SEEING IN THE LIGHT OF WISDOM
A Sermon by Rev Eric H. CarswellPreached in Glenview, IllinoisMay 21, 1995
“So I wept much, because no one was found worthy to open and read the scroll, or to look at it. But one of the elders said to me, Do not weep. Behold, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has prevailed to open the scroll and to loose its seven seals'” (Revelation 5:4-5).
The book of Revelation is special to the New Church. When understood in its internal sense it presents a vivid picture of why and how the New Church came into existence. It presents a picture of what we who aspire to be members of that church need to look at, what we care about, what we think and what we do. This sermon will focus on the opening of the seven seals, the sounding of the seven trumpets and the pouring out of the seven plagues described in the middle chapters of the book of Revelation.
The whole book of Revelation, when properly understood, helps us to see the Lord as a loving God who is reaching out to people, calling them to Him. It helps us to see the importance of understanding what is true and good. It helps us to see the nature of evil and its influence on religious people. And it helps us to see the way the Lord’s kingdom can be, in heaven and on earth.
Understanding the book of Revelation is not a matter of knowing about a single event, the Last Judgment. The spiritual dynamics of that event, which the New Church asserts has already occurred, have a direct counterpart in our daily lives. The better we understand how the Lord showed His loving care for all people through His role in the Last Judgment, the better we can see how He can care for and lead us.
One of the great false ideas about God is that He is angry at people who do evil and punishes them. If the book of Revelation is read on a merely superficial basis, it seems to support this point of view. The opening of the seven seals, the sounding of the seven trumpets, and the pouring out of the seven plagues, obviously coming from God, are related to numerous disasters, and much destruction. It seems that God causes this destruction as a punishment for the wicked. This is not how God expresses His infinite love. Many people nevertheless act from the idea that it is justified to be angry at people who do bad things and that it is right and good to cause them loss and pain, real or psychological. For example, we know that certain kinds of gossip can tremendously harm a person’s reputation and ability to be useful, but there is a part of faulty human nature that sees “out-of-step” behavior as bad and wrong, thereby justifying our destructive discussion of it and sharing it far and wide. It’s a secret and indirect punishment for the person who has broken some principle of accepted behavior. If this kind of gossip is widespread it can poison at least a segment of a social group and produce an environment in which people do not feel safe or able to trust that they won’t be the next victims of general criticism, shared disapproval, and subtle social sanction.
The book of Revelation describes a condition in which many things are not what they seem. Many things which on the surface look good and useful are actually empty and lifeless, and because they don’t look this way they are evil and destructive. If we could accurately discriminate between fantasy and reality we would make better decisions. For example, how can a middle-aged man contemplate abandoning his wife, family and social connections to marry a much younger woman? He does so because he thinks he will find more happiness with her than with his whole previous life. Typically he is unhappy with his life and believes that the solution is a new relationship. He looks at his previous married life and sees dreariness and unfulfilling effort. He looks at his new relationship and sees freshness and excitement, something that is more spontaneous; here is a new woman that he wants to go out of his way for and who seems to appreciate him more. His adultery looks like heaven and his marriage looks like a dreary hell. He believes his new relationship will have none of the flaws of his present one. He is pursuing a fantasy. If he makes his decision on this fantasy he will be hurt and so will his wife, his children, and in a sense so will all the people whose lives interact with his. His opting out of his marriage vows will tend to further erode their sacred quality and binding nature, making it easier for others to be seduced by a similar fantasy.
Fantasy can also exist on a much smaller and more mundane level. Take for example a woman who is regularly late or who regularly fails to fulfill her commitments, and yet when she is called to account, she always has reasons or excuses as to why it isn’t her fault. It was someone else’s fault, or it was just bad luck, or some natural thing failed, like her alarm clock even though she set it properly. Rarely is anything her fault and consequently she takes little or no responsibility for remedying the situation or trying to change. She sees the problem as entirely outside of herself. Things just happen. When she looks at herself she sees a picture of blameless decisions and actions. She sees a fantasy, which if it remains unchanged, will cause herself and others inconvenience and harm. If she is going to change, her eyes need to be opened.
It is the Lord’s desire that we see what is real. By seeing reality, we can make better decisions. When we base our decisions on fantasies or misperceptions, we hurt ourselves and others.
