Category Archives: Healling, Helping

There’s No Substitute For Real Healing

By Rev. Ian Arnold

“Many believe that people are purified from evils by merely believing what the Church teaches;
some, that we are purified by doing good;
others, that it is by knowing, speaking and teaching such things as pertain to the Church;
others, by reading the Word and books of piety;
others, by attending churches, listening to sermons and especially by approaching the Holy Supper;
others, by renouncing the world and devoting oneself to piety;
and others, by confessing oneself guilty of sins of all kinds; and so on.

Nevertheless, in no way is anyone purified by all these works unless they examine themselves, recognise their sins, acknowledge them, condemn themselves for them, and do the work of repentance by desisting from them; and unless they do all these things as of themselves but still acknowledge from the heart that they do them from the Lord.”

(Divine Providence, paragraph 121)

Taking in again friends, from the second book of Kings, chapter 5:

But Naaman became furious, and went away and said, “Indeed, I have said to myself, He will surely come out to me, and stand and call on the name of the Lord his God, and wave his hand over the place, and heal the leprosy. Are not the Abanah and the Pharpar, the rivers of Damascus, better than all the waters in Israel? Could I not wash in them and be clean?” So he turned and went away in a rage.

Friends, its a sad thing and a tragedy in many ways that when it comes to the Bible, people miss what is so central and really fundamental to connecting with it: and that is that the Bible is a mirror. The Bible is a mirror in which we see ourselves, our experiences, our highs, our lows reflected back to us.

Just now in the United States there is a huge debate going on about the teaching in schools of what they call “intelligent design”. I believe it’s even gone to the courts. And it is a rehash of the old creation versus evolution debate: the people who are promoting the theory of intelligent design are regarded as being fundamentalists and literalists when it comes to the Bible. How sad it is! There has always been, down through the centuries, argument about the scientific accuracy of the Bible. There has always been argument about the historical accuracy of the Bible. But the arguments completely miss the point. What a waste of time and of solicitors and barristers and all the rest! Because the central connecting point that we need when it comes to the Word of the Lord is this simple reality about it: that it is a mirror, and that as we look into the Bible we see ourselves reflected in it.

Friends, I want you to believe, because it is the truth, that this is so on every page. There is not a page to which you might turn that is not in some way a mirror reflecting back to you something of yourself. To give you an example: during this week Margaret and I, who are presently reading through the prophesy of Ezekiel, came to chapter 38. Now you may wonder what chapter 38 of the prophesy of Ezekiel has about it that it might reflect back to us something of ourselves, but I’ll tell you what the chapter is about. It is about the enemies of ancient Israel, who came upon them when they were unprepared and their defences were down and when they were not expecting it. And as I looked at that chapter, I reflected on what it might be saying to me. I thought, of course, there’s many times when my spiritual enemies come upon me when I’m least expecting it and when my defences are down and when I’m not prepared. How real it became, that obscure chapter of denunciation of Israel’s enemies, when I was able to identify what this message was all about. There are thousands of times when I can think of occasions when my spiritual enemies have come upon me when I least expected it, when I wasn’t prepared, when my defences were down. On every page there is a mirror that reflects back to you something of yourself, something of your experiences, something of the battles you go through, or whatever it may be. It is the way in which we connect with the reality that the Word is for us.

Now having said that, there are of course certain stories that leap out of the Bible and in connection with which we are able to see the truth of what I’m saying much more obviously, much more clearly that it is a mirror. And this story of Naaman, which I’ve taken as my text for this morning, is one of them. Naaman, as we all know, was a big and powerful man. He was full of pride and self-importance. He staggered across the world stage in those days. He believed that his status demanded that a prophet in Israel should come out, scrape the ground, make way for him, bring out a banquet, or do all sorts of things in recognition of who he was. But Elisha had nothing to do with it. He didn’t even go to the door: he sent out a servant and gave Naaman simple instructions. He didn’t go to the door either to dress him down, to tell him off, explain to him where he’d gone wrong. He just simply sent instructions: do this and all will be well. But of course, Naaman was furious.

I just want to hang on to something here for a moment. The way in which Elisha the prophet responded to Naaman is exactly the way in which the Lord responds to us. He doesn’t engage with what we’ve done, He doesn’t come and dress us down; He doesn’t focus on what He knows to be wrong. Instead of that, He gives us simple instructions about fundamentals. And if we follow His instructions and get the fundamentals right, then our pride, our self-importance, our tendency to swagger across the world stage will just evaporate. The Lord does not engage with us, focussing on those obvious things that need to be changed and put right about us. He goes to the core; He goes to the things that are the source of the things that are wrong about us. And like I say, He gives simple instructions.

But do we listen to them? Do we respond to them? Do we hear them? Or are we like Naaman? It’s human nature, of course, to set aside what is so obvious and straightforward and simple in the belief that something more complicated and difficult must be the answer to the situation. Do you know how many simple adversities in life would be solved by something as simple as an apology? Many a difficulty in life would be solved by our willingness to extend a word of forgiveness. Nothing could be simpler, and yet we make it difficult because we somehow can’t seem to relate to the simplicity and the straightforwardness of the ways that the Lord urges upon us.

The Lord. Let’s just pause for a moment and think about the Lord. The Lord wants us to be spiritually healthy and happy people. There’s no question of that basic truth of human existence. The Lord yearns for us to live in joy and happiness; yearns for us to be free of anxieties and fears; yearns for us to be content and trusting; yearns for us to be relaxed and comfortable with those around us, and mindful of and seeking their well-being at all times. This is the Lord. This is where His focus and energy is. Here’s a quote:

The Divine Love is a longing for the salvation of all, and the happiness of all, from inmost and in fullness.

A wonderful statement from the book Heaven and Hell, paragraph 397.

How, though, do we come to this joy and happiness? How do we come to be free of our anxieties and fears? How do we come to be content and trusting? How and what are the ways to become relaxed and comfortable with those around us, mindful and seeking their well-being at all times?

The Lord gives us the simplest of instructions. When John the Baptist was preaching before the Lord began His public ministry, people flocked to him and asked, “What must we do?” And his answers were simplicity itself. From Luke chapter 3:

Then the tax collectors came to be baptised, and said to him, “Teacher, what shall we do?” And he said to them, “Collect no more than what is appointed for you.” Likewise the soldiers asked him, saying, “And what shall we do?” So he said to them, “Do not intimidate anyone or accuse falsely, and be content with your wages.”

Simplicity itself. What a lovely example of simple instructions to live more fully, more richly, more healthily, and with a greater sense of wholeness of being. The Lords instructions to us are simplicity itself.

Divine Providence 33 reads:

So far as anyone shuns evils as diabolical and as obstacles to the Lord’s entrance, he is more and more closely conjoined to the Lord.

It’s exactly what John the Baptist was saying to the people who came to him: “Stop doing the wrong thing; do the right thing.” What is the Lord saying? Stop doing the wrong thing, and you’ll find yourself automatically doing the right thing. Simple instructions, simplicity itself.

Naaman, as we know, was not only furious, but he believed that there were alternatives, and it took his servants to persuade him otherwise. Its important friends, that you realise that that passage that I read earlier in the service from Divine Providence 121 is all about people thinking that there are alternatives: go to church, attend the Holy Supper, listen to sermons, give up things, be obviously self-sacrificing in outward and worldly way. There’s a whole catalogue of alternatives that people think are required. No, not at all, not at all! The Lord’s instructions are simplicity itself. I was reading this week about escapism: people, for example, who can’t handle issues to do with their self-esteem, so they throw themselves into their work and become workaholics in a frenzied effort of self-denial. Quite chilling stuff! And there are all sorts of escapes we try to take and alternative routes we try to follow, setting to one side the simplicity of what the Lord tells us to do.

Now the woman with the issue of blood, whose story I read first of all, is a fascinating one, and it ties in with the story of Naaman. And it does for this reason: you see, she tried all the alternatives before she came to the Lord. Do you remember what it says there? She had spent all that she had going here, going there, trying this and trying that, and it got her nowhere. Throw yourself into your work, try binge drinking, see if the answer lies in a whirl of activity of a worldly nature: and it doesn’t. To live fully and wholly and healthily, they’re not the answer. The answer lies here, simplicity itself: stop doing the wrong thing and you’ll automatically find yourself doing the right thing. How amazing we are, that we somehow can’t lock onto the simplicity of what the Lord asks of us. It’s not encyclopaedic knowledge. You know the Jews of the Old Testament, they thought that they must carry out sacrifices and do this, that and the other; and they had to be told:

What does the Lord require of you but to do justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God?

… Micah chapter 6, verse 8.

The final quotation that I want to bring to your attention this morning, and with which I am concluding, is from the work Apocalypse Explained paragraph 365:

To be healed spiritually is to be delivered from evils and falsities.

To live in fullness, robustly, full of zest and life from the Lord, to be healed spiritually, is to be delivered from evils and falsities. That’s when we come into the fullness of who the Lord created us to be. And when we come into such a sense of healing from the Lord, it is guaranteed to have an effect on our spiritual body, the body in which we will live to eternity in the spiritual world; and it cannot but radiate out and have its effect in our sense of balance and well-being as far as our physical body is concerned as well.

Let’s not be another Naaman, let’s not let our pride and self-importance and inability to recognise simplicity get in the way. Think back to those words:

But Naaman became furious, and went away and said, “Indeed, I have said to myself, He will surely come out to me, and stand and call on the name of the Lord his God, and wave his hand over the place, and heal the leprosy.”

Do you remember the rich young man who came to Jesus and said, “What shall I do that I may inherit eternal life? What do I have to do? What do you want me to do? What big thing? What sacrifice am I called to do?” He too was somehow unable to recognise the simplicity of the instructions the Lord gives to us: the way to come to spiritual, vibrant health and well-being.

“Are not the Abanah and the Pharpar, the rivers of Damascus, better than all the waters in Israel? Could I not wash in them and be clean?” So he turned and went away in a rage. And his servants came near and spoke to him and said, “My father, if the prophet has told you to do something great, would you not have done it? How much more then, when he says to you, Wash and be clean?” So he went down and dipped seven times in the Jordan, according to the saying of the man of God, and his flesh was restored like the flesh of a little child and he was clean.


