REMEMBER LOT’S WIFE
A Sermon by Rev Frederick M ChapinJune 26, 1994
In that day, he who is on the housetop, and his goods are in the house, let him not come down to take them away. And likewise the one who is in the field, let him not turn back. Remember Lot’s wife. (Lk 17: 31&32)
Backsliding is a common word used throughout Christian circles. It usually refers to a person who made some progress in living a Christian life, only to resume an evil habit or way of life. Backsliding is not heard much in New Church circles, nor is the general subject of resuming a former way of life talked about a great deal. However, we must never be led into a false sense of security. It is very possible to re- enter into our former ways regardless of how much progress we may have made in our spiritual growth. This very real possibility prompted the Lord to issue the warning found in our text, “Remember Lot’s wife”. (Lk 17:32)
The incident the Lord referred to is very well known in the book of Genesis. In the story, Lot and his family were escaping from the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. They were plainly warned not to look back upon the burning of the cities. However, as they were fleeing, Lot’s wife looked back and became a pillar of salt.
The Writings explain that Lot’s wife looking behind illustrates a person focusing upon truths and not upon the good. Such a person focuses upon doctrinal things and not upon the good itself. As a result, such a person is more in a state of obedience and not in a state of love. The emphasis is placed not upon the quality of life, but primarily upon the doctrinal beliefs. This is a step backwards. Instead of living a charitable life from a love
of the Lord and other people, it is done primarily to obey the doctrinal teachings of one’s faith.
Such a person than becomes “a pillar of salt”. The word for “pillar” in the Hebrew means to stand still or be stationary. This is the description of one’s understanding of truth that is said to be made empty. It does not move forward. It is said to be empty because there is no genuine love within it. There is no desire or intention of being conjoined with the Lord or of being of genuine service towards other people. The understanding of truth is just a fact known that may be complied with merely for self advantage or fear of the consequences.
The Writings explain that we can prevent such a spiritual retreat by renouncing all things of self and of the world, and especially by loving the Lord above all things. If there is anything that is loved more than the Lord, there is a vastation or emptying of life within an understanding of truth. This is what the Lord meant when He once said, “If the salt has lost its flavor with what shall it be salted? It is good for nothing but to be trampled under foot by men.” (Ref) Such is the representation of truth if there are not good loves within it.
New Church doctrine teaches that a person spiritually grows in two ways. First, through obedience to truth. Secondly, through a love of doing good for the sake of what is good. The first way, which is obedience is designed to introduce one into a delight of living a life of charity from affection. At first, we must compel ourselves to do what is right. However, we are to reach a point that we do good from a genuine desire to be of service and benefit towards others. This is the second way, and one that is to be a permanent condition all throughout eternity.
Once we have reached a point in our spiritual development that we love what truth teaches, we are not to retreat into a state of merely obeying truth. Instead, we should seek a greater eagerness to do good and useful things and continually find less compulsion in doing them. The Writings explain that the key in not going backwards in spiritual development is to always hold evil things in aversion. The more we find evil intentions and practices abhorring, the less we need to compel ourselves not to do them. Once we abhor an evil, we must take care that we do not find it attractive again.
The Writings also give another important teaching about what happens to our evil affections and desires when they are put away. The appearance is that they are separated from us. It seems as if we can no longer be afflicted with them. They no longer have any communication with us. But we are clearly told that our past evils are still attached to us. As we refuse to indulge in evil affections because they are sins against the Lord, they are pushed to the sides of our minds. As they are removed to the outskirts, they are made more and more quiescent. As they are made more inactive, the appearance to us is that they are no longer with us. However, we must remind ourselves that these past evil states are still attached to us, despite the appearance.
