In New Church education remains is a sort of buzzword amongst teachers, parents, and ministers. There are entire books written on the importance of remains and education. I invite you to consider whether educators or any people for that matter, actually contribute to remains being implanted. If the answer is yes, how can teachers ensure they are giving their students the best access to remains? If the answer is no, and it is the Lord alone who gives us remains, why is this topic so heavily emphasized in discussions of New Church education?
Let’s start by discarding some common misconceptions about remains or remnants. Some people think that remains are simply good memories preserved from our childhood such as a warm hug from a parent, dancing in the rain, the sun on a warm summer day. Though these are nice ideas and happy memories they don’t really encapsulate what remains are. Remains are far more than good memories, they are “…everything good and true that the Lord insinuates into man from infancy even to the end of his life” (Arcana Coelestia 2280:1). We can see from this that remains are not limited to childhood, in fact later in this passage it is explained that the best remains are the ones we receive as adults. This teaching is not included to undermine the importance of childhood remains but to remind us that they are the foundation for better future remains.
I think the reason there are so many discussions surrounding the topic of remains and education is because of the many teachings that tell us that remains are essential to salvation. “Man is not even able to walk, or to talk, until he learns how to do so; and the same applies to everything else” (Arcana Coelestia 1050:2). This is an idea often used to show the importance of New Church education being focused on the implantation of remains. New Church education strives to support children in learning truths from the Word and prepare them for a life of use. The goal as an educator is to create a safe learning environment where students can hear the Word, read it for themselves, discuss the truth and practice applying it to their lives. This is an ambitious mission that appears more often to be met with failure than success. The key here is that the failure is merely an appearance, we will never know whether our schools were successful spiritually. Educators can only observe the externals of the school in an attempt to measure the success and to see if the direction of instruction and approach was effective. The external effectiveness is observable in hindsight and from that people can glean some perspective on the internal effects. Try as they might, educators, parents and ministers will never know whether they were successful in students having access to the remains they needed for later.
A teacher is spiritually safe regardless of their success in the classroom so long as they are performing their job justly, faithfully, and honestly. Being an ineffective teacher does not damn someone to hell. However, educators should be aware of the various motivations for why they are teaching, what their goals are and consider how they can play their role better. If educators are teaching in order to feed evil desires such as a love of dominion that could be spiritually damaging to themselves. Still even teachers indulging in evil motivations cannot spiritually damage their students or deprive them of the remains they need.
The good news for educators is that they do nothing to give students remains and they can’t take them away either. If it were a teacher’s job to ensure that students got enough remains for them to be regenerated there would be far less angels. Teachers fail on the most natural or external subjects all the time by not connecting to their students or not making the subject accessible to the students current understanding. Educators can be reassured that remains are “not states that man acquires by learning but ones which he receives as a free gift from the Lord, and which the Lord preserves within him.” (Arcana Coelestia 1050:2) Imagine the immense pressure there would be on people if we were responsible for the salvation of others. The result of teachers having legitimate spiritual influence would be horrifying because “without remnants salvation comes to none” (Arcana Coelestia 5897:5). Thankfully, the Lord takes care of each one of us, by not only giving us the remains we need, but also preserving them in us and even protecting them from us.
If left on own, we would have no hope for salvation because “if a person possessed no remnants, he would inevitably be subject to eternal condemnation”. (Arcana Coelestia 561) We are given an example of this with the Most Ancient Church before the Flood. They had taken and perverted the goods and truths from the Lord and twisted them into evils and falsities so that barely any remains were left with them. People without the Lord are nothing. From this understanding, imagine if teachers were not only responsible for gathering their own remnants but also in ensuring that each of their students received the remnants that they needed. There is simply no teacher in the world, aside from the Lord, who could possibly provide the teachings that every person needs.
The Lord ensures that every person is given the opportunity to join Him in heaven, He does this by means of remains. There are three different kinds of remains, the goods of infancy, the goods of ignorance and the goods of intelligence. The first remains people receive as infants are instilled from birth until the child starts to be taught and to know something. The next kind of remains are given while the child is being taught and starting to know something. The last and best remains we receive are the goods of intelligence that are received when we are able to reflect on what good is and what truth is. (Arcana Coelestia 2280:2) Teachers primarily are working with children who are receiving the goods of ignorance. It is important to be aware of the kinds of remains children will be receiving while in the classroom and consider what that means for the role of the teacher.
