Category Archives: Freedom

Why Three Types Of Freedom?

By Rev. Andrew M. T. Dibb

I am often asked why things happen: why are there husbands who abuse their wives, and parents who abuse their children? Why are there wars in which millions are killed, hurt, maimed, starved, and deprived of essential human rights? Why are animals hurt, abandoned and abused? Why do people inflict terrible things on others?

And why, in counterpoint to the horrors of the world, are there people like Mother Theresa and countless other people who dedicate their lives so that others may prosper–people to bind the wounds of others and bring order from disorder?

In order to fully answer these questions, let’s look at three different scenarios:

1. The first is the well known story of King David, who, seeing Bathsheba, lusted for her. First he seduced her, and then, when she found herself pregnant, he engineered to have her husband, Uriah the Hittite, slain in battle.

2. In the second scenario we are shown two men who went into the temple to pray; one was a Pharisee, the other a tax-collector. When the Pharisee began to pray, he lifted his eyes up to heaven and said: “God, I thank You that I am not like other men–extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this tax collector” (Luke 18: 11). “I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I possess” (Luke 18:12).

3. In the third scenario we see the Lord in the Garden of Gethsemane, also praying. As He prayed, He was in agony, and His sweat became like great drops of blood falling down to the ground. The words of His prayer are poignant: “Father, if it is Your will, remove this cup from Me; nevertheless not My will but Yours be done” (Luke 22:42).

These three scenarios contain a vital key to understanding why people react differently and as a result either inflict terrible harm on others or do good. It also helps us to see the vast middle ground between the two. As we examine these teachings more closely, it is useful for us to see where we personally fit into this scale of things, for each one of us impacts the world in one way or another, either good or evil.

Human behavior is regulated by many things: in this world we have constitutions, laws, police and courts to keep us in order. On a far greater scale, however, we find the laws of the Lord’s Divine Providence governing our lives. These laws were made by the Lord Himself, and they regulate human behavior on an inner level.

The first and most important of these laws is that all people should act in freedom according to their reason. Civil governments may restrict our freedom to act in certain ways, but they can never restrict our desire to act, nor can civil governments ever cause us to think or feel in specific ways, even though they may try.

The Lord created each one of us to be in full control over our thoughts and feelings. Sometimes we surrender that control to another, but if we do, still we do so of our own free will and accord. We could resist if we wanted to.

Freedom in spiritual things is the most precious gift the Lord has given us; no matter what our circumstances are, we are still free to establish a relationship with the Lord. Either we can turn to Him and invite Him into our lives, or we can reject Him. No matter what we do, our relationship with the Lord is determined by freedom.

Spiritual freedom is what makes us people; animals have no such freedom. They cannot turn against their instinct. Their lives are pre-determined for them. Thus we could say that their relationship with the Lord is pre-determined by the Lord Himself.

Because we have freedom in spiritual things, we can, within the constraints of the world around us, behave in any way we see fit. Thus we see three distinct types of behavior in our three scenarios:

1. King David exercised his freedom when he decided to act on the lowest things with a person: he saw Bathsheba, lusted after her, committed adultery and murder. No one forced him to do these things; he chose, in his own freedom, to follow the lusts of his heart along whatever paths they would lead. In the story there is no evidence that he ever applied spiritual brakes, saying: “This is wrong; I shouldn’t do this.’

The kind of freedom David exercised is called natural freedom, and this is the lowest kind of spiritual freedom. We act according to natural freedom when we simply do what we want and forget the pain we cause other people.

Left to themselves, people who never apply spiritual brakes will always rush into evil. Think of the evils that exist in the world, and let us ask ourselves: “Would these evils exist if people stopped to think of what they are doing? if they submitted themselves to a higher authority than just their feelings?” The answer is no; evil would not exist in its open form. We see the terrible abuses in the world around us, on both a grand and a pathetically small scale. An abused child is the result of an adult who never checks him- or herself. Wars are caused by leaders consumed by greed, or ideology, or fear, and who give in to their instinct.

In many ways we share this lowest freedom with animals–and truly a person who always only does what he or she wants to do is little better than an animal.

2. The example of David contrasts sharply with the example of the Pharisee in the temple. His prayer was one of thanks that he was not like other men. He did not do bad things, and certainly did good things.

This example illustrates the second level of our spiritual freedom: the freedom to put on an external facade of goodness, not actually being good inside. Exercising this freedom is both useful and dangerous.

It is useful as far as maintaining order is concerned. The Pharisee did not lie, cheat and steal. He lived an ostensibly good and useful life, and so contributed to society. But his behavior was dangerous in that while giving the impression of being good, he still was not actually good. He had not learned spiritual qualities or values, like charity and humility. His baser instincts boiled just below the surface; they erupted into pride and arrogance.

The Writings call this second kind of freedom rational freedom, because it arises in our intellect and is carried into practice. A person like this Pharisee who exercises this freedom deliberately chooses to behave in socially approved ways for the sake of his own advantage. We could say that a person like this has a veneer of civility, but that veneer gets awfully thin sometimes.

3. The third example of spiritual freedom is the Lord Himself: He exercised a spiritual freedom when He was willing to suffer and undergo torment for other people. There was a part of the Lord that really wanted to give up, to do what came naturally. He could so easily have avoided the cross. The thief crucified next to Him actually tempted Him to save Himself from the cross. But that would not have been good for the human race–it would have removed our freedom, and so He resisted it.

At the same time the Lord could have exercised a rational freedom: He could have organized it that His pain and suffering on the cross were merely a stage effect. But that would have been wrong as well. When He prayed in Gethsemane His agony was real–His sweat was like great drops of blood. And when He was on the cross and cried out, His pain was real. It was no stage effect.

The Lord chose to exercise the most important type of freedom available to the human race: spiritual freedom. This is the freedom to act against our basic instincts; it is the freedom to act against a mere sham of a life. It is the freedom to control our negative thoughts and feelings and bring them into spiritual order.

If only all people did this, the horrors of this world would cease to exist. Think of what would have happened if David had chosen to exercise true spiritual freedom rather than just indulging his lusts; he would not have corrupted Bathsheba by committing adultery with her. He would not have murdered Uriah the Hittite, and implicated his general, Joab, in the crime. There would have been no baby born out of adultery, who suffered a lingering illness that finally killed him. David’s life and the life of those around him would have been so different.

And what would have happened if the Pharisee had chosen to extend his good acts from merely a form of behavior into actually cleaning the inside of his cup? Surely his prayer in the temple would have been different. He could have offered up his attempts at a spiritual life as a gift to God rather than as a boast. He could have extended his hand in love and friendship to the tax collector praying with him. But instead he chose to put his faith in external things and to close the doors of his mind to the Lord. In the next world his good deeds would not have done him any good, because his selfish loves would continue to dominate him.

