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One morning when I awoke from sleep and was meditating in the serene morning light before I was fully awake, I saw through the window something like a flash of lightning, and presently heard something like a crash of thunder. While I wondered where this was from, I heard from heaven that there were some spirits near me disputing sharply about God and nature; and that the flash of light like lightning and the crashing sound like thunder were correspondences and consequent manifestations of the conflict and collision of arguments on the one side in favor of God, and on the other in favor of nature.
The origin of this spiritual contest was this: There were certain satans in hell who said to one another, "O that we might be permitted to talk with the angels of heaven! We would completely and fully demonstrate that what they call God, the origin of all things, is nature; therefore that God, unless nature is meant by it, is a mere word." And as these satans believed this with all their hearts and souls, and wished to talk with the angels of heaven, they were permitted to ascend from the mire and darkness of hell, and converse with two angels then descending from heaven.
These were in the world of spirits, which is midway between heaven and hell. The satans seeing the angels there, ran to them quickly, and cried out in a furious voice, "Are you the angels of heaven whom we are permitted to meet in argument about God and nature? You are called wise because you acknowledge God; but O how simple you are! Who has ever seen God? Who understands what God is? Who can comprehend that God rules, or is able to rule, the universe and each and all things in it? Who but the multitude and the rabble profess what they do not see nor understand? What is more obvious than that nature is the all-in-all? Who with his eye has ever seen anything but nature? Who with his ear has ever heard anything but nature? Who with his nostrils has ever smelt anything but nature? Who with his tongue has ever tasted anything but nature? Who by any touch of hand or body has ever felt anything but nature? Are not our bodily senses the witnesses of what is true? From their evidences cannot one swear that a thing is so? Does not the respiration by which our bodies live testify to this? What else do we breathe but nature? Are not our heads and yours in nature? Whence comes the influx into the thoughts of the head if not from nature? If nature were to be taken away could you think anything?" And much more in the same strain.
When the angels had heard this they replied, "You talk in this way because you are merely sensual; for all who are in hell have the ideas of their thoughts immersed in the bodily senses, and are unable to raise their minds above the senses. We therefore excuse you. A life of evil and a consequent belief in what is false have so far closed the interiors of your minds that with you any elevation above sensual things is impossible unless in a state remote from your evils of life and falsities of belief. For although a satan can understand truth when he hears it just as well as an angel, he does not retain it, because evil blots out truth and introduces falsity. But we perceive that you are now in a state remote from evil, and can therefore understand the truth we are presenting; therefore give attention to what we shall say."
And they said, "You were in the natural world; but you died there and are now in the spiritual world. Did you ever till now know anything about a life after death? Have you not heretofore denied it, and made yourselves the equals of beasts? Have you heretofore known anything about heaven and hell, or about the light of this world? Or have you known that you are no longer within the sphere of nature, but are above it? For this world and all things of it are spiritual; and spiritual things are so far above natural things that not the least thing of nature, in which you were, can flow into this world. But because you have believed nature to be a god or a goddess you also believe that the light and heat of this world are the light and heat of the natural world; and yet it is not so at all; for here natural light is darkness and natural heat is cold. Have you known anything about the sun of this world, from which our light and our heat proceed? Have you known that this sun is nothing but love, while the sun of the natural world is nothing but fire; and that it is the sun of the natural world, which is nothing but fire, from which nature derives its existence and subsistence; while it is the sun of heaven, which is nothing but love, from which life itself, which is love joined with wisdom, has its existence and subsistence, and thus that nature, which you make to be a god or a goddess, is manifestly dead.
You, if a guard were given you, could ascend with us into heaven; and if a guard were given us we could descend with you into hell. In heaven you would see things magnificent and splendid; while in hell you see things vile and unclean. The reason of these differences is that all in heaven worship God, and all in hell worship nature; and the magnificent and splendid things in the heavens are correspondences of affections of the love of what is good and true; while the vile and unclean things in the hells are correspondences of affections of the love of what is evil and false. Decide now from all this whether God or nature is the all-in-all." To this the satans replied, "In the state in which we now are we are able to conclude from what we have heard that there is a God; and yet when the delight of evil fills our minds we see nothing but nature."
I saw the two angels and the satans, and heard what they said, because they were standing not far from me; and behold, I saw around them many who had been celebrated for learning in the natural world; and I wondered why the learned stood sometimes near the angels and sometimes near the satans, and why they favored those near whom they stood; and it was said to me, "Their changes of position are changes in the state of their minds, favoring first one side and then the other; for in faith they are like Vertumni (from Vertumnus, the Etruscan god of change). And we will tell you a secret: We have looked down upon those celebrated for learning on the earth, and we have found six hundred out of a thousand in favor of nature, and the rest in favor of God; and those in favor of God were so not from any understanding of the matter, but only because they had heard that nature is from God, and had often talked about it; and frequent speaking about a matter from memory and recollection, even when it is not also a matter of thought and understanding, begets a kind of belief."
After this a guard was given to the satans, and they ascended with the two angels into heaven; and they saw things magnificent and splendid; and as they were then in a state of enlightenment from the light of heaven they acknowledged that there is a God, and that nature was created to be subservient to the life that is from God; and that nature in itself is dead, and therefore does nothing of itself, but is acted upon by life. Having seen and perceived all this they descended; and as they descended the love of evil returned and closed their understandings above and opened them below; and then there appeared above them a kind of shadow, flashing with infernal fire. And the moment their feet touched the earth the ground gaped beneath them and they sunk to their own.
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