Category Archives: Inner States & Qualities

The Danger of An External Image of Ourselves

By Rev. Ian Arnold

“Everyone knows that the gentiles as well as Christians live a moral life, and many of them a better life than Christians. Moral life may be lived either for the sake of the Divine or for the sake of men in the world; and a moral life that is lived for the sake of the Divine is a spiritual life. In outward form the two appear alike, but in inward form they are entirely different: one saves a man, the other does not. For he who lives a moral life for the sake of the Divine is led by the Divine; while he who leads a moral life for the sake of men in the world is led by himself.

But this may be illustrated by an example. He who refrains from doing evil to his neighbour because it is contrary to religion, that is, contrary to the Divine, refrains from doing evil from a spiritual motive; but he who refrains from doing evil to another merely from fear of the law, or the loss of reputation, of honour, or gain, that is, for the sake of self and the world, refrains from doing evil from a natural motive, and is led by himself.

The life of the latter is natural, that of the former is spiritual. A man whose moral life is spiritual has heaven within himself, but he whose moral life is merely natural does not have heaven within himself; and for the reason that heaven flows in from above and opens mans interiors, and through his interiors flows into his exteriors; while the world flows in from beneath and opens his exteriors but not the interiors. For there can be no flowing in from the natural world into the spiritual, but only from the spiritual world into the natural; therefore if heaven is not received at the same time, the interiors remain closed.

From these things it can be seen who those are who receive heaven within them, and who do not.” (Heaven and Hell 319)

The danger of being caught up in AN EXTERNAL IMAGE OF OURSELVES.

From Mark’s gospel, friends, chapter 10, verse 21:

“Then Jesus, looking at him lovingly, said to him: One thing you lack. Go your way, sell whatever you have and give it to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. O come, take up your cross and follow me.”

It’s one of the things that has really fascinated me when it comes to so many of the incidents and events of the Gospels: that the people who are the centre of these events and incidents are more frequently than not nameless. We don’t know their names. We don’t know the name of the man who was paralysed at the pool of Bethesda. We don’t know the name of the woman who pressed through the crowd in her attempt to touch even the hem of Jesus garment. We don’t know the name of the boy whose father brought him to Jesus; the boy who was obviously suffering from some sort of epileptic fits, and the fits, it said, were casting him into fire and causing him to foam at the mouth.

When you stop and think about it, as I said, more frequently than not we don’t know the names of these people; and there has to be a reason for this. And the reason, so far as I can make out, is that were we to be given the names of these people it would muddy the waters, it would distract us, and it would obscure what the Lord is trying to say to us today in these incidents and occurrences and events. It’s interesting that there is teaching in the Writings that says that in heaven, when it comes to the Bible, the angels do not know, they do not see, they are totally unaware of, the names of those people who are we read about in the Word. It is specifically said they don’t know who Abraham was, they don’t know who Isaac was, or who Jacob or Joseph was or who Moses was, or Saul or David or Solomon, because they read their Bible, so to speak, through different eyes. They see into the inner content and realise that there is so much more that is beyond what is on the surface; and I’m suggesting to you that were getting a taste of it here in this world, the Lord not wanting, like I say, to cause too many things to get in the way of locking into and connecting with the message that He has for us.

The truth is that these nameless people, the truth is that this nameless rich young man, is everyone. He is you and me, and that’s important for us to see that. Jesus deliberately withholds the name of these people because they are you and me.

Now if they are you and me, then it’s important for us to lock into what’s being said here, and to try to explore what’s being said about us and about our approach to things. You may know this, dont you, that when you are aware of somebody talking about you, you cant but help wanting to tune into the conversation. Here, the Lord is talking to us about ourselves, and it is even more important that we tune in, and lock into, what He’s saying here: the rich young man who came to Jesus asking Him what he lacked, where he had got it wrong, what he had yet to do; that rich young man is you and me.

But what we need to know first of all is what was his problem? His problem was quite simple. His problem was that he was over-focussed on what he saw himself to be externally. He was over-focussed on his image as compared to actually what he was within. And as you go back into, and read, this episode you realise that this is absolutely true. Jesus answered him when he said:

“Good Teacher, what shall I do that I may inherit eternal life? Jesus said to him, Why do you call me good? No one is good but one, that is God. You know the commandments: do not commit adultery, do not murder, do not steal, do not bear false witness, do not defraud, honour your father and mother. (Now listen!) And he answered and said to Him, Teacher, all these things I have observed from my youth!”

“What’s my problem?” So that’s what I mean when I said yes, he had got it wrong. He did have a problem. He was over-focussed on what he saw himself to be, externally. He was too locked into his image of himself, as compared to what he actually was within.

“Then Jesus, looking at him, loved him, and said to him, One thing you lack. Go your way, sell what ever you have, give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Come, take up the cross and follow Me.”

As I thought about this rich young man, I thought to myself that he has a near-companion, and I stress the phrase “near-companion” insofar as the Gospel stories are concerned. This “near companion” I refer to is focussed on in Luke’s Gospel, chapter 18. Two men went up into the temple to pray, we read there. One was a Pharisee who could see no wrong in himself. Listen to what he says of himself: “God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I possess.” Can you see the point? He, too, was locked into an external image of himself, and he liked it, he was proud of it. He paraded it before God in his praise. But he is only a near-companion, because there is something different with this rich young man. What’s different is this: that the rich young man was uncomfortable, was troubled, and was not sufficiently convinced that his image was adequate. And so he comes to Jesus running, kneels before Him and asks Him, “Good teacher, what shall I do that may inherit eternal life?” One of the other gospels says, “What do I yet lack?” a lovely insight into his feeling that something was not quite right. “I’m doing all the right things. In the eyes of everybody else I’m a sincere, if not pious and holy person, but something is not sitting right.” And so he goes to Jesus.

I want to stop a moment here friends, and I want to talk to you about life in heaven, or life in the spiritual world, as compared or contrasted to life in this world. That topic was on my mind a great deal 6 or 8 months ago and it lead me to write an article published in the Australian New Church periodical for autumn 2005. My article was simply entitled “Life in heaven as compared or contrasted to life in this world.” And what are the differences? I think it’s important that we’re aware of them because from the Writings, and from all that Swedenborg describes about life in heaven, the first impression can be that it’s very similar to life in this world. But when we look more closely, we realise that there are quite profound and challenging differences.

In this world, we can be two people. In the spiritual world, we can only be one. Here, in this world, there are two levels at which we operate and function. There, in the spiritual world and in heaven, there’s only one level at which we operate and function. Here, in this world, we have freedom to choose. There, in the spiritual world, if not straight away, we become locked into who we are, and we cant help being who we are! In this world we can stand back, so to speak, and evaluate, critique and make decisions about our lives. There in the spiritual world we live spontaneously. So in fact, as I said, these differences are quite marked; and they really do bring home to us that though superficially you can talk about mountains and valleys, sunrises and rivers, and meeting people and reunions which is all a picture of the life that awaits us in the spiritual world that is only superficial.

When you get beyond that you come up against, and must reckon with, these quite profound differences. And indeed they are highlighted, are they not, in that reading that I had as the second this morning:

“In the meantime, when an innumerable multitude of people had gathered together, so that they trampled one another, He began to say to His disciples first of all, Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy. For there is nothing covered that will not be revealed, nor hidden that will not be known. Therefore whatever you have spoken in the dark will be heard in the light, and whatever you have spoken in the ear in inner rooms will be proclaimed on the housetops.”

Here, we can be two people. There, we can only be one.

I hope the following mental picture helps. There are, of course, our inner thoughts and feelings; but there is also another level, like I say, at which we operate, which are our outer thoughts and feelings. Is there a husband alive who has not had his wife show him a new dress she has bought, and in his inner thoughts and feelings, he’s horrified; but in his outer thoughts and feelings he tells her its lovely. Doesn’t that bring home to us that we are very adept at operating at two levels? And we do it supremely well! But what we also do is that we travel between the two constantly. You just think of it yourself: we’re travelling constantly between the two things; and that husband who has been confronted with an all-expensive dress is travelling, mightily quickly mind you, between these two levels. What do I say, and how do I say it? But there it is, and that’s typical of life in this world. And because we have these two levels, we actually straddle them. We straddle them and have the capacity to make decisions which we don’t have, eventually, in the spiritual world: because the gap closes and we become one.

Now what our problem is in this world is this: that we tend to want to stay in the outer things for peace of mind; I mightn’t get a good dinner if I really tell her what I really think of that dress! We tend to want to stay out here, and lock ourselves here because if we turn back into our inner thoughts and feelings, not only might we get a frying pan over the head for saying the wrong thing, but also it’s painful to have to handle and deal with our inner thoughts and feelings. So what we tend to do is close the door. Its easier: “Darling, it’s lovely, I’ll take you out to dinner at the weekend. You can show it off.” It’s much easier to work at that outer level than to work at the inner level; and that is so in all things of life.

So, turning back to the rich young man, his problem was that he was focussed outwards on his outer thoughts and feelings, on the face or image that he was presenting to the world. He didn’t have the courage yet, the stamina, the backbone, to start looking at his inner thoughts and feelings and dealing with them and wrestling with them. That’s what his problem was!

“Now as Jesus was going out on the road, one came running, knelt before Him and asked Him, Good Teacher, what shall I do that I may inherit eternal life? (or, as in the gospel of Matthew, what do I yet lack?) So Jesus said to him, Why do you call Me good? No one is good but One, that is, God. You know the commandments: Do not commit murder, do not commit adultery, do not steal, do not bear false witness, do not defraud, honour your father and your mother.

“And he answered and said to Him, Teacher, all these things I have observed from my youth. (What a good person Ive been! I havent done these things; other scallywags may have done, but I haven’t!)

“Then Jesus looked at him and loved him. (He loved him because he knew this young person was troubled, he knew that something was going on inside of him, and He wanted to encourage him.) And He said to him, One thing you lack: go your way, sell whatever you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come take up the cross, and follow Me.”

Two things Jesus said to him: “go your way and sell or dispose of what you have” means to surrender or to give up, to do away with and to regard as of no worth the image of ourselves out there that we cling to. Very pertinent. “Regard it as of no value! You are investing too much in it, you are putting too much store by it, and it’s not important. What people think of you, how you present yourself out there, that’s all very well; but it doesn’t change or touch the sort of person you are inside, and that’s what I, Jesus, am really interested in.”

The second thing Jesus said was to “take up your cross and follow Me”, which means to get serious about doing battle with our inner thoughts, desires, feelings and inclinations. Look at what is going on within. Recognise the need to become involved with your inner private life, the unseen thoughts and feelings we have, the ones we hide away from the world but which are only too well known to us.

This rich young man went away sad, but there was no need for him to do so. And as I read the story, and read it over and over again, I think to myself that maybe before he got home he realised that Jesus had said to him something which is of great significance and value. That is what I like to think. It seems to me he was, indeed, a decent person who would never have come to Jesus in the first place if he had been otherwise. And it wasnt too much which Jesus is asking of him.

Bringing home to us that this is so, and to conclude, I would like to read one of my favourite passages from the Writings or the Teachings of the New Church, where it says the whole thing about wrestling with and facing up to our inner thoughts and feelings is not grievous. It’s from Doctrine of Life, paragraph 97:

“Combat is not grievous, except for those who have unloosened all restraints upon their evil loves and have intentionally indulged them, also for those who have obstinately rejected the holy things of the Word and of the Church. To others, however, it is not grievous: let them resist evils in intention only once in a week, or twice in a month, and they will perceive a change.”

Just have the courage to lock into this inner stuff just once a week, twice a month, and if we do, we will perceive a change.

“Then Jesus, looking at him lovingly, said to him: One thing you lack. Go your way, sell whatever you have and give it to the poor (its insignificant, its unimportant, you’re putting too much store by it), and you will have treasure in heaven. O come, take up the cross and follow me.”



