My name is Solomon Keal. I am a minister for the General Church of the New Jerusalem, which is a Swedenborgian Christian denomination. These are some of my thoughts about the Lord, the symbolic meanings in the Bible, life after death, faith, charity, usefulness, loving the Lord and one's neighbor, the 2nd Coming, Swedenborg's Writings, and other theological stuff.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Eve: The Feeling That Life Is Our Own

Genesis chapter 2
Divine Providence 116

(If you would like to look up the references that appear throughout this sermon, copy and paste them into Small Canon Search.)

We all live in what seems to be a paradox. We all live in two distinguishable realities. On the one hand we know that our life is completely from the Lord... actually it’s the Lord’s life. This is represented in the Bible by 'Adam.' On the other hand, it feels like life is our own. This is represented in the Bible by 'Eve.' Two distinguishable realities. On the one hand we know that our thoughts and feelings are not really our’s, and so we can’t take credit for the good ones or blame for the bad ones (DP 308), but on the other hand we know that our life is defined by the thoughts and feelings that we choose. (DP 50, 196) Two distinguishable realities. Adam and Eve.

A physical example of this is that our breathing is both involuntary and voluntary. If we stop thinking about our breathing, we’ll still keep breathing. We don’t have to think about breathing in order to stay alive. Our life is the Lord’s. But if we want to, we can control our breathing and that can affect our heartbeat and mental state, and our quality of life. So are we in control of our breathing? Yes and no. It is a very real appearance that our life is our own.

Another analogy for this is that just this morning my 1-year-old daughter was walking while I held on to her hands. To her she felt like she was walking and she was very proud of that. But without that connection between her hands and my fingers, she would have fallen over and maybe even hurt herself. This is like the fact that we feel like we govern our own lives and accomplish things on our own, but it’s really the Lord who is holding us up from falling.

The purpose of creation is a heaven from the human race. As it says in Divine Providence, “The Lord did not create the universe for His own sake but for the sake of people He would be with in heaven. By its very nature, spiritual love wants to share what it has with others.” (DP 27) But the Lord’s life and love can’t be shared with us, unless we can actually experience that life and love. The success of the Lord’s goal for us depends on our sense of autonomy; our ability to feel life. And so the Lord said in Genesis, “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him.” The end-goal for Divine Providence depends on the creation of Eve; our ability to feel the Lord’s life as our own.

So the Lord created Eve out of the rib of Adam. In Secrets of Heaven it says that “human selfhood, viewed from heaven, looks completely bony, lifeless, and hideous - inherently dead. But once the Lord gives it life, it appears to have flesh.” (AC 149) On the next page it says that not only does it come alive, but it looks “lovely and beautiful.” (AC 154) And so the Lord said in Genesis, “Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.” (Genesis 2:24) The Lord wants these two paradoxical realities to be married in us... which often seems contradictory to us: ‘How can I acknowledge that the Lord is really in control, when I still have to get out of bed, and get myself to do things?’ ‘How is it possible that I could feel more alive, if I acknowledged that my life isn’t really mine?’ It doesn’t seem to make sense. Much like the difference between the sexes, these two realities see life from very different points of view. But the Lord intended that they should be complimentary, and that, “the masculine element and feminine element united by truly conjugial love produce one life that is fully human.” (CL 316) It says in Divine Providence that, "People do not know how two things can act in unison if they are different from each other.... [And yet] a form makes a whole more perfectly as its constituents are distinguishably different and yet united." (DP 4) We can’t acknowledge the Lord as the source of our life, unless we can experience that life as our own. Adam must be married to Eve. But we also can’t truly experience life in its fullness, unless we acknowledge that that life is the Lord’s. Eve must come from, and be married to Adam. In Divine Providence it says that “Love is the life of each one of us, and... the quality of that life depends on the quality of our love’s union with wisdom.” (DP 193) So the quality of our life depends on our sense of self being married to the knowledge that life is the Lord’s.

This law of Divine Providence is important in understanding how we should live our everyday lives. We need to acknowledge that the Lord is the one who regenerates us, while at the same time acknowledging that we need to do the work of repentance and reformation. The marriage of Adam and Eve is like the marriage of Faith and Charity, or the marriage of Freedom and Reason. If we believe in ‘Faith Alone’ or ‘Reason Alone’ then the Writings say we are like statues, standing still, doing nothing, waiting for salvation. (DP 321) And if we believe in ‘Charity Alone’ or ‘Freedom Alone’ - or the belief that we can regenerate ourselves - then the Writings say we are like animals (maybe even like serpents. DP 310, 321) and we become people who believe only in our own intelligence and prudence, and our own ability to accomplish good.

