From a spiritual standpoint, just exactly how bad is the sin of adultery? Considering the free promiscuous culture these days, it is important to note here that the sin of adultery has some very bad spiritual consequences. It is so important, that among the works that Swedenborg wrote there is one dedicated to discussing the topic of marriage - Angelic Wisdom concerning Marriage Love. Swedenborg had 27 years of visions of heaven and hell, and saw many, many lost souls due to the sin of adultery.
In general, a life of marriage tends to lead towards heaven, but a life of adultery leads to hell. However, there are certain scenarios where the issue is not quite so black and white, and one should not jump to condemnation. In fact, Swedenborg is quite rational in his viewpoints on sex and marriage, and provides advice that many religious leaders cannot. And this advice he obtained in extensive conversations with angelic spirits, who were in the enjoyment of marriage love to eternity.
There have been discussions with the recent hack of a web site that promotes having an illicit affair, promoting the idea that "having an affair can help strengthen a marriage." Nothing can be further from the truth. And for consequences, people seem to only be interested in discussing the financial impact. So, from visions of heaven and hell, let's discuss the consequences of committing adultery, and why those who have no spirituality would regard it of no account.
ALL ACTIONS ARE JUDGED BY THEIR INTENT, AND ONE'S SPIRITUAL KNOWLEDGE
First, there are two general "spiritual laws" by which one's actions are judged:
1. One's intent in committing the action, andSo let's first discuss intent. In civil law, intent is important. Intent governs the distinction between murder and manslaughter - was it premeditated? As intent governs punishment in civil law, so intent governs punishment in the spiritual world. For one's intent is governed by one's love, and one's love determines one's eternal state in the afterlife. While in the material world people often have a habit of covering up their intent with an external facade and deception, this is not possible in the spiritual world. All thoughts are laid bare, and shown in the light. The evil, who seek to hide what they have done, of themselves shun God's light and seek the darkness. In the afterlife, one's thoughts and desires becomes one's reality. But actions are governed by one's intent:
2. One's knowledge of truth or spiritual awareness.
"It is to be known that the end is what determines the character of all the deeds of a man. If his end or intention is to do good for the sake of reputation, or to procure honors or gain, then the good which he does is not good, because it is done for the sake of himself, and thus also from himself. But if his end is to do good for the sake of a fellow citizen, or of his country, or of the church, thus for the sake of the neighbor, then the good which a man does is good, for it is done for the sake of good itself, which in a general sense is the real neighbor (n. 5025, 6706, 6711, 6712, 8123); and thus also it is done for the sake of the Lord, for such good is not from man, but from the Lord, and what is from the Lord is the Lord's... From these things it is plain what it is to do good for the sake of self or the world, and what it is to do good for the sake of the Lord or the neighbor, and what the difference is between them — a difference as great as between two opposites, thus as great as between heaven and hell. Moreover they who do good for the sake of the neighbor or the Lord are in heaven; but they who do good for the sake of self and the world are in hell." (Heavenly Arcana, n. 9210.1, 3)So, discerning the moral nature of an action is governed by intent, and while we can see only the external actions, determining another person's intent is not always known to us. Thus while someone should not jump to conclusions about someone's intent, it is a good spiritual exercise to self examine one's own intents, purpose, or end:
"If any one desires to know the ends in himself, let him attend only to the enjoyment which he perceives in himself from the praise and glory of self, and to the enjoyment which he perceives from use separate from self; if he perceives this latter enjoyment, he is then in genuine affection. He should also attend to the various states in which he is, for states themselves very much vary the perception. These things man may explore in himself, but in others he cannot, for the ends of every one's affection are known to the Lord alone. Thus the Lord said: Judge not that ye be not judged; condemn not, that ye be not condemned (Luke vi. 37); for a thousand persons may appear to be in like affection as to truth and good, and yet every one is in an affection unlike as to origin, that is, as to end." (Heavenly Arcana, n. 3796.3)The other factor to consider is the nature of one's knowledge, and one's spiritual knowledge. Knowing and not knowing the other partner was married are two completely different matters. Also, one's knowledge of spiritual matters governs how the action is to be judged:
"They who are without the church are in ignorance of truth and good, and those who are in ignorance may be in a kind of innocence while speaking and acting somewhat contrary to the truths and goods of faith; for they may act from a certain zeal for the worship with which they have been imbued from infancy and which they therefore believe to be true and good." (Heavenly Arcana, n. 593)I give a general guideline here, because it is impossible to discuss every possible situation of marriage and adultery. Everyone's situation is slightly different.
