Evil, An Outside Influence
by Rev. Ormond Odhner
Evil is a thing outside of man. Merely entering into him, it cannot defile him. Only when it comes forth from the heart can evil defile man and condemn him to hell. Hence we read, "If a man would believe, as the case really is, namely, that all that is good and true is from the Lord, and all that is evil and false is from hell, he then could not become guilty of any fault, nor could evil be imputed to him; but because he believes that [evil] is from himself, he appropriates evil to himself, for this is the effect of his faith; and in this way evil adheres and cannot be separated from him" (AC 6324).
Our evil thoughts and desires do not originate in ourselves; they originate in hell, and flow into us from outside. As outside influences, they do not condemn us; they condemn us only when we welcome them and make them our own. This is true even of our hereditary evils, our hereditary tendencies to enjoy evil; and above all other evils, perhaps, our hereditary evils seem to be our own, so long have we been accustomed to them.
But of our hereditary evils we read: "The evil derived from parents, which is called hereditary evil ... acts in man and into man; in like manner good from the Lord acts ... If the evil acted through man, he would neither be capable of reformation, nor blameable; or if good from the Lord acted through man, he would be incapable of reformation; but as both good and evil depend upon man's free choice, he becomes guilty when he acts of himself from evil, and is blameless when he acts of himself from good" (TCR 154:4).
Note several things here. Evil, even your hereditary evil, does not act through you, by means of you, with you a dead instrument in its hands. Evil acts in you and into you; and that shows at once that it is not you. You are a human being, above and apart from that outside influence that is evil. It acts in you and into you; but even when you freely assent to its urgent promptings, it is still you who are acting from it. Even then it is not the evil that acts (through and by means of you). And not until you freely, rationally act from it can it in the least condemn you.
In our text, that which enters into man from without (in this case, evil) is, by implication, compared with food, for it is said that what enters through the mouth into the stomach but not into the heart does not make man unclean. This is explained as meaning that the evil that enters into man from without (through the mouth) enters first, or first consciously enters, into the thought (the stomach). But thought as long as it is merely thought, not yet intention nor conjoined with affection, is not really part of man, but is a thing outside him, even as the food which is still within the alimentary canal is not yet a part of the man himself. Hence it is that when evil first enters into man's thought, it is not yet a real part of him at all. How, then, could it condemn him?
Of this we read, "Evil which enters into the thought does no harm to man, because evil is continually infused by spirits from hell, and is continually repelled by angels. But when evil enters into the will, then it does harm, for then it also goes forth into act whenever external bonds do not restrain. Evil enters into the will by being kept in the thought, by consent, especially by act and the consequent delight" (AC 6204).
But let us go back a bit. As we already read, "If a man would believe, as the case really is,...that all that is evil and false is from hell, he then could not become guilty of any fault, nor could evil be imputed to him" (AC 6324). Why, then, is it so hard for us to believe this particular truth when it is rather obviously to our advantage to believe it? - believe it with the will, that is, as well as with the intellect. Is it, perhaps, because we fear that such a belief would wipe us out of existence? That is a terrible fear, indeed (even if in this case it is ungrounded); for it is not a part even of our God-given nature to wish ourselves out of existence.
It is comparatively easy for all Christians to believe that all that is good and true is from God, not from themselves. That is part of the doctrine of their churches that they have heard from childhood onward. It is comparatively easy to believe that, provided no one goes into its implications. Good does not come from ourselves, is not part of ourselves. But if that is also true of evil - and it is - what then is left of us? We are not the source of anything good; we are not the source of anything evil. What, then, are we? Nothing?
So it might seem. And that is the way that hell wants it to seem, for hell is the source of that ridiculous answer. Nothing? It is the Lord's inmost will that man shall always feel life to be his own. Without that feeling we would not be human. It is on that feeling that both our freedom and our own individual thought are founded. Whatever kind of life we lead, we will feel it to be our own; and that will be true to eternity. If we choose to spend eternal life in hell, we will feel infernal life to be our own. If we choose to spend eternity in heaven, we will feel heavenly life to be our own. That is what the Writings mean when they speak of the heavenly proprium: regenerate, heavenly life, sensed as our own. It is the Lord's will that this be so.
