1 John 3:11-16
Rev. Kit Billings
February 1, 2004
There is a traditional Jewish story about a man who had spread many malicious rumors about his Rabbi. The man felt guilty about what he had done and asked his rabbi what he could do to fix the situation. The rabbi told him to bring him a feather pillow, which he did. The rabbi told the man to go to the top of a hill and tear open the pillow and allow the feathers to fly free, releasing them into the wind. The man did just as the rabbi had said. He ripped open the pillow and watched the feathers float away beautifully into the breeze, drifting into every direction. Then upon returning to his rabbi he asked, “Is this all I must do?” And the rabbi replied, “No, you have one more task. Now you must go and collect all of the feathers which you released.” The man responded, “But Rabbi, that is impossible. They have blown away in all directions.” The rabbi responded, “Yes, you are correct. And it is the same with the malicious rumors you have spread about me. They too cannot be reclaimed, for they have spread about in all directions.”
Our Creator does not want us to murder each other physically. Likewise, our Divine Father does not want us to murder each other emotionally, nor falsely destroy another vital aspect of ourselves, our reputation.
Our Lord Jesus clearly needed humanity to reach into a deeper level of understanding of spiritual truth than just the literal level of holy Scripture. Why? Because we all have been innately created with an external and an internal degree of life. You have a physical aspect of being and a spiritual one, and that's why both degrees of Scripture are critical. With both adultery and murder our Great Creator while incarnate in the life and person of Jesus Christ spoke with people about the double-layer of truth that exists in life. The Lord illustrated this extremely important truth by saying that there is physical adultery we can commit, as well as mental and emotional adultery. Jesus said in Matthew, “You have heard that it was said, 'Do not commit adultery.' 28But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” Likewise in the same chapter we read, “You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, 'Do not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.' 22But I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment.”
There is much within world religious literature that warns against the fiery passions of hatred, and even of speaking unkind and unfair words against one's neighbor. In the Islamic Qur'an we read: “Whosoever slays a soul…shall be as if he had slain mankind altogether; and whosoever gives life to a soul, shall be as if he had given life to mankind altogether.” (5:35) It's just awesome to me how much of our lives are held in each other's hands. Our New Church teachings call our attention to the incredibly important reality that it is actually the things going on within our intentions and our thinking that first and foremost draw us either to heaven or to hell in the afterlife, because while we are in this world it is the life of our inward being that is openly receiving the life and energy of one of those two spiritual realms every day. One of the major purposes of this lifetime on earth is for us to learn how (with God's help) to gain control over our anger, our feelings of revenge, our impure thoughts and our self-centered affections.
I recall driving into work one day and it was a time when I was reviewing how many different things I wanted to accomplish, which was quite a few. I felt in a hurry and wanted to get my horses moving and my plow driving forward so to speak. The leader in me was really, really ready to “make some hay” as the saying goes, and wouldn't you know it, I came upon a driver going 30mph in a 35mph speed zone. I felt that hot energy and some anger rise up within me, and I felt angry with this person. Then I realized what was going on—I was getting upset with this driver over something unfair and silly. I remembered that I have a value for the leisurely sort of driving too, especially since I like to do it sometimes myself. I realized it was time to offer up a prayer for my Creator to please take away my anger and fill me with His love and His peace. And of course, the Lord answered my prayer.
Sometimes, however, life situations get much, much more difficult. We can feel oh so justified in feeling extremely angry with someone we're in a disagreement with. In addition, all of us, typically, will encounter times when someone else seriously wrongs us, big time. One of the most painful kinds of wrongdoing is when someone attempts to destroy our reputation unjustly. Wow, how hurtful it is to take away someone else's good name, especially after we work really hard to do good in this world. And then it's as if our anger just wants to take a spiritual knife and plunge it into the person again and again and again. I read a story about a mother who claimed she was falsely accused of murder, which now keeps her from every being able to mother her children in this world, ever again. She was taking the Rise Above It seminar, the same sort of seminar I will be leading here in our church in February. She learned about the spiritual sense of the Fifth Commandment and shared honestly that she is not sure if she can ever stop feeling extremely angry with the man who falsely accused her, wanting to murder him inside of her heart and mind each week she must live separated from her children. It appears that some people may be beyond getting over certain degrees of being spiritually murdered.
