Archive for July, 2012
Angels of God Ascending and Descending
Rev. Dr. David J. Fekete
July 15, 2012
Genesis 28:10-22 John 1:43-51 Psalm 85
I have been talking lately about different perspectives on self love. I have discussed healthy and harmful ways of seeing self love. But it occurred to me that I hadn’t considered what the self is. How can we talk about self love without knowing what the self is? Today we will look at what the self is.
Some may wonder at the very question. We are with ourselves all the time so the self seems obvious. It may not sound like a problem or a question at all. But what the self is is indeed a very important issue. On the temple to Apollo on the isle of Delphi in ancient Greece, the Greek phrase gnothi seauton was inscribed. That statement means, “know yourself.” Know yourself was also central in the philosophy of Socrates. The poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge based a poem on it. But Coleridge’s poem concludes with the line, “Ignore thyself, and strive to know thy God!” We will see that knowing the self and knowing God are intimately related. Knowing the self will end in knowing God.
The first thing to say about the self is that we are created in God’s image and likeness. Genesis 1:27 reads, “So God created humanity in his own image, in the image and likeness of God he created him; male and female he created them.” So when we think about who we are, we can say that we are an image of God. This is certainly something to celebrate. We are God’s creation, and so holy and sacred. We are an image of God, and so crowned with dignity and glory. Psalm 8 comes to mind:
what is mankind that you are mindful of them,
human beings that you care for them?
You have made them a little lower than the angels
and crowned them with glory and honor (vss. 4,5).
Being created in God’s image and likeness means further that all humans are an image of God. Not only this, but our very life comes from God. Our life is God in us. There is a Divine spark in our depths. This means that each human we encounter is also an image and likeness of God. It means that when we encounter another person, we are encountering a spark of God. Jesus affirms this in Matthew 25:40, “whatever you did to the least of these brothers of mine, you did to me.” So while we affirm the God-Spark in ourselves, we also affirm the God-Spark in others. While we honor the image of God in ourselves, we also honor the image of God in others. So there is the ancient Yogic greeting, “The God in me greets the God in you.” Yogic philosophy makes some statements about how divine a person can become that are hard for me as a Christian to affirm fully. But, as a Christian, I can readily translate this verse, “The image of God in me greets the image of God in you.”
Being created in God’s image means another thing. It means that we are created–we are creatures. We are not the source of our being. We are not the ones who made ourselves. We are made by God. This means that we do not live from our own power. It looks to us as if the life we have is ours. So much so, that we rarely even think about it. We go about our lives unaware that the life we have is not from us. We are what Swedenborg calls “vessels.” We are vessels of life from God. Think about our life. Think about all the things that go into our life. Think about all the chemical reactions that go on in our bodies. Think about all the processes that our cells do. Think about the beating of our heart. All these things go on without a thought from us. In fact, I would say that these things go on in us despite what we think about them. Very few of us indeed could in any way affect these microscopic and chemical activities by an act of will or thought. Something is keeping us alive beyond our own awareness, indeed shall I say despite our awareness. That life force is God in us. Only God is life Itself. We are receivers of life. We are vessels that hold life from God. We are creatures. We are created.
We can also ask why we were created. I like what Swedenborg says about this. In Swedenborg’s theology, God created the universe and the human race as an act of love. He created us in order to love us. Swedenborg says that there are three essential aspects of love: to love others outside of itself, to desire to be one with them, and to make them happy (TCR 43). God created us to love. God made us into an image and likeness of God so that there can be union. And God gives us His love and all the delights that come from heavenly love in order to make us happy. It is God’s greatest wish that we should be happy and be in a love relationship with Himself. This description of love may sound a little analytic and cold. But I did find a place in Swedenborg’s theology that makes this all sound a little warmer:
Jehovah, or the Lord’s internal, was the very Celestial of Love, that is, Love itself, to which no other attributes are fitting than those of pure Love, thus of pure Mercy toward the whole human race; which is such that it wishes to save all and make them happy for ever, and to bestow on them all that it has; thus out of pure mercy to draw all who are willing to follow, to heaven, that is, to itself, by the strong force of love (AC 1735).