Needing A Physician

By Rev Frank Rose

When the fishermen worked in the waters of the Sea of Galilee and brought their catches to land, they knew that they would have to deal with tax collectors; after all, they were in occupied country. At the crossroad of the main roads leading from north through the land of Canaan, down into Egypt and everywhere around them, they saw reminders of Roman authority–the Roman power. They had very negative feelings about these tax collectors. In the first place, they were collaborators, Jewish people who had gone over to serve the Roman authorities and that by itself made them outcasts and undesirable. But the other thing is that the Romans had a system whereby the tax collector would collect for Rome and for himself and the Romans were only concerned about what they got and it was up to the tax collector to take whatever he wanted above that. So the people always had this sense that the tax collectors were taking too much, that they were growing wealthy at the expense of these simple fishermen and traders in the town and villages along the coast of Galilee, and they lived an opulent life style–they were wealthy people. It’s no wonder that in the Jewish community life tax collectors were ostracized–they were not allowed to attend the Synagogue–they were not allowed to hold certain positions of authority. Their social life had to be mostly with people like themselves–with foreigners–with strangers and societies outcasts–the sinners–the derelicts.

Imagine what it was like for the disciples, who had been fishermen and who found that they had been called to leave their nets to follow Jesus, but also a certain Levi, sitting at his custom booth, had been called. Now they would be working, side by side, with a man toward whom they had such negative feelings. They had now become partners with a Publican. And nothing is said in the gospels about that particular adjustment because the focus is on an even more challenging thing and that was the attitude of the Pharisees.

Now the Pharisees were good people. They were upright and law-abiding people. They knew the law and tried very hard to follow that law and it was very difficult for them to see Jesus calling simple, ordinary folk to become disciples and then selecting a man who was a publican, a tax collector. And then they watched in amazement as Levi, who was later called Matthew, invited his friends and Jesus to a feast to celebrate the fact that he had become a disciple. That house was full of people who had normally been rejected by society, so the Pharisees looked and murmured and talked to the other disciples and said, “Why does your master eat with Publicans and sinners?”

From their point of view they thought that the Messiah was going to come to save the nation–to deliver them from foreign domination–to make them a free and strong country once again and to avenge them of the harm done to them by the Egyptians, by the Assyrians, by the Babylonians, by the Greeks, by the Romans, by one nation after another. So they thought of the Messiah as being the “National Deliverer”, the one who would save the nation. And they had no conscious sense that they needed to be saved from anything. But here was a despised and rejected person, Levi, the tax collector and Jesus was eating at his house and associating with his friends. We find the familiar words in Luke 5:31 and 32, “Jesus answered and said to them, those who are well do not need a physician, but those who are sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.”

In the course of our life we pass through the different phases represented by the people in the Word. A person who grows up with some sense of religious conscience, who tries to live a good life, a righteous life, might find it hard to see himself as a sinner. There was a young man who thought of himself in very good terms, who saw himself as being accepted by others as being a good, upstanding citizen and he didn’t stop to reflect on the fact that he had a secret life of drug abuse. Only his very close friends knew that; and he always thought to himself, I can stop anytime I want to–I’m in control–the drugs are not in control.’ Now, in that condition he was sick, but had no idea that he was sick.. In fact he would view himself as being very righteous. Of course, the Lord finds it difficult to talk to people in that condition. Until eventually things change and he had to look at the fact that his life was an utter mess and he could not control his drug abuse. And finally, on listening to someone talk, he really heard for the first time what prayer is all about, that in prayer we ask for things that we are powerless over ourselves–and the Lord really does answer prayer. So in his private prayer he finally admitted to the Lord, Lord, I’m sick–I need help’ –and there was an instant change in his life just through that one confession–that one admission. And there were many things that followed to change that lifestyle and to find himself in a more orderly state; but that shock, that recognition of need was extremely important to his further spiritual growth.

There is a young man described in the Old Testament. He was handsome–he was courageous–he was very capable in many areas. He became famous for slaying the giant Goliath and for his conquest against the Philistines and eventually he became the most popular and powerful king that Israel had known. This is King David. We remember David largely through the Psalms. I’ve noticed that when I’ve made hospital visits and ask people, “What would you like me to read to you?’ they almost always ask for a Psalm–” Read me one of the Psalms”. Now I remember as a young man finding it very difficult to know why people liked the Psalms. In some ways they are very gloomy. The Psalm we read as a first lesson, Psalm 51 begins “Have mercy upon me, oh God, according to your loving kindness; according to the multitude of your tender mercies, blot out my transgressions.” When I was not conscious of my transgressions it just seemed like this was just wallowing–it did not speak to me. And then you notice the heading of the psalm, Psalm 51, written by David, after the prophet Nathan had confronted him because of his adultery with Bathsheba and because of his murder of Bathsheba’s husband. David developed a sense of need at that point, that never left him. He realized that spiritually he was a sick man, and no matter how popular he was or how good looking he was or successful he was in battle, he needed help and he could not help himself–he had gone beyond the limits of his own ability to control his life or to heal himself. And so he pours out in many of the Psalms, the prayer to God, ” Heal me, be my Physician.”

Most people, sometime or another in their life, come to that kind of self awareness and say I’m sick–I’m sick–I need help.’ If you never get to that point of course, you can’t be healed; a person who knows everything can’t be taught; the person who doesn’t realize that he’s fallen, can’t be raised up. The person who thinks he knows where he is, can’t be found–doesn’t realize he’s lost and the person who doesn’t know he’s sick can’t be healed.

This is why it is the law of divine providence that our tendency to love self above all else and to manipulate life for selfish purposes, must sooner or later come out so we recognize it and see it for all its ugliness. There is a time in our lives when we have the illusion that we’re made good, we’re made well, simply by association. We associate with good people; we read the Word; we go thru the rituals of the church and therefore everything should be fine. But that is the Pharisees position. It is finding your salvation in sacrifices–in rituals–in associations. You become saved because you belong to the right group of people and you do the right things. But there isn’t that inner sense, that profound desire to be healed, because, as yet, we have not seen the ugliness of certain aspects of human nature.

And so in the Lord’s providence, He allows us to go through experiences in which this can be revealed; as compared to a wound that has corruption inside and the wound must be lanced so that the corruption can come out. So there are times in our lives when we suddenly have to face the ugliness of our selfishness. It could be in the marriage relationship, thinking of ourselves as the loving, devoted husband, caring about our wife, caring about our husband or spouse and at a certain point we see how we are, actually abusing the relationship–we’re not really listening- we’re not really caring–we’re only in the relationship for what we’ll get out of it. There is that shock of self awareness and then the sense–I need help. I can not save myself . I cannot lift myself above my own self centeredness,’ and that’s when we call out for the Divine Physician.

The word mercy means love extended to people who are in miseries. So a person who doesn’t know that he is in miseries, has no need for mercy! He doesn’t ask for forgiveness or mercy from God; he just thanks God that he’s not like other people–thank God that I’m not like this Publican! And then in that story in the Word, that person recites everything that he has done- “I fast–I tithe–I do all these things therefore I’m not like other people.” And in that same description the other person praying can’t even lift his eyes to God, He just says, “Have mercy upon me, a sinner.’

It’s one of the reasons that life is hard so that eventually we face the reality of a life that is based only on self and a need for something higher that self; something that delivers us from the tyranny of selfishness; something that will give us a broader purpose in life than just own welfare and our own needs. And this is why people cannot really escape from addictions without turning to a higher power. You must have something higher than yourself. If you try to save yourself by your own power you only plunge yourself deeper into that particular form of spiritual misery.

Mercy comes from love, at the same time from pity, on the one whom He loves. And the Lord cannot exercise this pity from love until the sufferer himself sees and feels his own misery, that is to say, knows and acknowledges it. This is what repentance consists of. Then for the first time the sufferer is healed–like a wound healed by a physician which must be first opened up.

In those who place salvation in external sacrifices, the wounds are not opened for they imagine that they are made just by their sacrifices and that they are healed in that way. We seem to always look for some external means to heal us, some external formula or ritual, when the real healing only comes when we are face to face with the reality of the kind of life we would get if left only to ourselves and the wonderful fact that the Lord has given us higher loves and a higher destiny. And then we turn to the Lord and we find that there is an immediate healing–a sense of wholeness. And there’s a wonderful community that develops among people who know that they are sufferers that they are wounded people. A sense of camaraderie–we finally let go of this pretense that we’re perfect–that we all have our lives together and in the sense of acknowledgment of need, we become a family. A family of those who say, “Yes, I’m no better than anyone else. I also need the Divine Physician. I need to be healed.”

Interestingly there are two songs that express this aspect of human nature and sometimes these songs are looked at as being kind of sentimental and I think their popularity goes to the fact that they address this very deep human need. I’m thinking of the song “Amazing Grace”–“Amazing grace, how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me.”

It’s wonderful to see a group of people singing that and you look around the room and they all seem like they got their lives together and yet they sing with tears in their eyes because they have come to an awareness of themselves “I once was lost, but now I’m found, was blind but now I see.”

And the other song I’d like to remind you of is “Abide with Me.”. “Abide with me fast falls the even tide.” In that hymn there are the words “Help of the helpless, oh abide with me. I need your presence every passing hour.” It’s this recognition that turns us into spiritual beings–beings who are turning to something higher than themselves for their salvation. Opening their hearts and their lives beginning with this confession that of myself I’m sick, I’m wounded, but I also believe that I’ve been created by a loving God and that I’m destined for heaven itself and out of mercy and love, He will touch me and lift me up and bring me into everlasting habitations of peace and joy.


“I Am Willing; Be Cleansed”

By Rev. David C. Roth

“And behold, a leper came and worshipped Him saying, ‘Lord if You are willing, You can make me clean.’ Then Jesus put out His hand and touched him, saying, ‘I am willing; be cleansed.’ And immediately his leprosy was cleansed” (Matthew 8:2,3)

They say the days of miracles are over. But are the days of miracles really over? Is everything that happens nowadays completely ordinary and unmiraculous? The opinion that those days are gone is one which is hard to accept when we think of the many examples of miracles in each of our own lifetimes. For example, the miracle of birth, or the miracle that two people are able to find each other among billions and fall in love; that they are able to achieve conjugial love that true marriage love between one man and one woman, a love that is so rare, so precious. Or how about the miracle which we all hope for ourselves the miracle of being transformed from a spiritually dead person into a spiritually alive and prosperous angel for eternity; the miracle of reformation and regeneration? When we consider some of our past or present evil and selfish states, it would seem to have to take a miracle to truly change us, to heal us of our spiritual diseases.

