When they stir up the evils in us, an anxiety wells up inside that is a symptom of our spiritual crisis. We are not aware, however, of where the anxiety is coming from because we do not realize that a spiritual crisis is its source. . . . There are evil spirits and good spirits with each of us. The evil spirits are in our evil tendencies and the good spirits are in our good tendencies. When the evil spirits come closer they stir up our evil tendencies, and the good spirits respond by stirring up our good ones. This leads to a collision and a battle that causes us the inner anxiety that is a crisis of the spirit. We can see from this that spiritual crises are caused by hell and do not come from heaven. This is also what is taught by the faith of the church, which is that God does not test anyone. (New Jerusalem §§187, 188)
One key takeaway from this is that last sentence: God does not test anyone. When we’re going through bad times, it’s not God pushing us to see how much we can take or asking us to prove our faith. Rather, it’s something like a chemical reaction brought on by the clash between heaven and hell. We may have parts of us that respond to both the good and the evil, but it’s part of a larger spiritual dynamic.
Even though God does not start these trials, he can bring good out of them through divine providence. This actually brings us forward in our spiritual growth.
What is at stake in crises of the spirit is either the dominance of goodness over evil or the dominance of evil over goodness. The evil that wants to take control is in our earthly or outer self, and the goodness is in our spiritual or inner self. . . . Crises of the spirit help goodness in us gain control over evil and truth gain control over falsity. They help reinforce truths and join them to goodness and at the same time shatter evils and the falsities that arise from them. They also serve to open our inner, spiritual self and bring our earthly self under its control, break up our love for ourselves and for the world, and tame the cravings that arise from them. Once this has been done, we come into enlightenment and gain a perception of what is true and what is good, and of what is false and what is evil. This gives us intelligence and wisdom, which then keep growing day by day. (New Jerusalem §194)
To illustrate this point, Curtis uses the most elegant of examples: a pipe-cleaner tree. We all have some good receptors inside us (represented by pink and purple leaves) and some evil inside us (represented by gray ones). When the storm of a temptation comes up, it shakes the tree, and the dead leaves fall away.
There is always good and evil within us, but without any movement or challenge, both just stagnate. Spiritual crises such as temptation actually stir up and blow away these negative elements—thus freeing up room for more love in our lives.
That doesn’t make the process any fun—it can take you to some very psychologically dark places. No matter how unpleasant it is, it’s important to remember that you’re not alone.
During our spiritual tests, we are apparently left completely alone, although in fact we are not alone—at those times God is most intimately present at our deepest level giving us support. Because of that inner presence, when any of us have success in a spiritual test we form a partnership with God at the deepest level. (True Christianity §126)
Spiritual World Road Trip
Swedenborg based his writings on what he saw in the spiritual world, and in this section, we take a closer look at two of his experiences that revolved around temptation.
In the first, he witnessed someone reciting the Lord’s Prayer—specifically, the line, “lead us not into temptation”—and witnessed the temptation being thrown from the person’s head. In this, he saw clearly that the temptation didn’t come from the Lord. It’s important to realize this, because if we blame God for these crises, then we spend our time fighting against God’s influence instead of allowing divine love to help us.
In another journey, Swedenborg saw an angel testing the limits of his ability to influence people. It turned out that the depth and beauty of the angel’s thoughts were too much to communicate to a living brain—especially considering what else was distracting the person. Angels have huge power, but they can’t fit it into an unwelcoming mind until it is cleared out by temptation.
Imagine that your mind is a garage, too messy to fit a beautiful new car of angelic truth. Spiritual trials tear through the mess, throwing away what you don’t need and helping you organize what you do have until, eventually, you have room for what angels have to share.
During this live show, viewers chatted in their questions. Here’s what they asked—just click a question to see the answer:
- What is the definition of a “spiritual crisis”?
- What is the opposite of temptation?
- If spiritual crises are always caused by evil spirits, do we then have no responsibility for our thoughts and actions?
Curtis takes a moment to interview Rev. Jane Siebert, the president of the Swedenborgian Church of North America. After spending years in the Peace Corps, she realized that her Baptist understanding of God was incomplete. When she and her husband came back to the States, they ended up staying in his parents’ Swedenborgian church.
While there, she had the opportunity to study Bible Study Notes by Anita Dole and find answers to questions she’d had since she was a child. After that, she started serving in the church and eventually felt a call to the ministry. Her background in business turned out to be very useful in the church organization, and she was eventually elected to her current position of president.
At the beginning, we asked viewers about spiritual truths that have helped them through hard times. Here are some of the answers.
- Everything is temporary . . . even the bad stuff.
- The Lord is always correcting our path to heaven.
- Love is all that matters.
- That there is a divine reason for the hard time to be occurring. There is something good that will rise out of the ashes of the pain.
- A scripture that has helped me during a hard time is “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”
- That God is incapable of being angry or disappointed in me.
- God’s providence and knowing he works everything for my good.
- Remembering that God is not answering me late, it’s always his perfect timing which has no time schedule. He always rescues me at the last minute and puts a smile on my face!!
- When people die they go straight to angels who love and help them.
- To not worry, give it to God.
- We are all, our true and lasting essence, magnificent beings sourced from love!
- That this is all temporary and we’re really just getting started.
- Where Swedenborg gave me peace was finding out that my husband has a much better chance of being allowed into heaven because he was a loving person.
- That God loves us no matter what we are thinking, and there is hope for things to get better.
- The idea of being in a like-minded community in heaven. A community that works together for the betterment of all.
- One truth that helps me every day is that death is just a change in consciousness.
- I’m debating whether to stay with my pre-Swedenborg-discovery church. I remember that Swedenborg says that as long as you love God with all your heart and love your neighbor as yourself (not saved through faith alone) you are well on your way to heaven regardless of some other points of contention I’m bumping into for now.
- That it’s not too late for me. I’m in a constant state of regeneration.
- That God’s love is always there for us.
- The Bible story of the loaves and fishes and Jesus feeding the people, because when I was very young my family was very poor and this story helped me know that I would have enough.
- One spiritual truth that helps me during the hard times is that all is made of love.
- Divine truth, God’s infinite love, and heavenly angels are always with us and are stronger than any evil and dark forces (“This too shall pass”).
- For me it’s the revelation God gives you what you love. That really made me measure my behavior and my motives for both the good and bad I’ve done.
- Spiritual trials are meant to show you who you really are, not who you imagine yourself to be.
Thanks for joining us—we’ll see you next week!
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In a lighthearted and interactive live webcast format, host Curtis Childs from the Swedenborg Foundation and featured guests explore topics from Swedenborg’s eighteenth-century writings about his spiritual experiences and afterlife explorations and discuss how they relate to modern-day life and death.
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