Explanation(s) or references from Swedenborg's works:
Brief Exposition of Doctrine 98
Divine Providence 230
Heaven and Hell 129
Interaction of the Soul and Body 6
The Last Judgment 46
The New Jerusalem and its Heavenly Doctrine 294
Athanasian Creed 161
Divine Wisdom 1
Invitation to the New Church 34
By Rev. Brian W. Keith
"And I, if I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to Myself. John 12:32
A promise from the Lord - He can and will lift us up. He will take our hands and draw us out of the frustrations and pains of selfish life. He will be with us and raise us up into joy and happiness beyond our belief.
That is, of course, as we let Him. For we have genuine freedom. We can forget about Him, relegating formal religion to the nooks and crannies of our life, becoming swamped with the incessant demands of this natural world. But we can also make room for Him, allowing Him to draw us towards Him.
For the Lord's love for us is an infinite constant. And His inmost desire is to have us return His love - to have us become images and likenesses of Himself, to become one with Him. Everything He does, all His providential leading, has this as its purpose - to make us eternally happy with Him. As the Writings note: "He wills to save everyone and by His mighty power to draw all towards heaven, that is, towards Himself" (AC 1038). "And I, if I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to Myself."
His love has an inherent power of attraction. He does not sit back passively, watching our silly antics, wishing us well but hesitating to intervene. His existence is intervention. Not openly seen, He is a constant force attracting us to what is good. So we are taught: "There is actually a sphere proceeding continually from the Lord and filling the entire spiritual and natural worlds which raises all towards heaven. It is like a strong current in the ocean which unseen draws a vessel. All who believe in the Lord and live according to His precepts enter that sphere or current and are elevated" (True Christian Religion 652:3).
His providence - an expression of His love - flows out to all and draws all to Himself. Silently, surely, His current moves us along. This is the underlying reality. Although ignored, His presence is never avoided. He lifts up our thoughts and affections. Raising whatever of worth we have, we are drawn to His throne. The doctrines declare that "the life which is from the Lord has a power of attracting, because it is from love, since it wills to be conjoined, so as to be a one. When therefore a person is in good, and from good in truth, he is drawn by the Lord, and is conjoined with Him" (Arcana Coelestia 8604:3).
The Lord attracts all to Himself because His love yearns for the closeness, the return, of all good, all truth. Everything of love we have comes from Him. It is His gift to us, for us to enjoy and share. All our happiness comes from this Source. And His love becomes perpetual and increasing in us when it circles back - building upon itself.
How do we feel when we do a favor for someone, and they neither thank us nor seem to appreciate what we have done? Do we help again? Probably not. (Or at least with a little bit more self compulsion!). Our helping hand is drawn back if it does not elicit a good response. Love requires love. It is drawn to it. It is when we help others and they become happy, sharing their joy with us and others, that we are encouraged to continue.
Within all good is an attractive power. For all good, all love, is one. When we receive it His current is a powerful force that lifts us up to the Source of all good, all love. It is why the Lord said He would draw all people to Him. Whatever of love we have raises us to Him, joining us to His life, His way.
A vivid example of this was provided to Emmanuel Swedenborg, revelator for the New Church, when he was allowed to experience the process of resuscitation - being raised from the dead. For perhaps at no other time will we sense the direct intervention and caring of the Lord as when we put off our natural bodies. Swedenborg noted that "especially was I permitted to see and feel that there was an attraction and as it were a drawing forth of the interiors of my mind, thus of my spirit, from the body; and I was told that this is from the Lord, and that the resurrection is thus effected" (Heaven and Hell 449e). The process of awakening in the spiritual world is the actual elevation of our spirits. We are drawn out of our bodies, raised up into eternal life. His love attracts us to Him. "And I, if I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to Myself."
The attractive power of good can also be seen in our selection of friends and spouse. Why do we form friendships? Certainly there must be common interests which enable friendship to grow. But why it is we can have much in common with some people we find distasteful, and appear to have little in common with others who we feel close to? In the same vein, why is it that we can feel friendly to many of the opposite sex, but love and want to marry only one special person? Why that particular person? There is no way to predict who will be a friend or who we will marry. For what creates both deep friendship and an eternal marriage is the attraction of love. Friends and spouse are selected by similar loves drawing them together like the current of the ocean. We are drawn to find friends and a spouse by spiritual qualities resonating within each other. This is why our close friends seem to be one with us, and to always have been there. It is also why there can be proposal and consent to an everlasting relationship. It is as if one's own loves have found their home, their completion. It is love attracting good together. It is the Lord lifting up all good, all love, to Himself.
