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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PROTECTING MARRIAGE

PROTECTING MARRIAGE
A Sermon by Rev. Brian W. Keith
Preached in Glenview, Illinois May 1, 1988

“From true conjugial love there is power and protection against the hells … for the reason that through conjugial love a person has conjunction with the Lord, and the Lord alone has power over all the hells” (AE 999:2).

Marriage is precious. That most intimate of human relationships has the potential to provide a happiness that can hardly be described. Nowhere else can we share as much. Nowhere else can we receive as much from another human being. Nowhere else can we develop as strong a bond one that will last forever.

Think of the love that Isaac and Rebekah had. Although it was an arranged marriage, each willingly accepted the other and cared for the other. And it is expressed so simply: “and he took Rebekah and she became his wife, and he loved her” (Gen. 24:67). Such love is different from every other affection that we might feel. It leads us to enjoy the presence of our spouse. It leads us to think of that person as our closest friend. But it also leads us to become one with our partner. It leads to a union that is special, unique. It leads to a human life that is full two becoming one flesh.

This is so important, so essential to our lives that it is worth protecting. It is worth taking care of and preserving that it might be realized.

For the person who is not yet married, the ideal of conjugial love is to be held high. Although there may have been disappointments, marriage is not just of this world. The person who asks the Lord for a conjugial partner may not receive one here, but the Lord will be able to provide one in the spiritual world for those who have cherished the concept of conjugial love. Protecting the conjugial for the single person is maintaining the dream, the promise, of what the Lord intends.

For the person who has experienced loss in marriage, or who has deeply hurt feelings from a bad experience, there is also a need to protect the concept of marriage. Although the ideal of two people spending a lifetime together, drawing ever more close, may not have been realized, the ideal is never lost, merely postponed. Marriage cannot be destroyed unless a person wills to destroy it by rejecting the ideal and living as if a happy marriage were impossible. Avoiding the poisons of disillusionment and bitterness may be enough to protect and preserve the hope of conjugial love.

And for the person who is married, that relationship is to be treasured above all other human relationships. No other human being is as important or worthy of respect and attention as one’s spouse. Any step taken to enhance the marriage, any effort made to strengthen the love, protects this precious jewel of human life.

One critical way to protect conjugial love is to face and deal with anything that might harm the marriage. The most extreme attack upon the relationship comes from adultery. We should avoid this at all costs. As we see how opposed to marriage it is, and how destructive it is, we should flee from extramarital entrapments.

In some ways this may seem easy, for most people are not openly enticed by others. But the Lord noted that the love of adultery, a love that will eventually lead into open adultery, is present in lust (see Matt 5:27, 28).

It is also important to point out that adultery rarely occurs between complete strangers. Where a person is forming a close relationship with someone other than one’s spouse, where a special trust or confidence grows up, the normal barriers against adultery are lowered. Lust does not always take the form of an animal desire for sexual relations. It can initially hide itself under the guise of a desire for communication and intimacy apart from marriage. When relationships outside of marriage become very appealing or satisfying, warning bells should be sounding. For marriage requires protection by resisting the lures of anything that would become more important than one’s spouse. Shunning adultery as a sin enables a love for one’s spouse to grow in fact, to increase daily (see SD 6110:7).

But to protect marriage we need to do more than just fight against the allure of adultery. For one evil cannot be resisted in isolation. Anything that would encourage our selfishness, anything that would encourage an over-emphasis upon worldly things, must be fought against (see CL 356). Anything that would diminish our humanity also harms our marriages. For the quality of our marriages will be determined by the quality of love within our hearts. As we progress in all aspects of our spiritual life, so will we have more love for our spouse and a stronger bond of marriage.

For just fleeing from what is opposed to marriage is not enough. We cannot spend our entire lives constantly on the lookout for anything that might threaten our marriage. If we attempt to be on the alert at all times, we will soon assume that enemies lurk in every corner, in every conversation our spouse has with another, in every look of passing strangers.

