Commentary

Happiness

By Rev. Julian Duckworth and New Christian Bible Study Staff

To continue browsing while you watch, play the video in a new window.

This video is a product of the Swedenborg Foundation. Follow these links for further information and other videos: www.youtube.com/user/offTheLeftEye and www.Swedenborg.com

A girl holds a piece of watermelon with a nice bite take out of the edge of it.

Does God want us to be happy? What does the Bible say about happiness?

“Happiness” may seem like a passing thing, and hardly the ultimate goal in most belief systems. In fact, though, it is the Lord’s greatest goal for us: He wants us to be happy. If we allow it, He will lead and guide us to be as happy as we are able to be.

The whole reason the Lord created us was so that he could love us, and what else but happiness do you wish for someone you love? But the happiness the Lord wants for us is not the passing joy of satisfying our bodily desires but the exquisite eternal joy of conjunction with the Lord and true love of the neighbor, things harder to see and harder to attain but ultimately far more delightful.

Swedenborg distinguishes heaven’s happiness from worldly happiness of satisfying our bodily desires. In heaven, all happiness is felt from loving the Lord and being of use, living for the sake of others. Everything the Lord does is part of his attempt to lead us to that state, and in everything that happens to us - even the things that are the most tragic on the natural level - he provides opportunities for us to move toward that state.

The Lord also, however, leaves us in freedom. We can reject his efforts and turn away if we choose to, and while that choice may seem to us to lead toward happiness, it is a passing, natural happiness that is ultimately only a shadow of the joy he desires for us. However, those in hell are "happy" being there because the life there matches their self-centered love they chose to cultivate while on earth. If those in hell could be lifted up to heaven, they would feel tormented.

From Psalm 65:9-13:

Thou visitest the earth, and blessest it; thou makest it very plenteous.
The river of God is full of water: thou preparest their corn, for so thou providest for the earth.
Thou waterest her furrows; thou sendest rain into the little valleys thereof; thou makest it soft with the drops of rain, and blessest the increase of it.
Thou crownest the year with thy goodness; and thy clouds drop fatness.
They shall drop upon the dwellings of the wilderness; and the little hills shall rejoice on every side.
The folds shall be full of sheep; the valleys also shall stand so thick with corn, that they shall laugh and sing.

From John 15:11:
I have told you these things so that My joy may be in you and your joy may be complete.

(References: Arcana Coelestia 1153 [2]; Divine Providence 37)

The Bible

John 15:11

English: King James Version

Study the Inner Meaning

← John 15:10    Full Chapter    John 15:12 →

11 These things have I spoken unto you, that my joy might remain in you, and that your joy might be full.

   Study the Inner Meaning
From Swedenborg's Works

Explanations or references:

Arcana Coelestia 1017, 2371, 9245

The New Jerusalem and its Heavenly Doctrine 222


References from Swedenborg's unpublished works:

Apocalypse Explained 785, 919

Other New Christian Commentary

  Stories and their meanings:


  Spiritual Topics:



Word/Phrase Explanations

spoken
Like "say," the word "speak" refers to thoughts and feelings moving from our more internal spiritual levels to our more external ones – and ultimately...

joy
Feelings of joy and rejoicing flow from our affections, not from our thoughts. Some people might argue that that's not true, that you can rejoice...

Might
'Might' denotes the forces or power of truth.

Full
'To satiate' relates to the extent of a person's will, for good or evil.

Resources for parents and teachers

The items listed here are provided courtesy of our friends at the General Church of the New Jerusalem. You can search/browse their whole library at the New Church Vineyard website.