Each of us has the freedom to will, think and act as we wish–that is how the Lord made us. But the consequences of our actions often extend far beyond our immediate environment. It is our own choice if we want to give in to our basest desires, but others will get hurt because of it. Do we really want that? At the same time, we can just maintain a facade of goodness. But that takes a great deal of energy to live a double life. Is it not easier, then, to actually exercise true spiritual freedom–to turn to the Lord, asking His guidance in any situation, and then acting according to our best understanding of what should be done?

As we exercise true spiritual freedom, we will notice a change in our lives: we will stop worrying about getting caught for our actions; we will stop worrying about what others think of us. Instead we will feel the peace of mind knowing that by choosing to follow the Lord, our lives are in His hands.

There is no need for the abuses of this world. There is, on the other hand, a great need for those who do good to reach out to others to help, those who do good and stand up for spiritual values. Let us be these people.


The Voice of Conscience

By Rev. Julian Duckworth

Then the Lord God called to Adam and said to him, “Where are you?” So he said, “I heard Your voice in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; and I hid myself.” And God said, “Who told you that you were naked?” (Genesis 3:9-10)

A person’s conscience is formed from his religious belief, depending on how he receives it inwardly in himself. A person’s spiritual life really means living according to conscience, and so, following one’s conscience is the same as living according to the promptings of one’s own spiritual life, and acting against conscience is like acting against what spiritual life tells you to do. As a result, a person who has conscience has tranquillity and peace when they live by their conscience, and they feel disturbance and pain when they act against it. This pain is called remorse, or the pangs of conscience. (Heavenly Doctrine 130, 133)

I’m sure you do not come to church to be told how you should live your life and what you should do in various situations. But because you do come to church you may well find that when you’re faced with certain situations you draw on things you may have heard in church which have come to be part of what you yourself believe. There’s a huge difference between the two. One is a sign of spiritual immaturity, the other a sign of spiritual maturity. You tell a child to remember to say please and thankyou. You expect a grown up to say please and thankyou as a matter of course.

Some religions tell you exactly how you should live your life. No contraception. No blood transfusion. No alcohol. And in a way it’s very tempting to have it that way – all laid down – because people generally don’t want to think for themselves. I’ve been under pressure from time to time to tell someone where the church stands on a particular issue and when I have said that in the New Church we encourage people to form their own position from what they believe God wants us to be like, they may feel I’m dodging the issue, and I often feel I’m not being very helpful. It’s strange, isn’t it, that ultimately leaving things with people and their own conscience looks like weakness when in fact it is a real strength and it’s also the harder path. If we laid down the law, we could all do what we want so long as we didn’t transgress the laws. But if we encourage people to make up their own minds according to certain basic beliefs, then people have to keep thinking things through and decide for themselves.

It’s also quite strange how things present themselves to us at times, almost as if we’re seeing the Lord’s guiding hand working with us, reminding us, pointing things out. I’ve been talking about conscience so far. Let me quickly run through four things that have come up for me this last week, all in this area of our conscience. We’re trying to arrange for ministers to get proper counselling insurance so that they are covered if they advise someone along a certain line of action and for some reason the person then sues the minister for wrongful advice. This is where laying the law down could be disastrous! You are unhappy in your marriage … your husband mistreats you … well then, you should divorce your husband, and six weeks later, you get a solicitor’s letter laying a claim against you for wrongful advice … advice which was readily snapped up at the counselling session. Counselling insurance is a sign of the times. It’s also an oxymoron (if you know what I mean) – two juxtaposed words that go completely against each other, like government organisation or personal computer.

I had a wonderful email from someone who comes to our Bible Study, of a complete list of the Old Testament laws, because last time we’d been looking at three of them. But there are actually 613 laid down laws – specific commands called mitzvoth – which an orthodox Jew would be required to keep. It’s a real joy to have this list because every single one of them has a deeper spiritual meaning but if you look at them as set rules it would make your life a misery. You cannot live up to 613 laws but a loving wise God-based life suggests there are at least 613 applications if not very many more.

Then I read a novel during the week about the fall of Constantinople in 1453 and the collapse of the last bastion of the Holy Roman Empire. It’s a terrible story and a terrifying account of fear and brutality and it actually left me in a state of shock. But right at the end of the book, after the Christian Church had pointlessly kept on insisting that the services must still be held and the laws must still be kept in the face of utter calamity, as the city falls, the bishop tells the people that they must now follow the voice of their own consciences and do what they feel they must do. And amazingly, doing that – following your own conscience – leads to incredible bravery and compassion.

And finally I glanced through the paper and saw an article about the Church driving its own young people away by being too dogmatic. As much of the world becomes more liberal, freer and more diverse, there’s a backlash from some church leaders who feel that the very things of God are being forsaken. And part of me understands that kind of anxiety. But the backlash – or the anxiety – leads to a tightening of the screw almost in desperation to keep what can be kept firmly in place. It’s rather like the fall of Constantinople. Or perhaps the whole situation in Iraq right now where both sides seem to be fighting their own God-driven mission to defend the faith. But underneath it all perhaps there is a basic fear that people can’t really be trusted to think for themselves but must be told and controlled. And that is chilling.

Let me quote from the newspaper article. “All of us need to accept that the revolution in sexuality has left many people, especially young people, completely uninterested in the views of an all-male clergy. The theological debate over the primacy of conscience – the idea that a person must follow the dictates of conscience rather than being mechanically obedient to the church – has opened a deep fissure and is driving people away.” But the other side also speaks out … “The church must clearly differentiate between conscience and a mere wish and it should dump the doctrine of the greater primacy of conscience. If a church member asks whether it is wrong to take Communion if he has been regularly sleeping with his girlfriend, are we simply to tell him to follow his own conscience? It would be misleading. Does it mean there are no moral absolutes or authorities, or was Charlie Brown right to claim 40 years ago that it doesn’t matter what you believe as long as you are sincere?”

This is a furious and fascinating debate, getting to the very heart of things. The basic question is to try to sort out exactly what we mean when we talk about ‘conscience’. And underneath that is an even deeper question about people and their basic spiritual make-up. Are people ultimately good or bad? Is sinfulness a real thing or have we been conditioned into thinking there is something wrong with us when in fact if we simply followed positive thinking and good clean living everything would be fine? I know a number of mostly younger people who find any discussion of good and evil, temptation and self-examination just totally frustrating and utterly pointless, to them. You are missing the point, they say; live well and look at what you can do and all the beautiful things in life.

If people are basically good, then we could agree with them and hand over the right to live according to what you wish. But if people are not basically good but are affected by an inbuilt tendency to be rather self-centred, then you can’t afford to do that. Personal wish then becomes rather suspect. And we might begin to understand the church’s sense of its need to guide people and give them various boundaries even though we might groan at the way this appears to be a kind of control from above.

It comes down to what we mean by ‘conscience’. If conscience is made out to be a permit to do just what you like, then it’s not conscience. Conscience (which means ‘with knowing’) carries an implicit idea that you are referring to something which is higher than yourself, outside of yourself, or to something which doesn’t come to you naturally. We would call that God, but you can also call it truth, or even decency. But don’t start calling it the moral pronouncements of the Church or you will get in a mess and drive even more people away. And because conscience refers to something higher than our own inclinations, this is why the word has become rather unfortunately but perhaps also understandably linked with that tap on the shoulder that says “No, that’s not right. You know better.” The worst-case scenario then starts unfolding as we recognise this higher voice, and begin to smile at its funny efforts, and then laugh about it, and then ignore it and carry on doing just what we want to anyway. Because it will then fade and die. But so too will we.