By Rev. Grant R. Schnarr

It seems dangerous to do a sermon on piety, such a bad connotation to it. It’s interesting that in the book The New Jerusalem and Its Heavenly Doctrine, after laying out some of the basic foundations of what life is about, we come to the chapter on Piety.

The first thing that the Writings say is that piety, in the way we think about it today, is not a good thing. If you talk about being in the life of worship, going to church, acting holy and devout, and yet not really having that feeling within, then that is a bad thing. So often when we talk about someone being pious, that’s what we mean; we mean that on the outside are acting very devout and holy, but do they really mean it on the inside?

The first thing the Writings say is, when we talk about piety there’s something good about a pious kind of life, but when it’s removed from a spiritual life, removed from charity, that’s when it becomes something bad, hypocritical, a holier-than-thou attitude. We are going to explore the different kinds of piety, what’s good and what’s bad about piety.

What is piety? It is a sense of holiness that one may feel. The Writings say, prayer and humility are a part of piety. The Writings say that speaking in a just way, speaking about the Lord in your life, talking with other people is part of piety. Also there’s a feeling of a renunciation of the world. A lot of people think that’s a pious way of life, and the Writings talk about that too, what that means. And also, going to church, the Writings talk about that as being part of this piety that we often think of in our life.

One of the first things the Writings talk about in the idea of piety is this idea of renouncing the world. Sometimes we can think to ourselves, if we could get off alone and study the Word as hard as we could and really commune with God, that somehow we’ll find Him in our life, put down the world, get away from people, be by ourselves, let God come into us. But the problem with that is that when we remove ourselves from the world, the Lord can’t come to us. It is true that the Lord does come to us from within, within our hearts, but only to the degree that we give without, in our life with our neighbor. And so, to the degree that we stop giving, to the degree that we stop being useful in society, to the degree that we stop sharing with other people, becoming intimate with them, learning to risk, if we stop doing those things, the Lord cannot come into us. He cannot come into us. He comes into us through our life in the world. So often in our lives, we don’t go join monasteries or become nuns, or something like that; we wouldn’t do that. But so often in our lives we do isolate ourselves, we do renounce the world in so many bad ways.

Maybe some people have fears, fears about meeting other people, about going out into the street. They go to work, they hardly communicate with anyone, and then they go home and they work on their pet projects in their house. Perhaps it’s reading. They read every day in their own little world. Perhaps they have a hobby–perhaps it’s art–everyday they work on their art, just by themselves. They work on the computer all the time, playing with that, or sound equipment, recording something, music. But it’s always by themselves in their own little world. And that is, in a form, a renunciation of the world because that’s what we make our lives.

If we spend half our life locked up in our house, trying to find some kind of happiness with ourselves alone, are we wasting our time? To a degree, there’s a time for that, there’s a time to be alone, a time to commune with the Lord. There’s a time for art, there’s time for music, there’s a time for following what we want to do on our own, but if we find that that’s all we are doing with our life, we’ve got to ask ourselves why. Is it so different than locking ourselves in a monastery, being alone? Because the Lord can’t come to us through there. We can have a superficial feeling of peace, but that peace comes because no one is affecting us. No good is coming to us and no bad. There’s just us. How can we regenerate? How can we change ourselves in that kind of mode? We can’t see what we’re like unless we’re dealing with people, to see how we are in front of people, and make those changes.

We don’t even have to do that. Some people, they go through life, and they get hurt a few times in relationships, and then maybe subconsciously they just decide to renounce the world in that degree, not get involved, not wanting to be hurt any more, not willing to risk by becoming intimate with someone, and they take a relationship so far with someone they meet, but then something comes up in them, makes them hold back. They don’t want to be hurt any more. And so they don’t get involved, and they go on from one relationship to another, bringing people in and then pushing them away. That is a form of renunciation of the world.

Yet hurt does come. Hurt comes with love. It does. And I think we have to accept that in our lives. It’s just the way of life. This world has happiness and sadness, but if you never give, you’ll never know love. You’ll never know the joy of love. And if you’re not willing to risk hurt, then you’re never going to have happiness either. You’ll be lukewarm. As it says in the book of Revelation, “Neither cold nor hot, and so I spew you out of my mouth.” We’ve got to take the risk. It’s really true, that saying, “It is better to have loved and lost than not to have loved at all.”

Renunciation of the world–there is something there–but it’s a renunciation of the world, the Writings say, while we’re in the world. Think about that: renouncing the world while we’re in the world. And what the Writings mean is not being overly concerned with worldly things, not making our job the most important thing in our life, or status the most important thing, or how much money we have the most important thing in our life, or how popular we are the most important thing, or our relation with the opposite sex the most important thing in our life, all those earthly things. To renounce them as being the most important thing in our life, and to see that there is something higher, our relationship with the Lord. That’s the most important thing in our life. We’ve got to see that in our life. And when we do begin to see that, renounce the world in that sense, lay these things down and seek after the treasures of heaven, a different world opens up to us, a whole different set of values, a whole different set of thoughts, and you can see the difference in the way that you think. It’s not shallow; it’s not, what am I going to wear today? What party am I go to tonight? What am I going to have for dinner, go to bed? Every it’s the same thing. No.

It’s a deeper life with all kinds of implications, insights, understandings, and as we deal with people, with these higher principles involved, thinking about our relationship with the Lord, all different sorts of joys take place in our heart and in our life, in our dealing with people. Yes, it’s a risk, and sometimes we’re hurt, we’re hut bad, but that’s part of life, and it’s worth it because the joy is so great. It’s what the Lord wants for us.

So, in a sense there is a renunciation of the world that should take place. But its a renunciation of our preeminent concerns with the world. It doesn’t mean hiding from people. It doesn’t mean hiding from ourselves. It means being active in the world, caring about things more important than the world.

Another thing that the Writings talk about is speaking piously. And we can see in our dealings with people–I’m sure we’ve all come across times when we’ve hear someone who is really just talking about things in such a high and pompous way that we really wonder where they’re coming from. And at that time, maybe what’s really going on is we can become angry or upset with them because they are being pious but their life isn’t in accord with the piety that they’re showing. We’ve found ourselves doing that ourselves at times in our life. And the Writings point out that that’s what’s wrong. If we speak and act piously but inside are really not changing or growing or having any love, that’s wrong, it’s empty.

I can remember in theological school, having a certain discussion with theological school students, and you’ve got to understand that any theological school anywhere, in any different church, these guys are put away in their ivory tower for four years to discuss all this philosophy, apart from life completely, and so they tend to be so idealistic and so unrealistic about life, especially in the theological school that’s at the college in the Academy of the New Church. There are college buildings there, and there’s a commons where all the people there gather together during a break, and up above is the theological school with a window that overlooks the commons. I remember in college we’d look up there and see the theological students in their coats and ties discussing and looking down on the peons below, and they had their wingtip shoes on, and all the rest. I remember coming out of my office at one point–I guess it was my second year of theological school–and coming across some of the theologs having a discussion, and they were discussing who they would have into their house for dinner. Would they have a smoker into their house? I quickly put my cigarette out. Would they have a smoker in their house? And they talked about that for a while, then someone asked, would they have a hunter? Would they have a hunter into their house? Also my father had taken me hunting in the mountains of Pennsylvania when I was a child. I listened to this, and then it was, would they have a divorcee over for dinner, into their house? It went on like that until I said to them, “Didn’t the Lord come to heal those who were sick? Who did the Lord spend His time with, the scribes and Pharisees? He spent His time with, not only people who were pretty normal, but with the prostitutes, with the tax collectors, with the sinners. And you’re telling me you won’t even have a smoker in your house?”

One of the persons who was protesting most said, “Well, what the Lord was talking about there had a deeper meaning to it. We can’t take it too literally.”

I just walked away and realized, this guy is in the clouds.

You know, the wonderful thing is, you get out of theological school and that whole structure that they built up in you about what life’s like, as soon as you’re out in the field, comes crashing down, and you have to start all over again. That theolog today is a very down to earth minister.

That’s an example of how you can become so idealistic about life, removed from any kind of love in your heart, that it’s piety without charity. It’s dead. It’s meaningless. It’s judgmental. It’s wrong.

Think about the Lord and how He was with those people. If He was pious in His speaking but did not have charity in His heart, He would have passed Matthew right by. He never would have called Matthew because Matthew was a tax collector, but would have had His nose up in the air as He walked by. Think about all the times people came to Him to ask for help, even those who had real problems in their life, like Mary Magdalene who came to wash His feet with her tears. If He had said, “Get away from Me. You’re a sinner; I can’t talk to you. I can’t deal with you.”

Or that woman by the well, look at how the Lord dealt with her, the Samaritan woman. She had had two or three husbands, she was now living with somebody, and He didn’t come right at her with it, “I won’t take water from you because of your life.” He gently, so gently, asked her questions so that she would evaluate her life. And even when she said, “I have no husband,” He said, “Yeah, you’re right. The guy you’re with now isn’t your husband.” He didn’t make any kind of accusation. He simply stated the facts in a very gentle and loving way.

Even that woman taken in adultery, He asked her a question, and said, “Neither do I condemn you. Go and sin no more.” He had piety. He did. He had piety in His life, but He had charity too. He had love. And that’s what made it right.

Let’s turn it around for a second. Sometimes there are things that we should speak and act and talk about from a pious point of view, the Writings say, that are good.

It is good to talk about the Lord in our life. It is so bad to talk about the Lord only on Sunday, and then live your life completely different all the rest of the days but it’s hypocritical. That’s piety without charity. But there is a time for talking about spiritual things in our life so that other people can learn from them. There’s a time for saying no when discussions come up that shouldn’t be taking place. Talk about the idea of sacrilegious or dirty jokes–and we all are affected by those–the difference is, in those jokes are we perpetuating them? Are we bringing them into our hearts? Are we memorizing those jokes so that we can go on to tell our brother-in law, or our wife or our partner, or our friends at work? Are we perpetuating that verbal pornography? That really does do damage to the way we think about the opposite sex.

Or even more so, in a joke of sacrilege about the Lord. Some people, and I know we’ve all met them, get so involved in using the Lord’s name and then some disgusting phrase in the next word, putting the two together, “Jesus this” or “Jesus that.” They can hear the Lord inside saying, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.” And it is important, right down on that level not to perpetuate those things.

We have a dorm in the high school of the Academy of the New Church in Bryn Athyn where I went to school. I remember one kid came who was really what you would call a really hard guy. He had this leather jacket and everything. He was mean, and if he told you to do something, you’d do it. You know how it is in high school, everybody respects the real hard guy. They are the ones that are in. And he was a bad kid, real bad. In fact, he was a minister’s son. I guess he was rebelling against his father at that time. It was interesting. A lot of people had respect. One time some people were working together, some kids, and they were doing something, and this one kid joked around and made some tremendously terrible joke about the Lord. And this guy grabbed him and said, “Don’t you ever, ever do that again, and in front of me. Don’t you say that about the Lord.” This guy was shocked and I was amazed, I couldn’t believe it that this guy, the way he appeared, and yet he cared so much about the Lord and about the important things in life, about not taking His name in vain, and about not hurting Him. You know, the high school, the whole vocabulary improved by 15 to 20 percent after that. There’s something there. There’s something about standing up and saying, no.

Sometimes in our lives we can’t do that. Let’s be realistic. We may work with people who are always like that. It’s their whole life. That’s what they’re devoted to, devoted to telling these jokes, to making fun of religious things, and to say no to them to try to stop them openly, doesn’t work. It will just cause bad feelings.

But there is a way, in our hearts, to put up that wall so that it won’t hurt us or affect us, or at least to make the effect less than it could be. If we find ourselves bringing it in, memorizing it, delighting in it, taking it to our brother-in-law, whatever, we are doing something wrong. We’re perpetuating evil. We are. And it is a big deal. Very important.

