Nature and Divinity

‎”Angels are stunned when they hear that there are people who credit everything to nature and nothing to the Divine, as well as people who believe that their bodies, in which so many wonders of heaven are gathered, are fashioned out of nature, and even that this is the source of our rational capacity. On the contrary, if people would just raise their minds a little, they could see that things like this come from the Divine and not from nature, and that nature was created simply to clothe the spiritual and responsively represent it on the lowest level of the design. They compare such people to owls, which see in darkness, but see nothing in the light.”
-Emanuel Swedenborg, Heaven and Hell, p. 139

Swedenborg makes an interesting point. Some people may see this as a denial of evolution and other scientific descriptions of the material world; I don’t know Swedenborg’s work but I don’t see that in this passage. He is not disputing materialist or natural description, he is just saying that this is not all that there is. Evolution is not denied if there is a meaning and even an intention behind it that cannot be apprehended by science.

‘It is written, Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God.’ Matthew 4:1-4

In Matthew 4:1-4 Jesus is making the point that our being is sustained not just by the natural order but also by divine intention. To be whole we need to be aware not just of nature but also of the divine within and behind nature and on which the natural order hangs. The passage is part of the description of Jesus being tempted by Satan during his forty day fast. Satan attempts to tempt Jesus through a small thing, bread to satisfy his hunger, and through a large thing, the promise of worldly power. In a wholly materialist world, ease and power are obvious goals; in the world of the divine their pursuit means distraction from the real and entanglement in illusion.

There is a very similar story in Buddhist tradition where Buddha is tempted by Mara:

Tradition has it that at this time kings who exercised rule oppressed the subjects over whom they ruled. As the Exalted One saw men punished and persecuted under the rule of these wicked kings, he was moved to compassion. And he considered thus within himself, “Is it not possible to exercise sovereignty without killing or causing to kill, without conquering or causing to conquer, without sorrow or causing sorrow, with justice and righteousness?”

Now Mara the Evil One perceived within himself the thought that was passing through the mind of the Exalted One, and he reflected thus, “The monk Gotama is considering within himself, ‘Is it not possible to exercise sovereignty?’ It must be that he now desires to exercise sovereignty. And this thing which is called sovereignty is an occasion of heedlessness. If he does exercise sovereignty, I may be able to catch him off his guard. I will therefore go and arouse his ambition.”[1]

Accordingly Mara the Evil One approached the Teacher and said, “Reverend sir, let the Exalted One exercise sovereignty; let the Happy One exercise sovereignty, without killing or causing to kill, without conquering or causing to conquer, without sorrow or causing sorrow, with justice and righteousness.” Said the Teacher to Mara, “Evil One, what do you see in me that makes you speak thus to me?” Said Mara to the Teacher, “Reverend sir, the Exalted One has developed to the full the four bases of spiritual power. For should the Exalted One resolve, ‘Let the Himalaya, king of mountains, be turned to gold,’ that mountain would turn to gold. I, too, will do with this wealth all those things which can be done with wealth. Thus you shall rule justly and righteously.” Then said the Teacher:

A mountain made of gold,
Of only gold alone,
Given to one — not enough!
Knowing this, live steadily.

Having seen where suffering has its cause,
How can a person turn away to pleasures?
Knowing the “assets”[2] as attachments in the world,
Let such a one by training subdue them.

With these stanzas the Teacher aroused and alarmed Mara the Evil One. Then he said to him, “I will admonish you yet again, Evil One. I have nothing in common with you. Thus do I admonish you.” So saying, he pronounced the following stanzas:

Happy are companions when the need arises,
Contentment is happiness with just this and that;
Happy is merit when life is at an end,
Abandoning all suffering is happiness.

Happiness is it to serve one’s mother here,
To serve one’s father, too, is happiness;
Happiness is serving ascetics here.
To serve brahmanas[3] is happiness.

Virtue till old age is happiness;
Happiness is faith planted firmly;
Happy is the gaining of wisdom,
Not doing evil — that is happiness.
— Dhp 331-333

Both Buddha and Jesus are pointing to the ‘divine’ reality. Attaining Nirvana/Enlightenment is the same as entering the Kingdom of Heaven. It’s the ultimate attainment and nothing in the ‘natural’ world comes close so Buddha and Jesus may think about the way the world is run but without any desire to become political leaders; they offer the gift of spiritual liberation which is far beyond political liberation or financial freedom.