The Blessing of Work
by Rev. David R. Simons
Man is created by a God of infinite mercy and love who wills that he shall find happiness in an eternal heaven. This kingdom, the Writings tell us, is a kingdom of uses, in which each individual angel is absorbed in fulfilling the needs of others: in exercising his God-given talents to the full, and in receiving the inmost blessing of all - a growing, expanding delight in the perfection of uses.
The order of the eternal heaven is the golden rule amplified: as the individual angel does to others, they do to him, and indefinitely more. He gives of himself, of his growing wisdom and skills; and he receives those of others, from the entire heaven. Even his environment rewards him, for it relates directly to his thought and will. Good loves and true thoughts are reflected in the heavens in forms of beauty and order which directly correspond to the thoughts of the angels, so that their gifts from the Lord are compounded in all directions. Freely they give; freely they receive - "pressed down, and shaken together, and running over."( Luke 6: 38)
The nature and quality of the heavens toward which the Lord leads every man have been disclosed to Emanuel Swedenborg, who, as the servant of the Lord, was introduced to the wonders of heaven, and who describes in detail the homes and surroundings of the angels. Yet of all these things of indescribable beauty the angels said:
This affection of good is man's "daily bread" from heaven. As it is in heaven so, originally, was it on earth. Man was born into the order of his life and was led through the seven days of spiritual creation to the height of spiritual intelligence and wisdom; and the world of the mind was matched by a physical world of beauty and order, a paradisal Garden of Eden on earth.
However, with the passing of time man grew tired of spiritual things. He turned away from the Lord and from heaven. Hearkening to the subtle voice of the serpent - the lowly love of self - he chose to eat the forbidden fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil; that is, to look to external things for the knowledge, delight and pleasure of his life - for his daily bread. Then it was that falsity and evil arose, and, for his own sake, man had to be ejected from his earthly paradise. Thus it is written in the book of creation:
Man turned his back on his Creator, but the Lord never stopped loving man. His will to lead man from earth to heaven continued, as did the giving of an external environment which matched man's internal states. Yet, since the "wickedness of man was great in the earth, and every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually," (Genesis 6: 5) the Lord permitted this wickedness - the falsities and evils of the self-centered human will - to be reflected in the external world. For man's sake, for the sake of his eternal welfare, the environment was allowed to become hostile: a world of "thorns and thistles" - of harmful forces, poisonous plants and destructive animals.
In reflecting human hate and greed, the material environment, once benevolent and mild and entirely friendly to man, now took on sterner, harsher aspects. Whereas the fruits of the ground were originally offered in abundance, now man was forced to wrest his living from the ground with struggle and hardship, in travail and exhaustion - by the sweat of his brow. Although, before the fall, everything was free, thereafter nothing worthwhile could be received in life without struggle and sacrifice, and as the bread of sorrows.
A loving and all-wise God placed the natural man in a world hostile to his native inclinations, not as a punishment for disobedience, but so that man might learn to earn his daily bread, and in the learning be led to become a form of heavenly use. For beneath the surface hostility of nature, ever ready to be tapped, lie rich rewards. As man learns to give, as he learns to subordinate self-will in useful work, his daily bread is given to him in increasing abundance.
By the fall, man, who had originally acted for the neighbor from the internal compulsion of love to the Lord, became dominated by the love of self, which does nothing for others that it does not have to do. Consequently, had man been permitted to remain in the Garden of Eden, he would have been eternally destroyed by his own self-satisfaction, complacency and do-nothing laziness. In a hostile environment, however, in a world of thorns, thistles and dust, his very life depended upon work. Yet it is in the "misery" of work, in the toil and travail brought about by necessity, that the opportunity for eternal happiness is extended to man by the Lord. For when necessity knocks, the self-centered human will is forced to respond. The necessities of life goad all but the most depraved to forget themselves in work. In this way an external discipline and order are imposed on the life of the natural man which can serve as a foundation for the internal self-compulsion and order which bring the blessings of heaven.
