7. It's All Too Simple!
One of Swedenborg's basic teachings, if not the basic teaching, is that God's purpose in creating the universe was to form a heaven of angels from the human race. Man is predestined to be an angel in heaven. We are children of God, and the normal thing is for us to inherit our rightful place in our Father's household. Kindness, love, unselfishness, peace - all are heavenly qualities. They are normal, built into the fabric of the universe by a loving Creator. Health is normal, and the body has a built-in mechanism for keeping itself healthy. We are intended to be good, true, strong and joyful. God's whole effort is in the direction of our happiness on earth and in heaven.
I am emphasizing this, because it is a very different teaching from what was being put out during Swedenborg's lifetime and the early years of the twentieth century. The main emphasis then was on the predestination of the average man to hell! Said the Rev. Thomas Shepherd of New England: "If thou be not of the elect, God shall set Himself against thee as a consuming fire. All the wisdom of God shall be set against thee, to devise torments for thee." Thank God, Christian ministers do not often preach like that today, even if the pendulum has swung rather too far in the other direction, of permissiveness. We have at least worked out something of what is meant by the Fatherhood of God and the brotherhood of man. In other words, we have got back to the Gospel message, the Good News, as given by Jesus himself, which conveys a confident trust and assurance that God is love. He loves us all, unconditionally. He has prepared a mansion for each one of us in heaven, and, if we do not move into it, it is our fault, not His. "Fear not, little flock," said Jesus, "it is your Father's good pleasure to give you the kingdom." Does this seem to make the regenerating life too simple? Well, strange and paradoxical as it may seem, getting to heaven is too simple for most of us. We cannot take life just that easily. And there lies our trouble, and the cause of so much of the trouble in this complex world of today. God's way is too simple!
Take an illustration from swimming. I read somewhere that a newborn baby will float in water, and, if put right side up, will get along fine. Only when the baby gets older and develops a self-consciousness, will it thresh about and sink and drown. To learn to swim, you have to overcome the temptation to try to save yourself. You must trust to the upthrust of the water, making the water your friend, going with it rather than striving against it. You must reduce and simplify your movements to the minimum; then you will progress. It is the same with skating, skiing, riding a bicycle, and any of those skills where balance is required. "Easy does it." What lands us on our back is selfhood, our ego, our determination to control our own destiny. Stop struggling, and just glide along with the swing of things, and you will soon get the hang of it.
The tone-arm of a phonograph has to be set down very gently onto the record so that beautiful music will result. A child is generally too clumsy to do it; he pushes the needle too roughly and sets it skidding across the disc, making a scratch along which it will skid again next time. A child needs months of practice before he gains the self-control to make the simple motion of placing the needle in the groove without all the fumbling around which spoils the music and damages the disc.
On one of our ocean voyages to Africa, my wife and some other ladies were invited by the captain onto the bridge. He asked if she would like to steer the ship. She had to keep the compass needle exactly at so many degrees. As long as the ship was on course, she had nothing to do. But soon it got slightly off course to port, so she spun the wheel to the right to bring her back again. As there was no immediate response, she went on spinning it, and soon the ship was veering to starboard. So she spun the wheel back, much too far; and the great ocean liner began to do a real zig-zag. The children and I were below at the stern, and heard the steering motor going bang-bang-bang, bang-bang-bang-bang, and saw the wake like a great snake, and wondered what was happening. One of the girls said, "I bet it's mummy steering the ship!" Later in the voyage I was invited up onto the bridge. I asked the captain if I could try my hand at steering, but he said, "No, we are too near the coast." We were several hundred miles out, but he was not taking any chances. Not with me! The wonderful thing was, that when he steered the ship, he just rested his fingers lightly on the wheel, moved it a few inches occasionally, and the ship kept a perfect course. It was so simple. But one needs a lot of experience and self-mastery to act as simply as that.
