Suspicion – How to overcome it?

Do you give the man in your life a warm embrace in order to sniff for any strange perfume? Or scroll through your partner’s phonebook, when she’s not around, checking for any new male contacts?

suspicionSigns of sexual jealousy in others may sound funny but if you are the one experiencing suspicion it can be very distressing. It may need some spiritual healing.

Like when one feels both afraid, yet compelled, to search through one’s lover’s trouser pockets or purse for any incriminating evidence. Of course the distrust may be well-founded or on the other hand completely unwarranted.

Having a general attitude of suspicion

Not all distrust is to do with possibly being cheated on. You may be the sort of person who often feels uneasy and wary of people in general. The suspicion is that they will seize on your mistakes and try to blame you for absolutely anything that goes wrong. So you get in the first blow finding fault in their behaviour. It is as if aggression were the best form of defence.

Having a distrust of the world can be unpleasant because we continually need to check out if people are doing us down. In addition, having suspicion about others, we do not easily form personal relationships; for to get close to someone would involve putting ourselves in a vulnerable position where we might get hurt. We do not want to risk them betraying us if we start to depend on them. Yet keeping ourselves to ourselves we feel lonely.

Reduce suspicion by looking for the good in others

I would say that the key to a trusting attitude is to look for the good and concern in those we encounter and deal with the faults of others as gently as with our own. We are in a state of peace inside only when we are seeking or finding peace around us. Looking for the good in others may mean for example making an effort to understand the other person’s point of view. By becoming more aware of where he or she is coming from, we then give ourselves a better chance to more accurately distinguish between innocent remarks, fair criticism, as opposed to things said only in anger of the moment, and hostile put downs.

Using your will to overcome suspicion

Looking for the good in others when we usually look for the bad in them requires an effort of will. We do not often find the idea of `will’ in modern psychology. One exception is in psychosynthesis psychotherapy created by Roberto Assagioli.  According to Assagioli everyone can have, or has had, the experience of freely willing but possibly not with full awareness or understanding. He said that people vary in the extent they explore, develop and use their will to develop their life.

Finding a new heart is a crucial part of our spiritual healing.  A charitable heart is looking for the good in others and valuing them for the potential good they can do. It means treating others as oneself. This is universal advice. As Jesus said: “So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you.” Likewise the Buddha said “Hurt not others with that which pains yourself”  and we find similar advice in the Hindu tradition that says “Treat others as you would be treated yourself”. If you are suspicious by nature yet believe in love and light as the divine force behind the universe so you can convince yourself that finding a new trusting heart is quite possible.

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

Posted on18th March 2011CategoriesHealing emotions, Spiritual healingTags, , , , , , , , , , , , , ,, , ,

Anger – How can it be healed?

Have you been hopping mad recently? Some people temperamentally seem to be more easily roused to anger than are others. Yet, to some extent we all get irritated at times. We feel cross when others attack what we love like our child or pet animal. It could be something we love in ourselves, that when attacked, causes us a sense of wounded pride. Offensive put-downs thrown at us in a condescending tone of voice also can get to us.


Irritation can easily spiral into full-blown anger when we retaliate in kind and the heated things that are said – which on reflection we often do not even mean – hurt both parties. It is possible to harbour resentment for years especially if we continually avoid someone or allow ourselves to slip into the habit of not conversing with them when we do have an opportunity.

Making up with the person who caused you anger

Making up may be easier said than done. And not every attempt at reconciliation works. After all, it takes two to tango. We need to eat a little humble pie even if the other person who triggered anger does not.

“The fellow who thinks he knows it all is especially annoying to those of us who do” (Harold Coffin)

Even when we swallow a bit of pride the other person may not stop his or her ego trip. Unless the opponent meets us halfway, the attempt at finding a way forward may possibly fail.

To increase the chances of success we could try saying what we think in a low-key way. By seeking a common understanding, we are giving the relationship every chance to get past this difficulty. It means looking at the situation from the other person’s point of view; not assuming that he or she is entirely at fault, using our imagination to step into their shoes whilst at the same time not avoiding thorny issues. It is possible to voice our feeling of anger without exaggerating and without casting blame. We can try to think of different points of view rather than one wrong one and one right one.

Sometimes we do not try hard enough to make up and rarely are the first to make a conciliatory move. One fallacy is to believe that “a relationship that needs working at is not worth having.” However, satisfying relationships are unlikely to develop unless all concerned are prepared to be committed and to make an effort.

We may wrongly assume that the other person who has hurt our feelings should know how hurt and angry we feel. Yet people cannot see into each other’s minds and however close we are to others, they will never be able to know exactly how we feel unless we let them know.

Using good sense when dealing with anger

We need to show good sense when relating to others. Making unwise compromises that maintain destructive relationships is not good sense. In other words, doing good to others and forgetting their wrongdoing may not always be wise if the behaviour is harmful and persists.

There may be violence within the home or sexual infidelity with no remorse or effort to change. Then our acceptance of the other person’s limitations, rather than simply saying we forgive them, may be a more realistic goal. In extreme cases sometimes it is better to part company.

Letting go of very deep-seated hurt and the consequential anger may take considerable time that requires real or imagined encounters with the perpetrators of our pain. A few of us have been so very badly abused and offended against that it has caused a long-lasting suppressed state of anger. We may firstly need professional help to work through our shock and denial and become more aware of the effects of the terrible wrong done to us. This may involve starting to appropriately express feelings to others of hurt, grief, anger and rage. It greatly helps if the fact of the wrong-doing is acknowledged by those previously involved.

Great anger in South Africa

Desmond Tuttu the black clergyman living in South Africa during the apartheid period and many other black Africans had every reason to feel very angry at the treatment meted out to them by the white supremacists in power over them.

  • Separate public facilities were enforced on racial lines.
  • To all intents and purposes only white Africans had the vote.
  • Black Africans were legally confined to rural reserves covering only about 7% of the country whereas they consisted of 68% of the population.
  • Segregated townships for blacks working in urban areas were set up. Blacks had to carry a passbook identifying themselves and showing whether they were entitled to be in a white only area.
  • Husbands and fathers were separated from their loved ones as a result of a pernicious system of migratory labour.
  • Their children went to overcrowded schools in black townships and lived in inadequate shanty housing with a woefully inadequate system of transport.
  • Black people who protested suffered long periods of detention without trial and there were deaths in detention. All this meant that the black people suffered frustration and humiliation. They were a subject people.

Although not a pacifist, Desmond strongly believed in responding to injustice by asserting ones human dignity and rights in a courageous way with a view to possible reconciliation rather than revenge. He advocated civil disobedience rather than violence as a response to oppression. But when he and others joined illegal protest marches they risked being shot by police. Desmond with other religious leaders often intervened to try to help diffuse situations where violence was a distinct possibility calming down the anger and aggression.

This was the action of someone who believed that problems could be solved by people sitting down together to discuss their differences rather than resorting to violence. He said that the campaign should be characterised by discipline and dignity because they were all involved in a moral struggle and that non-violent protest could only succeed resulting in their freedom.

There were outbreaks of violence by black people but the overwhelming response to the violence of oppression was peaceful protest. Despite the great anger felt the struggle was to be based not on hatred but on the hope of freedom and reconciliation.

Many commentators had thought that bloodshed, violence and civil war were inevitable because a people can take only so much injustice and despair. But they were wrong. In my opinion international pressure and the emergence of political leaders of the calibre of Nelson Mandela and Frederik der Kerk were necessary for the avoidance of civil war but what was crucial in this outcome was the prevalent spirit of love and justice in the nation – other than within the white right-wing reactionary forces. The spirit of love was the message of the New Testament when Jesus said `Love your enemies’

As has been said if we instead were to follow the old idea of revenge embodied in the teaching of `an eye for an eye’ soon all people would be blind and then where would we be?      Longer version of this article

Copyright 2013 Stephen Russell-Lacy
Author of  Heart, Head & Hands  Swedenborg’s perspective on emotional problems

Visions of the Lord


A Sermon by the Rev. James P. Cooper


But Jesus came and touched them and said, “Arise, and do not be afraid.” And when they had lifted up their eyes, they saw no one but Jesus only. (MAT 17:7-8)

In our lesson from the Divine Love and Wisdom we read how important it is for a person to have the correct idea of God, that each of us will find our home in heaven according to the idea of God which is confirmed and made manifest by our attitudes and actions towards each other. Our idea of God, how we visualize Him, how we regard Him, how we respond to His teachings, is unique in each of us, and becomes a part of our very character and being. We are taught that in all the heavens there is no other idea of God than that He is a Man (DLW 11), and that this is so because heaven as a whole and in regard to its least detail is in the human form. The thought of every angel proceeds according to the form of heaven, and when the Lord looks down on heaven it appears to Him in the form of a Grand Man because each of the societies there has functions that correspond to the various organs of the human body. Thus we can say that heaven itself is in the human form, and so it is impossible for any angel to think of God in any other way than as a Man.