 Ask What You Desire Bookmark
Meditate on a verse from the Word and let it inspire you in a spiritual task. Cut out the color picture bookmark to keep or share.
Activity | Ages over 15

 Bearing Fruit
Project | Ages up to 6

 Bearing Good Fruit
Heaven is a kingdom of uses. Being useful is bearing good fruit.
Worship Talk | Ages 7 - 14

 Branches of the Vine
If the Lord is the Vine and we are the branches, how would you draw a branch showing the kinds of things you do to help other people.
Activity | Ages over 15

 Discipleship at Easter
The final events in Jesus' life unfolded quickly. The disciples responded to the changes in different ways. The twelve disciples picture qualities in us that follow the Lord. How do we respond when our faith is challenged?
Sunday School Lesson | Ages 11 - 17

 Elijah Calls Fire from Heaven - Level C
Complete lesson with activity choices: build an altar out of stones or a human pyramid, discuss what the prophets of Baal are in our lives, scripted story discussion, and a meditation and task on a verse from the Word.
Sunday School Lesson | Ages 11 - 14

 Elijah Calls Fire from Heaven - Level D
Complete lesson with activity choices: look at the differences between mazes and labyrinths, explore how evil appears in the light of heaven, scripted story discussion, and a meditation and task on a verse from the Word.
Sunday School Lesson | Ages 15 - 17

 Family Worship: Abide in Me
Religion Lesson | All Ages

 Friendships: Men and Women
Getting to know a variety of men or women helps us learn about the opposite sex and ultimately helps us learn what qualities we care about and will want in the person we marry.
Sunday School Lesson | Ages 11 - 17

 Friendship: The Outward Expression of Love
How does the Heavenly Doctrine of the New Church define friendship and what do they say we should base it on?
Worship Talk | Ages over 18

 Fruit of the Vine
Talk about grapes and other fruit that grows on a vine. Consider making "a grape vine" of good deeds with "grape" beads to put on a green cord.
Activity | Ages 4 - 10

 Greater Love Has No One Than This
Worship Talk | Ages 7 - 14

 I Am the Vine
Worship Talk | Ages 7 - 14

 I Am the Vine
Download and print this beautiful poster with words from John 15: 4-5. 
Picture | Ages over 7

 I Am the Vine
Make a picture of the Lord as the Vine. Children may want to draw a branch for each member of the family while teens and adults may choose to draw a branch that represents their life, showing the fruit it is bringing forth.
Project | Ages 7 - 14

 I Have Chosen You
Worship Talk | Ages over 18

 Illustrate the Lord as the Vine
Make a picture of the Lord as the Vine. Children may want to draw a branch for each member of the family while teens and adults may choose to draw a branch that represents their life, showing the fruit it is bringing forth.
Project | Ages 7 - 14

 Imagine the Lord's Joy!
 Picture the Lord's joy each time we take a step toward heaven. 
Activity | Ages over 15

 Inspirational Quotation - Love One Another
Poster illustrating the Lord's commandment to love one another.
Picture | Ages over 8

 Living a Significant Life
The Lord tells us what we must do if we wish to live a significant life.
Worship Talk | Ages over 15

 Love
Article | Ages 15 - 17

 Memory Verse: I Am the Vine
Activity | Ages 4 - 14

 Prayers for Adults: Dealing with Other People with True Charity
Activity | Ages over 18

 Prayers for Adults: Loving the Neighbor
Activity | Ages over 18

 Quotes: I Am the Vine
Teaching Support | Ages over 15

 Seeds Bearing Fruit Wreath or Ribbon Hanging
Make a wreath or ribbon hanging with various fruits, adding a piece of fruit each time you use the seeds of truth the Lord has given us.
Project | Ages 4 - 14

 The Importance of the Ten Commandments
Worship Talk | Ages over 18

 The Lord's Example of Friendship
The Lord is able to see our true spiritual character, and He loves the good that He is able to see in us. He constantly seeks to build on that good. We must follow the Lord’s own example and seek out what is good in others.
Article | Ages 15 - 17

 The Parable of the Vine
A New Church Bible story explanation for teaching Sunday school. Includes lesson materials for Primary (3-8 years), Junior (9-11 years), Intermediate (12-14 years), Senior (15-17 years) and Adults.
Teaching Support | Ages over 3

