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Sunday, March 26
A Rising and Setting Sun: On the Appearance of an Angry God
Dr. Rebecca Esterson
Swedenborg was harshly critiqued by his contemporaries for his suggestion that God is never angry and never punishes. This position came with profound theological implications, and some eighteenth century theologians couldn't reconcile this view with the biblical accounts of an angry God in both the Old and New Testaments. We will take up this interpretive challenge, and consider the possibility of a God who is "absolute love, absolute mercy, and absolute goodness" in light of key passages from scripture, and in light of our own desire for divine justice in the affairs of the world today.
Rebecca Esterson is Scholar in Training at the Center for Swedenborgian Studies. She is a Ph.D. candidate at the Graduate Division of Religious Studies at Boston University working in the Texts and Traditions track and will join the CSS faculty upon completion of her degree. She earned her Masters of Theological Studies in 2002 from Harvard Divinity School with a focus in world religions, and also studied at Hebrew University in Jerusalem as a visiting graduate student in 2000-01. After receiving her masters degree, she worked at Harvard's Center for the Study of World Religions for 9 years where she was able to further develop her interest in comparative studies and interfaith learning.
Dr. Esterson's research interests include: the history of biblical interpretation, hermeneutics, Jewish and Christian mysticism, Jewish-Christian relations, eighteenth century intellectual culture, Christian Hebraism, comparative religious studies. Her dissertation demonstrates, via the example of Emanuel Swedenborg, the persistence of biblical allegory in eighteenth century Christian thought, and its entanglement with both the developments of the scientific revolution and the figured discourse of Jewish and Christian religious identity.
Dear Members and Friends of the SF Swedenborgian Church,
Making the right choice at the right time might be the most important and most difficult thing to do properly in our lives. But what makes life so special and precious is that every moment happens just once and afterwards it is gone forever. Consequently, there is no way of undoing or changing what we have chosen previously. Therefore, no one denies the crucial importance of making wise and timely choices. The only problem is, who can know what the right choice is at the right time?
Until modern times, many philosophers strongly believed that knowledge is the key to be able to do the right thing at the right time. Nowadays, we live in an age when knowledge and information is readily available to most of us, especially with the World Wide Web. Yet, most of us still struggle with the same dilemma as the ancients: decision making! However, the difference between us and the ancient people is clear: they struggled with ignorance while we struggle with knowledge. Consequently, this teaches us another timeless truth: knowing what is right and living what is right are not the same thing.
Emmanuel Swedenborg strongly emphasizes the fact that knowing what is true, being able to do it, and being united with it are three entirely different things that happen in a somewhat progressive process of inner cultivation. Knowing what it true can be achieved by anyone who is capable of reading and understanding basic logic. Being able to do what one knows to be true requires overcoming obstacles and challenges. Yet, humans are capable of delivering actions without fully understanding or believing the meaning of their actions. Therefore, being united with what is true is the goal of human cultivation. At this stage, one is not only capable of living in the way that one believes to be true, but also being delighted by it.
These days, it seems that the challenge to obtaining unity with truth is willful ignorance, which happens despite a flood of information on spirituality. Our very mind has an innate need of cultivation in order to function properly, but this spiritual cultivation does not necessarily happen through education or reading, or even automatically through the passage of time. The spiritual journey does not begin unless we acknowledge and accept the truth that we are meant to be better than the way we are innately inclined to live.
So, my friends, have you begun your spiritual journey?
Reverend Junchol Lee
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Give ear, O Shepherd of Israel,
you who lead Joseph like a flock!
You who are enthroned upon the cherubim, shine forth
before Ephraim and Benjamin and Manasseh.
Stir up your might,
and come to save us!
Restore us, O God;
let your face shine, that we may be saved.
O Lord God of hosts,
how long will you be angry with your people's prayers?
You have fed them with the bread of tears,
and given them tears to drink in full measure.
You make us the scorn[a] of our neighbors;
our enemies laugh among themselves.
Restore us, O God of hosts;
let your face shine, that we may be saved.
You brought a vine out of Egypt;
you drove out the nations and planted it.
You cleared the ground for it;
it took deep root and filled the land.
The mountains were covered with its shade,
the mighty cedars with its branches;
it sent out its branches to the sea,
and its shoots to the River.
Why then have you broken down its walls,
so that all who pass along the way pluck its fruit?
The boar from the forest ravages it,
and all that move in the field feed on it.
Turn again, O God of hosts;
look down from heaven, and see;
have regard for this vine,
the stock that your right hand planted.
They have burned it with fire, they have cut it down;
may they perish at the rebuke of your countenance.
But let your hand be upon the one at your right hand,
the one whom you made strong for yourself.
Then we will never turn back from you;
give us life, and we will call on your name.
Restore us, O Lord God of hosts;
let your face shine, that we may be saved.
Then Peter came and said to him, "Lord, if another member of the church sins against me, how often should I forgive? As many as seven times?" Jesus said to him, "Not seven times, but, I tell you, seventy-seven times. For this reason the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his slaves. When he began the reckoning, one who owed him ten thousand talents was brought to him; and, as he could not pay, his lord ordered him to be sold, together with his wife and children and all his possessions, and payment to be made. So the slave fell on his knees before him, saying, 'Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.' And out of pity for him, the lord of that slave released him and forgave him the debt. But that same slave, as he went out, came upon one of his fellow slaves who owed him a hundred denarii; and seizing him by the throat, he said, 'Pay what you owe.' Then his fellow slave fell down and pleaded with him, 'Have patience with me, and I will pay you.' But he refused; then he went and threw him into prison until he would pay the debt. When his fellow slaves saw what had happened, they were greatly distressed, and they went and reported to their lord all that had taken place. Then his lord summoned him and said to him, 'You wicked slave! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. Should you not have had mercy on your fellow slave, as I had mercy on you?' And in anger his lord handed him over to be tortured until he would pay his entire debt. So my heavenly Father will also do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother or sister from your heart."
From the Theological Writings of Emanuel Swedenborg
True Christianity #256
Many passages in the Word attribute anger, wrath, and revenge to God; many passages say that God punishes people, throws them into hell, tempts them, and many other things like that. There is no harm in people who believe this in a simple, childlike way, and who therefore fear God and take care not to sin against him. However, if they reinforce this idea in themselves to the point of believing that God has anger, wrath and revenge, and therefore has evil traits, and that God angrily, wrathfully, and vengefully punishes us and throws us into hell, in this case the belief is hurtful, because they have done away with the real truth, which is that God is absolute love, absolute mercy, and absolute goodness, and someone who is all these things cannot be angry, wrathful or vengeful. The Word attributes these qualities to God because this is the way it seems. Things like this are apparent truths.
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