Facing our Demons of Darkness, Depression, and Mental Illness – Part 2

In Part 1 we looked at the issue of mental illness through the lens of the story of Jesus healing a demon-possessed man in Mark 5:1–20. One of the points made in that article was that mental illness is not some separate category of human experience. Rather it is part of a continuum of inner struggles that all of us face against the darker and more difficult parts of our character and circumstances here on earth, whether or not a psychiatrist has diagnosed us as mentally ill.

The Bible, understood on a deeper level, tells the story of the spiritual life of each one of us (see “Can We Really Believe the Bible?”). The story of Jesus’ healing of that demon-possessed man applies spiritually to every one of us. We each face our own inner demons, and we each need God’s help in casting those demons out. At the end of Part 1, I left you with the thought that in the same way the demon-possessed man had to approach and kneel down in front of Jesus in order to be restored to health and sanity, our mental, emotional, and spiritual healing begins when we approach God and place our life in God’s care and keeping.

Shortly after the events of the Gospel story covered in Part 1, Jesus returned to his home town of Nazareth. There, unlike in the foreign territory across the Jordan River where he healed the demon-possessed man, the people did not accept him. In fact, they took offense at this local boy presuming to teach them in their synagogue. Because of their lack of faith, the Bible narrative tells us, “He could not do any miracles there, except lay his hands on a few sick people and heal them” (Mark 6:5).

Jesus then sent his twelve disciples out two-by-two. And:

They went out and preached that people should repent. They drove out many demons and anointed many sick people with oil and healed them. (Mark 6:12–13)

You can read the whole story in Mark 6:1–13.

Who are the people of Jesus’ home town today? They are the people who call themselves Christians.

A prophet without honor in his home town

Though it is set two thousand years ago, the story of Jesus being rejected in his home town applies today to those of us who consider ourselves Christians.

As the old saying goes, “familiarity breeds contempt.” In Part 1 I talked about how Jesus can come into our lives and heal us of all manner of mental, emotional, and spiritual sicknesses. But none of that will happen if we have grown so used to Jesus and Christianity that, like the people of Jesus’ home town, we don’t accept the power of our own God to heal us.

Do those of us who are Christian believe that Jesus has the greatest power and ability to heal our emotional struggles and our mental illnesses? Or do we believe that when push comes to shove, human counselors, therapists, and  psychiatrists hold the key to our mental and emotional wellbeing? Do we think that inviting God into our life may make us just a little better and a little nicer, but that when it comes to the really tough issues, it’s time to call in the human experts? Or do we accept the radical teaching of the Gospels that Jesus is our Physician and Healer?

I am not suggesting that anyone who wants or needs counseling and therapy should not take advantage of these tools for mental and emotional wellbeing. We are meant to help and rely upon one another as well.

But the greatest source of healing is within us all the time. We make the same mistake as the residents of Nazareth if we do not accept that divine source. The deepest and most complete healing from our inner demons and mental illnesses takes place only when we invite God into our lives.

What is our norm and our goal?

There are many reasons why this is so. For now, I will focus on just one of them.

One of the perennial problems of counseling and therapy is that there is often not a clearly defined and effective goal.

  • Is the goal to help clients fit in with the existing society? If so, what if the existing society is out of whack? And how do therapists decide which part of a widely varying culture to “normalize” clients to?
  • Is the goal to help clients to accept themselves as they are? If so, what if there are aspects of the clients’ personalities that need serious change?
  • Is there some objective moral or ethical standard that the therapist is attempting to bring clients’ lives into harmony with? If so, where do we get those moral and ethical standards, and who decides which standards are valid and worth following?
  • Is the goal to let clients define their own goals, and help them to achieve them? What if the client has no idea what he or she wants to accomplish or be, but just knows that the way things are right now is a dead-end street? What if the client does have a goal—and it is not a good one?

As long as we rely on humans and human society to provide us with our norms and our goals, we will be building on shifting sands. We humans are a changeable lot. We are a mixture of saint and sinner, both individually and collectively. And sometimes it is awfully hard to sort out which part is which.

God provides us with a way out of this confusion.

As we are told in the Bible, God is the rock upon which our lives must be built. Unlike shifting, changing human beings, God is eternal and unchanging. When we bring God into our lives, we have a higher standard that we can always move toward as our goal. God gives a direction and purpose to our healing process, and to our entire life, that we cannot get from any other source.

God provides the standard of perfection toward which we can aspire.

The divine standard

That standard of perfection has a specific personality that can serve as a reliable guide as we discern the specific direction in which we need to travel in order to move from mental illness to spiritual health. As we begin to sense and understand the nature of God, and to see where we are not in harmony with God’s nature and God’s ways, we can begin our healing journey.

Let’s look at the most important aspect of God’s personality, and see what it means for our healing process.

Mark 6:13 says that after Jesus had sent his twelve disciples out, they “anointed many sick people with oil and healed them.” In those days, oil was what kept the lamps burning, both in the Temple and in people’s homes at night. The flame of the lamps gave both warmth and light.

The oil that fuels our hearts and minds, giving us us both warmth and light spiritually, is God’s love burning within us. When we are inwardly anointed with the oil of God’s love, that is when we begin to find healing from our inner demons.

What is love?

We humans talk about love all the time. But do we really know what love is? Love is not just a generalized feeling. It has a definite life and character.

Let’s get specific. Emanuel Swedenborg (1688–1772) writes:

The essence of love is not loving ourselves, but loving others and being united with them through love. The essence of love is also being loved by others. This is how the union takes place. . . . Love consists of having what belongs to us belong to others. Feeling another person’s joy as joy in ourselves—that is what it means to love. (Divine Love and Wisdom #47)

In other words, real love—God’s love working in us—is getting outside of ourselves and making others happy. And real love is feeling joy when we know and feel that other people are feeling joy. Real love is not inward-looking, but outward looking. It is not ingrown, but outgoing.

Mental illness involves self-absorption

In most mental illness and personal angst there is an element of inward-looking self-absorption.

When we are caught in the throes of depression, or locked in some compulsive behavior, or spinning out of control mentally or emotionally, we tend to be very wrapped up in our own feelings, our own thoughts, our own behaviors. While other people may be included in the picture, the focal point of our picture tends to be ourselves and our own problems and pain.