 The Parable of the Vine
Lesson outline provides teaching ideas with questions for discussion, projects, and activities.
Sunday School Lesson | Ages 7 - 10

 The Parable of the Vine (3-5 years)
Project | Ages 4 - 6

 The Parable of the Vine (6-8 years)
Project | Ages 7 - 10

 The Parable of the Vine (9-11 years)
Project | Ages 11 - 14

 The Purpose of Creation
Birth brings a person into the natural world, but God's ultimate purpose is that a person be born again into heavenly life, the life of the spirit.
Sunday School Lesson | Ages 11 - 17

 The Vine and the Branches
Worship Talk | Ages over 18

 The Visible God
Worship Talk | Ages over 18

 The Wonder of the Lord's Word
When we read the Word, we have to reflect on what we have read and try to live according to it. Only this will lead to our happiness, which is why the Word has been given.
Article | Ages 15 - 17

 Treasure Hunt
Make a treasure hunt, starting at the Lord's Word and ending at a bowl of grapes. Discuss how the truths of the Word, such as the Golden Rule, can lead to good fruit.
Activity | Ages up to 10

 Unless We Acknowledge the Lord
Make a picture of the Lord as the Vine and people as the branches, bearing the fruit of useful activities.
Project | Ages over 15

 Vine and Branches
Family lessons provide a worship talk and a variety of activities for children and teens..
Religion Lesson | Ages 4 - 17

 Vine and Branches
Explore the image of the vine and the branches, which illustrates our complete dependence on God.
Sunday School Lesson | Ages 11 - 17

 What Is Charity?
New Church teachings extend the idea of charity, making it more than compassionate actions towards others.
Sunday School Lesson | Ages 11 - 17

 Why Is the Word Holy?
Article | Ages 15 - 17

 Why Stay Connected?
Spiritual tasks offer a reflection on a Biblical story and suggest a task for spiritual growth.
Activity | Ages over 18

 You Are the Branches
It is important for people to be connected to each other and even more important to be connected to the Lord.
Worship Talk | Ages 11 - 14

 You Are the Vine (sheet music)
Song | Ages 4 - 14

Commentary

Jacob's Blessing for Issachar

By Rev. William Woofenden

"Issachar is a rawboned donkey crouched amidst saddlebags. When he saw how good was the homestead, and how very pleasant the country, he bent his shoulder to burdens and became a willing serf." Genesis 49:14-15
Additional readings: Apocalypse Explained 445, Genesis 30:1-18, Mark 10:35-45

When he was on his deathbed, Jacob (or Israel) gathered all his sons together to give them his final word or blessing. Our text comprises the words he spoke to the ninth of his twelve sons, Issachar. My intent in this sermon is to show its relevance to the Doctrine of Use.

"Use" is a vital and frequently mentioned doctrine of the New Church. One of the most beautiful and concise statements is found in Conjugial Love: Swedenborg relates that he was strolling in the eastern quarter of heaven one day and chanced upon a group of angels absorbed in a deep discussion. By eavesdropping he learned that they were speaking of "love, wisdom and use," these three being the essentials of the one divine essence.

"What is meant by the third essential—the proceeding Divine which is called use? [someone asked]

"The angels replied: Without use, love and wisdom are merely abstract ideas of thought, and after some tarrying in the mind, these pass away like the wind; but in use, the two are brought together and become a one which is called real. Love, being the activity of life, cannot rest unless it is doing something, nor can wisdom exist and subsist except when doing something from love, and with it; and doing is use. Therefore we defined use as the doing of good from love by means of wisdom. Use is good itself." (Conjugial Love 183)

Because of its highly practical nature, "use" as a doctrine of life is also closely linked to "communication." In an early chapter of the work Arcana Coelestia there is a striking picture of the heavenly ideal of use which, interestingly enough, does not directly mention the word "use" but outlines instead this idea of communication:

"It is usual for an individual in the other life to share his pleasures and joys with many others by means of an actual and quite marvelous conveying. These others enjoy the same kinds of pleasure and joy even though the sharing takes place without any loss on the part of the individual who is sharing. I have even been allowed to share pleasures with others by means of these kinds of conveying. This enables us to see what kind of happiness people who have loved their neighbor more than themselves, whose greatest longing is to convey their happiness to others. This longing finds its origin in the Lord who shares his joys with the angels in this way. The sharings of happiness are constant... Without self-consciousness, because they come from this kind of active source and, so to speak, from an open, willing intent." (Arcana Coelestia 1392)

Our most detailed information about the life of use, however, comes from the information the writings of the church give us in explaining the spiritual senses of the ongoing Bible narrative. Early on in this account, in the story of the lives of the patriarchs, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, we are given a picture of the forming of a complete human being into a potentially spiritual person, Abraham picturing in general our will, Isaac our intellect, and Jacob our active everyday life; or, if you will, our life of use. That his was an active life no one would dare question, embracing as it did two wives, two concubines, twelve sons and a daughter. A sizable portion of our religious education effort is concentrated on Jacob's family, known later as the children of Israel (Jacob's other name). Their history, in fact, could be said to form the backbone of the Bible narrative. Needless to say, we can only take time here for a few generalizations before turning to some of the particulars concerning Issachar.

Jacob, for example, we learn, pictures ideally goodness on the natural or action plane of life. Leah—who was foisted off on him as a first wife instead of Rachel—symbolizes affection for truth of an external sort. Her younger sister, Rachel, who was also bargained for as a second wife, also stands for affection for truth, but truth of an inner or deeper nature. The two handmaids, Bilhah and Zilpah, who were also to bear sons for Jacob, represent subservient affections.

In harmony with these basic representations we find that the sons of Leah represent the potential in us for faith and love, good deeds and good will of a relatively external kind; the sons of the handmaids picture lesser truths and goods which are capable of serving the higher ones; whereas the two sons of Rachel—who were also the last born—depict true interior love and understanding. (Before any of the women's libbers get after me I had best mention Dinah, the one girl born in this predominantly male household; in a good sense she stands for the affection for all truths, in a bad sense affection for truths falsified. In the overall picture her significance seems to be limited to this formative period of life; she does not come in for later mention in the life of the nation.) In summary let me say that the whole story of Jacob's wives and sons in its deeper meaning treats of the orderly development of a good external life—which is precisely that stage in which the doctrine of use begins to grow and take shape in any life.

All through the childbearing years there was fierce rivalry between Jacob's wives. The same might be said on the higher level of the rivalry that is experienced in each of our lives between the affection we feel for those things summed up by the term "idealism" on the one hand,and the loves we so readily feel for temporal, more external satisfactions. The "Rachel" in us, i.e., the affection for higher things, is an ideal glimpsed early in our lives—the idealism of youth—but one which tends to remain barren or unfruitful until considerably later in life, yielding results only after many delays and disappointments along the way. Our "Leah," however much we may talk of relegating it to secondary importance in our affections, is fecund or fruitful from the start. One might also note as a sort of footnote that in the Bible narrative it was Leah who was buried alongside Jacobin the family burial vault, not Rachel; giving considerable weight to the thesis that despite Jacob's protestations Leah was probably his true mate. The particular part of their story that I now want to turn to is the instance of the birth of Issachar, the ninth of Jacob's sons and the fifth of the six that Leah bore. As the account is recorded In Genesis 30 there is a charming touch of superstition and magic about it. One of Leah's sons, Reuben, found some mandrakes;growing in the field, and doubtless knowing of their reputed fertility-producing qualities, picked them and planned to present them to his mother to aid her in the endless rivalry with her sister. Rachel, however, spotting the love-plants, and being greatly distressed with her barrenness, begged to have them instead. Her sister struck a shrewd bargain: Rachel agreed to yield the marriage bed to Leah that night in exchange for the dudaim (as these plants are called in the Hebrew). In the long run, it worked well for both sisters: the immediate result was the conception and subsequent birth of Issachar (and shortly after the last of Leah's sons, Zebulun). However, the same chapter records the long-awaited opening of Rachel's womb and the birth of Joseph.

