By Rev. Eric Carswell
And Jehoshaphat said, "Is there not still a prophet of the LORD here, that we may inquire of Him?" So the king of Israel said to Jehoshaphat, "There is still one man, Micaiah the son of Imlah, by whom we may inquire of the LORD; but I hate him, because he does not prophesy good concerning me, but evil." (I Kings 22:7-8)
King Ahab is almost a comical figure in his complaining about the bad news he always hears from a prophet of the Lord. The most amazing quality of his response is that he seems completely unaware of the fact that he is personally responsible for the evil prophecy that always comes his way. Ahab had noted that there was a clear pattern in what he heard, but it was not in his will to see that he could do anything about it.
Without patterns in life we could learn nothing. If there was no order to the world that our mind could recognize, we would be continuously overwhelmed with a clutter of sights, sounds, smells, sense of touch and we would be terribly limited in making any kind of choice. For example, what if sometimes the pews you’re sitting in had no more strength than thin cardboard and sometimes held you up as they do now? You would never know whether they were safe to sit on. What if sometimes your favorite kind of apple had it normal juicy flavor and other times, without any change in appearance, tasted terribly wretched? Wouldn't you hesitate before biting into one?
In our relationships with other people the patterns aren't always as clear. We sometimes are greatly surprised by the responses that others give us when we say or do something. We can think we are making a perfectly innocuous comment only to have someone explode in anger apparently as a result of what we said. We can try to be helpful and instead only makes a problem worse.
Soon we will mark the end of one calendar year and the beginning of a new one. It is common for many people to use this yearly transition to reflect on what has occurred in the past year. You can see magazine articles that review the year in pictures that consider who has made a particularly notable contribution of the years events. A person can also take stock of his or her own life over the past year and reflect on the patterns reflected by the events that have occurred.
The Lord strongly encourages us to do this kind of reflection. Even if this particular time of the year does not seem to be opportune for such consideration, it is absolutely vital that we make time for recognizing the key patterns in our lives: patterns in what we care about and think, patterns in what we say and do and patterns in the results that those words and actions produce. If we don’t see any patterns, we will not be learning much and will probably continue in habits that aren't good for ourselves and aren't good for the people around us as well.
Ahab as a king represents the understanding part of our mind that directs the decisions we make and our perspective on what is most important. The Lord has given us the capability of freely reflecting on our spiritual and natural patterns of life. As stated in Divine Providence 278, we are given the capability of looking at these things because we have the possibility of higher and lower thought, or interior and exterior thought. From the higher or interior thought we can look at what is happening in lower or more exterior plane of our minds. We have the capability of noting that we are in good or bad moods or that we are thinking more or less clearly than usual.
But by ourselves, all of this capability would not mean a tremendous amount because there are crucial patterns in life that natural observation does not give a person. The prophet, Micaiah, who Ahab viewed as a trouble maker represents truth from the Lord that must have its initial source in Divine revelation. Without Divine revelation there is much that we could not possibly know as clearly stated in the following passage from the Writings:
. . .without the Word no one would possess spiritual intelligence, which consists in having knowledge of a God, of heaven and hell, and of a life after death; nor would know anything whatever about the Lord, about faith in Him and love to Him, nor anything about redemption, by means of which nevertheless comes salvation. As the Lord also says to His disciples: “Without Me you can do nothing” (John 15:5); and to John:“A person can receive nothing except it be given him from heaven” (John 3:27). (Doctrine of the Sacred Scripture 114)
It is important for us to learn about the Lord and about what is true and good from the Word. But your knowledge and mine is relatively useless we recognize how its description of what is real and its description of the consequences of certain patterns of concern, thought, speech and action relate to our own lives. By ourselves we don’t want to see these patterns in our own lives.
Here's another passage:
. . .from themselves people do not desire to understand anything but that which comes from what is their own in their will, and also that it is not possible for them to do so unless there is some other source from which they may know it. From what is their own in their will people do not desire to understand anything except that which relates to themselves and to the world; everything above this is to them in thick darkness. (Doctrine of the Sacred Scripture 115)
Yet we have been clearly taught that above ourselves and the things of the natural world is a spiritual world that is actually more real and more lasting than this world. We have been clearly taught that our minds and spirits are constantly in the company of other spirits from that world. Without their presence we would have no thought nor would we care about anything. As we pursue our daily patterns of thought and action, we are strengthening ties to communities of those spirits. Our daily choices are spiritual investments in our eternal future. Some people are day by day connecting themselves ever more clearly to communities of spirits that will guarantee that they will feel critical of others and easily offended by the slightest inconvenience that crosses their path. Some are connecting themselves ever more clearly to communities of spirits that make it almost impossible for them to tell the truth to themselves and others--any troublesome event will be explained away or justified. Others are connecting themselves to communities who find their greatest delight in being of service to the people around them. Still others are connecting themselves to communities who really care about understanding what is true because they know that this is the only way they will be able to truly follow the Lord. The single community in the next life, either in heaven or hell, that we connect ourselves to most closely by our daily choices will be the one in which we live to eternity after death.
