The practice of forgiveness

by Rev. Chuck Blair

Brother, sister, mother, father, husband, wife, son, daughter, friend, colleague, neighbor….our relationships contain many people with the potential to hurt us, very often in small ongoing ways. Sometimes in trying to be good people, we brush these hurts aside, thinking “I am not a vindictive or overly sensitive person, these things shouldn’t bother me.” But they do. They do because our egos are like magnets, and resentments are attracted to them. What is the impact of holding onto these resentments? Do we hold back in our lives? Do we argue with people? Do we gossip? What does the Bible teach about this?

Jesus taught the art of forgiveness. “’Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Up to seven times?’ Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times” (Matthew 18:21-22.) Does this mean we are to forgive 539 times exactly? Yes. And more. The writings of Emanuel Swedenborg explore depth in the biblical message and say that “By this [Matthew 18:21-22] He meant that they were to forgive as often as he sinned. Their forgiveness was to know no limits, that is, was to be eternal and timeless, which is holy” (Secrets of Heaven 433).

Patience with the process

The Lord promises that forgiveness is possible. Even when hurt seems too great to repair, God tells us “I will remove from them their heart of stone and give them a heart of flesh” (Ezekiel 11:19). We experience a heart of stone when we are too angry, too selfish, or too frozen by the pain others have caused us. A heart of flesh, while it may be vulnerable, it is compassionate. A heart of flesh sees that while we are feeling pain, the other person may also be hurting for that pain they caused us. We can get so caught up in ourselves that we do not even notice another is struggling from the offense. It is true that people need to be held accountable for their actions. But these people also need patience from us. As it was said: “Be patient with me” (Matthew 18:26). Practicing patience with another, holding onto the hope and vision for our relationship with them, is a true act of compassion. We need to invite the Lord into the journey and ask for the courage it takes for us to be patient with another and the understanding needed to see that they too are working through the pain that needs forgiveness.

Resentments and a faulty worldview

The idea that forgiveness means that sins are washed away is one of the reasons why we sometime shy away from forgiveness. We sometimes think that forgiveness means forgetting and that feels wrong. Sometimes we feel we need our resentments to educate us about the people in the world around us and guide us in the ways we should act towards them. We feel like we need our memory of past hurts so that we can maintain boundaries with people. But the Lord is all-knowing and mercy itself—therefore there must be a way for knowing and forgiveness to exist together, a clear-headed forgiveness that forgets nothing and forgives all. Here’s one way of thinking about it: how might it feel to look at someone who has hurt us and not feel anger? Is this even possible? This is how the angels are described “those who have charity hardly notice the evil in another person, but instead notice all the goods and truths that are his; and on his evils and falsities they place a good interpretation. Of such a nature are all angels, it being something they have from the Lord, who bends everything evil into good” (Secrets of Heaven 1079).

Now this doesn’t negate the fact that we do need to protect ourselves from people who make a habit of hurting us. The key is to invite the Lord in to the process. It is the Lord who will keep us separated from our resentments, if we let him. We must be rigorous and disciplined in our endeavors to forgive. We must get used to naming each hurt and then putting it away and asking the Lord to keep the resentment from us. He is the only one with the power to do this. And it must be done 70 x 7 times, which means all the time, without limit.

The power of forgiveness

When we forgive others there is a freedom where we are no longer shackled by our own anger. It moves us from our selfish illusions to a beautiful reality. It is hard work. But letting go of the fantasies that we can change the past, that we can change others, or even that we are the ones who can change ourselves opens room for God to help us ward off the resentment we feel. Each time we forgive, it paves the way for the next time we need to forgive. Practicing the courage and patience, and letting the Lord into the process of forgiveness becomes like exercising a muscle, it grows stronger and stronger. Together with Him we can come to a point where forgiveness is intuitive, a blessed way to live!

chuck-blairRev. Charles Blair is pastor of NewChurchLIVE in Bryn Athyn, PA. To learn more visit

Reflections for when you find yourself unwilling to forgive

  • Do I believe that forgiving requires something of the other person first?
  • Has this wrongdoing and resentment become part of my identity?
  • What are the pleasures of this anger and resentment?
  • Is there a part of me that wants to entertain the anger?
  • Is withholding forgiveness about my ego?
  • What would forgiveness look like?
  • Is this where I want to stay?