The Writings also talk about the idea of piety having to do with prayer and humility, and we’ve talked a lot about it, the two of these before. The key teaching here is the Lord can only flow into a humble heart, the Writings say. The Lord can only come into us and help us and affect us if we let Him in, if we call for Him, if we ask Him to come in, if we recognize the need that we have for Him in our lives. And you can see that, if you are so full of yourself, if you think you’re so great, if you build your whole life round you and trust completely in you, how can the Lord come in? How can He make you concerned about other people? How can He make you see that you’re making a mess of your life? And you know, it’s funny, at times in our life we think we’ve got it together, then we make some terrible mistake and life comes crashing down, and that’s when we so often turn to the Lord and say, “Yes, I need you. I really blew it. I can’t do it on my own.” It’s providential that the Lord lets that happen so that we can turn to Him, so we can see that we do need the Lord in our lives.

I’ve had people come in here and we kneel down for prayer. We kneel down so we can show our humility. I’ve had people come in here and say, “I’m not going to get down on my knees. I can’t get on my knees.” Well, they’ve got a problem. They’ve got a big problem if they can’t humble themselves enough before the Lord so that He can flow into their lives. No, you don’t have to get down on your knees, but if you’ve got a problem putting yourself down at least mentally on your knees for the Lord, then you’re full of yourself. And what’s wrong with that? You’re missing out on a whole lot of happiness. The Lord can only flow in to a humble heart.

The last thing the Writings talk about is the idea of going to church. The first thing they say is that you can go to church every week, you can sing with the greatest voice, you can pray, you can think about it, you can discuss all these things, you can be very humble, but if you walk out the door and you go away and it’s gone and it’s out of your life, it doesn’t do you any good whatsoever. In fact, real worship, the Writings say, real worship isn’t that kind of prayer and learning and hearing sermons; real worship is the life of love.

When you bring your love into life and help people and care about them and try to be useful, you’re worshiping the Lord 24 hours a day, not consciously, but right in your life. Your life is a form of worship. That’s so important. We’ve all seen it with some of the associates that we’ve had. I’ve heard people tell me over and over again, “Yeah, my friends, it’s ridiculous, they live a wild life for five or six days. Saturday night they blow it away and have fun. Sunday they’re in church looking good, dressed up, very pious, atoning for their sins.” It doesn’t work that way. The first thing the Writings say about going to church–they don’t talk about all the great things, the wonderful things, why you should be there–the first thing they say is, “Look, if you’re just going to go to church to look good so you don’t feel bad any more, and then walk out the door and forget it, then why bother? Don’t even go.”

Let’s turn it around for a second. The Writings go on to say that there are so many benefits from being here, being with other people. One of those is, how do we learn the truth? We can learn it on our own, but look at the different perspective that we have by listening to someone’s rendition of a different verse in the Word, by discussing these things with other people. We get a different perspective. We’re not just blinding ourselves. We can see truth, we learn. Some people take the idea that. “I’ll get enough truth this week to hold me through till next week, really concentrate on what I learned today. Next week I’ll be fed something else, that’ll keep me for a week.” There’s something to that. We learn truth–we hope we do–and that will help us in our life.

Last week Grant Waller was talking about some people who were hypnotized and how he saw that they were beyond their control, and how in life so much of the time we do things and we don’t know why we do them. We might be under controls of our environment and this and that, and it’s hopeless. The Word was given to us to shed light on our lives so we can see where that is taking place, so that we can see where we are blindly hurting ourselves. The Word was given to us so that we can see when our environment is affecting us in a bad way, so that we can make the changes. The Word is spiritual light. And what does that light do? It enlightens our life, to be able to see our life, to choose a different path, to not walk down that path that will lead us into the pits, to not fall into those traps we set up for ourselves. But the Word can lead us to the path that is higher than ourselves, and happiness. That’s why we have the Word, and we can learn the truth here Sundays.

Another reason besides that is also a form for fellowship, a form for taking these truths and putting them into life. At work, in your job, there are different expectations. You are trying to get the job done, and everybody talks about that, or if you are a doctor or a nurse, you are dealing with patients all the time. Different occupations have different things. If you are with your friends at night, the idea is to have fun, and that’s fine. That’s what you are supposed to do. But this is the one place that the idea is to love your neighbor. Openly, that’s what we are trying to do, to understand God and to love our neighbor. And there is nowhere else that we can practice that as much in our lives than right here in this cafe among our friends who believe the same things we do, or at least are seeking after the same things that we are seeking after. It’s a wonderful form for growth, form for friendship, form for fellowship and brotherhood in a common cause.



By Rev. Grant H. Odhner

Hear my prayer, O Lord,
And let my cry come to You.
Do not hide Your face from me
in the day of trouble..
I am like a pelican of the wilderness;
I am like an owl of the desert.
I lie awake,
And am like a sparrow alone
on the housetop. Ps 102.1,2,6-7

What striking pictures of loneliness we have here! “A pelican of the wilderness,” “an owl of the desert,” “a sparrow alone on the housetop.” A pelican is a large bird, but it shrinks to insignificance when we picture it surrounded by wilderness. An owl is a solitary bird, but what could be more solitary than “an owl of the desert?” Yet of these three images, the “sparrow alone on the housetop” is the most lonely. A sparrow is a drab, little bird that is usually seen in a flock, chittering socially with its associates: flying when they fly, turning when they turn (even in mid air!), landing when they land. A flock like this responds to all things as a One! They constantly take their queue from one another. So “a sparrow alone on the housetop,” without its friends, facing the wind by itself, is truly a lonely sight.

Like that sparrow, all of us were created to live with others. We were created to live in community. As we read in the work True Christian Religion: “A human being is not born for the sake of himself alone, but for others; otherwise there could be no cohesive society, nor any good in it” (TCR 406). We were created by the Lord “to love others outside of [ourselves], to want to be one with them, and to make them happy from [ourselves]” (TCR 43). This is the nature of love. And an essential element in this love is “to be loved by others, for in this way conjunction is brought about” (DLW 47). The Lord made us to need each other – not just to satisfy our worldly wants and needs, but to satisfy our spiritual wants and needs.

This fact is the root-cause of all loneliness. We want and therefore need people to love; we want and need to be conjoined with them in meaningful ways; we want and need response from them. And when we do not have people to love, with whom we feel some bond of affection and united thought, or when we do not feel response from them, we feel a certain quiet grief or emptiness which we call “loneliness.”

Having people to love, getting response from them, and feeling a bond with them, are not merely a matter of having people around us. Loneliness is essentially a state of mind, not a set of physical conditions. We can feel lonely, even when, to all appearance, we are blessed with all sorts of relationships and all kinds of associations with others in human society. Real response to our love on the part of others is a matter of the quality of their appreciation for us, for what we have to give, and are trying to give; it is a matter of how much, and how accurately, we feel known and understood, accepted and valued, by those whom we love and serve. Feeling a bond or “conjunction” with others is a matter of feeling a positive and meaningful “response” from them. Unless we sense that the response of others is true and genuine, we may feel lonely, even when they are going through all the motions of friendly interactions with us.

The cause of loneliness is a lack of meaningful relationships with others. But the feeling itself has two distinctly different origins. It can spring from selfish love or unselfish love.

We have been speaking of unselfish love and its desire to love others outside of itself, to be one with them, to make them happy from itself, to be loved in return. Loneliness is never in itself a heavenly emotion. It arises, like anger and zeal, when our love is frustrated in some way. If we had perfect trust in the Lord, we would not let frustrations get us down. But the fact is, being limited in our ability to see ahead and trust, even the best of us can experience “our love frustrated.”

Sometimes we can find our love for another blocked by circumstances, which are too complex and longstanding to be quickly remedied. In the meantime, as we work for change, we feel a gnawing void. We must sometimes endure states of temptation and cold. And while the hells are holding us captive in the affections and perspective of our “natural person,”our feelings of love for others are deadened, even while our “spiritual person” yearns for renewed warmth. Or sometimes we must endure states of cold in our loved ones, which prevent them from being responsive to our love. Sometimes we simply lack meaningful relationships, and though we work for them, the Lord in His wisdom has not yet led us to them. In all these sorts of circumstances, even though we are doing the best we can, we feel lonely. And this loneliness is not wholly selfish. It is a good love, a good yearning, that is frustrated.

Even the Lord, when He was in the world, must have felt loneliness. Several times we are given the picture of Him alone: in the wilderness for forty days (Mk 1); praying “up on a mountain by Himself” (Mt 14.23; Lk 9.18); in Gethsemene when His disciples slumbered, and later when they forsook Him and fled; and especially, hanging on the cross.

The Lord’s deepest love was to be joined with the human race, so that He could impart to us His love, and be received and loved in return. This conjunction was His end in view, and the promise of it was His inmost joy (AC 2034.2-3, 2077). Generally, the Lord was sustained by a strong sense of His Divinity, in which this end could not be placed in doubt. The people around Him could leave Him alone and forsaken, but His Divine confidence remained with Him; as He said to His disciples:

Indeed the hour is coming, yes, has now come, that you will be scattered, each to his own, and will leave Me alone. And yet I am not alone, because My Father is with Me. Jn 16.32

But at times the Lord’s love and hope were attacked by the hells. He allowed this so that He could draw out their venom and neutralize it. The Lord’s means of drawing out the hells’ malice was to take on a human mind which had all our frailties, which was vulnerable to the hell’s attacks. Into this human mind, His Divine mind could gradually be inserted. From within, the Divine could reorder the human, gradually enlightening it, meeting the challenges of evil emotions and false thinking, casting out its spiritual sicknesses, purifying it, making it whole. All this could only happen through temptations, in which the Lord lowered Himself into the frail human perspective, so that the hells could approach. When He did this, He seemed to Himself to lose the Divine perspective. He was left alone in the human, left to Himself. His Divine “appeared to be absent” (AC 7058.3; cf 1745, 1999.2,5; HD 302). He was then struggling from Divine power, but struggling in the human, from its perspective, using the natural tools then available to Him. (This was part of the power of His advent: that His work for us left us natural tools, natural ideas, filled with Divine life, by which we could later fight for heaven!)

When He was in temptation the Lord felt alone and forsaken both by man and by God; He felt “without the aid of anyone” (AC 5005). This is an aspect of all temptation (TCR 126). When we read in the Psalms about the psalmist’s feeling alone, we are reading about both the Lord’s temptations and our own.

My God, my God, why have You forsaken me?
Why are You far from helping me,
And from the words of my groaning? …
For dogs have surrounded me;
The assembly of the wicked has enclosed me..
But You, O Lord, do not be far from me;
O my strength, hasten to help me! Ps 22.1,16,19

The loneliness of temptation is partly that we lose all sense of our “inner person,” the spiritual part of us. Like Elisha’s servant, our spiritual eyes are not open to see our heavenly connection with others ( the “mountains” surrounding us with “horses and chariots of fire” (II Kgs 6). It is our inner person that is in communion with the Lord and with the hosts of heaven. It is this inner part of us that genuinely loves others, and is able to have connection with them. As a result, in temptation we feel removed from others, isolated. The psalmist (unawares) sings of this:

You have put my acquaintances far from me;
You have made me an abomination to them;
I am shut up, and I cannot get out..
Loved one and friend
You have put far from me,
And my acquaintances into darkness. Ps 88

My loved ones and my friends stand aloof
from my plague,
And kinsmen stand afar off. Ps 38.11

I am a reproach among all my enemies,
But especially among my neighbors,
And am repulsive to my acquaintances;
Those who see me outside flee from me. Ps 31

We see pictured here the isolation that temptation brings. The isolation is a direct result of evil spirits around us, who hold us in selfish affections. It is selfishness that destroys all sense of communion with others.

From our inner person, if we do not yield to the feelings injected into our outer person by evil spirits, we continue to long for loving communion with others, however frustrated our love becomes. But when under attack, we do feel lonely. And this loneliness is not selfish.

