Why Is Life So Hard? Why are there So Many Struggles?

Inner struggles are a part of our process of spiritual rebirth. There are many words used to describe these spiritual struggles: Temptation. The dark night of the soul. Spiritual anguish. Depression. The book of Revelation calls these dark and troublesome times “the hour of trial” (Revelation 3:10).

Why is all this struggle and heartbreak necessary?

Why can’t our life just be easy and happy?

Because it is the times of darkness and struggle that sift our soul.

We all have parts of ourselves that are not so good. And we cling to them. Our times of trial and suffering bring us face to face with those destructive parts of ourselves. Through these struggles, their grip on us is loosened. We gradually let go of our self-centeredness and our focus on material things, and learn compassion for others and trust in God.

Our times of depression and despair are never pleasant. Yet these are the passages that define our life. These are the moments when we choose whether to move upward or downward.

As painful as they are, our times of spiritual struggle forge us into the deeper, wiser, and more compassionate person that God created us to be.

For more on spiritual struggles and how to face them, please read on.

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Posted in Pain and Suffering, Spiritual Growth

Evil Is Real, and it Does Harm the Innocent

Marvin Jacob Lee

Marvin Jacob Lee

There’s a New Age myth floating around that evil is not real; that evil is just an illusion; that if anything evil happens to us, it’s either karma for evil we ourselves did in a past life, or it’s something we chose to have happen to us as a learning experience.

But it’s not true.

Evil is real.

Evil is not an illusion.

And although sometimes we do bring evil upon ourselves, to say that every bad thing that happens to us is the result of our own actions or choices is the ultimate case of blaming the victim.

For those whose minds aren’t clouded by faux-spiritual mumbo jumbo, every day brings news of innocent people harmed by the machinations of evil minds, or by people whose lives have gotten seriously derailed into destructive ways of thinking, feeling, and living.

Here is one such news story from the past week:

For Jefferson Heavner, of Catawba County, NC, it was a family tradition to help motorists whose cars had slid off the road in stormy and snowy weather. Heavner’s father had died in a car accident years earlier. Helping drivers in need was one of the ways Jefferson and the rest of his family remembered and honored him.

So it was all in a day’s good deeds when he and some friends pulled over to assist Marvin Jacob Lee, whose car had slid off the road in a snowstorm.

He couldn’t have known as he pulled over that this would be his last act as a Good Samaritan on this earth.

For more on the reality of evil, please click here to read on.

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Posted in Current Events, Pain and Suffering

What is the Relationship between Head and Heart in Swedenborg’s Theology?

(Note: This article is an edited and expanded version of part of an answer I wrote and posted on Christianity StackExchange. You can see the original question on StackExchange here, and the StackExchange version of my answer here.)

According to the theology of Emanuel Swedenborg (1688-1772), the universe and everything in it is quite literally created from and built around the interplay between what is colloquially known as “head and heart,” or between love and wisdom, in the more abstract language that Swedenborg commonly uses.

This is the subject of Swedenborg’s great philosophical and cosmological work Divine Love and Wisdom, originally published in Latin, Amsterdam, 1763.

In this book, Swedenborg traces the creation of the universe to a divine “marriage” of love and wisdom in God. In God, Swedenborg says, love and wisdom are perfectly balanced. And though they can be distinguished conceptually in our minds, they are in fact inseparable from one another, and always operate together as one.

From this “divine marriage” flows all the power, or action, of God—and of course, all the words, or teachings, of God, which are part of God’s power flowing out. This power and truth of God flowing out is known in the Bible as “the Holy Spirit.”

So according to Swedenborg, God consists of:

  1. Love
  2. Wisdom
  3. Action

In Swedenborg’s theology, these three are the “Trinity” in the one Divine Person of God, when the Trinity is viewed in abstract terms.

So in their origin in God, “head” and “heart” are, in Swedenborg’s words, “distinguishably one” (see Divine Love and Wisdom #14, in which Swedenborg uses the name “the Divine-Human One” for God):

  • Love is the reality, substance, and soul of God.
  • Wisdom is the manifestation, form, and body of God.