What we can say is that God's Word reveals to us that the Lord is able to forgive even the very worst of sins, and He makes Himself available to us to move in the direction of deep healing and ultimate forgiveness. Our teachings also make it clear that God is not an angry being, which comes from the inner degree of light and truth from God's Word. Divine Love does not lose its temper nor react in rash and impulsive ways. During our gradual psychospiritual development here on earth, however, we may need years of being free to release our anger therapeutically upon pillows or cushions before reaching the angelic grace of being able to be so strongly committed and open to divine love that anger becomes a non-option. For whenever we “burn inside” with the hell-fires of anger coupled with desires for revenge or wanting to do someone harm, we also murder and hurt part of our own soul as well. This is very distinct from our human zeal of needing to protect our loved ones however. Spiritual zeal has no desire whatsoever to hurt or destroy someone else, but simply to protect everyone from being hurt. It can be very, very growth-producing to spend some time carefully examining ourselves over a 36 hour time period and just mark how many times we find ourselves losing control of our thoughts and affections, where we burn with hellish fires to “get back” at those who are disturbing or hurting us. In our upcoming seminar, I will ask you to participate in just this sort of activity. My focus with you will not be about social or ethical kinds of killing, but as Ray Silverman states it, “observing and rooting out the accumulated hatred and contempt in our own hearts.”
Our Creator, while ministering here on earth, revealed to us that we need to be very careful with what we allow to come from out of our mouths. Jewish Law was concerned with certain animals that people put into their mouths. Jesus Christ, however, was only concerned with what came out of them as we read in Matthew: “I say to you that for every idle word men may speak, they will give account of it in the day of judgment. For by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.” (12:36-37) The Lord said: It is not “what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but what comes out of the mouth makes him unclean.” (15:11) Our words are really what defines our character. In fact the angels of heaven can tell all about us by just one word we say and how we say it.
Our Ten Commandments Seminar will call you to grow beyond the literal level of the Lord's Commandments and start striving to rise above our base, natural mental nature into the higher degrees of love and wisdom contained within these ten laws of heavenly life. The issue we are all faced with according to the revelations of God is if we are willing to work with Him in prayer and self-examination to follow God's Divine Law because it is God's will. Also, because it is this degree of spiritual truth that the Kingdom of Heaven lives in—we must get control of our deep anger and contempt before we're ready for residency in God's Kingdom of angelic love and truth. The work we will do in our seminar then is simply helping us all to further grow into angelic beings while on earth. Only by reaching out in prayer to the infinitely powerful Love and Truth of God, however, will we be able to make headway together.
The Lord's New Church on earth is truly the graduate school of Christian life and spirit. Yet it is certainly the depth of growth and maturation that Christ Himself, as well as His apostles such as John, understood was crucial for us to engage. For the truth is: “He who hates his brother is a murderer.”
The bottom line is, we are all called to be life-givers, not life-takers! Christianity is boiled down, as they say, into a spirituality of giving, forgiving, serving, loving, healing and blessing. Swedenborg learned that God and His angels are only about looking at the positive side of human beings, without denying the truth of whatever hellishness we may get caught up in, to be sure. The angels have grown to the point of being able to bend whatever is bad and twisted about another and help that person to move, perhaps, into a good direction, but only if that person is willing to go there. Still however, the Lord's angels will never take up a spiritual sword or lance and drive such emotional implements through the heart of anyone else. This in my mind is the ideal, it's what I am trying to develop into before I die. Together with God's tremendous help we will get there.
Jesus death on the cross and His resurrection into new life is our base symbol of the reality that only in our Creator's great and almighty Spirit can we die as to our natural-centered humanity and rise to our angelic-humanity. The Lord rose from His grave and ascended into His full divinity. You and I are designed to rise above our natural-mindedness and receive our angelic humanness promised us from birth. Yet your cooperation, self-examination, prayer and desire to change must be used. Our salvation in God's Life and Power depend upon it.