We’ve got to get rid of our evils, right? “Out with the old man and in with the new.” The old self is unredeemable. “You must be born again.”
There is truth in this perspective. Yet the teachings of the New Church invite us to see the process of human rebirth with greater precision. And this precision can free us from burdens of misunderstanding and it can help us cooperate with the Lord more fully, to our blessing.
The truth is, evils have no inherent reality. The Lord did not create them. Rather, He created good things that human beings have come to abuse – to twist and use improperly.
When we don’t understand this, we can find ourselves struggling to get rid of things in ourselves that are impossible to root out. We can ‘beat ourselves up’ for feelings and thoughts that we have that are not necessarily working against heaven.
We do begin life with a strong dose of selfishness and worldcentredness. We are born in an external state. That state is foundational to higher states of turning outward – to see, love and serve others, and God. Our freedom rests in beginning life in an external state of ignorance and coming into a higher state step by step. So, at first, we must be tuned to self and the world around us. Thus, we do things for the sake of our self and our worldly advantage. That is what engages us and brings satisfaction at first.
There is indeed evil flowing into this state (since the fall of humanity). The legions of hell stand ready to support us in feeling that we are more important than anyone else and sharing with us their pleasure in this. They are quick to inspire us to react to threats to our selfish goals with frustration, anger and the like. They share with us their delight in the misfortunes of our rivals.
But what happens to these states that have been part of us, as we begin to seek to be a spiritual person? As we seek to be governed by a love of others and of the common good? Self and the world do not go away! Neither does our wish to secure what we need, or gain a respected place among others. We still find pleasure in personal success – a pleasure that was once linked with hell. And when we do, it can be a source of guilt.
The Writings give us an interesting way to think of states like these. In explaining the statute given in Exodus that “When a man persuades a virgin who is not betrothed and lies with her, he shall surely endow her to be his wife.” (Exodus 22:16) That is, he should pay the bride price and marry her. What he did was not the right way to start a marriage, but he can make it right. In the spiritual sense of the Word, this situation is describing the fact that affections that we engage with in order to learn and to ‘get us ahead’, that are connected with evil in earlier states of life, can actually be subordinated to higher affections and become legitimate. Here is the explanation:
In the spiritual sense a wrongful joining together exists when truth is joined to an affection that springs from a delight in gain or from a delight in the attainment of important positions. This kind of affection is present in people if they learn the Church's truths for the sake of those delights. Yet that joining together does no harm to those who later on are regenerated by the Lord, since those affections remain with them, but become subordinate to and serve an affection for truth learned for the sake of the good that belongs to useful service and to life. Those earlier affections occupy the last place, though they were seen previously to occupy the first. For when a person is being regenerated the order of their life is turned around, and in this way a wrongful joining together is turned into a rightful one.
The passage continues:
The reason why this change in a person can come about is that the truths of faith enter by way of hearing, thus through the external self, and the external self has no taste for anything except things of the world and of self, that is, delights that arise from gain and important positions. But when the internal self has been opened through regeneration, good flows in from the Lord by way of the internal self, and that good adopts and joins to itself the truths of faith which have entered through the external self. The more they are joined together, the more the order is turned around. That is, what has been occupying the first place is now put in the last. When this happens the Lord draws towards Himself all aspects of life within a person, so that they face upwards. Then those things that are the Lord's and heaven's are seen by the person as ends and the Lord Himself as the end of all ends, while the former things, the delights that go with gain and important positions, are seen as means to that end.
It is well known that the means have their life solely from the end in view, and without that end have no life. Thus when the delights that go with gain and important positions have become the means, the life they have is the life that comes from heaven, that is, from the Lord by way of heaven, the end for the sake of which they exist being the Lord.
When the order of life in a person is like this, gain and important positions are a blessing to them. But if that order is turned around they are a curse to them. The truth that all things are a blessing when heavenly order exists in a person is the Lord's teaching in Matthew, “Seek first the kingdom of heaven and its righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” (Matthew 6:33)
Arcana Caelestia 9184 (emphasis added)
We can’t rid ourselves of selfish affections and delights, but we can reject the malicious motives and delights that have been associated with them and we can affirm the use they serve of supporting the higher loves that flow in from heaven. When heaven governs self and the world in us, we are in the order of heaven, and this order brings blessing on all levels!