How Things Seem and How Things Are

A Sermon by Rev. Julian Duckworth

Text: I Samuel 16.7

Then the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not look at his appearance or at the height of his stature, for I have refused him. For the Lord does not see as man sees; for man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.”

Doctrine Arcana Caelestia 9128

Since it is so important something must be said about what seeing from a more inward level means.

A person sees within himself whether what he thinks and intends and what he then speaks and does is good or bad and whether it is right or wrong. This is not possible unless that person is seeing things from a more internal level. Seeing like thing happens when things are seen internally within external things, or seen by the mind through things seen by the eye. This is how a person can see the good and the bad that he has within himself. However, one person will see this more than another, and there are some people who do not see it at all. The ones who do see in this internal way are those who have received a sense of spiritual life from the Lord because this level of life is the level of internal sight. In fact, to see from a more internal level is to see things from the Lord.

I want to talk about the way things seem to us and the way things actually are, using this wonderful verse in the story of David being chosen to be king. The verse hits the spot … “The Lord does not see as man sees; for man looks at the outward appearance but the Lord looks at the heart.” If you understand what that is saying, then you yourself are right now seeing things not as they seem but as they really are! You are having an accurate idea about the Lord who sees everything perfectly.

I guess I could fill up this sermon with a list of ways in which we get taken in by the way things seem to us when in fact those things are not what they seem at all. We do get taken in quite a lot especially when we are only relying on how things look to us. Our physical senses take us into a world of impressions and even into wrong thinking and assumptions. And one of the real benefits of being a spiritual person is that you are helped to watch out for this and you are able to cut through these impressions and see things more accurately because as it said at the end of that passage, to see from a more internal level is to see things from the Lord. So every time you take yourself in hand and say “What’s going on here?” or “Is this actually true?” or even “Am I missing seeing something?” you are working more internally and more accurately.

Let’s take two simple examples. Perhaps the easiest of them all (which interestingly also gets mentioned in the story of David being chosen) is the whole area of good looks. Some people are just very good-looking! There are some very good-looking men and there are some extremely good-looking women. Does it necessarily follow, though, that these very physically-attractive people are as attractive on the inside as they obviously are on the outside? Certainly not. Some of them are of course, because their good looks give them an immediate appeal and they can be comfortable and confident about themselves and when they’re with other people who find them attractive in every way. But some of them are not such nice people inside and if you could actually see what is going on inside them you might well be horrified. Some people are pretty; some people are pretty awful. It pays not to begin with the way things seem but to bear in mind how things might actually be. And I haven’t said anything about the reverse situation of those people who aren’t so good-looking or who feel they are unattractive. But I must say one thing though: whatever our physical attributes are or aren’t or seem, we can make choices on the inside about the kind of person we want to become and that is what finally counts and it has little or nothing to do with what we’ve been made to look like because now we are dealing with spiritual qualities. It’s rather amazing to think that we are involved ourselves in creating our own eternal looks. And we’re told that angels in heaven are all very good-looking (far far more than anyone here) because they love the Lord and the Lord’s way of life, and this gives them their good looks.

The other example of how things sometimes seem is a bit subtler. It’s the area of friendship. Such a lot is going on or is not really going on in the way that we call people our friends or people say that we are their friends. People sometimes say that you get to know who your friends really are when something happens for the worse in your life, some hardship, a loss, some new situation. For a genuine friend, this won’t make any difference and in fact it may make them a truer friend, but for others it will change everything. I can’t go into all the ramifications of course, but if we could see the reality of our supposed friendships with more spiritual eyesight rather than how they seem, then quite a lot of regroupings might start happening. And we’re told too that we should form close friendships in this world with quite a lot of care and wisdom because in the next life – where things really do sort themselves out as they actually are and not how they seem – in the next life, some of those dependent friendships are going to take quite a bit of sorting out and working through for the best for everyone concerned.

And so we could go on exploring all kinds of ways in which the ways things seem are not the way things actually are, if we could only see them with our spiritual sight rather than our physical eyes or even our suppositions about things. To see things from a more internal sight is to see things more from the Lord. For man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.

