Is the Devilís Pillow Soft?
by J.L. O.
How would you like to be useful for the rest of eternity? That's an important question to ask yourself, because it's a fact of life that you are going to be useful. Everyone in heaven is useful. We're told that "no idler is tolerated there, no lazy vagabond, no slothful boaster claiming credit for the zeal and vigor of other people. But everyone must be active, skillful, attentive, and diligent in his office or business" (D. Love XII).
Now if you love to be lazy, you might think that you are better off in hell. But the fact is that everyone in hell is useful too. "No idle person is tolerated even in hell. The people there are in workhouses and under a judge who gives the prisoners chores to do every day. The ones who do not do them get neither food nor clothing - they stand naked and hungry. That's how they are forced to work there" (AE 1194:2). So whether you end up in heaven or in hell, you will be doing useful things.
This might make us wonder, "What's the difference between heaven and hell?" One difference is in the kinds of jobs they have. "Even people in hell must perform a use, but the uses they perform are the most vile" (AC 1097).
Perhaps a more important difference is in the motive behind their actions. "The difference is that in hell uses are done from fear, but in heaven from love - and fear does not give joy, but love does" (AE 1194:2). The angels find delight in being useful. The devils do not. That's what makes heaven heaven, and hell hell.
Once there was a man who wanted to know what heaven and hell were like. An angel appeared to him and told him, "Inquire and learn what delight is, and you'll know."
He asked some wise spirits, and they told him, "Delight is everything of life to everyone in heaven and to everyone in hell .... The heavens are in the delight of doing what is good, but the hells are in the delight of doing what is evil" (TCR 570).
Sometimes we may underplay the importance of delight. As we go about our daily routines, it's easy to see our actions clearly and our motives obscurely. We might feel satisfied with ourselves for accomplishing useful tasks, and forget that our goal should be more than just getting things done. Our goal should be to take delight in doing useful things.
Probably the one thing more than anything else that makes usefulness seem undelightful is laziness. Loving to be lazy is just the opposite of loving to be useful. A person who loves to be lazy might do many useful things, but they won't make him happy. All he wants is to be idle, so anything useful will always be a loathsome, tedious chore to him. With an eternity of uses ahead of him, his future is not too promising.
Once there were some new spirits who were disappointed to find that people had jobs in heaven. They were looking forward to eternal rest from their labors. Someone asked them, "Did you think eternal rest meant eternal idleness, when you would be always sitting or lying down, calling for things to delight your mind and please your body?"
"Something like that," they said, smiling pleasantly.
"But," he replied, "what do pleasures and delights have to do with idleness? Idleness makes a man weak, sluggish, numb, and drowsy. These are death, not life - much less eternal life. Eternal rest is in some pursuit or job that arouses, quickens, and delights the mind. It's use that makes an angel an angel. The delight of use carries him along as a favorable current carries a ship, giving him eternal peace. This is the meaning of eternal rest from labors" (TCR 694 paraphrased).
Actually, idleness does more than just make you weak and drowsy. "People who love ease more than use," Swedenborg notes, "collect evils in their spirit" (SD 5839). "Idleness is like a sponge that soaks up all kinds of dirty water" (SD 6072). The devil comes right in, because there's nothing to keep those evils away. "Only the love of use repels them." That, he explains, is why idleness is the devil's pillow. (Ibid.) He even states that "idleness is the root of all evil, because an idle mind is spread out to various evils and falsities, while in work it is focused on one thing" (SD 6088).
Some people love to be useful. Some would rather be lazy, but do useful things anyway, out of necessity, greed, or craving for respect. Since most people end up doing useful things, actions mean less than motives to our spiritual growth. And how do we see our motives? Not so much in our actions as in our delights. We need to ask ourselves, "What do I enjoy? Do I find my greatest delight in use, or in idleness?" It's only by taking a look at our delights that we can know whether we are performing uses from a love of uses, or from a love of self. The Lord tells us, "If anyone wants to know the ends that are within him, let him simply pay attention to the delight he perceives in himself from the praise and glory of self, and to the delight he perceives from use separate from self. If he perceives this latter delight, he is in genuine affection" (AC 3796:3).
-New Church Life 1981;101:238-239