I do not say this to pass judgment or to condemn. The reality is that we all start out in life wrapped up in ourselves. Little babies, as cute and innocent as they may be, are driven by their own feelings of comfort, of being loved, of being cared for. If they are comfortable and happy, they smile and make happy noises. If they feel hungry or wet or hurt, they fuss and cry. And in all of this, they really don’t think about anyone else’s comfort. They are absorbed in their own immediate experience.

That’s where we all start out: wrapped up in ourselves. Even when we head into adulthood our thoughts and feelings tend to revolve around ourselves.

  • We may be focused on how we can enjoy the good life with all its pleasures and perks.
  • Or we may spend our time focused on our own misery and on how much our life sucks.
  • Or we may spend all our time and energy worrying about what other people think of us, and trying to make them like us.
  • Or we may think that if only everyone were as smart, thoughtful, and capable as I am, the world would be way better than it is—with all those idiotic jerks out there! And that’s why it’s my job to fix the world, and everyone in it!

The common denominator is thinking that in one way or another, the whole world revolves around me, and I am the most important person in it! I am the focus of my own world.

Change is required

It’s not a matter of shame that we start out all wrapped up in ourselves. It is simply the way we are wired when we first come into this world.

If babies didn’t fuss and cry whenever they felt bad, many of us would not even survive infancy, because our basic needs would not be met. As babies, we must let our parents and caregivers know when we need something because we can’t do it for ourselves, and our life and health depends on it. For more on this, see: “How Can I Raise My Children from a Spiritual Perspective?” and: “Noah’s Ark: A Sea Change in the Human Mind.”

Our whole task during our lifetime here on earth is to allow God to come into our life and rewire us so that instead of thinking of ourselves first, we think of God and other people first. We have to be profoundly changed as a person in order to feel and express genuine love and concern for one another—the kind of love that God has for us.

The Bible calls this rewiring “repentance.” And the very first thing the twelve disciples did when they were sent out was to “preach that people should repent” (Mark 6:12).

Repentance is the process by which we stop wanting, thinking, and doing things that hurt ourselves and others. The Greek word for “repentance” means “changing our mind.” Repentance is a process of inner change by which we leave behind our old self-limiting and destructive attitudes and behaviors and begin to live in a new way. When we realize that we are mostly wrapped up in our own pleasure and pain, and that we are very far from having the positive, outgoing type of love that comes from God, we must also realize that we need the life-changing power of repentance.

In order to begin the process of repentance we first need to learn about God. That is what gives us the valid standard and goal spoken of earlier. What is God’s love like? What is God’s truth? How does it apply to me? What would I be like if I were living the life God created me to live? Who would I be if I were fully the person God created me to be?

The process of repentance then moves on to taking an honest look at ourselves to identify specific areas where we fall short. In twelve-step programs, this is the step of “making a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.”

When we have identified one or two flaws in our life and character that we can work on, we must not only admit to them honestly, but take personal responsibility for them. And we must then commit ourselves to fixing those personal flaws, recognizing that we cannot do it on our own, but that with God’s help and the help of other people who are also on a spiritual path, we can do it.

And so, in prayer to God and in mutual support, we begin living in a different way. For more on this process of repentance and spiritual rebirth, see: “What does Jesus Mean when He Says we Must be Born Again?

God can heal us only if we are willing to face our inner demons in this head-on, conscious, and committed way. Each one of us will have our own way of approaching the process. However, I will offer you one very practical way to face our demons and to cast them out and replace them with God’s love.

Loving and serving others is a key to healing

For all of us, but especially for those of us who struggle mental illness or with other types of inner demons, one of the most powerful tools for healing is to physically get out and do something for someone else.

Perhaps we will not be able to do very much at first. But think about it. The nature of love is to love others, to serve them, to give them happiness, and to feel their joy as joy in ourselves. And that is exactly what we are lacking when we’re all wrapped up in our own problems—whether those problems are severe and debilitating or merely annoying and obnoxious.

The greatest antidote to our natural self-absorption is to get out there and do something for someone else!

  • This may be through taking a new attitude toward our job: instead of just doing it to get a paycheck, we can do it cheerfully and with a commitment to serving others.
  • It may be through volunteering in some kind of community service.
  • It may be through thinking of ways to make our family members, friends, and neighbors happy by doing things for them and giving them help and support.
  • Even if we’re a patient in a hospital or mental health facility, we can work on making life easier for the doctors, the staff, and our fellow patients.

No matter where we are, and no matter what our situation is, there will always be opportunities to show thoughtfulness, love, and concern for others instead of always focusing on ourselves and our own problems.

Perhaps this seems too simple to make a difference.

Yet there are powerful healing benefits in simply getting out of our self-absorption and doing something for other people. As we focus our mind outside of ourselves—even if it is a struggle at first—we will soon start making healing connections with others. As we enter into their joys and struggles, it will make our own struggles seem less burdensome and more bearable. At the same time, we will increase our own joy and compassion because we will begin to feel within ourselves both the struggles and the joys of the people around us in a way that we never did before.

The arduous climb toward mental and spiritual health

I’m not saying it will be easy.

The more severe our inner demons or mental illness, the harder we will have to work, and the longer it will take to fight our way out of it—even with God’s presence and God’s love powering us from within.

And yes, even with God in our life we should still take advantage of all the professional and personal help we may need from other people. Part of learning to love and care for other people is also learning to let other people care for us, help us, and love us. In the very act of accepting help from others who are concerned about our wellbeing and have the ability to help us, we are giving them an opportunity to grow in spirit, too.

As we go through this long and arduous process of moving our focus away from ourselves and our own troubles, and toward loving and serving the people around us, the personal pains and struggles that had been the focal point of our lives will gradually move to the side. Though they may still be with us, they will no longer consume us. Yes, we may have to remain on guard to prevent them from roaring back in and taking over once again. But over time our life will be transformed almost without our realizing it.

Another way of saying this is that as we fight the good fight against those old demons, we will experience the healing power of God’s love in our heart and mind. We will gain the power and confidence of God within us as we travel a new path toward mental and spiritual health—and toward eternal life as angels in heaven.

(Note: This is a revised version of a talk originally delivered in April, 2001.)