When you notice anger and resentments:

  • Name the wound.
  • Name the trigger.
  • Name the person.
  • Prayerfully let it go.
  • Full issue

    “All things are blessings when a person is in the order of Heaven. ”

    Arcana Coelestia 9184

Divine Source – How to think of it?

divineDo you feel your life is missing something? Are you interested in higher states of awareness? For example the awe and wonder you might have once felt when contemplating the world of nature. Or the sense of peace, contentment, and even joy that perhaps you had as an infant or you fleetingly glimpse in the ordinary life of work and home. Wherever you find these inspirations, the question remains what are their source? What is it that inspires? Many people intuitively feel there is a higher entity beyond themselves that is the divine source of such feelings. One that might be able to provide them with direction and purpose.

If you have this inkling, you may be interested in reconstructing the idea of ‘divine being’. Not with a view to paying homage to an angry controlling judge in the sky that has often come to be seen to do with sexism, racism, ecological exploitation, as well as the exercise of power over others. Instead you may be seeking to put your hope in a creative spirit beyond our ordinary consciousness. One that promotes equality, the natural world and freedom.

The universe came into being from a conscious, spiritual source, but that conscious spiritual source is not necessarily similar to how our cultural interpretations describe their “god.” (Emanuel Kuntzelman, spiritual writer)

Can any rational ideas help towards finding this divine source in personal spiritual experience? How can we think of a mystical origin of all that is good?

The divine not a controlling deity

There is plenty of suffering in the world. Hunger, homelessness, murder, theft etc. People ask if there really were a God, then why does He allow this? Why does He permit human beings to greedily take more than their fair share of resources, to kill and steal.

But I would ask whether this is the kind of deity we really want? One who imposes social justice in everything and prevents all crime? I would suggest that if human freedom to behave badly, even wickedly, were taken away from us by a such an absolute degree of supernatural control, then the inner freedom inherent in our human nature would be destroyed.

An alternative view of our divine source

In other words I am arguing that a divine source of love is one that wants our deeper happiness. A good spiritual state can only come in the long run when we freely choose to act in humane ways. Even if this means that we might bring suffering upon ourselves in the meantime.

I would suggest one way forward in our thinking is to imagine a real presence of love and wisdom quietly acting in the world. Not controlling what is going on but nevertheless compensating to some degree for what is negative and bad. This divine image is very different from the god figure who determines all that happens that some dogmatic religious people arrogantly tell us to believe in.

People sometimes ask if there really is some spiritual reality beyond ourselves, why cannot it be obvious to all? But I would say that not being subject to proof shows its non-controlling nature. We have the freedom to believe as we wish; to follow one path or another.

In my opinion, the divine Source offers the gift of liberation from all within our minds that causes us unhappiness of heart. The gift of our inner freedom is precious.

The divine not a condemning deity

According to Christianity, mankind deserves to be punished but Jesus gets punished for us.  Unlike the traditional Christian doctrine, my understanding of our divine Source is not one that  wants to see painful suffering as atonement. You cannot conceive of compassionate love as condemning. Love wants the best for someone, not the worst.

The Divine seen as a Sun

In a state of vision, the mystical philosopher Emanuel Swedenborg reports inwardly seeing, what he thought of as, the divine Source. It appeared as a sun shining on the populace of heaven with the heat of love and the light of wisdom. He says it is the origin of all spiritual and natural things such as our natural sun which shines on the earth.

The divine not a trinity of individuals

One biblical idea is that of a tri-personal god. Taken literally, this seems to be a godhead of three male divine persons in one God, called Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Many think this has no rational logic to it. Clear thinking people thus understandably reject it.

However, if we consider these three figures as metaphors for three aspects of the divine, then arguably the picture becomes more acceptable. I’m thinking of divinity with the three-some nature of humanity. We each have a heart of feeling, a head of understanding and hands for action. Thus we can conceive of a divine heart of love, divine head of wisdom and divine hands of power doing what is loving and wise through the agency of us human beings.  Can we not inwardly experienced these as three aspects of the one divine source called the Christ-within? Or you might prefer the term ‘Christ-consciousness’. This, I feel, is the divine source beyond me, who is also present within me. I know this presence as my inner teacher, my inner comforter, my inner inspiration.


I think those who reject the Christian religion are throwing out the dirty bath water. They rightly, get rid of the old dogmas that even many good church-goers only pay lip service to these days. But are the non-religious also throwing out the baby with the bath water?  The innocent baby that I believe reveals the beautiful idea of divine love and wisdom that lies hidden behind the universe. The secret presence within my soul I can learn to better experience and follow.

Copyright 2017 Stephen Russell-Lacy
Author of  Heart, Head & Hands  Swedenborg’s perspective on emotional problems

Tragedy – What if it happened to me?