But what about selfish loneliness? Like unselfish love, selfish love also wants to love others, to be one with them, to make them happy, and to be loved in return. In loving and serving others, and in bringing delight to them, the Self feels wanted, needed, worthwhile. Selfish people will sometimes do the vilest acts, they will sometimes submit to the the basest treatment at the hands of others, because it makes them feel validated. Even bad people want to love and be loved. They also want to be bonded with others. But in the love they give and in the response they receive they are looking to Self. They wish to be in communion with others and to make them happy only so that others may satisfy them and complete them. Selfish loneliness arises when our Self’s desire for being fed and coddled is thwarted.

How can we tell, when we feel lonely, whether our loneliness is selfish or unselfish? And how should we respond? The answer to the first question is: it is often difficult to know whether our loneliness is selfish or unselfish. It takes a lot of self-examination. Often a good kind of loneliness can appear selfish. The hells would have us believe that it is. And often a selfish kind of loneliness can appear legitimate.

Some things to look at are: Do I desire to love others outside of myself, or as part of myself? Do I want to love them and be One with them as beings in their own right? Do I want to love them for what they are (or can become)? Or am I just using them as a prop, a stage-piece in the “Play About Me?” One way of determining whether we are using another as a prop or loving them in their own right is to ask, Do I respond to their love and their thoughts and their services in a living, sensitive way? Do I take the care to know them? to know “where they are?” This takes continual communication. Have I become too self-absorbed? Am I looking at the world from my own narrow perspective? Are others unresponsive to me because I am not responsive to them? We can blame our loneliness on other’s inattention, when part of the trouble may be our own inattention. When we feel lonely and unfulfilled in our relationships with others, there are many inner issues to look at. The surface-issues, and our instinctive judgments, are probably not the whole story.

How do we respond to loneliness? Obviously, we must examine ourselves, as I have suggested. Our response is only as good as is our understanding of the problem. But in general we must continue to desire communion with others through shared “uses.” We must seek to interact with them in mutual services, and in the exchange of ideas. Part of being in communion with others is sharing similar joys, interests, ideals. But these things cannot be discovered unless we engage in the “uses” of society.

And we must acknowledge the Lord’s leading here! People who trust in providence are content with their lot. They trust that the Lord is leading them into meaningful and useful relationships with others, when they do their part. So when they are lonely, they accept the reality of their situation, even as they do what they can to change it. They do not grovel in discouragement. They do not look for “quick fix” solutions to their loneliness. They are unwilling to restore happiness through unlawful means, such as unbridled fantasy. Their trust in the Lord strengthens them with patience and a sense of being content with the many delights that the Lord does give them!

Loneliness can be such a grievous thing! So ardently we long to be understood and to understand others, to share and to being responded to with love and appreciation. But no matter how lonely we feel, we must always remind ourselves that we are not alone. We are never really alone. The Lord is with us. His angels are with us. Every sparrow seemingly alone on the housetop is dear to Him. As He observed to His disciples:

Are not two sparrows sold for a copper coin? And not one of them falls to the ground apart from your Father. But the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Do not fear therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows. Mt 10.29-31

Let us trust that He is leading all who are willing to follow Him into eternal relationships, ones that will be worth the struggle and worth the wait!


Letting Go and Not Turning Back

By Rev. Ian Arnold

“Then (Jesus) said to another, ‘Follow me.’ But he said, ‘Lord, let me first go and bury my father. Jesus said to him, ‘Let the dead bury their own dead, but you go and preach the kingdom of god.’

And another also said, ‘Lord, I will follow you, but let me first go and bid them farewell who are at my house.’ But Jesus said to him, ‘no one, having put his hand to the plough, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God.'” (Luke Chapter 9, verses 59 to 61)

In an Editorial he wrote in his July of this year Newsletter, Rev. Julian Duckworth, the minister of one of our Churches in Sydney and presently President of The New church in Australia, drew attention to a new law that the Romanian Government has brought in requiring that 50% of all news in their newspapers and other media is good news.

It’s more than likely that we have all listened to – or watched – the news on a certain occasion and, at the end of it, sighed almost with despair at what has been a catalogue of accidents, robberies, assaults, house fires and untoward events.

By comparison we hear relatively little about the wonderfully good and unheralded things that happen; the sacrifices that people make for others or, for example, the fact that teams of doctors from Australia and other First World countries regularly give of their expertise and often their holidays to go to Third World countries to be agents of healing and recovery such as people there could not otherwise hope to have.(Think for a moment of the late Dr Fred Hollows and the work that he started (straight forward operations that restore people’s sight) and which is carried on by the Foundation we know by his name).

It is most unlikely that a day passes when we are not reminded of the forces for evil that have their impact in this world, on our communities, and on the lives of individual people.

But we need to be aware of – and affirm, because it is the truth – that there are forces for good at work in the world also. And these forces for good are just as powerful, just as active and, if we look hard enough, just as much in evidence. When our eyes are open we see people’s hearts touched; lovely gestures; lives changed.

We are not ostriches in the sand denying the reality of forces for evil at work. But here is what is also the reality, that forces for good – just as strong – are also at work, in our midst and affecting each and every one of us. It could not be otherwise; not when we think of freewill and the pull of the various forces, in opposite directions, which we experience and which lie at the heart of our enjoying freewill.

And here, in one of the places in the Writings or Heavenly Doctrines of our Church, this force for good is described:

“There is in fact a sphere continuously radiated by the Lord which raises all to heaven; this fills the whole of both the spiritual and natural worlds. It is like a strong current in the ocean which invisibly draws a ship along.” (True Christian Religion 652:3)

“Like a strong current in the ocean!” Isn’t that amazing? And isn’t it, also reassuring? The Lord is touching the lives of people, for good, continuously.

This sphere manifests in a number of ways.

It manifests, for instance, as a feeling for what is good and just and fair and) honest and decent. In other words, it touches us within; just as it touches and impacts on others. We feel moved in good ways.

It also manifests in the good example of others. We all know of people going out of their way to bring delight, joy and happiness to others. We are impressed by this and, at least to some extent, drawn along by it. Random acts of kindness move and inspire us. People are not obliged or called upon to do certain things but they do them, maybe way beyond what ever could have been anticipated. Here is this force for good, from the Lord, active in human activity. And it is lovely to behold.

Probably most eloquently of all, this sphere, or force for good, manifests in the actual words and sayings of our Lord as we have them set down for us in the Gospels.

  • “Forgive” He said, “and you will be forgiven.” (Matthew 6:14)
  • Be merciful, and you will obtain mercy.(Matthew 5:7)
  • Don’t get drawn into judgement of others. Remember, instead, how great your own shortcomings are.(Matthew 7:1)
  • Don’t put your energy into material things.(Matthew 6:19-21)
  • Learn to trust and live in the present.(Matthew 6::25-34)
  • Aim to be more forgetful of self. (John 15:12,13)

This is this sphere finding its expression in words. It is the Lord drawing us to Himself. And it is summed up in what we have here, in the Lord’s words to would-be followers, “Follow me”.

It is fascinating, isn’t it, that all of these people, who put their hand up to follow Jesus, when it actually came to it, did so with qualifications. ?”I will….but there is something holding me back.”…”I will but something else has priority.”

“Then (Jesus) said to another, ‘Follow me.’ But he said, ‘Lord, let me first go and bury my father.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Let the dead bury their own dead, but you go and preach the kingdom of God.’

And another also said, ‘Lord, I will follow you, but let me first go and bid them farewell who are at my house. But Jesus said to him, ‘No one, having put his hand to the plough, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God.'”

When we stop and think about it, what was going on here was that these people couldn’t bring themselves to make a clean break. There was something in them that was causing their resistance.

Now if, as some people do, you read these words, taking them literally, it comes across that the Lord was being harsh and unfeeling. What could possibly be wrong with going back and burying one’s father? What could possibly be wrong with wanting to return home to bid farewell to family there?

Don’t – though – take the Lord literally here. When in another place He said that if your right hand offends you cut it off we don’t take him literally.

And it’s the same thing here.

Remember: this is all about us and how it is that on the one hand we put up our hand to follow the Lord, yet there is this resistance. We say “yes” but with qualification.

And these qualifications are symbolized by what these two would-be disciples or followers of the Lord said.

In summary, wanting to go and bury his father is all about us still feeling the pull and even the attraction of “dead” things. For example, and even if it is in secret, we still feel, and hanker for, the delight in criticizing people because it makes us feel better or superior. We can’t quite give up all that our proprium delights in. We know that all good is from the Lord alone but can’t quite give up wanting recognition or praise and are offended (even if we keep it in check) when it is not forthcoming. And so it goes on.

The other man, you remember, told Jesus that he wanted to go back and bid farewell to those who were at his house; and what this holds up to us is a looking to the past and to earlier, more natural, less regenerate, states.. (Lot’s wife, remember, looked back and became a pillar of salt.) Such looking back can really weaken our resolve and commitment to follow the Lord.

  • It can be mistakes and unhappy memories
  • It can be things we could have done a lot differently.
  • It can be incidents we wish never happened.
  • It can be words we said that should never have been spoken.
  • It can be old attitudes, perhaps resentments, and ill-founded images of ourselves we are not yet ready to entirely give up.

These are those “foes of our own household” which in another place Jesus warned about and urged that we separate ourselves from. (see Matthew 10:36)

In summary, what this is all about is giving energy and power to those things in us that resist our opening ourselves up more to the Lord’s life of love and wisdom flowing in.

“Then Jesus said to his disciples, ‘If anyone desires to come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me. For whoever desires to save his life will lost it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.'” (Mathew 16: 24, 25)

In one place in the Heavenly Doctrines it says, in this regard, that the Lord wills our total submission.(see Arcana Caelestia 6138)

This, though, is not about some kind of slavish caving in. It’s not about unthinking acceptance or blindly following. Not at all.

It simply means commitment without qualification.

Of course there is a place for questioning and a right to examine, explore, think things through and see for ourselves the wisdom of what is asked of us. But what the Lord is highlighting with us here are qualifications, at the heart of which are self and self-interest and selfish delights and gratifications.

With all of us there are these unregenerate and natural delights and fascinations, fears, and mental constructs we look back to, reluctant to give up.

But time and again, as here, the Lord urges us to steadfastly and resolutely turn from these and to go forward to all that He yearns to bless our lives with.

“Do not labour” He said,” for the food that perishes.”(John 6:27). The food that perishes is these old, essentially unregenerate, delights and attitudes and outlooks on life on which we are all too inclined to rely. We draw on them to nourish and sustain us; to nourish the jaundiced skew we have on things; we feed too readily on the assumed shortcomings of others; we find a bizarre strength in the unregenerate fantasies we have about ourselves. “Do not labour for (this) food that perishes”! Rather, the Lord goes on to say, “Labour for the food that endures unto everlasting life.” In other words, feed and grow strong on the life, the love, and the true ways of seeing ourselves, life, others and the world at large, that all comes from our unqualified response to the Lord’s wonderful invitation, coursing down to us through the centuries, “Follow me!”

Then (Jesus) said to another, ‘Follow me’. But he said, ‘Lord, let me first go and bury my father.’ But Jesus said to him, ‘Let the dead bury their own dead, but you go and preach the kingdom of God.’

And another also said, ‘Lord, I will follow you, but let me first go and bid them farewell who are at my house.’ But Jesus said to him, ‘No one, having put his hand to the plough, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God.’


Keeping In A State of Hope

By Rev. Donald L. Rose

It is written in the Psalms,

“Why are you cast down, 0 my soul? And why are you disquieted within me? Hope in God; for I shall yet praise Him” (42:5, 11). And again in the Psalms: “But I will hope continually, and will praise You yet more and more” (71:14).

The Writings speak of “a bright state of hope” (AC 8165). Our lesson this morning says that the angels endeavor to “keep the person in a state of hope” (AC 2338). “If he suffers himself to be cheered by hope, he stands fast in what is affirmative.”

