“People ought to put away evil things from the external level of their life, as if of themselves. . . . Then the Lord cleanses them from the cravings for evil on the internal level, and from the evils themselves on the external level.” Divine Providence by Emanuel Swedenborg #118, #119
The word evil covers the character defects that are harmful to ourselves or to others. It includes the aspects of our life that we would like to change. Suppose a person has a problem with hatred and contempt for other people, and wants to change. How is that change going to happen? Sometimes we think that if we only pray to God, He will somehow wipe those things away in an instant. But we find that it is not as simple as that. Suppose one person has a problem with deceit, and still another is troubled with lust. What does they do about it?
The first step is to acknowledge that these things are a problem. Most of us find difficulty with that. We can see things in others that need to be changed, but are not so clear about the faults within ourselves.
Once the problem is seen, the question still remains: What can we do about it? We might change our behavior. Perhaps we could talk more gently and kindly, even though we seethed with anger inside. Maybe we could try to be more honest. We might even try to clean up our lusts, but chances are that we would never get to the bottom of the problem.
Once we were with a group of children at the beach, and the children became fascinated with the grasses that grew out of the sand dunes. One of them suggested that we dig down until we got to the base of the roots. After several hours of digging, we had to give up. We never did trace the roots all the way back to their beginnings.
If we try to trace back the sources of our personality problems we would have an even more difficult search. Some people spend years in therapy, and never get to the root of their problems. This therapy can be immensely valuable, and help us get important insights into our behavior, but of itself it does not go to the core of the problems, since the core is really beyond our conscious knowledge. What are we to do then?
The answer is very simple. In the case of the grass growing in the sand dunes, if we cut off the grass to the depth we could trace, and did so repeatedly, eventually the grass would die back. This illustrates a law of spiritual life. We do not have to go back into the deepest aspects of our spiritual life to find the source of the harmful things in ourselves. We simply have to deal with the things we notice in our conscious mind and in our actions. If we clean up our behavior, and check the conscious thoughts that we see to be negative, the Lord will weaken and finally remove the inner cravings for those negative things.
We need to use our freedom and our ability to reason, (protected by the first law of Providence), to deal with as much of our shortcomings and problems as come into our awareness. As we do so, the Lord works an inner miracle, removing the longings which lie deeper than we could ever find. Eventually those negative things become less and less a part of our life, leaving more room for what is positive.
—Rev. Frank Rose, Former Pastor of Sunrise Chapel, Tucson, AZ