The book of Revelation specifically describes a condition when reality had been twisted. This occurred in a place that is part of the life after death. After a person’s natural body ceases to live, the person’s spirit awakens with a new body in a place intermediate between heaven and hell. This place is called the world of spirits. Here as in this world, at least initially, good and evil people are all mixed together and can live side by side. When a person’s true nature shows itself and he or she is given a choice of good and true things or evil and false ones, there is a spontaneous and natural judgment separating that spirit from those who react differently. The saying “birds of a feather flock together” describes this separation. But this separation can take place only if reality is seen, only if the light of heaven shines into the world of spirits. The book of Revelation describes a time when that was not occurring. Instead the spirits of people who had chosen evil things as their primary goals kept their true quality hidden. They made it appear as though they were among those blessed by God and that they were already in heaven. They created a false world of cities, trees, rivers, and so forth all of them beautiful but in reality they were fantasies of evil and false things.
John, the narrator of the book, describes seeing a scroll sealed with seven seals and weeping because no one could open it. This scroll represents how the Word of God had been so twisted and obscured by human invention that its fundamental truth was hidden. Historically, traditional Christian explanations of God as three persons, and subsequent explanations of salvation based on earning heaven by attending the right church and doing the right things, or salvation entirely by an intellectual faith apart from what a person cares about, thinks and does, had so clouded the fundamental messages of obedience to God, and love and service to the neighbor that they were lost.
The opening of the seven seals by the Lord represents the initial step necessary for genuine truth to be seen once again. The Word of the Lord needs to be present in our minds and understood before we can possibly see through the fantasies that our own unenlightened eyes would show us. The horses and riders seen as the first four seals are opened describe the progressive loss of true understanding and concern for what is good that can occur in a person’s life or the life of a church. The fifth seal was opened and John described seeing a vision of souls at the foot of an altar mourning their state. These souls represent people who were good but unable to recognize the fantasy of evil. In our own lives they are like the good motives and concerns that can get linked to evil ones and false ideas. Until they can see their proper place they are stuck where they are and change would destroy them. For example, righteous and angry punishment is often connected to something true or good. If the destructiveness of the anger is pointed out to the person, he can respond, “So are you saying I just should not care about the bad thing she was doing?” It seems there is no choice but either to be destructively angry or to decide there is no problem. But this is not reality. The Lord preserved the souls under the altar until the real truth could be seen and their goodness could be preserved. This is also the meaning behind the sealing of the 144,000. It represents a preservation of goodness that is initially too weak and obscure to remain unmixed and untainted by evil and false ideas. Children and teens often show this faulty mixture in their attitudes and decisions. They can simultaneously mix high ideals and short-term, self-centered, natural thinking, such as in their unwillingness to tell the truth if it will get a friend into trouble. Attacking the flaw can sometimes seem to them to attack the ideal of friendship and loyalty.
The sounding of the seven trumpets represents an exploration and opening up of what is real. As the light of truth once again shone forth in the world of spirits, the fantasy that had been accepted as reality was revealed to be quite different. The Lord wants each of us to see through similar fantasies within our own lives. We tend to excuse and even value goals, habits of thought and actions that can be terribly destructive to our own long-term happiness and can be terribly hurtful to others. This destructive life that seems so natural is what the Lord referred to when He said, “He who saves his life shall lose it and he who loses his life for My sake shall find it” (Matthew 16:25).
The pouring out of the seven plagues represents that the evil fled out of the world of spirits and found their proper place in hell. Genuine evil cannot take the presence of goodness and truth. It wants either to control it, destroy it or get away from it. The Lord didn’t have to cast anyone into hell. He just needed to have something of His love and wisdom draw near to the evil in the world of spirits, and they could not stand to remain in its presence. The Lord hadn’t done it earlier because the good who had been mixed with the evil would have been hurt also.
In our own lives, when we see things as they really are, decisions are easy. When we see and acknowledge that a course of thought or action will hurt us and others, it isn’t hard to turn from it. Evil has its greatest power by appearing to be different from what it really is. It wants to seem beneficial or at least harmless. When seen for its true nature, this fantasy falls away.