So in God, there is no separation between head and heart. In fact, they can occur only together with one another, even if we are able to distinguish them conceptually in our minds. God’s head and heart always work together as one in perfect balance.

Because the entire created universe comes from God and is an expression of God, this “distinguishable oneness” of love and wisdom, or substance and form, exists throughout the created universe as well, including in human beings, where it is especially manifested in our will and understanding—once again colloquially known as “heart” and “head.”

However, in human beings, head and heart do not always work together. In fact, common experience tells us that our head and heart are often in conflict with one another.

For more on head and heart in Swedenborg’s theology, please click here to read on.

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Posted in Spiritual Growth

Are We Saved in an Instant? How was the Thief on the Cross Saved?

The previous article, “How Can a Criminal Get to Heaven?” brought on a whirlwhind of comments about the Protestant belief in salvation by faith alone vs. the belief of the rest of Christianity in salvation by faith together with works.

Here is the first comment there, by a reader named David:

Hi Lee,

The thieves on the cross

The thieves on the cross

I know you have commented on this before, but I’m not sure where: What did you think of the criminal on the cross who Jesus assures will be with him in paradise that very day? This criminal seems like the quintessential example of someone who did bad things all of his life yet he is assured paradise seemingly based on a profession of faith in Jesus at the end of his life. I don’t think anyone would dispute your argument that one’s character cannot be completely changed in an instant; however, I think it is possible to begin a saving relationship with Jesus Christ in an instant such that someone could be assured of Heaven. God cannot change one’s character in an instant but He could potentially declare someone NOT GUILTY in an instant. In my evangelical circles, there is this concept of imputed righteousness that Paul talks about. Your true character reformation occurs over the rest of your life, but when you “accept Christ” you are seen as “righteous” in the eyes of God because of what Jesus did.

I was chatting with some of my friends this week. Some were conservative evangelicals and another one somewhere in between like me. One posed the question: can two people live identical lives but believe different things about Jesus and go to different destinations when they die. I think most of agreed that, no, this was not possible. But we were picturing two people who lived very good lives yet did not believe the same things about Jesus. Then my one more evangelical friend brought up the example of the thief on the cross as an example of two people who had lived really bad lives, yet one went to heaven and the other presumably went to judgement.

Have a great week!

David

Thanks for the great question, David!

We’ll have to save a full exploration of the issue of “imputed righteousness” for another time. Short version: There is no such thing. Paul has been badly misunderstood on this as well, based on the faulty, non-Biblical notions that we are saved by faith alone and that Christ paid the penalty for our sins. (See: “Faith Alone Does Not Save . . . No Matter How Many Times Protestants Say It Does” and: “Did Jesus Really Die to Pay the Penalty for our Sins?!?”)

Instead, we can accept Christ’s righteousness into ourselves by acting from his love and living according to his commandments (instead of acting from our own selfishness and folly), while recognizing that it is Christ acting through us, and that nothing good we do is our own—as he himself told us:

I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing. (John 15:5)

Now let’s look at the two thieves on the cross as narrated in Luke 23:39–43.

For more about instant salvation and the thieves on the cross, please click here to read on.

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Posted in Spiritual Growth

How Can a Criminal Get to Heaven?

Jeremy Wilson, inveterate forger and con man, in court

Jeremy Wilson, inveterate forger and con man, back in court

On November 19, 2015, Jeremy Wilson was released from federal prison after serving six years for impersonating an Army officer, forging a judge’s signature, and stealing a car. By that time he had racked up convictions for fraud and forgery in five states.

What did he do when he got out?

I’ll give you one guess!

Within two months, he was re-arrested.

The charges against him?

Grand larceny, criminal impersonation, possession of a forged instrument, and possession of an unlawful identification card.

And that’s putting it mildly. A month or so after his release, he had already created yet another false identity, posed as a wounded war hero, forged checks and used stolen credit cards to rack up over $40,000 in cash, leased a luxury vehicle, and rented an executive apartment in the heart of New York’s financial district, all under false pretenses. When police searched the apartment, they found over two hundred forged checks.

What a surprise!

You can read all about it here: “Man Accused of Impersonating a War Hero Has a History of Forgery,” by James C. McKinley, Jr., MSN News; and here: “Conman who posed as wounded veteran held on $1M bail after giving ‘full, video-recorded confession,’” by Shayna Jacobs, New York Daily News.