In typical Hebrew fashion the child born as the result of the bargain agreed to by the sisters was named in a pun or play on words descriptive of the circumstances. Just as we recall that Isaac was so named because in Hebrew "Isaac" means "laughter" and both Abram and Sarai had laughed when told they would have a son in their old age, so now Leah named her son Issachar which means "hire" or "reward." Remember now and note the significance of Leah's words to Jacob as he returned from the fields on the day of the bargain: "Thou must come in unto me; for surely I have hired thee with my son's mandrakes" (Genesis 30:16).

Swedenborg tells us, however, that this meaning of the name relates only to the lowest level of that which Issachar stands for in our lives. In Apocalypse Revealed 358 we read:

"By ‘Issachar’ is signified in the highest sense divine good of truth and truth of good, in the spiritual sense the heavenly conjugial love that is of good and truth, and in the natural sense reward."

Again, however, much the same kind of force is in operation today as was the case in Jacob's day. The pull of the earthly is very strong, and our inclinations to succumb to the lure of the lowest level of development in any of our several areas of spiritual potential are strong and relentless.

It is therefore precisely because we have in us that which Issachar stands for at the lowest level that I can validate in my mind the direction and emphasis of the remainder of this sermon. The association of reward, and earning of merit with the Christian or spiritual way of life is still very much with us and a stumbling block against which we need repeated warning.

In the treatment of our text in the Arcana those deathbed words of Jacob concerning Issachar, one is left in no doubt as to the danger of falling far short of the ideal in this matter of use. Although parts of the text are apparently obscure (in the second line, e.g., translations vary from saying that Issachar "crouched amidst saddlebags" to saying he was "lying down in the cattle-pens") there is nevertheless no doubt about its deeper meaning to us: the Issachar in us tends to expect to be rewarded for the good we do; further to be very peevish if praise or recognition does not regularly follow one's every kindly act. Arcana Coelestia 6387-6394 says a great deal about this troublesome facet of our lives, and the most I can hope to do here is relate some of the highlights.

For instance, this self-righteous attitude about our good deeds which comes so readily into our consciousness simulates or has the outward appearance of being completely justifiable. How often we listen with full sympathy to the person who seems to be the victim of thoughtless or ungrateful children or employees. Have not each one of us commiserated both with others and with ourselves at the hard lot of having their or our sterling qualities taken for granted or completely overlooked?

Issachar in this sense is that in us which gives the appearance of expressing true mutual love, but that at heart expects at least to be thanked or rewarded or compensated in some way for the good we do. "Thus," says the Arcana, "they not only defile but also pervert genuine mutual love, or charity." One of the ironies of life is that happiness for the most part vanishes as soon as we think of reward. So far as we expect or seek it, so far the joy and happiness of heaven cannot be communicated to us. They, in fact, who do good with the sole purpose of recognition or prestige become incapable of realizing that a far greater happiness awaits those who learn to do good without giving so much as a thought to reward. Very few, we are told, know that there is heavenly happiness in doing good without reward as a goal.

Conversely, those who live for the sake of praise or recompense can never be contented. They become indignant if others are rewarded equally with them, furious if others receive greater commendation. If they see others more blessed than themselves, instead of rejoicing in the others' good fortune they feel sad and neglected and seek for some way to find fault with their more fortunate brethren.