Tragedy always seems to happen somewhere in the world; like an earthquake destroying buildings, someone running amok with a dangerous firearm, or civil populations of non-combatants affected by weapons of war.

Watching the television news you wonder ‘What if it ever happened to me?’ It is so easy for the innocent to suffer damage to limbs, destroyed home, or even death of family members. A tragedy might so radically change your life that you would lose your means of earning a livelihood or other important roles.

tragedyJim & Maureen’s tragedy

Even an ordinary event might be personally catastrophic. In 2002 a forest fire made over 2,000 families homeless in one county in California. By 2006 many homes had been rebuilt. One couple, Jim and Maureen, moved into their replacement home with their teenage son after four years living in makeshift temporary accommodation. However, they were then faced with a higher adjustable-rate mortgage.  On top of that, Jim was obliged to close his business which had been affected by the fire.

Selling their rebuilt home and downsizing became the preferred option but the housing market had changed. Buyers had become wary about living in fire-ravaged areas, even if the rebuilt homes included sprinklers, tile roofs and other protective measures and so property prices dropped. The tragedy was that having failed to make loan repayments for several months and receiving no offers on the vacant property, the couple not only expected repossession of their home by their mortgage lender with a cheap sale of their only asset, but also faced the prospect of bankruptcy.

Tragedy exposes assumptions about life

All this just shows the fragility of the things of the world that one takes for granted. Previously and without realising it, you had assumed that bodily and material things were permanent features of your life. You thought they sustained you and that you could not do without them. However, seeing personal effects of tragedy like the plight of people like Jim and Maureen, made me realise how transient such things really are – here today and gone tomorrow.

A personal calamity would throw anyone upside down so that they feel in utter turmoil. Our comfort zone would be no longer available. The blow is harder to take if we had unwittingly assumed that whatever it was that we loved would always be there. We feel like shouting out `It’s not fair’. `It’s not the way things are supposed to be’.

Tragedy can reveal hidden things

So what happens next? One thing some victims of catastrophe report is that although they may have become immobilised by a disastrous change in their outward circumstances, gradually they began to realise that is they themselves that really needed to change if a new happiness is to be found. You won’t always be able to carry on blaming others and fate for what has happened. So, you may decide just to get on with things remembering that ‘when the going gets tough, the tough get going.’ We are never too old to move with the times, never so beyond it that we cannot adapt and find new things, new people, new relationships.

It may sound unbelievably harsh to ask this, but is it possible that a personal tragedy brings it home to us that divine realities like compassion, belonging and courage, are the enduring bedrock of our life? Are the things of the world, we  previously valued so highly, mere illusions of happiness? After all, no worldly loss can damage things of the spirit  – things like consideration for others, pulling together, and trying to be positive in the face of adversity.

If things we see and touch cannot be relied on, what about things we cannot? Heaven is one such idea. If it is true that the kingdom of heaven is within ’ (Luke 17:21) then we are all capable of experiencing heaven in our daily lives. Is it not an inner state of mind? A spiritual reality that our bodily senses cannot detect? A very real and permanent feature to human life that physical events cannot harm?

Goodness emerging from tragedy

Our confidence can start to increase a little as we see a heavenly state of heart and mind motivating the efforts of rescue workers in flooded areas; leading the deliberations of planners and politicians to be better prepared in places at risk,  like for example setting up a world-wide Tsunami early warning system ; and giving those suffering loss, some comfort and financial expectation that they can recover their lives.

Even though we cannot see or touch heaven, becoming more conscious of this state of mind inspires us and fills us with hope. We cannot take the things of the world with us when we die; only things of the spirit. I would argue that this shows that spiritual reality is more permanent and safe from destruction than what is merely physical; for a worldly disaster cannot destroy heaven. Rather, we find what is indestructible interiorly within ourselves if only we would look for it.

Even if (after death) you are attached to worldly goods left behind, you will not be able to possess them, and they will be of no use to you. Therefore, abandon weakness and attachment for them; cast them away wholly; renounce them from your heart
(Tibetan Book of the   Dead, ii,I.  – Buddhist tradition)

Copyright 2011 Stephen Russell-Lacy
Author of  Heart, Head & Hands  Swedenborg’s perspective on emotional problems

Compassion – Where does it come from?

Compassion is defined as a feeling of deep sympathy and sorrow for another who is stricken by misfortune. It is accompanied by a strong desire to alleviate the suffering. This desire, it is said, can be so strong that some people are willing to sacrifice their own basic comforts to help others.