THE SPIRITUAL LEVELS OF SEXUAL MATURITY
There are two main spiritual levels of sexual maturity, and one's level will determine one's view of this matter. They are:
1. The love of sex, and of the other sex in general. This is the natural love of sex.All begin in the natural love, or external love of sex. And this can be the way love is at the beginning of a relationship. But if the love grows spiritually, it grows into a deeper spiritual love of one of the sex. The spiritual love of sex is hidden within the natural love of sex. And hidden within the spiritual love of sex, are deeper levels of love - the love of heaven, the love of God.
2. The love of one of the other sex. This is the spiritual love of sex.
Many, who only look at the natural desire aspect of sex, do not ever reach level 2. If level 2 gets shut off, they can tend to develop a promiscuous sexual lifestyle. If one remains at level 1, one may have a tendency to commit sins of fornication, which are light. Those who are polygamists are also at level 1. Those who remain at this level do not see the distinction between adultery, prostitution, and marriage love, and consider marriage perhaps only distinct from adultery as a matter of civil law. In many western countries this distinction has disappeared in civil law.
If one reaches level 2, and comes into a commitment of to love one of the sex, and then reverts back to level 1 - this is the sin of adultery. One has not only betrayed their partner, but they have committed an act of profanation against that which is holy. For hidden within marriage love is the highest love of the universe, and marriage love is the physical manifestation of it. It is holy, for within marriage love is the generation of the entire human race, and from the human race angels are born which populate the heavenly worlds.
THE SPIRITUAL ORIGIN OF MARRIAGE LOVE AND SEX
The desire for the other sex is actually spiritual in origin. This is one of the big surprises in the revelations given to Emanuel Swedenborg: they explain why humans are divided between male and female. I discussed this a bit before in previous posts: The Divine Origin of Marriage Love and Sex and The Truth of Eternal Soul Mates and Twin Flames.
There are two aspects to the Divine: Divine Love, and Divine Truth. All things in the universe are a manifestation of the union between love and truth. This spiritual union between love and truth is the true origin of marriage love, but this is hidden from many. Humans are a microcosm of the universe, and there are two aspects to every human: the will and the understanding. The will is in the act of doing, and the understanding is the thought of the action. The Divine Love flows into our will, and the Divine truth flows into our understanding.
Swedenborg explains this in detail in Angelic Wisdom concerning Marriage Love. He begins as follows:
"There are internal and external origins of marriage love; and the internal are many. The external likewise are many. But the inmost or universal origin of all is one. That this is the marriage of good and truth is to be shown in what now follows. That no one has hitherto deduced the origin of that love from thence is because it has been unknown that there is any union between good and truth. And the reason why this has been unknown is that good does not like truth appear in the light of the understanding; and so knowledge of it conceals itself, and it has eluded investigation. And as from this cause good is among the things unknown, no one could suspect any marriage between it and truth." (Angelic Wisdom concerning Marriage Love, n. 83)Just as good, or the will, hides itself from the understanding, so women never explain why they behave in certain ways to men. Swedenborg also exposes the secret ways women control men.
Males have a tendency to be rational and intellectual. Their physical form is an aspect of Divine truth. Females have a tendency to be volitional, and in the affection of the intellect, and are thus forms of Divine love. As love and truth are always constantly desiring to become one, this is the spiritual origin of marriage love between a man and a woman. Marriage love is holy, because in the human microcosm it is a representation of the covenant relationship between the Lord and His Church, and with all humanity. The Lord is the husband and master, the Church is the bride of Christ.
This is Divine order, and adultery goes against this Divine order. It is severely punished in the afterlife. As it is a representation of the relationship between the Lord and the Church, it is especially forbidden in Christianity. One can measure the decline in spirituality by measuring how distant one has moved away from marriage love, to the love of adultery. The more one shuns adultery, the closer one moves toward marriage, and vice versa.