All our life, all our enjoyment, all our happiness comes from what we love. The philosopher Descartes said, “I think, therefore I am.” Swedenborg would say, rather, “I love, therefore I am.” In a book called Divine Love and Wisdom, Swedenborg writes,
Love is our life . . . If you take away the effects of love, can you think of anything? Can you do anything? As the effects of love lose their warmth, do not thought and speech and action lose theirs as well? Do they not warm up as love warms up? (DLW 1)
We are motivated by our loves. As Swedenborg says, take away love and we wouldn’t desire to do anything–so we wouldn’t do anything. Furthermore, our enjoyments come from what we love. We are happy when we are in our loves. We are happy when we are doing what we love to do. We enjoy doing the things we love. Take away love altogether and we would fall down dead.
Now we love different things. And we love different things with different intensity. I suggest that there is in each of us a hierarchy of loves. Some things are nearer our heart than other things. We grieve more deeply when we are deprived of the things that touch our hearts closely. And we rejoice when we are able to enjoy the things that touch our hearts more closely. But I would also suggest that some of our loves would be called higher and some of our loves would be called lower. I love discussing philosophy and I love eating popcorn. I love spending time with Carol and I love playing with my new smart phone. I love listening to a Bach fugue and I love smoking cigars. I think in each of these cases we would call one of these loves more superior than the other.
We can carry this discussion of love to another level. I love God. And my love for God shows itself in my day-to-day life. My love for God shows itself in all the ways I try to do good in the day-to-day life I live. This means that I will try make healthy choices in the way I respond to the world around me. It means I will try to cultivate the best qualities in my character. To the best of my ability, I try to orient my life around the spiritual principles I have acquired over the years. This is love in action. This is how I understand loving God. Swedenborg would call this the dominant, or ruling love. This love dominates my life and subordinates all my other enjoyments and loves to it. It is the highest love in the hierarchy of my loves.
The various loves I have been talking about are symbolized by the angels ascending and descending the ladder in Jacob’s dream. For in our lives, we will find ourselves living out different levels of the ladder of our loves.
So another answer to the question, “What is the self?” we can say that the self is what we love. And the closer we get to our heartfelt love, the closer we get to who we are most truly. When we accept God’s love for us and enter into a mutual love relationship with God, we are becoming heavenly and angelic, and at the same time we are becoming happier. Recall Swedenborg’s words above, God’s love
is such that it wishes to save all and make them happy for ever, and to bestow on them all that it has; thus out of pure mercy to draw all who are willing to follow, to heaven, that is, to itself, by the strong force of love (AC 1735).
Let’s consider what all this means. God wants to bestow on us all that God has. God is infinite, and so all that God has is infinite. Our joy can continually approach infinite happiness, as we approach God. Furthermore, God is love itself. So the more of God’s love we let into ourselves, the more profoundly we love and the greater is the enjoyment of our heart. Remember, our enjoyments flow from what we love, and as God’s infinite love enters our hearts, our enjoyments infinitely expand and enlarge. As God is Life itself, the more alive we will feel. As God is love and life itself, the closer we enter into relationship with God, the more we will feel like our own self. This is because Life Itself, or The Essential Self is in us.
Knowing God is knowing who we are. Our life and love come from God, so who we are is who God is. We come to know ourselves in relationship with God. We come to know God when we reflect that we are made in God’s own image and likeness. We come to know God as we form healthy relationships with the God-Spark in the people we know around us. Knowing ourselves comes down to knowing our God.
Dear Lord, you have told us that we are created in your image and likeness. Help us to know and to discover your holy dwelling in us. Give us to find you in the depths of our being and to manifest your divine love and wisdom, to manifest your divine attributes throughout our daily lives. And we recognise that your image and likeness dwells in the other people that we encounter. Give us to discover your dwelling in the people we meet, and to honor your holy presence in all the people around us. You have told us that whatever we do to the least of your children we do to you. Help us to keep this in mind in all our interactions with our fellows.
Lord, we ask for your peace to descend upon this troubled world. Where there is conflict and war, let there be understanding and peace. Inspire our leaders, and the leaders of other nations to govern their people with compassion and with your Holy Love. Where there is famine and thirst, may good hearted aid come and satisfy the needs of those who want. Where there are natural disasters, may help come from good neighbors and from compassionate governments. Where there is hardship and unemployment, lend your patience and hope.
Lord, send your healing love to all those suffering in body and soul. We ask you to give the gift of health to all in need. Send your strength to our beloved friends and family who are afflicted, weak, or ailing. Send your healing Spirit to all in need, that they may live out a healthy life of service to you and their fellows.