It’s also important that we remember that our sense of self is not just an appearance. It’s very real. Eve may have been created out of Adam, but she was just as much flesh and bone as he was. If our ability to make choices really was just an appearance, then we would all be doomed to predestination. But that’s not part of the Lord’s Divine Providence. We are truly free to make spiritual choices, thanks to the creation of Eve.

But then the snake enters the scene. “The serpent was more crafty than any other beast.” (Genesis 3:1) The snake represents our prudence, which is the part of us that trusts only our own sense of what is the right thing to do. (AC 194, DP 310, 313). The snake is the part of us that says, ‘I don’t just feel like life is my own, I believe that life is my own, and I can change myself!’ When we let the snake get to the Eve in us, then our sense of autonomy is deceived by the idea that we can govern ourselves. Eve is the access point for the hells, because it is the place where we can begin to love ourselves.

It’s interesting to note here that Adam doesn’t put up much of a fight. He’s pretty passive in this story. In Divine Providence it says that “we need to dismiss the evils of this [hellish] love with what seems to be our own strength. To the extent that we do this, the Lord draws near and unites us to Himself.” (DP 33) We can’t just expect that because we have ‘Adam’, we will be saved. That’s a life of faith alone. We need our ‘Eve’ to resist the fruit offered by the snake. That’s the only way to truly be conjoined with the Lord. But on the other hand maybe if the conversation hadn’t between just between Eve and the snake, but between both Adam and Eve and the snake, then maybe the two of them together would have been able to resist the snake, and the story would’ve ended differently.

So who is to blame in this story: Adam, Eve, or the serpent? It’s important to recognize that our sense of self (Eve) is different from our love of self (Serpent). Our sense of self is a truly human gift from God, but the love of self is from hell. Actually, Adam, Eve, and the serpent all ended up getting cursed in this story, and part of Eve’s curse is that her husband would rule over her. (Genesis 3:16) Our sense of autonomy - the feeling that life is our own - should be ruled by our acknowledgment that life is from the Lord. Contrary to what many Christians, including Paul, have thought, this doesn’t mean that husbands should literally rule over their wives. It’s talking about a marriage inside each of us. But even thought Paul’s understanding may have been somewhat flawed, his words to the Ephesians still capture this idea very nicely. “Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord.” (Ephesians 5:22) Our sense of autonomy should submit to our belief that our life is from the Lord. And Paul goes on to acknowledge the other side of it as well: “Husbands should love their wives as their own bodies.” (Ephesians 5:28) We should love and cherish this sense of autonomy that the Lord has given to us. This is what allows us to feel the joy of the Lord as joy in ourselves, and thus to truly experience His love. (see DLW 47) And this is also why “the man called his wife’s name Eve, because she was the mother of all living.” (Genesis 3:20)

Now the downside of having ‘Eve’ in us, is that along with being able to feel happiness and joy, we can also feel sadness and pain. This is the other part of Eve’s curse. “In pain you shall bring forth children.” (Genesis 3:16) But this is only what happens when we forget about Adam. We might sometimes say to ourselves, “Life is hard!” It’s hard work to resist evils that we are inclined to from birth. If we listen to our own prudence, as Eve listened to the snake, then life does feel hard, the way does seem narrow (see Matt 7:13), and it even seems as impossible as trying to fit a camel through the eye of a needle (see Mark 10:25) . But if we remember to keep Eve married to Adam, then the yoke is easy (see Matt 11:30) . “With man it is impossible, but not with God. For all things are possible with God.” (Mark 10:27). When Eve and Adam are married in us, then we are more likely to say, “Life is Good!” because we recognize that the Lord is good, and life is the Lord’s.

So what do we do? We do need to resist evils with what seems to be our own strength. We do need to repent of bad habits, and try to start good habits. We do need Eve. But when that feels really hard, and even impossible; we need to remember Adam: we need to pray to the Lord, ask for His help, find His wisdom in His Word, and cast our cares on Him. This is the marriage of Adam and Eve. Our ultimate union with the Lord is represented by a marriage, because our sense of self must be married to an acknowledgment that all life if from the Lord. Regeneration is a lot like marriage. It involves two very different points of view making one life together. And just like with the marriage of a man and woman, it may be difficult and feel impossible at times, but in the end, if we trust in the Lord, we can actually experience the heaven of feeling the Lord’s joy. “Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.” (Genesis 2:24)