Little Flock

Sunday, June 6, 2001

Location - Bath
Attribute - God's Will
Bible Verses - Hosea 11
Luke 11:16-32


Bath 6-10-01

Hosea 11

Luke 12:16-32

The Book of Revelation Explained 926

Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father's good pleasure to

give you the kingdom.

Luke 12:32

Nothing we can do, nothing whatever, can stop the Lord from loving us. That

love does not gloss over our faults. It is a perfect and infinite love, and

it is inseparable from its own perfect and infinite wisdom. All our fears

of what the Lord might do to us because of our transgressions are without

foundation. They are examples of our tendency to create God in our own

image, to think of divine love in terms of our own love. It is our love

that has limits. It is our love that is conditional, that says, "If you

will be my friend, I will be yours." There are no limits to infinite love,

and there are no "ifs," no conditions attached.

The story told in our third lesson gives us an extreme example of this. It

tells of people who have found delight in the tyranny of orthodoxy, in a

belief that the heart of religion was right belief, with love of the

neighbor good, but strictly optional. Belief of this kind is ultimately

inhuman, well represented by beast that was part dragon, part leopard, and

part bear, and all destruction. So it should come as a surprise when

Swedenborg is first shown the image representative of that faith, and it

looks "magnificent"-a woman, evidently beautiful, clothed in scarlet,

holding a gold coin and a string of pearls.

It is only when some light from heaven is let in that the guide sees the

destructiveness of his faith, and he is clearly shocked. "What is this?

Where did this come from?" Most of the time, that is, when he enters the

shrine he sees the magnificent image. We have to believe that if he were

asked where he was, he would say that he was in heaven.

The basic principle involved is often stated quite simply. Whatever we

love, we call good, and whatever supports that love, we call true (Divine

Providence 195:2). We are quite capable of enjoying such destructive

attitudes as anger and resentment and self-pity and of accepting

wholeheartedly every bit of information that tells us that they are

justified. It is only the day after that we look back and see such episodes

is something like "the light of heaven," and we are dismayed by what we


What our third reading is telling us is that if we persist in

self-indulgence, these times of seeing ourselves in the light of heaven

will become more and more infrequent, and that after death we will be able

to choose to avoid that light decisively. That is, we will be able to spend

the vast majority of our time in the light that tells us that we are right

and that what we love is good. The image of our faith will be beautiful. We

will see the gold and the pearls.

This is the Lord's love at work, making the absolute best that can be made

of whatever we offer. Here again, there is a principle involved that is

fairly simply and obvious once we notice it. The overwhelmingly negative

picture of love of self is not the whole story.

When we are engaged in the good that charity and faith can do, then we also

love ourselves and the world, but only the way we love the means to an end.

The love of self within us is focused on a love of the Lord because we are

loving ourselves as means to the end of serving the Lord. Our love of the

world is focused on a love of the neighbor, since we are loving the world

as a means to the end of serving the neighbor. (Secrets of Heaven 7819)

In other words, there is something good about love of self. The simple fact

that the Lord loves us should tell us that we are to be loved. The problem

comes when that love takes center stage, when it becomes our primary motive

rather than a means to an end. When this happens, we begin to regard our

talents as reasons that others should defer to us rather than as gifts that

we can use in the service of others. We begin to look to the Lord to tell

us that we are right rather than to find out whether we are.

Perhaps the primary evidence that there is something good about the love of

self is that there is pleasure in self-gratification. Ultimately, that is,

evil is simply and totally bad for us. It hurts, and there is no pleasure

in it. The only pleasure there can be in self love stems from what we might

think of as its residual goodness, from the fact that the Lord wants us to

be happy. This means that there is something right, something from the

Lord, in our own wanting to be happy.

When that desire takes over, though, it tends to cut us off from the source

of the deepest and most lasting happiness, namely our ability to find joy

in the joy of others (Divine Love and Wisdom 47). It cuts us off from the

whole vast world of human community, from everything we have to give each

other. It confines us to the tiny world we construct for ourselves, the

world where we reign supreme; and the only happiness we can find is within

the confines of that world.