It has been ordained, then, by a merciful Providence, whose concern is for man's eternal welfare, that the dominant loves of the human heart - the loves of self and the world - shall be able to gain their ends only through sweat and toil and tears: through the giving up of self; through bowing and humbling themselves before the fixed realities of the external world. The love of self in each and every man is required to bow itself down to gain the bread it loves. It has to bend its back to plow the soil; it has to lean down to plant the seed; it has to reach out to gather in the harvest; it has to exert effort to winnow the wheat and grind it into flour; it has to roll up its sleeves to knead the dough; and it has to wait patiently for the baking to be done. Only then, after continued bending, humility and patient self-control, is man able to receive bread that satisfies. When we analyze it, the external progress of which modern man is so proud is from this kind of bending. The partial controls he has managed to impose on the hostile forces of nature and which have brought so many benefits to his body are not, as human conceit loves to suppose, due to man's mastery of the elements, but rather from man's mastery over himself. They come from his learning to subordinate his will to the fixed realities which exist outside of him. The Lord has stored up limitless riches in all nature - wealth and power beyond human imagining; yet for man's sake, for the sake of his eternal welfare, for the sake of opening the human mind to the reception of spiritual wealth and power, these natural riches are circumscribed, held back, and given to man only when and in so far as he, in the sweat of his face, works for them in bending his will to the will of the Lord.
Yet, as each one of us is at times painfully aware, the natural man is averse to work of any kind. Labor goes against the grain. There is an inborn friction which makes it difficult for us to move a muscle when there is no direct benefit to self involved. Once we get going, however, once that friction is overcome by self-compulsion, determination or necessity, the activities of the body and the concentration of the mind bring a sense off relief, fulfillment and delight. It is a recognized fact of mental therapy that a distraught mind finds solace and healing in concentration on physical tasks, in making things with the hands, in actual work and accomplishment; and what is true of the disordered mind is powerfully true for all minds. The activity of use, the directing of mind and body to meet specific challenges in life through actual sweat, provides a release for more than the poisons of the body. For in the struggle toward accomplishment, in the effort to meet and overcome the resistance which Providence has intentionally built into the outside world, in the singleness of purpose which concentrated and sustained effort demands, man is carried outside of himself. He is elevated above self-concern. He is mercifully freed from self-consciousness; and in the degree that self is forgotten, something of the worthwhile spheres of heaven, something of use from the Lord can flow in, and then it is that what seemed to be a curse is transformed into a blessing. As the Lord said to the Jews: "The Lord thy God turned the curse into a blessing unto thee, because the Lord thy God loved thee." (Deuteronomy 23: 5)
What is recognizably true of the natural man in each one of us, namely, that we are averse to work and that it takes determination and self-compulsion to overcome the friction of self-concern and self-indulgence to gain the delight of accomplishment, is doubly true spiritually. Since the fall, the natural man has had an inborn aversion to the spiritual work of recognizing and shunning evil, which is the means of regeneration. Yet that is the only way in which we can be given the true bread of spiritual affection for good.
The teaching of the Heavenly Doctrine concerning the man of our age is that he loves to look into, and does look into, the abstract matters of the sciences, and studies them from affection; but "when we treat of spiritual [things] of good and truth, he feels weariness and also aversion." (Arcana Coelestia 4096: 3) We read further:
These things are said concerning the character of the men of the church at the present day. It is this aversion to spiritual things that is meant in the internal sense of "eating bread in the sweat of the countenance." (Arcana Coelestia 276)
That we may learn to work spiritually, that man may be aroused from lethargy in spiritual things, that each one of us may overcome his hereditary aversion to thinking about and living the life that leads to heaven, the Lord has become present in the rational truths of the Heavenly Doctrine, challenging us to "enter intellectually into the arcana of faith." (True Christian Religion 508) If we will but make the effort, if we will but do the work - compelling ourselves, if need be, to read, think and live in the light of the new revelation; if we will exercise our minds and discipline our lives, every aspect of life will be changed for us and we will be caught up and elevated by irresistible currents of spiritual purpose and delight. We will come to recognize the truth that work is not a curse but a blessing, and that "just as far as anyone puts his mind into his work and labor from the love of it, he is in it as to affection and thought concerning it; and in proportion as he is in it, he is withheld from thinking and loving vanities and afterwards led . . . to think and love goods," (Charity 168) which are the bread of heaven.
From the Heavenly Doctrine the man of the church can come to realize that the promise made by the Lord in the book of Revelation, that in heaven all men "may rest from their labors," (Revelation 14: 13) does not mean what the natural man longs for, that is, eternal rest from active service to others, but quite the contrary. Eternal rest means rest from the aversion to work, rest from being dominated by self-love, rest from the sweat of self-compulsion: the "rest of the soul when it is no longer infested by evils and falsities." (Apocalypse Revealed 640) That is the rest of the angels, who are so absorbed in the perfecting of uses, so completely engrossed in the urgency of filling the needs of the neighbor, so carried away by the soul satisfying delights of contributing to others what they have received from the Lord, that all thought of self is removed. Thus, an angel tells us:
-New Church Life 1963;83:108-112