Seek ye first the kingdom of God, and His righteousness, and all things shall be added unto you (Matt. 6:33)

The Place of Misfortunes, Diseases, and Other Natural Sufferings in the Spiritual Life of Man


This class on misfortunes, diseases, and other natural sufferings is a preliminary investigation of the teachings of the Word on this subject. Many things are said in the Third Testament about it. Due to disorders in our understanding and in our loves, some of these teachings appear not to agree with each other. Some of the teachings have been misunderstood in the New Church in such a way as to produce the most absurd conclusions, which if taken seriously, would be insults against the Lord’s Love and Wisdom. And some are such that we can see that we cannot understand them now and must wait for further light to be given in the development of the Church. let this is a subject that is of immediate concern to all. There is no one who does not suffer much in this world and face the question as to why this should be so with regard to himself. While acknowledging the severe limitations of our understanding at this day, it is nevertheless of use to enter as far as possible into the teachings given to us, seeking further light, learning to be more careful in the reading of them, comparing the passages that treat of the subject, seeking to see the plane on which they apply, avoiding super­ficial conclusions, striving to view them from the sphere of the Divine Ends and Uses of the Lord, and not from our own or proprial ends.

The first teachings on this subject are given in the early chapters of the Arcana Coelestia. In Arcana Coelestia 8, it is said in relation to the second state of regeneration that a distinction is made in that state between the things which are of the Lord and those which are properly of man, or the proprial things of man. The things which are of the Lord are called Remains, and are here especially the Cognitions of faith, which he has learned from in­fancy, and which are stored up and do not open before he comes into this state, “Which state rarely exists at this day without temptation, misfortune, sad things, which make that those things which are of the body and of the world, thus which are proprial, quiesce and as if die. Thus, the things which are of the external man are separated from those which are of the internal. In the internal are the remains which are stored up by the Lord for this time and for this use.”

A similar idea about the use to which misfortunes, sickness, disease, and other sad things can be brought is set forth in several other numbers in the Arcana Coelestia. (Cp. 268,762,847,857) In general the idea is that the love of self and the world and their delights and pleasures rule in man’s external mind, making it impossible for him to feel and be affected by the good and true things of the internal man which can come into the external through the remains. When the pleasures of these loves are taken away, and the loves themselves made quiet through misfortunes and disease, then the things inflowing from the internal can affect man, and he begins to think holily and piously about God, Heaven, and the spiritual life. It is not said that this is the inevitable result of sufferings, but it is said that it can be the result both with the well disposed and even with the evil. From this arises the saying in the world, “The devil sick, the devil a saint
will be.” Everyone can recognize the truth of this teaching of the Word from common experience in themselves, as for example, when someone we love dies, the thought is forcibly drawn to holy and pious things. It is also evident from the opposite, namely, that when we are caught up in worldly affairs and our worldly ends are being pleased with success over a long period, the thought about the Lord and Heaven and the spiritual life usually is absent.

It is also usually taught in relation to this subject that, when the misfortunes or diseases go away, man returns to his former state of life and may forget all about the holy and pious things by which he was affected during his sufferings. But while this may be the case with a man, yet it is said that the first states of regeneration rarely take place with a man without such misfortunes, and anxieties, in general, by natural temptations. Apparently then with some they can be bent to this use, and with others they cannot be so bent. In Arcana Coelestia 8981:3, it is said that through these natural sufferings an affection of doing well, thus of a certain char­ity, can inflow and infill the understanding, and can serve for confirming and more deeply inrooting the trues of doctrine, although such suffering does not change the will of man. Thus, it is as if a certain beginning can be made out of which a man is free to change and advance. It is a means of bringing the man into an equilibrium in which he is able to reflect and see within himself a life that is opposed to his merely natural life. And in general in our lives we can see that misfortunes and sufferings are often the means of bringing to our consciousness and thus into our lives good and true things which never would have been possible for us without them. In the facing of them we are led to deeper trues and deeper feelings.

Read the full doctrinal class on The Place of Misfortunes, Diseases, and Other Natural Sufferings in the Spiritual Life of Man of Rt. Rev. Philip Odhner

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