Turn on the TV news and you can feel overwhelmed by all the bad stuff – atrocities by terrorists, horrors of genocide, suffering of homeless destitution and that is not to mention the menace of pollution, and crime. You think of something terrible and you won’t have far to look for it. Who cannot see the need for unselfish concern to be much more active in our world?
If compassion for the oppressed, and all loving kindness originate in a transcendent loving and wise God, then we need his presence for combating social evils. Yet with all the horrendous things going on, we might wonder why God is absent from our world. After all if we are to believe sacred texts, he seems to have been around in the past. Not the invented punitive god of condemnation and punishment but rather the compassionate God of love and wisdom, as revealed in the life of Jesus Christ of Nazareth.
The Gospel records Christ appearing to people, performing miracles that amazed the public, speaking audibly, and many other things that we do not often witness in our time. Why is this? Why was God so willing to reveal and prove himself in Bible times but seems “hidden” and silent today? If this caring God really exists as Jesus, why doesn’t he come along and do something to stop man’s inhumanity to man? Make his second coming when we all really need him now?
State of human inner consciousness
One answer to this question can be seen in the spiritual theories of 18th century philosopher Emanuel Swedenborg. According to him, over thousands of years, successive generations of the world’s population have acquired and passed on a growing disposition of self-orientation. In other words we have become more and more inclined to rely on self-intelligence, pursue self-interest, and want our own way in things.
The claim is that as a consequence of this accumulated egoism, humankind simply hasn’t been sufficiently spiritually advanced to take on board the loving wisdom of God’s teachings e.g. about loving the neighbour. If we let love of self rule our hearts, then this gets in the way of any concern for the needs of others. Swedenborg maintains that in the field of religion this growth of self-orientation has shown itself as double-standards. Hence the slow demise of organised Christianity where it has shown a judgmental and hypocritical attitude. It has often turned its back on the God of love and wisdom and fallen into the folly of superstition and dogma – even destroying the oneness of God by created three god’s. How can sensible tolerance, authenticity of integrity, or humility of purpose survive in such a climate?
If true I think such an apocalyptic view about the ‘end of the world’ of religion means many people have thrown the baby out with the bath water. In rejecting the old religion they have thrown away their acceptance of God’s presence.
Self-orientation into overriding love of self
Many people live according to their non-religious lights. Not all capitalists exploit their workers or so lack respect for the natural environment as to cause harmful levels of pollution. A few unfortunately however choose to allow self-orientation to govern their actions and turn it into an over-riding love of self. Then it is understandable how greed for money might develop. In this scenario the desire for profit, no matter what the consequences for the working conditions of staff or the health of the environment, will dominate their business decisions.
Not all national leaders, faced with competition from other countries, start a war for the sake of military conquest, or faced with opposition from within their own people resort to tyranny. However, when dictators fall for extreme egoism they develop contempt for anyone who gets in their way, and want to control or destroy people for their own ends.
Not everyone, with fundamental beliefs, is a fanatic, killing others and displacing people from their homes in their hundreds of thousands, as is happening now in Syria. However, I would say if disadvantaged and aggrieved individuals follow an inclination towards self-orientation, then they are vulnerable to the propaganda of terrorists – falling for the delusion that power and glory comes from identifying with a political cause regardless of the humanitarian cost.
God and equilibrium of inflow of good and bad
Swedenborg also has described another feature of our spiritual environment. One he says has developed more recently. This is an epoch-making re-ordering of what he terms our ‘spiritual world’ which is a kind of collective unconscious. In being separated from the insidious influence of hypocrisy and power of religious institutions, we have more freedom of thought. This new inner freedom he says has resulted in a new intuitive appreciation of what is good and true among people.
This new era then is a fresh attitude of thought and life which is percolating by a kind of osmosis into our consciousness. As a result I would say we find a critical spirit everywhere – nothing is taken for granted. Although older dogmatic religious beliefs are being challenged or ignored many people are still seeking spiritual illumination.
God and need for inner freedom
A loving and wise God, like a loving and wise parent, wants us to learn the lessons of life for ourselves and doesn’t want to force his ways on us.
There are two kinds of people: those who say to God, ‘Thy will be done,’ and those to whom God says, ‘All right, then, have it your way.’ (C. S. Lewis)
This inner freedom to think what we will would be removed if God were to appear in the world in any obvious way. We would be obliged to believe in the his ideas. Instead he wants us to freely reciprocate and not act like glove puppets acting according to his hand.
Coincidence is God’s way of remaining anonymous. (Albert Einstein)
I believe that God is secretly present in everything that goes on earth to compensate for our mistakes and try to give some balance to all our bad actions.
People should not be compelled by external means to think and will, and thus to believe and love, the things of religion. (Emanuel Swedenborg, spiritual philosopher)
With a balance in our minds of, on the one hand, divine love and wisdom and, on the other, human self-love and folly, we are responsible for choosing what we do and see.
I stand at the door and knock; if any one hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me. (Book of Revelation)
Copyright 2015 Stephen Russell-Lacy
Author Heart, Head & Hands