One view is that people act with compassion because of a future benefit to themselves. For example they hope for the reward of heaven or the prize of good karma. However, I would ask, is it not possible for one to feel selfless compassion for the sake of those in need rather than for any advantage to oneself?

If you doubt that this is possible, just read a book like the City of Joy by Dominique Lapierre. This is an amazing true story about the Anand Nagar slum in Calcutta in the 1970’s. Based on thorough research, including two hundred interviews in various languages, it has a fascinating authentic ring.

The reader discovers the plight of peasants who came from famine-struck rural areas in India. Death from malnutrition was a very real possibility. They slept on the city streets and, if they were lucky, worked very long hours in appalling conditions to scrape together survival rations.

I found this to be a tough book to read but it demands the reader’s attention. Its power comes from the vivid detailed non-stop descriptions of the terrible hardship yet compassion of the inhabitants. There are amazing accounts of a generosity of spirit of those, themselves, in dire need.


Head of a Muslim family, Mehboub lived with his wife, 4 children and his mother in a single room, six feet by four, with no window, water or electricity. He was a wiry, muscular little man in his thirties with shaggy eyebrows.  After 14 years of employment at the naval yard, it was no longer possible to put off giving him a contract of employment. And so he was laid off. With no income, this sturdy man began to waste away. His stomach racked with hunger, he walked miles each day in search of any way of earning a crust of bread. The family had to survive on the 20 rupees that the eldest boy, only aged 10, earned each month in a sweat shop. There, the child for 12 hours per day, dipped the clips for ballpoint pens into a chrome bath, whilst inhaling toxic vapours from the metal under electrolysis.

At night, when the cries of his youngest daughter’s empty stomach could not be distracted with a song or story, Mehboub  would take her in his arms and go into the neighbouring courtyard to beg for a piece of chapatti. A poor person would never close his door to him. Despite their desperate lives, they helped each other when they could. That level of compassion was often found among these extremely poor people.  Perhaps, if you have experienced help, you acquire a sense a duty to help others in the same plight as yourself.

Blind Christian widow

The blind widow was so thin that her shrivelled skin accentuated the angles of her bones. Leprosy had reduced her hands to stumps and eaten away her face. In a corner of her room, her four grandchildren, aged between two and six years, slept on a piece of threadbare matting. Her neighbours were all extremely poor Hindu. Yet, everyday they took turns bringing this Christian woman a dish of rice and vegetables, helping her wash, doing her housework, looking after her grandchildren. Helping someone in need because of wanting what is best for them is loving others as oneself.  This broken woman suffered from no lack of love.


Bandona was four years old when her family set out for Calcutta. Five years later her father died. Alone, her mother brought up four children by retrieving metal objects from the rubbish heaps and selling them to a metal scrap dealer. From the age of twelve, after a two-hour bus ride and walking three miles, Bandona worked in a workshop that turned out parts for trucks. She went out at five o’clock in the morning and rarely got back before ten o’clock at night. Earning just four rupees a day, she become her family’s only support when her mother was struck down with tuberculosis.  This was just enough to pay the rent and guarantee the family a bowl of rice or two chapatis once a day.

On Sundays and feast days, instead of resting, Bandona would prowl the slum  looking for distressed people to help. She knew how to listen to the confessions of the dying, how to pray with the families of the dead, wash the corpses, or go with the deceased to the cemetery or the funeral pyre. No one had ever taught her, yet she knew it all through intuition derived from friendship and love. Her extraordinary capacity to communicate enabled her to go into any compound, any hut, and sit down among people without encountering any prejudice of caste or religion. When you really have compassion for others you have concern for their well-being more than your own comfort. This is an act of selfless love.

Source of compassion

Kind-heartedness and generosity may come naturally to many people but is not compassion that amounts to self-sacrifice, a gift? I believe it is a transforming one that can only come from the humanity of the Divine Being of Love.

“It is a great consolation for me to remember that the Lord, to whom I had drawn near in humble and child-like faith, has suffered and died for me, and that He will look on me in love and compassion. (Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, composer)

Copyright 2016 Stephen Russell-Lacy
Author of  Heart, Head & Hands  Swedenborg’s perspective on emotional problems




By Rev. Terry Schnarr Preached in Sydney, Australia Sept. 4, 1995

When the Lord saw her, He had compassion on her and said to her, ‘Do not weep’” (Luke 7:13).

Jesus is a God of love and compassion, of mercy and forgiveness. He is a loving and merciful God. He is tender, understanding, and gentle with us. He loves us dearly.