God save us from an authoritarian church, but God save us from only ever following our heart’s desires. May God preserve intact that steady unrelenting inner prompt called our conscience but even more, may we not only hear it but do something with it, and make some small readjustment to our values and actions in life. Because then it will grow, and so too will we.

Then the Lord God called to Adam and said to him, “Where are you?” So he said, “I heard Your voice in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; and I hid myself.” And God said, “Who told you that you were naked?”


Honouring diversity of beliefs and convictions

By Rev. Ian A. Arnold
Matthew Chapter 8, verses 10-12: “When Jesus heard it, He marvelled, and said to those who followed, ‘Assuredly I say to you, I have not found so great faith, not even in Israel.

And I say to you that many will come from east and west, and sit down with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven.

But the sons of the kingdom will be cast out into outer darkness. There will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”

At the outset here, friends, I would like to turn to, and pick up with you, where in Luke’s Gospel the Lord is making the same point, though more emphatically and in a way that no one listening could have been in any doubt as to what He was getting at. Reading, “There will be weeping and gnashing of teeth, when you see Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom, and yourselves thrust out. They will come from the east and from the west, from the north and from the south, and sit down in the kingdom of God. And, indeed, there are last who will be first, and there are first who will be last.”

What the Lord was doing was confronting and challenging long held assumptions. His listeners assumed and, indeed, were completely certain, that because they belonged to a certain Church and were born into a particular religious heritage, they were a “stand alone” Group and, as a consequence, their access to – and place in – the kingdom (however they understood that) was guaranteed.

But here they are being told in no uncertain terms that the great likelihood was that this would not be the case.

The more you read and think about these words of Jesus the more you realize how hard hitting He was being. By the end they would have been choking in indignation and anger. The Lord was telling them that they had got it wrong. Belonging to what they considered to be the “true Church”, as they believed they did, was missing the point.

What is both sobering and sad is that down through the centuries since then people have continued to fall into this trap of believing the very same thing. There remain today those pockets where people are persuaded and convinced that unless you are “one of us” and belong to “our” Church, you can’t be saved.

And this persuasion, it needs to be noted, is not only found amongst Christians. We see it in the extremes of non-Christian religions as well. ‘We have the truth and the whole truth and unless you see it our way you will not be saved’.

The question that arises here, and which is usefully reflected on, is, ‘What do such convictions and persuasions say about people’s thoughts and ideas about God?’

This is surely something that was in Jesus’ mind when He said what He said. Those people at that time, and to whom He spoke here, so plainly believed that they had a special relationship with God and that He favoured them above everyone else.

But the Lord was clearly trying to get them out of this mind set and to move them to a different and more all-embracing idea of God.

The reality is that God has no favourites. And his connection with people does not rest with external acts and rituals and the proper observance of them: nor does it rest with people subscribing to a particular set of beliefs or belonging to a certain Church. It is always what is in the hearts of people that matters.

It comes to mind, from The Heavenly Doctrines, that newcomers to the spiritual world are not asked what Church they belonged to or what they believed in, but how they lived their lives.

It is something to remember and to be reassured about, that the Lord was never fazed by religious diversity. And on different occasions He welcomed, spoke about, and warmly commended the goodness that He could see in people’s hearts and actions, whether they were followers of His or not.

His disciple John brought to His attention on one occasion that they “saw someone who does not follow us casting out demons in your name, and we forbade him because he does not follow us.”

And what did Jesus say? Stop him? No, not at all. “Do not forbid him, for no one who works a miracle in my name can afterwards speak evil of me. For he who is not against us is for us (or, on our side). “ Mark Chapter 9: verses 38 to 40.

And then, with regard to Him commending the goodness He could see in people’s hearts and actions, whether followers or not, you will perhaps remember the poor widow who cast only a tiny amount into the Temple Treasury. “Truly, I say to you“, Jesus said, “that this poor widow has put in more than all.” (Luke 21:2)

It has to be strange that whilst Jesus could handle and be so welcoming of and comfortable with, religious diversity, some amongst His followers haven’t been.

As with anything we strive to get our minds around, and to understand, they key here is to start with God. Once we get this reasonably right everything else follows.

It is Scriptural, frequently insisted on here in the Bible, and something we need to continuously re-affirm, that God is perfect Love. And His love is such, we are taught in the Heavenly Doctrines, that “the Lord wills to have everyone near to Himself.” (Arcana Caelestia 1799). That is, everyone, everywhere, whether they be born into the slums of Calcutta or the salubrious suburbs of Sydney.

Every person born, in whatever country, into whatever circumstances, into whatever culture, and into whatever is the prevailing religion, even into a family of no religion, is a beloved child of God. He brings us all into being and He does so with the unalterable intention that He will lead us, somehow, someway, and over our life time here, to heavenly life. With all six or seven billion of us alive today, He is working with each and everyone to bring this about. It is beyond us getting our finite minds around it, but it is so.

It is of the Lord’s order, also, that there is such astonishing variety among humankind. Different races, different cultures, different perspectives and different levels at which people live their lives, some very external and some much more internally.

And, in amongst all this variety and these differences it can’t but be that the Lord utilizes so many different strategies to achieve His goal for us.

We only need to stop and think for a moment of the differences that exist among the children of one family: different temperaments, different interests, different talents, different skills, different genetic inheritance and different experiences: and, how it is that parents have to employ different strategies to deal with each. What works for one simply fails to work for another.

In the case of the Lord, and His management of the human family as a whole, these different strategies He employs are different belief systems and religions, both Christian and non-Christian. It is a case of the Lord meeting people where they are at and making use of what best establishes meaningful links and connections, they with Him and He with them. Some work with some, others work with others. Here is the Lord, out of His great and perfect love, reaching out to His children, so differently placed, so differently seeing things, of such different backgrounds, as people around the world are in. And we can – and should! – rejoice in this and celebrate that it is so.

We can all too easily under-estimate the Lord and His capacity to reach people. As is held up to us through the prophecy of Isaiah, “His hand is not shortened that it cannot save.” (Isaiah 59:1)

The thing is, and of His Divine Providence, the Lord has seen to it that the fundamentals which, if followed, lead to a change of heart in people, are upheld in all religions. You can find them if you look for them.

As in the passage from the Heavenly Doctrines, earlier in the Service: “The Lord is actually love itself and His love is an intent to save everyone. So He provides that everyone shall have some religion, an acknowledgement of the Divine through that religion and an inner life. Living according to one’s religious principles is an inner life.”