Since heaven itself is in the form of a Man, and all the angels think of God as a Man, if we wish to be conjoined with the angels as to our thoughts while in this world, and as to our lives when we pass into the next, we must therefore learn to think in the same way that they do. If we believe that God is a “universal creative force,” or “nature,” or something else non-human, we have not aligned our thoughts with the angels in heaven, but instead we have begun to think as do the devils in hell.

We read from the work The Last Judgment that,

The Gentiles, especially the Africans, who acknowledge and worship one God, the Creator of the universe, have … the idea that He is a Man, and declare that no one can have any other idea of God. When they learn that there are many who cherish an idea of God as something cloud like in the midst of things, they ask where such persons are; and on being told that they are among Christians, they declare it to be impossible.… I heard a certain elder from the Christians say that no one can have an idea of a Human Divine; and I saw him taken about to various Gentile nations, and successively to such as were more and more interior, and from them to their heavens, and finally to the Christian heaven; and everywhere their interior perception concerning God was communicated to him, and he observed that they had no other idea of God than that He is a man, which is the same as the idea of a Human Divine. (LJ 74)

The Lord loves us, and we are to love Him in return, for the joy of heaven depends on this reciprocal conjunction, but the nature of love is such that for there to be genuine love (and not just some kind of affection or fondness) the one loved has to be able to return the love in a like manner. In other words, humans can only truly love other human beings. Can anyone love a force? Does it even make sense for you to say that you love gravity? Does your feeling about gravity make the slightest difference in its operation in your life? Of course not, and for this reason, we must have an idea of God as a Man, not as some cosmic, mysterious force.

It’s not even enough to think of Him in some kind of general way. We cannot love all of mankind, but we can love individual human beings. We cannot love individuals whom we have never met or spoken to. There has to be individual specific knowledge before there can be genuine reciprocal love. It is not enough to believe in some undefined “supreme being.” We are told that we must get specific knowledge of God as Man from the Word, and come to know Him as He reveals Himself there – and then we can begin to learn to love Him.

The Lord reveals His human to us gradually in the Word. Each revelation was carefully designed to be appropriate to the spiritual states of the men who were to see it. He had to show Himself to the men of the Most Ancient Church in a way quite different from His revelation to the prophets of Israel, to His disciples, or to Emanuel Swedenborg, because each of these were able to receive Him and understand Him in a different way. We are able to see the complete picture, for we can see Him in all of His revelations.

Today, we will look at several of these revelations or visions of the Lord so that we can see how the Lord shows Himself to us in such a way that our understanding of Him as God-Man can begin in our minds and grow throughout eternity. We will select some passages from the Old and New Testaments that will serve to illustrate the way we are to develop our picture of the Visible God even as our understanding of Him grows.

The first instance were the Word pictures God as Man is in Genesis. Adam and Eve are in the garden, have been tempted to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, and have succumbed. We read:

Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves coverings. And they heard the sound of the LORD God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and Adam and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the LORD God among the trees of the garden. Then the LORD God called to Adam and said to him, “Where are you?” (GEN 3:7-9)

Who among us has not taken a walk in the garden in the cool of the day? What a distinctly human view of God the Creator is presented here: the father finding out the naughty children. True, their punishment is harsh, but no one who reads this passage can fail to see that they did the only thing that they were specifically forbidden to do. God has presented Himself to us here in a distinctly human way, although with a sharp edge of stern justice. A “universal life-force” does not walk in the garden in the cool of the day.

The Lord revealed Himself to Moses first in a bush that burned without being consumed, and later when He gave the law to Moses on Sinai, we are told that there was flame on the top of the mountain, and the cloud descended halfway down it. Also the Lord signified His presence in the camp of Israel by a continual cloud over the tabernacle during the day, and flame of fire by night. These symbols of the Divine presence were apparently as much as could be received by the Jewish Church during the age of the patriarchs. The Lord would occasionally speak to the prophets, or appear in a night vision, but such revelations did nothing to develop the idea of His Divine Humanity with them. Instead, He taught of His Humanity by prophecy that looked forward to the time that He would come in person as the shepherd of Israel.

The Psalms contain many different images of the Lord as a warrior, as a king, but the most memorable image of the Lord given to us in the Psalms is that of the Lord as The Shepherd:

The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want. He makes me to lie down in green pastures; He leads me beside the still waters. He restores my soul; He leads me in the paths of righteousness For His name’s sake. Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil; For You are with me; Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me. You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; You anoint my head with oil; My cup runs over. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me All the days of my life; And I will dwell in the house of the LORD Forever. (PSA 23)

This Psalm may well be the most well-known and most beloved part of the Old Testament precisely because of the beautiful picture that it paints of the Lord, and because it leads us to love this image of Him because it is what we need to have a proper human picture of Him, so that we can begin to love Him as a person whom we know, and who has personal human qualities which we admire.

This theme of the Lord as the gentle shepherd is continued in the New Testament because the Lord wanted to present Himself to the people in such a way that they would understand His relationship to them, and since the great majority of people in those days worked in the fields, it should not be surprising that the Lord used this image to describe His relationship to His people.

The Lord compared Himself to the good shepherd as a symbol of His spiritual mission. The wolf which attacks the sheep is hell, and the Lord teaches that He will fight even to the death of the physical body for the sake of His people. We can see in hindsight that He was predicting His own death by crucifixion in the following passages, even while he was teaching the people about His great compassion for them. He taught:

I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd gives His life for the sheep. But he who is a hireling and not the shepherd, one who does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees; and the wolf catches the sheep and scatters them. The hireling flees because he is a hireling and does not care about the sheep. I am the good shepherd; and I know My sheep, and am known by My own. As the Father knows Me, even so I know the Father; and I lay down My life for the sheep. And other sheep I have which are not of this fold; them also I must bring, and they will hear My voice; and there will be one flock and one shepherd.” (JOH 10:11-16)

Not only did He lay down His life for His sheep, He has shown us that His compassion and love extends beyond the bounds of the Jewish Church to encompass all people in all nations who love Him and keep His commandments. In His spiritual kingdom, there is indeed only one flock, and one shepherd. In heaven, the trivial differences that divide the nations of the world drop away as useless and the true spiritual bonds within serve to unite all peoples in uses which serve the Lord and His kingdom.

Our final vision of the Lord comes from the Gospel according to Matthew; the Transfiguration:

Now after six days Jesus took Peter, James, and John his brother, brought them up on a high mountain by themselves, And was transfigured before them. His face shone like the sun, and His clothes became as white as the light. And behold, Moses and Elijah appeared to them, talking with Him. Then Peter answered and said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good for us to be here; if You wish, let us make here three tabernacles: one for You, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” While he was still speaking, behold, a bright cloud overshadowed them; and suddenly a voice came out of the cloud, saying, “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased. Hear Him!” And when the disciples heard it, they fell on their faces and were greatly afraid. But Jesus came and touched them and said, “Arise, and do not be afraid.” And when they had lifted up their eyes, they saw no one but Jesus only. (MAT 17:1-8)

There are several important representative elements to note here. Peter represents faith. James represents charity, and John represents the works that are the product of charity and faith in the man of the church. Also, the Lord was seen by them in the presence of Moses and Elijah. Moses was a symbol of the Law itself, and Elijah was loved as the greatest of the prophets, and so, by their presence, the Lord was graphically displaying to the three disciples His own relationship to the Word. Moses and Elijah are the Law and the Prophets — the Old Testament — and Jesus Himself stands for the New Testament.

