Peace, or a Sword?

Yesterday we reached the conclusion of our sermon series on the Days of Creation. We focused on the final day, the day of rest, and I talked about the difference between temporary peace and eternal peace, or worldly peace vs. the peace that the Lord offers. Here’s the sermon, in audio and text. Readings are Genesis 2:1-3; Psalm 85; Mark 2:23-28; and Arcana Coelestia 10360; as always, I highly recommend reading the readings before listening to the sermon. Feedback is welcome!

Audio is here.

A Day of Rest

This week we reach the conclusion of our series on the days of creation. And today we talk about the final day, the seventh day. Now, the seventh day is not really a day of creation – it is a day of rest. It is a day that illustrates the ultimate result of going through the previous days. The ultimate end of creation is the creation of man, male and female – but the purpose of man is that they live in peace and harmony with one another and with God. That’s what happens on the seventh day – but it only happens as a result of everything that happened in those previous days.

So, let’s go back and look at what those days are. On the first day, God created the heavens and the earth; but the earth was formless and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep. Before we begin to be regenerated, we are in darkness, because we are in selfishness. We have no idea of what is good and true, because we define the good and the true as being whatever favours our selfish desires. But the Lord is at work. And in His mercy, at the right time, God says, “Let there be light.” And for the first time, we start to realize – there must be something more than this. And we start looking outside of ourselves for what is good and what is true. And as the light begins to dawn, we discover the Lord. We discover that He is, that He speaks to us in His Word, and that He is the source of everything good and true. And we realize, if I want to know what is good and true, I can’t look to myself – I need to look to the Lord and His Word.

This brings us into the second day – when the waters below are separated from the waters above. That is a picture of a growing realization that there is a difference between the lower or external man and the higher or internal man. Within the internal man, there are higher truths, truths that belong to the Lord alone. And when we open our minds to those truths and let them rain down into our consciousness, we look around at our lives and realize that we are not living by all these truths. There are ways that we act contrary to the Lord’s commandments. And so we make a commitment from those internal truths: I will start to live by what God commands.

We make that internal commitment, and then on the third day, the day of dry land, we bring those ideas down to earth. We compel ourselves to live in accordance with what we have seen to be right. This day is called in Arcana Coelestia a day of repentance – a day when we act, completely as if from our own power, to shun evils because they are sins against God. And as we do that, our lives gradually start to change – first in small ways, then more noticeably, until finally we can be said to “bear fruit” – that is, to do good works in our daily lives and interactions.

And yet, we are not finished yet, because up to this point we have done good out of struggle and self-compulsion, and not yet from love and faith. We still have not really acknowledged that all our effort to do good comes from the Lord alone and not from ourselves, even if we acknowledge that with our lips. But on the fourth day, that begins to change. God creates the sun – love starts to rise within us. We begin to experience the Lord’s love making changes in our hearts, changes that we realize we could not make on our own, and in the warmth of that love we realize that all-important truth – this is all a gift from the Lord alone. From that realization, we walk in faith even when we do not feel love, just as we are able to walk in the moonlight even when the sun has set.

And when we’ve experienced that transformation, that faith and love, then things start to come to life in us, to take on a life of our own. Those waters below and above, the lower and higher knowledges, begin to teem with life – new ideas, lower and higher, begin to be fruitful and multiply. We have exciting new thoughts about how we can follow the Lord; we see thousands of ideas within a single passage from the Lord’s Word, and even our most mundane ideas are given new life when we ask how we can use them to serve the Lord and serve our neighbour.

On the fifth day those ideas teem in our mind and in our words; on the sixth day, we live those ideas, and as we live them, new affections – the beasts and animals of the land – are born in our hearts – affections for truth, affections for mercy, affections for justice, affections for love. And as these grow and multiply, as our hearts are transformed, then for the first time we start to experience what it really means to be made into an image and likeness of God. God creates man, male and female, in His own image – we start to experience wisdom and love in a marriage, where we love to know and to do what is true.

In some ways, this is the culmination of the whole process. And yet, even as this is happening, there is still a conflict. Because even as that new man is being created, the old man still clings on; and because that old man still seeks to satisfy its lusts, even during the course of the sixth day there is combat and temptation.

We focused on this combat especially on the third day, and for the other days we’ve tended to focus on the positive things that are happening. But the reality is that every time something positive happens on one of those days, there is conflict, because the evil spirits that have access to us through that old will hate the possibility that we will change, and they’re going to attack us at every opportunity

It’s important to know this, because otherwise we might look at ourselves, and realize we still have strong attractions to evil, and think, “I must be on day zero!” But this is not the case. For a long time – for our whole lives, for most of us – that old man will cling to us and cause us grief. This is part of the process. It is only at the end of the process – when a person has not just been made spiritual, but celestial, that is, acts from love first and foremost – that we finally experience a state of true peace. Before that, there WILL be combat. A passage from Arcana Coelestia describes this combat as continuing even through most of the sixth day:

“In the course of regeneration, when man is being made spiritual, he is continually engaged in combat; for before regeneration lusts have the dominion, because the whole man is composed of mere lusts and the falsities derived from them. During regeneration these lusts and falsities cannot be instantaneously abolished, for this would be to destroy the whole man; and therefore evil spirits are allowed to continue with him for a long time.” (AC 59)

We have these struggles for a long time – throughout the entire time that we are being made into a new creation.