A valuable truth about life is that we should live in the present, and many of us consciously try to do that. But this is a sermon about hope. And hope, you may say, has to do with the future. Hope may be related to the future, but it is something you feel in the present. It is a present experience. Yes, try to live in the present, but live with hope.

Hope is both something of the rational mind and something of the heart. The book Divine Providence says that it is reason’s delight to contemplate a coming effect not in the present but in the future. And then it is said, “This is the source of what is called hope” (DP 178). We find pleasure in contemplating, anticipating, and thinking of particular things to come. We like to have things we are looking forward to.

Hope as expressed in the psalm is also something that flows in and warms us. It is a heart gift. The Writings speak of three things that come to a person who is praying or has prayed: “hope, consolation, and a certain inward joy” (AC 2535). When we are assaulted by evil spirits, we are told that an answer from the Divine flows in. This scarcely comes to the perception otherwise than as “hope and the resulting comfort” (AC 8159).

The Hebrew word for hope in the Psalm is yachal. In a couple of contexts yachal is rendered “trust.” For example, in the book of Job: “Though He slay me, yet will I trust Him” (13:5). It is also translated to “wait.” “Mine eyes fail while I wait for my God” (69:3). Hope is a waiting with good expectation, like one who in the darkness watches for the morning, like one who enters a new enterprise or a new year of work with good anticipation. I will hope continually. “My mouth shall tell of Your righteousness and Your salvation all the day long” (Psalm 71:15).

When we speak, we know we should speak in terms of hope. We are asked how a sick friend is doing. “Well, we hope he will soon be feeling better.” And if the condition is deteriorating, we hope he will be given strength. And if he dies, we hope that his passing will be understood by us, and of course we hope for his welfare in the world to come. Yes, we hope and hope and hope.

Is this realistic? Is it psychologically sound? Does it square reasonably with the actuality of human life? If the Lord is all-powerful, it is realistic. If the Lord sees and knows and cares, it is realistic. He is all-powerful. He sees and knows all things, and His love is ardent and everlasting. To an extent we know this. “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.” “They are in the stream of Providence who put their trust in the Divine and attribute all things to Him” (AC 8478).

“Let Thy mercy, 0 Lord, be upon us according as we hope in Thee” (Psalm 33:22). Why are you cast down? Hope in God. The gift of hope makes life’s other gifts sparkle. Hope makes the good things of life enjoyable, and it makes adversities bearable. It makes the disappointments and apparent failures endurable. We have hope. And we note that hope is ranked with the two elements of charity and faith. Now abide these three: “faith, hope and charity” (I Cor. 13:13). Love bears all things, hopes all things, endures all things (v. 7).

The early Christians knew this well. The Christians who first endured in the city of Rome received word from the Apostle saying, “The sufferings of the present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us … Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation or distress or persecution or famine or nakedness or peril or sword? … I am persuaded that neither … principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:35,38,39).

Perhaps we appreciate hope especially in contrast to its absence. If you don’t have any hope, your plight is grievous. It is the state of despair. Every temptation we experience is attended, the Writings say, with some kind of despair (see AC 1787). It is a diminishing of hope. And in despair, particulars that might otherwise cheer us hold no joy for us. On the other hand, when we have hope it seems to have many particular facets. We have hopes for country, community and family, hopes for the church and hopes for specific uses. We look upon other people, and our love for them has specific hopes. The things they need are present with us when we are praying.

There is something special about our hopes for children, whether our own children or others. Because their life stretches out before them, we look on them with hope. We have hope for their success, overcoming their problems, healing their woes. When children are very young our hopes for them are often much better than their own hopes for themselves.

That helps us appreciate the Lord’s view of our hopes. It helps us when we pray that the Lord’s will be done rather than our own. For His will for us is better than our own.

In one place the Writings speak of “the hope of becoming an angel” (HH 517:2). What a hope for us of finding a life in which what we do is useful for others and makes a difference for good.

We should all be stirred by the doctrinal knowledge that the Lord’s purpose is a heaven from the human race, and that our life is related to that purpose. The elderly who seem to have lost much in terms of worldly hopes should in particular know the benefit of the hope that is from the Lord. It is part of our identity, our destiny.

An angel is not always in an intense state of joy. Swedenborg was given to observe at close hand a whole spectrum of angelic states, states compared to the time of day, morning, noon, and evening. He was allowed to talk to angels when zest for life was at its lowest. And it is remarkable that in that state they spoke about hope. “But they said that they hoped to return soon to their former state, and thus into heaven again, as it were” (HH 160).

We know something similar to this. We converse with each other about our disappointments, and we can do so with a smile. We are even able to say to each other, “I have been very depressed lately. I have been feeling so low.” But we can say even that cheerfully, because we have hope.

There is a beautiful passage in Conjugial Love that says, “When the partners tenderly love each other, they think of their covenant as being eternal and have no thought whatever concerning its end by death; and if they do think of this, they grieve; yet, at the thought of its continuance after death, they are revived by hope” (CL 216). They are revived or strengthened by hope.

The mention of conjugial love may remind us of our wondering on the grand scale about the future of true love in this world. So much comes to our attention that can make us regard the human race in a declining plight. Once an angel spoke of the way the precious gift of conjugial love has declined. But note his final words: “Yet, I am nourished by the hope that this love will be resuscitated by the God of heaven, who is the Lord; for its resuscitation is possible” (CL 78). “I am sustained by the hope that the God of heaven, who is the Lord, will revive this love, because it is possible for it to be revived.”

Let us be willing that the Lord shall cheer us with His gift of hope. Remember the phrase “but still, if he suffers himself to be cheered by hope, he stands fast in what is affirmative” (AC 2338). “I will hope continually. And I will praise You yet, more and more.”



By Rev. David Moffat

“Assuredly, I say to you, unless you are converted and become as little children, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven. … But whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck, and he were drowned in the depth of the sea.” (Matthew 18:3 & 6)

I don’t often watch the current affairs programmes commonly shown on Australian television. I don’t like the blood sport journalism that is all too common on such programmes. But a few weeks ago, I happened to turn the television on at the right time, and become interested in the interview being broadcast – a convicted paedophile, who claimed to have healed himself. His claim was that through a mix of meditation and religion, he no longer felt the desire to defile children.

Why does society reserve its most bitter anger and hatred towards the paedophile? It is allied to our idea of innocence. We rightly sense that innocence ought to be protected and valued. We instinctively recognise that only great evil can be so unaffected by innocence as to desire its destruction or corruption. Children manifest innocence in an external, visible way. That anyone can seek to harm them seems heinous – and so it is. Our reaction is, naturally, that such evil be eradicated. Many people would happily follow our Lord’s words literally, to hang a millstone around the offender’s neck and drown him in the depth of the sea.

What is “innocence”? When we say someone is “innocent” we typically mean that they are not guilty of committing a crime. This is an historical definition, taking one’s past into account. It is impossible to live up to. No one is “innocent” under that definition – everyone has, at one time or another, committed a sin. But there is another definition: the state of innocence in the present, in other words, a condition in which committing a crime or a sin is fundamentally against our present nature. We may well experience the opportunity, but would not even consider or entertain the idea. This is true innocence, an innocence in which we allow the Lord to hold us back from sin. Now, children exhibit this innocence, but only in an external way, as I have said. They are innocent, more because the idea does not present itself to the mind. In their hearts and minds, children can still be self-centred and worldly-focussed. Such innocence, which has no basis in the heart of the individual, is easily lost. But true innocence radiates out of the heart of the spiritually mature person, and cannot be corrupted in the same way. It is grounded in who we are. So it is possible to be guilty as we look at the past and yet innocent in the present. It’s just as well, or else none of us could aspire to innocence. This is a potential the Lord guards within each one of us.

But there is more to innocence than first meets the eye. It’s not just a nice quality to have. Innocence is quite literally our saving grace. “…unless you are converted and become as little children, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven.” “… innocence constitutes that essentially human quality; indeed innocence is, so to speak, the basic attitude into which love and charity from the Lord can enter.” (Arcana Caelestia 4797.2) At a counselling workshop a few weeks ago, I was intrigued to learn about scientific evidence of such a claim.

In the 1950s, Harry Harlow set out to test Sigmund Freud’s theory of attachment – that our affection for others stems primarily from the satisfaction of bodily needs. In order to do this, he took young monkeys from their mothers and put them in cages with two surrogate mothers. One was an austere wire frame containing a milk bottle, the other a terry-towelling imitation of a monkey. The monkeys grew attached to the terry-towelling mother, challenging Freud’s idea. But after many months of similar trials, Harlow discovered that his monkeys had become mentally scarred. Returned to a colony of other monkeys, they became isolated and withdrawn and were rejected by the other “normal” monkeys. They were unable to establish and maintain relationships with the others in their colony and were unable to parent babies of their own.

Was it possible to reverse this damage? Yes. Harlow found that the “cure” was to place young monkeys with these older isolates. These younger monkeys had not been socialised to reject the strange behaviour of the isolated monkeys. To them, the isolates were merely another group of monkeys, with whom they wanted to play, and no amount of antisocial behaviour was going to put them off. Eventually the psychologically scarred monkeys gave up trying to drive the young ones away, and the result was that the younger monkeys socialised the older ones to the extent that they could be returned safely to the larger colony, functioning normally and accepted by the others.

In the years since Pam and I have had our children, I have often thought about the effect of children upon their parents in the same way. We have observed singles and young couples without children, and noticed that they function quite differently from couples with children. They don’t seem to sense others’ needs, because their world still revolves around them. Children mature their parents. Now, we’re not claiming to be any different. When we see this happen over and over again, it causes the occasional wince as we recall our own pre-child behaviour. I should also qualify the statement by saying that there are people who don’t seem to need children to the same extent as we have. I can recall a number of friends and acquaintances who have shown an innate generosity and consideration even though they were childless. Still, I think of them as the exception rather than the rule. For most of us, the presence of children in our family or in our lives will have a maturing effect, as we are touched by their innocence.

Now, we are not monkeys. It is certainly true that we are socialised to accept or reject certain behaviours. We do, on occasion, meet people who are mentally scarred, and our socialisation will encourage us to reject such people for their strange manner. But we are able to choose the manner of our reaction. We have within us the capacity to act from innocence, to accept another person because of their humanity rather than reject them because their habits and mannerisms don’t suit us. This potential is protected by the Lord. We can choose to live out that potential at any time.

This is one of the beneficial roles a church can play in the lives of the mentally ill, not to mention everyone who seeks some kind of spiritual development. When what is truly human in me connects with the truly human in you, there is hope of healing. We can be instrumental in the each other’s growth.

But let us also beware. It is possible to destroy or corrupt innocence, and the warning against such an action is dire: “…whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck, and he were drowned in the depth of the sea.” How can we destroy innocence?

In his book, Spiritual Recovery, Grant Schnarr discusses the co-dependent, the person who is addicted to a sick relationship. He talks about the wife of the drunk who is so used to being the sober one, she finds her self worth in that role. He talks about how she lies for him, she even supplies his alcohol, keeping him in a drunken stupor. It seems unimaginable that you would do such a thing, that you would actively maintain such a miserable existence, but of course, there’s a pay off. She feels needed. Perhaps she is praised as a “saint” by exasperated friends – she certainly finds sympathy, comfort and support. The one thing which would topple her prefect world would be if her husband stopped drinking. Schnarr cites the number of marriages which end not in drink but in recovery. This woman is causing innocence to sin. She is burying it so deep that it has little chance of emerging. The result? Her heaven is really a hell.

The same might be true of depression or any other psychological ailment. Sometimes true love is tough, and when we avoid carrying that love through, we are corrupting innocence, slowly eroding what is truly human within.

But there are lots of subtle ways we can be guilty of this. Have you ever written someone off as “beyond help”? Our church teaches that no one is unredeemable, certainly not while they live in this world, so why do I tell myself such lies? Because I can’t be bothered to help them. I cannot see the point of making the effort. I may not do that person any lasting damage, but what happens to the innocence within me? What about the married couple who seem to struggle through their lives together? I may tell myself, “their marriage will never last, it’s just too sick” but am I justified in saying so?

