What's Good?

By New Christian Bible Study Staff and Rev. Julian Duckworth

A piece of candy comes trick-or-treating.

Swedenborg uses the word "good" specifically to mean love in action. This involves usefulness and the intention on our part to do what is good. We do what is good when the Lord, charity and faith are present in us. Good in Swedenborg’s writings is linked closely with truth in a relationship which he calls "the marriage of good and truth."

The process of becoming a "good" person involves inviting the Lord into one's life and trying to live according to His will instead of according to our own selfish will. We can work to love as the Lord loves, and closer we get the more we are "good" - the more we will desire to be good, delight in what is good, actually do what is good, and live in peace, harmony and joy both in this life and in heaven.

Learning to love as the Lord loves, of course, is not a matter of saying a little prayer and being changed, and it's not a matter of simply deciding or force of will. As anyone who has mooned over an unrequited romance knows, our loves are simply not changed that easily, and indeed seem largely out of our control.

Consider, for instance: say you are in desperate need of money, and see a man drop his wallet as he climbs into an expensive car and drives away. You pick up the wallet, and find several thousand dollars there. The fact is, at that moment you (unless you are a better person than 99.9 percent of us) really really want to keep that money. You might not do it. You know what's right, and you may well make yourself do what's right. But you can't just change that "want" and make it go away. You don't have that kind of control.

So how can we actually become good? The answer is what the Writings refer to generically as "truth." From the time we are small children we are constantly learning what's right and wrong and being forced to apply that knowledge. Over time those ideas get deeper - from "don't hit other children!" to "you need to think about what makes other people happy" to "love your neighbor as yourself" - but they all to some extent run contrary to what we want. Consider that wallet: the reason most of us would call the guy and give him his money is that we know it's the right thing to do, even though it's not really what we want to do.

If you think about it, those truths - those ideas of right and wrong - come into use from the outside, and sort of work their way from outer layers of our minds ("don't hit other children!") to deeper, more thoughtful ones ("love your neighbor as yourself"). The Writings tell us that even as we are absorbing truth from the outside, the Lord is secretly planting desires for good in our souls, in the inmost levels that we're not even aware of. Among the most important of these desires is, in fact, the desire for truth, which urges us to gather and accept that truth coming to us from the outside.

As we build that storehouse of knowledge, we come to the key decision point (or a lifelong series of decision points, really). We can decide to embrace that truth, to determine for ourselves that we want to do what's right because it is right. Or we can ignore it and wallow in our base desires.

If we do the former - determine to follow what's true - that truth crosses from the exterior parts of our mind to more interior ones. And in the more interior areas it can mix with the desires for good the Lord has hidden away there.

And then what happens? The Writings have some beautiful passages about how good loves truth, how it will seek it and embrace it, fill it with life and make it its own. This is a little hard to imagine, but consider falling in love with someone. Don't you want to know everything about him or her? Don't you want to know every little thing that makes him or her happy so you can provide it? Your desire to love embraces truth so it can put love into action. Much the same happens with the desires for good inside us and the attendent truths - the good desires seek the real truths, the ones that fit, and make them their own.

This does not, of course, happen all at once in every aspect of our being. It is the work of a lifetime and entails many battles with the evil desires that pollute our souls. But the process can be increasingly joyful, and the end result is spectacular - eventually the desires for good will be so empowered that they can actually take the lead role and extend out to the outermost parts of our minds. In that state we no longer even want what's wrong; our joy of life is in doing what's good. This, of course, is the state that angels enjoy in heaven.

(References: Arcana Coelestia 2875; The Doctrine of Life for the New Jerusalem for the New Jerusalem 1)

From Swedenborg's Works

Arcana Coelestia #9741

Arcana Coelestia (Elliott translation)

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9741. 'And you shall make the court of the dwelling-place' means the lowest heaven. This is clear from the meaning of 'the court of the dwelling-place' as the external part of heaven, thus the lowest heaven; for there are three heavens, the inmost, the middle, and the lowest. The inmost was represented by the inmost part of the dwelling-place, where the ark of the Testimony was; the middle one by the dwelling-place outside the veil; and the lowest by the court, which is the subject now. This heaven is called the court because they who are there are those who are governed by the good of faith and not as yet by the good of charity towards the neighbour - they who are governed by the good of charity being those who are in the middle heaven. Those in the lowest heaven, which is called the court, are called angelic spirits; those in the middle heaven are called spiritual angels; but those in the inmost heaven are called celestial angels.

[2] The good of faith itself too, which is the good of the lowest heaven, is meant by 'the court', because it is through this good that a person is led on into the good of charity towards the neighbour, which is the good of the middle heaven. It should be remembered that the good present with a person constitutes his heaven and that the kind of heaven that is his is determined by the kind of good that is his. There are three kinds of good that follow one another in order - the good of faith, the good of charity towards the neighbour, and the good of love to the Lord. The good of faith constitutes the lowest or first heaven, as stated above; the good of charity towards the neighbour constitutes the middle or second heaven; and the good of love to the Lord constitutes the inmost or third heaven.

