How are we guided by the Lord from the mis-impressions and tainted motives of our natural heredity to the wisdom and love of a genuinely good life?
One key answer is that we need to learn what the Lord teaches in His Word. We need to learn and we need to consciously work to make different choices from many that come naturally to us. We need to ask the Lord’s help in this work. We need to pray that the light of heaven shine upon our minds. We also need to pay attention to the fruits of our present motives and ideas.
We cannot, of course, judge what is genuinely good and true from our own perspective. We can learn this even in natural issues. Over and over again a person can make a choice based on a superficial impression of something. He can be at a restaurant, see a dish being served at another table, think to himself, "That looks good," order it only to discover that he really doesn't like how it tastes. It looked good, but didn't taste good. A person can be hired for a job based on her impressive resume and interview, but turn out to be a very difficult person to work with and a poisoning influence in the office environment. A gesture of good will and courtesy can backfire because the recipient feels demeaned by it.
Some people have seen so little pattern to life that they rarely reflect or put much effort into their decision-making because it doesn't seem to make a difference whether they try to make an informed decision or not. There can be many reasons why a person gets this state. Consider the lot of the young child growing up with a mother who is an active alcoholic. Sometimes she will be truly attentive and wisely loving. Sometimes she may be very easy-going and ready to laugh no matter what the child does. Sometimes she will be grumpy and irritable at the slightest sound or intrusion on hung-over state of mind. Such a child will have a very difficult time making sense of life at first. Eventually the child may grow enough to recognize that his mother often isn't really herself and that her highs and lows have pattern that has little to do with him and his behavior. Once he sees this, then he can start making some sense of his own choices and behavior. Until then he will be trying as hard as he can to see how his behavior by itself causes his mothers response, even though this is an impossible task.
The reality is that all of us have a hard time at the beginning of our spiritual journey knowing what is genuinely good and true. It isn't merely a matter of learning. Consider the implications of the following passage from the Arcana Coelestia:
Facts are indeed a means towards becoming wise, but they can also be a means towards becoming insane. For people who are leading a good life facts are a means to becoming wise, but for those leading an evil life they are a means to becoming insane since they use facts to support not only a life of evil but also false assumptions, which they do arrogantly and convincingly because they believe that they are wiser than others. This leads to the destruction of their rational. It is not the person who is able to reason from facts, doing so sometimes in a seemingly more masterly way than others, who is endowed with rationality. This skill which he possesses is the product of a wholly illusory light. But that person has the proper gift of rationality who is able to see clearly that good is good and truth is truth, and as a consequence that evil is evil and falsity is falsity. But anyone who looks on good as evil and on evil as good, and who also looks on truth as falsity and falsity as truth, cannot in any sense be called rational, but rather irrational, no matter how capable he is at reasoning. With the person who sees clearly that good is good and that truth is truth, and conversely that evil is evil and falsity is falsity, there is light flowing in from heaven and enlightening the area of his understanding and causing reasons which he sees with the understanding to be just so many rays of that light. The same light also gives light to facts so that they serve to support those reasons, besides imposing order and the heavenly form on such facts. People however who stand opposed to good and truth, as all do who are leading an evil life, do not allow that heavenly light in. Instead they take delight solely in their own illusory light, whose nature is such that one sees things rather like a person in the dark who sees streaks on a wall, and is deluded into making all kinds of shapes out of them, when yet they are not shapes, for as daylight falls on them they are seen to be merely streaks. From all this it may be seen that facts are a means to becoming wise and also a means to becoming insane; that is, that they are a means to perfecting the rational or else a means to destroying it. (Arcana Caelestia 4156:2-4)
The light that is spoken of in this passage is the light of heaven that flows into a person’s mind whose is willing to receive it. Such a person has consciously worked on shunning evils as sins asking the Lord’s help in this work. Such an individual is said to have his internal person open to heaven and the Lord as following passage:
Those human beings whose internal person is closed have no knowledge of the existence of the internal person; nor do they believe in the reality of heaven and of eternal life. And what is astonishing, those people even suppose that they are wiser than others in their thinking; for they love themselves and what is their own, and adore it. It is different with those whose internal person is opened towards heaven, all the way to the Lord. They live in the light of heaven and so depend for their enlightenment on the Lord, whereas the former do not live in the light of heaven but in the light of the world and so depend for their enlightenment on themselves. Those who depend on themselves for enlightenment and not on the Lord see falsity as truth and evil as good. Arcana Caelestia 9709.