We read of a man who was healed of a disease by the Lord. The man had leprosy. Leprosy is a chronic skin disease wherein the skin slowly dies and rots away. The person suffering from this disease experiences severe pain, for his flesh is literally rotting and falling off. As you can imagine, a person suffering from leprosy was usually of hideous appearance, and was unclean to be around, let alone to touch. Lepers were cast out of society and often sent to dwell in caves and tombs. In our story the Lord had just finished preaching His sermon on the mount, and as He came down the mountain He was approached by this leper. The leper came up to Him and worshipped Him saying, “Lord, if You are willing, You can make me clean.” The Lord willingly replied to the leper’s request, and gave him a healing touch that made him clean that very instant.

Does this story teach us that the Lord had the power to heal people of their diseases? Yes it does, but more than that it teaches of how the Lord can heal each one of us of our own spiritual diseases, those destructive tendencies or actual evils we are involved in which lead us away from loving God and our fellow man, and cause us to love and serve only ourselves. It tells of the miracle of how our spiritually fallen condition can be repaired and raised up by the Lord. This is so important for us because left untreated, spiritual diseases are evils which will destroy our willing for good or desire to strive after what is good and right, and they are also falsities which will destroy our capacity to understand truth (see AC 8364).

The Writings for the New Church teach that one who is leprous corresponds to a person who is involved in profanation; that is, someone who knows the teachings and truths of the Lord’s Word and doesn’t live according to them. How many of us have spiritual leprosy, or have had times when we were in a leprous state? We may not be completely spiritually leprous, but it is certain that we have times when we play the role of the leper when we know the truth which the Lord’s Word teaches and we just don’t follow it; instead we steal, we lie, we commit adultery, we bear false witness, we covet our neighbors’ possessions, we kill our neighbor. We can do any of these things in little ways, or maybe even in large ways, even when we know that they’re wrong. It would be a complete lie to say we are not aware of the truths that teach against these things. We know the truth; at the least, we know the Ten Commandments. But do we live them? And if we don’t, can we change for the better? Can we begin to live, to really live, according to them? The answer is yes if we want to, if we are willing.

While on earth, the Lord healed hundreds, maybe thousands, of people of their various diseases. We are taught in the Writings that, “By the diseases which the Lord healed is signified liberation from various kinds of evil and falsity which infested the church and the human race, and which would have led to spiritual death” (AC 8364). This holds true for today. If we don’t live according to the truths of the Lord’s Word, then we will die spiritually. So if we do know the truth, what is preventing us from living it? Like the leper, if we want to change our condition we are going to have to actively seek out the Lord to help us. It will not happen by chance or wishful thinking.

But where do we find the Lord? In our story the Lord just came down the mountain. What this means for us is that the Lord is the Word the Word made flesh. And the Lord has given us this Word. It has come down to us from God. The Lord has accommodated Himself to us in His Word. He has in effect descended from His holy habitation to guide our mortal steps on this earth. He has given us His Word so that we can be healed. And it is by means of the truths and goods of His Word that we can dispel the falsities and evils in our lives. He has shown us the way, and there is no other.

We know we can find the Lord in His Word, but we need to cultivate a belief that He is really there and that He can help us. Perhaps we are just like the leper. We know the truth but we just can’t seem to live it. We long for the Lord’s help, and we just can’t seem to beat the evil we are fighting to resist in our lives. We try and try, and fail and fail. What’s missing? How do we overcome our own weaknesses? What did the leper do? By following the story of the healing of the leper in the spiritual sense we are taught what we can do.

In our text the leper approached the Lord, worshipping Him. This represents humiliation on the part of the individual, the humbling of ourselves before the Lord by asking for His help. The Lord does not ask this for His own glory, but for the sake of ourselves. We need to humble ourselves. Like Naaman, the commander of the Syrian army, we too easily make ourselves out to be the masters of our lives, and even of the lives of others. We too often give ourselves the credit when it is due the Lord.

The Lord gave us a commandment about our tendencies to make ourselves our own God: we shall have no other gods before His face. We need to remember His words, “Without Me you can do nothing.” We need to develop faith in Him and His power. This can be a hard lesson to learn, as it was for Naaman, but we need to learn to humble ourselves in order to approach the Lord.

The leper and many others were healed by the Lord according to their faith, that is, according to whether or not they thought He was God Almighty. Like Jesus’ words to the centurion and the blind men, “As you have believed, so let it be done for you.” And, “According to your faith let it be to you.” It was because they had faith in the Lord that they were able to be healed. We too must believe that the Lord Jesus Christ is God, the one true God, and that it is He alone who can help us. And then we must respond by living according to His Word. As the Writings strongly teach, “The faith by which spiritual diseases are healed by the Lord can be given only through truths from the Word and a life according to them” (AE 815).

Now we approach the Lord’s Word, or the Lord Himself, in our prayers. But at such times we tend to approach very meekly because we feel that He has no time for us no time for somebody who keeps messing things up, no patience for our inability to resist temptation time and time again. We doubt whether He is willing even to listen, let alone help us, at this point. Like the leper, we pray, “Lord, if You are willing, You can make me clean.”

This kind of humility is okay, but what we are thinking is simply not true. If we make a point of asking the Lord for His help, He will give it no doubt about it. But we have to have faith that He can do it; otherwise it will not happen. As the Lord said, “All things whatever you ask in prayer, believing, you will receive” (Matthew 21:22, emphasis added). When we ask the Lord in prayer with an earnest heart desiring to change, we will get the same response as the leper. He will put out His hand and touch us saying, “I am willing; be cleansed.” The Lord will immediately heal us of our spiritual disease.

But what does it mean to us to be healed? Is it a one-shot “I believe” solution, and wham! we are clean? It does mean that the Lord has forgiven us of our evils and falsities, and will hold us in good if we desire it. And this is cause for joy. As Jesus said to the paralytic whose sins He forgave, “Be of good cheer; your sins are forgiven you.”

But at this point we are not really clean. We are not truly purified of our evils unless we follow up what the Lord has done for us by changing our lives stop indulging in our destructive evil thoughts, intentions, and actions, and begin living a life of charity, a life of service to the Lord and each other. We are taught that the Lord immediately forgives man of his sins because He is mercy itself. But in essence this does nothing for us unless we respond. The Lord is always forgiving us no matter what we do, but He might as well not forgive us if we don’t stop doing what is wrong. Unless we perform serious repentance, which means to stop, to really stop, doing evil, His forgiveness will do nothing to affect our salvation. Fortunately, the Lord does teach us what we need to do now that we have been pronounced clean. As He told the leper, “See that you tell no one.” He tells us the same thing. When we are forgiven, we need to continue to acknowledge that the Lord is our strength and not we ourselves. It’s an affirmation. We acknowledge the Lord’s strength in our own minds and hearts by thinking and reflecting on what He has done for us thinking that it was not something that a mortal, finite being could have accomplished. No one person could have performed this miracle except the Lord. He teaches us to do this so that our faith and our confidence in Him grow.

The next thing the leper was instructed to do was to “go your way.” Go your way. We are told that we are to get going on our new life. The word “go” is a word of action, a word telling us to start living the life the Word teaches progress into those things that are of good, of life, and leave our former life; depart from “our old way.” The Lord is the way, the truth and the life. He is the good shepherd; we are not “the way.” Our old life, the life of evil and falsity, is to be cast aside and abandoned. For example, we must leave the attitude that wants to look for the faults in others so that we can ridicule them and thence exalt ourselves. We must then adopt an attitude that looks for the good in others so that we can be of service to it; or leave the destructive life of casual sexual relations or indulgence in pornography and strive for that precious jewel of human life that pure marriage love between one man and one woman.

After this the Lord tells us to “show ourselves to the priest.” We are now to make manifest our changed condition by producing fruits worthy of repentance. We show ourselves as changed before the priest, thus before the Lord, by living according to what He has taught us. We begin a new life that seeks to do good to our neighbor and the Lord. We begin the life of charity, one day at a time, step by step. After we have shown ourselves, that is, we have begun to change our lives, we are then to “offer the gift that Moses commanded as a testimony to them.” The last thing we are asked to do is offer this gift which Moses commanded. Moses represents the Word, so that doing what Moses commanded is doing what the Lord teaches in His Word. By offering a gift is signified our living in the faith and good of love which the Word teaches, and working on learning more truths, taking one at a time, and attempting to make it permanent and fixed by living it. Living truth is doing good. We know what the Lord wants us to do. We know it so clearly, but until we start doing it we will have no power to keep in the way of the Lord no power to remain in a good state. When we offer the gift Moses commanded, we are offering up our new life as a testimony to the Lord’s healing power. By living the life the Word teaches we are confessing our faith in the Lord. It is a confession from the heart that the Lord is Divine. He is the Divine Human who has all power to heal all diseases and to comfort all pain. The only confession of faith we can make which is actual is the confession shown by a life according to His Word. If we didn’t believe in the Lord we simply would not obey His voice.

We must remember that the Lord is always willing to make us clean. He is forever willing to forgive us our trespasses. But note the words of the Lord’s prayer which we daily ask: “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” To the degree that we are willing to stop our evil and turn to good, to the same degree the Lord’s forgiveness will make us whole.

The days of miracles are not over. They are over only if we let them be. The Lord will perform His miracle of healing our spiritual disease if we earnestly ask Him, and truly wish it for ourselves, knowing that it is what He wants. If we are diseased spiritually, if we are in trouble and desire the Lord’s help, we must come before Him in prayer and ask, “Lord, if you are willing, You can make me clean.” We know His response and we know the immediate outcome. “I am willing; be cleansed.”


Helping Those Who Are “Sick”

By Rev. Grant H. Odhner

And when [Jesus] had called His twelve disciples to Him, He gave them power over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to heal all kinds of disease and all kinds of weakness.. These twelve Jesus sent out and commanded them, saying: … Heal the sick, cleanse the lepers, raise the dead, cast out demons. Freely you have received, freely give. (Mt 10.1,5,8)

So they went out…and they cast out many demons, and anointed with oil many who were sick, and healed them. (Mk 6.12f)

All of us have known the pain and frustration of being sick. We can all appreciate, then, the great gift that the Lord gave to His disciples: the ability to bring relief and comfort to those in physical distress.

This power that the Lord gave to His first disciples is not a power that He gives to everyone. Still, it corresponds to another kind of power that He does give to all who follow Him–a power just as real and beautiful.

But first, let us note that the problems which the disciples dealt with were mostly physical ones (“all kinds of disease and all kinds of weakness,” also bodily death itself. They also cast out demons, which indeed afflicted the mind, but the emphasis in casting them out was on the freeing of the body.

