Comfort and Hope
A Sermon by Rev. James P. Cooper
“I cry out to You; Save me, and I will keep Your testimonies. I rise before the dawning of the morning, And cry for help; I hope in Your Word.” (PSA 119:146,147)
We all have hopes for the future. We all look forward to that day when things will be better for us. This is a natural tendency, and we strengthen it by frequent exercise. For example, children ask their parents for favors, and are told, “Maybe later,” and so are encouraged to behave in the hope of some future reward. “I hope Father Christmas will bring me a train,” the child says. “I hope I will get a wagon for my birthday!”
As adults we continue to hope for rewards for our good behavior. The employer replaces the parent, holding out offers of job advancement, or improved salary in return for some new behavior. We hope that we can please the boss and receive the reward.
We must ask ourselves if we carry this natural attitude over into our relationship with the Lord? Do we believe that if we can figure out how to please Him, He will let us into heaven? Do we believe that if we fail to please Him He will send us to hell? Is this our relationship to our Heavenly Father? If so, it is an immature view of God and and immature view of our hope for a better future.
Our thinking may be immature concerning comfort, too. A child’s whole existence is focused on his own comfort. A child has no idea of anyone else’s needs, and makes loud and insistent demands. A child can sometimes be so determined that he cannot stop his crying for something long enough to allow his parents to get it for him! He seeks his own comfort without regard for the needs of others.
If this behavior continues into adolescence and then adult life it may take on a different form, but the search for comfort may remain essentially a selfish endeavor. A selfish, immature person is willing to give of himself to others only because he wants something of value in return.
The question is, if these are the immature, natural views of comfort and hope, what are the mature, spiritual views? How should the adult mind understand comfort and hope? Comfort and hope are states given by the Lord to replace our states of anxiety and grief as we begin to conquer in spiritual temptations. It is most important to note that there is no genuine comfort or hope apart from victory in temptation.
The Heavenly Doctrines give two examples of this, describing two kinds of false ideas, and the spiritual results of each kind of life. First, the Heavenly Doctrines speak of those “who ascribe all things to their own prudence and little or nothing to Divine Providence” (See AC 2694:3). We are taught that they may be shown in a thousand different ways that the Divine Providence governs the universe down to the most minute particulars, and they may even from time to time perceive this truth in their own life by living experiences. However, as quickly as the memory of the event fades, so fades their conviction, and they return to their former belief in their own prudence. This change is temporary because it was a change in the thought only, not accompanied with a change in the affection. An opinion cannot be changed as long as the person who holds it still loves it. The affection for the opinion must change before the opinion itself can change, and the affections are only changed through temptation. In states of anxiety and grief that come from spiritual temptations, strong opinions can be broken, for then it may be seen that all power, prudence, intelligence and wisdom are from the Lord. At the same time we acknowledge that are nothing, and need His Guidance and help. (See Ibid.)
The second example regards those who believe that they have been justified, or saved by grace. Again, people who firmly believe this may be shown a thousand logical reasons why this can’t be, and yet they will not be moved an inch, because only the thought has been touched, not the more important ruling affection. We love many different things and our contradictory affections enable us to hold contradictory beliefs. As long as we believe they are our very own beliefs, and we have affection for them, our view cannot be changed. Is it not true that the best way to convince another person to do something is to lead him to propose the project himself? The best salesman is the one who is able to convince the customer that it is the customer’s own idea to buy. It is the affection or love that must be changed, and this can be done only by the Lord during states of temptation, for it is only by temptations that we can be reduced from our belief in our own guiltlessness to the state from which we can perceive the hell in ourselves, “and this to such a degree as to despair of ever being saved, then for the first time that persuasive (belief) is broken, and with it (our) pride, and (our) contempt of others in comparison (to ourselves), and also the arrogance that (we) are the only ones who are saved” (See AC 2694:4).