The reality is that I am corrupting the innocence within me. I am not allowing what is of the Lord, what is truly human within me, to recognise the truly human within another person. I am creating my own hell. It may not feel like hell – after all, I tell myself how holy and righteous I am, how mature, what a great marriage I have … – but it is a hell nonetheless.

Back to my paedophile. Certainly, in corrupting youngsters, he is guilty of destroying innocence. But truly it is of the Lord within him that he can recognise the great evils he has committed. And it is also of the Lord that he should seek to change. And as society denounces those efforts and condemns him to any punishment we can dream up because he “IS” evil, society also destroys innocence. It may manage to destroy the innocence within the man, but it certainly destroys what is truly human in society. Afterall, if this man is incapable of real, lasting change, can I claim to be any better?

So I will leave you with this challenge. Be aware of your thinking. Notice when you put someone down, out loud or just within your own mind. Reject that thought. Recognise that you are looking at another human being. Recognise that buried deep within that person is something of the Lord. Recognise you could and should do that person some lasting good.


Guilt And Thankfulness

By Rev. Eric H. Carswell

Have mercy upon me, O God,

According to Your loving kindness;

According to the multitude of Your tender mercies,

Blot out my transgressions.

Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity,

And cleanse me from my sin. (Psalm 51:1-2)

Which do you think is the clearest opposite to gratitude and thankfulness: a person feeling like his life is relatively empty of blessings, or a person feeling a heavy load of guilt for evils intentions, hateful, destructive, or self-centered thoughts, and for actual evils committed? If we are thankful when we recognize that we have received something good in our lives then perhaps worse than having nothing is feeling weighed down with guilt.

A sense of guilt can cripple a person. A woman can be so conscious of something she did when she was seventeen that it haunts the rest of her life. She can have the recurring thought that all of the troubles she faces in her life are a form of retribution that she justly deserves because of what she did. She can be desperately afraid that people will somehow recognize how she has been tainted by what she has done. She tenses up and feels frantic if a subject of conversation comes up that might be related to her teenage choice. Perhaps she doesn’t believe that her husband could ever really love her if he knew, so there is a wall or uncrossable boundary that tends to divide them from a real trust and confidence in each other.

Counselors, psychologists, even friends have sometimes become aware of the impact that guilt can have on a person like this woman. They can have a sense that it ruins lives. At times the response of people has been to try to convince the woman that the problem would disappear if she just viewed her seventeen year-old behavior as inevitable and caused by circumstances. At times, in the name of helping, there can be a tendency to view concepts of good and evil as antiquated, to assert that we are always doing the best we can given out background, and that any sense of guilt is wrong.

But is a sense of guilt also something that we can be grateful for? Psalm 51 speaks both of a clear sense of guilt and a need to be cleansed and it also of the Lord “restoring the joy of … salvation” and of the writer singing aloud the Lord’s righteousness and his mouth showing forth His praise. Does this Psalm sound like it speaks of a beaten down state of mind? It conveys a powerful trust in the Lord and confidence in His help. It speaks of the power of the Lord to bring about change and to cleanse a person of his iniquity. It is powerfully hopeful and yet it also conveys a clear sense of guilt.

Recognition of evil within oneself doesn’t have to be crippling. It can be a powerful stimulant to change. Consider the man who recognizes that his patterns of action and speech at work have had a destructive effect on the morale of the people he works with. Perhaps he has been quick to find fault in others work, always pointing out the flaws and incompleteness of their efforts. At a staff meeting when the group has come up with desirable solution, he cannot seem to resist pointing out that they really should have been able to recognize this solution and implement months earlier than they did. Always his eyes and comments go to what he sees could of and should have been done better. Perhaps a blow-up during a meeting and a stern reprimand by a supervisor opens his eyes to the destructive effect his communication has had on the creativity and sense of delight of his work team. He may suddenly put together the recollected comments of his co-workers that has him realize that they have dreaded coming to work and especially meetings in which they would come under his critical scrutiny. How does he respond to this recognition. Does he justify his past behavior and try to convince others that he was right in the first place? Does he feel so incompetent and incapable that he seriously considers quitting, and in extreme cases, even taking his own life? Or does he recognize that he wants to become a different person, one whose words and actions don’t have the same effect on his co-workers? If he recognizes how important their sense of capability and their sense of accomplishment is, he can be strongly motivated to change. He can acknowledge to the Lord that he has been guilty of destructive behavior and can pray for the daily strength and commitment to change. In a very profound sense he can end up being deeply grateful for the blow-up at the meeting and the stern words of his supervisor. He can be thankful to see that he needs to and wants to change.

A recognition of evil within oneself can be a powerful stimulant to change, like adrenalin within the human body that helps us focus, to react more quickly, and with greater effect. A recognition of evil within oneself can also be deeply crippling, bringing spiritual darkness, and a strong sense of deserving terrible punishment. Why can it evoke such opposite responses?

We cannot understand the nature of our minds unless we know and acknowledge that our thoughts and intentions are formed by the influence of two competing forces. The Writings of the New Church describe it with these words:

With every person there are spirits from hell and angels from heaven. It is by means of hell that a person is in his own evil, while it is by means of angels from heaven that a person is in good from the Lord; from this he is in a spiritual equilibrium, that is, in freedom. (Heaven and Hell 599)

Each experience that we have, both those that happen to us from events and people who touch our lives, and the inner mental experiences that occur in our conscious thought, can be given very different sets of meaning. Consider the event in the Lord’s life when the people of a Samaritan village refused to host Him and His disciples. What did this mean? The disciples, James and John, responded to this rejection with a clear sense of judgment that the people of that village were terribly evil and deserved punishment. They asked, “Lord, do You want us to command fire to come down from heaven and consume them, just as Elijah did?” (Luke 9:54) They viewed this situation as a clear matter of right and wrong. They had a powerful sense that Jesus was so important and His cause so valuable that this slight should not go unavenged. They concluded that perhaps the whole village, man, woman, and child should be obliterated into a smoking ruin as a warning to others.

I would not have wanted to be in their sandals when Jesus responded to their righteous judgment. “He turned and rebuked them, and said. ‘You do not know what manner of spirit you are of. For the Son of Man did not come to destroy men’s lives but to save them.'” (Luke 9:55-56) It is recorded simply that they went to another village. Both Jesus and the disciples knew that they had been refused by the Samaritan village. One response to this event was evoked in James and John, “Destroy them!” and a very different one was evoked in Jesus, “Let’s try the next village.”

Jesus sternly reprimanded James and John for their suggestion. Their call for punishment evoked in Him the response of “You do not know what manner of spirit you are of.” We have all experienced the quality of this spirit. We have experienced when we have been righteously indignant at someone else’s behavior and we have experienced it if we have ever felt terribly guilty and deserving of punishment for something we have done. The quality of this spirit is the quality of hell. The Lord and the angels never desire any punishment for anyone. It is a quality of hell that evil spirits love to both inspire, entice, lead us to desire, think, and choose evil and destructive things but also to accuse us of having broken Divine law, to condemn us, and to delight in inflicting punishment. James and John had accepted this second spirit of hell in their call for the fiery destruction of the Samaritan village and so were strongly rebuked by Jesus.

The adult mind is capable of being a spiritual battlefield between forces of good and evil. Many people apparently do not experience this battle. For some it because they are so superficial in their thoughts and concerns. Their lives are so dominated by worldly and self-centered motives that the only battles they face are between their desire for short-term gratification of their inclinations and a fear of the consequences that may come if they’re caught.

For those who are consciously trying with a part of their mind to follow the Lord and to live a good and useful life, a very different level of battle can occur. These battles are the battles of spiritual temptation. They are a battle between good and evil within our thoughts and motivations. The Lord has told us:

There are evil spirits who in times of temptations call up a person’s false ideas and evil loves, and in fact call forth from his memory whatever he has thought and done from early childhood. Evil spirits do this with a skill and malignity so great as to be indescribable. But the angels with the person draw out his good loves and true ideas, and thus defend him. This combat is what is felt and perceived by the person, causing the pain and remorse of conscience. (Arcana Caelestia 751)

Unhealthy guilt arises when the evil spirits with us work to undermine any sense of hope we might have in salvation and the possibility of spiritual progress in our own lives. They would love to point out all of our failures, our backsliding, and our imperfections. They would love to so bog us down with a consciousness of sin that we feel hopeless and helpless. They want us to give up. They want us to conclude that the Lord has rejected us and views us with stern condemnation. They want to attribute all that goes wrong in our lives to the Lord, all punishment, all sadness.

If they can succeed in their efforts we will be deeply troubled by unhealthy guilt and will be terribly distanced from the Lord.

Another tactic that the evil spirits can use is to get us to feel like we’ve done all we need to do when we merely recognize and acknowledge faults and evils within our selves, but do little or nothing to change. A person can almost rejoice in a sense of guilt even though it goes no further than an acknowledgment that one isn’t perfect. This also can induce spiritual apathy in a person’s life. Consider the implication of the following passage from the Writings of the New Church:

Cannot anyone understand, from the reason given him, that the mere lip-confession of being a sinner is not repentance, or the recounting of various particulars in regard to it, as a hypocrite can do? For what is easier for a person when he is in trouble and agony, than to utter sighs and groans from his lungs and lips, and also to beat his breast and make himself guilty of all sins, and still not be conscious of any sin in himself? Do the diabolical horde who then occupy his loves, depart along with his sighs? Do they not rather hiss at those things, and remain in him as before, as in their own house? From this it is clear that such repentance is not what is meant in the Word; but repentance from evil works. (True Christian Religion 529)

The Lord want us to recognize that there are parts of our lives that need to be changed. There are motivations that we sense, thoughts in our minds, and words and actions that we do that are destructive to the welfare of others, to the goals we seek, and to ourselves. He wants us to recognize them, acknowledge them, and know with a strong sense of hope and trust that He can bring about a change in us if we cooperate with Him. A person who wants to follow the Lord can be grateful for seeing a significant fault or flaw that previously he had been unconscious of. He need not be crippled by guilt over this. He need not listen to the spirits who like James and John righteously call for a fiery punishment for his evil. Instead he can be strengthened to the turn to the Lord, to seek His help, and to work toward living a better life in the future. For him a recognition of evil and sin helps him lead a better life. May we pray for this spirit within our own lives.


Forcing Ourselves To Do What We Don’t Like Doing

By Rev. Ian Arnold

“There is [what seems like freedom, but is in fact slavery] and there is heavenly freedom. [So called freedom, which is in fact slavery] is that into which people are born from their parents, and heavenly freedom is that into which they are brought by reformation from the Lord. From infernal freedom a person derives the will of evil, the love of evil and the life of evil; but from heavenly freedom a person derives the will of good, the love of good and the life of good.

These two kinds of freedom are opposite to each other, but the opposite does not appear, except so far as a person is in one and not the other. Nevertheless people cannot come out of infernal freedom and into heavenly freedom, unless they compel themselves.

To compel oneself is to resist evil, and to fight against it as if from oneself, but still to implore the Lord for the aid to do so; it is thus that a person fights from the freedom which is from the Lord interiorly in himself, against the infernal freedom which is from hell exteriorly in himself. It appears to a person, while in the combat, that it is not freedom from which he fights, but a kind of compulsion, because it is against that freedom which is born with him; nevertheless, it is freedom, since otherwise he would not fight as if from himself.

But the interior freedom from which he fights, though appearing like compulsion, is afterwards felt as freedom, for it becomes as if involuntary, spontaneous and innate. The case is comparatively like that of a person who compels his hand to write, to work, to play upon a musical instrument, the hands and arms afterwards performing these actions as if of themselves and of their own accord.

