Sunday, November 11, 1995

Location - Bayside
Bible Verses - 1 Samuel 24:1-13
John 24:22-36

And he said to his men, ¡°The Lord forbid that I should do this thing to my master, the Lord¡¯s anointed, to stretch forth my hand against him, seeing that he is the anointed of the Lord. - I Samuel 24:6

This story comes from a difficult time in the story of the birth of the nation Israel. Threatened with extinction at the hands of the Philistines, the people had united under the military leadership of Saul, whose courage and physical stature represented the strength they believed they needed. But Saul¡¯s inner character did not match his outward appearance. He did not have the kind of spiritual strength that would have enabled him to follow the Lord¡¯s instructions when things seemed to go wrong. It takes a special strength to ¡°wait for the Lord,¡± and he did not have it.

David is portrayed as having that inner reliance on the Lord. Very early in the story, it becomes clear that he is destined to replace Saul as king. He is more loyal, he is more effective, he is more popular. Yet the actual transition takes years. David may have been anointed king, but he absolutely refuses to claim the throne as long as Saul is alive. Not only that, he refuses to do anything that would shorten Saul¡¯s reign. He fled into the southern mountains to avoid confrontation. He spared Saul¡¯s life twice, even though Saul was clearly trying to kill him.

While Swedenborg says very little about Saul, there are enough comments about the first three kings to indicate that Saul represents a state in which natural principles rule, David a state in which spiritual principles rule, and Solomon a state in which celestial or heavenly principles rule. In less technical terms, Saul pictures a primary concern for outward behavior, David a primary concern for understanding, and Solomon a primary concern for loving.

With this in mind, the relationship between Saul and David makes very good sense. It tells a story that has been repeated time after time, a story that we may very well find happening in our own individual lives. Our outward behavior is important. We must not evade the fact that we are to lead good moral lives, lives of obedience to the commandments. Yet if we think that is all there is to it, we become self-righteous and judgmental. We need also to examine our reasons for living good outward lives. We need to understand.

This can be alarming. If we think for a moment of one of the simpler of the Ten Commandments, ¡°Thou shalt not steal,¡± the natural level simply condemns the act of theft, while the spiritual level tries to understand the thief. To the natural level, this looks like ignoring the commandment. Saul sees David as a threat. But in fact, the spiritual level simply wants to get to the root of the problem. It knows that theft will not stop until the desire to steal is unmasked, and it knows or suspects that the roots of that desire go deep. A change of behavior is just a first step in the right direction. The problem will not be solved until there is a change of attitude. So David respects Saul and even protects him.

We can see the same principle operating on a larger scale when we turn to the subject of the New Church. Swedenborg uses the Gospel image of new cloth on an old garment to illustrate one of the relationships between the new church and the old, and makes the following statement:

The truth of the new church is more inward truth, which means that it is truth for the inner person, while the truth of the old church is more outward truth, truth for the outer person (Arcana Coelestia 92197).

This seems to say quite clearly that there may not be any direct conflict between the two kinds of truth, because they operate on different levels. Certainly the outer person, the person that acts and interacts in this world, needs truth on that outward level. The particular gift of the new church is that sees this kind of truth as ¡°necessary but not sufficient.¡± We need it, but we need more.

We may connect this with a short but important definition from The New Jerusalem and Its Heavenly Doctrine (n. 100), ¡°Charity is acting with prudence to the end that good may result.¡± If I have done wrong, it is absolutely necessary that I admit it, that I face the fact as honestly as I can. But the good result I want, surely, is that I do not commit the same transgression again. What can I do to prevent it? This means I must not let condemnation of the act change into self-condemnation. I must let it impel me toward self-understanding. Self-control and will power will carry us only so far. When they fail--as Saul failed--we must look deeper.