So, there it is. These two “universals” or “fundamentals” urged on its followers in every religion which is deservedly called a religion. They are sufficient to shift our focus; to get us to re-order our priorities; and to open the door to something of heaven flowing in. “All who make these two universals of religion to be of their life have a place in heaven.” (Divine Providence 326:10). And this is lovely: “Seed will never cease to be sown in a person, whether he is inside the Church or outside of it; that is, whether He knows the Lord’s Word or whether He does not. “ (Arcana Caelestia 9321)

For some people, and against the background of all this, the question arises as to statements in the Gospels that the Lord Jesus Christ is the only “way”. “I am”, He said, “The Way, the Truth and the Life.” (John 14:6)

Hopefully it helps to put it this way.

Jesus is more than a name or a person. Jesus was – and is – the embodiment of all that is good and principled. We think of His courage in the face of evil. We think of His unflinching focus on best possible outcomes. We think of all that He stood for and taught. We think of the dignity that He gave to people, the compassion He personified and the vindictiveness He shunned.

What we need to do is to think of all these things when we reflect on His words, “I am the Way, the Truth and the Life.”

Truth and goodness, integrity and guilelessness, courage in the face of evil, compassion and forgiveness, the honouring of the dignity and worth of others….THESE are “the Way, the Truth and the Life”, and they are the doorway through which we enter to really connect and commune with, our Maker.

For those who don’t know the Lord Jesus Christ His relationship to these virtues and ’embodiment’ (as mentioned) of them will be explained and clarified with them in the spiritual world.

But then, what of His words about converting the world; about making disciples of all nations? (Matthew 28, verses 19 & 20)

The question is, ‘Which world?’

There is the world we all know ‘out there’ and around us; the physical, material, world we are all so familiar with. Yes, of course.

But there is also our inner world, yours and mine!

Our inner worlds of memories, thoughts, feelings, disappointments, yearnings, hopes and regrets.

And it is THIS world, above everything else, that needs converting and bringing into line with high values, principles and ideals such as our Lord taught and stood for. THIS is the world we are to go into; to explore; traverse; challenge; and into which we are to bring the sphere and influence of the Lord.

Here is our responsibility. And if we all did this, seriously and determinedly, how much fairer, better and tolerant the world would be.

“When Jesus heard it He marvelled and said to those who followed, ‘Assuredly I say to you, I have not found such great faith, not even in Israel.

And I say to you, that many will come from east and west, and sit down with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven.

But the sons of the kingdom will be cast out into outer darkness. There will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”



Matthew Chapter 8: verses 5 to 13
Revelation Chapter 7: verses 9 to 12
Heaven and Hell 318

“There are people who believe that the Lord’s Church exists only in the Christian world because only there the Lord is known and only there is the Word found. The reality is that the church of God is wider, spread out and scattered through all regions of the world, even among people who do not know about the Lord and do not have the Word. It is not these people’s fault and they cannot help being ignorant. It would fly in the face of God’s love and mercy if anyone were born for hell when we are all equally human…”

“The Lord is actually love itself, and His love is an intent to save everyone. So He provides that everyone shall have some religion, an acknowledgement of the Divine Being through that religion, and an inner life. That is, living according to one’s religious principles is an inner life, for then we focus on the Divine, and to the extent that we do focus on the Divine, we do not focus on the world but move away from the world and therefore from a worldly life, which is an outward life.”


Guarding Spiritual Freedom

By Rev. Kurt H. Asplundh

“Along the bank of the river, on this side and that, will grow all trees used for food; their leaves will not wither, and their fruit will not fall. They will bear fruit every month, because their water flows from the sanctuary. Their fruit will be for food and their leaves for medicine” (Ezek. 47:12).

The final chapters of the prophecy of Ezekiel recount a great vision of a new city and a new temple in Israel. Our text, taken from this vision, describes a river of healing waters coming from the sanctuary. Along the banks, on both sides, grow wonderful trees that bear fruit every month and whose leaves never wither. “Their fruit will be for food and their leaves for medicine.”

There is an unmistakable similarity here to John’s vision of the Holy City in the final chapter of Revelation. Both tell of a river of life-giving water flowing from the throne of God; both tell of trees with fruit and leaves, fruit for food and leaves for medicine, the “healing of the nations.” The visions of the great city and temple with its river and trees of life should be an inspiration to us all. These are visions of the New Church. Both picture the vitality and importance of the New Church. Through it there is to be a healing of all the nations.

When we look at the world in which we live we see a desperate need for healing. Many evils are plainly evident. False ideas abound. We can look inward too. There is a world that lives in us as well as a world around us. We would have to admit that there are evils and falsities in this personal world of ours. Our responsibility to heal ourselves is immediate, and our influence in this private world is greater than elsewhere. Here again the New Church is vital for a healing.

But what is it that the New Church has to offer the world which is so vitally important? What does the New Church provide for each one of us that is unique and powerful?

One answer may be found in the symbolic meaning of the text, especially what is said of the leaves of the trees that they will be for “medicine.” The same is true of the Tree of Life which John described. Its leaves are for the healing of the nations. What is meant by these leaves? What do they have to do with the New Church or with us? These are questions we will answer presently, but first a word about the Last Judgment, what many people call the Judgment Day, which preceded the establishment of the New Church.

One of the unique teachings of the New Church in the Christian world is that the great judgment promised in the Scriptures has already taken place. It was not the end of the world as some believe. It was a judgment and a reckoning in the spiritual world. The prophecies of the overthrow of kingdoms, the darkening of the sun, the falling of the stars of heaven were fulfilled in the spiritual realm where all people are together after death. These pictures of the Last Judgment were symbolic of a reordering of the heavens and the hells by the Lord. The Last Judgment was an exposing of the real nature of hidden evil loves and false teachings by which people had been held captive for centuries. When the Lord revealed these, finally, people could be free from them.

One way we can imagine the nature of this great change is to think of the effect of a new discovery or a scientific breakthrough in the scientific community. Traditional thinking is shaken, overturned, perhaps completely rejected. Everything has to adjust to the new evidence. Schools of thought that have held sway become discredited. Beliefs and practices have to change.

The Last Judgment was this kind of change with regard to religious truths and deep-rooted religious beliefs. It was not, as most had assumed, a reordering of the political and ecclesiastical structures of this world. So we are taught, “the state of the world hereafter will be altogether similar to what it has been heretofore, for the great change which has taken place in the spiritual world does not induce any change in the natural world as to the external form … ” (LJ 73). In other words, the world will continue after this judgment much as it has before. There will be divided countries, war and peace, various religious sects teaching different interpretations of doctrine and practicing distinct rites. Since this judgment took place in the middle of the 18th century, we have more than 200 years of history showing that life in the natural world has continued unchanged.

The great change is an internal one. The Last Judgment has effected a new state of spiritual freedom. We are told that the people of the church will be “in a more free state of thinking” on matters of faith and about spiritual things.