May we pray for the light of truth in our own lives. May we seek a knowledge of the Lord’s Word and not just a collection of facts that can be used for intellectual discussion, but a living set of ideas that we use in daily life. May the Word be an open book for us. May we use it to reflect on our thoughts and intentions. May we use it to examine the courses of action that we contemplate. May the light of truth reveal the fantasies of evil that we may with strength and conviction turn from them and to the Lord and the life of heaven. Amen.
Lessons: Revelation 6:1-11, Apocalypse Revealed 320-322
Apocalypse Revealed 320-322
Verse 8.”And I saw, and behold, a pale horse” signifies the understanding of the Word destroyed both as to good and as to truth. “A horse” signifies the understanding of the Word (n. 298), and “pale” signifies no vitality. In the Word this want of vitality is predicated of those who are not in goods of life from truths of doctrine; for the Word, in the sense of the letter, is not understood without doctrine, and doctrine is not perceived without a life according to it; the reason is that a life according to doctrine which is from the Word opens the spiritual mind when light flows into it from heaven and enlightens and gives to perceive. That this is the case he does not know who knows truths of doctrine and yet does not live according to them. The reason why “the fourth animal” showed “a pale horse” was that that animal was like “a flying eagle,” and by it was signified the Divine truth of the Word as to knowledges and understanding therefrom (n. 244).Therefore he showed that with those who were now seen there were no knowledges of good and truth from the Word, nor any understanding of them, and such in the spiritual world appear pale, like those who are without life.
“And his name that sat upon him was Death, and hell followed with him” signifies the extinction of spiritual life, and thence damnation. By “death” is here signified spiritual death, which is the extinction of spiritual life; and by “hell” is signified damnation, which follows that death. Every man indeed has from creation, and therefore from birth, spiritual life, but that life is extinguished when he denies God, the holiness of the Word, and eternal life; it is extinguished in the will but remains in the understanding, or rather in the faculty of understanding. By this man is distinguished from beasts. As “death” signifies the extinction of spiritual life, and “hell” damnation thence, therefore “death and hell” in some passages are named together, as in these: “I will redeem them from the hand of hell; I will liberate them from death: O death, I will be thy plagues; O hell, I will be thy destruction” (Hosea 13:14).
“The cords of death encompassed me; the cords of hell encompassed me; the snares of death prevented me” (Psalm 18:4, 5; 116:3).
“Like sheep they are laid in hell; death shall feed on them; hell is their habitation, but God will redeem my soul from the hand of hell” (Psalm. 49:14, 15).
“I have the keys of hell and death” (Rev. 1:18).
“And power was given them over the fourth part of the earth to kill” signifies the destruction of all the good of the church. Since by “death” is meant the extinction of man’s spiritual life, and by “hell” damnation, it follows that “to kill” here means to destroy the life of man’s soul; the life of the soul is spiritual life; “a fourth part of the earth” signifies all the good of the church; “the earth” is the church (n. 285). That “a fourth part” is all good cannot be known by anyone unless he knows what numbers in the Word signify. The numbers “two” and “four” in the Word are predicated of goods and signify them; and the numbers “three” and “six” are predicated of truths and signify them; thus “a fourth part,” or simply “a fourth” signifies all good, and “a third part” or simply “a third” signifies all truth; therefore “to kill a fourth part of the earth” here signifies to destroy all the good of the church. That “power was not given to him that sat upon the pale horse to kill a fourth part of the habitable earth” is evident. Besides, “four” in the Word signifies the conjunction of good and truth. That “four” has these significations may indeed be confirmed from the Word, as by “the four animals or cherubim” (Ezekiel 1, 3, 10; Rev. 4), by “the four chariots between the two mountains of brass” (Zechariah 6), by “the four horns” (Zechariah 1:18), and by “the four horns of the altar” (Exodus 27:1-8; Rev. 9:13), by “the four angels standing on the four corners of the earth, holding the four winds of the earth” (Rev. 7:1; Matthew 24:31), as also by “visiting the iniquity upon the thirds and fourths” (Numbers 14:18), and in other places by “the third and fourth generation.” By these and by many other passages in the Word, I say, it can be confirmed that “four” is predicated of goods and signifies them, and also the conjunction of good and truth; but since this would not appear without a prolix explanation of these passages, it is sufficient to mention that nothing else is meant in heaven by “four” and by “a fourth part.”