How can we know what kind of communities we are connecting ourselves to? By reflecting on the patterns in our own lives from a knowledge of what is true.
People who reflect, or are able to reflect, upon the affections of good and truth in themselves, and also upon their delight and pleasure, will notice a strong inclination for [some affections] in preference to another; but without reflection these and the like things do not appear. (Arcana Caelestia 3980)
Ahab did not want to see the patterns in his life that condemned some of his actions. He would prefer to listen to false prophets who promised wonderful things, but he could not escape the reality of the order that the Lord created. Whether he wanted to listen to it or not, the consequences of that order would influence his life.
Where will each of us find ourselves in the life after death? The Writings say that if we have a knowledge of how different good and evil loves correspond to different beautiful and ugly environments then we can know what our lot to eternity will be. This is described in the following passage from the book of the Writings called Heaven and Hell.
People who are engaged in [a knowledge of correspondences] can recognize and know their state after death provided they know their love and how it relates in its nature to the dominant love to which all love goes back.
However, people who are involved in self-love cannot know what their dominant love is because they love whatever is theirs and call their evils good. They also call false things true, the false notions that support them and that they use to rationalize their evils. If they were willing, though, they could still know [their dominant love] from other people who are wise, but these latter see what they themselves do not. This does not happen, though, in the case of people who are so enmeshed in their self-love that they have nothing but contempt for any teaching of the wise, who are wise, and who see what they themselves do not see. This however, is impossible with those who are so enticed by the love of self that they spurn all teaching of the wise.
On the other hand, people who are in heavenly love do accept instruction and do see the evils into which they were born when they are led into them. They see them from truths because truths make evils obvious. Anyone can in fact see what is evil and the distortion it causes by seeing from the truth that arises from what is good; but no one can see what is good and true from an evil standpoint. This is because the false notions that arise from evil are darkness and correspond to it. So people who are caught up in false notions, [concepts and prejudices] that arise from evil are like blind people who do not see things that are in the light, and they avoid them the way owls avoid daylight. (Heaven and Hell 487)
It’s not enough to just acknowledge that we all have spiritual faults and flaws. This acknowledgment can be utterly worthless and is so described in the True Christian Religion.
Cannot anyone understand, from the reason given him, that the mere lip-confession of being a sinner is not repentance, or the recounting of various particulars in regard to . . . ? For what is easier for a person when he is in trouble and agony, than to utter sighs and groans from his lungs and lips, and also to beat his breast and make himself guilty of all sins, and still not be conscious of any sin in himself? Do the diabolical horde who then occupy his loves, depart along with his sighs? Do they not rather hiss at those things, and remain in him as before, as in their own house? From this it is clear that such repentance is not what is meant in the Word; but repentance from evil works, as is said. (True Christian Religion 529)
Do you know what quality in your life you would most like to see improvement on over the next year? The Lord does not recommend that we take on too many issues at once. He describes very clearly the steps we are to take if we are to improve spiritually.
The question therefore is, How ought a person to repent? And the reply is, Actually; that is to say, he must examine himself, recognize and -knowledge his sins, pray to the Lord, and begin a new life. That without examination repentance is not possible, has been shown in the preceding section. But of what use is examination except that one may recognize his sins? And why should he recognize his sins, except that he may acknowledge that they are in him? And of what use are these three things, except that a person may confess his sins before the Lord, pray for help, and then begin a new life, which is the end sought? This is actual repentance. (True Christian Religion 530)
The Lord wants us to be truly happy. He wants us to have the joy of using the gifts and talents that He has given us to make the world around us a better place to be for others and for ourselves. He has given us His Word to help us learn what we must know if we are to make good decisions and follow the Lord ever more clearly in our lives. We need to learn from the Word and we need to use what we learn to reflect on the patterns in our concerns, thoughts, words, and actions. As we look to a new calendar year, may each of us commit ourselves to the personal work that will help this year be a better year for us and for all those who come in contact with us.
Divine Providence 286; Doctrine of Sacred Scripture 114, 115)