THE SPIRITUAL VISIONS OF THE HELLS OF ADULTERERS
The reality is humans can be good or evil, and in the afterlife there are separate places for both. Everyone, in a sense, creates their own reality in the afterlife - it is a reflection of one's desires and thoughts. In hell, there is one law: those who are in evil are in the punishment of their evil. These punishments continue until they desist. The punishments are designed to make them from falling into a worse state. In heaven are those who are in the enjoyment of love towards others, and love towards God. Those who are in hell are in utter hatred towards those in heaven, and the hell of adulterers are particularly severe. For those who have been exposed as adulterers, its not going to make them feel particularly any better. If the hack felt like a stone, this is going to feel like a crushing boulder. But better to correct it now, then to be too late.
One man, who regarded adulteries as nothing, began to approach heaven in the afterlife, and was rejected:
"One was admitted to the first threshold of heaven, because he strongly desired it, who in the life of the body made light of adulteries. As soon as he came he began to feel distressed, and to be sensible of his own stench, like that of a dead carcase, until he could not bear it. It seemed to him that if he went further he would perish. He was therefore cast down thence to the lower earth, angry that when he came to but the first threshold of heaven he should be in such torment, because he came into a sphere opposed to adulteries. He is among the unhappy." (Heavenly Arcana, n. 539)Here is a particularly bad description of the hell of those who seduce married wives, how they have no conscience:
"Those who ensnare by pretended regard for marriage love and love for children, so deporting themselves that the husband shall have no suspicion but that his guests are chaste, guileless, and friendly, and under such and various other pretences the more safely commit adultery, are in a hell under the buttocks, in the filthiest excrement; and are wasted until they become as bones, because they are among the deceitful. Such do not even know what conscience is. I have talked with them, and they were surprised that any one should have conscience and should say that adulteries are against conscience." (Heavenly Arcana, n. 827)If that hell sounds bad, its about to get worse. Back in the 18th century Swedenborg began to see this hell increasing, especially from the Christian world:
"It is remarkable that those who were cruel in the life of the body were also, more than others, adulterers. Such are those who are in this hell. Unspeakable methods of cruelty are practised there. By their fantasies they make themselves vessels as for braying, like those used for braying herbs, and pestles, wherewith they bray and torture whomsoever they can; and also as it were broad axes, like those of executioners; and augers, with which they do cruel violence to one another; besides other dreadful things. Some of the Jews are there who in former times so cruelly treated the Gentiles. And at this day that hell is increasing, especially from those who come from the so called Christian world and have had all the enjoyment of their life in adulteries, who also are for the most part cruel. Sometimes their enjoyment is turned into the stench of human excrement, which exhales excessively when that hell is opened. I perceived it in the world of spirits, and at the time almost fell into a swoon from the effect of it. This noisome, excrementitious smell by turns fills the hell, and by turns ceases. It is their enjoyment from adulteries which is turned into such offensiveness. In process of time, when they have passed through a given period in such things, they are left alone and sit in torment, becoming like unsightly skeletons, but still living." (Heavenly Arcana, n. 824)The hack of the web site exposed that 80-90% of the clients were men. The rest women. This means the women had the opportunity of many more encounters, and one confessed to a news site she had about 50 encounters, many of them with married men. What happens to women who engage in adultery? Here is one description:
"In the plane of the soles of the feet, at a considerable distance forward, is a hell which is called Gehenna, where are shameless women who have placed all their enjoyment in adulteries, and regarded adulteries as not only permissible but reputable, and who under various pretences of uprightness have allured the guileless and innocent to such things. A kind of fiery glow as it were appears there, such as overcasts the sky from a great conflagration; and it is attended with fiery heat, as it was given me to feel by the warmth from it on my face; and there is a stench exhaled therefrom, as from burning of bones and hair. Sometimes this hell is changed into dreadful serpents, which bite them; and then they long for death, but cannot die. Certain women released therefrom came to me and said there was a fiery heat there; and that when they are allowed to draw near to any society of good spirits the heat is changed to intense cold; and then burning heat and cold alternate with them, from one extreme to the other, and thereby they are miserably tormented. But yet they have their intervals during which they are in the heat of their fiery lust. But, as was said, their states vary." (Heavenly Arcana, n. 825)A society in which marriage is disregarded and adultery is accepted, leads to shameless behavior and jealousy among women. Everyone begins to distrust the other. See The Jealousy of Beauty among Women. Physically attractive women tend to get ostracized from society.
