Despair – How to conjure up hope?

despairOn an off day, Stuart would privately think that life had little to offer him and he even sometimes felt that all he was doing was going through the motions of living. Money was tight, and in a time of recession there were poor prospects of job advancement. Although working as an estate agent, he had started to despair that he could do anything about finding any way of earning a living in a meaningful role in line with his youthful ideals.

Whatever he did wasn’t satisfying for very long and from time to time the feelings of hopelessness would return. He kept busy and this was his way of avoiding what he didn’t realize was a state of inner despair. He had been an idealist when younger, very keen to help bring about a world where the natural environment was protected, business people were honest, and social justice was the norm.

Now days he felt depressed whenever he read a newspaper or watched a newscast that clearly showed the opposite of his vision. He had switched from being very positive to very negative in his hopes. He was starting to feel like a failure and trapped by his situation, with a reducing willpower left for continuing the struggle with the disappointments of daily living.

How can someone like Stuart change this state of despair and find something to give hope and energy?

Despair resulting from lack of belief

There is nothing wrong with having a vision of a better world. Many of us like Stuart have imagined a human society uncorrupted by warfare and other social evils; or a natural environment with its beauty not exploited by greed; or a community of mutually supportive people with real concern for the public good, that gives everyone a sense of belonging and being included. Whatever idea of the future that excites us, it can serve to energise our best efforts.

I feel Stuarts’s problem however was that he had no deep belief to sustain his endurance when set-backs and adversity got in the way: nothing to hold on to that had the power to transform society: no spiritual framework of ideas to sustain his youthful vision, to give it credibility in the long run as an achievable objective, and to enable his wishes to survive a rational appraisal of what is possible. When there is nothing on which one can pin one’s hopes, then despair is likely to be the result.

If you despair, in what can you put your faith?

In other words, I am trying to argue that what is crucially needed is something beyond oneself, that transcends the material realm, and in which one can put one’s faith: an entity greater than oneself: that goes beyond the ‘little me’ with my petty concerns: that offers a timeless vision of life.

The way you think affects the way you feel. This is a psychological process known about by psychologists and used in CBT (cognitive behavioural therapy). Consequently, it is key to examine whether the belief that sustains your hopes is a reasonable one. Stuart’s despair seems to come from his denial of any divine spark within and beyond humanity that could help us think further than self.

But how to be convinced? How to find a rational faith that could challenge the setbacks and illusions that destroy hope? The illusions of meaninglessness, alienation and self-condemnation?

Persuasive belief and despair

One answer comes from the spiritual philosopher Emanuel Swedenborg. He writes about a limited type of belief that results from being persuaded by some ideology such as a political or religious teaching: often this is a belief of convenience so our attitudes unconsciously fit in with those of our family and friends. He claims that it is possible for such a belief to be  part of the thinking mind, but not also part of the feeling heart: if so he says it cannot endure. For example being persuaded that it is wrong to steal cannot transform a person from being a robber at heart unless there is a desire to be honest, so that thought and feeling are in harmony. Incongruity between head and heart accounts for the hypocrisy seen in some of the history of religion including Christianity. It can also account for lost hope and despair.

Swedenborg contrasts persuasive belief with a genuine faith in a higher power. He maintains real faith is to do with trust and confidence: it is knowing in your heart with an inner conviction for example that there is a divine providence behind the universe beyond all the ability of material science to observe. So just how can one find such an inner conviction that sustains hope? What do you do to be convinced deep down?

Despair or receiving confident hope through faith

Swedenborg’s answer is that such a faith is a spiritual gift – not something we can create for ourselves but rather something that we can receive: a gift only for those who are ready to receive it: who are willing to give something of themselves in order to receive.

But give what? Things that occur to me are:

  1. Giving an open mind to the possibility of a higher spiritual power that we can source to change things for the better,
  2. Giving the time to try to understand what this would mean,
  3. Giving our effort to try to lead a way of life in line with what we are persuaded is true.

If all this is correct then to find confidence in justice and peace, one needs to attempt to act  fairly with others. Likewise to have a deep trust in a creative force within the universe, one needs to oneself start nurturing the natural environment. Also to believe in the reality of the power of compassion, then one needs to begin practicing a caring attitude towards those with whom we come into contact. I believe this is the way to receive the gift of inner conviction.

Without confidence and conviction there can be no sustainable hope. Without hope there is despair.

“Give and you will receive”
“Search and you will find”
(Jesus Christ)

Copyright 2014 Stephen Russell-Lacy
Author of  Heart, Head & Hands  Swedenborg’s perspective on emotional problems

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, , , , , , , , , , , , , ,, , ,

Patience – how to find it?

Had some of the less successful dualists of Europe three centuries ago been less impetuous, they might have a lived a longer life. The role of men acting as their seconds was to urge them to have some patience in resolving their dispute and to wait a while longer before starting the violence. Often such was the passion for defending ‘honour’, the good advice was to no avail.

patienceWe no longer fight duels. But how many of us could find more patience when stuck in a traffic jam, confronted by a rude customer we should be serving, or being faced with delay due to a queue going through airport security? We do tend to want immediate pleasure and get tense waiting for appetite to be satisfied, for boredom to be reduced, or for any frustrated desire to be met.

Psychologists have known for a long time about the power of ‘immediacy of reward’. When given a choice, all animals, humans included, are inclined to favour short term rewards over long term rewards even when the latter involve greater benefits. We often want something now and having it later is no good.

