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Love is Life


Leaving Our Comfort Zone

February 02, 2014

Bible Readings

From Mount Hor they set out by the way to the Red Sea, to go around the land of Edom; but the people became impatient on the way. The people spoke against God and against Moses, “Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? For there is no food and no water, and we detest this miserable food.” Then the Lord sent poisonous serpents among the people, and they bit the people, so that many Israelites died. The people came to Moses and said, “We have sinned by speaking against the Lord and against you; pray to the Lord to take away the serpents from us.” So Moses prayed for the people. And the Lord said to Moses, “Make a poisonous serpent, and set it on a pole; and everyone who is bitten shall look at it and live.” So Moses made a serpent of bronze, and put it upon a pole; and whenever a serpent bit someone, that person would look at the serpent of bronze and live.

(Numbers 21:4-9)

And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life. For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. Those who believe in him are not condemned; but those who do not believe are condemned already, because they have not believed in the name of the only Son of God. And this is the judgment, that the light has come into the world, and people loved darkness rather than light because their deeds were evil. For all who do evil hate the light and do not come to the light, so that their deeds may not be exposed. But those who do what is true come to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that their deeds have been done in God.

(John 3:14-21)


Today’s Bible passages are all about leaving your comfort zone and living a higher life. God is infinite goodness, infinite love, and infinite wisdom. We are always finite in our goodness, love, and wisdom—and the ratio of any finite number to infinity is infinity. That means that there is no end to our growth potential! We can grow better in goodness, deeper in love, and more profound in our wisdom forever. Our spiritual life is one of moving constantly from evening to morning; that is, from a state less holy to one more holy, from less love and wisdom into greater love and wisdom, and this to eternity.

Anyone who has undergone some spiritual growth or change in his or her life knows that change is not easy. Moving from a state of less goodness into one of more goodness means leaving our comfort zone. It means letting go of behaviors and emotions that we were accustomed to, and taking on new, unfamiliar, and maybe uncomfortable ways of life. The temptation is always there to revert to old, accustomed ways. The temptation is there to backslide from the new life we have been led into, and to return to our former life.

This is what we find in both our Old Testament story and our New Testament passage. In our story from Numbers, the Israelites grumble against God. They are sick of eating the same food. They look back with longing on the food in Egypt, which was richer and of greater variety. “If only we had meat to eat! We remember the fish we ate in Egypt at no cost—also the cucumbers, melons, leeks, onions, and garlic. But now we have lost our appetite; we never see anything but this manna!” (Numbers 11:4-6)

The Israelites seem to have forgotten that in Egypt they were slaves, and that the food they now ate was manna that came down from heaven itself. All this rebellion and wistful recollection of Egypt was brought on by food—just food!

The Bible tells us that God sent the Israelites venomous snakes to punish them. Here we are dealing with what Swedenborg calls an “appearance of truth.” Appearances are not wholly true. They are how a person interprets things. They are how a person imagines things to be. Actual truth, truth that is really true, is beyond any person’s mind. We cannot know absolute truth. We can only know what is true for us. But we believe that there is an Absolute Truth, and we believe further that we can approach this Absolute Truth more and more closely—in other words, our appearances become truer and truer.

When the Bible says that God sent snakes to punish the Israelites, this is not Absolute Truth. This is how the Israelites interpreted the sudden appearance of venomous snakes. The idea that God punishes is an appearance of truth, and the Bible in its literal sense has many appearances in it. The literal reading of the Bible is called by Swedenborg “the sense of the letter.” The real truth is, God does not punish. God can only do what is good, and inflicting harm on anyone is contrary to God’s nature.

In the Word it is frequently said that God is angry, takes vengeance, hates, damns, punishes, casts into hell, and tempts, all of which pertain to evil, and therefore are evils. But . . . the sense of the letter of the Word is composed of such things as are called appearances and correspondences . . . when such things are read these very appearances of truth, while they are passing from a person to heaven, are changed into genuine truths, which are, that the Lord is never angry, never takes vengeance, never hates, damns, punishes, casts into hell, or tempts, consequently does evil to a person (True Christian Religion 650).

Swedenborg even waxes zealous in a tirade against persons who preach a damning, punishing God:

As He wills only what is good, he can do nothing but what is good. . . . From these few statements it can be seen how deluded those are who think, and still more those who believe, and still more those who teach, that God can damn anyone, curse anyone, send anyone to hell, predestine any soul to eternal death, avenge wrongs, be angry, or punish. He cannot even turn Himself away from humanity, nor look upon anyone with a stern countenance (TCR 56).

The case is similar with a line in the Lord’s Prayer. In it, we are dealing with an appearance of truth. When we recite it, we say, “Lead us not into temptation.” This line would seem to be saying that God leads us into temptation. But God never brings on temptations. It is we who bring them on ourselves. Why? This is for the same reason that we find the Israelites longing to return to Egypt.

The sad truth is, we are accustomed to doing things the way we were brought up. We begin our adult life by learning how to succeed in the world. In itself, this is not wrong or bad. In fact, it is necessary. But what kind of mindset do we need to succeed in the world? I have heard it said that a person can’t become rich without stepping on someone’s toes. Does this mean stepping on someone’s head? Does this mean beating down all opposition? Does this mean thinking only about what benefits us? Maybe for some. But for all of us, we have to begin life thinking about worldly ambition. I suggest that we, in fact, love worldly activities and ambitions. We orient our lives to these aims. Perhaps we must orient our lives to these aims in order to succeed.

We learn from spirituality that we need to consider other people. We learn to act in harmony with others. We learn to care for others. We learn to love others as much as we love ourselves and our worldly ambitions.

This shift requires a change in our perspective. We change from a “me first” attitude to an “I- Thou” attitude. All the things we started out loving from a me-first attitude need to be shrugged off like a snake’s old skin. But those loves were a part of our life. Those loves formed who we were. And they continue to reside in our memory. Thus there is always the temptation to fall back into those old loves, into those old ways of doing things.

New spiritual life is almost always contrary to worldly life. It may feel very uncomfortable at first. Living gently instead of aggressively may be hard for a businessman driven to succeed and profit. Living contentedly may be difficult in a society that plasters images of wealth and sensuality everywhere we look—television, billboards, radio, social media. It is as if the world is continually telling us that we don’t have enough. It is as if the world is telling us to forget the lilies of the field and birds of the air.

So the temptation is always there to slip back from new spiritual life into our old, ego-driven, world-oriented pleasures and ambitions. This is like the Israelites wanting to return to Egyptian slavery even after tasting the freedom of their wilderness life. This is what John means in the passage we heard this morning from chapter 3: “This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but men loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil” (3:19).

In our spiritual development, there is always the lower self threatening to drag us down and back into old ways of living. But once we have tasted the nectar from the gods, once we have lived on manna that came down from heaven, we will find that living our old lives feels uncomfortable. We will feel pain in the distractions of ego and the world. And when we are hurting too much, we will turn to God. We will turn from the world toward heaven. When the serpents bite us, we will see where we have fallen short, where we have fallen, and we will turn, we will return.

Then John’s statement will resound in our hearts: “But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what he has done has been done through God” (3:21). “Lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil.” God will deliver us from evil when we call upon Him to do so. When the people of Israel lifted up their eyes to God, they saw the bronze serpent Moses had made, and they were healed.

Such is our journey in this world. We are ever moving from evening into morning. We are ever moving from less light into more light. We are ever moving from the world to heaven.

Blake says this well in his poem “The Little Black Boy”: “And we are put on earth a little space,/ That we may learn to bear the beams of love.”

May the Lord bless our going out and our coming in from this time forth, and even forevermore. Amen.


Lord, we give you thanks for lifting us up out of the mire of worldly concern. Everywhere we turn in this world, we see images of wealth, power, and sensuality. And yet you have shown us that all these glimmering images are but vanity, and empty. Help us to turn from these vain seductions. Help us to see where true life resides. Help us to find contentment in the disposition of your divine providence. Help us to seek for riches the last into eternity. May we find your pearl of great price, and trade all the vain offerings of this world for that one great gift. May we find you, and may we find peace in your heavenly world of everlasting joys.

Lord, we ask for your peace to descend upon this troubled world. Where there is conflict and war, let there be understanding and peace. Where there is famine and thirst, may good-hearted aid come and satisfy the needs of those who are in want. Where there are natural disasters, may help come from good neighbors and from compassionate governments. Where there is hardship and unemployment, lend your patience and hope.

Lord, send your healing love to all those suffering in body and soul. We ask you to give the gift of health to all in need. Amen.

Rev. Dr. David J. Fekete