On a deeper level these conditions are symbolic of problems that plague our spiritual lives. The Lord does care about our physical well-being. His providence works continually to restore order to all levels of creation and to bring relief. But more important in His eyes is our spiritual well-being. What are we learning? How are we progressing in our capacity to feel compassion, mercy, forgiveness toward others? Where are we headed? What are our goals? What are our attitudes? These matters-of-spirit are the key to our real happiness or unhappiness. Viewed in its deeper meaning, the Word deals with these spiritual issues.

What are the diseases that our spirit suffers from? They are selfish lusts and fears, anger, impatience, brooding resentments, denial and delusional fantasies, building up oneself at other’s expense, and so forth. These evils sicken our spiritual life. They commit us to a sickbed of self-pampering and self-preoccupation. They cripple us, so that we can’t get on with life, with learning and growing. They sap our energy for wishing well to others and serving them. They draw our force and attention from our work and from our important relationships. All the diseases and afflictions mentioned in the Word are symbolic of some kind of negative thought and emotion, and their effect on the spiritual life. The Lord’s cures, and the disciples’, picture the healing that the Lord can bring, by His mercy, through His truth. And since we are instruments of the Lord’s mercy and truth, like the disciples we too can be a part of His means of bringing healing to others.

How do we deal with people who are in a state of spiritual sickness? How can we help? How do we respond when we are faced with another’s anxiety, restlessness, lack of sensitivity to other’s needs, apathy, self-pity?

First of all, it’s important to realize that these evils are not from the person, but from hell. In other words, it’s important not to ascribe guilt to the person. We can judge of the evil itself, but not of the nature of the person who is receiving it. Even people who are being regenerated by the Lord experience evil states of mind. The Lord allows this so that they can learn what evil is like and so they can learn to resist it. We call these states of tasting evil “temptation.” And we read:

When a person is tempted, unclean spirits are near him, and surround him, and excite the evils and falsities with him, and also hold [his attention] in them and exaggerate them, even to despair. Hence it is that the person is then in squalor and uncleanness. (AC 5246.2 cf. HD 197.4)

Other’s horrible moods and outbursts are from no other source than hell. We can think of them as a product of temptation.

The Christian response to evil in others is not a retaliatory one. Unfortunately, we often react this way. We respond to selfishness with selfishness of our own. We let others’ sicknesses drag us down. We interpret their behavior as an attack on us. Instead of being inwardly sympathetic to what they are going through, we think only of how unpleasantly they are acting toward us, how hurt we feel, how undeserving we are of such treatment, or perhaps how inconvenient it is for us that they are so wrapped up in themselves. In short, we fight evil with evil, “an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth”–either by direct retaliation or by withdrawing our support from them.

The early Christian evangelist, Paul, caught the proper spirit of Christian love when he wrote:

Love suffers long and is kind; love …does not seek its own, is not provoked, thinks no evil; does not rejoice in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth; [love] bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails. (I Cor 13.4-8)

This kind of love comes from the Lord, who is..

…merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and of great mercy. He [does] not deal with us according to our sins, nor [reward] us according to our iniquities.. As far as the east is from the west, so far [does] He [remove] our transgressions from us. As a father pities his children, so the Lord pities those who fear Him. For He knows our frame; He remembers that we are dust. (Ps 103.8,10,12-14)

The Lord is all forgiveness. When we are in temptation, He does not give up on us! He does not forget all our former efforts. He does not conclude, on the basis of our present words and actions, that we no longer want (deep inside) to be right with Him. He doesn’t listen to our cursing and our frantic, selfish prayers-of-the-moment (AC 8165, 8179; cf. 8567). Deep within He is working to keep us in hope and trust; He’s sustaining us in our efforts to resist hell–even though we may be unaware of this, because hell is focusing our attention elsewhere (AC 6097, 4586, 1937; HD 200.4; cf. AC 3639; AE 730.33). The Lord thinks of the outcome, of the end-in-view, which is that we may come to know and value heaven.

What a contrast to the way we tend to be! And yet we all know what it is like when someone deals with us in this spirit–when they “lay down their life for us”–lay down their own pride, their own present needs and wishes, their own plans–for the sake of us, their friend.

When others react without defensiveness to our offenses, this is sometimes just what we need to make us realize how horrible are the spirits that we’ve been entertaining. A patient, attentive, silence can be like a cool cloth soothing a feverish head, or like a soft caress on an anxious brow. What a relief when another person ignores our cursing, when we wake up forgiven! What a blessing it is when we know that another has understood that we really didn’t mean what we said or did or failed to do! How grateful it is when we sense that another is willing to look with trust to our better self, rather than retaliating against the self that we are showing!

The helping spirit that we’re describing here involves self-control and self-denial. We cannot help those who are spiritually “sick” unless we can control that first impulse to defend ourselves. We must fight the urge to lash back when we feel “smitten on the cheek.” We must fight the urge to withhold our warm and protecting “cloak” when someone has seemingly abused our kindness. We must fight that urge to refuse to “walk that extra mile” with someone, because we feel compelled or taken for granted (Mt 6.38-41).

This patient and trusting attitude from others helps us immensely in our recovery from spiritual sickness–if not at the moment, then in retrospect. This is the spirit of Christian love. This love is the “oil” with which the disciples were to “anoint the sick” when the Lord sent them out (Mk 6.12f). “Oil” stands for this love, which alone heals and soothes. The power of such love is represented in the “laying on of hands,” another means of healing that the Lord gave His disciples (Mk 16.17). “Spiritual power,” we read, is nothing else than “to will the good of another, and to will to convey to another as far as possible [the love that] is with oneself” (AE 79). All power lies in love, in willing well from love, in reaching out to help from love.

Now it is important to realize that love’s power must work through wisdom. In communicating to us the humble spirit of love in the New Testament the Lord was not dictating behavior. It’s possible for us to defer to others–letting them slap us on the cheek, and take our cloak, and make us walk an extra mile with them–for the wrong reasons. We can do it from cowardice and from wanting to be liked. And in doing it for the wrong reasons we can actually cause great harm.

Love is ineffective unless it acts with wisdom. Wisdom guides love, disciplines it, channels it to achieve its ends. It’s true that love does not fight evil in others with evil, but it does sometimes fight the evil. We must act prudently and not with blind formulas. Love senses when it can actively help and when it cannot, when it should encourage and when it must stand by silently and watch–indeed, when it must teach and reprove. Love cannot facilitate a lasting healing unless it does so with wisdom.

This is why the disciples, when they healed or cast out a demon or raised someone from the dead, did so “in the Lord’s name.” Doing something “in the Lord’s name” means doing it from the Lord’s truth. His “name” is the way in which He is known, it is a means of describing and communicating what He is like. This is what truth is: a means of describing and communicating the Lord’s love and goodness. We know His love through the truth.

We’ve been talking about our ability as the Lord’s disciples to bring spiritual relief to others. And it may seem that this involves chiefly doing things for them, acting toward them in certain ways. In actual fact, the most effective way to help in the healing of others is to deal with our own sicknesses–in the same unselfish, tolerant, trusting spirit of love and wisdom. We bring the most relief to others by being ourselves a part of the Lord’s kingdom, by living a life according to His commandments, by allowing Him to bring us into an order in which we can transmit His life more fully. When we do this we ease the burdens, and give strength to the lives, of everyone whom we touch.

After all, we cannot really “cast out demons” from others. The Lord alone can do it. And the decision to let healing take place ultimately belongs to each individual. Each of us must make the effort to “cast out the demons,” to throw off the “germ,” to become well. The freedom and will-power to cooperate is a gift to each human being from the Lord. This is why we must place priority on working on our own sicknesses. With ourselves, we can deal from the inside: we can be directly instrumental in “casting out demons.” With others, we can only deal from the outside.

This said, let us not underestimate the power that we have to affect the spiritual quality of other’s lives. This is a frightening thing, in a way, but we can do harm to others as well as help them! We can make life more difficult for them, as well as less difficult! We can enhance their freedom, or we can be the occasion for their stumbling. We can enrich their spirits with needed information, or we can let them grope in the dark. Both possibilities must exist, if human freedom is to be a real freedom.

But think how sad it would be if we could have no real influence on others, if we could bring them no blessing or joy or relief that reached beyond their physical and worldly well-being! If this were the case, there could be no real friendship, no exchange of spiritual kindnesses, no conjunction of hearts and minds!

And so, the Lord has provided that we can participate in His joy of helping others. He invites us to learn the wisdom-of-love from Him–we cannot affect others for good unless we learn this wisdom). The Lord’s first disciples, who were sent out to heal, were called “disciples” because they were learners. Only the laws of love, taught in the Word, learned by us, can mold us into people who can effectively minister to those who are “sick” in spirit.

But in the final analysis, the power of truth is from love. The power to heal which the Lord gave His first disciples was symbolic of a real power that comes from love–from the Lord’s love with us. And it’s this love that makes a disciple a disciple. As the Lord said:

By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another. (Jn 13.35)

And it’s significant that, in the Gospel of Mark, the Lord’s parting words to His disciples contained this promise:

These signs will follow those who believe: in My name they will cast out demons; … they will lay hands on the sick, and they will recover. (16.17)

These words are a charge as well as a promise. If we are disciples we will have love for one another. And if we truly have love for one another, these signs will show themselves. Working in the Lord’s name we will touch other’s lives for good. We will make it easier for those around us to be free of their demons. We will reach out to them with our “hands” in ways that inspire them to spiritual recovery and health. This will be the affect of our life. What a beautiful promise! Let us rise to this challenge!


Healing of Naaman’s Leprosy

By Rev. Eric H. Carswell

“Go and wash in the Jordan seven times, and your flesh shall be restored to you, and you shall be clean.” 2 Kings 5:10

The description of the healing of Naaman seems to have as its primary focus the value of overcoming destructive pride. Naaman is clearly not a bad person. He was a renowned commander of the powerful Syrian army. He is called “a mighty man of valor.” It specifically states that by means of is ability the Lord had given victory to Syria. But his life was significantly crippled by leprosy. The term leprosy in the Old and New Testaments apparently was used to describe a wide variety of skin diseases, ranging from psoriasis to the horrifying disease we more commonly associate with the term. Naaman obviously was allowed to mingle freely with other people. People with the disease now called, “Hanson’s Disease” were banished from human society. But whatever the disease was, it clearly was a cause of significant trouble and concern. Naaman’s desire to be healed and the importance he placed on it is shown both by his willingness to travel a great distance and also by the rich gifts which he brought with him as a symbol of gratitude for that healing.