The effects of not having patience can be increased heart rate and bodily tension and of course the accumulative result is mental stress. If you get upset when things don’t work out for you straight away then getting angry can make the situation worse. How then can you learn to calmly endure hardship? How to find a way to wait longer for what you want without blowing a fuse?

Realistic expectations and patience

Studies have found that these days online users are no longer patient after as little as two seconds while waiting for a video to start playing. Users who are connected to the internet  at faster speeds have less patience than their counterparts connected at slower speeds. This suggests a link between patience and the expectation of when we are likely to get what we want.

We assume things and people ought to behave the way we think they should behave. That person at the head of the queue should not be engaging in small talk with the cashier. But people often don’t live up to our expectations.

If we are unrealistically optimistic in when we expect something then we are more likely to feel frustrated and so less likely to remain calm. Conversely, if we were to have lower expectations then perhaps we would be more patient whilst waiting. It helps to expect occasional delay, difficulty, or annoyance in life.

Distraction and a patience

It also helps to be get things into perspective. For example when eating alone at a restaurant and waiting for longer than usual for food to arrive, your mind may be focused on the appearance of the waiter. If so you are probably not feeling patience. You could try to distract yourself with something else to think about that actively engages your mind. For example noticing anything that is interesting, pleasing or good in the situation around you. Or reflecting on something positive and hopeful in your life. Make it something vitally interesting in order to lend it the power to tear yourself away from your preoccupation with what is frustrating you.

Time passes much more quickly when we are creatively absorbed in something and much more slowly when we are not. Thinking about a matter more important than what we are wanting at that moment helps you also to recognise that what you had been waiting for isn’t crucial to your happiness. Is it really the end of the world if you cannot make the beginning of the meeting because of the heavy traffic or the absence of a parking space near your destination? These considerations may help to calm the sense of urgency you felt about obtaining something straight away.

Spirituality and patience

Sleepwalking through life means behaving like a robot in the sense of acting in line with habits, and automatic thoughts. This often results in a lack of patience when things don’t go right. On the other hand a mindfulness practice is to make a conscious choice and effort to pay attention to everything that is going on in consciousness. Is your mind calm or agitated? Is your body relaxed or tensed? This awareness includes recognising any lack of fortitude.

All the faith traditions hold patience as a virtue. In Buddhism, being patient is the ability to control one’s emotions even when being criticized or attacked.

In Judaism patience reflects a contented attitude to life and good sense rather than folly.

In Islam it is believed that patience is part of the natural flow of life – needed for waiting for the harvest. To patiently endure calamity and suffering is to be closer to Allah.

Swedenborg and patience

Spiritual philosopher Emanuel Swedenborg has something to say about patience. His view is that with all the frustrations, set backs and hardships of life no-one can find a deep sense of patience in their own strength alone.

However, he writes that we can endure the temporary trials of life with a more patient attitude when we have a deep trust in a higher providence: this is can be thought of as a reliance on a universal spiritual force that has the power and foresight to provide what we need; the priority of this divine providence is said to be to satisfy not so much our immediate needs which often are temporary ones but rather those spiritual needs that we will continue to have in the long term – needs for example for belonging, loving relationship, and meaningful role.

Thus what counts for Swedenborg is our hope and trust in this image of the Divine Source: an image that is lovingly active in providing for us all – if we co-operate in the process. I only hope I can remember to try to open myself to this sphere of contentment when  tempted next by impatience.

Copyright 2014 Stephen Russell-Lacy
Author of  Heart, Head & Hands  Swedenborg’s perspective on emotional problems

FINANCIAL FAITH (Trusting in the Lord)

FINANCIAL FAITH (Trusting in the Lord)

A Sermon by Rev. Lawson M. Smith Preached in Bryn Athyn February 26, 1995

“He will not be afraid of evil tidings; his heart is steadfast, trusting in the Lord” (Psalm 112:7).

Do you believe in the Lord? Most of us would say, “Yes, of course!” Especially we would say this in conversation, but even lying in bed at night alone, or with our partner fast asleep, if we asked ourselves, “Do I really believe in God?” we would still say in our hearts, “Yes, I do!” It makes sense to believe in the Lord. Life without the Lord is meaningless.

But still we are often afraid of many things: financial hardship, the disapproval of others, sickness, death, crime, moral breakdowns in ourselves or our family members, and so forth. We know that God in His providence permits an awful lot of terrible things to happen. We also might wonder whether we could bear some experiences that God might think would be good for us. So we are often nervous or afraid, which leads to stress, loss of sleep, illness, impatience with others, and other side-effects.

Often it appears that if we bend the Lord’s rules, things will work out better, and we will be more secure than if we play it straight. We know the Lord says not to steal, but if we steal here and there, don’t pay our taxes, etc., we will have that extra cushion. We know the Lord says not to tell lies, but if no one knows, what harm is it? We know the Lord says we are to love our neighbors as ourselves, but sometimes they don’t deserve it; sometimes we need to be disagreeable or stern so that people don’t crowd us too much or interfere with our lives.

Whenever we say to ourselves that actually things will work out better for us if we don’t follow the Lord’s rules too closely, we are really saying that we don’t fully trust the Lord. We treat the Lord like an old grandpa: He’s got some good ideas, but maybe they’re a little old-fashioned, a little extreme in our times. We’ve got to modify His ideas for the real world. Since the Lord is not quite in control of things, or not paying close attention (since so many bad things happen), we have to take matters into our own hands to some extent. Clearly this is not complete faith in the Lord, as the omnipotent God of heaven and earth.