The Lord gave the Word to us for the sake of our salvation. In it, He gave us many different visions of Himself so that we could see Him in our mind’s eye as a Man, the Divine Human, and come to know Him and thus love Him. We may first think of Him as our heavenly father, or as a shepherd, or as Jesus Christ. But if we desire it, and if we bring faith, charity, and works (Peter, James, and John) into our lives, then whatever image we have of the Lord will be transfigured before our eyes, and we will see the Lord as he really is — God-Man in His Divine Human — first with our minds as our understanding opens, and later with our spiritual eyes when we achieve our heavenly home. Jesus took Peter, James, and John his brother, brought them up on a high mountain by themselves, And was transfigured before them. His face shone like the sun, and His clothes became as white as the light. (MAT 17:1,2) AMEN.

Lessons: EXO 33:7-11, REV 1:9-18, DLW 12, 13

1st Lesson: Exo 33:7-11

Moses took his tent and pitched it outside the camp, far from the camp, and called it the tabernacle of meeting. And it came to pass that everyone who sought the LORD went out to the tabernacle of meeting which was outside the camp. {8} So it was, whenever Moses went out to the tabernacle, that all the people rose, and each man stood at his tent door and watched Moses until he had gone into the tabernacle. {9} And it came to pass, when Moses entered the tabernacle, that the pillar of cloud descended and stood at the door of the tabernacle, and the Lord talked with Moses. {10} All the people saw the pillar of cloud standing at the tabernacle door, and all the people rose and worshiped, each man in his tent door. {11} So the LORD spoke to Moses face to face, as a man speaks to his friend. And he would return to the camp, but his servant Joshua the son of Nun, a young man, did not depart from the tabernacle. Amen.

2nd Lesson: Rev 1:9-18

I, John, both your brother and companion in the tribulation and kingdom and patience of Jesus Christ, was on the island that is called Patmos for the word of God and for the testimony of Jesus Christ. {10} I was in the Spirit on the Lord’s Day, and I heard behind me a loud voice, as of a trumpet, {11} saying, “I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last,” and, “What you see, write in a book and send it to the seven churches which are in Asia: to Ephesus, to Smyrna, to Pergamos, to Thyatira, to Sardis, to Philadelphia, and to Laodicea.” {12} Then I turned to see the voice that spoke with me. And having turned I saw seven golden lampstands, {13} and in the midst of the seven lampstands One like the Son of Man, clothed with a garment down to the feet and girded about the chest with a golden band. {14} His head and hair were white like wool, as white as snow, and His eyes like a flame of fire; {15} His feet were like fine brass, as if refined in a furnace, and His voice as the sound of many waters; {16} He had in His right hand seven stars, out of His mouth went a sharp two-edged sword, and His countenance was like the sun shining in its strength. {17} And when I saw Him, I fell at His feet as dead. But He laid His right hand on me, saying to me, “Do not be afraid; I am the First and the Last. {18} “I am He who lives, and was dead, and behold, I am alive forevermore. Amen. And I have the keys of Hades and of Death. Amen.

3rd Lesson: DLW 12, 13

12. The common people in Christendom have an idea that God is a Man, because God in the Athanasian doctrine of the Trinity is called a “Person.” But those who are more learned than the common people pronounce God to be invisible; and this for the reason that they cannot comprehend how God, as a Man, could have created heaven and earth, and then fill the universe with His presence, and many things besides, which cannot enter the understanding so long as the truth that the Divine is not in space is ignored. Those, however, who go to the Lord alone think of a Human Divine, thus of God as a Man.

13. How important it is to have a correct idea of God can be known from the truth that the idea of God constitutes the inmost of thought with all who have religion, for all things of religion and all things of worship look to God. And since God, universally and in particular, is in all things of religion and of worship, without a proper idea of God no communication with the heavens is possible. From this it is that in the spiritual world every nation has its place allotted in accordance with its idea of God as a Man; for in this idea, and in no other, is the idea of the Lord. That man’s state of life after death is according to the idea of God in which he has become confirmed, is manifest from the opposite of this, namely, that the denial of God, and, in the Christian world, the denial of the Divinity of the Lord, constitutes hell. Amen.

 Bible Meanings Home

The Sign of the Prophet Jonah

The Sign of the Prophet Jonah

A Sermon by the Rev. James P. Cooper

(Olivet Church, Toronto – April 29, 2007)

A wicked and adulterous generation seeks after a sign, and no sign shall be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. (MAT 16:4)

The scribes, Pharisees, and Sadducees were often found nearby when the Lord was preaching to the crowds that followed Him everywhere He went during the last stages of His ministry. Each of these three groups of Jewish leaders had something to fear from the Lord, because His teaching threatened the established order, the order from which they themselves benefited and derived their power. Skeptics and scoffers, they tried to discredit Jesus, to turn the crowd’s adoration and attention into laughter and scorn; and so, as the Lord taught, they would call out to Him, asking for a sign, a testimony, some miracle that would prove that the things He taught about would actually come to pass. They were demanding proof of Him, and as they were sensual, natural men, they would not believe unless there was some sign that they could hold onto with their own hands, see with their own eyes. If they could not feel it with their own senses, as far as they were concerned, it did not exist. They demanded a miracle because they believed He could not give them one. In their hearts, they wanted Him to fail.

The Lord performed many miracles while He was in the world, as we all well know. He performed miracles of feeding by changing the water into wine, and feeding the 4,000 and 5,000 from a few loaves and fishes. He performed miracles of healing natural illnesses, and of spiritual illnesses. He even raised the dead. Ultimately, His greatest miracle was the Redemption of mankind by raising Himself from the dead, but we shall speak more of this later.

The Lord used miracles throughout His ministry, and yet we are taught in the Heavenly Doctrines that miracles compel belief, and as compelled belief is not free, so miracles are no longer permitted. We wonder, therefore, why the Lord used miracles at that time, but not now, and what special conditions existed that permitted Him to perform miracles and yet allow all men spiritual freedom.

Perhaps the answer lies in mankind’s incredible ability to ignore anything they see that does not agree with what they already believe, or even what they would like to believe. Remember the story of the Exodus of the children of Israel from Egypt. Here was a group of slaves, who witnessed one of the most incredible series of events that has ever taken place in the natural world: the Ten Plagues upon Egypt. They saw rivers turn to blood, darkness descend upon the land for days on end, and pestilence descend only on the Egyptian lands and flocks but not their own. They witnessed the Passover, where every Egyptian first-born died in one night, and finally they saw Pharaoh’s army drowned as the Red Sea closed over them.

When we read these passages and try to imagine what these things must have been like, we think that surely, if we had seen those things, there would be no question that we would believe in the power of God with all our heart! From that moment on, we would obey His every word! And then we read that within a few days of this experience, the children of Israel were complaining that Jehovah had brought them into the wilderness to kill them, and were dancing around the golden calf.

We have an incredible ability to ignore the obvious. It comes with the gift of freedom of thought in spiritual things. If a person is to be truly free to think about and believe in things from the Word, he must also be free to think about and believe all manner of absurd and false ideas.

The Lord performed miracles in the world knowing this, and the miracles He performed did not in any way remove any one’s freedom, but instead served several important uses. First, they served as a confirmation to those who already believed. A married couple knows rationally that they are in love, but they also enjoy confirming their love with kisses and embraces. Kisses and embraces in themselves cannot cause love to occur where it does not already exist, but if love is there the outward signs and gestures confirm it with them. This in itself is a miracle! But no one has ever been forced to love someone against his will through a simple kiss. A kiss does not cause, or force, love, but confirms and enhances the love that is already there.

In the same way, there was no danger of anyone’s freedom being taken away by the Lord’s miracles. We can imagine a skeptic who’d been to see the Lord reporting to his friends that, “Yes, I saw Jesus heal a blind man, but it must have been a trick. I didn’t know the man. He was probably just pretending to be blind.” On the other hand, we can imagine one who was hungry for the Lord’s teachings saying to his friends that he had heard the Master preach words of the hope of spiritual life, “and when He gave sight to that blind man it was as if He opened my own eyes, for then for the first time I truly saw the truth in what He had been teaching.”

We can imagine that many people in those days maintained a tough, skeptical outer shell, for they were hard times, both naturally and spiritually. Many people longed for the Messiah to come, but there had been other claims that had proved false. Many claimed to be prophets in those troubled times, and few of them gave any satisfaction. The Lord performed the miracles to move these skeptics, to make sure that they heard of His deeds, to make sure that they would be curious enough to come and see just once – for once they heard Him speak, they would be moved by His words and be converted. We can see that the Lord used miracles to gather crowds to Himself, and also to help them to confirm their belief in Him.