Naaman apparently had very clear expectations of being treated with great respect. He arrived at Elisha’s front door riding his chariot, the luxury vehicle of ancient times. He was accompanied by a retinue of servants. The story specifically states that as he turned in anger from Elisha’s messenger he thought to himself, “He will surely come out to me, and stand and call on the name of the LORD his God, and wave his hand over the place, and heal the leprosy.” Can you picture him stomping off muttering to himself about what a stupid thing it was to wash in the Jordan River and that if he had to wash in a river, he could think of much better ones in Syria than those that could be found in Israel.

Naaman fortunately had some wise, compassionate, and brave servants. They approached him, and said with great respect, “My father, if the prophet had told you to do something great, would you not have done it? How much more then, when he says to you, ‘Wash, and be clean?” Naaman was willing to hear their council and went and washed and his skin become renewed like that of a little child. He returned with a deeply grateful heart and proclaimed, “Indeed, now I know that there is no God in all the earth except in Israel.” He asked for permission to take two mule load of earth from Israel home that he might properly be able worship the God of this land, and he begged forgiveness if he ever needed to accompany his master the king of Syria to bow down in the temple of another god.

The story ends with a healed and grateful Naaman returning home. If his anger and pride had gotten the better of him, then the miracle of healing would never have happened.

This story can also be seen as a parable with a deeper level of meaning. Naaman’s leprosy represents a spiritual problem that we all fall prey to. It represents a person who is running his or her life based on seriously false beliefs and assumptions. The Writings of the New Church describe Naaman’s leprosy as representing false assumptions and beliefs about what is true and about what is good. These aren’t issues of fact such as whether the world is round or flat or matters of opinion such as whether Chicago is a better city to live in than Los Angles. Naaman’s leprosy represents potentially true ideas that the Lord would like us to know, but which have been twisted, over-stated, or misapplied. It is very important that we recognize that knowing the truth about some way of acting, some event, some person, or ourselves is not a simple matter. The Writings of the New Church refer to “the falsification of truth and good.” An idea which in itself is true or some value or way of acting which in itself is good, are made false when their useful implications and it useful meaning are not recognized and instead they become twisted, over-stated, or misapplied in a person’s life. We can believe that we have gained some truth or recognized some good from the Lord through His Word, but really what we have in our mind is “falsified truth and good.” This falsified truth and good can cause many problems, some very subtle and others huge. The consequences of these problems hurts our lives, the lives of people around us, and the uses we seek to support.

Leprosy refers to a disease of the skin. When our skin is serving us well it is one of the key means of providing us with feedback about our environment. If a person cannot feel pain, heat, cold, rough, smooth or even just how much pressure he is using to accomplish something it is hard for him to take care of himself or respond as usefully to what is happening around him. The lack of sensitivity in his skin causes troubles of many kinds. Likewise, when a person has incorporated a twisted, overstated, or misapplied truth and good into his approach to life it can lead him to be insensitive to important realities. He doesn’t recognize his own motivations, thoughts and behavior very clearly. He is misperceives others. He has a hard time seeing what the Lord would recognize as the greater uses to be served in any setting.

What are some examples of falsified truth and good? We know that it is important that we care about and try to provide that good things happen and that bad things are avoided. The Lord has told us that evil and false things are to be shunned or fled from. We would want to foster a commitment to shunning evils and false ideas in ourselves and in our children. But picture a kindergartner who finds it nearly impossible to accept anything less than perfection in his younger siblings. If the teams for a game at school seem unfair, he shuns the game, the teacher, the whole setting–that is he is so upset at the unfairness it is impossible for him to participate. He may argue with the teacher. He may have a temper tantrum. Part of the basis for these responses can be his belief that it is very important that the right thing be done at all times. While a teacher or parent might appreciate aspects of the little child’s zeal for justice and fairness, it can often produce messy and destructive responses in the child’s life. The person, young or old, who cannot tolerate it when what he or she perceives to be the right thing isn’t being done will hurt himself, his relationships with people around him, and many of the uses he believes in. Sometimes this form of falsified truth and good takes the form of extreme perfectionism. Such a person’s desire to have things exactly correct can run himself ragged, be demoralizing because he can never achieve it, and he can be a very difficult person to work with or even be around.

Another example of falsified truth and good includes a man who insists that everything be sensible and practical. In the New Testament story, when the woman anointed the Lord with an extremely expensive oil, some of the disciples thought it was a waste of resources that could have been better used to care for the poor. There is an element to many gifts of love that aren’t sensible. It would be like a husband saying to his wife, “I would buy you flowers but they would just die within a few days and so it seems like a waste of money.”

Another example of falsified truth is a woman who operates from a very external and short term definition of being nice. Her discipline of her children is almost exclusively gentle reminders and when these don’t work, she gives in or allows the child what he wants. She seeks, at almost cost, to avoid confrontations with her husband. She would rather listen to a telephone marketing person for five minutes in the middle of key supper preparations for her hungry children, than cut the person off with a firm, “No, thank you.” and hanging up on them. Her desire to be nice isn’t bad in itself and it can be very good, but it depends on what she is willing to sacrifice to get it. Jesus certainly didn’t appear to be acting very nicely when he went into the temple in Jerusalem wrecked the stalls of immoral merchants, and drove them out with a whip.

One more example of falsified truth is the person who feels to strongly drawn to “fix” any sadness, discouragement, or other negative state in others as soon as possible. Such a person can unintentionally leave a widow who is grieving the absence of her husband the message, “You shouldn’t be sad.” Such a person can unintentionally force a resolution to a problem when the resolution may be pre-mature or even destructive.

We cannot possibly avoid misunderstanding what is really true and good as we walk our spiritual pathways toward heaven. The Writings of the New Church state that even in heaven angels still misunderstand what is really true and good. Swedenborg relates the following words of an angel:

In this world we are instructed and taught what is good and true, also what is just and right, the same as in the natural world. Moreover, we learn these things not directly from God but indirectly through others. Every angel, too, like every man, thinks truth and does good as though of himself, and this is not pure but mixed in character, depending on the angel’s state. In addition, among angels also, some are simple and some wise, and the wise have to make judgments when the simple ones among them, owing to their simpleness or ignorance, are uncertain about what is just or deviate from it. (Conjugial Love 207:4)

We all have the problem of Naaman’s leprosy. The means by which we can be healed of this is very simple, like washing in the Jordan River seven times. There are basic true ideas and good actions which the Lord would lead us to. These are taught over and over again in the Word. Some of these basic ideas are the powerful means that the Lord can use to lead us away from the falsified truth and good that crippling us. We have to be willing to admit that there are problems in the way we approach life at present and we have to be willing to follow the simple call to wash ourselves not once, but seven times, which represents a continuing process–one that can continue to eternity.

Our part in the continuing process of spiritual washing isn’t heroic. Imagine telling a friend, “I resisted the impulse to speak and act from a feeling of impatience three times yesterday.” A good friend might smile and say, “Good for you” but he probably wouldn’t be deeply awed by your accomplishment.

The Lord calls us to recognize that aspects of our lives could be better. We could better serve ourselves, those around us, and ultimately the Lord Himself if we can be cleansed of the twisted, over-stated, or misapplied concepts about what is true and good to which we are inclined. Spiritual leprosy is dangerous. To be healed the Lord calls us to a simple, daily task which is absolutely essential if we want to grow spiritually, if we want to serve others better, if we want to live our lives more wisely. May we pray that the miracle that occurred for Naaman also occur in many areas of our own lives. “So Naaman went down and dipped seven times in the Jordan, according to the saying of the man of God; and his flesh was restored like the flesh of a little child, and he was clean.” (II Kings 5:14)


Healing Blindness

By Rev. Brian W. Keith

Blindness is a terrible affliction. Imagine not being able to see the incredible array of colors, especially when fall is drawing near. Imagine not being able to read a map or see the beauties brought to us through the lenses of cameras. And imagine not being able to see a child ride his bike or a friend smile. While a heightening of the other senses can enable someone to manage without sight, a wonderful element is thereby removed from life, and the person is surrounded with a shroud of darkness.

While natural blindness is certainly a frustrating and painful condition, it merely reflects the kind of problems where there is spiritual blindness in our lives. Spiritual blindness causes us to flail around in our lives, not really knowing or being certain of what we ought to do or what kind of person we can become.

Spiritual blindness exists wherever there is ignorance. Where someone lacks a knowledge of who the Lord really is, of the process of regeneration, and of the nature of the world the Lord intends us to live in forever, there is a terrible void in a person’s life. Yes, someone can go through life, attending to numerous responsibilities, doing his job, taking care of the home, and apparently being a healthy, useful member of society. So where there is ignorance about spiritual matters, that life is shrouded in darkness. It is without any real purpose or direction.

But worse than that are those whose religious beliefs foster blindness. Those who have been taught that matters of religion are best left to the theologians and cannot be understood by the average person are having their spiritual eyes put out. For when someone is told to accept something on faith with no real understanding, with no real appreciation of the truth, there is a darkening and claustrophobic feeling.

Spiritual blindness is not simply a problem of whether one can recite information or even feel comfortable just understanding how the world works. For being blind spiritually has significant problems even as natural blindness does in this world. As our natural sight enables us to see hazards to avoid them and shows us better paths to follow, so a spiritual sight of truth can lead us to steer around hellish situations and direct us on heavenly paths. And fortunately, where spiritual sight is lacking, our lives are often reduced to the lowest common denominator, namely what we want to do. Sometimes what we want to do is all right, but often it is not all right. In fact it may be destructive, self-centered, and painfully hurtful to those around us. If we don’t have a clear sight of the difference between right and wrong, then anything we desire to do may seem all right.

The example given from the lesson in Divine Providence is most telling in this regard. Where there is not a clear sight of marriage, of how one man and one woman can deeply love each other and receive a genuine eternal love that is different from any other from the Lord, it is so easy to justify all manner of less-than-orderly situations. Without a clear vision of marriage, adultery seems relatively unimportant, simply a friendly contact between people, not much different from shaking hands or talking in a restaurant. Casual sexual relations can easily be justified wherever there is not that clear sight of what sex can mean inside of marriage and how destructive it is outside of marriage.

A miracle the Lord did in healing the blind man points to how our blind spots can be healed, how we can see to walk in the Lord’s path.