[3] A little more needs to be said to give people an even better knowledge of the arrangement of the heavens. The heavens are divided into two kingdoms, the celestial kingdom and the spiritual kingdom; and in each kingdom there is an internal part and an external. The internal part of the celestial kingdom is inhabited by those who are governed by the good of love to the Lord, and the external part of it by those who are governed by the good of mutual love; but the internal part of the spiritual kingdom is inhabited by those who are governed by the good of charity towards the neighbour, and the external part of it by those who are governed by the good of faith, see 9680. The external part of each kingdom 1 is what is called the lowest or first heaven and was represented by the court. This explains why there were two courts around the temple, an outer and an inner, the outer court standing for those who inhabit the external parts of the spiritual kingdom and the inner court for those inhabiting the external parts of the celestial kingdom.

[4] Regarding these two courts of the temple in Jerusalem, see 1 Kings 6:3, 36; 2 Kings 21:5. Regarding the outer court of the new temple in Ezekiel, see Ezekiel 40:17, 31, 34; Ezekiel 42:1-end; Ezekiel 42:and regarding the inner court there, Ezekiel 40:23, 28, 32, 44; 42:3; 43:5. From all this it is evident that the lowest heaven which was represented by the outer court of the temple is composed of the good of faith, and the lowest heaven which was represented by the inner court is composed of the good of mutual love. Those governed by the good of mutual love are governed by an affection for good for goodness' sake, whereas those governed by the good of faith are governed by an affection for truth for truth's sake. For good has dominion in the celestial kingdom, whereas truth has it in the spiritual kingdom.

(References: Ezekiel 42)

[5] The fact that the lowest heaven is meant by 'the courts' is evident from places in the Word where they are mentioned, as in Ezekiel,

The glory of Jehovah rose 2 from above the cherub over the threshold of the house, and the house was filled with the cloud; and the cloud filled the inner court. 3 And the court was full of the brightness of the glory of Jehovah, and the sound of the wings of the cherubs was heard as far as the outer court. Ezekiel 10:3-5.

The court was representative of the lowest heaven, and that was why it was filled, as was the house itself, with the cloud and the brightness of the glory of Jehovah, for 'the cloud' and 'the glory' mean Divine Truth. As regards 'the cloud', that it has this meaning, see 5922, 6343 (end), 6752, 8106, 8443, and also 'the glory', 8267, 8427, 9429. 'The sound of the wings' means the truth of faith derived from good, 8764, 9514.

[6]In the same prophet,

The spirit lifted me up and led me into the inner court of the temple; and behold, the glory of Jehovah filled the house. And I heard Him speaking to me from the house, saying, Son of man, [this is] the place of My throne, and the place of the soles of My feet, where I shall dwell in the midst of the children of Israel forever. Ezekiel 43:4-7.

Here the temple and the court are called 'the place of Jehovah's throne, and the place of the soles of His feet' because the temple and the court represented heaven, 'Jehovah's throne' being the spiritual heaven, 5313, 8625, 'the place of the soles of His feet' the lowest heaven.

(References: Ezekiel 43:5-7)

[7] The lowest heaven is also meant by 'court' and 'courts' in the following places: In David,

Blessed is [anyone] whom You choose and cause to come near; he will dwell in Your courts. We shall be satisfied with the goodness of Your house, with the holiness of Your temple. Psalms 65:4.

'Dwelling in those courts', as is self-evident, means dwelling in heaven. In the same author,

A day in Your courts is better than a thousand. I have chosen to stand at the door in the house of My God rather than to dwell in the tents of wickedness. Psalms 84:10.

In the same author,

Planted in the house of Jehovah, they will flourish in the courts of our God. Psalms 92:13.

In the same author,

Give to Jehovah the glory of His name; bring an offering, and come into His courts. Psalms 96:8.

In the same author,

Praise the name of Jehovah, praise [Him], O servants of Jehovah who are standing in the house of Jehovah, in the courts of the house of our God. Psalms 135:1-2.

In Isaiah,

They will collect the grain and new wine, they will eat [it] and praise Jehovah; and those who will have gathered it together will drink [it] in the courts of My holiness. Isaiah 62:9.

In these places 'courts' stands for the lowest heavens; for the more internal heavens are called Jehovah's house and His temple, 3720.

[8] In John,

The angel said, Rise and measure the temple and the altar, and those who worship in it. But leave out the court which is outside the temple, and do not measure it, for it has been given to the nations, 4 who will trample the holy city for forty-two months. Revelation 11:1-2.

'The temple and the altar, and those who worship in it' are the Church and its worship. 'The court outside the temple' is the good of mutual love, as stated above. 'The nations to whom the holy city has been given to trample' are the evils of self-love and love of the world, which destroy the Church, 6306. 'Forty-two months' is similar in meaning to six weeks, and 'six weeks' is similar in meaning to six days of a week; for six multiplied by seven makes forty-two. A week means a whole period, long or short, 2044, 3845; the six days which come before the seventh or sabbath mean a former Church through to its end, and the establishment of a new Church. For 'the sabbath' means goodness and truth joined together, and so means the Church, 8495, 8510, 8890, 8893, 9274.


1. The word used in the printed edition of the Latin means heaven but that in Swedenborg's rough draft means kingdom.

2. literally, lifted itself up

3. The final words of verse 3 are misplaced here, within verse 4.

4. or the gentiles


(References: Arcana Coelestia 8889; Exodus 27:9)

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