Last Sunday we were encouraged to pick one day this week to compel ourselves to practice one teaching of the Lord all day, to consciously try very hard to work on it. Did you try? How did it go? Perhaps you intended to but forgot. Perhaps you started to keep some teaching in mind but forgot after a short time. Perhaps you tried but intermittently forgot during the day. Perhaps you were able to keep it up all day and even did it for two or more days.

If you forgot, or didn’t try, or tried and failed, how did you feel? Did you conclude, “I’m just no good,” “I can’t do this,” “I can’t even remember the Lord for one day,” or “I’m just a heathen”? How many of you had this kind of experience and those kinds of thoughts? How many of you felt defeated, hopeless, like giving up, or guilty? Maybe you feel bad or guilty right now. Maybe you feel despairing of ever getting closer to the Lord, of ever having the strength and determination to exercise your freedom and willpower to compel yourself to do the Lord’s will.

“Do not weep.” All of those kinds of thoughts and experiences are from hell. The evil spirits are fighting you. They are the ones putting those thoughts into your head. It feels as if they are your own thoughts, but they are not. They are from the evil spirits who are with you. They are trying to stop you, make you feel hopeless, and make you give up. Don’t let them win. Keep at it. Keep trying. It takes perseverance and practice, but with a little patience you will be able to do it because the Lord is with you and is giving you the power to do His will.

He is not angry with you. He isn’t giving up on you. He is still with you, loving you, having compassion on you. He is keeping the evil spirits away and preventing them from making you feel worse. He is surrounding you with angels so that you can do what He wants. Don’t quit trying. What the Lord is concerned with is the intention of your will. Keep trying. The Lord is completely understanding of the difficulties and challenges we face. His mercy and compassion and forgiveness are unconditional.

This is so evident from many stories in the Word. When He came to Jerusalem and looked down over it from the Mount of Olives, from the east, He wept. From His love He could see there was no love and charity left in Jerusalem. He wept because He was grieving for the people who had no love, no charity, no understanding, no light, and no truth. They were confused and in darkness. He went to the temple, cleansed it, and began to teach and healto give them help.

There is never any anger in the Lord, only love and compassion. He is love itself and cannot possibly be angry. Even when there is an appearance of anger, as when He cleansed the temple, He was really acting from love, mercy and compassion.

The Lord never punishes either. He is always understanding and forgiving. Even when there is an appearance of punishment, as when people are said to be sent to hell, the Lord is acting from love and mercy allowing them to choose their life and providing a place for them to pursue their evil loves, all the while trying to restrain them from plunging into lower hells and greater frustration and dissatisfaction.

In the original Hebrew, Jehovah’s compassion is expressed by a word which means the inmost and tenderest love. Such love is pictured by the Lord’s looking for the one lost sheep and carrying it back in His arms.

The Lord has compassion on all of us. He especially has compassion on us when we are in ignorance, when we lack a knowledge of truth and wish we had more, because we are then in doubt and confusion. He is also especially compassionate on us when we are deficient in love and desire to have more good loves, because we are then feeling empty and devoid of life, lacking the blessings and delights which come from doing good and using our talents to serve Him.

Nevertheless, the Lord does not intercede, step in, and change us or fix us. He works to maintain our freedom, controlling the spirits around us so that we are free to approach Him. He never interferes with our lives, but always tries to make the path to His door the easiest path to follow so that we will choose to follow Him.

When we do choose to follow Him, to obey His teachings, then He enters into our lives with love and wisdom, giving us good desires, enlightened thoughts, and joys when we do good works of charity for others.

The Lord is especially close to us, actually dwelling inside of us, when we have compassion on others, when we love and care for one another the same way He loves and cares for us. We cannot be compassionate when we are in truth alone, when we know truths but do not act on them in our daily lives. We become compassionate, loving, and caring toward others only when we do the good works the Lord teaches us in the Wordbecause to do them we have to quit being selfish and materialistic to have time and energy to do for others. When we do good works, then the Lord fills us with love and compassion for others. For example, He forgives us our sins when we forgive others their sins against us.

When we have compassion for others, we enter into a closer relationship with the Lord. The Heavenly Doctrines teach us that when we feel pity or compassion toward others, the Lord enters into us with an influx of love. This is said to be an admonition, a kind of suggestion or command from the Lord to reach out to another person. “When those who are in perception feel compassion,” we read, “they know that they are being admonished by the Lord to give aid” (AC 6737). When we feel compassion, we are being urged and prompted by the Lord to act. This is one way of experiencing the Lord in our lives.