As the Lord was in a small fishing village by the Sea of Galilee named Bethsaida, some people brought a blind man to Him wanting the Lord to heal him. It is noteworthy that the blind man did not call out to the Lord nor perceive Him by Himself. For one of the traits of spiritual blindness is the lack of recognition that one needs any help. Often we don’t know where our blind spots are. We think we see things so clearly that our way is the right way, that all others are wrong. It’s only when others bring us to the Lord, pointing out an imperfection that we have, challenging a tradition, that we have the possibility of being healed.

Obviously the people who brought the man assumed that the Lord could heal him; they could not. Our blindness is never really healed by other people. Yes, we listen to them, have them criticize our ideas or suggest different ways for us to live. But their talking means little or nothing to us unless we sense something of the Divine there. Even as that blind man did not resist their taking him to the Lord, so our blindness can begin to be cured when we allow others to lead us to where the Lord is in our lives.

Interestingly, unlike many other miracles done immediately, the Lord took the man by the hand and led him out of town. Naturally there’s no good reason for this to occur because the Lord could heal anywhere He wanted. But spiritually the town Bethsaida describes the state of hell in which we may be living. When we are actually doing what’s wrong, living in a disorderly way, the Lord can’t heal us. It’s only when we step out of the problem and move away from the situation that we are willing and able to have our eyes opened to what the problem really is. If we are locked into one way of looking at things or one method of behavior, our eyes cannot be opened.

Then the Lord spit in the man’s eyes. While we would consider this a rather unclean approach, the fluid from the Lord’s mouth was symbolic of the truth that He wants us to see. What’s more, it affects us when it hits us in the eyes. When we realize that the Lord is telling us not to embellish our stories, in effect lying to make ourselves look better, then we see what the Lord is telling us.

The Lord also put His hands on the man. And what this means is a communication of everything of one’s life. For the message is that our spiritual eyes are not opened to what is good and evil simply by the facts being told to us. Rather it’s when we sense that this is the Lord’s message for us to help us not to condemn, not to harm but when we sense the Lord’s love and mercy there, then our eyes are opened.

It’s interesting that the Lord posed a question to the man, asking him if he saw anything. Now the Lord was not so unaware as to what the effect would be that He was seeking information from the man for His own sake to see if the miracle worked or not! The purpose of His question here, as with all His questions, is to encourage us to respond. Yes, the Lord does know everything about us, but He wants us to understand by thinking and by speaking. It has been said that no one truly knows anything until he is able to explain it to a child. The process of struggling to grasp an idea so that it can be communicated to someone else anchors it in our minds in a way not possible otherwise. This is why the Lord asked the question, not because He needed to know but so that the man could analyze what was happening to him. What this means for us is that as we are taking in information from the Lord’s Word, it will tend to be pushed to the most remote parts of our memory unless we are engaged in talking about it with other people. Perhaps we are wondering about how the Lord’s providence works, say when there’s an unexpected death or an apparently amazing bit of good fortune. We can wonder about the subject, read about it, and really feel as if we have gained a new insight. But if we don’t share that with others by trying to express it to them, it will tend to drift off and be forgotten. And we should not assume that we are just imposing our ideas on others, be they within our small circle of friends or even outside of the church. Because if someone is a friend, he or she is interested not just in spending time with us but in hearing what we think. To communicate ideas is not to impose but to share.

The man whose sight was being returned then responded that he saw men “like trees walking.” The reason his sight was not clear at first is that our initial grasp of any subject is rather stiff and unfocused men like trees. For we can’t come to all the answers right away. To gain deep insights into providence, into the process of regeneration, does not occur immediately. For wisdom is not synonymous with our first instruction. Yes, we sense the presence of the Divine and we are excited by the light that we see there. This is the light of the trees walking. But our sight is obscure and we shouldn’t be upset when our initial thoughts of a subject or our initial understanding of a subject is flawed.

The Lord did not leave the man in that quasi-seeing state. He put His hands on the man’s eyes again and had him look up, at which point he was restored and saw everyone clearly. The Lord’s putting His hands on the man a second time describes a kind of illustration, enlightenment, that comes after we have digested ideas and worked with them for a while. What this means is that we can’t assume our knowledge on any subject is adequate or that it is sufficiently organized in our minds to see clearly. Our blindness, at least a haziness, remains until the Lord is able to place His hands upon us again. For this to happen we need continual contact with the Divine. The man who saw men like trees walking could have left it at that point. He could have been satisfied with a partial restoration. But he stayed. The Lord wants us to stay too. He wants us to continue the process of learning, of thinking, and of gradually understanding so that our first sight is not our last.

The sight that the man regained can be ours when we have a depth of understanding of what is true, not simply a knowledge of the facts, not a rudimentary understanding of them, but a clear sight of what they mean. So when we think about the teachings revealed in the New Church about a life after death, they are not simply ideas that are interesting or attractive, but they are an expression of the Lord’s love and mercy and a description of what can be ours. They come alive when we sense their power and the fact that they are not abstractly applied to someone else, but they are intended to depict for us what the Lord would give us.

Or when we think about the ideas concerning use, our ability to affect others for the better, they can at first be very general unfocused ideas that we ought to have a job and do something productive with our life, an idea which is men like trees walking. But when we sense the Lord’s presence in what we do for other people, even in the mundane tasks that don’t seem to be well rewarded here, then we see clearly and are able to see light that really is the Lord’s presence with us.

Blindness exists with everyone. And the Lord constantly works to heal that blindness. If we will allow ourselves to be brought into the Lord’s presence by the questions or encouragement of our friends and loved ones, and if we will then allow the fluid truth from the Lord’s Word to touch our unseeing eyes, it will allow Him to touch our hearts so that we may know that He is our God. Then we may begin to see. At first it will not be clear or perfect; many will be the times we will see men like trees walking. But if we allow the Lord to remain with us, if we retain our contact with Him in the Word and in worship, then He can continue to touch us, healing all our blindness, giving us a sight of all things living.

This is the Lord’s will for us, that from being blind we might see, that from being trapped by falsities and distorted ideas we might have a true picture of what heaven is like, both after death and in our life now.


First Be Reconciled

By Rev. Brian W. Keith

“If you bring your gift to the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift” (Matthew 5:23,24).

Our life consists of routines–patterns which govern much of our conscious existence. While some are ruts from which we would love to break out, most of our routines were consciously chosen for good reasons. If our wake-up routines are disturbed, we are likely to emerge from the house unshaven, or with unusual clothing combinations. If we had no set pattern for going about our daily chores, either at work or at home, we would accomplish far less. And our interactions with others are governed by the dictates of politeness and common courtesy. These kinds of patterns enable us to expend the minimum amount of energy and focus upon what is important.

Unfortunately, such routines can also be used to avoid facing unpleasant situations. What happens when a friend makes a critical comment that we take personally, or the extra effort we put into a project is ignored? Our tendency may be to ignore the offense. We may be bothered, but we try to forget and get on with our lives.

If it is a minor problem, or something so out of the ordinary that it will not recur, we probably can just forget about it–write it off to someone’s having a bad day, or our being overly sensitive. We know that to raise the issue will only cause pain and not produce any good. This appears to be the reason why the Lord was silent when falsely accused (see Matt. 27:12-14). He knew that nothing He could say would change their minds, and words spoken in frustration and anger would certainly not be of any use to them.

But often when we attempt to just ignore the hurt, we hang onto it. We keep it inside and let it seethe and bubble just beneath the surface. It may be the co-worker who takes the Lord’s name in vain. We may try to ignore it, for fear of appearing too good, or because we do not want to cause trouble. But it keeps bothering us. It grates and increases our overall irritability. Perhaps we cannot identify it as the source, but we may find ourselves with a shorter temper and more prone to feel bad about how the day has gone.

This seems to be the state that the Lord was addressing when He told people to leave their gift before the altar and work things out with their brothers. People of that time could think they were fulfilling all their religious obligations by obeying certain laws and regularly offering sacrifices. The Lord pointed out that just going through the motions when there is an inner turmoil is not acceptable. Gifts to the Lord are not received from someone who is agitated and angry at others. When there is conflict between us and another, the Lord would have us face the situation and deal with it rather than let it be a source of continuing upset. For pretending a problem does not exist rarely makes it go away. In fact, it usually complicates the problem, making it more difficult to resolve later.

When someone has hurt our feelings and we try to hide it, we will more than likely wind up complaining to friends. Their willingness to listen will probably encourage our sense of injustice, and magnify the irritation and anger. Then we will see more and more what is wrong with the person who has offended us, and be looking for ways to even the score.

“But I tell you not to resist an evil person. But whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also” (Matt. 5:39). Obviously the Lord does not intend us to invite attack and abuse (see AE 556:8). What He does want is for us to refrain from responding in anger and with revenge. When we are hurting, it seems to be so easy and satisfying to hurt others, but nothing good comes of it. Evil for evil does not lead to good. The Lord would have us leave our gifts before the altar and reconcile things with our brothers.

When we have been hurt and seek reconciliation, the first step is looking at ourselves. The Lord said, “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 5:10). There is no blessing in being persecuted as an end in itself, but only if it is for righteousness’ sake. When we are criticized, has there been a good reason for it? Has the complaint against us been valid? In the heat of indignation we tend not to admit any guilt. And if we torment our minds with the cruelty of it, we will find even more reasons to deny any fault on our part. But how often are we entirely innocent, entirely without fault? Like any argument, rarely was it started or continued by just one.

Beyond being hurt by criticism, we have to look at ourselves whenever we feel pain. We can unconsciously place ourselves in positions where we are likely to get hurt. One of the great tragedies of alcoholism is that the spouse or close friends of the alcoholic often aid and abet the disease. Yes, they get hurt by the unkept promises, the lies, the degenerating behavior. But their denial of the problem prevents treatment, the hope of recovery, and they often welcome the pain as a perverse kind of punishment for their own sense of guilt.

Reconciliation begins by looking at ourselves first, for that puts us into the proper frame of mind. We should first remove the plank from our own eyes before we can see to remove the speck from our brother’s (Matt. 7:5). If we approach someone in anger, then he will not be able to hear us–he will be too busy defending himself. Our words will not be of use unless they come from love and are spoken in charity. Reconciliation requires that we shun anger, hatred, and revenge (see Life 73). These must be removed from our minds before there is any feeling of love or concern for others (see AE 746:19).