Incidentally, if any of you find onerous such tasks as splitting wood or mowing grass, Arcana Coelestia 1110-1111 may have a message for you. Speaking of the other life it says:

"They who have assumed righteousness and merit on account of their good works ... in the other world have their principles of falsity turned into fantasies so that they seem to themselves to be hewing wood.... When ... asked whether they are not fatigued, they reply that they have not yet accomplished enough work to be able to merit heaven.... They who have lived a good civic and moral life but have persuaded themselves that they merit heaven by their works ... seem to themselves to be cutting grass... They are cold and try [in vain] to warm themselves by this cutting...."

The last thought I want to deal with, aided by the Arcana treatment of Genesis 49 is, to my mind, the most significant one for us to remember; and to aid in that remembering I shall append related ideas from the work on Divine Love and Wisdom and that on Heaven and Hell. Again speaking of those who are overly concerned about merit or reward, it is said that in their concentrating the influx of happiness from heaven on themselves they fail to transmit it to others. They thus become like objects which do not transmit rays of light but instead like those which absorb them. It is pointed out that objects which transmit rays of light appear bright and sparkling; those which merely absorb them appear opaque and do not sparkle at all.

They who are of this nature [we read] are separated from angelic society, like those who have nothing in common with heaven. These are they who are here described under the name of "Issachar."

In the book Divine Love and Wisdom 245-246, although the subject is the three degrees of man's intellect, we learn that the capacities we have to think with from birth are by nature bright and translucent; it is only our misuse of them which can lead to their becoming dark and opaque.

"The forms which are receptacles of heat and light, that is, of love and wisdom in man...are transparent from birth, and transmit spiritual light just as crystal glass transmits natural light.... But yet these forms are not opened [i.e., developed] except when spiritual heat conjoins itself to spiritual light, that is, love to wisdom...."

This spiritual heat is obtained only by shunning evils as sins, and at the same time looking to the Lord. In the further explanation that follows it is eminently clear that one of the roadblocks in the path of "shunning evils as sins" is self-righteousness or this matter of craving for recognition and reward which we have been talking about.

Then, in Heaven and Hell 466, still another facet of man's makeup is under discussion, but again the point made is readily adaptable to our major concern. The subject in general is that all we leave behind at our death is our earthly body, and in particular the state of our memory then. Again we notice how self-centeredness — in whatever form — blocks full and true spirituality.

"With those who have wished to penetrate into divine arcana by means of learning, especially of a philosophical kind, with an unwillingness to believe until convinced by such proofs, the memory appears like a dark substance, of such a nature as to absorb rays of light and turn them into darkness. With those who have practiced deceit and hypocrisy it appears hard and bony like ebony, which reflects the rays of light. But with those who have been in the good of love and the truths of faith there is no such callous appearance, because their inner memory transmits the rays of light into the outer; and its objects or ideas as in their basis or their ground, the rays terminate and find delightful receptacles..."

Here we have a third dimension added for our consideration; unfortunately, perhaps, an additional negative possibility. Here the person's concern for self can operate either to cause him or her to absorb and try to keep for self all the happiness that comes that way; or, the person can become so unfeeling (callous, we graphically say) that neither he nor anyone else nearby derives any benefit from the inflowing heavenly influences; they simply bounce off and go elsewhere to find more yielding objects.

But, thank goodness, there is still the positive option: one's life and attitude can be such that he or she can become a receiver and transmitter of heavenly joy. And that is the thought on which I wish to close: if one is a transmitter, he may rest assured that he will also be a receiver. In the field of electronics, the word "transmitter" refers to a type of equipment that is capable of generating and amplifying a carrier wave, of modulating it with a meaningful signal, and then of radiating the result broadcast into its surrounding environment.

Let us then resolve — each one of us — to fashion ourselves into transmitters, fine tuned to the heavenly frequencies, and broadcasting under the call letters of heavenly J-O-Y. Jesus said, "These things have I spoken unto you, that my joy might remain in you, and that your joy might be full." John 15:11

(1974)


Translate: