SWEET DRUGS THAT KILL
A Sermon by Rev. Grant H. Odhner
Preached in Rochester, Michigan June 7, 1992
Samson – what a puzzling picture he presents! Are we to respect him? Are we to regard him as a good servant of the Lord and of Israel? His behavior, viewed literally, is completely reprehensible by any moral standards we would recognize today. His causes and conquests are all a product of his whims, his folly, or his vengefulness (read Judges 14-16). Yet as a Nazarite, judge and hero, he clearly represents something good. And the Word never says anything that would harm this representation.
Clearly Samson’s good representation does not lie in his sense of judgment, motives or behavior per se. It lies in his special status as a Nazarite, in his role as judge, and (especially) in his role as a great champion of his people. To appreciate this we have to assume the mind-set of the time: the Philistines were the enemy; the more of them dead the better. In this light his conquests picture, symbolically, the triumph of good and truth over evil and falsity. Samson’s great strength and prowess become a symbol of the Lord’s power working for us.
Samson’s power lay in his hair. The Nazarite, one “set apart” to God by a vow, was not allowed to eat or drink anything from the vine, nor cut his hair during the period of his vow. We’re not told anywhere else that Nazarites had strength from their hair as Samson did. Perhaps this was because Samson was a different kind of Nazarite. He didn’t just take a vow for a time; he was a permanent Nazarite, chosen by the Lord and set apart “from [his mother’s] womb to the day of his death.” In any case, Samson’s hair holds the key to his strength and the key to his spiritual meaning.
What does “hair” stand for in the Word? Hair is a relatively external and lifeless part of our body. It is the body’s outermost covering, a covering that presents us to view, protects, insulates, and extends our sense of touch. Hair stands for something in our spirit, something relatively lifeless and external, namely, natural truth. Natural truth is truth in its outermost form, truth as it appears and works outwardly in the world. For instance, hair stands for truth as we read it in the Word, truth as knowledge seen and grasped literally. Hair also stands for that same truth when we let it affect our actions.
Truth as knowledge, and truth as it governs our outer behavior, is in itself a relatively lifeless thing. We don’t have to be a spiritual person to know truth and to act in certain ways. Our outer life has all its spiritual vitality from our inner loves, motives, intentions. On the other hand, what we know and do is the hair that clothes our spiritual lives. Our spirit presents itself to view in our behavior. Our actions are “the bottom line.”
Hair consists of strands or threads. These bring to mind rope that can be used to tie one thing to another. The word “religion” means a binding. We speak of the “bond” of conscience. The spiritual life is a life of living within certain bonds. These bonds contain our outermost life.
If we have spiritual love in our hearts, we restrain our lips and tongue from saying certain things that are unkind, things that are untrue, things that are self-serving. We restrain our eyes from looking at certain things, from wandering where they should not. We turn our ears away from certain kinds of music or conversation. We discipline our hands to tasks that must be done. We force our bodies to go where they ought to goto seek out useful tasks, to seek out people, to go to church. We allow ourselves to be bound by virtues such as promptness, industriousness, temperance.
Our lives become bounded by and bound to certain physical actions. These are what express our spirituality, in the measure that they are from the Word. It is these outer things that are symbolized by hair.
There is tremendous power in the bonds of our outer lives. When we establish good habits of speaking and acting, good routines, we are protected from untold evils!
The story of Samson and Delilah is about bonds or ties. The tension is between Samson’s remaining a Nazarite (retaining his hair) and his giving in to Delilah. Delilah wants to tie him to herself and destroy his power. It is telling that she presses him to find out “what he may be bound with.”
The force behind Delilah is the Philistine lords. In general they picture the power of evil, or what is the same, the power of spirits from hell. The “Delilah” that evil spirits use to seduce us and gain the mastery over us is selfish delight.
The Writings of the New Church observe that delight is something we often don’t notice. Delights tend to “banish reflection” (DP 113). We are “led by delight as something that is borne along by the current of a river” (DP 73:2). It leads us silently and strongly, without our noticing where it’s taking us. As a result, unless we’re trained to know what is good and what is not, and unless we’re aware, we don’t experience evil as something evil but as something delightful, which we don’t analyze as such (see DP 296:9). Delight blinds us to evil. The Writings note that: “People who are immersed in self-love and love of the world are quite incapable of believing that they are under the influence of such filthy and unclean loves as in fact they are. Indeed, a certain pleasure and delight exists which coaxes, encourages, and allures, and causes them to love that life, to prefer it to all other kinds of life, and so to imagine that there is nothing bad about it at all. For whatever encourages anyone’s love and resulting life is considered to be good. For this reason also the rational agrees to it and produces confirmatory falsities, which lead to blindness so great that people see nothing at all of what heavenly love is” (AC 2045).
Samson’s flirting with Delilah led to blindness. Spiritually viewed this is a story about how, when we give in to delights of evil, they can subtly lull our minds to sleep, and take from us an important source of our power and protection, namely our outer life of truth: our good behavior and good routines based on the Word’s truth.
Delilah was attractive. Samson kept going back. Did he know she was dangerous? Did he suppose he could tread the line just “this side” of losing his life and freedom? He thought he could withhold his secret and still sport with her. But we can see that his clues got closer to the mark. The first three times she bound him he did escape, but the escape was only a physical one. Spiritually viewed, those three times she bound him with the bowstrings, the rope, and the loompicture the successive and complete binding of his mind. (“Three” means “complete” and “to the full” in the Word.) Each time he was, inwardly, surrendering more and more. We can see this pictured in the fact that on the third occasion he even alluded to his hair in his false clue. What’s more, for the first time it is mentioned that she “lulled him to sleep.” Here, as in the final incident when Delilah shaved his hair off, Samson’s “sleep” symbolizes our utter surrender to selfish delights and our unconscious slavery to them.
Evil’s delights are what seduce us. We are all vulnerable to them. But, tragically, the delights themselves often aren’t that attractive to usnot at first; they actually “grow” on us. We see evils all around us; they are occasioned in our thoughts from many sources. But these evils don’t stick to us at once. They wheedle their way in. Curiosity gets them started. We wonder about them; we let our thoughts wander; we take an almost indifferent “nibble” to see what they “taste” like. But only by inner consent does our sense of delight begin to grow.
Hell’s delights press for consent and especially action. They can press usas Delilah pressed Samson daily with her words but they cannot compel us to consent. This is important. They beckon to us from our “external person,” that is, from our body and senses and outer mind; they try to allure the inner “us” “to consent and to love” (DP 136:5). But our inner person has the freedom and power to evaluate and choose between the many thoughts and suggestions that are proposed to us. Nothing becomes our own except what becomes part of our will and its love. Hell infuses things into our stream of consciousness all the time, but these things are only in the “outer hallway.” Even when they seem alluring and attractive to us, they are still not ours unless we dwell on them at length and consent to them.
But the real thing that secures hell’s hold on us is when we go beyond consent and act on their suggestion, either outwardly or by deliberate thoughts and fantasies. When we act in these ways, they can inflow with a greater sense of freedom and delight. This kind of inflow creates a bond that isn’t easily broken.
The inner reality here is that by deliberate acts of will we become organically connected with communities of devils from hell. It is from these communities that evils and their delights come. About our spiritual situation we read from the Apocalypse Explained:
“A person’s affections, from which his thoughts spring, have extension into communities in the spiritual world on every side, into more or fewer of them according to the amount and quality of the affection. A person as to his spirit is within these communities and to them he is attached as it were with extended cords. These cords determine the space where he can walk . . . . Through these communities the person, that is, his mind, although bound walks free” (1174:2).
The work Divine Providence (n. 296:3) explains what happens when we become confirmed in evil:
“As [a person] wills and commits evil, he advances into infernal communities more and more interiorly and also more and more deeply. Hence also the delight of evil increases and occupies his thoughts so much that at last he feels nothing more pleasant. He who has advanced more interiorly and deeply into infernal societies becomes as though he were bound with chains. So long as he lives in the world, however, he does not feel his chains, for they are as if made from soft wool or from fine silk threads, and he loves them since they give him pleasure; but after death, instead of being soft they become hard, and instead of being pleasant they become galling.”
The problem with acting on evil is that our mind enters these communities, and we give them permission to inflow. The result is that once we have indulged some evil delight once or twice, it quickly becomes difficult to stop. This explains the power of habits and addictions. This is why the Writings warn: “Let people beware of actual evils” (SE 4479, emphasis added). All this suggests what was happening, in the spiritual sense, to Samson.
Samson was blinded and imprisoned when they cut his hair off. His ruin began when he flirted with Delilah and then consented to her nagging, and “told her all his heart.” But his ruin was complete when she removed the outward bond of his covenant with the Lord. That’s when “the Lord left him” (v. 19).
We spoke earlier of the outward bonds of our life: our daily routines and rituals, our practical moral standards and boundaries. We barely reflect on these low-level matters; they are habitual. Often we don’t appear to adhere to them from much conviction or from lofty principle. But they are so important. They hold us in good, and they are our last protection against falling to the wiles of evil. It is relatively hard for hell to break these outer bonds.