Lasting protection for our marriages can come only from the Lord from receiving His love. Yes, we have to guard against what might harm marriage, but that is only so that a genuine conjugial love might grow. It is like gardening. We have to pull up weeds and prevent the rabbits from getting in, but we cannot neglect to plant the seeds and harvest the crops. A strong marriage one that is based upon common beliefs, similar loves, and willingness to grow is the only sure protection against the hells. Or as the Heavenly Doctrines state: “from true conjugial love there is power and protection against the hells” (AE 999:2).

Strengthening a marriage is the process of two becoming one. Some of this miraculously and secretly occurs just by living with another in marriage. For the wife’s innate love directs the potential conceit of the husband to be focused on her, “neither the man nor the wife being conscious of it” (CL 193:2, 123, 171). The Lord wonderfully draws the two souls together as they talk, as they sit quietly, as they share all the little things that add up to a marriage.

Marriage is also protected by the couple’s attitudes. If marriage is seen as important, as sacred and holy, then a special bond can exist between them (see AC 2733). They can then view their relationship not just as a convenient way to live together, not just as a legality, but as a foundation upon which all happiness can rest.

It is also important for a couple to recognize the role of the Lord (see De Conj 81). If conjugial love is seen as a heavenly love descending from Him, there can be a humility and reverence toward what has been given. When we realize that we do not have to make ourselves happy, that we do not have to create love, then we can relax and accept the Lord’s direction.

And one final attitude is vital if we believe that marriage is eternal, that what is begun on earth is continued in heaven, then a stronger commitment can be made and all the little problems of living with another person can be put in perspective (see CL 216).

These beliefs attitudes enable a couple to constructively work on their relationship. As their goals and values are one, so they can strive in the same direction.

But much of the visible work of the marriage is found in emphasizing the couple’s similarities and harmonizing the differences (see CL 228, 176). What draws a couple together similar loves and values are a continuing source of delight. From superficial to core facets of life, what is held in common is the basis for the growth of love. But how differences are handled also can promote the growth of marriage. Often a young couple will think that becoming one means becoming the same. Different ways of thinking or doing things can be threatening, so each may try to be exactly like the other, or force the other to be like him- or herself. A false oneness or forceful dominion is the result. As marriages develop, couples do become more similar, but they also more clearly define and appreciate their unique qualities.

And there is no secret method for how a couple should improve their marriage. The simple principles of charity taught so clearly in the Sermon on the Mount form the ground rules for a happy marriage: be helpful, do not attack with words or deeds, turn the other cheek and forgive, seek the Lord’s help in prayer, don’t be too critical, and see the good of the other person. These and all other aspects of acting charitably enable the Lord to unite hearts and minds, producing the joys of love truly conjugial.

With a developing relationship there is a growing protection of marriage. For the tender love they share then surrounds itself with jealousy (see CL 371) not the green-eyed monster which is suspicious of all, but the recognition of what would be lost if the marriage were harmed. It is a type of fear, a fear that something precious might be damaged. It is not selfish, for with genuine conjugial love the marriage becomes more important than the temporary delights either person experiences. The fear for marriage is the fear lest the other person suffer, lest the eternal promise of happiness be lost.

Jealousy is a protective covering for marriage. It is the flame of a genuine love defending what is precious, what is heavenly. It may show itself in hostility toward others who may be forming inappropriate relationships with one’s spouse. It may show itself in resentments toward excessive work or play that draws one’s spouse away from the home and marriage. From the depth and strength of conjugial love, a just and sane jealousy emerges, protecting what is good that it might remain the source of eternal happiness for husband and wife.

The heavenly union of one man with one woman is the priceless pearl of human life. The wholehearted giving of two people to each other can bring delight and joy that is beyond imagination. It begins as the Lord leads two to discover each other, sensing that they were made for each other. Their love then develops and grows and a marriage of spirits occurs. Love truly conjugial gradually descends into their relationship, and the two become one.

Protecting and guarding this relationship lest anything harm it is vital. One form of protection is resisting hellish loves opposed to marriage. Adultery and its loves found in lust are to be rejected. Turning away from the false sirens of temporary delight enables the tender love in marriage to grow.

But lasting protection against the enemies of marriage can be found only in love truly conjugial. It is that love itself, or rather the Lord’s presence in that love, which affords us protection. As we work at our marriages, the investment of time and energy, caring and self-sacrifice will strengthen our hearts. And with such strength comes Divine protection, protection so that heaven may be created even within our lives, within our marriages. Amen.

Lessons: Genesis 24, Matthew 5:27-32, CL 371

Conjugial Love 371

That with married partners who tenderly love each other, jealousy is a just grief from sound reason, lest their conjugial love be divided and thus perish. Within all love is fear and grief, fear lest it perish, and grief if it does perish. There is the like fear and grief in conjugial love, but the fear and grief of this love is called zeal or jealousy. That with partners who tenderly love each other this zeal is just and from sound reason is because it is at the same time fear for the loss of eternal felicity, not only his own but also his partner’s; and because it is also a protection against adultery. As regards the first point that it is a just fear for the loss of his own and his partner’s eternal felicity this follows from all that has hitherto been advanced respecting love truly conjugial, and also from the fact that from that love come the blessedness of their souls, the happiness of their minds, the delight of their bosoms, and the pleasure of their bodies; and because these remain with them to eternity, there is fear for each other’s eternal happiness. (As regards the second point) that the zeal is a just protection against adulteries this is evident; therefore it is as a fire blazing out against violation and defending itself against it. From this it is evident that one who tenderly loves his partner is also jealous; but the jealousy is just and sane according to the wisdom of the person.

EFFECTIVE HOPE AND EVERLASTING TRUST

EFFECTIVE HOPE AND EVERLASTING TRUST
A Sermon by Rev. J. Clark Echols, Jr.
Preached in Denver, Colorado, on June 26, 1983

“Wait silently for God alone, for hope is from Him … Trust in Him at all times, you people; pour out your heart before Him…” (Psalm 62:5, 8).

For what should we hope? In what should we trust? Obviously we should hope for salvation, and trust in God. And notice that we all have this hope now, and that leads us to trust in the Lord, even though hope applies to future things – what we would like later – and trust applies to the present – we want to trust the Lord now. We know this is true because as the Lord fulfills our hopes, we gain trust in Him.

Hope is commonly defined as a desire that we expect to be fulfilled. And trust is commonly said to be a confidence in someone or something. If this is so, why are so many hopeful people disappointed and hurt? And where is the evidence that our faith brings protection if we trust in it? And a final question: The Psalmist says that the Lord is “good to all and His tender mercies are over all His works” (145:9). What kind of mercy is it to let people’s dreams be destroyed by, say, a violent storm? What kind of mercy allows faithful, trusting people to suffer, not to mention allowing the innocent to starve, the young to die needlessly, the old to languish. There are answers to these questions in the Word, where we find that the hopes that are dashed and the trust that fails are not the hope and trust that are God-given. That is what the Word shows us: that genuine hope and trust are given to us by the Lord, not made up or manufactured by us.

What we are to do is to live according to the dictates of the Word at the same time as we are in the hope and trust that the Lord will save us. We are supposed to acknowledge that we do nothing good of ourselves at the same time as we feel assured by the hope that the Lord will grant us an understanding of truth from which we can live a good life. We are supposed to acknowledge that we bear the responsibility of the choice between good and evil at the same time as we trust that the Lord will lead us to do only that which is good and believe only that which is true.

Genuine hope is not simply the desire to have our expectations fulfilled. It is not a vague wish that things will go as we would like them to. That wish could be based on an evil desire; or we could be ignorant of what is best for us; it could go against what the Lord would have us hope for. When this kind of hopefulness is denied, it quickly fades, and we simply replace it with a new wish. It is a weak and temporary kind of hope. Genuine hope looks to what is eternal, so it never fades. It is given to us by the Lord, so it is most powerful. At the foundation of genuine hope for salvation is the promise the Lord has made that He will come to us and that He is in the constant endeavor to save us. That is His work. And we feel His work in us as a perception and assurance that the Lord helps us in our times of deepest despair – during combats of temptation.

We are not always conscious of it, but the Lord is very near us in states of spiritual struggle. If we continue to hope and trust in Him, and turn to Him, He can temper our despair with the hope of deliverance. Without Him there is no deliverer, no hope. He gives us hope in the realization that the purpose of temptation is that we will be saved and will receive heavenly happiness. Therefore, the hope we feel is His power working within us. Genuine hope is the Lord’s answer as He flows into us with the power of His glorified Divine Human. In so casting evil out of our minds, the Lord fulfills our hopes and earns our trust.

The danger in temptation, of course, is that we will lose hope and fail to trust. We do not readily feel the Lord’s help. In fact, we are most aware of the spiritual pain brought about by the hard choice before us. This mental, spiritual pain rules our thought, and anguish is our primary feeling. Yet in all this the Lord still maintains our ability to choose – that is His constant gift. It is His continual presence, in whatever state we are, that makes our freedom possible. We must make the choice – He cannot do that for us. Yet He does give us something of a perception of His presence. This perception is the hope He gives us, the hope He establishes. And it brings us consolation that our salvation is being wrought in us.

Now, the Lord wants to give us His hope, and He wants us to learn to trust Him. His Divine mercy will grant them to us when we have in us the vessels to receive them. These vessels are His truths, confirmed in our daily life. And so it is in His Word that we find the fulfillment of our hopes and the foundation for our trust. This hope continues with us to the farthest limits of despair; it is a hope that is not merely a desire for something we want; rather, it looks to our salvation and eternal welfare. In this hope we have a firm answer to doubt, despair, fear and death, for it is not limited by what we have or what we don’t have, or by the grave, but looks beyond it. It is not man- made, but applied to us by the Divine mercy of the Lord Himself.

Such genuine hope establishes real trust. Our hope for salvation, our hope for our future, establishes a trust in the Lord – that He is helping right now on our journey to heaven.

Consider for a moment trusting in the Lord to lead us to everlasting peace, joy and fulfillment. That has to be the greatest trust we can have. It is not simply confidence that our desires will be granted. It isn’t simply faith. if we believe that our faith alone saves us, our trust will be limited, and often too weak to stand up in times of natural or spiritual trial. When faith is not used in life, it is not saving; when it is, it becomes charity, which does save. We all must beware of the false sense of security merely having the faith can give us. If our trust in the Lord consisted merely in having faith in our memory, then all we would have to do is await salvation from the Lord, with our hands hanging down. This inaction does not reflect trust. In fact, such apathetic irresponsibility is what has led to the starvation, death and injustice that happens to the innocent and faithful that we wrongly ascribe to the Lord’s inaction.

Genuine trust in the Lord leads us to act from our faith. We trust that the Lord will guide our steps as we strive consciously to follow His path to heaven. Real trust is a faith that originates from charity in our will, from the sincere desire to do what is good. When we live according to the truths the Lord has shown us, then we are really placing our trust in Him. The ultimate of trust is to stake our eternal happiness on the truthfulness of what He says.

As we hope in the Lord, we uphold our responsibility to flee from evils and do goods, and we are given a lasting trust. This trust stays with us even in the midst of temptation. Like genuine hope, real trust is a force from within whereby we are able to resist evil. And notice the cycle here: as we become aware in ourselves of a willingness to submit ourselves to the Lord, even in temptation, He brings us victory and a perception of the security we have in Him. As we apply this perception of truth to our lives, He then inflows into our will with even more power, increasing our trust in Him. Therefore, every time we actually, with conviction, submit ourselves to our trust in the Lord, He comes with more and more power to cast evil out of our minds, to enlighten us, and to fill us with joy.

This trust endures throughout all the trials and tribulations of life on earth. We are taught that “for those who trust in the Divine, all things advance toward a happy state to eternity, and whatever befalls them in time is still conducive” to that eternal state (AC 8478). Such people do not blame the Lord for their temporal woes. They have the greatest confidence that the Lord will, if they let Him, use everything that happens to further their reformation and regeneration. These have genuine trust in the Lord.

Hope and trust in the Lord are not so hard to attain in this life. Actually, mere obedience to the Lord’s laws, the ten commandments, requires trust in the Lord, and implies our hope for salvation through obedience. Beyond this obedience it is our responsibility to come to see that we have hope and trust solely because the Lord’s Divine mercy affects them in us, and because they are the Lord’s to give us (see AC 30). The Divine mercy is applied freely to all, and is always effective for those who abstain from evil. The Lord’s mercy is of His Divine love which is constantly striving to lift us up if we allow Him to. Thus, the Lord grants His mercy not according to the doctrine we know, but according to the doctrine we live, that is, the charity we are practicing.