For further reading:

About

Lee Woofenden is an ordained minister, writer, editor, translator, and teacher. He enjoys taking spiritual insights from the Bible and the writings of Emanuel Swedenborg and putting them into plain English as guides for everyday life.

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Posted in Pain and Suffering, Spiritual Growth, The Bible Re-Viewed
34 comments on “Facing our Demons of Darkness, Depression, and Mental Illness – Part 2
  1. Brian says:

    Hi Lee,

    Thank you so much for these! As with many of your posts, this one is very well timed with things in my personal life. The perspective of looking outward toward other people is so important; and admittedly way easier said than done. It really can make a huge difference in one’s state of mind when we invest in those around us. Even small gestures of friendliness can go a long way. Making such traits a habit really can change a person – and their outlook on life.

    • Lee says:

      Hi Brian,

      Good to hear from you again. Glad to hear this one was timed right to hit home for you.

      I have seen it happen that people diagnosed with mental illnesses began to live a new life with new meaning when they made God an integral part of their life, and began devoting themselves to loving and serving their neighbor in their own particular way. Not that it necessarily magically erased their mental illness. But their life was no longer determined by that, and the impact of their psychological imbalances began to fade.

      If you haven’t watched A Beautiful Mind, I highly recommend it. It is not a bio-pic, but rather in the nature of a novelization of John Nash’s life. But it does capture very well the essence of his struggle with schizophrenia, and his decision not to take the psychiatric drugs prescribed for him, but to tough it out in order to keep his mind sharp enough to do his work. Though Nash was an atheist, and therefore did not have the benefit of God working consciously in his life, it was his devotion to his work that enabled him to push his mental illness to the side over time so that he could continue that work, to which his life was devoted.

  2. Bronwyn Egan says:

    Thank you Lee! Yes, brilliant timing for me too, even though I only read this a week after you posted it. Your article meant that I didn’t have to struggle with an important decision…something I usually find very stressful. Much appreciated!

  3. SeunAlaba says:

    Even though I have gone through it before, I felt like going through it again. Hope you do not mind my sharing it on my Facebook wall sir. Thank you Sir

  4. Ravichandra says:

    Hi Lee,

    You wrote in the above comment that “Though Nash was an atheist, and therefore did not have the benefit of God working consciously in his life, it was his devotion to his work that enabled him to push his mental illness to the side over time so that he could continue that work, to which his life was devoted.”

    Why can’t God still work in the lives of atheists? What does the word “consciously” mean here?

    I am an atheist, but going through complete and utter hell, and found myself coming across this particular blog.

    Since I have nothing to loose, I thought that I would ask.

    Kind Regards,

    • Lee says:

      Hi Ravichandra,

      Sorry to hear about your struggles. And good question.

      By “consciously” I mean that since Nash didn’t believe in God, he could not consciously and intentionally benefit from any of the spiritual and psychological benefits that a (healthy) belief in God can provide for believers who struggle with the conflicts and pains of this life.

      However, just because atheists don’t believe in God, that doesn’t mean (in my view) that God abandons atheists. My belief is that God continues to work for good in the life of an atheist even though the atheist doesn’t believe in God. And since there’s no belief in God on the part of the atheist for God to work with, God instead uses things such as the atheist’s principles and ideals for what life should be, which provide a stand-in for God in the life of the atheist. For more on this, please see my article, “Do Atheists Go to Heaven?

  5. Adam says:

    Hi Lee,
    Fantastic set of articles. I came back just now to re-read them. Reason being I recently watched two offTheLeftEye videos called “The Lies Evil Spirits Tell Us” and also “Do Spirits Play a Role in Addiction?” They both feature Jerry Marzinsky, Licensed Therapist. Have you heard of him? I was very intrigued by what he had to say. So I looked him up further and found a 6 part article about his experience in treating prisoners with schizophrenia. I will places some links below for you to review before this post goes public, per the comment guidelines. I’m not clear if it’s his website, or just somewhere he was published. I might start with the articles, which are substantial, and watch the videos at your leisure (they are over an hour each!).

    I found his experiences very interesting, unsettling, and containing many parallels with what Swedenborg wrote about. He eventually discovered Swedenborg, but it’s not mentioned until part 6. I’m curious if you share my fascination that he, while not seemingly religious at the beginning, began to deduce with a rational mind that the voices were not the patients but rather those belonging to some other external entities.

    Part 1 with links to all 6
    “The Real Cause of Paranoid Schizophrenia”
    http://www.keyholejourney.com/part-i-schizo-ops.html

    offTheLeftEye
    “The Lies Evil Spirits Tell Us”

    offTheLeftEye
    “Do Spirits Play a Role in Addiction?”

    -Adam

    • Lee says:

      Hi Adam,

      Thanks! Glad you enjoyed the articles. It’s a tough subject, but I do believe that the Bible and Swedenborg have something both powerful and practical to contribute for those who struggle with issues commonly called mental illness.

      Thanks also for the offTheLeftEye video links and to the link to the series by Jerry Marzinsky. I had not heard of him, but it’s uncanny how much his experience providing therapy for schizophrenics parallels that of the late Wilson Van Dusen, whom I did know. My father, who was also Swedenborgian minister and scholar, was quite friendly with “Van,” as he used to call him, and edited and published various articles by Van Dusen. I read Van Dusen’s two earlier books, published in the 1970s and 1980s, long ago, and found them fascinating and enlightening.

      For those interested, the article by Wilson Van Dusen linked in Part 6 of Marzinsky’s article, “The Presence of Spirits in Madness,” has also been put online in web format here. (Marzinsky’s link is to a PDF format version.) Keep in mind that it was written in the 1970s, so some of the language is a bit old-fashioned now.

      It’s fascinating to me that toward the end of Van Dusen’s life, he and Marzinsky were collaborating on writing a book. Very unfortunate that Van Dusen died before the project could be completed. I do hope Marzinsky will publish the material at some point.

      About Marzinsky’s article series in particular, what I found most valuable is that while Van Dusen primarily studied the phenomena of the voices, presumably providing some help to those who suffered with them, Marzinsky went on to create practical, curative approaches that actually worked—despite the institutions he worked in doing their best to shut him down because he was doing “unapproved” things with the patients. And yet, as he said, they worked, whereas nothing else did. He was actually able to cure people of schizophrenia if they stuck with the program and practices he provided for them.