He is especially compassionate toward us when we have been suffering spiritual miseries and temptations. The widow of Nain was suffering grief and despair over the loss of her husband and now her only son. “A large crowd from the city was with her. When the Lord saw her, He had compassion on her and said to her, ‘Do not weep.'”

To not weep means to be consoled, we are taught in the Heavenly Doctrines. Not only does the Lord have compassion on us but He acts on His compassion. He gives us consolation. He consoles us. How?

The Lord consoles us three ways. First, when we pray to Him and approach Him He comes to us and surrounds us with angels. We are taught that He answers our prayers with something like a revelation, which is manifested or experienced in our affections as hope, comfort, or a kind of internal joy. Second, the angels stir up our thoughts to help us remember truths from the Word which can be helpful to us. Third, He admonishes other people to come around to give us support and assistance, even as many people in Nain were gathered around the widow who had lost her husband and only son.

A man who was covered with leprosy came to Him, imploring Jesus to help him. He was not just asking for a simple favor; he was begging for his life with complete humility. He came to Jesus as his last hope. He got down on his knees and said, “If You are willing, You can make me clean.”

The leper’s dramatic example demonstrates to us the kind of attitude we need to bring to the Holy Supper. We need to acknowledge Jesus Christ as our God, as the only one who can save us from our evils, as the only one who has the power to cleanse our minds. We need to acknowledge Jesus as the only hope we have left for our salvation because He really is. When we kneel down to take the bread and wine, we would do well to keep the words of the leper in our thoughts: “If you are willing, You can make me clean.”

“Jesus, moved with compassion, put out His hand and touched him, and said to him, ‘I am willing; be cleansed.’ As soon as He had spoken, immediately the leprosy left him, and he was cleansed” (Mark 1:40-42).

“Jehovah is gracious and full of compassion. He has given food to those who fear Him” (Psalm 111:4,5). He is “slow to anger and great in mercy. Jehovah is good to all, and His tender mercies are over all His works” (Psalm 145:8,9).

Jesus is willing to help you. Jesus is more than willing. He desires nothing more than to cleanse your spirit so that He can be with you and be inside of you. This is His love. Ask for His help and you will receive it; seek for His power and you will find it; knock and He will open up the door for you and come in with all the blessings of peace and happiness. He will do for you as He did for the widow of Nain, an ordinary person like you and me. “When the Lord saw her, He had compassion on her and said to her, ‘Do not weep'” (Luke 7:13). Amen.

Lessons: Luke 7:11-17, Mark 1:35-45, AC 6737

Arcana Coelestia 6737

“And she had compassion on him.” That this signifies admonition from the Divine is evident from the signification of “having compassion” as being an influx of charity from the Lord; for when any one from charity sees another in misery (as here Pharaoh’s daughter saw the child in the ark of rush and weeping), compassion arises; and as this is from the Lord, it is an admonition. Moreover, when they who are in perception feel compassion, they know that they are admonished by the Lord to give aid.



A Sermon by Rev. James P. Cooper

Preached in Westville, South Africa July 19, 1992

“As the LORD lives, the man who has done this shall surely die!” (2 Samuel 12:5)

David was the greatest of the kings of Israel. It was David who alone could unite the kingdoms of Israel and Judah. It was David who had the strength and the military knowledge to capture the mighty city of the Jebusites and make it his capital, which he then named “Jerusalem,” meaning “possession of peace.” David was known as an able leader of men, a great military genius, a man of great religious passion, and a wise judge over his people. When David was performing his office as king of a united Israel, he, more than any other king in the whole of the Word, represented the royalty and power of God.

On the other hand, David the man was capable of great passion, great cunning, and great cruelty. No other character in the Word shows the contrast between a man and his office so powerfully as David. David first saw Bathsheba while he was walking on the roof of his palace and he saw her bathing on the roof of a neighboring building. Abusing his kingly powers, he commanded that she be brought to him. Later, when David discovered Bathsheba’s pregnancy, he first ordered her husband Uriah home from the battle so he could spend the night at home with her and so believe the child to be his own; but when he refused to spend the night in comfort with his wife while his men and officers were still in battle, David gave orders to put this valiant and loyal leader of men into the hottest part of the battle, and he ordered the other men to then withdraw from him, leaving him to his death. Ironically, Uriah’s sense of honor and respect for his comrades-at-arms was what made it necessary for David to kill him, and even worse, Uriah’s bravery and skill as a warrior were turned against him and used to destroy him. It was this deliberate deception and the use of Uriah’s own honor and virtue to destroy him that sets this crime apart.