In a sense, what is required is agreement. “Agree with your adversary quickly, while you are on the way with him … ” (Matt. 5:25). Seeking for what agrees means looking for truth in the criticism. Perhaps what was said or done was, at least in some measure, deserved. If we can remove ourselves from the situation and try to be objective about ourselves, we can often prosper from criticism. One of the uses of the evil spirits in the other world is to draw out what is hellish in others so they might see it and shun it. When they attack someone, their intent is to harm, but it can be turned to good by the Lord.

Along the same lines, Swedenborg was once accosted by some who said there was nothing but evil in him (see AC 10808). Apparently their intent was to drive him away. “But it was given me to reply that I well know that such is the case.. Imagine their surprise when he agreed with them! He could have taken it personally and been offended. Instead he used it as an occasion for instruction. By his agreeing with them, their desire to hurt was deflected, and no harm was done.

Then, after looking at oneself, reconciliation requires confrontation. “If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault between you and him alone. If he hears you, you have gained your brother” (Matt. 18:15). Rather than keep it inside, letting anger build, talk to the person. For change cannot come about unless there is knowledge that it is needed.

Certainly if we were doing something that bothered others, we would appreciate knowing it. If a joke went too far, or if we are not allowing others to finish their stories, we need to be made aware of it so that we can stop. So if we are offended, we are to go to that person, privately, and explain. It has to be done with love, not anger. But if the person really is a brother, meaning he has a love of what is good, then the truth will provide him with a grasp of what was wrong and how to change (see AC 9088:2; AE 746:15).

This does not mean that when we first describe the wrong to someone that person will welcome the news. Would we? It is very difficult to hear that we have a problem. At first there often is denial, so the Lord suggests taking others to speak with the person. This could be done in some situations. But the point is that major change does not occur suddenly, so it takes many confirmations for the knowledge to firmly take hold. Married couples can be working on aspects of their relationship for long periods of time before changes occur. It takes repeated experiences of pain and reconciliation for behaviors to permanently change (which is one of the values of thinking of marriage as an eternally evolving relationship).

The goal is, of course, to regain one’s brother–to have peaceful relationships with others. But this goal cannot always be met. Reconciliation will not always produce harmony. This the Lord recognizes, for if someone refuses to listen, He said, “let him be to you like a heathen and a tax collector” (Matt. 18:17). To be a heathen or tax collector was to be repulsive, to be avoided at all costs.

Where efforts to work out differences fail, and when it is possible to avoid the person, it is a wise course to follow. When the Lord was traveling to Jerusalem, a Samaritan village refused to receive Him. The disciples James and John were angered and wanted fire to rain down upon them. But the Lord rebuked them, and they went to another village (see Luke 9:51-56).

We cannot get along with everyone. In the Lord’s house there are many mansions. Different personalities, attitudes, and values cause spiritual distance to occur. Charity is sometimes exercised by avoiding people with whom full reconciliation is not possible.

This does not mean that we turn away in anger or judgment. The Lord said, “Love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you” (Matt. 5:44). Love, bless, do good to, and pray for–quite a challenge! We cannot change others but we can control how we think of them–we can change ourselves. Regardless of the wrong others may do to us, we cannot let them be the cause of the growth of hell within us. When we hate in response, we harm only ourselves. The heavenly state to which the Lord is leading is far removed from such feelings, for the doctrines of the New Church state that angels “are in the continual desire of doing good to others, because this is the delight of their life; and therefore as soon as there is any opportunity, they do good both to foes and to friends … ” (AC 8223:2).

To be reconciled with others means to allow the Lord to bring peace into our lives. If we always remember that there is good in others, even if we do not see it, we cannot be harmed by their actions (see AE 644:23). If we strive to feel love for others, wish blessings for them, look for what good we may do, and above all, pray for them, then there is no conflict between us and what is good. For we will not be able to hate or stay angry if we sincerely pray for the good of others.

Then we will be reconciled with the good in our brothers. Then there will be no cause for hard feelings or vengeful actions. Then we can return to the altar. We can raise up our gifts, our hearts and minds, and they will be acceptable to the Lord.


Crumbs of Healing

By Rev. Julian Duckworth

Jesus said to her, It is not good to take the children’s bread and throw it to the little dogs. She said, True, Lord, yet even the little dogs eat the crumbs which fall from their master’s table. Then Jesus answered and said, O woman, great is your faith! (Matthew 15:26-28)

A spiritual affection is not acquired by faith alone, that is, faith without charity, for such a faith is only something to be thought about without any activity in life. Such a faith is separate from the love that makes a person’s life, and after death it evaporates like a puff of air. A spiritual affection, on the other hand, is acquired by shunning evils because they are sins, and this is done by fighting against them. The evils to be shunned are all those in the ten commandments. So far as anyone fights against these because they are sins, so far he gains a spiritual affection. For through this combat the things that possess a person’s loves and will are dissipated and his spiritual mind is opened, and the Lord enters through this into his mind and life. It is to these and to none others that the Lord can grant to love Him above all things and their neighbour as themselves. If anyone, by fighting against evils because they are sins, acquires something of spiritual life, even though it is very little, he is saved, and his use afterwards increases, like a mustard seed growing into a tree. (Divine Love XVII)

I wonder if you enjoy playing Scrabble. If you do, you will know that what can often decide a game – and win it in fact – is to know some of those little two and three-letter words that you slip in near the end. Well, linked with the sermon, I am going to give you two to use next time. They are both little words and, significantly, they both have something to do with littleness because we are going to think about the value of crumbs in the sermon.

It is quite amazing how something very little becomes something of huge importance in the Bible. A grain of mustard seed grows into a big tree. And Jesus took a little child and likened him to heaven. One time, the disciples were troubled about which one of them was going to betray Him, and Jesus said, It is the one to whom I give the sop – there is your first word – and He dipped the sop in the communal bowl and gave it to Judas. This word sop means a morsel, but more accurately it means the choicest morsel, the best bit of the food, which in ancient hospitality was given to the most honoured guest at the table. I will leave you to ponder Jesus giving that to Judas!

The second word, in Scrabble terms, is a clincher. It is the little word pyx – P Y X. It means a tiny box but a very special one in which the sacrament bread is kept clean and dry for use. The amount of bread it contains is minute – a crumb, a wafer – but enough to serve the purpose of the Holy Supper with someone who is sick in hospital or at home. It brings the Lord’s presence and love to them. This word pyx is slightly changed from the original which was psyx in Biblical Greek, which literally meant a crumb or the left-overs. When you clear away the dinner dishes and wipe the bits off the plate you are dealing with the psyx.

Now, I want you to notice one more thing of huge importance before we get on with the story. The word for spirit and life in Biblical Greek is psuche. We meet it in the word psychology, and the Greeks had a legend about a beautiful girl called Psyche who was so utterly beautiful that nobody dared to court her. She is that spirit in us from the Lord which is meant to be wooed and loved and finally claimed. Psyche – psuche. What I want you to hold onto is the closeness of these two words – psyx, the crumb, and psuche, spiritual life. Something so small it is trivial, and something so big it is the whole reason for our existence. A scrap of something may almost not exist but if it isn’t there in some shape or form, nothing else will come forth. From time to time, it rains. And the rain brings us water and makes the plants grow. The gentle rain from heaven. But if the atmosphere did not contain myriads of infinitesimally small particles of dust there would be no rain. The water vapour needs an anchor around which to form itself. Let me give it to you more doctrinally: If anyone, by fighting against evils because they are sins, acquires something of spiritual life, even though it is very little, he is saved, and his use afterwards increases, like a mustard seed growing into a tree.

Jesus was encountered by an adamant woman whose daughter was possessed. But Jesus was out of Israel and in a neighbouring country whose people were not only looked down on by the Jews but they were known for their belligerency. The woman was a Syro-Phoenecian. Perhaps we should think of her as a Palestinian. And she came to Jesus, pleading for her daughter, “Have mercy on me, O Lord!”. What follows seems terrible until you come to the climax of the story. First of all Jesus appears to ignore her completely and doesn’t say a single word. How could He not! Then the disciples begged Jesus to send her away because she keeps crying out and being a nuisance. How could they be so heartless! And then Jesus finally speaks and says – to her – I was not sent except to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. Inference – you are not one of them so go away and leave us alone. It looks like a stinging rebuke. Then the woman almost breaks down. She came and worshipped Him and said, very poignantly, “Lord, help me!”

Now, you would expect Jesus to melt at such words, and be filled with compassion for this desperate woman and to take her by the hand and deal with her predicament. But the furore carries on and only seems to worsen. He answered and said, “It is not good to take the children’s bread and throw it to the little dogs.” That is adding insult to injury. These little dogs Jesus mentions were not the lap dogs of the luxuriously rich, were not the Pekinese or poodles you would probably have given that sop to from off your plate. These were the strays who hung around the street vendors and the garbage heaps, the dogs who snatched and snarled and slunk away. Jesus is calling her that? After a string of contemptible rebukes and rebuttals? Has He no heart? Imagine being there yourself and witnessing the incident. And if you had then, in shock, turned away and gone, shaking your head in disbelief, you would have missed the point.

The woman stands her ground and throws words back in Jesus’ face. “True, Lord, yet even the little dogs eat the crumbs which fall from their master’s table.” There is no answer to that claim. She has justified her right. She displays the faith that it takes to bring about the change. “O woman, great is your faith! Let it be as you desire.” And her daughter was healed from that instant.

I don’t believe for a moment that Jesus was finally swung round from contempt to compassion. The Lord just doesn’t change and He certainly is not capable of this kind of apparent discrimination and writing off with anyone. His single endeavour is to bring each of us into heaven, but into the real heaven, the genuine heavenly state, not the heaven we sometimes imagine it is or fancy we’re already part of. Biblical incidents are never ever about irritations and indifference as if God acts like someone who’s annoyed. You may – I may – He doesn’t. But He might seem to – to you and me – for the end He has in view for us. This is an appearance of how He seems to be. Perhaps we should think of it as a kind of necessary Divine tactic or technique. It is being done for the woman, not for Jesus’ busy schedule or inconvenience. It is all being done for that woman – that desperate mother pleading for the welfare of her own daughter. She herself had to come to the point of discovery of her total right to be included in salvation and her faith that this Lord can and will and must do it for her. And put all that into words for which there is no answer because it is finally true. I have the right to the crumbs. I too am part of your distribution. So do not count me out. Include me. I will not be bypassed.