What is the significance of this? This is far-reaching. To have spiritual freedom is the greatest and most precious of life’s treasures. We can compare it only to having natural freedom a much less important gift. Yet we prize our natural freedom. We fight for freedom and may be willing to die for it. The ability to choose what we shall do, where we shall live, and how we shall live is important to us. How much more should we prize the inner freedom that allows us to know what is true and right and to love what is good and useful. It was such a gift that Solomon, the king, chose when the Lord said: “Ask! What shall I give you?” And he said, ” … give to Your servant an understanding heart … that I may discern between good and evil … ” (I Kings 3:5-9).

Spiritual freedom involves being free from false ideas, seductive theories and perverted thinking. Spiritual freedom involves the ability to discern evil affections, destructive loves and selfish motives. To discern and identify these allows us the freedom to decide whether or not we will be swept up by them and carried away by them to certain unhappiness and slavery.

Spiritual freedom was what the Lord meant when He said to those Jews who believed Him, “If you abide in My word … you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free” (John 8:31, 32). He added: “Whoever commits sin is a slave of sin” (Ibid. 34).

The Last Judgment has released the world from the grip of false doctrine; it has given each of us the opportunity to know the truth and to throw off the bonds of spiritual slavery.

This is where the New Church comes in. After the Last Judgment the Lord established a New Church in which the spiritual sense of the Word has been disclosed and interior Divine truths revealed. This church is pictured as the Holy City, New Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven. That city signifies the doctrine of truth, foursquare, solid, and beautiful. Within its walls, straddling the river of water from God, is the tree of life, bearing its fruit every month and having luxuriant leaves said to be “for the healing of the nations.” Let us focus on those leaves.

We are told that the leaves of the tree signify “rational truths.” In the Word, a man is often compared to a tree, its fruit meaning his goods of life, its leaves his rational thoughts. So in the first Psalm the man who loves the law of the Lord is said to be like a tree by the water which brings forth fruit and whose leaf does not wither (see AC 885).

The leaves of the trees in our text were said to be for “medicine,” as the leaves of the Tree of life were to be for a healing. “Here [the word] `tree’ denotes the man of the church in whom is the kingdom of the Lord, its `fruit’ the good of love and of charity, its `leaf’ the truths therefrom, which serve for the instruction of the human race and for their regeneration, for which reason the leaf is said to be for `medicine.’ Further concerning this, we are taught that the leaves for the healing of the nations signify “rational truths … by which they who are in evils and thence in falsities are led to think soundly and to live becomingly” (AR 932:2).

Here, then, is a vital function of the New Church both for us as individuals and for the world in which we live. We have a mission to preserve and extend the state of spiritual freedom which was brought about through the Last Judgment and assured by the establishment of the New Church. The doctrine of the church delivers the spiritual rational truths which can bring about a healing. These truths are the necessary basis of that healing process. Without them, the hells will prevail, for we will not even know that we are in spiritual slavery. Listen to this teaching: “One reason why man does not … desire to come out of spiritual servitude into spiritual liberty is that he does not know what spiritual slavery is and what spiritual freedom is; he does not possess the truths that teach this; and without truths, spiritual slavery is believed to be freedom, and spiritual freedom to be slavery” (DP 149).

It is vitally important then that truths should be known and believed; “for man is enlightened by truths,” we are told, “but is made blind by falsities” (AC 2588:8). “Truths make evils manifest … but from evil none can see what is good and true … ” (HH 487).

Every New Church person should follow the example of Solomon and ask of the Lord a wise and understanding heart. It will be the unique capacity of those who love and study the Heavenly Doctrine of the New Church to discern the quality of their states and the quality of the civil, moral and natural states of the world around them. This is the special intelligence and the special use of the church. How can spiritual freedom be preserved and extended without some ability to see through appearances, to make critical analysis and practical judgment? This is not from us or according to our degree of knowledge. As Joseph said when they called him to interpret the dreams of Pharaoh, “Do not interpretations belong to God? It is not in me; God will give Pharaoh an answer of peace” (Gen. 40:8; 41:16). The “truly human mind,” we are told, “acknowledges that God alone thinks from Himself, and that man thinks from God” (DP 321).

That we should think from God and not from ourselves is the key to understanding the nature of the truly rational thought that will characterize the New Church. Only such thought can be a medicine for the healing of the nations. The doctrine describes true wisdom. “All have the capacity to understand and to be wise,” we are told, “but … they who ascribe all to the Lord are wiser than the rest, because all things of truth and good, which constitute wisdom, flow in from heaven, that is, from the Lord there … ” (AC 10227).

What makes a person truly rational, truly wise? Again, the doctrine is clear: while many in the world suppose that a rational person is one who can reason acutely about many things, and so join reasonings together that conclusions may appear like truth, “this is found in the very worst of people,” we are told, ” … [people] … who are able to reason skillfully and persuade that evils are goods and that falsities are truths, and the reverse” (AC 6240:2). The Heavenly Doctrine rejects this as the mark of rational wisdom. They state instead that “the rational consists in inwardly seeing and perceiving that good is good, and from this that truth is truth … ” (Ibid.).

Again, we are taught that

“by the capacity to be wise is not meant the capacity to reason about truths and goods from memory knowledges, nor the capacity to confirm whatever one pleases, but the capacity to discern what is true and good, to choose what is suitable, and to apply it to the uses of life. They who ascribe all things to the Lord do thus discern, choose, and apply … ” (AC 10227).

The fact that we must ascribe all things to the Lord is shown and signified in the visions of the New Church we have referred to before. Both in the prophecy of Ezekiel and in the book of Revelation we read of the trees being nourished by the river of living water flowing out from God’s sanctuary or throne. It is the man who trusts in the Lord that is like a tree with roots by the river, whose leaf will be green even in the heat, whose boughs will bear fruit even in drought (see Jeremiah 17:7,8).

In the world today there is little recognition of the importance of spiritual truth. Few realize that wisdom in life is from a spiritual origin, not a natural one. Few realize how vulnerable rational thought about civil, moral and natural matters is to worldly opinions and emotional impulses. Reflect on the current issues and controversies that fill the pages of our papers and news magazines and that find a ready audience on our TV screens. What kind of reasoning do we find? Are justice and morality prevalent? And what about our own lives? Where do we turn to find direction and to make right decisions that affect our marriages, our jobs, our children?

Someone once said that the Writings of the church do not teach us about education. We may smile at that. Do they speak of any of our natural concerns? Do they tell us how to conduct a business? Do they provide legal guidance? Do they instruct us about mental depression? Yes, the Writings speak to all of these areas of life though not necessarily directly. What they provide is a spiritual perspective on every aspect of natural life. With this perspective the New Church person is able to reflect on natural life with rational wisdom, to see what is good and useful, to identify what is false and worthless. Without such a perspective, a person is awash in a sea of natural emotion and opinion, adrift from the basic principles that grant true freedom. This is taught directly in the Heavenly Doctrine. There we are told that “man would have no freedom of choice in civil, moral, and natural things if he had none in spiritual things …. From that spiritual freedom man has a perception of what is good and true, and of what is just and right in civil matters … ” (TCR 482).