Now, having said this, perhaps a word of caution is needed. As we become more aware that things are not always what they seem and that other factors need to be taken into consideration, we are not to become neurotic about what we see going on. We’re not to start thinking that good-looking people are bad on the inside or that our good friends are not such good friends after all … but simply to appreciate the point that sometimes things are not what they might seem. That’s all. Let me put it this way. A non-spiritual person tends to go for what feels loving and nice, even for something which immediately seems like a good idea. A spiritual person uses love along with wisdom, and knows that one of the important aspects of bringing wisdom into things is that you should check things out a bit and keep your eyes open. Wisdom involves discerning, and one of our more modern translations of our teachings always uses this word discernment where before it used to say wisdom.

The Lord told Samuel to go to Jesse in Bethlehem from among whose many sons one would be chosen to be the next king of Israel. And the Lord said, “I will show you what you shall do; you shall anoint for me the one I name to you.” And Jesse’s sons came where Samuel was. And he saw the first son, Eliab, and thought, ‘Surely the Lord’s anointed is before him.’ And then the Lord said, “Don’t look at his appearance or his height for I have refused him. For the Lord does not see as man sees, for man looks at the outward appearance but the Lord looks at the heart.” You know the story which we heard earlier.

This is a remarkable story which is not simply a framework for those words of the Lord we know so well. The story goes a lot further but always in this area of getting behind the appearances of life into the reality – or should I say the heart of things. Let’s push the story right through to its important conclusion when David is finally chosen. Samuel saw the first son and made his assumption. Perhaps we make an assumption here that Eliab was the oldest but it doesn’t say that. Maybe they were all there and Samuel saw that Eliab was the best-looking, the tallest, obviously the most likely candidate. This could be pointing out to us that we should watch those first impressions, those quick assessments. You see a smart Porsche outside a house and you make twenty deductions about the people who live there and none of them are true because the Porsche belongs to the visiting doctor.

And one by one the sons are inspected and none of them are accepted by the Lord. And what was there for the selection has now run out. I wonder what that means! Is this telling us perhaps that all our own personal assessments about life are a bit suspect. Let’s go back to friendships for a moment. I could give you a hundred reasons for you and I becoming friends – I need you, you need me, we get on, you like me, we both like talking, you listen to what I say, you make good coffee etc., but none of them really touch on the true friendship, with its freedom, respect and value of another person for who they are. My reasons are all conditional. Real friendship goes beyond conditions. And now we’ve run out of sons! Where then do we go from here?

And Samuel says to Jesse, “Are all the young men here?” That’s an incredibly wise question but it’s even more. Samuel was told by the Lord that a son of Jesse would be chosen. So then, there must be another son somewhere. But Jesse has brought together all the sons he considers to be in the selection-process. It’s now almost the other way round. Life as it looks on the surface offers us a whole range of things that are said to make us contented, so here’s your choice and take your pick. What more could you ask for! But it’s not there and we know it isn’t. There is something, some aspect about life that is still missing but I can’t put my finger on it. “Are all the young men here?” Oh, umm, well, there’s the youngest of course and there he is looking after the sheep. But surely …

“Send and bring him in for we will not sit down till he comes here.” And the moment he comes in the Lord says, “Arise, anoint him. This is the one.” Instant recognition. This is what was missing. This is what I knew must be there in life but I never got it before. It’s interesting that Jesse says to Samuel, “Look, there he is, over there, looking after the sheep.” Implication: if we’d been looking at life in the right way we would have seen David who was not out of view at all but only over there.

And finally, and perhaps paradoxically, David is said to be good-looking. Well, of course he is because spiritual life is good-looking, truth itself is good-looking, the Lord’s things are all the best- looking and best-feeling things there are when you know what you are dealing with and you’ve seen them. But it’s put rather well. It simply says, Now David was good-looking. Can you see the difference? Samuel thought Eliab was surely the one because he thought Eliab was good-looking. Everybody would say Eliab was good-looking! But that’s not the point. David just is … good-looking because the Lord says he is. And that, you see, is the way we should say that anything in life is finally good, because God says it is.

Then Samuel took the horn of oil and anointed him in the midst of his brothers and the spirit of the Lord came upon David from that day forward.

May we take this story to heart and look at life more from the Lord than from ourselves, with His love and with a truly discerning wisdom.

Amen.

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