The only happiness we can find is within the confines of that world, and

our loving Lord lets us live there because it is our Father's good pleasure

to give us the kingdom, just as much of it as we are willing to receive. No

matter what we choose to do or to be, the Lord will continue in that will

and that effort. This is what the prophet Hosea heard at a dark, dark

moment in the history of Israel.

How shall I give you up, Ephraim? How shall I hand you over, Israel? How

shall I treat you like Admah? How shall I make you like Zeboim? My heart

has changed within me; all my compassion is gathered together. (Hosea 11:8)

We have all wondered about our eternal lot, I suspect, and had times of

anxiety about our salvation. These fears can serve a purpose temporarily,

keeping us upright when we would rather fall, but they are a kind of crutch

that the Lord would have us cast aside in due time. As the light of heaven

begins to get through to us, we no longer see the beautiful image with the

gold coin and the pearls. We begin to see the dragon and the leopard and

the bear. That is the attitudes of mind and heart that are really bad for

us begin to look really bad. They lose their appeal.

Another way of saying this is to say that there are no tricks or traps in

the Lord's providence over our lives. We will not arrive in the spiritual

world and be told that we have to go to hell because we didn't sign some

paper that we never knew about or because we didn't obey a law that we were

never taught. There will be no surprises. We will simply go on being the

kind of people we really want to be. The only difference is that we will

move beyond our present inner conflict and finally make up our own minds.

"This is what I have decided to call good, and this is what I have decided

to believe is true." Whatever our decision, the Lord will do everything

that can be done to bring out the best and prevent the worst.

The problem with hell is, of course, that evil is doing everything it can

to bring out the worst and prevent the best. That is, in a hellish society,

everyone is against everyone else. There is no one who can be trusted. I

have only my own interests at heart, and I am the only one who has my own

interests at heart. If I am going to make a heaven out of my situation, I

cannot expect any help from my neighbors. Without the Lord's help, it would

be an utterly hopeless task.

All that has happened, though, is that the physical coverings of our

character have been taken away. When we talk about what will happen to us

after death, we are talking about what is happening to us now, internally.

Right now we are calling what we love good and what supports our love true.

Right now, that is, we are either trying to make the world over to our own

specifications or trying to make ourselves over to the Lord's

specifications. Right now, we are choosing the kind of people we prefer to

be with; and right now, the people we find attractive are the ones who

reflect our own values, our own priorities.

Through all of this indecision and struggle, there is one constant: it is

our Father's good pleasure to give us the kingdom. The word "give" here

needs to be taken with full seriousness. It is not the Lord's pleasure that

we should earn the kingdom. That is not within our power. What is within

our power is simply to accept or reject it, and we accpt it not by learning

and following obscure and intricate rules or by performing arcane and

austere rites, but by treating each other with affection and understanding.

The Deuteronomist had said it as well as it has ever been said:

For this commandment that I am commanding you today is not hidden or far

off. It is not in heaven so that you need to say, "Who will go up to heaven

for us and bring it down so that we may hear it and do it?" It is not

across the sea, either, so that you need to say, "Who will cross the sea

for us and bring it back so that we may hear it and do it?" No, this word

is very near to you. It is in your mouth and in your heart, so that you can

do it.

Deuteronomy 30:12-14

The commandment is in our hearts because it is the way our hearts work. It

is intrinsic to our individual mental and emotional health. It is in our

mouth because it is the way communication works in human society. It is

intrinsic to human relationships. It makes the difference between peace and

war. There is not a single divine commandment that has been put there

simply as a kind of test of our loyalty or our faith. Every divine law is

for our own sakes, the affirmative ones to bring us blessing and the

negative ones to prevent harm. Truly, constantly, and exclusively, it is

our Father's good pleasure to give us the kingdom.



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