It is in this deeper realm, the realm of causes, that our church has a unique wealth. Page after page of the writings tells about the workings of our minds and our hearts. It is surely relevant that the task to which Swedenborg was called was to disclose the spiritual meaning of the Scriptures, and equally relevant that in order to equip him for this task, he was granted open experience of the world that is normally hidden from our sight. He knew from experience that this inner world is where the real decisions are being made. He knew from experience the truth of the Lord¡¯s insistence that the inside of the cup and the platter must be cleansed.

Still, there is nothing whatever escapist or other-worldly about this theology. The life that leads to heaven is not a life withdrawn from the world, but a life of involvement in the world (Heaven and Hell n. 528).

There seems to be a style of Biblical literalism that believes we prove our morality by what we condemn. A few literalists hit the headlines when it is discovered that their own behavior violates the commandments. At such times, it is clear that we need to prove our morality by the way we live, and the little quote from The New Jerusalem and Its Heavenly Doctrine suggests that we need to look particularly at the effect of our lives. If condemnation of an evil works, then by all means, condemn it. But do not think that the condemnation is a virtue apart from what it accomplishes. If it does not work, be prepared to ask why, and to look for some other way.

To me, one of the saddest sentences in the English language is, ¡°I really told him.¡± It is sad because it pays no attention to the effect of the ¡°telling.¡± Contrast it with another possible statement--¡±I think he sees now what he did wrong.¡± The first sentence focuses entirely on me and on what I did. The second focuses on the good result. The first focuses on externals, on the words that were said. The second focuses on internals, on the understanding that was gained. The first is Saul, resisting any effort to look beneath the surface. The second is David, actually accomplishing Saul¡¯s purposes.

The same issue comes up in even more vivid form in the Gospels. Swedenborg interprets John the Baptist as representing the literal sense of Scripture. This is what prepares the way for the Lord--that is, for our acceptance of the Lord in our hearts. Time and time again the Lord insists that he has come not to abolish the external law but to show us its spiritual content. The commandment not to kill must be filled with the prohibition of anger and contempt for others. The commandment not to commit adultery must be filled by the rejection of lust. The payment of tithes must be filled with a love of justice and mercy and faith, the ¡°weightier matters of the law¡± (Matthew 23:23).

However, the external of the law must be there to be filled. Perhaps the second most sad sentence in the English language is, ¡°But I meant well. My intentions were good.¡± The only times we say this are times when we have done some harm. If our intentions were truly good, then we must be dismayed at the harm we have done. If we are not dismayed, then we are just claiming good intentions in order to escape accountability.

It is worth noting that when the Lord began his ministry in Galilee, he started with the same message that John the Baptist had proclaimed: ¡°Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.¡± But as John himself observed, the Lord offered a baptism, a cleansing, on a far deeper level. ¡°I baptize you with water for repentance, but the one who is coming after me is mightier than I . . . He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire.¡± So the Lord began with the message that the kingdom was at hand, but did not stop there. When he saw how people responded to the message, he responded to them. He kept pressing deeper and deeper, seeing through outward appearances, uncovering people¡¯s secret thoughts and motives. Eventually he would say quite clearly that the kingdom itself is within us (Luke 17:21).

The very purpose of creation is that kingdom, the kingdom of heaven (Divine Providence 72). Before Swedenborg, the Christian church tended to think of heaven in terms of the Beatific Vision, of individuals lost in wonder at the glory of God. Our theology, though, insists that the Lord did not create us because he needed admirers. The heaven we find in Heaven and Hell is lively and interactive. Heavenly happiness is not found in passive wonder but in active service. We are created in the image and likeness of the Creator, which means that we are called to love each other as our Creator loves us.

Our theology does offer us a path to enlightenment. It is not the path of withdrawal from the world, but the path of active service, of involvement in the world. First, that is we must accept the reign of Saul, the baptism of John. When that proves inadequate--as it will, if we persist--then we will find ourselves ready for David, for the baptism of the Holy Spirit, and of fire. As long as Saul works, he is to be king because the way we behave outwardly, the way we treat each other, really does matter. If we are honest in our efforts to care for each other, those efforts will lead us to the next step when its proper time arrives, a time which only the Lord knows.


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