One last passage, not exactly on adultery, but concerning men who entertain lustful and disrespectful thoughts concerning women:
"There are also boys, youths, and young men who from the folly and fierce desire of their age conceived abominable principles — as that wives, especially those who are young and beautiful, ought not to be for a husband, but for themselves and their like, the husband remaining only head of the household and educator of the children. These are distinguished in the other life by the boyish sound of their speech. They are behind at some height there. Those of them who have confirmed themselves in such principles, and in actual life conformable thereto, are grievously punished in the other life, by having their joints put out of place and back again, or twisted one way and the other, by spirits who can by their art induce upon them the fantasy of being in the body, and at the same time a bodily sense of pain. By these violent alternations, together with their struggles in resistance, they are so rent that they seem to themselves as if dismembered and torn to bits, with frightful pain; and this time after time, until struck with horror at such principles of life they cease to think in that way." (Heavenly Arcana, n. 829)
EXCEPTIONS TO THE CONDEMNATION OF ADULTERY
One thing I did not mention here, is that there are valid reasons why a married couple should divorce. Adultery is one of them. And depending on the reason for the divorce, one can find a subsequent partner and experience true marriage love.
There are particular situations, where if infidelity is uncovered, it is still better to remain married for the sake of the children - a divorce would be too damaging to them. In these particular cases, especially if the man has discovered his wife to be unfaithful, separation of bed may be advisable while putting up the appearance of a continued marriage. If this last several years, this is a special situation where it may be permissible for one to have a mistress, as long as the separation of bed is permanent. While others may think this is adultery, its not - so not all are to be harshly judged if exposed.
Similar situations can arise if one's partner is mentally ill, or develops a physical illness, and cannot fulfill one's marital duties. There are abusive partners where it is not really a marriage. So, everyone's case is different. These situations are discussed in more detail in Swedenborg's work, Angelic Wisdom concerning Marriage Love. Not everything is black and white - there are spiritual laws of permission, where the lesser evil is chosen, to prevent one from falling into a worse state.
It is not good to keep infidelity hidden. It is better to be honest with oneself, and honest with one's partner. Don't let a hidden problem fester. This kind of behavior tends to be addictive, and most avoid admitting fault and correcting it. Better to do it now, than to be too late.
In all of this, remember one thing: Life is eternal. Stay with the one you truly love.
A DIALOGUE WITH AN ANGEL CONCERNING THE END OF THE CHRISTIAN CHURCH
If the sin of adultery is regarded as nothing, and marriages as nothing, it is a sign that the Christian church has come to its end. I thought I would include this short dialogue Swedenborg had with an angel, who showed how religion and marriage love are directly related:
"Again I asked the angel:—"Why did you say that those who are there are spiritual and natural adulterers? Why not say evil doers and impious?"
He replied:—"Because all who regard adulteries as of no account, that is who believe from confirmation that they are not sins, and so do them of set purpose, are evil doers and impious in their heart. For the human conjugiale and religion go together at every step. Every advance, even every step from religion and in religion is also an advance and step from the conjugiale and in the conjugiale that is peculiar to the Christian man."
To the question;—"What is this conjugiale?" he said:—"It is the desire of living with one only wife. And it is in the Christian man according to his religion."
After these experiences I was grieved in spirit that marriages, which in the ancient ages were most holy, are so hopelessly changed into adulteries.
And the angel said:—"It is the same with religion at the present day; for the Lord says,—At the consummation of the age there shall be the abomination of desolation spoken of by Daniel. . . . And there shall be great affliction, such as hath not been from the beginning of the world" (Matt. xxiv. 15, 21). 'The abomination of desolation' signifies the falsification and deprivation of all truth; 'affliction' signifies the state of the church infested by evils and falsities; and 'the consummation of the age' of which these things are predicated, signifies the last time or end of the church. The end is now; because there is no truth left that is not falsified,—and falsification of truth is spiritual whoredom, which acts as one with natural whoredom, for they are closely connected." (Angelic Wisdom concerning Marriage Love, n. 81)