It is said further,

“when light from heaven flows into these things, the man begins to see them spiritually, and first to discriminate between the useful and the non-useful. From this he begins to have an insight as to what is true … From this then man has perception … Wherefore the knowledges of spiritual things must be with man in his natural in order that there may be spiritual perception; and knowledges of spiritual things must be from revelation” (AC 9103).

What could be more important to our life in this world than the knowledge of spiritual principles of faith? These are not simply theological abstractions. They are the insights that give us true rationality. We live so much of our life indiscriminately, without reflection or rational thought. Or else we respond to it with customary reactions based on previous training or prejudice. In either case, we are not free. We are either spontaneously moved by a natural affection of questionable origin or bound by a rigid traditional response. We have not made a choice, much less a truly rational choice.

The New Church has been established by the Lord that we might be free! free of the urging of natural affections; free of the false attitudes and theories that permeate the thinking of this world. What greater use could we perform in the world and for ourselves than to guard and use our opportunities for spiritual freedom? This is a clear and urgent need. It can be fulfilled only by the wisdom that the Lord has given for the New Church. For He has showed us a

“pure river of water of life, clear as crystal, proceeding from the throne of God and of the Lamb. In the middle of its street, and on either side of the river was the tree of life, which bore twelve fruits, yielding its fruit every month. And the leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations” (Rev. 22:2).


Free To Choose

By Rev. Dr. Reuben P. Bell

Lord, who may abide in your tabernacle? Who may dwell in your holy hill? He who swears by his own hurt and does not change.

Who is this Psalm talking about? Who “swears by his own hurt and does not change?” Could that mean you? In another translation of the Word, this is one who “keeps his oath, even when it hurts.” Have you ever done that? There are several things we are told in the 15th Psalm that are necessary if we are to “abide in the tabernacle of the Lord”–we read them in our Lesson. Some are positive (like doing what is righteous) and some negative (like not accepting bribes against the innocent), but the real operator in this list of suggestions is our freedom to follow them or not. We are free to choose..Lord, who may abide in your tabernacle? Who may dwell in Your holy hill? The person who chooses, in complete freedom, to do or not do the things in Psalm 15, that’s who.

So now we need to talk about freedom: the freedom of self-compulsion (does this sound like a contradiction in terms?). No one comes to abide in the Lord’s tabernacle by accident, or without any effort. We get there by forming a habit of choosing good over evil, every time we have a choice, and then by allowing that habit to take us to heaven. It is not complicated. The habit is self-compulsion, and without it we are “among the more useless” (as we read in our lesson). Let’s examine this idea a little further.

In two substantial passages of the Arcana Coelestia, nn. 1937 and 1947 (as well as in The Divine Providence), we find a detailed description of the mechanism of self-compulsion. It is not complicated, and as we shall see, it is really a function of the freedom in which it is practiced. But it does involve what at first may seem a paradox–so we must look at it very carefully–because self-compulsion, in general terms, means “submitting oneself beneath the controlling power of Divine good and truth.” Now where is the freedom in this, you may well ask.

We read about two kinds of people this morning–passive and active, you might call them. One kind remains passive in the face of the fact that all good comes from the Lord. Knowing this, they sit idly by, assuming all things are beyond their control, so no effort is necessary, or even feasible. They end up abandoning themselves to evil, because it, too, is beyond their control. “They are among the more useless;” we read this morning, “for they allow themselves to be led just as much by evil as by good.” (AC 1937:2) Now that’s an interesting distinction–not really evil, just useless.

The more active–“those who have practiced self-compulsion and set themselves against falsity and evil”–cannot be led by evil spirits, and are among the blessed. Why? Because although they may begin this habit of choosing good over evil as if it were their own to do, they eventually come to realize that their effort originates in the Lord, and they give Him the credit. This is the apparent paradox (one of the biggest ideas in all of New Church doctrine): that what we do and are are not from ourselves but from the origins of these qualities in the spiritual world. But knowing this, we must nonetheless act as if they were our own. This is the “as-of-self,” a sense of spiritual identity which comes only from practice–lots of practice. It can become a habit, if we want it to. We call it the heavenly proprium; the “new person.” This is who is “among the blessed.” This is freedom in its highest order.

To further develop this idea of paradox, it is also true that people who are learning self compulsion do not immediately see this as freedom at all, but as an actual constraint on their free will. This is because the freedom is given in their own level of existence–the natural world–and it is often associated with the pain of the choice itself. Compare this with having a surgical procedure, an occasional unfortunate necessity in our modern world: is this not done with your “informed consent,” for the sake of your good health? But do you revel in the freedom of that choice, while you are recovering from its painful repercussions? What about the hard choices in temptations? The same thing applies.

Freedom is necessary for the formation of the new will, which is your conscience, transformed by the habit of self-compulsion–tempered and formed by the pain of temptations. It is a simple process, but no one ever said it was easy. But true or not, this mechanism can seem so grave, so bleak and so cheerless. Is there no positive image of this process we can carry with us in our lives? Of course there is. The Lord is Creator, and Redeemer, and Savior, but He has also called us His friends. We must never forget this distinction. He has installed a wonderful mechanism in all this self-compulsion, because He loves us as friends. And that mechanism can make it the best and most delightful of things to do. Let me read you another portion of AC 1937:

Whatever a man does from love appears to him as freedom. But in this freedom when the man is compelling himself to resist what is evil and false and to do what is good there is heavenly love which the Lord then insinuates and through which He creates the person’s proprium; and therefore the Lord wills that it should appear to the person to be his own although it is not his. This proprium which man during his bodily life thus receives through what is apparently compulsory is filled by the Lord in the other life with limitless forms of delight and happiness. Such persons are also by degrees enlightened to see that their self-compulsion has not commenced at all in themselves but that even the smallest of all the impulses of their will has been received from the Lord. (Arcana Coelestia 1937:6)

“Limitless forms of delight and happiness.” Now that’s for me! How about you? The new proprium–it seems your own, it is your love (your life)–but it is from the Lord. Continually loving to do the Lord’s bidding.. the life belonging to heavenly love.. compelling yourself to do the things that lead to that life. That’s the good news about self-compulsion. And the even better news is that the more we do it, the easier it gets–like riding a bicycle–until finally (in heaven) there is no pain at all, only the increasing happiness of tending our garden of heavenly delights.

That is the freedom to choose. It is the Lord who does the good (He is good itself), but it is you who enjoy it as your own.

Man is only the receiving vessel of all good (or evil, for that matter), but in his participation in this good or evil, it becomes his own–his new will and proprium. His life.

Now we have seen the clear teachings on self-compulsion. And we have seen that once the process is begun, it is like any other habit–it is perfected with repeated use. But how does one begin the process? How can we get from a starting point of evil, to a habit of choosing good? This is no small question. In order to make room for good, we must first clean house of the evils in our lives. The Jewish mystics knew of this problem. They said that in order to create the world, the Lord had first to withdraw Himself, to make a space to fill with His emanations. This is the zimzum [creation] of the Kabbalah — the process of clearing out before the filling in–a fundamental necessity for the creation of the universe, or the salvation of a person.

