Spiritual Temptation

Life is never made unbearable by circumstances, but only by lack of meaning and purpose. Victor Frankl

Limitations of all kinds are forms of chastening to encourage self-development and true freedom. They are tools put into our hands to hew away the stone and flint that keep hidden our higher gifts. They tear away the blindfold of indifference from our eyes, and we behold the burdens others are carrying, learning to help them by yielding to the compassionate dictates of our hearts. Helen Keller

During battles or conflicts within us, the Lord carries out an individual act of redemption, much like the all-encompassing redemption he brought about while he was in the world.

While he was in the world, the Lord glorified his human [level], that is, made it divine, through battles and inner conflict. In a similar way within us individually, the Lord fights for us while we are undergoing inner conflict and conquers the hellish spirits who are assaulting us. Afterward he “glorifies” us, that is, makes us spiritual.

After this universal redemption, the Lord restructured all things in heaven and in hell in accordance with the divine design. He does much the same thing in us after crises of the spirit—that is, he restructures all the things in us that relate to heaven and the world in accordance with the divine design. Emanuel Swedenborg [TCR 599]

Those of us who have lived for a while on this planet must have surely noticed that our existence on earth is not always pleasant. In fact, it involves much suffering, violence, wars, disease, poverty, sorrow and death. Even more distressing is the mental and emotional anguish, shame and remorse that we experience from the conflict between our selfish urges and our spiritual conscience. Most of us try to avoid anxiety, pain and suffering but does this inner suffering have a use or purpose? We know that the Lord Himself, while He was on Earth, was often in states of temptation. Yet, He knew that these states of suffering, stress and despair were serving a useful purpose. By resisting the negative urges and thoughts that were emanating from hell, He was restoring spiritual equilibrium between Heaven and hell and paving a way for our salvation.

In fact, Swedenborg says that spiritual temptation is the means by which we can be regenerated and saved. By design, our human self is selfish, self-righteous and arrogant. We actually think that we possess our own power and intelligence. Only such a self is able to choose to love God FREELY and WILLINGLY. But what happens when we encounter misfortune, disease and sorrow? In these states of despair, we realize an important Truth: we are powerless, helpless and stupid. The truth is that all real intelligence and power emanates from the Lord by correspondence and influx. And when we compel ourselves to resist our evil urges and negative thoughts, it is the Lord who is fighting for our salvation.

Most of us erroneously believe ourselves to be kind and lovely persons; we do not know the real nature of our will because we live in spiritual darkness. Temptation is necessary because this is the only way we arouse the evil that is within us so we can see it. This is why we are shocked when we see our behavior in the face of temptation. Even Peter, the Lord’s disciple, was grieved when he noticed that he had denied the Lord three times (completely). He thought he loved and believed in the Lord but his faith was superficial; his will was still evil and fearful. He did not have the courage to say that he knew the Lord in front of the whole world. We are not what we say or believe ourselves to be; we are what we love, will and do.

Now, when we see the evil that is in us, we should freely reject it and repent. This is how the Lord gradually replaces the evil that is in us with His Love and Goodness. The emptier or more humble our self becomes, the more it can be filled with Divine Love and Wisdom. But we must always remember that this Love and Wisdom is not our own; it belongs to the Lord.

And here we discover why we are on the earth experiencing these difficult circumstances. It is only on this level of Earth that we can freely choose between Good (unselfishness) and evil (selfishness), resist temptation and allow the Lord to gradually transform our soul so that it is able to withstand the fire of Heavenly Love and the radiance of Divine Truth. Otherwise, when we die, we will be compelled to flee into realms of spiritual darkness.

Temptations exist from the evil spirits who are with man, who inject scandals against the goods and truths which a man loves and believes, and likewise they also excite the evils which he has done and the falsities which he has thought. Then evil spirits use all sorts of cunning and malice. The man who is in temptations is near to hell. There are two forces which act in temptations, a force from the interior from the Lord, and a force from the exterior from hell.

The ruling love of man is assaulted in temptations. Evil spirits attack those things only which are of man’s faith and love, thus those things which relate to his spiritual life; wherefore at such times it is about his eternal life. A state of temptations can be compared with the state of a man among robbers. In temptations angels from the Lord keep man in the truths and goods which are with him, but evil spirits keep him in the falsities and evils which are with him, whence arises a conflict and combat.

Temptation is a combat between the internal or spiritual man, and the external or natural man. Thus between the delights of the internal and external man, which are then opposite to each other. It takes place on account of the disagreement between those delights. Thus it is concerning the dominion of one over the other.

No one can be tempted unless he is in the acknowledgment, and likewise in the affection of truth and good, because there is otherwise no combat, for there is nothing spiritual to act against what is natural, thus there is no contest for dominion. Whoever has acquired any spiritual life, undergoes temptations. Temptations exist with those who have conscience, that is, with those who are in spiritual love; but more grievous ones with those who have perception, that is, with those who are in celestial love. Dead men, that is they who are not in faith and love to God, and in love towards the neighbor, are not admitted into temptations, because they would fall. Therefore very few at this day are admitted into spiritual temptations. But they have anxieties on account of various causes in the world, past, present, or future, which are generally attended with infirmity of mind and weakness of body, which anxieties are not the anxieties of temptations. Spiritual temptations are sometimes attended with bodily pains, and sometimes not. A state of temptation is an unclean and filthy state, inasmuch as evils and falsities are injected, and also doubts concerning goods and truths. Also, because in temptations there are indignations, pains of the mind, and many affections that are not good. There is also obscurity and doubt concerning the end. And likewise concerning the Divine Providence and hearing, because prayers are not heard in temptations as they are out of them. And because man when he is in temptation, seems to himself to be in a state of damnation. Because man perceives clearly what is doing in his external man, consequently the things which evil spirits inject and call forth, according to which he thinks of his state; but he does not perceive what is doing in his internal man, consequently the things which flow in by means of angels from the Lord, and therefore he cannot judge of his state therefrom.

Temptations are generally carried to desperation, which is their ultimate. The reasons. In the temptation itself there are also despairings, but that they terminate in a general one. In a state of despair a man speaks bitter things, but the Lord does not attend to them. When the temptation is finished, there is at first a fluctuation between the truth and falsity. But afterwards truth shines, and becomes serene and joyful.

They who are regenerated undergo temptations not once only, but many times, because many evils and falsities are to be removed. If they who have acquired some spiritual life do not undergo temptations in the world, they undergo them in the other life. Emanuel Swedenborg [NJHD 197]