Clearly, Jeremy Wilson—if that is his real name—has settled into a regular pattern of forgery, impersonation, and deception as a way to “make his living.” It’s part of his character. Six years in the pen didn’t even make a dent.

How could such a hardened criminal get to heaven?

For more on criminals and heaven, please click here to read on.

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Posted in Spiritual Growth

What is the Meaning of Gold, Frankincense, and Myrrh?

The Gospel of Matthew tells us that:

After Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men from the East came . . . and there, ahead of them, went the star that they had seen at its rising, until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw that the star had stopped, they were overwhelmed with joy. On entering the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother; and they knelt down and paid him homage. Then, opening their treasure chests, they offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. (Matthew 2:1, 9–11)

What is the meaning of the three gifts that the wise men gave to the baby Jesus?

Gold, frankincense, and myrrh were valuable items monetarily, and were thus fine and expensive gifts.

But more than that, they had a ritual significance in the ancient world. Gold has always been an enduring symbol of incorruptible love, while frankincense and myrrh were ingredients in sacred incenses and anointing oils.

The wise men themselves undoubtedly considered gold, frankincense, and myrrh to be spiritually significant gifts for “the child who has been born king of the Jews” (Matthew 2:1-2).

Here is the spiritual symbolism of these three gifts based on their roles in the Bible and on Emanuel Swedenborg’s explanation of them as found in the Bible.

For more on the meaning of gold, frankincense, and myrrh, please click here to read on.

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Posted in All About God, The Bible Re-Viewed

Traffic Laws: Humans vs. Robots

Google self-driving car

Google self-driving car

Google is having some technical difficulties with its driverless cars.

Or perhaps they’re having human difficulties?

Okay, here’s the story: according to a University of Michigan study, self-driving cars are getting into twice as many accidents as human drivers. None of the accidents so far have been serious ones. What’s happening is that human drivers are crashing into self-driving cars, mostly in low-speed rear-end collisions.

It seems that the driverless cars are too scrupulous in obeying traffic laws, and too quick to slow down or stop when there might be a problem, such as a pedestrian who might step into the street. Human drivers, on the other hand, are less finicky about the rules of the road. Humans expect other drivers to be more aggressive. They crash into the driverless cars precisely because self-driving cars don’t act like the average human driver.

You can read all about it in this article from msn.com: “Humans are slamming into driverless cars, exposing key flaw.”

So it’s all the fault of the human drivers, right?

Well, Google and other self-driving car makers can rightfully claim that their cars are not legally at fault when they get into accidents. After all, they are programmed to scrupulously obey the law. It’s the human drivers crunching into them who aren’t obeying the law—or are just not driving as attentively as they should be.

But there’s more to it than that.

For more on human drivers vs. robotic cars, please click here to read on.

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Posted in Current Events, Science Philosophy and History

Ruler of All Nations

(This article is a lightly edited version of a talk originally delivered on June 8, 2003.)

Throughout recorded human history runs the thread of human beings trying to rule and control as much of this earth as we are able. Nation rises against nation, there are wars and rumors of wars, empires rise to control vast territories, enduring for perhaps a hundred, perhaps a thousand years, and then they are gone, surviving only in the history books and in the collective consciousness of the human race.

Right now the United States is the dominant power on this earth. Some people think this is wonderful. Others think it is terrible. Still others are of two minds about it. But my purpose is not to say whether this is good or bad, but to remind you that it is temporary.

Every human work is temporary. We may build great buildings that last centuries, and great empires that last centuries, but in the end, everything we humans do here on earth will crumble into dust and be gone. We may gain control over a large part of the world’s territory and wealth, but that too is only temporary. It may last for our lifetime, or over many lifetimes, but sooner or later the wealth and lands will pass out of our hands, or out of the hands of our descendants.

We humans here on earth are mortal—creatures of time. Everything about us that dwells in and relates to this material world will live out its life, and then die. We can have no permanent memorial here on earth. Even if we manage to build physical or cultural monuments that last thousands and thousands of years, we know that in the end, the earth itself will be swallowed up by our dying and expanding sun, and even the entire universe will eventually either collapse back on itself, or dissolve into a thin film of inert matter, dead stars, and random energy, incapable of supporting any further life. All things of this material existence live out their lives, and then die.

