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Church of the Holy City

Regeneration Means Coming Near to God

Regeneration Means Coming Near to God
Rev. Dr. David J. Fekete
July 5, 2015

Isaiah 40:21-31 Mark 1:29-39 Psalm 147

Regeneration is coming near to God. For only when all the blockage is removed are we able to bear the heat and light of God’s love and wisdom. As is the case in all love relationships, God wants to be near to us, for God loves us. Swedenborg states,
The Lord, from the Divine love or mercy, wills to have all near to Himself; so that they do not stand at the doors, that is, in the first heaven; but He wills that they should be in the third; and, if it were possible, not only with Himself, but in Himself. Such is the Divine love, or the Lord‘s love (AC 1799).
God also wants to make us all as happy as we can bear. This, too, is because of God’s love for us. Swedenborg says that there are three essential of love: 1) to love others outside self, 2) to will to be one with them, and 3) to make them happy from one’s self (TCR 43). When a person loves, one wishes to make our beloved happy. How much so is this for the Source of all love. So God wants to make us all happy.
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).
This is why humanity was created–so that God could be one with us and make us happy. This is heaven–being in God and in eternal blessedness forever.
The third essential of the Love of God, to make them happy from itself, is recognized from eternal life, or blessedness, happiness and felicity without end, which He gives those who receive His Love. For as God is Love itself so also is He Blessedness itself, since all love breathes out from itself what is delightful, and the Divine Love breathes out blessedness itself, happiness and felicity to eternity. Thus God makes angels happy from Himself, and also men after death, by conjunction with them (TCR 43).
What we have to do is clean house and we will find ourselves close to God and as happy as we can bear–each according to his or her own character,
. . . because the Lord wants to save everyone, he makes sure that all of us can have our places in heaven if we live well (DP 254).
So it’s clear that God’s pulling for us. What we need to do is to respond to God and remove anything in us that comes between God’s love and us.
This opens up the question of evil, for what comes between us and God’s love is called evil. Evil isn’t a very popular topic these days. We are taught to have healthy self-esteem, feel good about ourselves, have a positive self-image. The thought that we might have evils in us is not one we will hear from modern psychology. However, we may hear that we have developed coping mechanisms that no longer are effective for the giving and receiving of love. We may hear that we have neuroses that we need therapy to overcome. If these psychological terms mean that our ability to give and receive love is blocked by dysfunctional coping mechanisms, or neuroses, then I guess we may be talking about the same thing as what theologians call evil. For evil is nothing else than a maladaptive behavior pattern or feeling that interferes with our ability to love. The only difference between psychological terms for this and theological ones is that theological terms refer to our ability to love God—as well as our neighbor.
So in discussing our relationship with God, we need to open up the issues of evil, maladaptive coping mechanisms, or neuroses. From his Lutheran upbringing, Swedenborg retains the idea that we begin life self-oriented, in evils, and in need of regeneration. In Divine Providence, Swedenborg writes,
From birth, each of us is like a little hell in constant conflict with heaven. The Lord cannot rescue any of us from our hell unless we see that we are in it and want to be rescued (DP 251).
It requires introspection to determine if Swedenborg is right in this. But if he is not right about this, the whole notion of regeneration does not make sense. What would we need to be reformed from, if we are born heavenly? Why would Jesus have said that we need to be reborn?
But we can all be regenerated. Everyone. Swedenborg is very clear about this.
All may be regenerated, each according to his state; . . those who are principled in natural good from their parents, and those who are in evil; those who from their infancy have entered into the vanities of the world, and those who sooner or later have withdrawn from them . . . and this variety, like that of people’s features and dispositions, is infinite; and yet everyone, according to his state may be regenerated and saved (TCR 580).
Some people seem to be born in natural good and some seem to be in evil. But everyone–good and evil–need to receive life from God and be regenerated.
Regeneration is actual character transformation. We become different people than we had been. It seems that we begin our adult life concerned with ourselves and our standing in the world. This is the way things need to be for us to find our niche in life. But a person wholly consumed with self and the world is obstinate, harsh, and ego-driven. This is the character that needs to be softened and broken up in order to receive love from God and care for our neighbors. Ego is broken up and softened by temptations. These are hard times–the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune that lead us to realize that we aren’t the center of the universe. Swedenborg describes this kind of character transformation. Before the regeneration process, the things we love–the goods of our life–relate to ego,