But the scribes, Pharisees, and Sadducees were a different matter. There was no question that these groups did not have any desire to listen to the Lord. They sought only to discredit Him in any way they could. When they asked Him for a sign, as recorded in both MAT 12 and MAT 16, He responded to them in apparent anger, calling them “adulterers,” and a “wicked generation” (text). He told them that the only sign they would accept would be the sign of the prophet Jonah, and this would be the sign that He would give them.

To this day, when we speak of the prophet Jonah, the first thing that springs to mind is the memory of the story of Jonah and the whale, for this is one of the most memorable stories in all of scripture. It has all the elements of a great story: it begins with a call to a Divine mission; then there is Jonah’s attempt to flee from the Lord; the drama of the storm which would sink the innocent ship unless Jonah confesses his crime and is punished by being thrown overboard; and the great fish which swallows him whole. It is all fantastic and hard to believe, but possible enough that we want to believe it.

Most of us forget the rest of the things that Jonah did after he escaped from the fish because the story is much less interesting by way of comparison. No doubt, when the Lord told His critics that He would give them the sign of the prophet Jonah, they, being students of scripture, immediately thought of Jonah in the belly of the great fish for three days and nights before being spewed up on dry land, and wondered what this had to do with proof of the Lord’s claim to be the Messiah.

When we study this story from our own perspective, knowing that the Lord was crucified, was in the grave, and rose on the third day, we can see the connection immediately. We see that the three days in the great fish is a symbol for the three days in the grave, and that being spewed out safe on dry land to go on to preach and to save Nineveh represents that the Lord’s work of Redemption was now begun in earnest.

But the Scribes, Pharisees and Sadducees did not know what was going to happen. They could only guess at what the Lord meant by this, until such time as all the events had actually unfolded. Once the Lord had in fact risen from the grave, then the Disciples, Scribes, Pharisees, Sadducees, and everyone else who was interested in the Lord’s teachings for whatever reason, finally began to understand what it was all about as they remembered what He said, and what He actually did. The message was not only for them, but for the spiritual Scribes, Pharisees, and Sadducees – the skeptics – who would read the New Testament in generations to come.

Another important difference between the way we see things today, and the way they were viewed at the time of the Lord pertains to the great fish, or whales. Today, many people see the whale as a gentle and intelligent creature, deserving our protection and care. In ancient times, however, perhaps because boats were smaller and sea travel dangerous, the whale was seen as a dangerous monster. In some passages in the Word “leviathan,” “crooked serpent,” “dragon,” “serpent,” and “whale” are all possible translations of the same word (See AE 714:30). To a certain extent, the way things are perceived by men, and therefore are used in their language has an effect on the things animals represent. Since both whales and dragons are large and fearsome, their names are linked linguistically, and so the gentle whale comes to have the same representation as the dragon. The whale (and the Heavenly Doctrines are quite specific that it was a whale) represents “scientifics which pervert the truths of faith,” (AC 7923:2) and the belly of the whale represents the things which are lowest, or “nearest to the earth.” (AC 247)

These representations tell us something about this state of temptation. Do we ourselves not feel that we are “swallowed up” by our own problems? Haven’t we all said about something that frustrates us that it just “kills” us? Do we not sometimes get so wrapped up in “facts” that we miss the truth of the matter?

This is the sign of the prophet Jonah that the Lord gave to all “wicked and adulterous generations.” When we are in temptation and feel spiritually dead, we can know that the Lord has the power to save us, to lift us up out of our states, because He has gone before – He has given us the hope of salvation by doing it for Himself first! He has show us this most important fact about Himself, He has given us the sign that no other prophet could have given, the sign of the prophet Jonah.

There have been other prophets who could perform miracles. There have been others who could heal the sick, and even some who have raised the dead. But there is only one who has been dead and then raised Himself from the grave. He did this to show us the way, to show us that death can lead to eternal life, to show us that we have nothing to fear, to help us believe with our hearts what we hold in our thoughts, to lead us up out of the depths of the various hells that we create for ourselves into the heavenly kingdom that has been prepared for us. When we are in temptation we should remember Jonah’s prayer: The waters encompassed me, even to my soul; the deep closed around me; weeds were wrapped around my head. I went down to the moorings of the mountains; the earth with its bars closed behind me forever; yet You have brought up my life from the pit, O LORD, my God. (JON 2:5,6) AMEN.

Hear now the Word of the Lord as it is written in …

First Lesson: JON 2:1-10

(Jonah 2) Then Jonah prayed to the LORD his God from the fish’s belly. {2} And he said: “I cried out to the LORD because of my affliction, And He answered me. “Out of the belly of Sheol I cried, And You heard my voice. {3} For You cast me into the deep, Into the heart of the seas, And the floods surrounded me; All Your billows and Your waves passed over me. {4} Then I said, ‘I have been cast out of Your sight; Yet I will look again toward Your holy temple.’ {5} The waters surrounded me, even to my soul; The deep closed around me; Weeds were wrapped around my head. {6} I went down to the moorings of the mountains; The earth with its bars closed behind me forever; Yet You have brought up my life from the pit, O LORD, my God. {7} “When my soul fainted within me, I remembered the LORD; And my prayer went up to You, Into Your holy temple. {8} “Those who regard worthless idols Forsake their own Mercy. {9} But I will sacrifice to You With the voice of thanksgiving; I will pay what I have vowed. Salvation is of the LORD.” {10} So the LORD spoke to the fish, and it vomited Jonah onto dry land. Amen.

Second Lesson: MAT 12:38-42, 16:1-4

(Mat 12:38-42) Then some of the scribes and Pharisees answered, saying, “Teacher, we want to see a sign from You.” {39} But He answered and said to them, “An evil and adulterous generation seeks after a sign, and no sign will be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. {40} “For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth. {41} “The men of Nineveh will rise up in the judgment with this generation and condemn it, because they repented at the preaching of Jonah; and indeed a greater than Jonah is here. {42} “The queen of the South will rise up in the judgment with this generation and condemn it, for she came from the ends of the earth to hear the wisdom of Solomon; and indeed a greater than Solomon is here.

(Mat 16:1-4) Then the Pharisees and Sadducees came, and testing Him asked that He would show them a sign from heaven. {2} He answered and said to them, “When it is evening you say, ‘It will be fair weather, for the sky is red’; {3} “and in the morning, ‘It will be foul weather today, for the sky is red and threatening.’ Hypocrites! You know how to discern the face of the sky, but you cannot discern the signs of the times. {4} “A wicked and adulterous generation seeks after a sign, and no sign shall be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah.” And He left them and departed. Amen

Third Lesson: AE 706:6

The Scribes and Pharisees said, Master, we would see a sign from Thee. But He answering, said, An evil and adulterous generation seeketh after a sign, but no sign shall be given to it but the sign of Jonah the prophet; for as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the whale, so shall the Son of man be three days and three nights in the belly1 of the earth (Matt. 12:38-40; Luke 11:16, 29, 30).

A “sign” plainly means attestation that they may be persuaded and believe that the Lord was the Messiah and the Son of God who was to come, for the miracles that the Lord wrought in abundance, and that they saw, were no signs to them, because miracles, as has been said above, are signs only with the good. “Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the whale,” and this was taken for a “sign,” because it signified the burial and resurrection of the Lord, thus the complete glorification of His Human, “three days and three nights” also signifying completeness. Amen.

Here end the lessons. Blessed are they who hear the Word of God and keep it. Amen.

1 The Greek has “heart,” as also found in AC 2798.

 Bible Meanings Home

Sacrificing the First Born Son

Sacrificing the First Born Son

A Sermon by the Rev. James P. Cooper

Toronto – February 27, 2011

And Abraham built an altar then and placed wood in order; and he bound Isaac his son and laid him on the altar, upon the wood. And Abraham stretched out his hand and took the knife to slay his son. (Genesis 22:9,10)

Who among us would take a knife and kill a child to prove the strength of our religious belief? Which of us has enough trust in the Lord to follow Him even though the path seems at the time to be more difficult than we can bear? This powerful and frightening story of Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice his only son at the apparent command of his God not only speaks to one man’s trust in his God, but it is also a prophecy of God’s own sacrifice and victory over death on the cross. 