In similar terms, the Writings tell us that in order for the Lord to flow in to our interiors, we must first make Him a space by clearing out some evils. All our evils? Instantaneous salvation? Regeneration in a blinding flash? Not in the New Church. But the beauty is that even a tiny little space will do at first. Remains alone will do the trick, if we are willing to do the daily work of building that habit of choosing good. The rules are there: the 10 Commandments, the Heavenly Doctrines of the New Church, in our Psalm today, and in all of the Word.

You make the space, and then the Lord will immediately flow in. But not until. This is the “narrow gate” that leads to life, and as we have seen, there is nothing negative about this image. With the habit of self-compulsion, this narrow gate is the gate to “limitless forms of delight and happiness,” and “wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction.” Take your pick–you’re free to choose.

So now we have decided that self-compulsion is not so bad after all, and that the freedom of the “narrow gate” sure beats the slavery of the hells. But where do we begin? At the only starting point there is: the Writings tell us again and again that to get rid of evils we simply must not do them–must not participate in them, must not entertain them, consider them, or invite them to live in our homes–we must shun them when they come our way. Shun–now that’s a funny old word, and we use it all the time. But what does it really mean? It can mean a lot of things, but most important is what is does not mean. It does not mean conquer. Once in a blue moon we may be called upon to conquer an evil, or at least to fight it, but most often we are asked only to run away from it. The hells are powerful! Who says you have to conquer them? To clear out a space for the Lord to flow in to, we must only run away from evils and thereby refuse to entertain them. This will do the trick, until the Lord has infilled us with enough Divine good and truth to do a little battle. Until then, just run away. It works. In terms of the Covenant, this is your part of the job–the shunning of evils–and then the Lord will do His part–the new will. Passive won’t work in this formula–only active will, but we have seen that it is not as hard as some people believe. Shunning evils and choosing good–this is swimming with the current in the stream of Providence. You can do it. You are free to choose.

We are told that beginners work this system a little differently than the experts do. Children, and adults new to the good-over-evil habit, (and all of us who forget ourselves from time-to-time) often do good for the most pragmatic of reasons, such as the fear of hell, or even for recognition, or personal gain. We’re tempted to see evil in these motivations we call mediate good, because we know that the “experts,” choose good only from the love of heaven and the Lord. But no one is born an expert, and we all must start somewhere, so if you ever find yourself doing good from some strange and less-than-ideal motivation, just keep moving forward, and work on your habit. You’ll be an expert someday. Regeneration is a process, right? And it lasts forever. And with every effort toward good and away from evil, the evils in our lives are steadily removed–not deleted or erased, in some magical way, but removed–pushed to the edge of our consciousness, until they can finally disappear from view. And as long as we keep up the habit, they’ll stay there, and behave themselves. It is up to us. We are free to choose.

Now as we have seen, the self-compulsion to choose good is really not compulsion at all. It is the highest form of freedom. And freedom misinterpreted as license is not freedom at all–it is the slavery of the hells; slavery to the love of self and the delights of the world. This love, directed as it is away from the Lord, takes freedom away. This is a very important distinction; to many people this seems the other way around.

Self-compulsion is the good news of regeneration: it is the freedom to choose good over evil–the freedom to remove evils from our lives and thereby clear out a space for the Lord to flow in. And it is freedom from the entanglements of evil: Did you ever tell a lie, only to find that another lie was necessary to cover that one, and on and on until you couldn’t remember what you had told to whom? These are the entanglements of evil. Did you ever compromise your standards just a little, only to find that it was necessary to do this again and again, until the compromise became the norm, and you didn’t like it but you didn’t really know what to do? These are the entanglements of evil. Have you ever wished you had just held your ground, and done the right thing first, and saved all that grief? “Lord, who may abide in your tabernacle? Who may dwell in your holy hill? He who swears to his own hurt and does not change.” No entanglements for that person. He is free. Evil is a trap, and leaves no choice, but the choice of good over evil is freedom of the highest order. It is living the life of heaven, in the here and now. And it is really not so hard–you are free to choose.

There is contentment and peace in following the Lord. It is found in the simplicity of the new will. And as we read this morning, “this proprium which a person receives in this manner during his lifetime by means, as it seems, of compulsion, the Lord replenishes in the next life with limitless forms of delight and happiness. The freedom to choose is never having to look back. “He who does these things shall never be moved.”


Choose Whom You Will Serve

By Rev. Eric H. Carswell

And if it seems evil to you to serve the Lord, choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods which your fathers served that were on the other side of the River, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you dwell. But as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord. (Joshua 24:15)

The choice that Joshua set before the children of Israel is also set before each of us in our lives. The first and great commandment is: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.” (Matthew 22:37) Each person who truly loves the Lord will wish to serve Him.

When you reflect on the course of your daily life, how does your acknowledgment of the Lord as your God affect your life? We know that reflection and spiritual goal-setting is an important part of each person’s pathway to heaven. At times each of us can consider which among our values, choices and deeds have their fundamental source in an acknowledgment of the Lord as God. And also which among these things are in conflict with what we know to be good and true.

In one sense, each person stands alone choosing the direction of his or her life. There is an basic conflict that goes on within the mind of each person here today. This same conflict is nearly as old as the human race itself. We are created so that both good and evil, truth and falsity meet and do battle within our minds. The conflicting desires within our minds can be attributed, in their simplest forms, to the essential choice presented to the children of Israel. Would they serve the idols of their forefathers or the gods of the Amorites, or would they follow the lead of Joshua and serve the Lord? For us this represents the choice between loving the things of the world, or ourselves, or loving the Lord.

Joshua offered the Israelites a choice. They could choose one of three alternatives. The first choice was whether they wanted to worship the gods which their forefathers had served on the other side of the River. Joshua had earlier spoken of the Israelites’ forefathers, such as Terah, Abraham’s father, as living on the other side of the River, that is, the river Euphrates. Terah had been an idolater, worshiping a god he knew of as Shaddai, or “the almighty.” He and others like him were ignorant of many basic truths that the Lord had revealed to earlier men.

While Joshua’s first offered choice to the Israelites reflects the historical context of the time, it can also have a meaning that is applicable to every person in all ages. Joshua offered the Israelites the choice of worshiping the idols of their forefathers. We know that idolatry doesn’t just mean bowing down to statues. Idolatry can be said to exist when there is a separation of spiritual values, such as love to the Lord and the neighbor, from the external actions of daily life and even worship. For example, we are told that those who call themselves Christians and say they worship Christ, and do not live according to what He teaches, are actually worshiping Him idolatrously. (Arcana Coelestia 3732:2) Idolatry can also be said to exist when someone chooses something in this world and makes the acquisition of it to be the highest good. Whenever a person does this, he makes that thing to be his god. For example, a person’s desire to acquire money can rule over him as a most ruthless overlord. If he loves it above all others things, it is his god, and he will serve it daily. Money has a valuable use. It isn’t bad in itself. But it becomes bad if it has so significant a role in our decision-making, that other more important things are neglected–like honesty. This is true of many other aspects of this world such as food, clothing, paying attention to our health, our homes, our cars, our vacations, the natural success of our children, even the natural success of this congregation. Too great a concern for all of these things can lead us to do things that are hurtful to ourselves and others. Having too great a concern for these things is represented by worshiping the gods of our forefathers.