But in the Word the Lord insists that actually He is completely in control, even while He is permitting a limited amount of evil. We must learn to have more and more faith in Him by doing what He says.

Let’s look at a few of the Word’s teachings about material prosperity in relation to trust in the Lord.

The Lord puts the case very strongly in the New Testament, where He says, “Do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not the life more than food, and the body than clothing? … Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin … Therefore do not worry, saying, `What shall we eat?’ and `What shall we drink?’ or `What shall we wear?’ For after all these things the gentiles seek. For your Heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But seek first the kingdom of God and His justice, and all these things will be added to you. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about its own things” (Matt. 6:25, 28, 31-34). The Lord’s words here, taken out of the context of other teachings, could be interpreted to mean that we should pay no attention to our food, clothing and shelter. Rather it means that although we must take care of our natural lives, our main focus should always be on the Lord’s providence and life in heaven, for which we are preparing.

The psalms vividly contrast two attitudes, one that trusts in wealth to make us secure and happy, and the other that trusts in the Lord. Psalm 49 shows how short-sighted a person is who focuses on material things as the source of happiness and security. “For [a wise man] sees that clever men die; likewise the fool and the senseless person perish and leave their wealth to others. Their inner thought is that their houses will continue forever, their dwellingplaces to all generations; they call their houses after their own names. Nevertheless man, though in honor, does not remain, … For when he dies, he shall carry nothing away … ” (vv. 10-12, 17). The psalm points out that worldly prosperity brings a man honor temporarily. “Though while he lives he blesses himself (for men will praise you when you do well for yourself), he shall go to the generation of his fathers; they shall never see light. Man who is in honor yet does not understand is like the beasts that perish” (vv. 18-20). Jesus put this very plainly in the words, “What is a man profited if he gains the whole world and loses his own soul? Or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul?” (Matt. 16:26).

Psalm 112 gives a contrasting picture of a person who trusts in the Lord. “Blessed is the man who fears the Lord, who delights greatly in His commandments … Wealth and riches shall be in his house, and his justice endures forever. Unto the upright there arises light in darkness; he is gracious and full of compassion and just. A good man deals graciously and lends; he will guide his affairs with discretion. He will not be afraid of evil tidings; his heart is steadfast, trusting in the Lord” (vv. 1, 3-5, 7). This is a beautiful portrait of a man who trusts in the Lord. He lends graciously and compassionately, not hoarding his money as though his happiness depends on it. At the same time, he guides his affairs carefully. And if bad news comes a setback in business or a sudden large expense he does not worry too much, because he trusts in the Lord. The Lord gives him the light of peace and hope even in dark times. We do not have to be wealthy to lend to others graciously, to delight greatly in the Lord’s commandments, and to have a steadfast heart.

The Heavenly Doctrine complements these powerful teachings of the Old and New Testaments. It is not disorderly for a person to make provision for himself and his family and take care for the morrow in that sense. The people who break the commandment against care for the morrow are those who do not trust in the Divine but in their own talents and abilities, and who care only about worldly and earthly things. “With this kind of person, worry about the future, and the lust of possessing all things and controlling everyone, rules their whole lives … They grieve if they do not obtain their desires, and are distressed at the loss of them. They have no consolation, for they are angry at the Divine, which they reject together with everything of faith, and condemn themselves” (AC 8478:2).

We can work on cultivating an attitude of contentment with our own situation. We can accept certain limitations and learn to enjoy life within them, even while we’re working hard. Learning to be content with our lot is a fundamental part of trust in the Lord. Contentment is actually the nearest thing to heavenly joy that we can have in this life! People who are driven by a craving for money and things and vacations and so forth do not have room in their hearts for faith in the Lord. Such a life can never be peaceful, because earthly wealth and status are so fleeting. If that’s what we depend on for happiness, we will always be worried, under pressure.

On the other hand, those who trust in the Divine, although they guide their affairs as prudently as they can, based on their best guesses of what the future will bring, do not let anxiety possess their hearts. “Unruffled is their spirit whether they obtain their desires or not. They do not grieve over the loss of them, and are content with their lot. If they become wealthy, they do not set their hearts on wealth. If they are promoted to honors, they do not regard themselves as more worthy than others. If they become poor, they are not made sad. If they are in humble circumstances, they are not cast down. They know that for those who trust in the Divine, all things make for a happy state to eternity, and that whatever befalls them in time is still conducive to their eternal welfare” (AC 8478:3). What a beautiful life, what peace of mind! We can have this peace. The Lord wants to give it to us. We can work hard, guide our affairs with discretion, and yet set our sights on the Lord’s peace as the source of happiness.

The Writings go further, saying that those who trust in the Lord are continually receiving good from Him. Whatever happens to them, whether it appear prosperous or not, is still good, because it contributes to their eternal happiness. But those who trust in themselves continually bring evil upon themselves. Even prosperous and happy-seeming things are evil to them, and contribute to their eternal misery, because they confirm themselves in the notion that wealth and their own cleverness and hard work create happiness (see AC 8480:3). “The Lord provides for the good, who receive His mercy in time, such things as lead to the happiness of eternal life: riches and honors for those to whom they are not hurtful, and none for those who would be led astray by them. But for good people who would be hurt by worldly prosperity, the Lord provides that they should be gladdened with a few things, and to be more content than the rich and honored thus happier!” (AC 8717:3). What more could we want than happiness from the Lord?

Our problem is that we enjoy the love of the world so much. We enjoy thinking of owning a nice car or a bigger house, having nicer furniture and appliances, nice clothes. We also enjoy claiming control of our lives and credit for our successes. But these loves cause us anxiety, both in success and in failure in success because it’s never enough, but we now have more to lose. We have to choose between the peace of trusting in the Lord, that He will provide everything we need to be truly happy, or the excitement, frustration and anxiety of pursuing and maintaining worldly things. In the end, whatever we love most is what we trust.

The Lord wants us to take responsibility for our lives, to be as prudent as serpents yet as harmless as doves. He wants us to enjoy the feeling of accomplishment yet acknowledge that all goodness is from Him, so we are open to receive more goodness. He wants us to take measures to be safe and secure, but at the same time to realize that in the end, He is the only One who can guarantee our security; and that the security He is most interested in is ours and our loved ones’ eternal safety.

The key ingredients in developing a deep faith in the Lord are: first, to be as scrupulous as we can be in keeping the Lord’s commandments, avoiding evils as far as possible, and serving our neighbors as well as we can; and second, to set our sights on the Lord’s promise of eternal life, even while we are enjoying and/or coping with life in this world as best we can.

“To believe in the Lord is to have confidence that He saves. As no one can have this trust except he who lives a good life, living a good life is also meant by believing in the Lord” (TCR 2:3). As we practice the life of charity, the Lord will show us more and more clearly that we do not need to be afraid of anything or anyone, because He is taking care of us. We will become like the man described in the psalm: “He will not be afraid of evil tidings; his heart is steadfast, trusting in the Lord” (Psalm 112:7). Amen.


Lessons: Psalm 49, AC 8717:3

Arcana Coelestia 8717:3

But this subject falls with difficulty into the idea of any man, and least of all into the idea of those who trust in their own prudence; for they attribute to themselves all things that happen prosperously for them, and the rest they ascribe to fortune, or chance, and few to the Divine Providence. Thus they attribute the things that happen to dead causes and not to the living cause. When things turn out happily they indeed say that it is of God, and even that there is nothing that is not from Him; but few, and scarcely any, at heart believe it. In like manner do those who place all prosperity in worldly and bodily things, namely, in honors and riches, and believe that these alone are Divine blessings; and therefore when they see many of the evil abound in such things, and not so much the good, they reject from their heart and deny the Divine Providence in individual things, not considering that Divine blessing is to be happy to eternity, and that the Lord regards such things as are of brief duration, as relatively are the things of this world, no otherwise than as means to eternal things. Wherefore also the Lord provides for the good, who receive His mercy in time, such things as contribute to the happiness of their eternal life: riches and honors for those to whom they are not hurtful, and no riches and honors for those to whom they would be hurtful. Nevertheless, to these latter He gives in time, in the place of honors and riches, to be glad with a few things, and to be more content than the rich and honored.

Spiritual Frontier – Emanuel Swedenborg

JOSEPH

JOSEPH

A Sermon by Rev. David C. Roth Preached in Chicago, Illinois July 21, 1991

“I am Joseph your brother, whom you sold into Egypt. But now, do not therefore be grieved nor angry with yourselves because you sold me here, for God sent me before you to preserve life …. You meant evil against me, but God meant it for good in order to bring it about as it is this day, to save many people alive” (Genesis 45:4,5; 50:20).

How would you feel if your family and friends thought you were so worthless that they threw you into a pit to die? We might safely assume that this would never happen to any one of us, but it is true that sometimes the people we love do harm us. As was true in the case of Joseph, the eleventh son of Jacob and the first of Rachel, this can happen.

This sermon is about Joseph. It is about his character and about how he reacted to the life which befell him. To examine the life of Joseph is to learn many things about how the Lord leads each one of our lives and about human relationships. A few questions to ask ourselves while examining the life of Joseph are: Why do people harm other people when it seems so contrary to a life of charity? Why does the Lord let evil things happen to us, or anybody for that matter? And how would and should we react if somebody did hurt us? These questions will be examined as we follow the life of Joseph.

Joseph was born to Rachel and Jacob while Jacob was still under the hand of his father-in-law Laban. As soon as Joseph was born, Jacob asked Laban to send himself and his family away. It was almost as if this demand was a direct result of Joseph’s birth. “And it came to pass, when Rachel had born Joseph, that Jacob said to Laban, ‘Send me away that I may go to my own place, and to my country'” (Gen. 30:25). It seems that the Lord was already guiding the steps of Joseph so that he could be near to Egypt in order to preserve his people. The truth is that the Lord in His providence guides us from our birth continually up to the end of our lives (see DP 333). He is forever working to provide for our eternal life.

From Joseph’s birth in chapter 30, we don’t hear of him again until chapter 37, wherein he and his family have left Laban and are living in the land of Canaan. He is now seventeen years old and spends some of his time feeding the flocks with his older brothers. It was on these occasions with his brothers that Joseph fell into trouble. Joseph was Jacob’s favorite son because he was fruit born of Jacob’s deep love for Rachel. In order to show his deep love for Joseph, Jacob gave him a tunic of many colors, which caused his brothers to hate Joseph. They hated him so much that they could not speak peaceably to him. Then Joseph began to have dreams which he shared with his brothers. They were dreams showing representations of Joseph’s brothers and parents bowing down to him and being subservient to him. These dreams served only to add to the hatred and envy which the brothers had already felt toward Joseph.