While Abram was a young man living in Ur of the Chaldees, God spoke to him and commanded him to take Sarai, his wife, and leave his ancestral home to search for his future and fortune in the land of Canaan. Abram travelled for many years, travelling through Canaan to Egypt, and then back to live among the Canaanites, trading and dealing with everyone he met on the way. Thanks to Jehovah’s help, he was extremely successful in his dealings, and soon possessed huge flocks and herds. Abram was a rich, powerful man, who only lacked a son, an heir to receive all this wealth. Sarai was barren, and yet God had made a covenant with Abram that if he would follow God’s commandments, then He would make a great nation of Abram’s descendants. 

However, as Abram and Sarai approached their old age, this promise must have seemed hollow to them, and so they resolved to take matters into their own hands. In order to produce an heir, Sarai gave Hagar her handmaiden to Abram. Since Hagar was Sarai’s property, anything owned or produced by Hagar belonged to Sarai – including any children. Therefore, Abram’s children by Hagar would be the legal heirs to his fortune. So, Hagar was given to Abram, and Ishmael was eventually born and received as Abram’s son and heir.

Later, when Abram was 99 and Ishmael was 13, the Lord returned to Abram to renew the promise of the great nation which would spring from Abram if he would follow the Lord’s commandments. He also then revealed the news which shocked Abraham – that this nation would not descend from Hagar’s son Ishmael, but from another son yet to be born to Sarah! As a sign and confirmation of this promise, the Lord changed Abram’s name to Abraham, and Sarai’s name to Sarah.

In Abraham’s 100th year, as God has promised, Sarah bore him a son, Isaac. Isaac’s birth put Ishmael and Hagar in a difficult situation, and we can see the measure of Abraham’s desire to have Isaac be a sole, legitimate heir by the fact that he sent Ishmael and Hagar into the desert to fend for themselves or die. And then, with Ishmael gone, the Lord tested Abraham’s trust and faith by apparently asking him to take his only remaining son, the son he had longed for all his life, and make a ritual human sacrifice.

We realize, of course, that the real intent of this command regards the story of the Lord’s glorification which is being revealed in the internal sense of the story, that God could never actually command anyone to kill their son as a gift of faith to make Him happy, as a purification rite, or as blood atonement. God is not a murderer.

We must digress for a moment and look carefully at this concept of blood atonement which is central to understanding of the doctrine of Redemption before going on with the story of Abraham’s temptation. Atonement is said to be “a harmonious relationship between God and Man, effected by Christ.” The traditional Christian theology behind this definition states that atonement is necessary because of the disruption of harmony that occurred in the Garden of Eden. The basic idea is that originally God and Mankind were in harmony, but mankind sinned and the harmony was destroyed, so atonement is the process whereby the harmony is restored. The Hebrew use of the term includes the idea of covering up, or wiping away. Passover is a good example of atonement, where a lamb was killed, and its blood placed on the doors of the houses as a sign of salvation.

The word sacrifice means “to make holy by killing:” and so we begin to see the whole concept of the Lamb of God in both the Hebrew and Christian Churches. The innocent being, made holy by ritual death, who washes away sins with the blood shed in death. This doctrine is the source of the doctrine that says that God gave His firstborn son as a sacrifice to wash away all sin in the world and restore the harmony that was lost when man first sinned in the garden of Eden, and that by His death Jesus imputes His righteousness to us through our faith alone.

Abraham apparently believed (and was encouraged in that belief by the religious rituals of the Canaanite people all around him) that God had to see Isaac’s blood to be happy. Many believe that Jehovah had to see Christ’s blood in order to be happy, to allow humans to be saved. Does the one make any more sense than the other?

In the New Church, we view the temptation of the cross in an entirely different light. Rather than ransoming off or appeasing an angry Jehovah, or wiping away all sin, past, present, and future, the Lord has, through His death on the cross, redeemed us, provided for us to be free to do what we want with our own lives. He did this by conquering the hells; by breaking their hold on man; by allowing His human body to die on the cross instead of coming down and miraculously healing and converting everyone in the world. He brought the whole spiritual world into order and restored spiritual equilibrium, which in turn restored to us our spiritual freedom. This is the atonement, the Redemption:  That we are neither born in sin, nor are we born in good, but that because of order in the spiritual world we are free to make of our lives whatever we wish, we are free to take any course in life we desire, as long as we are willing to accept the consequences.

The story of Abraham and Isaac is really the story of the Lord fighting the temptation of whether or not to let go of His human body. It represents the final temptation of the Lord while he was in the world, the temptation of the cross, for in this series Abraham represents the soul or Jehovah, while Isaac represents the body or Jesus.

Returning to the literal story, we find that Abraham travelled for three days to the place of sacrifice (See GEN 22:4), which, since the number “three” stands for what is complete, means that the preparation was complete and the next stage could begin. When Isaac asks his father, “where is the lamb for the burnt offering” (GEN 22:7), it represents a kind of rhetorical question that the Lord might have asked Himself:  “Where are those of the human race who are to be saved?” which is answered by Abraham when he says, “God will provide for Himself the lamb for a burnt offering” (GEN 22:8). This means the Divine Human will provide those who are to be sanctified.

Abraham placed wood on the altar, bound his son Isaac, and placed him on the wood. Then he reached out to take the knife and slay his son. This represents that the Lord was willing to take on the most grievous temptations so that He could conquer in them, expelling from Himself anything of a merely human nature until nothing remained except that which was from the Divine (See AC 2816).

The knife represents the truths of faith, which tells us that the Lord’s temptations were as to the truth of faith only. He could receive temptations regarding matters of rational thought in the human nature He assumed from Mary, but He was never tempted as to any love; for the Lord’s loves were all from the Divine, and therefore could not be tempted because they could not be approached or challenged by any spirit (See AC 2817).

The words, “to slay his son” (GEN 22:10), are a prophecy of the passion of the cross, the death of the physical body, and the final expulsion of all that which was merely human. These words signify the Lord’s most grievous and inmost temptations. We are told that Abraham did not actually slay Isaac because it was an abomination to sacrifice sons; but it was represented in the letter of the Word as far as it could be, that is, as to the intent and the attempt, although not as to the very act itself. In fact, we are told that the practice of human sacrifice among the Gentiles originated with their belief that the Lord would come into the world, endure temptations, and finally suffer death. They believed that by sacrificing their sons, they were both purified, and returned to harmony with God. It was because Abraham and his descendants were inclined to human sacrifice that the Lord instituted the rituals of animal sacrifice in their place (See AC 2828).

This story centres on trust. In the natural or historical sense, God had made a covenant with Abraham, had promised to make him a great nation. Now, God asked him to sacrifice his only son, a son miraculously born in his old age as a sign of his trust in God’s Providence. Abraham responded by binding his son, and taking the knife in hand to slay him.

In the inmost sense, also called the “Glorification Series”, the Lord Himself entered into His final combat of temptation where He knew that if He was to win, He must actually seem to lose, He must prevent the natural desires of the body to protect itself, no matter what, from disrupting His Divine purposes. It would not have been a temptation for Him if there was not some doubt in His mind that He might fail. He too had to trust that He had prepared Himself properly for this final combat.

We too must trust the Lord’s Providence and put our “sons” on the altar to slay them. We too must prepare ourselves for the battles of our lives and trust in our own ability to succeed.

Now, what do we mean by putting our “sons” on the altar? There are many different false ideas that we hold as dear as children, ideas that we might feel we’d rather die ourselves than give up. These false ideas are associated with the loves of self and the world. Under closer examination, many of these “sons” may be traditions or concepts learned in childhood that we have never really carefully examined, but just accepted as part of our world view. While many traditions and customs are perfectly fine, others have elements of the love of self and the world lurking within – “our” this, or “we always” do that.

After all, how else can we justify our selfish behaviour except with false ideas? We feel and believe that life is our own, to do with as we please. When we believe that life is our own, we take our own counsel in the place of the counsel provided in the Word. We think that we know what is best for ourselves, that anything that benefits us is what we really need. When we believe that life is our own we cannot focus on eternal goals, but become mostly interested in short-term benefits and end up doing those things that will provide the most pleasure and satisfaction right now, and let eternity worry about itself.

But life is most emphatically not our own. It is a continuously and eternally inflowing gift from God, and since life is not our own, even though He made it so that it feels to us as if it is our own, we have an obligation to the Giver to use it in the ways He intended.