When a man has compelled himself against infernal freedom, he then sees and perceives that such freedom is indeed slavery, and that heavenly freedom is freedom itself, because it is from the Lord.” (Apocalypse Explained, paragraph 1151.2)

I want to pick up with you friends, from this story of Hagar in chapter 16 of the book of Genesis, where the angel meets her in the wilderness:

Now the Angel of the Lord found her by a spring of water in the wilderness, by the spring on the way to Shur. And He said, “Hagar, Sarais maid, where have you come from, and where are you going?” She said, “I am fleeing from the presence of my mistress Sarai.” The Angel of the Lord said to her, “Return to your mistress, and submit yourself under her hand.”

There is a myth, friends, which has come down to us through the Christian centuries that when it comes to angels and things angelic, that somehow we are in the realm of what is meek and trouble-avoiding, the burying of issues, the unwillingness to confront and challenge: this is the myth that, as it were, pervades traditional Christian thinking when it comes to angels and what is angelic. And indeed, it is comparable to the myth that is captured in the first line of the English hymn “Gentle Jesus, meek and mild”, which is damaging in the picture that it creates of our Lord. Was the Lord meek and mild? How can you say that, when you think of the courage He possessed and the confrontations faced, whether in regards to the cleansing of the temple, or whatever else it may have been?

Now when it comes to this myth about angels and what is angelic, we need to stop for a moment and think to ourselves that if we go along with that type of thinking, then we make angels anything but real people. They become ethereal beings that have no contact with life as you and I are experiencing it. And yet angels are real beings, ruggedly so. Real beings. As we know from the teachings of the doctrines, angels are people who once lived in this world. Angels are people who once faced up to the heat and the fire of life in this world. Angels are people who confronted issues and worked through them. Angels are people who don’t avoid issues: they are not into the mindset of problem-avoidance.

That myth is exploded in any case when you come to this story of Hagar and to the words that the angel spoke to her:

“Hagar, Sarais maid, where have you come from, and where are you going?” She said, “I am fleeing from the presence of my mistress Sarai.” The Angel of the Lord said to her, “Return to your mistress, and submit yourself under her hand.”

Be sure of this friends, that that wasn’t a polite request; it wasn’t as if the angel was pleading to her to make up her mind what she would do. If we look at the Hebrew that is used here, the word that is translated “submit” means two things: abase yourself, chasten yourself or take yourself in hand; and use force if necessary. Now listen again to what he said: “Return to your mistress, take yourself in hand, and use force if you have to.” This was an angel talking; and the angel was giving an unequivocal, unarguable command.

So much then for the myth that angels are some sort of ethereal beings who never confront or challenge people, who only do nice things, who never raise issues with people. Not a word of it!

Hagar had taken herself into the wilderness. Now a wilderness is where you die: we know that well enough in Australia when people don’t take precautions and don’t advise others when they’re going to drive through our deserts. A wilderness is where you die, and there was no future for Hagar where she was. She was going nowhere. And though she wouldn’t have recognised it at the time, it was a mercy that the angel spoke so commandingly to her. “Return to your mistress”, pull yourself together, get your act together again, abase yourself, chasten yourself: it’s very pointed what he said to her. You see, she had already been so indulgent: pouting because she was pregnant to Abram, smug and parading her pregnancy in front of the barren Sarai. And here she was in the wilderness because she was drowning in her self-pity: “I’ve been badly treated, and it’s not fair.” The angel wont buy a word of it: “Return to your mistress, abase yourself, use force if necessary.” Like I said, though she may not have seen it at the time, it was a mercy that he spoke to her in that way.

“Use force.” It is hopeless and useless to use force with others. It is hopeless and it is useless to try to compel another person to your way of thinking, to your way of approaching problems, to the way that you respond to life. It is a hopeless exercise to try to force or compel another person. Conversely however, we can, we should, and we need to compel ourselves and use force on ourselves from time to time. The teaching in the Writings is utterly clear, and there are a hundred passages on the topic: the Lord never forces anyone, for nothing into which anyone is forced appears as his own. We take that very seriously in the New Church. Sometimes people have complained that we are bland: where is the emotion, the happy-clappy, the obvious enthusiasm and excitement? Well, we are wary of it, because even in an atmosphere of emotional excitement and awakening, there can be an element of compulsion of getting people to do things, say things, or give things that they wouldn’t ordinarily have done so. And because the Lord will not compel, why should we? But some people: parents trying to compel their children, children trying to force and compel their parents; you hear them in the supermarket: “I want …, I must have …” Husbands try to compel their wives, and wives try to force their husbands. And it is a hopeless and useless exercise, because nothing into which we are forced is ever taken on board as our own. On the contrary, it builds up resistance and resentment. And when we get the opportunity and break free of the compulsion or the sense of obligation, we cast off what is foreign and revert to our old ways. The Lord does not compel or force, and nor should we. We wrestle with that so far as the Lord is concerned, we anguish and agonise over it, at times we wonder why He doesn’t intervene or override somebodys free will, but He does not and will not do so because greater outcomes are at stake.

When it comes to forcing ourselves it is, however, an altogether different matter. Because in forcing or compelling ourselves, that is the way we move from what we mistakenly think is freedom to the real freedom the Lord wishes us to enjoy. In the wilderness, in the desert, Hagar believed that she was free at last: she’d run out, she’d left her old tormentor at home. She wasn’t free at all. As I’ve tried to indicate earlier, she was a prisoner of her self-indulgence and her self-pity, and it was only by her willingness to obey what the angel had commanded her to do that she moved back into a much more genuine and real freedom.

What are the circumstances in which we find ourselves where it is true of us that we need to abase self, chasten self, and if necessary, use force? Just check yourselves out friends. I hear others, and at times I hear myself saying, “I know I should help, but I don’t feel like it. I know I should help, but they wouldn’t help me. I know I should forgive, but as it so happens, I don’t want to.” When we hear ourselves, or hear somebody else, speaking like that, we can be 101% sure that we are speaking from the wilderness. We think we are free, but we are a prisoner of our selfishness or whatever it may be, but we are not free. And it is in those circumstances, frequent enough, common enough, real enough to us, that we need to recall what this angel said to Hagar: “Return to your mistress, and submit yourself under her hand. Return to your mistress and chasten yourself, pull yourself together and submit yourself, using force if necessary, under her hand.”

In the spiritual, internal sense, Sarai is our sense of what Truth is saying to us. Its almost like what we might commonly say is a “gut feeling”: that’s Sarai. But we often run away from our gut feeling into the wilderness. The angel is our conscience, and our conscience doesn’t beat around the bush. Our conscience speaks sharply and commandingly to us, and says: “Return and submit. I’m not going to argue and I’m not going to listen to your protests. Return and submit.” There’s no mistaking the message, words for us to remember when we find ourselves running away from this perception at this point. This perception comes from deep within: what we should be doing, how we should be responding, whether we should be restraining ourselves or having the courage to speak up. How many times have you walked away from a situation and said, “I did not have the courage to say what should have been said, I did not have the courage to speak up for somebody who was being maligned”? It’s all part of our experience. We run away at times because Sarai seems to be a harsh taskmistress.

The teachings in the Writings tell us that we generally have no difficulty in restraining ourselves, in obeying what we know to be true, if external considerations are what we are looking to. In other words, if other people are looking on, or if we are concerned for our reputation in some way, we find it relatively easy to pull ourselves up. That same teaching goes on to say this: that just as you can restrain yourself, pull yourself in, keep to your knowledge of what the truth is saying for external reasons, it is just as easy to do so for internal reasons. We tell ourselves that it is not, but the Writings are clear that it is.

And lastly, the angel goes on to say to her that having returned, “I will multiply your descendents exceedingly, so that they shall not be counted for multitude.” Fruitfulness, blessing and prosperity. The wilderness is dead; we die in the wilderness. But return and submit, and there is fruitfulness, blessing and prosperity. A sense of self-worth, of decency, of integrity, and an increasing sense of being a channel through which the Lord’s blessings can flow out into the world: all of these are promised if we will return and submit. Return and submit. Take yourself in hand, and use force if necessary.


Finding Inner Strength

By Rev. Thomas L. Kline

“Then David was greatly distressed, for the people spoke of stoning him … But David strengthened himself in the Lord his God” (I Samuel 30:6).

Our subject this morning is “Inner Strength,” finding inner strength and peace in the Lord, and then tapping that inner strength so that we can overcome the battles and challenges we face in our lives. Our text is taken from the first book of Samuel, and it is the story of David, King David of the Old Testament, fighting against the Amalekites. This was one of the lowest points in David’s life. It was a time of great despair, almost unthinkable despair. David was fighting against the Amalekites, and during the battle, David and his men had built a small city where he and his soldiers would live. There they also brought their wives and children to live with them.

And one day disaster struck. One day, after returning from the battle, David and his men found their city ravaged by the Amalekites. The city had been burnt with fire, and all the women and children had been taken captive. It says that David and his men lifted up their voices and wept. And then, to make matters worse, the men of David’s army began to turn against David. They turned against their leader in their grief. They spoke of stoning David because of the loss of their families.

So here was David; he had despair over the loss of his family and now his own life was in jeopardy. And what did David do at that moment? And here we have that key sentence for this morning: “David went and strengthened himself in the Lord his God.” David strengthened himself in the Lord.

David could have gone out immediately; he could have gathered his army to retrieve his women and children; he could have gone out in anger and fought against the Amalekites. But David took another path, an inner path. David stopped everything that he was doing, and took that moment to be with the Lord.

It was a time of distress, and the real strength to overcome that distress came from within. That inner strength then allowed David to go forth and fight the battles that lay before him. He went forth, and it says at the end of the story, “He recovered all.” He brought back the women and children and he utterly defeated the Amalekites.

What would be the most precious gift you could ever receive? If you could have any one thing, any one wish to be granted; if you could change anything about your life, what would you wish for? It is interesting that when people really think about this, often the answer given is, “I would wish for inner peace. Just give me the inner peace and strength to deal with those things I face out there in my life.” Because the fact is, there are always going to be issues that we face out there in the external place of our lives. There are always going to be strife, distress, challenges, and hurdles. We can’t change all those life situations out there, but what we can change is what is within us to gather the strength here in our hearts to rise above those life situations, and to be able meet those challenges out there with love, wisdom, compassion, and spiritual strength.

For the parent to deal calmly, compassionately, and wisely with his children or teenagers, what parent doesn’t wish for that wisdom? For the boss to be wise, understanding, fair in dealing with his employers; for us to be truly caring in human relationships; for us to be able to have strength in times of tragedy, inner strength and inner peace are the source of it all.

King Solomon, when he was asked by the Lord for any one gift, chose wisdom. He could have had riches, wealth, fame and power, but he chose wisdom. And because he chose wisdom, it says that every other gift was given to him as well.

Inner peace and strength in the Lord, our message this morning: the potential for this inner strength and peace is there is each of our lives. There is a chamber of your mind, an inner chamber, where you can go and strengthen yourself in the Lord your God. And there you can gather strength to meet those challenges that stand out there in life.

I want to list some teachings given in the Writings of the New Church, teachings about what is called our “interior man” your interior man, and we all have one, that inner region of your minds where the Lord dwells.

Teaching number one: “The internal man is the gate or entrance of the Lord into man” (AC 1940). We have a choice. We have a choice to open that interior degree of our minds to God and let His life inflow, or we can keep that interior degree of our mind closed, to keep it downward to the world. It reminds us of the words of Jesus, “Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if any hear my voice, and open the door, I will come into him and will sup with him, and he with me” (Rev. 3:20).

Here is a second passage from the Writings that has to do with inner strength during battle and temptation. We read, “When a man perceives anything fighting and conquering [for him], he may know that it is from the influx of the Lord through the internal man” (AC 978). You find things working in your life; you find yourself making progress, and where is that strength coming from? It is from the Lord, flowing down from within.

