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
18 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)

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Lee & Annette Woofenden

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