Like the Lord, we must take our only son, our belief that life is our own, bind it, place it on the altar of worship towards the Lord in His Divine Human, reach out and take the knife of truth in our own hands, and kill the false son because that is what our God has asked us to do. To do so takes tremendous courage and trust in the Lord. If we can truly trust in the Lord, in the Word, and in our own strength to do the Lord’s will, we will be victorious in our temptations. The false son of the belief that life is our own can become the true son, the true idea when we acknowledge that life is from the Lord, and that He gives us the ability to feel it as our own as his special gift. The Lord stays our hand, for we have shown trust in Him, and gives us our son back, and much else besides.

When the Lord faced the temptation of the cross, He did not falter. He laid down His life for us, showing us that we had nothing to fear from death. He allowed His body to die, even though He had power to prevent it, so that He could conquer the hells that sought to bind Him and all mankind to the loves of the self and the world through the senses of the body. He broke the power of hell to bind men, and so redeemed us by giving us the freedom to choose for ourselves what our destiny would be. We can follow his example, and lay down not our physical bodies, but instead sacrifice our lusts for evil and the false idea that life is our own to do with as we please. Then we can be truly free, and become worthy of the kingdom of heaven.

“But the angel of the Lord called to him from heaven and said, ‘Abraham, Abraham.’ And he said, ‘Here I am.’ And He said, ‘Do not lay your hand on the lad, or do anything to him; for now I know that you fear God, seeing you have not withheld your son, your only son, from Me’” (Genesis 22:11,12). AMEN

First Lesson: John 3:9-21

Nicodemus answered and said to Him, “How can these things be?” {10} Jesus answered and said to him, “Are you the teacher of Israel, and do not know these things? {11} “Most assuredly, I say to you, We speak what We know and testify what We have seen, and you do not receive Our witness. {12} “If I have told you earthly things and you do not believe, how will you believe if I tell you heavenly things? {13} “No one has ascended to heaven but He who came down from heaven, that is, the Son of Man who is in heaven. {14} “And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up, {15} “that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life. {16} “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. {17} “For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved. {18} “He who believes in Him is not condemned; but he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God. {19} “And this is the condemnation, that the light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. {20} “For everyone practising evil hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed. {21} “But he who does the truth comes to the light, that his deeds may be clearly seen, that they have been done in God.”

Second Lesson: AC 2776:2,3

[2] It is generally believed at the present day that the burnt offerings and sacrifices were signs of the Lord’s passion, and that by His passion the Lord atoned for the iniquities of all. Indeed it is believed that He drew away those iniquities on to Himself, and thus bore them Himself, so that those who believe are made righteous and are saved, if only they think, even in the last hour prior to death, that the Lord suffered on their behalf, no matter how they may have lived throughout the whole course of their lives. But such beliefs are mistaken. The passion of the Cross was the utmost degree of temptation endured by the Lord, by means of which He fully united the Human to the Divine and the Divine to the Human, and by doing this glorified Himself. That union itself is the means by which people possessing faith in Him that is grounded in charity are able to be saved. For the Supreme Divine Itself was no longer able to reach the human race which had removed itself so far away from the celestial things of love, and from the spiritual things of faith, that people did not even recognize them any more, let alone perceive them. Consequently to enable the Supreme Divine to come down to all such as this, the Lord came into the world and united the Human to the Divine within Himself. This union could not have been effected except by means of the very severe conflicts brought about by temptations and by means of victories in these, and at length by means of the final temptation, which was that of the Cross.

[3] As a result of this the Lord is able from the Divine Human to enlighten human minds, even those that are quite remote from the celestial things of love, provided that faith grounded in charity is present in them. For in the next life the Lord appears to celestial angels as the Sun, and to spiritual angels as the Moon, 1053, 1521, 1529, 1530, 2441, 2495 – all the light of heaven flowing from Him. The light of heaven is such that when it enlightens the eyes of spirits and angels it also at the same time enlightens their understanding. This ability to enlighten the understanding also exists inherently within that light, so that the amount of internal light, that is, of understanding, which anyone possesses in heaven is the same as the amount of external light he has. This shows the way in which the light of heaven is different from the light of the world. It is the Lord’s Divine Human that enlightens both the eyes and the understanding of those who are spiritual, but this could never be done unless the Lord had united the Human Essence to the Divine Essence. And unless He had united them neither men in the world, nor indeed any spiritual angel in heaven, would any longer have possessed any ability to understand or to perceive that which is good or true. Nor thus would they have possessed any blessedness and happiness at all, nor consequently any salvation at all. From this it becomes clear that the human race could not have been saved unless the Lord had assumed the Human and glorified it.

 Bible Meanings Home

Forgiving Trespasses


A Sermon by the Rev. James P. Cooper

For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses (MAT 6:14, 15).

Our text for this morning is taken from the Sermon on the Mount; the verses that immediately follow the Lord’s Prayer. These words are extremely familiar to us as the responsive that follows the Lord’s Prayer in our services of worship: The minister says, “O Lord forgive us our trespasses,” and we respond, “as we forgive those who trespass against us.”

Forgiveness is an extremely important topic, because we are all affected by it in so many ways, and in so many different aspects of our lives. We look at the course of our own lives and we pray to the Lord for His forgiveness. We examine our relationships with family and friends and we become painfully aware of things that we have done to anger or hurt the ones we love – and we long for their forgiveness. Perhaps we even look deeply enough to see things that we profoundly regret that we have done to ourselves or to others against our better judgement, things that cause us to grieve, to say, “I’ll never be able to forgive myself for that.” We need to forgive ourselves so that we can be at peace with ourselves and get on with the uses of life.

All these kinds of forgiveness – from the Lord, from others, and from ourselves – have one thing in common: that we have done something that has caused offence to others and for which we need to be forgiven. This is the forgiveness that is given the most attention in the Heavenly Doctrines, for it specifically regards our personal relationship with the Lord.

However, there is another side to forgiveness that is just as important to our spiritual welfare, and that is that we must be forgiving to others.

While the natural world is governed by the Lord, yet He permits evil men to act, so that the evil can be seen, and rejected. If He did not allow men to express their evils, they would forever remain in the will, and would corrupt the spirit from within. Therefore, in order that a person can be saved from his evils, the Lord allows him to act them out. That means that things do not always happen the way we think they should. People try to say one thing, and something else is heard. A friendly jest made in passing strikes deeply into an unsuspected emotional wound and causes extreme pain instead laughter.

We could go on at some length compiling a list of the ways in which we can offend people without intending it, or even knowing that it has happened, but the picture should be clear enough by now. Giving and receiving offences is a fact of life in the natural world. These offences lead us to feelings of anger, enmity and even hatred towards those with whom we live and work. Everyone can immediately see that feelings of anger, enmity, and revenge make it impossible to act in charity toward the neighbour, and since the life of religion is to do good, these angry feelings actually remove us from a life of religion. Forgiveness is the only salve for these painful emotional wounds.

The Heavenly Doctrines of the New Church tell us that in the other world new spirits sometimes do or say what is wrong. Spirits who intend evil to another and then act on it are severely punished. However, good spirits, if they happen to speak something unkind or thoughtless, or do something that has been forbidden, are not punished, but pardoned and excused; for it was not their intention to do evil. The angels know that the evil actions were excited in them by the hells, so it is not judged to be their fault. The nature of their intention can be determined by whether or not the spirit has resisted the act on previous occasions, and, if he has failed in his resistance, by whether he was obviously grieved by his failure. (Remember that in the spiritual world no one is able to be hypocritical, their true nature shines forth from their face for all to read.) These are the signs that the angels use to judge a spirit’s intentions. We can use these same signs (resisting beforehand and grief if there is failure) ourselves in our everyday relationships with other unregenerate human beings (See AC 6559).

It has happened to every one of us that an unkind word, or an evil act has simply popped out before we could do anything about it. If it’s a minor thing, we can sometimes smooth it over with a quick and sincere apology. Since it has happened to all of us, we should then be able to recognize in the abstract that the same thing can, and does, happen to anyone – and when it does, it is no more their fault than it was when you did it.

As long as we are not personally involved we can stand aloof, be objective, and try to calm the angry parties down. We frequently excuse one person’s actions to another by saying, “yes, I heard what he said, but he didn’t mean it that way…”

This is even easier to see when we think of an adult trying to settle an argument between squabbling children. We find it so easy to tell the children to stop being angry at each other because the offences were not intended. We insist that they stop being so silly, that they make-up, and be friends.