The third teaching has to do with our relationship to our neighbor. Think of a time when you are dealing with a difficult person. Every time you talk to that person you find negative emotions rising. No matter what you do, you find that person can “pull your strings” or “push your buttons.” You find yourself coming down to his level; you become defensive; you find anger. But picture a time (and this happens to all of us) when you are talking to that difficult person and you find that you can rise above your negative feelings. Even when they are wrong or “off the wall,” you find that you can be there for them with compassion and understanding. What one of us wouldn’t wish for that degree of understanding? Listen to this passage from the Writings:

“When a person thinks well concerning the neighbor, wants to perform kind offices for the neighbor, and when he feels that he pities the neighbor who is in calamity and still more the neighbor who is in error, then he may know that he has the internal things in him through which the Lord operates” (AC 1102.3).

And here we are not just talking about skills, not just some fancy listening technique, but it is a time we are truly there for that person. It genuinely comes from the heart. That’s inner strength that comes from the Lord.

A fourth teaching: We might think that going within to gather inner strength is a kind of fleeing from our problems, but listen to this passage. It says that inner strength filters down into the external events of our lives. “When the interiors have been formed in heaven, then the things which are there inflow into the exteriors which are from the world and form them to correspondence, that is, that they may act as one with them” (HH 351).

The exterior things of life begin to act as one; they begin to change our life down here. One passage from the Writings uses the word “harmony” in describing the relation between the internal and external man.

One last teaching: the interior man is who you are for eternity. “Therefore, such as a man is as to his interiors, such he remains to eternity” (HH 501).

I want to end with a statement about prayer, the power of prayer. Prayer is vital to this subject of inner strength. In our story we saw that David strengthened himself in the Lord. But the question remains: how did he do this? How did David strengthen Himself in the Lord? Here was David in terrible distress, and it says that David went to the priest and commanded that the ephod be brought to him. In the tabernacle, the high priest would put the ephod over his heart and enquire of the Lord how he should lead the people. And we are told that the Lord would answer the high priest by the flashing of the stones in the ephod. The ephod pictures prayer. The ephod pictures our talking to God.

We can picture David holding the ephod in his hand, and it says that he “inquired of the Lord what he should do.” And the Lord gave him an answer at that moment. While David held onto the ephod, the Lord told him to pursue the Amalekites, and the Lord gave him the assurance that he would overtake the enemy and “without fail recover all who had been lost.”

How do we strengthen ourselves in the Lord our God? Through prayer, or what the Writings call speech with God. We go into that closet of our mind, we shut the door, we pray to our Father in secret, and our Father who will reward is openly.

And this is important: we strengthen ourselves through prayer, both before and during times of need. Before times of need that’s our daily prayer and meditation. Daily, even when things are going well in our lives, we go to that inner chamber of our minds and talk with God so we can build up inner strength before we need it daily prayer so that we can be accustomed to opening that inner door and feeling the inner strength that is there, and then when tragedy strikes, or when challenges face us, to pray that moment as well, as did David, so that we can tap that strength to meet the challenges that stand before us.

Let us read the story again from scripture: “But David strengthened himself in the Lord his God. And David said to Abiathar the priest, `Please bring the ephod here to me.’ So David inquired of the Lord saying, `Shall I pursue this troop? Shall I over take them?’ And the Lord answered him, `Pursue, for you shall surely overtake them and without fail recover all.”

The potential for this inner strength and peace is there in each of our lives. There is a region of your mind where we can go and find peace and strength in the Lord our God. It is a strength that we can tap so that we can overcome the battles and challenges we face in our life. And with His help, you will find peace in your God.


Faith, Doubt and Disbelief

By Rev. Ian A Arnold
Brisbane, 5th June 2011

Matthew Chapter 28, verse 116 & 17: “Then the eleven disciples went away into Galilee, to the mountain which Jesus had appointed for them. And when they saw Him, they worshipped him, but some doubted.”

Unexpectedly so

Most of us, I’m sure, on first reading this, find it surprising, if not extraordinary. This was just forty days after the Lord’s Resurrection and over the nearly 6 weeks since then He had appeared to His disciples and other followers at least a dozen, if not many more times. At some point they (the disciples) were given instruction by Him to go to Galilee for what would be a parting meeting. It was to be what is referred to as His “Ascension”. And yet, for all that, “when they saw Him, they worshipped him, but some doubted.”

But ‘Why?’ we ask. How could they not have recognized Him? What could possibly have given rise to even the slightest doubt?

Being careful to criticize

Let’s be careful, though, of taking some lofty, critical, stand in this regard!

The reality is that none of us is consistently and unendingly steadfast where our faith, and our belief in spiritual realities, is concerned.

We can be strong and sure at one time and weak, faltering, uncertain and unsure at another.

What seemed beyond question to us at one point is clouded with doubt at another.

It cannot, however, but be the way!

And what is very significant, important for us to realise, and reassuring, is that it is actually meant to be this way. It is as the Lord would have it be. Ebb and flow; sureness and doubt; conviction and unsureness; faith and uncertainty.

In the Bible

Keeping this in mind, it can’t then be wondered at that doubt is so often featured and responded to in many places in the Bible here. It is a consistent theme, for instance, throughout the Gospels, people doubting the Lord –

Doubting who He claimed to be

Doubting His powers

Doubting His words and teachings

Doubting His work and mission here

Apart from His “opponents” John the Baptist at one point wondered and doubted. Even from prison he sent 2 of his followers asking Jesus, “Are you the Coming One, or do we look for another?” (Matthew 11:23).

Then there is the widely known incident of Peter who began to sink when walking across the water to Jesus. “O you of little faith“, Jesus said, “Why did you doubt?” (Matthew 14:31).

Earlier, and when in his enthusiasm, Philip excitedly told Nathanael about Jesus, “We have found him of whom Moses in the law, and also the prophets, wrote – Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph“, Nathanael skeptically replied, “Can any good come out of Nazareth?” (John 1: 45 & 47)

And though they had been with Jesus for some time, and seen demonstrations of His miraculous powers, it seems never – at first – to have occurred to the disciples that He, Jesus, had it in Him to perform the miracle of the feeding of the 5000. (John 6:5)

Then there is also the Old Testament’s many places where doubt is the focus.

At one point, out of the depths of his despair, Job complained, “I cry out to you, but You do not answer me…with the strength of Your hand You oppose me.” (Chapter 30:20, 21)

You also have such as Psalm 37, beautifully worded as it is, and a response to people’s doubts based on the seeming prosperity of the wicked. “I have been young” wrote the writer, “and now am old; yet I have not seen the righteous forsaken, nor his descendants begging bread.” (Verse 25).

And one of the most memorable and reassuring passages in Isaiah is a response to doubts people obviously had:

“Why do you say, O Jacob, and speak, O Israel: ‘My way is hidden from the LORD, and my just claim is passed over by my God?’

Have you not known? Have you not heard? The everlasting God, the LORD, the Creator of the ends of the earth, neither faints nor is weary. There is no searching of His understanding.

He gives power to the weak, and to those who have no might He increases strength.

Even the youths shall faint and be weary, and the young men shall utterly fall, but those who wait on the LORD shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint.” (Chapter 40: verses 27-31)

This, too, is certain, that Jesus Himself doubted – most memorably when He was praying in the Garden of Gethsemane and during the crucifixion. At the time He spoke from Psalm 22, indelibly imprinted on his mind as it was:

“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from helping me, and from the words of my groaning?”

(Verses 1 & 2)

I am reminded, too, of the brutally honest statement of the father of the epileptic boy for whom he sought healing from Jesus. “Do you believe?” Jesus asked him. “Lord, I believe, help my unbelief.” … I believe, for all that I have lots of doubts as well.

Nothing is so certain that we can’t but believe it

When it comes to matters of belief, faith and spiritual realities, nothing is so certain that we can’t but believe it.

There always has to be room to question, to think about, to have doubts about it.

It might be

Your belief in God

Your faith in His care over you

Your trust in His strength to see you through a particular difficulty

Your sureness about life after death

Your confidence that you were created to live a life of value and purpose.

The thing is, the way things seem – or, appearances – so often heavily suggest otherwise. It seems to us at times, doesn’t it?

That life is random and uncontrolled

That with no hard evidence otherwise, there can’t be a world beyond this one

That too many things go wrong, too many disasters happen, too many innocent people suffer, for us to be in any way certain that God exists or cares.

And so here we are – you and I – living our life in the middle between, on the one hand, things we incline to believe in, have been reared to believe in, have come to believe in, and which at times make good sense to us and, on the other hand, the way things appear or seem to be.

What is wonderful

What is wonderful is that we have the capacity – given to us by the Lord – to wrestle with this uncertainty, to explore it, and to reach our own conclusions about it. And when we do we enter into the fullness of what it is to be truly human – our own person. It’s how, and why, we have freewill.

As with everything, faith struggled for is always going to mean more than faith handed to us on a plate. This is why we, as a Church, do not legislate or regulate people’s thinking with regard to drinking coffee, vegetarianism, uranium mining, or whatever else may be the current focus of community anxiety.

So much is, and can be, easily and readily taken on board and subscribed to. We hear this, we hear that, sometimes persuasively. It has perhaps been drummed into us, that it is so.

But it lies there on the surface until it is challenged by a development in the way things seem; different now from what we were previously happy to say we believed in.

When appearances tend to get the upper hand.

What is crystal clear is that we come into our times of doubt when appearances, or the way things seem, bear down persuasively on us and threaten to get the upper hand.

We might say, “I believe that God cares for me and watches over every detail of my life”. After all, this is precisely what He said and promised. (See Matthew 10:30) But then things happen, maybe in a succession, which really bring it all into question. We wonder and doubt whether what we confidently believed in is true after all. As is so succinctly said, and taught, “Worldly things darken heavenly ones and so make them subject to doubt.” (AC 4099)


It’s helpful to know that these very times of doubt and questioning are in fact times of temptation.

We don’t have to feel guilty about them. Not at all.

At the heart of all temptation is doubt: doubt about the existence of the Lord; doubt about his mercy; doubt about his care; doubt about His values and the ways He urges on us.

Temptation comes about when appearances start to be exaggerated in our mind, threatening to take over.

Dealing with doubt

What, then, might be some strategies for dealing with doubt?

Firstly, and if at the time we can be sufficiently objective about it, we need to remind ourselves that doubt is not just normal, but necessary and of the Lord’s order.

And if at the time we are too consumed with doubt, hopefully someone near to us can and will remind us that this is so.

Secondly, it can also help, even a great deal, to re-connect with the Lord here in our bible, in our times of doubt. Psalms 23 and 46 are excellent just to quietly read to calm the turmoil doubt is causing us.

Thirdly, it is just so important to hold on to this, that the way things seem is rarely if ever a reliable yardstick for measuring or knowing the way things actually is! “Judge not the Lord by feeble sense” is a line in one of our Hymns.

My senses don’t pick up half of what our dog hears, sees or smells. So how trustworthy can they be?

The fact that I or you can’t get our mind around God’s care in a given situation; even a massive disaster; doesn’t mean it isn’t there.

Wrestling with doubt

The great American Statesman, Scientist and Philosopher, Benjamin Franklin, once wrote, “Any belief worth having must survive doubt.”

It is the fire through which and out of which the pure silver of a living, enduring and life transforming faith emerges.

“Then the eleven disciples went away into Galilee, to the mountain which Jesus had appointed them.

And when they saw Him, they worshipped him, but some doubted.”

And that’s a healthy, positive, thing that they did!


Readings: Matthew Chapter 28

Arcana Caelestia 4099

“Worldly things and heavenly things accord with one another in a person when the heavenly have dominion over the worldly, but they do not accord when the worldly have dominion over the heavenly. When they accord, truths within man’s natural are in that case multiplied, but when they do not accord, they decrease in number, indeed they are destroyed since worldly things darken heavenly ones, and so make them subject to doubt. But when heavenly things have dominion they shed light on worldly ones, set them in clear light and dispel doubts. Those things have dominion that are loved more than anything else”