      I won’t get into a long discussion of his methods. People can read about it themselves in his article. But both his articles and the offTheLeftEye videos make a powerful case that simply recognizing that these are actual outside entities, commonly known as demons or evil spirits, begins to put the needed tools into the hands of those who suffer “the voices,” so that they can take solid steps to banish them. And this, of course, is utterly contrary to present-day psychiatric and scientific orthodoxy.

      The one caution I would give about Marzinsky’s series is that toward the end of the series it dips briefly into conspiracy theory. That, unfortunately, hurts the credibility of the rest of the material, which is excellent. There is no vast government / industrial conspiracy to deceive and enslave the people. Just a lot of power-hungry and money-hungry people who end out doing those things even though all they’re trying to do is make a buck and wield power without really caring too much what the consequences are. If there is any “conspiracy,” it is on the part of the evil influences from hell that latch onto people’s greed and lust for power and turn it into a destructive force in the world.

      It’s not that the money- and power-hungry people aren’t culpable for their wrong actions. They certainly are. But for the most part, greedy and power-hungry people here on earth are nowhere near as vastly ingenious, devious, and all linked together in a vast conspiracy as the conspiracy theorists give them credit for. Governments, in particular, just aren’t all that smart in how they go about much of what they do. They’re ordinary people, no smarter than you or me. It’s just that when we humans act from selfish and greedy motives, the results are highly damaging whether or not we intend them to be.

      With that caveat, I would highly recommend the linked article series and the videos to anyone who wants a new look at the issue of “mental illness,” and not only some real insight into the spiritual realities involved in it, but also, especially in Part 6 of Marzinsky’s article series, some very practical tools to deal with it that actually work.

  6. Rami says:

    Hi Lee,

    How do we handle the good that comes from or is found in the evil circumstances of our lives? Sometimes in the midst of our evil activities we happen across otherwise good ideas and inspirations for good things, or solutions to the problems in our lives. It would be nice if they were the product of more wholesome activities, but nevertheless, there they are, and that’s when and how they came to us. Can we not ‘run with them,’ as it were, because of the circumstances in which they were found?

    It feels akin to discovering gold in a pile of filth. The object itself is good and pure, but it was found in filth, and it feels as though that stench is carried with it for as long as we carry it with us. At the same time, we can’t pretend as though it’s not gold, especially if it’s much needed in our lives, and it would appear foolish to abandon it there. I know I’m speaking in more abstract terms here, but if you can envision concrete situations from these descriptions, what’s the move there?

    As I contemplate this question I’m reminded of a quote by Bruce Lee: “Use only that which works, and take it from any place you can find it.”

    I find this particularly relevant to this question not just because it bears so heavily here, but also because it itself is a product of that very same question, because I came across it on a white supremacist hate forum! (which I was not a part of).

    • Lee says:

      Hi Rami,

      As long as we humans are living here on earth, we are a mixture of good and evil. It’s only in the spiritual world that the evil gets (mostly) purged away from people who are good, and the good gets (mostly) purged away from those who are evil.

      This means that there will be some good even in the worst places and people here on earth—such as white supremacist hate forums. The people who are a part of those forums are still human beings, and still salvable, even if they’re engrossed in some very evil and false beliefs and activities. If you find some nugget of good there, it’s still good, and it is the entry point at which God could bring about the reformation and salvation of those people.

      However, like the nugget of gold found in a pile of filth, any goodness found in a pile of evil such as a hate forum will have to be thoroughly cleansed from the stench of the filth in which it was found. And simply washing it with water will probably not suffice; it will likely require a refining process involving heating and melting the gold in a crucible and driving off the dross.

      Just so, any remaining filth clinging to the good that we find in hateful and evil places must be cleansed by the fire of love and of hard experience driving off the wrong beliefs, motives, and actions that still cling to the good.

      For example, a white supremacist might be very thoughtful and caring to fellow whites. But if s/he is evil and hateful to non-whites, that thoughtfulness and caring is polluted by the filth of racism and hatred. For the good of thoughtfulness and caring to become truly good, it must be refined in the fire of realizing, probably through hard experience, that hating people of other races is wrong, evil, and ultimately self-defeating and self-punishing. For example, if a white supremacist spends time in prison because s/he committed a hate crime, perhaps s/he will reconsider his/her actions while incarcerated, and recognize that that the thoughtfulness and caring that s/he had shown to fellow whites must be shown to people of other races as well.

      The most critical thing is not to make the mistake of mixing, in our minds or otherwise, the evil and the good.

      An example of this mixing would be thinking that since white supremacists can be really nice people when they’re with the “right” people, that must mean that racism is really not so bad.

      No.

      Racism is evil. The fact that racists can be nice is no evidence for racism not being evil. Rather, it is evidence that we humans are mixed bags of good and evil. The niceness that does exist even in racists is good. But the racism is evil.

      According to Swedenborg, one of our primary jobs here on earth, and one of the primary efforts of God’s Providence, is to separate the evil from the good, and the good from the evil. And by the same token, to separate truth from falsity and falsity from truth. So the process of taking that nugget of gold out of the filth and refining it until it is 99% pure gold is symbolic of our entire process of spiritual reformation and rebirth here on earth.

      I hope this helps.

  7. Tony says:

    hi lee

    99% pure gold??? why not 100% 😛

    • Lee says:

      Hi Tony,

      I was hoping someone would ask that! 😀

      We humans are never 100% pure. Not even the highest angels are 100% pure. Even in heaven we continue to grow spiritually, and continue to push the remnants of our old evil desires, thoughts, and actions farther and farther to the side. If we manage to make it to 99% pure gold, we’re doing very well. 🙂

      Only God is 100% pure.

      • Rami says:

        Hi Lee,

        It’s interesting that you refer to us as even at best less than 100% pure, because it calls to mind what I understand to be classical Catholic theology that states we only have a finite level of goodness within us, and everything that’s left must therefore be evil. Does Swedenborg posit a similar understanding on the relationship between the good and evil within us? That evil comes from the boundaries where our inner light has not yet reached? Relatedly, I have another question as to how this pertains to free will, which I’ll ask in a second post just to give it the due space…

        • Lee says:

          Hi Rami,

          Swedenborg did not phrase it in that way. In particular, not just the good, but everything about us created humans is finite. So having only a finite amount of good would not imply that there must be a “remainder” that is evil.