The Word teaches, then, that all real hope and trust are from the Lord, and are given to us from within. If our hope is in our salvation, then whatever we hope for will be granted. If we have trust in the truth we see working in our lives, we will always feel secure. The Lord has made this promise, and desires to give us these gifts. As we respond to His promise with a life of fleeing from evils and doing goods, out of the pure mercy of His Divine love the Lord will grant us eternal happiness. So hope and trust are gifts greatly to be desired.

As it is written in the 27th Psalm: “Though an army should encamp against me, my heart shall not fear; though war should rise against me, in this will I be confident. One thing I have desired of the Lord, that will I seek: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to behold the beauty of the Lord, and to inquire in His temple” (v. 3, 4). Amen.

Lessons: Psalm 62, AC 8478

Arcana Coelestia 8478

[2] As in this verse [Exodus 16:191 and the following verses in the internal sense care for the morrow is treated of, and as this care is not only forbidden but is also condemned (that it is forbidden is signified by that they were not to make a residue of the manna till the morning, and that it is condemned is signified by that the worm was bred in the residue, and it stank), he who looks at the subject no more deeply than from the sense of the letter may believe that all care for the morrow is to be cast aside, and thus that the necessaries of life are to be awaited daily from heaven; but he who looks at the subject more deeply than from the letter, as for instance he who looks at it from the internal sense, is able to know what is meant by “care for the morrow.” It does not mean the care of procuring for one’s self food and raiment, and even resources for the time to come; for it is not contrary to order for anyone to be provident for himself and his own. But those have care for the morrow who are not content with their lot; who do not trust in the Divine but in themselves; and who have regard for only worldly and earthly things, and not for heavenly things. With such there universally reigns solicitude about things to come, and a desire to possess all things and to dominate over all, which is kindled and grows according to the additions thus made, and finally does so beyond all measure. They grieve if they do not obtain the objects of their desire, and feel anguish at the loss of them; and they have no consolation because of the anger they feel against the Divine, which they reject together with everything of faith, and curse themselves. Such are they who have care for the morrow.

[3] Very different is the case with those who trust in the Divine. These, notwithstanding they have care for the morrow, still have it not, because they do not think of the morrow with solicitude, still less with anxiety. Unruffled is their spirit whether they obtain the objects of their desire or not; and they do not grieve over the loss of them, being content with their lot. If they become rich, they do not set their hearts on riches; if they are raised to honors, they do not regard themselves as more worthy than others; if they become poor, they are not made sad; if their circumstances are mean, they are not dejected. 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.

[41 Be it known that the Divine Providence is universal, that is, in things the most minute, and that they who are in the stream of Providence are all the time carried along toward everything that is happy, whatever may be the appearance of the means; and that those are in the stream of Providence who put their trust in the Divine and attribute all things to Him; and that those are not in the stream of Providence who trust in themselves alone and attribute all things to themselves, because they are in the opposite, for they take away providence from the Divine and claim it for themselves. Be it known also that insofar as anyone is in the stream of Providence, so far he is in a state of peace; also that insofar as anyone is in a state of peace from the good of faith, so far he is in the Divine Providence. These alone know and believe that the Divine Providence of the Lord is in everything both in general and in particular, nay, is in the most minute things of all, and that the Divine Providence regards what is eternal (n. 6491).

[5] But they who are in the opposite are scarcely willing to hear Providence mentioned, for they ascribe everything to their own sagacity; and what they do not ascribe to this they ascribe to fortune or chance: some to fate, which they do not educe from the Divine but from nature. They call those simple who do not attribute all things to themselves or to nature. From all this again it can be seen what is the quality of those who have care for the morrow, and what the quality of those who have no care for the morrow.

Despair – How to conjure up hope?

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 and sustain our endurance when set-backs and adversity get in the way.

I feel Stuarts’s problem however was that he had nothing to believe in 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, 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 both offers a timeless vision of life.

The way you think affects the way you feel – a psychological process 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 disbelief in any divine spark within and beyond humanity that can 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 such a belief may 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 – unless 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

His 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 start behaving 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.

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

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