Does not everyone's experience show him that he feels his life to be his own? When he does something good, he is doing it; he cannot sense otherwise. (Really, though, he is acting from the good that flows into him from the Lord through heaven.) When he does something evil, he is doing it. (Actually, he is acting from the evil that flows into him from hell.) In both cases he feels life as his own, though in both cases his life is really flowing into him, in the one case from the Lord through heaven, in the other case (as to his conscious life) from the Lord through the distortions of hell.
All life, all love, inflows into man from without; and were it ever to cease inflowing, man would be like the light that comes from an incandescent lamp cut off from the source of its inflowing power. He would not die; he would cease to exist.
But if, as the case really is, man is not the source either of evil or of good, he still is not nothing. He is a vessel receptive of life, a vessel endowed with the faculties of freedom and reason, and therefore capable of deciding what kind of life he shall lead. What is more, his decisions in this regard actually change the form of the receptive vessel that he is. Thus does he build up his own distinctive individual personality.
Evil thoughts and desires do not originate in us; and occasionally we can even see this truth in our own experience. Occasionally a horribly evil thought may spring into our minds, apparently out of nowhere and certainly not from our own conscious bidding. At such a time we know that this thought did not come from ourselves; it is totally foreign to our very nature. And that is the truth. It came to us from hell. Usually we can drive such a thought away from ourselves; but there is always a moment of decision when we could, instead, welcome that thought and make it our own, make it a part of ourselves, thus changing forever the form of that vessel receptive of life that we are.
We are not the source of our evil thoughts and desires. Hell is. And yet the Writings clearly teach that the origin of evil (or, in theological terms, original sin) was in man, and nowhere else. That also is true. Evil originated in man when, in free will and according to his own reason, he first chose to believe in the God-given appearance that life is his own rather than in the God-revealed truth that life flows into him from the Lord. Both things were pleasant to man; and in freedom and according to his own reason, he chose to believe in the appearance rather than in the truth.
This was the sin of Adam. Thus did original sin come into the world. And this also is the origin of evil in every man today. He makes the origin of evil in himself when he insists on believing in the apparent truth that life is his own, and is unwilling to hold himself responsible for the conduct of his life to anyone or anything higher than himself.
Thus it is that every man makes the origin of evil in himself. Acting as of himself, he chooses to follow the promptings of hell to believe that life is his own, rather than to follow the counterbalancing influences of heaven which seek to have him believe that all life flows into him from the Lord. And so it goes throughout the rest of his life. He never need do it; but he is always free to act from the evil that acts in him and into him from hell. Thus, and thus only, does he make evil his own, become guilty of it, and make himself to blame for it.
Yet man never need do this, nor will he ever do it, if only he will acknowledge that evil is an outside influence acting upon him from hell, and is not really a part of him at all until he chooses to make it that. And this, we are told, he really can believe, if he acknowledges that the Lord's Human is Divine, and that evils are sins against Him.
To believe that evils are sins against the Lord is to believe that evils separate you from the will of the Lord. To shun evils as sins against the Lord is to turn away from evils, both in body and in mind, because they will separate you from Him. And to believe that the Lord's Human is Divine is to believe that even as to His Human He is God, your God, that which you love above all else in life. Surely, if He really is your God, you will care, you will be deeply concerned, about doing anything that will separate you from His will. Who could wish purposely to separate himself from that which he loves above all else in life?
Nor is it as hard to acknowledge the Lord's Human as Divine, and to believe that evils are sins against Him, as hell would have us think. It is not hard, we are told, if only we will think about eternal life (see AC 6201 e), acknowledging that blessings which endure to eternity, in comparison with blessings that last only for the few years of life on earth, are as everything compared with nothing.
When man is thinking in this way, he is thinking from the Lord; and then the Lord can grant him the acknowledgment that all life flows into him from without - evil and falsity from hell, good and truth from the Lord through heaven, both merely acting in him and into him, and thus giving him the freedom to choose to act from one or from the other, and to feel his chosen life to be his own. And then also will the Lord grant him the wisdom and the will to refuse the evil and to choose the good, and thus to gain from the Lord a truly heavenly proprium, angelic and regenerate life felt evermore as his own.
-New Church Life 1984;104:415-418