Benjamin Franklin, the oldest signatory to the Constitution of the United States (September 17, 1787), said upon signing: “Our new Constitution is now established, everything seems to promise it will be durable; but, in this world, nothing is certain except death and taxes.”
In the nearly 250 years since Franklin uttered these words many a similar quote and meme has been spawned. Many of us, upon hearing the quote, will be spurred to reflect on our own thoughts about what else is inevitable in life; change, failure, surprises, mistakes, opportunities, challenges and conflict.
In our spiritual lives one important and inevitable experience is temptation. One key to battling in temptation is expressed in the New Church as the “as of self.”
What is Temptation?
In the teachings for the New Church temptation is not simply a matter of resisting worldly desires or sinful habits. Instead, temptation is a deeply internal spiritual struggle. Temptation, in this view, occurs when our earthly desires and false beliefs come into conflict with our spiritual aims and divine truths.
These spiritual struggles are a necessary part of our path towards becoming better, more spiritual beings. Through this process, we can gradually overcome our lower natures, align more closely with divine love and wisdom, and move towards spiritual regeneration.
While most of us feel alone and often entirely abandoned by the Lord during times of true spiritual temptation, we are not alone. The Lord never leaves us during these struggles, even though it may feel that way. Instead, He is most intimately present with us during our times of trial, giving us the strength to eventually overcome our struggles.
Leaning into Temptation “as of self”
It is essential to understand that everything good and true actually originates from the Lord, and not from the individual. However, in order for any of us to engage with these virtues and incorporate them into our lives, we need to perceive and act on them as if they are our own. Think of this in terms of two tenants in adjacent flats. One tenant knows that he does not own the flat and cares little for its maintenance, leaving the place in deplorable condition upon vacating it. The other, knows that the flat is not theirs and yet cares for it as if it were, leaving the flat in at least as good condition as it was delivered to them. This is the principle of "as of self".
The "as of self" is the conscious effort we make to align our thoughts and actions with divine love and wisdom, while acknowledging that these virtues ultimately come from the Lord. This effort is necessary for spiritual growth, because it's through this process that we allow the Lord to permanently root these higher principles within us and allow them to guide our lives.
When we are experiencing times of true spiritual temptation, the effort we make "as of self" is crucial. We must actively resist our lower impulses and strive to live according to divine principles. However, it's also vital to recognise that our ability to do so, and the strength to conquer these temptations, ultimately comes from the Lord. Thus, the "as of self" operates in tandem with a deep acknowledgment of the Lord's power and grace.
In short, the teachings for the New Church emphasise the importance of human agency in spiritual development, while continuously reminding us of our dependence on the Lord. It encourages active participation in our spiritual battles, while humbly acknowledging the divine origin of our strength and virtue.