the goods . . . with which they comply, [are] the love of self and the world, . . . of self love and of contempt for others in comparison with self, consequently what is of self-glory, and also hatred and revenge arising therefrom. . . .
Beginning our adult life this way, we need to change. Temptations soften and break up our self-will and we become new people,
This is the reason why a person is regenerated, that is, made new, by temptations, or what is the same, by spiritual combats, and that a person is afterward gifted with another genius, being made mild, humble, simple, and contrite in heart (AC 3318).
The very things that we enjoy change. We start out our adult life enjoying the things that bring financial reward and that feed our egos. But after we are shaken up and knocked around in life, we see that others matter, too. Our whole affect becomes directed to more humane values. We cease loving worldly interests only, and look around us at our fellows. We feel like a person among others, rather than a superior or inferior individual.
All affections have their delights; but such as are the affections, such are the delights. The affections of evil and falsity also have their delights; and before a man begins to be regenerated, and to receive from the Lord the affections of truth and good, these delights appear to be the only ones; so much so that men believe that no other delights exist; and consequently that if they were deprived of these, they would utterly perish. But they who receive from the Lord the delights of the affections of truth and good, gradually see and feel the nature of the delights of their former life, which they had believed to be the only delights, that they are relatively vile, and indeed filthy. And the further a man advances into the delight of the affections of truth and good, the more does he begin to regard the delights of evil and falsity as vile; and at last to hold them in aversion (AC 3938).
Such radical change cannot take place in an instant. It means re-creating new pathways in the brain; which coincide with new feelings and thoughts. It means interrupting nerve pathways we have formed by habit, and generating new ones. Swedenborg describes this process in remarkably modern terms that agree with brain science today,
There are thousands of individual impulses that go to make up any particular evil, and . . . there are thousands of individual impulses that go to make up any particular good tendency. These thousands of impulses are so precisely structured and so intimately interconnected within us that no single one can be changed without changing all the rest at the same time (DP 279 [5]) . . .
The feelings of our volition are simply changes of the state of the purely organic substances of our minds, that the thoughts of our discernment are simply changes and shifts of their forms, and that memory is the ongoing effect of those changes and shifts ([6]).
Regeneration is re-programming those nerve pathways that coincide with our emotions and thoughts. Re-programming our nerve pathways takes a lifetime and even into the next life. There are some passages in Swedenborg that suggest, “The tree lies where it falls” (DP 277b). But in his final work, True Christianity, Swedenborg states that once we have begun the process of reformation, we can continue our regeneration in the next life,
There are two states which a man enters and passes through while from natural he is becoming spiritual. The first state is called Reformation, and the second Regeneration. In the first, man looks from his natural state toward a spiritual one, and desires it; in the second state he becomes spiritual-natural . . . One who has begun upon the first state in the world, can after death be led into the second; . . . (TCR 571).
Our life improves immeasurably when we undertake the process of regeneration. We are more accepting of life; we live in harmony with our brothers and sisters; we are at peace with God and with ourselves. In every way, we are happier, more joyous when we are coming near to God. Think of the ecstasy that love brings! And think what this means when we are speaking of All Love, the Source of All Love. This is what God wants for us: to love and be loved by God, and to express that love among our fellows. This is what happens in our lives when we come near to God.
The Lord, from the Divine love or mercy, wills to have all near to Himself; so that they do not stand at the doors, that is, in the first heaven; but He wills that they should be in the third; and, if it were possible, not only with Himself, but in Himself. Such is the Divine love, or the Lord‘s love (AC 1799).


Lord, you love us with a love that knows no bounds. We thank you for your infinite love for each and every one of us. Your will for us is that we be near you in heaven. You would like us to be in the highest heavens, as close to you as we can be. We would follow you into heaven’s joys and into the depths of an abiding love relationship with you. We pray this morning that you remove every obstacle that stands between us and you. We know that you work tirelessly to cleanse our hearts and to enlighten our thinking. May we be open to your efforts to purify our souls and bring us to you. For the delights and joys of heaven are what you wish for each one of us. Thanks be to you.

And Lord, we pray for the sick. May they experience the power of your healing love. Fill them with the grace of your healing power. We pray for the grace of your healing power for all who are ailing in body or soul.

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