David as king represented the Lord. In this context David had committed terrible sins, so we can know that David the man does not represent the Lord, but instead what is opposite to the Lord: a love of self so powerful that it can convince itself that it is above civil, moral, and spiritual law, and so full of the desire to rule over others that it wants to overthrow the Lord Himself and rule in His place. The love of self is seldom so fully developed in people still in the world, but with a little careful and honest self-examination, we all can recognize some degree of this love of self in ourselves.

Everyone comes into selfish states from time to time. The Lord knows this, for He knows our nature. The question is, how does the Lord provide for us to find our way out of these selfish states? How can order and equilibrium be restored to our lives without also destroying our spiritual freedom?

We can see how the Lord gently leads even our most hateful and destructive states in the way that Nathan the prophet brought David back into order. He does not accuse David. He does not threaten him. Nathan simply presented truth to David, and then let him judge himself in comparison to the truth. And so the Lord provides for our states. He has given us the Word in such a form that it does not intrude into our lives. The books lie passively on the shelf until we ourselves pick them up and open them, and even then, unless we read with a genuine desire to learn from the Lord, the Divine within them will be invisible. The Lord never forces Himself into our lives unbidden. We must invite Him in.

Also like the Word, Nathan spoke to David in a parable, a story that contained many hidden levels of meaning, but that did not accuse David of any crime or challenge his authority as a king in any way. The whole of the Word is written in parables, and the Lord Himself says that while in the world, He did not teach except in parables. A parable is a passive way of making a point; that is, the point will not be seen at all unless it is looked for.

Nathan told the story of a rich man who stole the ewe lamb of his poor neighbor so that he could have a nice dinner for a guest. The story was told so that obviously it was not just any lamb, but a family pet as well. The parable was carefully crafted to stir our sympathy for the poor man and his family, and inflame our anger for the cold-hearted rich man who could murder and eat a lamb that was practically a member of the family!

The doctrines tell us that the rich represent those who have many truths and goods from the Lord through the church but who do not put them to any use in their life. They disregard the things of the church. In comparison, the poor are those who, due to circumstances, do not have any good or truth, but still they long for them and wish to have them from the Lord. Those few truths that they do have they love and cherish and bring into their lives.

The image of the little ewe lamb contains many powerful images which are to lead us to think about the opposite of selfishness, that is, the complete and utter trust in the Lord and willingness to follow Him. While all lambs represent innocence (see AC 3994:3), a ewe lamb in particular represents the holiness of innocence (see AC 2720:6). More images were given to illustrate that we are to think about this in terms of the ideal state of our relationship with the Lord. The lamb was like the man’s own daughter, and a daughter represents goods. It ate his food, which represents that he gave it spiritual nourishment, that is, he gave it the things that it needed for spiritual life and growth. It drank from his own cup, that is, he gave the inmost truths that it needed. It lay in his bosom, which means it was conjoined to him by love and mercy.

These images tell us that if we are willing to follow what the Lord teaches in the Word, He will nourish us with spiritual food, He will quench our thirst for spiritual truth, and eventually we will be conjoined with him to eternity in the life of heaven.

On the other hand, there is the symbol of the rich man, the man who has acquired many goods and truths in his lifetime but has hidden them away, as it were, and does not live according to them. Such a man will, when his crimes are discovered, be condemned, that is, he will go to hell.

It is interesting to note that there is an additional penalty upon him: he will also be required to restore the lamb fourfold because he had no pity. No one can replace such a loss, and what would four lambs be to a rich man? How could this add to his punishment when he has already been condemned to death? The only reason that this additional punishment is mentioned is for the sake of the internal sense, for it tells us something further about our own states. The lamb was to be restored fourfold because the man had no pity. On the other hand, the Lord has compassion for everyone, and He teaches that anyone who does not also have compassion for others cannot be conjoined with Him, for all conjunction is of love. You cannot be conjoined to someone if your loves are totally different (see AC 904:2). It is also true that those people who have been gifted with a sense of perception know that whenever they feel compassion toward another, they are admonished by the Lord and their conscience to render aid. In this we are reminded of the parable of the Good Samaritan (see AC 6737).