          What Swedenborg says, rather, is that we are influenced by both good and evil, and that we must make a choice between the two during our lifetime on earth.

          More specifically, Swedenborg says that we are born with inclinations to every kind of evil—though not with any actual evil or sin. However, a corollary to this is that from birth we are motivated primarily by love of self and love of the world (to use traditional Swedenborgian terminology), which, if they continue to predominate in us, do involve evil and the committing of sin. So we must, as children, be trained to act from the higher motives of love of God and the neighbor, and as adults make a conscious choice to put God and the neighbor first, and self and the world second, in our priorities. If we choose to keep self and the world as our focus and priority, then we are involved in active evil and sin, and are living a life that leads to hell.

          Expressing it as evil being where our inner light has not yet reached is also a reasonable way of looking at it. The process of regeneration or spiritual rebirth is one of our higher self—which is ultimately the presence of God and the angels within us—defeating and reigning over our lower self—which, as explained above, starts out as self-centered and worldly, which means that it involves the presence and influence of evil spirits and hell within us. As our higher self gains mastery over our lower self, the inner light of spiritual and divine truth shines into more and more of our lower self, so that our lower self also becomes good rather than evil, because it now serves our higher self’s primary motives and purposes of loving God above all and loving our neighbor as ourselves, as Jesus taught. Taking care of our personal and worldly needs then becomes a servant to living a life of active love for God and the neighbor.

      • Rami says:

        Hi again Lee,

        One of the things I appreciate most about Swedenborg’s theology is how it doesn’t necessarily uproot what we’ve come to understand as classical theistic concepts inasmuch as it offers a more developed understanding of them that goes beyond some of the more human-grounded ones some of us might find too limiting. In that regard, one of the most frustrating concepts I’ve tried to get my mind around is that of free will, and I’m very interested to read Swedenborg’s take.

        One thing I’ve asked on several occasions is if Adam and Eve (the figurative idea of them) were created very good, then why did they sin? I understand that they still had free will, and chose to use that in an evil way, but then that prompts the question as to why their very good nature didn’t cause them to choose good? And the beginning of that answer involves redefining the question, because nothing *causes* us to do anything. We are called, inspired, tempted, drawn, etc., etc., but nothing ever CAUSES us to do anything, because causality stops where free will begins.

        Our moral nature certainly informs our free will, but where do our free decisions come from? I feel like free will is this sort of ineffable ‘X Factor’- something that just ‘is’- and that sits in between the forces behind our decisions and the decisions we ultimately wind up making.

        Is there an internal logic to free will that I simply don’t understand, or cannot be understood intellectually?

        • Lee says:

          Hi Rami,

          The question of human free will is, of course, a huge, complex, and highly debated one. I doubt I can come even close to doing it justice in a comment. But here goes anyway.

          First, though our moral nature and our rational capabilities do inform our free will, it is ultimately a matter of the heart—our loves, desires, and motives—rather than the head. This is one of the reasons it’s so hard to get an intellectual grasp of free will. Ultimately our free will simply is not an intellectual thing. And it is very hard for our head to fully understand what our heart does. So although, as just said, our head does inform our free will, ultimately free will itself goes beyond the level of our intellect.

          Second, free will is at the core of our very humanity. If we do not have free will, but are determined as some believe, then we are not really human. Being able to decide for ourselves what we will do and what the direction of our life will be is what makes us human.

          In particular, being able to decide to live primarily out of love for God and the neighbor rather than primarily out of a desire for self-preservation, reproduction, and physical safety and pleasure is what distinguishes us from lower animals as distinctly human beings and not mere animals. Unlike animals, we can act from more than instinct, which is basically nature’s programming. And acting from those higher loves does require a choice on our part to transcend our animal nature, which is driven by what benefits ourselves and advances our own interests and our own genetic line. Loving God or the neighbor simply because we are programmed to do so would not be real love. It would be only a programmed response.

          And that is at the heart of why God created us with free will. God does not want mere programmed automatons who automatically love God and the neighbor. Rather, God wants a full and spiritual relationship with us. And this requires us to be able to voluntarily and intentionally engage in that relationship, so that it is mutual. If God simply created us to automatically love God, we would be mere extensions of God, and there would be no real relationship of one being with another.

          So God created Adam and Eve (representing early human culture) and placed them in a figurative garden in which they could freely choose whether to eat from the tree of life, representing a relationship of love with God, or from the tree of knowledge of good and evil, representing running their own lives as they pleased based on external sensations and pleasures. Without this choice, their relationship with God would have been merely an instinctual response to stimuli, not an actual human relationship.

          As to exactly how this works, this does push the limits of our intellect’s capabilities. On the one hand, God is the cause of everything. On the other hand, we can choose whether or not to accept and reciprocate the causes that all flow from God, which consist of God’s love, wisdom, and power in its infinite variations.

          I could go on, but for now I’ll refer you to a few articles that address these issues. (Your own questions and comments prompted some of them.)

          See also this comment on another post.

          As for why Adam and Eve sinned, meaning why they chose evil over good, the simplest explanation is that it looked good to them:

          When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it. She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it. (Genesis 3:6, italics added)

  8. Aruthra says:

    Lee, what do you think about the need of persistent prayer? Do you believe in “the Lord knows what we need before we say a word”? Can you compare both the cases please? Does God know my heartbreak and pain? Do i have to pray about it everyday to get healed? But recently God helped me in something which i never asked him to do. Does this mean God can help us without asking?

    • Lee says:

      Hi Aruthra,

      Yes, the Lord knows your heartbreak and your pain, and also knows what you need before you say a word. The purpose of prayer isn’t to inform God of things God doesn’t know about, nor is it to try to get God to do something that God is reluctant to do. God is all-knowing and all-loving. We really don’t want to change God’s mind or heart, nor can we.

      Rather, the purpose of prayer is to bring us into a conversation and a closer relationship with God, and to open up pathways within us, and in our spiritual atmosphere, that make it possible for God to do more for us, not because it makes God more willing or able, but because it provides openings for God to flow more fully into our lives, and into the lives of those we love. God is ready and willing as soon as we open the door. Prayer is one of the doorways we can open toward God.