Joshua also offered the children of Israel the possibility of serving the gods of the Amorites, in whose land they were then living. This alternative images a second choice that exists for all people. Anyone can also choose to love himself above all other things. The love of self means that our own needs, wants, and desires guide our decisions more than anything the Lord has said about what is good and true. When love of self above others is the ruler of someone, he is unwilling to be led by Lord, or by anyone else, except apparently, when it serves his ends. Such a person then also has a fundamental contempt and hatred of everyone who does not serve him. The ultimate result of this love is quite clear in the spiritual world; there those who have been ruled by the love of self seek to make themselves gods and to rule over all others. A person can choose to make himself god and serve himself in all things.

Note how the two false choices which the Israelites were given had a particular attraction for them. One was gods their ancestors had always worshiped, and the other was the gods worshiped in the land where they presently lived. Similarly, the loves of self and the world have a ready attraction for us. We know that each of us was born with hereditary inclinations to these evils. Both love of the world and love of self above others comes quite naturally to us. Without a conscious process of studying the patterns of our actions, words, thoughts, and motives, recognizing specific ways in which evil loves and false ideas are destructively influencing what we do, and then shunning or consciously turning away from evil thoughts and actions as sins, they will remain with us and will be a means whereby evil spirits seek to lead us to hell. To avoid their path, our hereditary inclinations to love ourselves and the world must be recognized and removed by genuine repentance.

If we were left to ourselves without any guidance from the Lord, we wouldn’t even be aware that we had a fundamental choice of values in our lives. In this sense, Joshua and what he said is like the Lord’s Word, prompting us to recognize the choices that lie before us. Joshua told the children of Israel that they should choose this day whom they would serve, and he added, “But as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.” The Lord’s Word not only presents us with the need to recognize and shun evil thoughts and actions and the loves that foster them, but in its entirety it testifies to obedience and service to the Lord. By its teachings we can learn how to recognize our hereditary inclinations and reject them. As these inclinations are rejected, we can ever more fully accept the Lord as our God and serve Him alone.

Even though our text presents a single moment of choice for the Israelites, we know that it does not exist as a single choice for us. We are confronted by this choice in every significant decision we make. Are we going to serve the Lord by obey His commandments, are we going to try to love others as He has loved us, or will we place love of self and the world above these precepts and serve those interests? Each decision we make strengthens us in a certain direction, but is not in itself conclusive. But, by the time we leave this world, we will have established the fundamental core of our values. We will have established a ruling love. We will have chosen whom we want to serve.

Although in one sense Joshua’s challenge is presented to us in every significant decision we make, we cannot usefully approach many of them on the universal levels of love of self, the world, or the Lord. If someone tried to consciously hold this choice in the front of his mind in each of his decisions, it would probably be more destructive than constructive. Continuous or prolonged deep introspection is time-consuming and dangerous. This problem is avoided by following what the Lord has taught us about the process referred to in the Writings as “self examination.” We are told that once or twice a year every adult should submit his the patterns of thought and action in his life to a deep, searching examination. (True Christian Religion 530) What the Lord calls us to watch for is important patterns of choices and states of mind that are contrary to what he teaches. Even during this examination, it is probably not advisable to look for love of self and the world in our thoughts and deeds. We may know with great certainty that these loves are there. Rather than attacking them as single entities, thereby attempting to fight against all of their influence at once, we should seek to recognize one or two specific forms that these loves take in our thoughts or deeds. If we seek to recognize one or two specific groups of evil acts or thoughts that we incline to, then we will be choosing a manageable fight.

A man may notice that almost every time his thoughts have time to wander, they quickly make their way to a consideration of his financial security and growth, while at the same time he has lost touch with his children and his responsibilities as their father. He will then try to put the financial thoughts out of his mind, at least some of the time, and instead will reflect on the developing states of his children.

A woman may notice within herself a quiet but strong tendency to manipulate those around her to go along with what she thinks is best. This manipulation may have an obvious expression in nagging or it may be so subtle that its victims are hardly aware of its presence. The end result is the same, the person being manipulated is pressured to act or think a certain way. This manipulation can have negative spiritual results for all who are involved. The woman who recognizes its significant presence in her life will try to allow others greater freedom to think and choose for themselves, certainly with appropriate discussion, but without the manipulation that she inclines to.

A third person may notice a tendency to get highly agitated when anyone corrects him or openly disagrees with his opinion. If his self examination indicated that his reaction to the situation is thoughts of hatred against the offending individual rather than a concern for what is true, he may decide that he needs to work on this expression of the love of self.

In each of these cases, the individuals, having recognized a certain inclination to something evil, will work at shunning that expression of evil during the following days and months. Each day they will apply the findings of their last deep self examination in a review of their intentions, thoughts, and acts, to see if they are truly shunning the one or two evils they had previously observed. This is the form of daily self examination that we should practice. (cf. Arcana Coelestia 8391; True Christian Religion 539, The New Jerusalem and its Heavenly Doctrine 163)

It is useful to keep in mind that when we are examining ourselves, apparently we cannot know for certain how far we have progressed in our spiritual rebirth. Evil spirits constantly try to flow into our minds and convince us that we are nothing but evil and consequently that there is no hope for salvation. Or they try to convince us of the exact opposite, that we are so good that we don’t need to seek salvation. It is also useful to know that a person also has a difficult time knowing if he is in the good of charity or not because the angels with him, when they recognize that he is reflecting upon the good in himself, may at once introduce the idea that he is not so good in order to prevent him from taking credit for this himself, and from sensing himself to be superior to others. (Arcana Coelestia 2380) Self examination has the primary purpose of indicating the evils within the examiner which should be worked on, and only secondarily giving him some idea of his spiritual state. There are however certain signs that indicate whether the power of our evil heredity has been lessened, or whether it strongly controls our thoughts and life. We can consider, for example, whether we at times sense a delight in helping another person just because it is a useful thing to do. (Arcana Coelestia 9499) Perhaps a person can gain some hope, assurance and an image of the ideal to strive for as he thinks about some of these aspects of his life.

The primary purpose of self examination is that a person should be led to see those evils in himself which he must try to shun as sins against the Lord. Day-by-day as you learn more from what the Lord has taught us and try to live according to it, the more perfect will be your ability to examine the patterns of your motives, thoughts, and actions. The truth we need to guide our lives may be gained from instruction in sermons and classes, but particularly from individual reading. As we read what the Lord has revealed and approach Him in prayer, He speak to us, exhorting us or comforting us. Let us hear Him when He speaks through words, like those of Joshua, saying

“…choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods which your fathers served that were on the other side of the River, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you dwell. But as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.” (Joshua 24:15)