Thankfully, the Writings also give us teachings that can insure that our former evil ways remain quiescent, and do not become active again. One passage in the Writings teaches that as evil loves are at the outskirts of our lives, they also must be looking downward. If they look upward, they are active and ready to resume their place in the center of our lives. The Writings explain that when we have a desire that we could still engage in our former way of life, than our evils may be towards the outside of our lives, but they are alert, because we still have a desire for them. But when we find them disgusting and recognize the harm that they can do, than they are doormat in the periphery of our spirits. This is why the Lord instills a conscience into us as we love what is good because it is good. Our conscience produces a remorse of guilt when we tend to resume our old practices. Nevertheless, if we do not heed this sense of remorse, and continue to engage in the practice, the sense of guilt will lessen, and we will find ourselves back to what we were doing before. This is why it is vitally important that we recognize that our past evils do remain with us, and that we can create the opportunity for them to return into an active life within us.
One of keys in keeping our former evils from griping us is to strive to always have an attraction for what is good. The Writings openly state that longing is the force behind love. If we think about it, when we love something or someone, there is usually a longing for something that motivates and inspires it. This longing is the force that keeps the love delightful and invigorating. However, if our love for what is good loses its longing, than the inspiration to do good gradually expires. If in our marriages, we would lose the longing to make our spouse happy, joy in our marriages would soon evaporate. If in our employments there was no longer the longing to be an honest and productive worker, our satisfaction with our jobs would quickly deteriorate. Likewise, in our spiritual development, if there was no longer a perpetual desire to perform a use from a love of good, our enjoyment to do that good would lessen, whereby we would tend to go back to our former way of life.
For the most part, we are not fully aware if we are complying with the dictates of our doctrine from obedience or from love. However, one key step that we can take to try to insure that we are living a life of charity from love is not to reason about the necessity of truth. If we reach a point in our spiritual lives where we do good things for others from a spontaneous desire to help other people, we must not retreat and go back to thinking and reasoning if this attitude of life is the right approach to have. If we find ourselves thinking about whether or not we should continue in trying to do good things for those around us, we are to remember Lot’s wife. We must strive to remain and have the commitment perpetually grow of worshipping the Lord in sincerity and being a truly charitable person to those we come in contact with. And if we are confronted with a resurgence of our past evils, we must remember the injustice and cruelty that will result if we engage in it. This reminder will insure that our attitude is always looking upward to heaven, and not downward toward the earth.
A state of obedience and self-compulsion does have a vital place in everyone’s spiritual growth. Every person must first go through a period of self- compulsion in obeying the Lord’s commandments before a love of the Lord’s teachings is developed. However, we are to emerge from the condition of compulsion in living a life of charity. We are not to remain steadfast within it on a permanent basis. We gradually must be in a state where we perform good and honorable deeds primarily for the good and the benefits that it can give to others. The Writings say one of the ways we can pass through the state of compulsion to do good is not to look for a reward for our charitable acts. The less personal reimbursement is a factor in living a life of charity, the more our good deeds and efforts are done in sincerity. The more we find the thought of reward creeping in as a condition to do what is good, the more we are to remember Lot’s wife.
Salt is given a negative representation when presented in the context of backsliding, or the vastation of truth. However, salt can also have a good representation when in the context of a life of good for the sake of good. Salt is known for its conjunctive abilities. Therefore, it illustrates the conjunction of good and truth. When this conjunction takes place in our lives, we are spiritually strong and effective. We must not go back and separate the two, whereby the Lord’s Word becomes empty and our spiritual lives becomes a pillar of salt. Instead, when a desire to do good is within our understanding of truth, we are healed. One definition that the Writings give for healing is the conjunction of good and truth in one’s life. If we remain steadfast, day by day, in the desire not to go back but continually move forward in life towards an ever greater conjunction with the Lord, we than are able to proclaim these words of the Psalmist “Oh, sing to the Lord a new song! Sing to the Lord, all the earth. Sing to the Lord, bless His name; Proclaim the good news of His salvation from day to day. Declare His glory among the nations. His wonders among all peoples. (Ps 96:1-3)