      Of course, this doesn’t necessarily mean God will do what we want God to do. Sometimes what we want is not what’s best for us, or for the people we love. Part of prayer is also listening for God’s response, which may come in the form of a change in our circumstances, or it may come as a clearer understanding of our situation, and a greater sense of trust assurance within ourselves that God is doing everything possible for our eternal happiness, even if we may have to go through dark passages to get there.

      I haven’t posted a lot about prayer on the blog, but here is one short-ish article that does touch on it, though in a different context:

      Pray to God, but Row Away from the Rocks

      Talking with God: The Healing Power of Prayer, by Gwynne Dresser Mack, is an excellent book about prayer from a Swedenborgian perspective. It is, unfortunately, out of print. However, you may be able to get a used copy from Amazon here.

      There is also a helpful chapter about prayer in the book Inner Light: Swedenborg Explores the Spiritual Dimension, by Brian Kingslake. I have just published new edition on Amazon in both paperback and Kindle formats. (The links go to their listings.)

      I hope this is helpful.

      • Aruthra says:

        I agree with your thoughts Lee, but let’s go onto a deeper level. As an example, why do we pray for healing? Doesn’t God know that we are sick and that we need to get healed? Will God help us only if we communicate with Him? Please share more thoughts on Prayers! Thanks 🙂

        • Lee says:

          Hi Aruthra,

          First, it’s good to keep in mind that God looks primarily to our eternal and spiritual well-being, and only secondarily to our earthly and physical well-being, which is only a temporary situation.

          In some cases, God may see that our earthly struggles and physical illnesses are a necessary part of our spiritual growth. It’s not that God causes us to have these struggles and illnesses. God never causes anything bad or evil. But if God sees that from an eternal perspective, we will be better off suffering these things because, for example, it causes us to think more deeply about life and its meaning, and to reorient our priorities toward higher and better things, then taking away our suffering would actually be doing us long-term harm. God will allow us to suffer struggle and pain if God sees that it is for our eternal good.

          This is part of what Swedenborg calls “the laws of permission.” God never causes evil to happen. But God does permit evil to happen if preventing it would result in more harm than good, such as taking away our spiritual freedom or preventing us from going through hard experiences that are necessary for our salvation.

          This is also why it is good to add to our prayers what Jesus added to his prayer in Gethsemane: “Yet, not my will but yours be done” (Luke 22:42). If we are praying for something that ultimately would do more harm than good, even if it would give us temporary help or satisfaction, then if God actually granted that prayer, from an eternal perspective God would be hurting us rather than helping us. And God will not do anything that causes us eternal harm. In short, God will not grant prayers that would harm us spiritually. Keep in mind that God is also thinking about the good we will, or will not, do for others.

          In relation to your question, yes, God knows that we are sick. But whether God knows that we need to be healed depends upon whether we actually do need to be healed, from an eternal perspective. Maybe we do. Or maybe our illness is causing us to think more deeply, when if we were fully healthy we would just skate over the surface of life without a care, and would therefore remain superficial, unspiritual people. If God sees that our illness is necessary for us to “regenerate” and become a more thoughtful and compassionate person, then God would actually be harming us by healing our physical illness—or by taking away whatever other earthly struggles we may be facing. And if God takes away struggles and illnesses that are causing us to be more thoughtful and compassionate people, then God is also harming all of the people that we would harm by remaining selfish, and withholding good from all of the people we would do good to if we became a better, more thoughtful person.

          As I’ve said previously, the purpose of prayer is not to change God’s mind. Rather, it is to change our mind, and open us up more fully to God’s presence. When it comes to praying for healing, the actual physical healing is secondary. What’s primary is that we become a wiser and more loving, meaning more spiritual, person. If, in prayer, we are praying for what is most important, namely, for God’s love and wisdom to become stronger in us, and if through our prayers we are actually opening our mind and heart to that stronger inflow from God, then the sickness or struggles may no longer be necessary for our eternal salvation, because we are now ready, willing, and desirous within ourselves to become more loving and wise people, without having to have the “discipline” of sicknesses and struggles to prod us into thinking, for example, about the sufferings of others, and not just our own sufferings, so that we grow in compassion for other people who are suffering instead of just focusing on our own self and our own struggles.

          This doesn’t necessarily mean that God will take away our physical illness. Physical health and sickness is a complex thing, involving many factors. (Once again, please see: “What is the Source of Human Fragility, Sickness, and Disease?”) But it does mean that the spiritual “need” for our illness has been mitigated, and there is one less reason for us to be sick.

          If, for example, we ask God in prayer to take away our lung cancer, but we keep right on smoking several packs of cigarettes a day, then our actions are contradicting our prayers. Even if we may learn a spiritual lesson from our cancer, we’re still living in a way that is known to cause lung cancer. Prayer is a big factor, but it is by no means the only factor, and it may not be the deciding factor, in our being healed from our sicknesses.

          Another way of saying this is that it is important for us not only to pray to God, but also for us to row away from the rocks. God is not going to do our work for us if we sit there doing nothing and expecting God to take care of everything. God gave us brains, hands, and feet for a reason. God wants us to use them to do our work. That work is especially the work of salvation and spiritual growth. When we put our shoulder to that work, and put out real effort, then God will give us the strength from within to do that work.

          That is also why spending all our time praying, like a monk in a monastery, is not what God desires of us, nor is it good for our spiritual life. Prayer and action must go together. Prayer calls upon God for help and assistance, opening our mind and heart to God’s presence and power. But when we take action, that is when God’s presence and power can flow in and change us, and our life, for the better.

          In the case of praying for healing, as we pray to God, we must also make the changes in our own attitudes and actions, and do the work, that is necessary for healing to take place. If, for example, we had a stroke, and it impaired our physical abilities, we can pray all we want, but if we don’t take our physical therapy sessions seriously, and work hard at them, we’re not going to regain the capabilities that we lost. Prayer and action must go together.