Another aspect of evil that is brought out by this parable is how the evildoer so often commits his evils so that they are obvious to many, yet he can convince himself that they are not known to others. It seems that in his own mind David actually believed that he could take Bathsheba from Uriah, have her become pregnant while Uriah was away at battle, and then order his soldiers to abandon Uriah so he would die in battle without anyone noticing this chain of events. How often does it happen that we do things that we think are secret when yet they are well known to our friends and family who, out of friendship or embarrassment, have simply declined to mention them? It’s likely that we have all known people who have practiced a vice in what they believed to be secret when yet it was obvious to all what they were doing. We will speak more about this in a few moments. This shows how powerful self-deception and self-justification can be.

David believed that he could hide his adultery by committing murder, but his foolishness and sinfulness were painfully obvious to all. It is true that some evils can be kept secret in the world, but when in the spiritual world, as spirits enter the second state, the state of their interiors, they no longer care what others think, and their behavior becomes one with their interior loves. In this way all spirits can see their evils, and those who are good can reject them. Eventually all sins, whether done in secret or openly, will be made known. “But I say to you that for every idle word men may speak, they will give account of it in the day of judgment” (Matt. 12:36); also “For there is nothing covered that will not be revealed, nor hidden that will not be known. Therefore whatever you have spoken in the ear in inner rooms will be proclaimed on the housetops” (Luke 12:2,3).

We often find ourselves in a position like that in which Nathan the prophet found himself. We don’t know whether David and Nathan were friends, but Nathan was the chief prophet of the Lord, and so he would have a position of some respect in David’s court. He was no doubt free to come and go, and was frequently present to give counsel on important decisions. Also, in his office as a priest, Nathan was under a moral obligation to act as a watchman and condemn David for his open sin and call him to repentance. But, as a man, Nathan was afraid. David had already killed one important and powerful counselor because of his infatuation with Bathsheba. Was there not good reason to suspect that David might even kill the Lord’s prophet under these circumstances?

Do we not also find ourselves in a similar situation from time to time where we see a friend or loved one traveling on a course which we clearly see to be headed for disaster? We feel conflicting emotions. On the one hand we want to say something to make our friend stop doing what we know to be evil or foolish. On the other hand, we are reluctant to say anything that our friend will regard as critical because he or she may then be angry with us and say hurtful things. This puts us in a very unhappy state as we try to decide between two difficult paths. Our conscience will not allow us to let the evil go on, and our natural affection for our friend does not wish to say anything that might cause pain.

When we find ourselves in these circumstances, it could be helpful to follow Nathan’s example. As a priest, he had to condemn David’s sins. As a man, he feared for his own life. So he found a middle ground; he used the parable of the lamb to cause David to judge himself. The important principle that is illustrated here is that it is the truth that judges people, not other people. By presenting the truth to David, David judged himself in the light of that truth, and because he saw himself in the light of truth, there was no anger, no need for revenge upon Nathan.

The parable of the lamb, and the circumstances that made it necessary, give us a complete and powerful picture of the love of self and the evil and cruelty it is capable of when allowed to run unchecked. As David himself said while unknowingly condemning his own actions, “The man who has done this shall surely die” (text). There can be no spiritual life for the person who puts himself above all things in the world, above the needs of all people in the world, and who in his heart wishes to pull the Lord down from His throne and rule in His place (for all these things dwell in the interior degrees of selfishness). Unless unless such a person is led to the truth in the Word to judge himself in its light; unless he can see his evils for himself; unless he prays to the Lord for help in removing them; unless he shuns them and begins to live a new life. Then he will not die. “Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall be as wool. If you are willing and obedient, you shall eat of the good of the land; but if you refuse and rebel, you shall be devoured by the sword; for the mouth of the LORD has spoken” (Isaiah 1:18-20). Amen.

Lessons: 2 Samuel 12:1-7, Mark 1:1-11, AC 904:2

Arcana Coelestia 904:2

The presence of the Lord is predicated according to the state of love toward the neighbor and of faith in which the man is. In love toward the neighbor the Lord is present, because He is in all good; but not so much in faith, so called, without love. Faith without love and charity is a separated or disjoined thing. Wherever there is conjunction there must be a conjoining medium, which is nothing else than love and charity, as must be evident to all from the fact that the Lord is merciful to everyone, and loves everyone, and wills to make everyone happy to eternity. He therefore who is not in such love that he is merciful to others, loves them, and wills to make them happy cannot be conjoined with the Lord, because he is unlike Him and not at all in His image. To look to the Lord by faith, as they say, and at the same time to hate the neighbor is not only to stand afar off, but is also to have the abyss of hell between themselves and the Lord, into which they would fall if they should approach nearer, for hatred to the neighbor is that infernal abyss which is between.