Thursday, November 10, 2016


You're suffering today. And you and I both know why: the world just changed. To everyone's surprise, Donald Trump just got elected president, and now you don't know how to think about anything. Nothing makes sense. Hope seems to have disappeared. But even though this is a time of grief, there's a hope for the future that wasn't there a few days ago. The world looks dark right now, but darkness only looks like darkness in contrast to light. That light - even though it's hidden - is there. And now it's set to illuminate our souls more than ever. The task now is to see it.
Let me tell you how.


Emanuel Swedenborg was an eighteenth-century scientist, philosopher, and theologian who claimed that his mind was open to the spiritual world, which he could travel to at will. This sounds crazy, but apart from saying that he has helped me more than any other author, it isn't important to talk about his sanity. His writings are valuable right now because of what he taught about temptations. And temptations are important because those of us in despair are going through one right now.
Swedenborg said that temptations are a state of mind that threatens what matters to you. When you've made up your mind to follow the commandments and you get an impulse to drink alcohol or watch pornography, this is a temptation. Temptations happen when you're filled with impulses or thoughts that could lead you away from what you love, wedging you between the rock of your good desires and the hard place of the evil desires that lead you away from it. And it's terrifying. You've made up your mind to do what's good and believe what's true, but in the middle of a temptation, you find that you might not want to do or believe those things anymore. Good seems to retreat. Evil seems about to conquer. But this is just how it seems.
According to a beloved quote from Swedenborg,
So long as temptation continues, man supposes the Lord to be absent...Yet the Lord is then more intimately present than he can ever believe. When however temptation ceases, then he receives consolation, and then first believes the Lord to be present. (Arcana Coelestia 840)
Temptations are actually a balanced fight between good and evil, not a slaughter of good by evil. If evil took over, you wouldn't even see it as a problem. Evil and good are both ways of acting and seeing the world with their own "delights," and if good vanished, you'd rush headlong into evil's dirty pleasures without a second thought. You wouldn't even remember things like peace of conscience or the love of God. In other words, when someone feels rotten, anxious, and miserable in times like these, that anxiety is a sign that they have a lot of good inside them. In fact, anxiety is a sign that God has big plans for that person. Someone who's never felt any anxiety will maybe never reach the spiritual heights possible for one who struggles with and through it.
For this anxiety, this temptation, is how God frees us from evil impulses and false thoughts. When you're in the middle of a temptation, the tension you feel means that you have the opportunity to make a uniquely powerful choice. You can go with the temptation and keep that evil with you, but you can also fight and freely choose the good. And when this happens - when you use your God-sanctioned freedom to "choose the right" - a huge change happens. Having chosen goodness, it becomes much more present in you than it was before. Since you chose the good in you even when it was hard, the organ of your "choosing" - your heart, your will, your inmost parts - get flooded with God's love.
But there's another important aspect here. For the root of all evil is the belief that you have power from yourself. It is the sin of the Fall, since by believing that we're separate and self-sufficient beings, we "separate" ourselves from God and His love. Obviously, just as the Fall was necessary, this "love of the self" is also necessary. We would be divine robots without it. But any "love of the self" in us should be in service to a higher love, "love for the Lord," just like the body obeys the head. Since all temptation has the end of getting us to choose virtue over sin, and since all sin comes from love of the self, the ultimate purpose of temptation is to attack that evil self-love. In other words, temptation is all about death: we die to our selfishness, pride, and worship of ourselves, and we're reborn to togetherness, freedom, and love. We stop clinging to ourselves to not fall into the abyss, and find, to our amazement, that God has always been holding us safely. You thought that you were powerful enough to save yourself, but only when you realize your powerlessness do you see how safe you are
In fact, realizing your powerlessness gives you power. Swedenborg wrote that the angels in heaven are lose their power to the extent they think it belongs to them, just as acknowledging their weakness makes them powerful. In fact, perfect strength is what the world considers weakness. Think of how water can burst dams even though it passively takes the shape of the reservoir. Think of how tense muscles get hurt more easily than flexible ones. Or think of how Christ, the most powerful being of us all, submitted himself to be humiliated and executed in a moment of what seemed like utter meaninglessness. This was a temptation - nothing made sense, and the promise of the Kingdom seemed lost. To everyone there, death had won. But it was just then, as Christ trusted and loved his Father in spite of all his despair, anxiety, and confusion, that the miracle happened. The strength of weakness won, and death died.


We're in the middle of a temptation right now. It looks like the end of the world: Donald Trump, the bully, sleazy rapist, and xenophobe, won. But Trump's victory is a wake-up call. Nothing we do will ever make a difference - no matter how many angry protests happen or how many celebrity videos Joss Whedon makes, evil will win. But hope isn't gone. Hope might actually be here more than before, because now many of us realize that, when you only look at what we ourselves can do, the future IS literally hopeless. But the real hope for our future doesn't come from us. It comes from God, and only when we realize that we've sinned by attributing his power to ourselves will that change happen.
God wants to give us blessings beyond number. But we desperately cling to our own sense of power,  and since God will never violate our agency, He can't give us the greatest blessing of all: the peace of trusting Him. Only now, as we're being shown our utter poverty, we have the opportunity to choose something more than ourselves. We can turn away from the darkness of ourselves and toward the overpowering light of God, who is love itself, the very essence of trust, faith, and the strength of weakness
So what do we do now? That's the question, isn't it? You could resign yourself to give up to God, but then you are trying to give up, which is a disguised kind of pride.  We have to stop trying, and what's more, we have to stop trying not to try! Luckily, the temptations we're talking about are the best (and only) way we can get there. Like someone in full-lotus meditation who relaxes his muscles to stop her legs hurting, it will get easier and easier for us to give up and give in to God as we go along. That is our hope: that what becomes darker and darker to our egos is actually the dawning of light for love.

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