It is much more difficult for us to be calm and objective about a situation where we are personally involved, because our built in defences are immediately called into play. Sometimes we think it is more important to find someone to blame than it is to solve the problem. The Lord created us with a strong love of self so that we could defend, care for, and educate ourselves. It was intended to be controlled by the rational adult mind and be fully subservient to the loves of the Lord and the neighbour. However, very few of us can say that our self-love is under our full rational control. Instead, it intrudes into our lives, blinding us to reasonable explanations, turning us away from peaceful solutions, and making us feel angry and vengeful instead.

Our text tells us two essential truths about forgiveness. First it tells us that the Lord wills to forgive us for those things which we have done against His commandments, and secondly, it tells us that in order to receive the Lord’s forgiveness – which every one of us needs – we must first forgive those who have offended us. We may be able to see that we should forgive those who have offended us, but not know how. We might be able to say, “I forgive you” but find that the anger still burns within, the grudge is still carried. How can we forgive in such a way that we feel better for it ourselves? We must look to the Lord’s own example for our answer.

The Lord tells us that He can forgive any sin, except one: blasphemy against the Holy Spirit. Blasphemy against the Holy Spirit cannot be forgiven because it is in effect the denial that the Lord has the power to save. If a person denies that the Lord has the power to save him, or if he believes that he does not need to be saved, he will not ask for forgiveness. Since we know that the Lord preserves and protects our spiritual freedom above all else, it can be seen that the Lord will not forgive a man who does not wish to be forgiven, who does not ask for His help. The Lord can forgive any sin, He can help a person out of any trouble if only that person sincerely asks for His help. This is why blasphemy against the Holy Spirit cannot be forgiven: it is not the Lord who refuses to forgive, but the man who refuses to seek the Lord’s help. The Lord will not enter a person’s life without an invitation.

We should try to adopt the Lord’s attitude, to learn from His example. We need to cultivate a forgiving attitude in ourselves, be willing to forgive any offence. This is, of course, extremely difficult to do at first, since our emotions become stirred so quickly – but it might be helpful to remember the arguing children and try to ask ourselves, when offences come, if we really believe that the other person intended to cause harm. And, if we believe that there was no intention of harm, what then were they trying to do? We may find that in most cases where we take offence that there never was any real offence to be forgiven!

In our third lesson, we read about three degrees of hatred. The first, signified by being “angry without cause,” is to have evil thoughts about another person, and could be exemplified by common gossip – telling stories that show people in an unflattering light. The second degree of hatred, signified by saying “Raca” is to intend evil for another, and could be exemplified by slander – telling what we know to be lies to harm the reputation of another. The third degree, signified by saying “Thou Fool” is the evil will, which would lead to harmful action towards another. In forgiveness, each of these three degrees of anger and hatred must be met by the appropriate degree of love and charity. We need to be prepared to counter evil thoughts with good thoughts, evil intentions with good intentions, and evil will with good will.

As we saw in the parable of the Unforgiving Servant in our first lesson, and as can also be seen in many other places in the New Testament, the Lord wants us to forgive others in the same way He will forgive us. And in the same way the Lord fails when a man chooses to refuse His forgiveness and join others like himself in hell, we too will sometimes fail in our relationships with other people. We may be willing to forgive, but they cannot bring themselves to ask for it. It is unfortunately true that there are people who, for one reason or another, act as if they either don’t care about the feelings of others, or else they seem to enjoy hurting their feelings. There is not much we can do about such people, for that is the path which they have freely chosen for themselves, except to hope that they may eventually see the light and change their lives.

There is not one of us who has gone through life without making a mistake, without doing something that causes pain and grief to another, pain that we certainly did not intend. We need to look at the deeds and words of others as we would have them look at ours. We need to try to look at the words and deeds of others in the same way that the angels look at the words and deeds of new spirits in the other life. We need to recognize that the feelings of anger, enmity, and hatred that we feel come from hell specifically so that they can destroy charity while at the same time appealing to our loves of self. We must be as aware of these feelings and shun them as we would adultery, theft, or murder – for they are just as dangerous to our spiritual life.

We must even judge ourselves honestly according to the actual intentions we had at the time, and not according to facts that only came to light after the action had already been taken. The Lord judges us only according to the intentions of our hearts, and forgives all those who ask for mercy, provided that they themselves have during their life in this world, conscientiously practised mercy and forgiveness.

For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses (text). AMEN.

First Lesson: MAT 18:21-35

Then Peter came to Him and said, “Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? Up to seven times?” {22} Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven. {23} “Therefore the kingdom of heaven is like a certain king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants. {24} “And when he had begun to settle accounts, one was brought to him who owed him ten thousand talents. {25} “But as he was not able to pay, his master commanded that he be sold, with his wife and children and all that he had, and that payment be made. {26} “The servant therefore fell down before him, saying, ‘Master, have patience with me, and I will pay you all.’ {27} “Then the master of that servant was moved with compassion, released him, and forgave him the debt. {28} “But that servant went out and found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii; and he laid hands on him and took him by the throat, saying, ‘Pay me what you owe!’ {29} “So his fellow servant fell down at his feet and begged him, saying, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you all.’ {30} “And he would not, but went and threw him into prison till he should pay the debt. {31} “So when his fellow servants saw what had been done, they were very grieved, and came and told their master all that had been done. {32} “Then his master, after he had called him, said to him, ‘You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you begged me. {33} ‘Should you not also have had compassion on your fellow servant, just as I had pity on you?’ {34} “And his master was angry, and delivered him to the torturers until he should pay all that was due to him. {35} “So My heavenly Father also will do to you if each of you, from his heart, does not forgive his brother his trespasses.”

Second Lesson: LUK 6:20-38

Then He lifted up His eyes toward His disciples, and said: “Blessed are you poor, For yours is the kingdom of God. {21} Blessed are you who hunger now, For you shall be filled. Blessed are you who weep now, For you shall laugh. {22} Blessed are you when men hate you, And when they exclude you, And revile you, and cast out your name as evil, For the Son of Man’s sake. {23} Rejoice in that day and leap for joy! For indeed your reward is great in heaven, For in like manner their fathers did to the prophets. {24} “But woe to you who are rich, For you have received your consolation. {25} Woe to you who are full, For you shall hunger. Woe to you who laugh now, For you shall mourn and weep. {26} Woe to you when all men speak well of you, For so did their fathers to the false prophets. {27} “But I say to you who hear: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, {28} “bless those who curse you, and pray for those who spitefully use you. {29} “To him who strikes you on the one cheek, offer the other also. And from him who takes away your cloak, do not withhold your tunic either. {30} “Give to everyone who asks of you. And from him who takes away your goods do not ask them back. {31} “And just as you want men to do to you, you also do to them likewise. {32} “But if you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. {33} “And if you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. {34} “And if you lend to those from whom you hope to receive back, what credit is that to you? For even sinners lend to sinners to receive as much back. {35} “But love your enemies, do good, and lend, hoping for nothing in return; and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High. For He is kind to the unthankful and evil. {36} “Therefore be merciful, just as your Father also is merciful. {37} “Judge not, and you shall not be judged. Condemn not, and you shall not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven. {38} “Give, and it will be given to you: good measure, pressed down, shaken together, and running over will be put into your bosom. For with the same measure that you use, it will be measured back to you.”

Third Lesson: AE 746f. [18]

That one who thinks ill of his neighbor without adequate cause, and turns himself away from the good of charity, will be punished lightly as to his soul, is signified by “Whosoever is angry with his brother without cause shall be liable to the judgment;” “to be angry,” signifies to think ill, for it is distinguished from “saying Raca,” and “saying Thou fool.” “Brother” means the neighbor, and also the good of charity, and “to be liable to the judgment” means to be examined and to be punished according to circumstances. That one who from wrong thought slanders the neighbor, and thus despises the good of charity as of little value, will be punished grievously, is signified by “whosoever shall say to his brother, Raca, shall be liable to the council,” for “to say Raca” signifies to slander the neighbor from evil thought, thus to hold the good of charity to be of little value. That one who hates the neighbor, that is, one who is altogether averse to the good of charity, is condemned to hell, is signified by “whosoever shall say, Thou fool, shall be liable to the hell of fire.” These three describe three degrees of hatred, the first is from evil thought, which is “to be angry,” the second is from consequent evil intention, which is “to say Raca,” and the third is from an evil will, which is “to say Thou fool.” All these are degrees of hatred against the good of charity, for hatred is the opposite of the good of charity. Amen.