          God will, of course, still be working for our good, and even for our healing, even if we don’t communicate with God and ask for healing. But God can do more if we consciously open ourselves up to God’s healing and presence, both because God can act in us much more fully when we freely open ourselves to God’s presence than when we do not open ourselves up to God’s presence, or actively resist it, and because opening ourselves up to God’s presence brings about healing within our spirit, which can then flow more strongly into our body with an influence toward physical health as well.

          That’s because while some causes of disease are genetic and environmental (as covered in the article linked above), others are inward and spiritual. If our spirit is unhealthy—meaning we are focused on ourselves, and have no care or concern for other people, or for God’s will—that spirit of unhealthiness flows into our body as well, and exacerbates any physical causes of unhealthiness. But if our spirit is healthy—meaning we think of other people’s well-being, and actively seek to do good to others, and to align ourselves with God’s will—that spirit of healthiness flows into our body as well, and mitigates any physical causes of unhealthiness. It doesn’t take away physical causes of disease entirely, of course. But it does exert a countervailing influence, lessening their impact upon us.

          I hope these additional thoughts are helpful to you. Please feel free to continue the conversation if you have further thoughts or questions.

        • Aruthra says:

          Last night i had a migraine attack like never before (after posting this question to you xD). My right side head felt like it was carrying a large rock. This pain led me to almost kill myself. Extreme pain. I had nothing else to do other than to pray. Now in morning the pain has reduced. Miracle.

          Why do i get sick often if i am already spiritually healed and alive and regenerated? Does God permit this sickness to come to me? If so why? And regarding prayer, am I correct by saying sickness is a demon and prayer connects us to God which triggers that demon and so it leaves the body? If not, how does prayer brings healing – exact reason?

          Also Lee, my best friend spoke to me but she’s not close with me like we were before and this hurts. Does God want to limit our friendship and love? Note: everything in my life goes according to God’s flow and i allow it freely.

        • Lee says:

          Hi Aruthra,

          Sorry to hear about your migraine. How could it possibly come after writing something here??? 😀

          But seriously, not all causes of sickness are spiritual. Some of them are physical as well. And I would encourage you to seek the help of a medical professional or other skilled healer if you have recurring migraines or other significant health issues. Prayer certainly helps on the spiritual side, but it won’t necessarily correct physical causes that are contributing to sickness and disease.

          The corollary to this is that just because you’re getting sick, that doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re in some kind of spiritual trouble, or are somehow spiritually deficient. Even highly spiritual people do get sick from time to time, depending upon many factors in their lives. In the material world, physical sickness doesn’t always correspond to sickness in our spirit.

          Yes, there are demons associated with every sickness. But they aren’t necessarily the cause of the sickness. Hyenas, vultures, and maggots swarm to a corpse, but they didn’t cause the animal to die. If demons sense sickness, they will be attracted to it even if they didn’t cause it. And yes, they might make it worse, but if the sickness is from natural causes, then the most effective means of healing it is to use natural remedies. When the sickness is gone, the demons will go away as well.

          Meanwhile, other sickness are what in contemporary language are called “psychosomatic disorders.” These are generally recognized to involve psychological causes of physical illnesses. But from a Swedenborgian perspective, these are spiritual causes—causes within our mind, which is the same as our spirit. In these instances, demons might be the cause. And in this case, prayer can have a major healing effect. It has this effect by inviting God into our mind, and when God is present, evil spirits flee.

          Still, as the examples in the Gospels show, this is not always a simple case of, “Pray to God and the evil spirits go away.” Sometimes it is much more complex and difficult than that. Sometimes we have to go through a whole process that involves struggle and temptation against our own evils and character flaws with which the evil spirits are associated, and which also block God from being fully present in us. So it’s best not to get discouraged and not to despair if there is not speedy healing. Perhaps we are dealing with more intransigent issues that take longer to face and overcome.

          The best approach to sickness, I believe, is to attack it from both a physical and a spiritual angle.

          On the physical side, diet and lifestyle have a big effect, and fasting may sometimes be required to cleanse our system of toxins. For serious issues, it is best to consult skilled healers or medical professionals and take advantage of their knowledge and experience.

          On the spiritual side, we can engage in prayer and introspection, looking for areas where we may be allowing evil spirits to enter and influence us, and seeking God’s help in facing and overcoming our own flaws and shortcomings that may be attracting them. And in general, prayer helps us open ourselves up to God’s healing power.

          Spiritually, in our soul, healing is the same as repenting from sin, reforming our character, and being reborn as a new person (to use biblical and theological language). These are things that God will help us with if we’re willing to do our part—which can sometimes involve very hard emotional and psychological work. The more we cleanse ourselves from wrong desires and wrong thinking, the fewer handles we give to the evil spirits to hang onto us.

          About your best friend, since I don’t know her or the whole situation, I can’t say for sure what’s going on. One possibility is that there are still issues that need to be resolved between you, and those remaining issues are causing a coolness and separation. Another possibility is that the two of you are growing apart, and as hard as it is, you will have to move on in your own direction, and form new friendships along the way. At least you now have an open line of communication with her, giving an opportunity to explore exactly what is happening between the two of you, and to go one way or another accordingly.

          I’m not sure I have answered all your questions, but I hope this much helps.

        • Aruthra says:

          Hii. If I am already spiritually healed, and had migraine attack yesterday which got healed today after prayer, does it show that God healed my migraine caused by physical factors and not associated with spirituality? I swear it is a miracle because my pain was so severe that I was sure I had to suffer for a week straight for the pain to go down. But in one night, without taking tablets, I got cured. Isn’t it because of my prayer? And about my best friend, yes I think we are growing apart because of her new college and lifestyle. We talked about it 2 days back. She told me that she didn’t change and that she’s still the same and treat me the same, but she’s not. There’s a gap between us now. She asked sorry and asked for one last chance. She said that I’m her best friend still but we are not close like before. She talks with me but last year she used to care a lot about me and show lots of love. She was like a family. But now she speaks like a normal friend does – we are not close like before. I miss the way we were together in everything. Maybe her priorities have changed. I am not special now because she has got people around her now. She is not letting me to go in one way – I am struck in between now – I am forced to accept this new typical normal friendship with her. Will we be close atleast in heaven? Pleasee God I want the old friendship T_T

        • Aruthra says:

          I’m feeling more relaxed after sharing everything with you. Thanks Lee for your care and advice😇

        • Lee says:

          Hi Aruthra,

          Glad to hear it. You are most welcome.