People who depend on their own intelligence separate from the Lord are like Adam and Eve eating of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. They believe that their own unaided senses can tell them what is right and wrong. By themselves such people tend to place way too much emphasis on what is good for themselves alone and not so much considering the welfare of others. They tend to place way too much emphasis on worldly goals and possessions and give little consideration to spiritual issues. This problem has plagued the human race through out its history as reflected in the following passage taken from the Arcana Caelestia's commentary on the story of Adam and Eve eating of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.
The evil of the Most Ancient Church which existed before the flood, as well as that of the Ancient Church after the flood, and also that of the Jewish Church, and subsequently the evil of the new church, or church of the Gentiles, after the coming of the Lord, and also that of the church of the present day, was and is that they do not believe the Lord or the Word, but themselves and their own senses. Hence there is no faith, and where there is no faith there is no love of the neighbor, consequently all is false and evil. (Arcana Caelestia 231)
But the Lord doesn't want us to forever blindly obey our first understanding of what He teaches. There are many situations that we face in life that don’t have direct answers given to us in the pages of Divine revelation. The Lord expects us to learn the ideas, principles, and commandments that He teaches us and He expects us to grow in our understanding of how to live according to them.
At first there will be things that we think are evil that are really good and there will be things that we think are good but which are really evil. But if we are watching to see the patterns that the Lord can open our eyes to we will recognize that some of the ways we are inclined to be helpful aren't really helpful at all in the long run. Some of the words and behaviors that we might be inclined to think are nice things to do, don’t turn out to be nice in the long run.
For example there are ways that parents can try to protect their children from problems and hurt that in the long run leave their children far too incapable of caring for themselves. On the other extreme there are ways that parents can allow their children to experience disorder and problems, without any effort to influence them. These disorders and problems can do their children tremendous harm. A parent can be too protective and can be too permissive. And what makes this even more difficult is that appropriate protectiveness and permissiveness varies as a child grows older and also varies from child to child. How is a parent supposed to know what to do? Part of the answer will come from the person learning from the Lord, part from recognizing the imperfect and hurtful motivations and ideas that can divert us from doing what is most useful, part from paying attention, not just to the initial results of our actions, but rather to the broad pattern of results over time.
The Lord calls us to bear fruit in our lives. This fruit is the good that our lives bring forth in thought, word, and deed. This fruitfulness of good in our life is the most important feature of who we are as human beings as reflected in the following passage:
The Lord flows in with a person through good, and arranges truths into order through it, but not vice versa; and to the extent that truths are arranged into order through good, evils and falsities are removed. Various places in the Word liken a person to a tree; and in those places his truths of faith are meant by “the leaves”, and forms of the good of love by “the fruit.” From this it is evident not only that 'becoming fruitful' means the increase of good but also that the most important feature of a person is good, just as the most important feature of a tree is the fruit. The leaves, it is true, grow first, but they do so for the sake of the fruit as the end in view. (Arcana Caelestia 9337)
The Lord wants us to grow in love and wisdom from Him. He wants us to have ever more fruitful lives. This fruitfulness will be a blessing to all with whom our lives come in contact. It will also be the source of heavenly blessings for us as we reflect in gratitude to the Lord that we've been able to make a difference for good for others.
Arcana Coelestia 9337; Arcana Coelestia 4156 [2-4]; True Christian Religion 373 )