 Bible Meanings Home

Doing Your Best

Doing Your Best

A Sermon by James P. Cooper

To obey is better than sacrifice, and to heed (is better) than the fat of rams (1SA 15:22).

One of the things that we all love to do is to sit around with our friends and talk about the future. We love to make big plans about the things we hope to do, the places we hope to visit in our travels, the things we want to do next year in school. Everyone likes to make exciting plans for the future. But when we think about the various people we know, who are the ones we admire? Those who are able to tell a great story, to make a fabulous plan, but who never actually gets around to doing anything; or do we really admire the quiet friend who is always doing interesting and useful things?

One of the best things about Scouting (and there are many good things) is the emphasis on doing. Yes, there is some book learning: some of the badges, by their very nature, seem like school reports. But most of the badges, most of the learning that you do as Cubs and Scouts is for the purpose of giving you the knowledge that you need to do something practical, something that will be helpful to you, or to others: like backwoods cooking, pioneering skills, or life-saving.

One of the qualities that makes people very special, distinct from the other animals of the world, is that they love to learn new things throughout their lives. The little baby crawling on the floor and putting everything it finds into its mouth is trying to learn about the world through its most developed sense, the sense of taste. The little boy taking the clock apart to see how it works–and not being able to put it back together again; the teen-ager learning to drive a car; the business man going to a seminar to learn new ways to improve his business–all demonstrate how important learning is to human beings, that it is something that we keep doing throughout our lives. When we stop learning, we stop growing. But again, just knowing something isn’t enough. The whole point of learning is to prepare yourself to do something that is of benefit to somebody.

The Lord Himself teaches the importance of following through, of doing what you know you should do, in a number of places in the Word. In the the first book of Samuel we read about how king Saul lost his kingdom because he didn’t do his best. God had sent the prophet Samuel to command Saul to take the armies of Israel and to utterly destroy the Amalekite nation to punish them for the terrible things they had done to the children of Israel when they were trying to find their way into Canaan after fleeing from Egypt. King Saul was specifically commanded by God to utterly destroy all that they have, and do not spare them. But kill both man and woman, infant and nursing child, ox and sheep, camel and donkey (1SA 15:3).

King Saul led his army into the battle, and the children of Israel were victorious. They captured Agag, the king of the Amalekites–but they did not kill him. They destroyed most of the possessions of the Amalekites, but they kept the best of the sheep, the best of the oxen, the lambs, and everything that they thought was nice. They only destroyed the things that were worthless to them (See 1SA 15:9).

When the Lord saw how Saul and the army of Israel had disobeyed His commandments, He once again sent the prophet Samuel to Saul to confront the king with his disobedience. As unbelievable as it sounds, the first thing Saul said when he saw Samuel coming, as he stood there surrounded by the animals he had been commanded to destroy, was “I have performed the commandment of the Lord!” (1SA 15:13) When Samuel challenged him, asking where all the sheep and oxen came from, Saul told him that the people had wanted to keep some of the animals to sacrifice to the Lord.

This made Samuel very angry because Saul had let his desire to keep the valuable animals lead him into disobeying the clear commandments of God, and then lying about it. Saul tried again to cover up, saying that he had obeyed by capturing Agag and destroying the Army, even though the command had been to kill Agag, and then he tried to shift the blame onto others by saying that it was the people who took the animals, and that he had been unable to prevent it.

King Saul was trying to excuse their disobedience by saying that they stole the animals so they could make a sacrifice to the Lord! They did something that would make God unhappy so that they could do something else to make Him happy again. It’s like stealing money to buy your parents a present to make them happy again after they find out that you stole the money. That doesn’t make any sense, does it? Wouldn’t it have been better for Saul to just do what the Lord commanded in the first place?

That’s what Samuel thought. He told Saul that the Lord does not really care for burnt offerings and sacrifices, but He cares for our obedience. He said, to obey is better than sacrifice (1SA 15:22). The Lord is trying to tell us through this story in the His Word that empty gestures are of no spiritual value to your life. It doesn’t matter what you say you are going to do, what matters to God is what you actually do.

Jesus Himself gave us a parable that teaches about this when he said, A man had two sons, and he came to the first and said, ‘Son, go, work today in my vineyard.’ He answered and said, ‘I will not,’ but afterward he regretted it and went. Then he came to the second and said likewise. And he answered and said, ‘I go, sir,’ but he did not go. Which of the two did the will of his father? (MAT 21:28-32)

Those who were with Jesus answered correctly when they said that it was the first son who did the will of his father, for this simple story makes the point so very clear that anyone can see the point that the Lord is making: There are two boys who are asked to do something. One says he will do it, but does not; while the other says that he won’t, then does it after all. Since their father wanted some work done, the son who actually does the work is the one who did the will of his father, no matter what each of them may have said. In other words, it’s not what you say, but what you actually do that counts.

Everybody has broken a bone–or knows someone who has. Think about what happens to a person who breaks their arm and has to have it put in plaster for several weeks. Although you get used to having the plaster on, towards the end you are really anxious for it to come off so you can move your arm around freely again. The great day arrives, the plaster comes off–and you can’t move your arm! It stays in place as if the plaster is still there. The muscles have become stiff and inflexible through lack of use. You have to gently stretch them, get them moving again, and over a period of several weeks, exercise them until they regain their former strength and flexibility.

This is an example of a very important law of nature: that if you don’t use something, you will lose it. If you bind your arm so that you cannot use it, it will eventually wither away and become permanently useless. This is why people who wish to keep fit need to exercise their muscles regularly to keep them strong and flexible.

The same thing is true of our minds. When I was fifteen years old and in the Sea Scouts, I took a course to learn how to safely navigate our ship along the coast and in the bays and harbors of the northeastern United States. While I was still in the Sea Scouts and regularly helping to take our ship from one place to another, the things that I learned from the books became very real and important to me, because I was using them. But today, sadly, I hardly remember any of it. I do remember some of the principles of navigation which apply to other things, but the detail is lost. I stopped using it, so I lost it.

The same principles apply in our moral and spiritual life. We can make all the plans we want about how we are going to change our life; we can learn all kinds of wonderful truths about life and about God; but they don’t mean anything unless we put them to use, unless they are regularly exercised so they remain flexible and strong.

At the end of every Cub meeting, Akela says, “Cubs, do your best.” And the Cubs respond, “We will do our best!” And every Scout has promised on his honor to “do his duty to God and Country.” The whole structure and concept of Scouting is to help and encourage young people to learn new things that excite the mind and broaden their view of the world and the people who live in it. But all the learning in the world, no matter how interesting, means nothing unless it is put into action.

King Saul did not understand that. He thought that as long as he said the right things, and went through the correct motions, that he could do pretty much what he wanted. Unfortunately for Saul, he was quite wrong, and as a result the kingdom was taken away from him and given to David instead.

When God came to earth to take on a human body and teach us directly, He taught the same lesson over and over, in many different ways. He taught us that it was not enough to proclaim our love to God, but that we had to obey the commandments, avoid loving the world for its own sake, to care for others, and to do all these things because He has asked us to.

Everyone of us, whether we are involved in Scouting or not, can benefit from remembering these ideas. For each of us to take our proper place in this world, a place where by our efforts we can add to the comfort, safety and well-being of others, we must do our best to put the principles of our lives into effect, to live our lives every day to the benefit of others. As the Lord taught in the 25th Chapter of the gospel of Matthew, then the King will say to those on His right hand, ‘Come, you blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world: for I was hungry and you gave Me food; I was thirsty and you gave Me drink; I was a stranger and you took Me in; I was naked and you clothed Me; I was sick and you visited Me; I was in prison and you came to Me.’ Then the righteous will answer Him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry and feed You, or thirsty and give You drink? When did we see You a stranger and take You in, or naked and clothe You? Or when did we see You sick, or in prison, and come to You?’ And the King will answer and say to them, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me.’ (v. 34-40) AMEN.

Lessons: 1SA 15:1-23, MAT 21:23-32, LIFE 1