Teachers often are inspired by the idea that goods of ignorance are the times in a child’s life when they are being equipped with truths, by means of the teaching they receive. Another idea that confirms New Church education philosophies, is that children learn better when they are able to explain a concept in their own words, this applies to both natural and spiritual concepts (Arcana Coelestia 5342:3). A student owning their understanding and confirming and connecting it with other knowledge they have is considered good practice amongst educators. If this passage didn’t already convince teachers of the importance of remains and education it continues that to the extent a person, “is moved at this time by an affection for good, the Lord joins truths to good in him, and stores them away for use.” (Arcana Coelestia 5342:3) This is a much celebrated teaching in New Church education because it draws on the beautiful teachings that confirm how drawing from a student’s affections will help them learn.
Let’s remember that the Lord is the greatest teacher and all teachers should learn from His example. To illustrate this, consider the story of Joseph when the Lord interprets pharaoh’s dream about the seven years of plenty and the seven years of famine. This story serves as an explanation of how the Lord stores up remains in us, the seven years of plenty, in order to help us later when we are faced with temptations, the seven years of famine. No matter how bleak our spiritual lives may seem at times we can find solace in the teaching that, “actually those forms of good are not banished but are withdrawn by the Lord to interior parts where they are stored away” (Arcana Coelestia 5342:2). Despite our best efforts to destroy remains in ourselves during states of evil the Lord ensures that we retain those goods and truths from Him.
We are told that remains which are preserved by the Lord, within the internal man… because they are the Lord’s alone, they are holy (Arcana Coelestia 575). This is what I think is often overlooked in the many discussions revolving around remains role in education. Remains are holy because they are the Lord’s alone. Humans play no role in giving remains. We are so incredibly insignificant in our role compared to all that the Lord does for us. As disheartening as this idea may appear, it is actually a teaching that should bring peace to us. I think we are to look at this teaching as one of mercy. The Lord in His wisdom and mercy created us in His image and protects our freedom to choose good by keeping remains stored in our interior until we have need of them.
We are not even aware of when we need to call on remains, but the Lord is. He is acutely aware of the importance of maintaining our freedom by means of remains for our salvation. This brings us to the topic of judgment. Commonly there is much confusion around the word judgment and what it means because many people view it as cold and harsh, but this is a mistake. The Lord is a God of judgement and mercy, these two aspects of Him must go together in order to protect us and bring us salvation. When a person commits sin, they must ask for the Lords forgiveness. We do not need to ask for the Lord’s forgiveness because He withholds it from us but because we withhold ourselves from forgiveness when we don’t see the sin for what it is, evil. We are taught that a person, “does not come to be forgiven unless they sincerely repent, refrain from evils, and after that lead a life of faith and charity, until the end of their life” (Arcana Coelestia 9014:3).
How does a person do these things? The simple answer is from the remains that the Lord has gifted them. Remains “are what enable anyone to be called human; for it is on account of remains, which are the Lord’s, so are obtained from Him, that even the worst human being is called a human” (Arcana Coelestia 565). All teachers have classes or students that they get along with well and others that they have a harder time seeing the good in. I think this teaching speaks to how to approach that challenge. The Lord grants every person states of good and truth from Him. Meaning there is good in every single person, even the worst human being. Even the most frustrating and challenging of students has something good they can bring to the class. A teacher’s role is to find that good and help nurture it so it can grow. Imagine how much better classrooms would be if every teacher approached students the way the Lord approaches us.
Now, consider what role teachers can play in remains, because though it is infinitesimally small compared to the Lord, they can be more or less helpful to their students. Let’s agree that there are better and worse teachers on a natural level therefore the same must be true spiritually. First, remember that teachers and parents can and should read the Word to their students or children. Before a child can read, they can only access truths by means of other people. When we help Him, the Lord uses us as vessels to serve the neighbor and expose them to good and truth. Another way educators or parents help with remains is by teaching children to read and thus be able to access the Word themselves. Teachers and parents play a significant role in help children with remains, but it is only as vessels for the Lord. It is vital that we maintain the understanding that we do nothing good apart from the Lord.
So, what are teachers and the rest of us supposed to learn from all this? Humility. I implore teachers to take comfort in the passages that tell us how we do nothing for implanting remains. We should be grateful that even the evilest of people are still considered human because of the Lord protecting their remains. Let us be thankful that it is the Lord alone who implants remains. Finally, remember that a teacher’s role is simply to be a vessel for the Lord’s good and truth. Let us all ask the Lord to teach us to remain humble and trust in Him.