This teaching from the Heavenly Doctrines should well establish that we need the deep despair in temptation in order to break the persuasive light from our own self-intelligence, so that we will recognize our need for the Lord. Then, as soon as we do realize this, and ask for the Lord’s help, states of comfort and hope are given by the Lord. From the depths of anxiety and grief, we can be led by the Lord into the heartfelt realization that not only is all good from the Lord, but also all things in the universe, from greatests to leasts, are under His direct, loving care: are of His Mercy. Finally, when we see our own character clearly, we are humbled in heart. We not only think but also know and acknowledge with both heart and mind that without the Lord we are nothing at all.
And then comes a miracle. From this depth of despair, from this feeling of helplessness and unworthiness, when we turn to the Lord for help, the Lord flows in with comfort, and hope, and even delight. The purpose of temptation is to conjoin good and truth in our natural degree, to build a new will in the elevated understanding, a new will full of good from the Lord. When good and truth are conjoined in us through combats of temptation, we feel delight because the conjunction is a correspondence with the heavenly marriage of good and truth, and also with the Divine Love Itself and Divine Wisdom Itself conjoined in the Lord. This conjunction and union in the Lord is the source of all delight. Thus, when we have resisted an evil in ourselves, and hung on to our conviction that what we are doing is commanded by the Lord for the sake of our eternal life, the evil is removed, good from the Lord flows in, and the state of temptation ends as states of comfort and hope begin.
“…When a man is in temptation, he is as it were in hunger for good, and in thirst for truth; and therefore when he emerges he draws in good as a hungry man devours food, and receives truth as a thirsty man imbibes drink. Moreover when light from the Divine appears, falsities and evils are removed, and when these are removed, the way is opened for truth and good to penetrate more interiorly” (AC 6829). We are seldom really hungry or thirsty, so this example from the doctrines does not have much power for us unless we pause to reflect. It does not seem that by “thirst” the passage intends that we think of a mild sensation of dryness in the mouth, but rather the kind of thirst that comes after long, hard physical labor on a hot summer’s day–or perhaps after making a long hike across a desert water. When you then come in and find a cooler of cool, clear water, words are unable to express the feeling of quenching that thirst. It is as if you have lost your life, and then found it again. You can’t seem get enough. It is not just your mouth that welcomes the water, but your whole body rejoices in it. It is much the same when we come out of the states of temptation, our thirst for truth is not merely a casual thing, a kind of increased interest in intellectual things, but our whole mind and body call out for it, demand it–and find it.
“…Temptations are attended with doubt in regard to the Lord’s presence and mercy, and also in regard to salvation. The evil spirits who are then with the man and induce the temptation strongly inspire negation, but the good spirits and angels from the Lord in every possible way dispel this state of doubt, and keep the man in a state of hope, and at last confirm in him what is affirmative. One who yields in temptation remains in a state of doubt, and falls into what is negative; but one who overcomes is indeed in doubt, but still, if he suffers himself to be cheered by hope, he stands fast in what is affirmative” (AC 2338). It is important to note how we are to become steadfast in the affirmative principle, so necessary for success in temptation: We must allow ourselves to be cheered by hope, we must believe in the feeling that the Lord gives us in our states of temptation that there is a place for us in heaven, and that it is possible to throw off the impediments of this world with the Lord’s help. If we will allow ourselves to have this hope, then we will see the end and use in temptation, and will not be destroyed by the effort. We are given hope from the Lord so that we may see our way out of the spiritual disasters we experience even while we are in the depths of them, if we have confidence that the Lord has the power to save, that He is the Redeemer.
“I cry out with my whole heart; Hear me, O Lord! I will keep Your Statutes. I cry out to You; Save me and I will keep Your testimonies. I rise before the dawning of the morning and cry for help; I hope in Your Word” (Psalm 119:145-147). AMEN.
AC 4572:2; AC 2338
Copyright © 1982 – 2005 General Church of the New Jerusalem.
Page constructed by James P. Cooper
Page last modified November 06, 2005