          About your questions, only God knows these things for sure. As time passes and events unfold, the answers will become clear to you as well.

          Whatever setbacks I experience, I take comfort in knowing that God has something better in mind for me in the future, even if there may be a rocky road to get there. Here are two more articles that might be helpful to you:

        • Aruthra says:

          You are absolutely right. I may not understand God’s plan now, but I know that it’s better. God holds me tightly, I just have to go in God’s flow and accept everything knowing its for my good.

  9. Rod says:

    Hi, Lee. I have a question. If I’m not a very happy person but still do my best to be kind, loving and generous, would my melancholy and sadness still follow me into the spiritual world despite all my efforts? For complex reasons I have always been very melancholic and I wonder if I would still be like that in the afterlife for a while before reaching heaven. I just want to be as happy as God wants me to be. Thank you for this website, I love everything that you write. God bless you!

    • Lee says:

      Hi Rod,

      Thanks for stopping by, and for your comment and questions—and for your kind words about our website. I’m glad you’re finding the articles here helpful!

      Depending upon the particular causes of your ongoing state of melancholy, it could dissipate immediately when you enter the spiritual world, or it could persist for a little while. But by the time you reach heaven, it will be lifted.

      If the causes of your melancholy are largely physiological and material, it will likely go away as soon as you leave your physical body and the material world behind. Once we are living in our spirit, physical factors no longer affect us the way they do here on earth.

      If the causes are more human, relational, and internal, the melancholy may persist for a while during the first stage of your life after death, when you are still living an outward life similar to the one you live here. (See: “What Happens To Us When We Die?”) Once you start into the second stage, when your true inner self comes out, your ongoing state of sadness will dissipate. If, as you say, you do your best to be kind, loving, and generous, that character for goodness and service will come out, and it will turn your sadness into joy. You see, angels’ greatest joy comes from doing good and loving deeds for others, and from living a life of service. There is a joy in this that overcomes any sadness we may have experienced here on earth.

      Also, if your sadness comes from loneliness, that loneliness will go away in the spiritual world as you come to live among people who share your thoughts and values, and become your spiritual brothers and sisters. Further, for people who long for a partner in life, God will bring them together with a partner in marriage in the afterlife if that didn’t happen here on earth. See: “Can you Fall in Love in Heaven if you Haven’t Found Someone on Earth?

      Only if you ceased to focus your life on love and service here on earth, and turned wholly inward, would there be a reason for your sadness to persist as an ongoing state in the spiritual world. I would therefore encourage you to keep on your path of love and service to others. Then, when you enter the bright day of the spiritual world, you will experience the Bible’s promise that “weeping may linger for the night, but joy comes with the morning” (Psalm 30:5).

      I should add that even in heaven, you may have occasional recurrences of your old melancholy. This happens to angels when they get off track, and start thinking of themselves first. When this happens, they fall out of their place in heaven until they come back to their senses. But this is only a temporary state, and it turns back into joy as soon as the angel turns back to the Lord and to loving the neighbor. God allows these temporary bouts of sadness to keep angels aware of their own limitations and dependence upon the Lord, and to keep them growing. However, angels’ ongoing state is one of joy, not sadness. And if you stay on your current path, that is what you will experience in your eternal home in heaven.

      • Rod says:

        Hi, Lee. Thank you so much for such a great and detailed answer! Lots of great info here. The causes of my melancholy are both material and emotional. Material because when it comes to work and professional issues I have always been very unlucky and I’m also going through hard times financially. I want to provide for my family and others, but I have the feeling that everything that I do goes wrong and all my efforts come to nothing. I’m not ambitious when it comes to wealth, fame and status, but I am ambitious when it comes to helping as many people as I possibly can. The problem is that I feel like I have a lot of potential but there is always some kind of unfortunate circumstance that blocks me. I also feel anxious about health issues, both mine and from other people in my family, which causes me great sadness and makes me feel hopeless. And then there is the emotional part of my melancholy. You hit the nail on the head: I am quite lonely. All my friends live far from me and I have been single all my life, never having much luck with relationships. I have a lot of love to give, but haven’t found the right person yet. I recently found out about Swedenborg and it has been “a light in my darkness” as Helen Keller put it. The idea of living with people with similar values and finding love in heaven gives me comfort and strength to keep going. Anyway, I’m just expanding a little bit on the sources of my melancholy. Life is hard, but I keep going, because as long as I live I don’t wanna miss any opportunity of doing good. Thank you again for reading and answering me. God bless you!

        • Lee says:

          Hi Rod,

          I’m glad to help. That’s what gives me joy. And I’m glad to hear that finding Swedenborg has given you the light you need to keep moving forward amidst the struggles of this life.

          I would only add that it is precisely in these struggles that we develop the strength and depth of character that will carry us to heaven, and give us much joy there.

          Nothing worth having comes easily. When we struggle against obstacles and resistance to achieve our goals, it causes us to dig deep, and tests how much we really want what we think we want.

          Many people, in the midst of those struggles, give up and take the easy way out. They “curse God and die,” as Job’s wife memorably urged him to do when his life was falling apart all around him (Job 2:9). And when they do, they show that they do not have the commitment to God and goodness to persist in it in the face of trials, struggles, and resistance.

          Meanwhile, people who do persist in the good path even against great resistance and continual disappointments develop their spiritual “muscles” through all of that “resistance exercise,” and become strong in the ways of God.

          This is why God allows us to experience so many struggles and disappointments here on earth. Consider Jesus Christ himself, who, even in the last hours of his life, went through great agony and temptation as he sought to complete his work of saving the human race. His victory and triumph over the power of evil was not handed to him on a silver platter. He had to struggle right to the depths of his soul, and right to his final moments on earth, in order to achieve that great victory.

          You are clearly engaged in that struggle during your life here on earth. But the very fact that you are continuing to press forward on the path of love and service against so many obstacles and disappointments will lead you to even greater joy when you enter into your eternal life in the spiritual world.

          And yes, there you will find the love and companionship that has so far eluded you here on earth.

  10. Rod says:

    Thank you. I think my motto should be: Keep going always!

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Lee & Annette Woofenden

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