Sin means "getting off course." In one version of the Lord's prayer we say, "Forgive us our trespasses." Imagine we are walking along a footpath in the country, and, instead of keeping to the trail, we wander off onto private property. We are trespassers. All at once everything goes wrong. The owner shouts at us, sets the dogs on us, fires a gun over our heads to scare us. We try hectically to get back on the trail, trip over some thorns, and fall and cut ourselves. By this time we have lost our sense of direction, and are frantic with apprehension. The thing to do is to stand quietly for a while and let our agitation calm down; then examine the lay of the land to see where the footpath must be; then just go over to it! It is quite simple, really. Then, having got back on the trail, we must stay on it, and not wander off again. In that case, we can be sure that the Lord will forgive us our trespasses.
Now perhaps we can see why things are allowed to harass us. It is to show us we are off course. Troubles and misfortunes are "telling us" something, if we will only listen. They are not punishments for sin; they are warning signals. If we heed them, and get back on course, they have achieved their purpose and can be forgotten. You do not have to worry about them, or feel guilty; just learn your lesson from them, and then forget them. Evil is part of the teaching procedure, just as pain is with children, to teach them not to play with fire. Evil and sin are only damaging if you concentrate on them, cherish and love them, make them your own, "appropriate them" as Swedenborg would say. Otherwise, they are given to us to teach us to be more simple.
I heard an interesting thing about hypnotism. Under hypnosis people can do amazing things, like lifting great weights or supporting themselves with one finger. A certain champion hand-squeezer could produce several pounds more pressure under hypnosis than he had ever achieved before. How? The answer is that we unconsciously hold ourselves back when in the waking state. We are never completely single-minded. Counter muscles come into play which neutralize the main effort, so that we never get a total result. Under hypnosis, however, everything is put out of action except the muscles called into play by the controlling mind of the hypnotist. And the results are astounding. Do we need hypnotism for this? Might it not be possible to learn to relax the anti-muscles consciously? Yes, it can be done. The Yogis do it. I have seen exercise sheets to train you to do it. But it is difficult to be all that simple. It is far easier to make a muscle work than to stop one from working out of turn. Relaxing is something very few of us can do effectively. We should practice it more.
This applies spiritually too. We love the Lord, yes. But our love to Him is largely neutralized by an excessive love of self. We love the neighbor, but this is neutralized by love of the world. We try to operate all four loves equally, with the result that we go round and round in circles, careering about in a most spectacular manner, but making no headway at all along the road to heaven. People say, "Life today is much more complex than it used to be." And this is true. We rush around doing a hundred and one things which achieve nothing of any value and which actually distract us from the main thing and divert us from the goal toward which we should be traveling. If only we could make it a bit simpler, by ceasing to bother about the accessories, the fussy accretions, the honky-tonk . . . how much happier we should be! If we could just de-magnetize our ego of its self-love and acquisitiveness, take the tension out of it, relax it, and let the Lord take over! We should find ourselves just floating along without effort, straight toward our heavenly goal.
You were created as a vessel to receive and contain the Lord's love, wisdom and power. Empty yourself of your self-derived contents, and let His life flow in, and miracles will begin to happen. You will be like a car whose carburetor is for the first time giving the correct mixture of gas and air; you will begin to race ahead, as you were designed to do. Or you will be like a camera with its focusing properly adjusted, which suddenly begins to produce beautiful, clear pictures. Physical health improves. Difficulties disappear. Doors open in unexpected places. You are suddenly aware that your heavenly Father is actually doing things for you! Life becomes light and easy. You can achieve far more, without effort, than you did with all that struggling and straining in your own fancied strength. You are now moving with the current, in the direction Providence has set for you. You are in the groove of the disc where the music comes from, not scratching across it and messing it all up.
As I said at the beginning, sin and disease are abnormal, due to a breakdown of the normal. The hells are supporting sin and disease; but the Lord and all His angels are supporting goodness and health. The hells try to introduce a whole lot of extraneous elements, just to complicate and confuse the issue. Do not allow yourself to be confused! Basically the life of religion is entirely simple: "Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, soul, mind and strength; and thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself." Simple, joy-giving, mind-expanding, leading to security and peace. All "without money and without price." You do not have to pay anything, or even do anything - except take it. "Fear not, little flock," said Jesus. "It is your Father's good pleasure to give you the kingdom."