This power of attraction that good has is seen in innumerable areas. The Arcana Coelestia states: "what is good and true, just and fair, and also what is honest, have a strong hidden power of attracting minds" (Arcana Coelestia 6655e). Are we not drawn to those who seem to be honest and fair? Are we not repelled by those who appear to be dishonest? The issue of fairness is active from a very early age. Children know what fairness is, and are most upset when they sense injustice or inequality. Even while the varied population of this country disagree about many things, all want the government to be fair and honest. Without fairness, honesty, there can be no trust, no confidence. We are attracted to these things because they are expressions of spiritual good. It is that good which draws us near, encouraging us to come into the sphere of natural justice, fairness, and honesty.
And, perversely, were it not for this power of attraction of good, evil would never be able to succeed (see A 5464:2). This sounds strange, contradictory, but it is not. For who would willingly choose evil if he could see the hell of it? Who would become selfish if he could see the result of a devil cut off from others, fearing the plots of fellow devils yet confident that he is more sly than they? Or who would be overly concerned with money if he could see the hells where their only delight is in touching coins, counting bills? If the end result of any evil were openly seen, no one would ever sin, or let hell grow up within.
So why are we drawn to evil? Because it cloaks itself in the appearance of good, and we are drawn to that good. We know the Lord wants us to feel good, so what feels good must be good, right? Revenge is sweet - hellish, but sweet. The Lord wants our natural surroundings to reflect our inner states (as actually occurs in the other world), so we can justify acquiring unlimited amounts of luxuries without thought for others or the Lord. Selfishness can seem good because we are meant to care for ourselves. The positive value of caring for ourselves can be used to justify all manner of self-centeredness.
Evil in itself is horrible and disgusting. We are not drawn to it. But when it puts on the appearance of good, and excuses itself with some half truths, our desire for delight can carry us along, if we allow it.
But that is not the purpose of good, and evil cannot long hide behind it. We will be forced to see some of the hell in evil and make conscious choices. For the attraction of good uplifts us. Hell drags us down. When we sense a conflict we have an opportunity to discover if the attraction is for genuine good or not.
For we do not always find the best choices or allow ourselves to be elevated. While the current is strong, we can grab on to overhanging branches, or paddle furiously against it. The Lord recognizes that we can only take so much at a time. His love is infinite, "but as angels and people on earth are finite they can follow the current of the attraction only according to their measure, although the force of the attraction persists to eternity" (TCR 350). We alternate between the highs and lows (see AC 6315, AC 2119e). When we must concentrate on earthly life, we do not feel especially uplifted. When we are selfish, we are being dragged down. But the Lord never stops reaching out to us so that there might be times when we are raised above selfishness and worldliness.
Whenever we are on the path of regeneration, we are periodically gifted with glorious moments when we feel the Lord's presence and the attraction of His love. Perhaps it's in saying and reflecting upon the Lord's prayer, or holding a tender infant, or singing a favorite tune. Wherever it may be, we sense the Divine and know we are drawn to it.
But it may also be the case that we do not often feel His attraction in this life. We can lead a fundamentally good life, shunning evils as they appear, trying not to get into any trouble, and still not see and feel any special elevation to heaven. The Heavenly Doctrines note that "so long as a person lives in the world he does not know that he is raised up above his proprium, because he does not feel it. And yet there is an elevation or as it were an attraction of the person's interior understanding and interior will towards the Lord, and thus a turning of the person's face as to his spirit towards the Lord. After death this is made clear to a good person, for then there is a constant turning of his face to the Lord, and as it were an attraction to Him as to a common center" (AE 646:3).
This is what the attraction of good means - placing the Lord in the center of our lives. Perhaps not openly speaking of Him in every sentence, but being certain of His inner presence, and willing Him to grasp our hands and ever lead us to a higher place. For as we acquire a love of what is good we are attracted to Him, and drawn up to His heaven. "And I, if I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to Myself."
(References: True Christian Religion 652)