It is hard for us to be carried away by prolonged fantasies when we are in the habit of daily prayer and reading the Word. It is difficult for this to happen when we stick to routines of usefulness and personal responsibility and hygiene. If married people have good habits of communication and set times for interaction with their spouse, it’s not easy for them to become entangled with lust for other friendships. Our standard of good manners and propriety can protect us from all sorts of dangerous situations.
It’s only when hell removes these outermost bonds and get us to act on their suggestions that we fall into trouble.
Our emphasis in this sermon has been on the interplay between “Delilah” and “Samson’s hair,” that is, between the delights that attract and assail us, and the bonds that natural truth can bring to our life. In these bonds lie our final power of resistance to evil and our final power of dwelling securely and peacefully in a heaven-centered life.
But let it be noted that the story doesn’t end merely with blindness, imprisonment, and the enemies’ derision. There is always a way out of bondage to evil. That path is repentance. Repentance is basically struggling against evil with the Lord’s help, and beginning a new life. This new life is pictured in Samson’s grinding wheat in the prison, and his hair gradually growing back.
A wonderful thing is that through repentance we learn to become wary of delights that allure and attract us. We learn to shun them despite their appeal. Indeed, we are told, “[evils and their delights] are not subdued unless [we come to regard them] as sweet drugs that kill, or as flowers apparently beautiful that carry poison in them” (Charity 2). The encouraging thing is that over time, evil delights do gradually lose their appeal and allure. First they become no longer delightful, then distasteful, and finally we feel an actual loathing and aversion for them (ibid.; see also DP 146; AC 3938:4; TCR 532, 567:6). We can imagine that Samson developed such feelings for Delilah as he ground in the prison day by day.
Samson, after much pain, contempt, and hard work in captivity, regains his power and is liberated to glory. He gains the final mastery over his enemies. So too can we, with effort and prayer and continual looking to our Lord, the source of Samson’s strength. Amen.
Lessons: Judges 16; AC 6203-6206:1
Arcana Coelestia 6203-6206
In regard to the origin of the influx of evil from hell, the case is this. When a person first from consent, then from purpose, and at last from the delight of affection, casts himself into evil, then a hell is opened which is in such evil (for the hells are distinct from one another according to evils and all their varieties), and there afterward takes place an influx from that hell. When a person comes into evil in this way, it clings to him, for the hell in the sphere of which he then is is in its very delight when in its evil; and therefore it does not desist but obstinately presses in and causes the man to think about that evil, at first occasionally, and afterward as often as anything presents itself which is related to it, and at last it becomes with him that which reigns universally. And when this takes place, he then seeks for such things as confirm that it is not an evil, and this until he wholly persuades himself; and then, insofar as he can, he studies to remove external bonds, and makes evils allowable and clever, and at last even becoming and honorable, such as adulteries, thefts effected by art and deceit, various kinds of arrogance and boasting, contempt for others, vituperations, persecutions under an appearance of justice, and the like. The case with these evils is like that with downright thefts, which when committed of set purpose two or three times cannot be desisted from; for they continually cling to the person’s thought.
Be it known further that the evil which enters into the thought does no harm to the person, because evil is continually infused by spirits from hell, and is continually repelled by angels. But when evil enters into the will, then it does harm, for then it also goes forth into act whenever external bonds do not restrain. Evil enters into the will by being kept in the thought, by consent, especially by act and the consequent delight.
I have often noticed that evil spirits put on especially a person’s persuasions and cupidities, and that when they put them on, they rule the person despotically; for he who introduces himself into a person’s cupidities and into his persuasions subjects the person to himself and makes him his servant. Whereas influx through angels takes place in accordance with a person’s affections, which they gently lead and bend to good, and do not break, the very influx being tacit and scarcely perceptible, for it flows into the interiors and continually acts by means of freedom.
Be it further known that all evil flows in from hell, and all good through heaven from the Lord. But the reason why evil is appropriated to a person is that he believes and persuades himself that he thinks and does it from himself, and in this way makes it his own. If he believed as is really the case, then evil would not be appropriated to him, but good from the Lord would be appropriated to him; for the moment that evil flowed in, he would reflect that it was from the evil spirits with him, and as soon as he thought this, the angels would avert and reject it. For the influx of the angels is into what a person knows and believes, but not into what a person does not know and does not believe; for their influx is not fixed anywhere except where there is something pertaining to the person.