The Book of Revelation Explained 926
Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father's good pleasure to
give you the kingdom.
Nothing we can do, nothing whatever, can stop the Lord from loving us. That
love does not gloss over our faults. It is a perfect and infinite love, and
it is inseparable from its own perfect and infinite wisdom. All our fears
of what the Lord might do to us because of our transgressions are without
foundation. They are examples of our tendency to create God in our own
image, to think of divine love in terms of our own love. It is our love
that has limits. It is our love that is conditional, that says, "If you
will be my friend, I will be yours." There are no limits to infinite love,
and there are no "ifs," no conditions attached.
The story told in our third lesson gives us an extreme example of this. It
tells of people who have found delight in the tyranny of orthodoxy, in a
belief that the heart of religion was right belief, with love of the
neighbor good, but strictly optional. Belief of this kind is ultimately
inhuman, well represented by beast that was part dragon, part leopard, and
part bear, and all destruction. So it should come as a surprise when
Swedenborg is first shown the image representative of that faith, and it
looks "magnificent"-a woman, evidently beautiful, clothed in scarlet,
holding a gold coin and a string of pearls.
It is only when some light from heaven is let in that the guide sees the
destructiveness of his faith, and he is clearly shocked. "What is this?
Where did this come from?" Most of the time, that is, when he enters the
shrine he sees the magnificent image. We have to believe that if he were
asked where he was, he would say that he was in heaven.
The basic principle involved is often stated quite simply. Whatever we
love, we call good, and whatever supports that love, we call true (Divine
Providence 195:2). We are quite capable of enjoying such destructive
attitudes as anger and resentment and self-pity and of accepting
wholeheartedly every bit of information that tells us that they are
justified. It is only the day after that we look back and see such episodes
is something like "the light of heaven," and we are dismayed by what we
What our third reading is telling us is that if we persist in
self-indulgence, these times of seeing ourselves in the light of heaven
will become more and more infrequent, and that after death we will be able
to choose to avoid that light decisively. That is, we will be able to spend
the vast majority of our time in the light that tells us that we are right
and that what we love is good. The image of our faith will be beautiful. We
will see the gold and the pearls.
This is the Lord's love at work, making the absolute best that can be made
of whatever we offer. Here again, there is a principle involved that is
fairly simply and obvious once we notice it. The overwhelmingly negative
picture of love of self is not the whole story.
When we are engaged in the good that charity and faith can do, then we also
love ourselves and the world, but only the way we love the means to an end.
The love of self within us is focused on a love of the Lord because we are
loving ourselves as means to the end of serving the Lord. Our love of the
world is focused on a love of the neighbor, since we are loving the world
as a means to the end of serving the neighbor. (Secrets of Heaven 7819)
In other words, there is something good about love of self. The simple fact
that the Lord loves us should tell us that we are to be loved. The problem
comes when that love takes center stage, when it becomes our primary motive
rather than a means to an end. When this happens, we begin to regard our
talents as reasons that others should defer to us rather than as gifts that
we can use in the service of others. We begin to look to the Lord to tell
us that we are right rather than to find out whether we are.
Perhaps the primary evidence that there is something good about the love of
self is that there is pleasure in self-gratification. Ultimately, that is,
evil is simply and totally bad for us. It hurts, and there is no pleasure
in it. The only pleasure there can be in self love stems from what we might
think of as its residual goodness, from the fact that the Lord wants us to
be happy. This means that there is something right, something from the
Lord, in our own wanting to be happy.
When that desire takes over, though, it tends to cut us off from the source
of the deepest and most lasting happiness, namely our ability to find joy
in the joy of others (Divine Love and Wisdom 47). It cuts us off from the
whole vast world of human community, from everything we have to give each
other. It confines us to the tiny world we construct for ourselves, the
world where we reign supreme; and the only happiness we can find is within
the confines of that world.
The only happiness we can find is within the confines of that world, and
our loving Lord lets us live there because it is our Father's good pleasure
to give us the kingdom, just as much of it as we are willing to receive. No
matter what we choose to do or to be, the Lord will continue in that will
and that effort. This is what the prophet Hosea heard at a dark, dark
moment in the history of Israel.
How shall I give you up, Ephraim? How shall I hand you over, Israel? How
shall I treat you like Admah? How shall I make you like Zeboim? My heart
has changed within me; all my compassion is gathered together. (Hosea 11:8)
We have all wondered about our eternal lot, I suspect, and had times of
anxiety about our salvation. These fears can serve a purpose temporarily,
keeping us upright when we would rather fall, but they are a kind of crutch
that the Lord would have us cast aside in due time. As the light of heaven
begins to get through to us, we no longer see the beautiful image with the
gold coin and the pearls. We begin to see the dragon and the leopard and
the bear. That is the attitudes of mind and heart that are really bad for
us begin to look really bad. They lose their appeal.
Another way of saying this is to say that there are no tricks or traps in
the Lord's providence over our lives. We will not arrive in the spiritual
world and be told that we have to go to hell because we didn't sign some
paper that we never knew about or because we didn't obey a law that we were
never taught. There will be no surprises. We will simply go on being the
kind of people we really want to be. The only difference is that we will
move beyond our present inner conflict and finally make up our own minds.
"This is what I have decided to call good, and this is what I have decided
to believe is true." Whatever our decision, the Lord will do everything
that can be done to bring out the best and prevent the worst.
The problem with hell is, of course, that evil is doing everything it can
to bring out the worst and prevent the best. That is, in a hellish society,
everyone is against everyone else. There is no one who can be trusted. I
have only my own interests at heart, and I am the only one who has my own
interests at heart. If I am going to make a heaven out of my situation, I
cannot expect any help from my neighbors. Without the Lord's help, it would
be an utterly hopeless task.
All that has happened, though, is that the physical coverings of our
character have been taken away. When we talk about what will happen to us
after death, we are talking about what is happening to us now, internally.
Right now we are calling what we love good and what supports our love true.
Right now, that is, we are either trying to make the world over to our own
specifications or trying to make ourselves over to the Lord's
specifications. Right now, we are choosing the kind of people we prefer to
be with; and right now, the people we find attractive are the ones who
reflect our own values, our own priorities.
Through all of this indecision and struggle, there is one constant: it is
our Father's good pleasure to give us the kingdom. The word "give" here
needs to be taken with full seriousness. It is not the Lord's pleasure that
we should earn the kingdom. That is not within our power. What is within
our power is simply to accept or reject it, and we accpt it not by learning
and following obscure and intricate rules or by performing arcane and
austere rites, but by treating each other with affection and understanding.
The Deuteronomist had said it as well as it has ever been said:
For this commandment that I am commanding you today is not hidden or far
off. It is not in heaven so that you need to say, "Who will go up to heaven
for us and bring it down so that we may hear it and do it?" It is not
across the sea, either, so that you need to say, "Who will cross the sea
for us and bring it back so that we may hear it and do it?" No, this word
is very near to you. It is in your mouth and in your heart, so that you can
The commandment is in our hearts because it is the way our hearts work. It
is intrinsic to our individual mental and emotional health. It is in our
mouth because it is the way communication works in human society. It is
intrinsic to human relationships. It makes the difference between peace and
war. There is not a single divine commandment that has been put there
simply as a kind of test of our loyalty or our faith. Every divine law is
for our own sakes, the affirmative ones to bring us blessing and the
negative ones to prevent harm. Truly, constantly, and exclusively, it is
our Father's good pleasure to give us the kingdom.