How many of us can relate to the feelings which Joseph’s older brothers had toward him? – feelings of jealousy, hatred, envy, and contempt – feelings which spring up when we sense that we are not being treated fairly or justly, Or when we are not getting the recognition we think we deserve. To illustrate, imagine the business person who works like mad to get a promotion, only to have his associate receive it instead. Even if he is able to swallow his pride and congratulate his colleague, still within he may be fighting a fierce battle against contempt and hatred. In his eyes now his colleague starts to look unworthy and lazy, or underhanded in some way. Or picture the friend of a young man who is now attracting the attention of the girl whom the young man had been trying to go out with for some time. Suddenly that friend looks conniving and deceitful, and the young man may even begin to look at the girl in the same way, turning his former love into hatred.

These are just two examples of the many ways that the hells can turn our closest friends into our most hated enemies, and this with even the smallest dose of envy or loss of pride. We are vulnerable, even as Joseph’s brothers were vulnerable. Nevertheless, we are in freedom to respond with good or evil. It was not Joseph’s fault that he was the object of his father’s love and the dreamer of unusual dreams. Instead of trying to stifle others’ talents we should be supportive of them, unless they purposely show them off to make us feel cheapened or less of a person.

Free to forgive or seek vengeance, the brothers let their anger take control and they responded with evil; they desired to kill Joseph. But the Lord did not will that Joseph should die. The Lord never wills that any evil should befall anyone. However, because more than anything the Lord wants us to be happy, thus in freedom, He permits evil to happen for the sake of a good end. As is taught, “To leave man from his own liberty to do evil is permission” (NJHD 170). And, “The permission of evil is for the sake of the end, namely, salvation” (DP 281).

To preserve freedom and for the sake of a good end, the Lord permitted evil to befall Joseph. Yet in His providence the Lord moderated the evil intention of Joseph’s brothers. In the story itself we see the Lord’s providence acting to lead Joseph’s brothers’ evil to break out to a lesser intensity than they would have wished. We see Reuben suggest that they throw Joseph into an empty pit or cistern to perish rather than spill his blood themselves, Reuben himself planning to later remove him secretly. They did this, but then saw Ishmaelite traders coming and planned to sell him to them to make some money. Unbeknownst to the brothers, some Midianite traders got to Joseph first and drew him up from the well and sold him to the Ishmaelites, who then took Joseph and sold him into servitude in Egypt. Upon returning to the pit, Reuben discovered that Joseph had disappeared. Reuben tore his clothes in anguish. They didn’t know the fate of their brother Joseph and assumed the worst. They told their father a lie to conceal their own act of hatred toward Joseph. They took his tunic, tore it and dipped it in blood so that their tale of Joseph’s being destroyed by a wild beast would be believed by their father Jacob. In this account we can see the contagious quality of evil, as covetousness causes the brothers to attempt murder, which then turns them to bear false witness to mask their deed.

Why was this evil allowed to happen? The Heavenly Doctrines tell us why evil things are permitted to happen. One reason, already mentioned, is for the sake of the end which the Lord desires and provides for all who are willing, which is for the sake of salvation. “[The Divine Providence] continually grants permission for the sake of the end, and permits such things as pertain to the end and no others; and the evils that proceed by permission it continually keeps under view, separates and purifies, sending away and removing by unknown ways whatever is not consistent with the end” (DP 296).

Another reason evil is permitted is so that evil may be exposed and then shunned. If we cannot see the evil in ourselves it cannot be dealt with, and we cannot be led out of it toward what is good. We read, “Evil cannot be taken away from anyone unless it appears, is seen, and is acknowledged; it is like a wound which is not healed unless it is opened” (DP 183). We are also taught that with many people evil has to appear in actual act in order to be seen. These teachings explain why so many evil deeds are wrought by people. Unless a person sees his own hellish condition he cannot take steps to correct it. “For man from birth is like a little hell, between which and heaven there is perpetual discord. No man can be withdrawn from his hell by the Lord unless he sees that he is in hell and wishes to be led out; and this cannot be done without permissions, the causes of which are laws of the Divine Providence” (DP 251:2).

It is comforting to know that even when evil is upon us, the Lord is still intimately involved, leading to good. In hindsight we can see why Joseph’s brothers were permitted to harm him. One reason was so that their own evil could be seen and thence dealt with. Another was because good was able to come from it, as we will see.

After Joseph’s arrival in Egypt he was sold to Potiphar, an officer of Pharaoh, captain of the guard. In Potiphar’s house Joseph was a very successful man. He rose to the highest position in Potiphar’s house. The Lord was with Joseph and made all that Joseph did prosper in his hands. Yet, even amidst success, Joseph was to again unjustly be the target for the outbreak of more evil. Joseph was a handsome man, and Potiphar’s wife recognized this and wanted him to lie with her. After many proposals met with aversion by Joseph, one day Potiphar’s wife grabbed Joseph’s garment and again said, “Lie with me.” Joseph fled from the house and left his garment in the hands of Potiphar’s wife, who used it as evidence to bear false witness against Joseph, accusing him of attempting to forcibly lie with her. Potiphar believed her and Joseph was cast into prison. Again we see in Potiphar’s wife love turned to hate when she did not get her way.

In this evil desire and act of Potiphar’s wife we see an outcome for good. In the Lord’s providence, working through permission, Joseph was cast into prison wherein he interpreted dreams for the baker and butler of Pharaoh, who were also incarcerated.

As interpreted, the baker was hanged and the butler was restored to his position as butler in Pharaoh’s house. After the lapse of two years the Pharaoh had two dreams of his own which no one could interpret. Upon hearing Pharaoh recount his dreams, seeking their interpretation, the butler finally remembered that Joseph had from the Lord the gift of interpreting dreams. So Pharaoh sent for Joseph from prison to interpret his dreams.

When asked to interpret the dreams Joseph replied, “It is not in me; God will give Pharaoh an answer of peace.” Joseph first gave Jehovah the glory and then proceeded to unfold the identical meanings of Pharaoh’s two dreams. In his relationship with the Lord, Joseph made clear where all power is from, and in his relationship with Pharaoh he showed no illusions as to his own dependence upon the Lord.

In light of the interpretation which the Lord gave Joseph about the seven years of plenty followed by seven of famine, Joseph then gave Pharaoh some suggestions about how to manage the situation. The advice was good in the eyes of Pharaoh, and he thought there could be no better man to manage the storage and eventual distribution of grain than Joseph. Within hours Joseph had risen from an imprisoned slave to ruler over all of Egypt, second only to Pharaoh himself Surely the Lord meant the evil of Joseph’s brothers and of Potiphar’s wife for good. Thirteen years had passed since he had been rejected by his brothers and sold into Egypt. He was now thirty years old. Pharaoh gave Joseph Asenath, daughter of Poti-Pherah, priest of On, as wife and changed his name to Zaphnath-Paaneah. She bore him two sons; the first-born he called Manasseh, saying “for God has made me forget all my toil and all my father’s house.” Manasseh literally means “making forgetful.” Their second son he called Ephraim, literally meaning “fruitfulness,” “for God has caused me to be fruitful in the land of my affliction.” The names of his two sons sum up the life of Joseph. Even though evil befell him and he was made to suffer and toil for many years, the Lord had caused him to forget all the pain, and gave him great honor and fruitfulness.

We cannot leave the story of Joseph without examining the tender story of Joseph and his reunion with his brothers, especially Benjamin. It brings into fruition the foreseen use for which the Lord permitted evil to happen to Joseph. Without a wise and just man to rule over the storehouses of Egypt, the family of Israel could not have survived the famine. So the Lord sent Joseph before his family into Egypt to keep them alive, so that he could raise up an entire nation. In doing this the Lord’s covenant with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob would be fulfilled: the promise that their descendants would inherit the land of Canaan and be numbered as the stars.

There are many details in the account of the sons of Jacob going into Egypt to buy grain. The first time they went down they bought grain from Joseph, who recognized his brothers. Remembering the dreams he had of his family, he accused them of being spies, and spoke harshly to them. He did this to get them to go back and bring down his brother Benjamin. They agreed to bring him next time, and left Simeon bound in prison as collateral. As a result they realized the gravity of their crime against Joseph, and made themselves guilty and discerned that this must be a rightful form of punishment.

After dealing in such a harsh way with his brothers, and secretly listening to them shamefully confess their guilt, Joseph turned himself away from them and wept. From this we can see a picture of what a good person might feel if he has to deal harshly or even punish someone. It’s like a loving parent punishing his child and saying, “This is going to hurt me more than it does you.” This can be a true statement. Here we see Joseph mercifully correcting his brothers, but it grieves him to do it. We read, “And he turned himself away from them and wept.” To weep in this instance, and the others in this story, signifies the effect of mercy, or love grieving for the object of its love.

Again we see the merciful nature of Joseph when the brothers returned to him to buy grain for the second time and Benjamin was with them. When Joseph learned who Benjamin was, we read, “His heart yearned for his brother, so Joseph made haste and sought somewhere to weep. And he went into his chamber and wept there.” His mercy is again seen after his brothers leave for Canaan. They do not return home, but are brought back before Joseph after Joseph’s guards plant and then find his stolen silver cup in Benjamin’s sack. When Joseph hears Judah explain how their one brother is dead and that their father Jacob will die if Benjamin is not returned home safely, and sees their protectiveness for their brother Benjamin, he can no longer restrain himself, but weeps aloud to his brothers: “I am Joseph your brother, whom you sold into Egypt. But now, do not therefore be grieved nor angry with yourselves because you sold me here; for God sent me before you to preserve life …. You meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, in order to bring it about as it is this day, to save many people alive.”

In Joseph’s words we can see the deep trust that he had in the Lord, and the tender forgiveness he held toward his brothers. Joseph’s life is full of so many things which we can learn from, especially in his dealings with his brothers. He did not seek revenge against them in any way, but looked only to their good. In our own lives do we find it difficult to forgive others when they have wronged us? When bad things happen to us do we trust the Lord as Joseph did, and not lose heart, trusting that He is forever leading us to some good end? Civilly and morally we might have to correct someone’s actions when he has done evil. But still, in our hearts we can forgive the person and trust that the Lord is leading to good for all involved, whatever may be the appearance of the means. The example of Joseph’s steadfastness and forgiveness is one we should all contemplate and attempt to follow.

In closing, we can almost hear Joseph reassuring us with the words of the thirty-seventh Psalm. “Do not fret because of evil-doers, nor be envious of workers of iniquity. For they shall soon be cut down like the grass and wither as the green herb. Trust in the Lord and do good. Rest in the Lord and wait patiently for Him …. And He shall give you the desires of your heart. Those who wait on the Lord, they shall inherit the earth.” Amen.

Lessons: Genesis 37, DP 296 (portions)


Divine Providence 296

In order, therefore, that the Divine Providence with the wicked may be clearly seen and thus understood, the propositions stated above now fall to be explained in the order in which they were presented. First: There are innumerable things in every evil. In man’s sight every evil appears as one single thing. This is the case with hatred and revenge, theft and fraud, adultery and whoredom, arrogance and high-mindedness, and with every other evil; and it is not known that in every evil there are innumerable things, exceeding in number the fibres and vessels in a man’s body. For a wicked man is a hell in its least form; and hell consists of myriads of myriads of spirits, and everyone there is in form like a man, although a monstrous one, in which all the fibres and vessels are inverted. The spirit himself is an evil which appears to himself as a “one”; but there are innumerable things in it, as many as the lusts of that evil, for every man is his own evil or his own good, from the head to the sole of his foot. Since then a wicked man is such, it is evident that he is one evil composed of innumerable different evils each of which is a distinct evil, and they are called lusts of evil. Hence it follows that all these in their order must be restored and changed by the Lord in order that the man may be reformed; and this cannot be effected unless by the Divine Providence of the Lord, step by step from the earliest period of man’s life to the last.

The Divine Providence with the wicked is a continual permission of evil, to the end that there may be a continual withdrawal from it. The Divine Providence with wicked men is a continual permission because nothing but evil can proceed from their life; for man, whether he is in good or in evil, cannot be in both at the same time, nor in each alternately unless he is lukewarm; and evil of life is not introduced into the will and through it into the thought by the Lord but by man; and this is called permission.

Now since everything that a wicked man wills and thinks is of permission the question arises, What then is the Divine Providence here, which is said to be in the most individual things with every man, both wicked and good? It consists in this, that it continually grants permission for the sake of the end, and permits such things as pertain to the end and no others; and the evils that proceed by permission it continually keeps under view, separates and purifies, sending away and removing by unknown ways whatever is not consistent with the end. These things are effected principally in man’s interior will, and from this in his interior thought. The Divine Providence is also unceasing in providing that what must be sent away and removed is not received again by the will, since all things that are received by the will are appropriated to the man; but those which are received by the thought and not by the will are separated and removed. This is the Lord’s continual Providence with the wicked and is, as has been stated, a continual permission of evil to the end that there may be an unceasing withdrawal from it.

KEEPING IN A STATE OF HOPE

KEEPING IN A STATE OF HOPE

A Sermon by Rev. Donald L. Rose    Preached in Bryn Athyn October 8, 1995   It is written in the Psalms,

“Why are you cast down, 0 my soul? And why are you disquieted within me? Hope in God; for I shall yet praise Him” (42:5, 11). And again in the Psalms: “But I will hope continually, and will praise You yet more and more” (71:14).

The Writings speak of “a bright state of hope” (AC 8165). Our lesson this morning says that the angels endeavor to “keep the person in a state of hope” (AC 2338). “If he suffers himself to be cheered by hope, he stands fast in what is affirmative.”

A valuable truth about life is that we should live in the present, and many of us consciously try to do that. But this is a sermon about hope. And hope, you may say, has to do with the future. Hope may be related to the future, but it is something you feel in the present. It is a present experience. Yes, try to live in the present, but live with hope.

Hope is both something of the rational mind and something of the heart. The book Divine Providence says that it is reason’s delight to contemplate a coming effect not in the present but in the future. And then it is said, “This is the source of what is called hope” (DP 178). We find pleasure in contemplating, anticipating, and thinking of particular things to come. We like to have things we are looking forward to.

Hope as expressed in the psalm is also something that flows in and warms us. It is a heart gift. The Writings speak of three things that come to a person who is praying or has prayed: “hope, consolation, and a certain inward joy” (AC 2535). When we are assaulted by evil spirits, we are told that an answer from the Divine flows in. This scarcely comes to the perception otherwise than as “hope and the resulting comfort” (AC 8159).

The Hebrew word for hope in the Psalm is yachal. In a couple of contexts yachal is rendered “trust.” For example, in the book of Job: “Though He slay me, yet will I trust Him” (13:5). It is also translated to “wait.” “Mine eyes fail while I wait for my God” (69:3). Hope is a waiting with good expectation, like one who in the darkness watches for the morning, like one who enters a new enterprise or a new year of work with good anticipation. I will hope continually. “My mouth shall tell of Your righteousness and Your salvation all the day long” (Psalm 71:15).

When we speak, we know we should speak in terms of hope. We are asked how a sick friend is doing. “Well, we hope he will soon be feeling better.” And if the condition is deteriorating, we hope he will be given strength. And if he dies, we hope that his passing will be understood by us, and of course we hope for his welfare in the world to come. Yes, we hope and hope and hope.

Is this realistic? Is it psychologically sound? Does it square reasonably with the actuality of human life? If the Lord is all-powerful, it is realistic. If the Lord sees and knows and cares, it is realistic. He is all-powerful. He sees and knows all things, and His love is ardent and everlasting. To an extent we know this. “They know that for those who trust in the Divine, all things advance toward a happy state to eternity, and that whatever befalls them in time is still conducive thereto.” “They are in the stream of Providence who put their trust in the Divine and attribute all things to Him” (AC 8478).

“Let Thy mercy, 0 Lord, be upon us according as we hope in Thee” (Psalm 33:22). Why are you cast down? Hope in God. The gift of hope makes life’s other gifts sparkle. Hope makes the good things of life enjoyable, and it makes adversities bearable. It makes the disappointments and apparent failures endurable. We have hope. And we note that hope is ranked with the two elements of charity and faith. Now abide these three: “faith, hope and charity” (I Cor. 13:13). Love bears all things, hopes all things, endures all things (v. 7).

The early Christians knew this well. The Christians who first endured in the city of Rome received word from the Apostle saying, “The sufferings of the present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us … Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation or distress or persecution or famine or nakedness or peril or sword? … I am persuaded that neither … principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:35,38,39).

Perhaps we appreciate hope especially in contrast to its absence. If you don’t have any hope, your plight is grievous. It is the state of despair. Every temptation we experience is attended, the Writings say, with some kind of despair (see AC 1787). It is a diminishing of hope. And in despair, particulars that might otherwise cheer us hold no joy for us. On the other hand, when we have hope it seems to have many particular facets. We have hopes for country, community and family, hopes for the church and hopes for specific uses. We look upon other people, and our love for them has specific hopes. The things they need are present with us when we are praying.

There is something special about our hopes for children, whether our own children or others. Because their life stretches out before them, we look on them with hope. We have hope for their success, overcoming their problems, healing their woes. When children are very young our hopes for them are often much better than their own hopes for themselves.

That helps us appreciate the Lord’s view of our hopes. It helps us when we pray that the Lord’s will be done rather than our own. For His will for us is better than our own.

In one place the Writings speak of “the hope of becoming an angel” (HH 517:2). What a hope for us of finding a life in which what we do is useful for others and makes a difference for good.

We should all be stirred by the doctrinal knowledge that the Lord’s purpose is a heaven from the human race, and that our life is related to that purpose. The elderly who seem to have lost much in terms of worldly hopes should in particular know the benefit of the hope that is from the Lord. It is part of our identity, our destiny.

An angel is not always in an intense state of joy. Swedenborg was given to observe at close hand a whole spectrum of angelic states, states compared to the time of day, morning, noon, and evening. He was allowed to talk to angels when zest for life was at its lowest. And it is remarkable that in that state they spoke about hope. “But they said that they hoped to return soon to their former state, and thus into heaven again, as it were” (HH 160).

We know something similar to this. We converse with each other about our disappointments, and we can do so with a smile. We are even able to say to each other, “I have been very depressed lately. I have been feeling so low.” But we can say even that cheerfully, because we have hope.

There is a beautiful passage in Conjugial Love that says, “When the partners tenderly love each other, they think of their covenant as being eternal and have no thought whatever concerning its end by death; and if they do think of this, they grieve; yet, at the thought of its continuance after death, they are revived by hope” (CL 216). They are revived or strengthened by hope.

The mention of conjugial love may remind us of our wondering on the grand scale about the future of true love in this world. So much comes to our attention that can make us regard the human race in a declining plight. Once an angel spoke of the way the precious gift of conjugial love has declined. But note his final words: “Yet, I am nourished by the hope that this love will be resuscitated by the God of heaven, who is the Lord; for its resuscitation is possible” (CL 78). “I am sustained by the hope that the God of heaven, who is the Lord, will revive this love, because it is possible for it to be revived.”

Let us be willing that the Lord shall cheer us with His gift of hope. Remember the phrase “but still, if he suffers himself to be cheered by hope, he stands fast in what is affirmative” (AC 2338). “I will hope continually. And I will praise You yet, more and more.” Amen.

Lessons: Psalm 43, 130, Luke 10, AC 2338, 6144, 8165


Arcana Coelestia

2338. Temptations are attended with doubt in regard to the Lord’s presence and mercy, and also in regard to salvation. The evil spirits who are then with the man and induce the temptation strongly inspire negation, but the good spirits and angels from the Lord in every possible way dispel this state of doubt, and keep the man in a state of hope, and at last confirm him in what is affirmative. The result is that a man who is in temptation hangs between what is negative and what is affirmative. One who yields in temptation remains in a state of doubt, and falls into what is negative; but one who overcomes is indeed in doubt, but still, if he suffers himself to be cheered by hope, he stands fast in what is affirmative.

6144. … There are many reasons why despair is the last of desolation and of temptation (n. 5279, 5280), of which only these following may be adduced. Despair causes those who feel it to acknowledge in an effectual and feeling manner that there is nothing of truth and good from themselves, and that from themselves they are condemned, but that they are delivered from condemnation by the Lord, and that salvation flows in by means of truth and good. Despair also causes them to feel the happiness of life which is from the Lord; for when they come out of that state, they are like those who have been condemned to death and are set free from prison. Moreover, by means of desolations and temptations, states contrary to heavenly life are felt, the result of which is the implantation of a sense and perception of the satisfaction and happiness of heavenly life; for a sense and perception of what is satisfying and happy is impossible without comparison with the opposites. To the end therefore that full comparisons may be made, desolations and temptations are brought to their utmost, that is, to despair.

8165. … Those who are in despair, which is the last of temptation. … are as it were on the slope, or are as it were sinking down toward hell. But at this time such thought does no harm whatever, nor do the angels pay any attention to it, for every man’s power is limited, and when the temptation arrives at the furthest limit of his power, the man cannot sustain anything more but sinks down. But then, when he is on the downhill course, he is raised by the Lord and thus liberated from despair; and is then for the most part brought into a clear state of hope and of the consequent consolation, and also into good fortune …

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