Is it so unthinkable for us to stand up to God like that and to stake our claim in Him? I don’t think it is at all and in fact I think the Lord wants and needs us to have this sense of urgency about our eternal state. We should rather fear the prospect of missing out on heaven because we’ve always put it off. The Lord can work well with the adamant while He can do very little with the apathetic. The crunch is in those crumbs. Small fragments of what has been substantial food. Small moments in our life when we did not retaliate or harm someone because that is a sin, that is against a deeper goodness. Small moments when we didn’t throw it all in and despair because that is another sin that denies hope and will and we realise the futility of hating our life and being unhappy in our soul. So we don’t. We refuse and we hang in and we hang on, even if we don’t understand very much. Because to throw it away is a sin against this God whom we don’t understand much about and wrestle over with the sadnesses we see in peoples’ lives. And that is faith which sees something in spite of everything and stands its ground over the crumbs. And God must test and deepen our faith and bring it to maturity, so that, like this woman, our faith is more real than the kind of God we seem to be up against! So that our own faith is more real than God Himself appears to be like! And then God can begin. If anyone, by fighting against evils because they are sins, acquires something of spiritual life, even though it is very little, he is saved, and his use afterwards increases, like a mustard seed growing into a tree. Truly I say to you, If you have faith as a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, Move from here to there, and it will move – and nothing shall be impossible for you.

None of us can claim to know the ways in which the Lord works in human lives. None of us can claim to be good in ourselves. None of us can claim salvation without any of the serious work it involves. None of us can claim to be admitted into heaven by our merits or by our entry passes. But all of us can claim the right and stand our ground to be included in the final purpose. And if we can ever justify that claim, in humble crumbs, it is all the Lord ever needs to hear. And psyx can become the psuche of eternal life.


Care For The Morrow

By Rev. Kurt H. Asplundh

“Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about its own things. Sufficient for the day is its own evil” (Matt. 6:34).

The Israelites in the wilderness had a real concern about the morrow, yet they were absolutely unable to store up extra food. They were commanded to gather enough manna for their households for a day and were not to save any for the next day. When some refused to obey this law and tried to keep extra manna for another day, it turned bad and became wormy. Only on the sixth day could they gather an extra ration for use on the Sabbath day. Otherwise, they were completely dependent upon the daily appearance of this miraculous food from the Lord. They had to trust the Lord. They had no other choice.

This forced way of life with the Jews prefigured the ideal way of life for Christians. They too were to learn trust in the Lord. Note that what the Jews observed from external compulsion sometimes became a matter of conscience for Christians. And so, echoing the necessity of the ancient past, the Lord taught His disciples not to worry about tomorrow. “Do not worry about your life,” He said, “what you will eat or what you will drink … Which of you by worrying can add one cubit to his stature? Therefore do not worry..” (Matt. 6:25, 27., 31). This was a new way of teaching that we should trust in the Lord’s providential care.

What of us today? Now, in the Heavenly Doctrine the Lord has repeated, in yet another way, the same eternal truth for the New Church. It is still true that we should not worry, that is, have an anxious concern about our life. What the Lord has added for the New Church is a rational expression of the truth and a deeper understanding of what is meant by trust in the Lord.

The Israelite in the wilderness was forced to trust that the Lord would care for him. The Lord’s disciple felt a personal obligation to trust his Lord and seek the kingdom of God. The New Churchman, in addition, is taught how the Lord’s Providence operates for his salvation, and how he may cooperate with the Lord’s leading. He is shown the nature of Divine order. He can have a rational trust.

Not worrying about tomorrow means accepting Divine order. It means being content with our lot in life, and not only that but being content with the mercy of the Lord.

There is a clear and beautiful teaching of the Writings about this matter of worry or care for tomorrow’s needs. It seems almost to contradict the teaching of our text, but actually gives it a new depth and dimension. So we read: “He who looks at the subject no more deeply than from the sense of the letter may believe that all care for the morrow is to be cast aside, and thus that the necessities of life are to be awaited daily from heaven; but he who looks at the subject more deeply…from the internal sense, is able to know what is meant by ‘care for the morrow.’ It does not mean the care of procuring for one’s self food and clothing, and even resources for the time to come; for it is not contrary to order for anyone to be provident for himself and his own. But those have care for the morrow who are not content with their lot; who do not trust in the Divine, but in themselves; and who have regard for only worldly and earthly things, and not for heavenly things” (AC 8478,.2).

Note here that the teaching applies to what is truly important in human life: our spiritual welfare. Often we are so bound up with anxiety about natural and material things that we fail to see that the Lord’s greatest concern is for our eternal welfare. Our Heavenly Father knows that we need the things of this world in order to live. He provides these for us just as surely as He put manna on the ground for Moses, but in such a way that we have a part in obtaining. them. Our natural concern for providing for daily needs for ourselves and family is not what the Lord was talking about. We must work and plan for the future. What we should not have is an anxiety or worry that comes from failing to trust that the Lord has the ability and the desire to lead us to heavenly happiness.

“Very different is the case with those who trust in the Divine,” we are told. “These, notwithstanding they have care for the morrow, still have it not, because they do not think of the morrow with solicitude, still less with anxiety. Unruffled is their spirit whether they obtain the objects of their desire or not; and they do not grieve over the loss of them, being content with their lot … They know that for those who trust in the Divine all things advance toward a happy state to eternity, and that whatever befalls them in time is still conducive thereto” (AC 8478:3).

Yet, this being said, it is well to note in addition that the Lord’s teaching also applies directly. While it is certain that we ought not to await a miraculous provision from heaven of all that we need for earthly life, it is also true that our concern for tomorrow should be free from anxiety. The Lord does not forbid thought about our material necessities. What the Lord literally forbids in this text is “anxious thought.” Anxiety and worry are outward signs of an inner lack of faith.

We should not expend our energies in anxious thought about what we may face tomorrow. Our energies should be directed rather to the faithful and sincere performance of our duties and responsibilities as they occur day by day. What we do today is providentially in preparation for tomorrow, and if we have prepared for tomorrow in this way, with a sincere and industrious effort to do what lies before us each day, there is no reason to harbor anxious fears about tomorrow. It is irrational to be anxious about what is beyond our power or control. Here, however, we are consoled by the Writings. We are told that while we live on earth we cannot entirely free ourselves from these worldly concerns (see AC 3938:7). Only the angels have “no solicitude about future things” (AC 1382). This is mentioned not to excuse our solicitude or anxiety of life, but to let us know our limitations as earthlings and so that we are not discouraged when such states recur.

But whenever possible we ought to try to reduce our degree of anxiety about the future. This is defined by the angels as “grief on account of losing or not receiving things that are not necessary for the uses of life ” (HE 278:2). Certainly, when a matter of concern involves something unnecessary, we should not allow it to become so important to us that we grieve over its loss. Why spend emotional energy worrying about things that do not really matter?

The text appears to deal with a matter of time: tomorrow. The truth is that there is no time in matters relating to the Lord and spiritual life. There is a succession of states of life. These are all immediately present to the Lord. This is well known to angels of heaven. “The more interior and perfect the angels are,” we are told, “the less do they care for past things, and the less do they think of things to come; and also that from this comes their happiness. They say that the Lord gives them every moment what to think, and this with blessedness and happiness; and that they are thus free from cares and anxieties” (AC 2493).

The angels live in the present. We too must learn to live in the present to the best of our ability, knowing that the Lord will prepare us by this for what is to come.

“Sufficient for the day is its own evil,” we are told. This is what our concern should be about, the particular states we see in ourselves at any given time. We must face these and put them behind us before we go on to a new day. Our strength to do this is from the Lord. To worry about tomorrow means to lack the trust that the Lord has power to lead us from state to state toward heaven. It means that we are unwilling to walk the narrow path of spiritual progress, enduring states of grief or sadness which may come, or apparent failure in temptation, thinking instead that we can lead ourselves better than the Lord can.

The conceit that we can lead ourselves to heaven better than the Lord results in a spiritual condition pictured by the condition of the overripe manna. It bred worms and stank. So trust in ourselves breeds both falsity and evil of life.

The Lord’s words in the text are a command to shun an evil. Again, the Lord said: “Take heed to yourselves lest your hearts be weighed down with … cares of this life” (Luke 21:34). Why should we be careful to avoid anxious thoughts and worry? Because there is harm in it. “This care is not only forbidden,” the Writings teach, “but is also condemned” (AC 8478:2).

Reflect upon the harm done by anxious thought. Not only does it destroy our peace of mind and reduce our usefulness, it does something more harmful. “The cares of this world … entering in choke the Word” (Mark 4:19). It draws our mind away from spiritual things. Excessive concern for ourselves and our earthly welfare attacks our faith just as hatred attacks love. The effect of anxious thoughts was demonstrated to Swedenborg in the spiritual world. “It has sometimes happened,” Swedenborg wrote, “that I was earnestly thinking about worldly things, and about such things as give great concern to most persons … At these times I noticed that I was sinking down into what is sensuous; and that in proportion as my thought was immersed in such things, I was removed from the company of the angels … For when such thoughts possess the whole of the mind, they carry the lower mind downward, and are like weights which drag it down; and when they are regarded as the end, they remove the man from heaven..” (AC 6210).

We are all obliged by the Lord to shun the evil of excessive concern. We read: “Solicitude about the future, when confirmed by act, greatly dulls and retards the influx of spiritual life..” (AC 5177).

What holds true for anxiety about our natural welfare holds true equally for anxiety about our spiritual state. We should not concern ourselves with imagined evils, or evils we fear may be hidden within the depths of our mind. It is sufficient for us to face the active evils of our present state and work to overcome them. Meeting and shunning them one by one with humility of spirit, with a prayer for the Lord’s help and a confidence in His Divine power, is all the Lord requires of us.

We make but little progress against the entire hereditary nature. It is as though we are chipping at cracks in a seemingly impassable mountain of self-love. Yet, if we do each day the little that is required in that day, the Lord will care for the rest. “Have faith in God,” the Lord said. “For assuredly, I say to you, whoever says to this mountain, ‘Be thou removed and be cast into the sea,’ and does not doubt in his heart but believes that those things he says will come to pass, he will have whatever he says” (Mark 11:22l 23).

This is the way we are to seek for the kingdom of God and His righteousness. Then all things we need, both those things of the spirit and those of the body, will be added by the Lord. “Therefore I say to you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink; nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food and the body more than clothing? But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about its own things. Sufficient for the day is its own evil. (Matt. 6:25, 33, 34).