And yet, the Lord does give us tastes of peace throughout this process. In fact, even from the very beginning we are given these states of peace. Listen to this passage from Arcana Coelestia:

“Within the man who is being regenerated, at first he is in a state of tranquillity; but as he passes into a new life, he also passes at the same time into an untranquil state. Yet inmostly the man is in a state of peace, for unless this were with him inmostly, he would not combat, for in his battlings he is continually looking to this state as the end, and unless he had such an end, he would in no wise have power and strength to combat.” (AC 3696)

We are given those moments of peace to sustain us throughout the process and to give us hope for what is to come. When we find ourselves being overwhelmed, we can call to mind those times in the past when the Lord has sustained us with peace, we can put our hope in the peace that is to come, and we can try to open ourselves up to experiencing peace here and now.

Now, we can sometimes focus too much on being peaceful, or at least, we can focus on it in the wrong kind of way. We can think, “The Lord’s goal for me is peace, so I’m going to ignore anything evil in my life, because that causes me distress.” But this misses the point. The reality is, until we get rid of evil, we will never be peaceful. In the Ten Commandments, the Lord does command rest on the Sabbath – but He also commands that six days we shall labour and do all our work, and those days of work represent the struggle we have to undergo before entering into that true Sabbath. The Lord Himself said, “”Do not think that I came to bring peace on earth. I did not come to bring peace but a sword” (Mat 10:34). Now the Lord did come to bring peace – but the kind of peace that only comes after we’ve been willing to take up our cross and die to selfishness. We need to be willing to undergo the work, the stress, the fight of shunning evils as sins, if we ever want to experience true rest. And that’s because, as it says in Isaiah, “The wicked are as the sea being driven up, when it is not able to be quiet, and its waters drive up dirt and mud. There is no peace, says my God, for the wicked” (Isaiah 57:20-21). As long as there is something in us that strives for dominion and power and wealth, as long as there is lust in us, we will never be satisfied with what we have. Those need to be removed before we can ever experience true peace.

Now again, we do have those moments of spiritual refreshment, and so we need to keep both these things in mind: we will not experience true peace until we are completely regenerated; and at the same time, we will be given tastes of that peace when we need it, if we ask the Lord for it.

So, what are we to do this week, practically speaking? As we’ve talked about in other weeks, we don’t make these days of creation happen, but we can open ourselves up to them happening, or close ourselves off to them happening. So how do we open ourselves up to experiencing this Sabbath day, this day of rest, when we know we might not experience it fully in this lifetime?

Well, there are several things. First of all, we can literally remember the Sabbath  – take the time to set aside a day for rest and for reflection on the Lord. And in particular, in that reflection, we can call to mind, we can remember what the Lord has promised, and what the Lord has done.

Specifically, we can reflect on what it means that He rested on the seventh day. What does that mean for you and me? Partly it means that if we continue to follow Him, He will give us rest at the end. And that is a good thing to reflect on. But there’s more to it than that. Notice that it does not say that man rests on the Sabbath day, but that God rested. The reason for that, according to Arcana Coelestia, is that it is actually God who fights for us all along, God who has been doing the work. And so on Sabbath days, when we have a chance to reflect, we can remember that and let it encourage us – we might feel like we’re fighting and working ourselves, but the Lord is with us doing all the real work, and the Lord has all power to overcome.

This is looking at this story in the context of an individual’s regeneration. But remember what we talked about last week in terms of what it means to become human: in the truest sense, only God is human, and there is only one man who has ever become truly human, because He was and is God as well as man. That, of course, is the Lord Jesus Christ. We talked last week about how vital it is to get to know Him, since our journey of regeneration is only possible because He walked the same path in His glorification, but infinitely and perfectly, whereas we only do it finitely and imperfectly. And in this sense, the Sabbath day represented the point where the Lord finally defeated the hells completely, overcoming in the last temptation on the cross. At this point, His humanity and His divinity became completely united, so that when we see the Lord Jesus Christ in our mind’s eye, we are seeing God. This is why the Lord, while He was in the world, said, “The Son of Man is Lord also of the Sabbath.”

As we read in our passage from Arcana Coelestia earlier, when the Lord glorified His human, and experienced true peace within Himself, He also brought true peace to His kingdom, because as He had defeated hell within Himself, He was at the same time casting it down into its place. And it is because of this action that the Lord God Jesus Christ can now remove hell from each one of us, and conjoin us to Himself. Because the Lord glorified His human, when we are conjoined with Him, we are being conjoined with the Infinite Divine Love itself. And this is the source of all peace.

And so, in this sense, to remember the Sabbath day means to continually call to mind the unification of the Divine and the Human in the Lord. This is to be at the heart of all our worship, and in our minds at all time. Even if it is not there consciously, still it must guide our every thought. Listen to this passage from Arcana Coelestia:

By “keeping the Sabbaths of Jehovah” is signified to think in a holy way and continually about the Lord, about the union of the Divine Itself with His Divine Human, about the conjunction of the Lord as to the Divine Human with heaven, about the conjunction of heaven with the church, and about the conjunction of good and truth in the man of the church. These are the very essentials of the church, for without acknowledgment of them and faith in them the church is not the church. (AC 10356)

This is what can give our minds those moments of peace. This is what will lead us all into true peace. Because the Lord has gone there ahead of us, He has prepared for each one of us a place of eternal peace. This is our promise, this is our hope, this is what strengthens us as we go through the struggles that cannot help but beset us as we allow the Lord to create within us a new heart and a new soul. When we allow Him to do so, He prepares a place for us, and gives us eternal peace.  Jesus said to His disciples,

“Let not your heart be troubled; you believe in God, believe also in Me. In My Father’s house are many mansions; if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also. And where I go you know, and the way you know. …I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me. If you had known Me, you would have known My Father also; and from now on you know Him and have seen Him. … Peace I leave with you, My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.” (John 14:1-7, 27)

(Image is “White Doves at the Blue Mosque” from Peretz Partensky on Flickr via Wikipedia; used under Creative Commons license)

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