It is only in a temporary sense that any one of us, any group of us, any human government can be said to rule any part of this earth. We may have the reins of power in our hands for a time, but then our power is gone.

For more on who rules the nations, please click here to read on.

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Posted in All About God, Science Philosophy and History

Can You Masturbate Without Lusting? What about Matthew 5:27-30?

A reader named David left this comment on my previous article, “What does the Bible Say about Masturbation? Is Masturbation a Sin?”:

Hi Lee,

Thanks for the article. I tend to agree with you. Masturbation seems to be practical outlet for one’s sex drive. Since I come from a more conservative background, the typically verse used to make a case against masturbation is the one in Matthew where Jesus is warns that lusting after a woman is the same as adultery. So the argument is made: “Can you masturbate without lusting?” I would be curious if you have any thoughts on that particular verse since I have heard it used more often than the passage with Onan.

David

Hi David,

Thanks for stopping by, and for your good comment and question.

Now that you mention it, that is a common verse and argument used against masturbation in conservative Christian circles.

It looks like I’ve got some more writing to do . . .

First the short answer:

It’s a weak and superficial argument.

Does masturbation cause lust? Isn’t it actually a way of decreasing our lust so that it doesn’t flow out into evil and sinful actions?

Lust comes from the heart, not from some physical action such as masturbation. And lust has to be dealt with at its source. Blaming masturbation for lust in the heart is a bit like blaming the hammer for hitting your thumb. (“@#%& stupid hammer!!!”)

Now for the long answer.

For more on masturbation and Matthew 5:27–30, please click here to read on.

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Posted in Sex Marriage Relationships

What does the Bible Say about Masturbation? Is Masturbation a Sin?

This month three Spiritual Conundrums have been submitted to Spiritual Insights for Everyday Life on the subject of masturbation. First, from “Hmmm”:

A question has been bugging me a lot lately, what is your opinion on masturbation and pornography, if that’s not too much to ask of course.

I’ve been wondering because there’s many people that says it’s bad, and others who say it’s fine, if this isn’t too much to ask i would like to know your opinion on it.

Thanks in advance

We may deal with pornography in a future article. Yes, it is true that many people masturbate while viewing pornography. But let’s deal with one issue at a time.

Here is the second conundrum, submitted by a reader named Daniel:

Hi

What is Swedenborgianism view on masterbations and other related activities?

Thank you

And finally, a conundrum submitted by a reader named John:

I’m a gay male 18 years of age and things aren’t so easy for me. I really want to go to heaven and finally have peace and I pray to God every night before I go to sleep to forgive me for what I am, and the sins I do (Usually masturbation). I’ve talked to many priests and confessed but I can’t tell them about my sexuality, It’s just that they keep telling me that I will have to wait till I get married to get involved in sexual activities and I can’t see that happening in my situation. I really want to go to heaven but I find it near impossible to resist to all of my temptations and urges, and I’m still very young I have a long way ahead of me. I try so hard not to masturbate but sometimes it just gets me, not saying that that’s my only sin, but it’s the one that most bothers me. I’d appreciate it if you’d respond to me, thank you!

About homosexuality, please see my article, “Homosexuality, the Bible, and Christianity.” I realize it is a highly charged issue in the Catholic Church, and in many other churches as well. But what the Bible says about homosexuality is nowhere near as clear cut as many conservative Christians think it is.

Masturbation is not quite as charged an issue as homosexuality in religious circles. But it is still a matter of much needless consternation. So let’s get one thing out of the way immediately:

Q: What does the Bible say about masturbation?

A: Nothing.

For more on masturbation and the Bible, please click here to read on.

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Posted in Sex Marriage Relationships
Lee & Annette Woofenden

Lee & Annette Woofenden

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Earlier Posts
Lee Woofenden speaking at Fryeburg New Church Assembly, Fryeburg, Maine, August 2012

Lee Woofenden speaking at Fryeburg New Church Assembly

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