For the Lord God is a sun and shield; The Lord will give grace and glory; No good thing will he withhold from those who walk uprightly. (Psalm 84:11)
One of the things that is most wonderful about the Lord’s Word is how it can describe innumerable states of life within just a short sentence, or series. I thought it would be fun to walk you through one of my favorite portions of the Word, Psalm 84, and show just a little bit of what it means to me. It may be useful to review the Psalm for yourself before reading on.
Take a moment to think about what heaven could be like. Maybe even close your physical eyes and take a look around at your spiritual surroundings, what do you see? Smell? What do you hear? Some might imagine beautiful landscapes, on a sunny day. The sound of a nearby waterfall perhaps, and birds singing gently echoing in your ears. The sun glistens through the sky, and falls upon your face with a perfectly comfortable warmth. Some might imagine hiking through wooded hills with their husband or wife, having fun and meaningful conversation where the laughter adds to the music of the birds. Some imagine a peace beyond any peace they had ever felt before. But is that what heaven is really like?
What is your idea of heaven? Whatever you are imagining right now, a beautiful landscape, wonderful music, all of our close friends, whatever you are thinking of right now doesn’t even come close to the joys we will get to experience in heaven. There are colors we have never seen. Feelings we have never felt, and things that have we have never done. Oh, how “my soul longs, yes, even faints for the courts of the Lord” (Psalm 84:2) as the psalmist said.
The whole concept of heaven is almost overwhelming to our senses. But for right now, heaven is not where we are. We are in the natural world. A place where our peace is often disrupted, our ideas can be thwarted, and the stress of everyday life acts to limit our ability to love life as it is. What is this world we live in? Why are we here? If the Lord indeed whats all of us to end up living as angels in Heaven, why not just let us enjoy heaven now...? Perhaps there is a better question. Would heaven enjoy us right now. Maybe this is the journey we are on. How can we each add to heaven to make it a better place? How might heaven, and the angels there, enjoy us?
First, though, we need to look at a more pressing question... How do we get there? Before we can do anything to make heaven a better place and enjoy the delights there, we have to be able to get there. The Word for the New Church explains that
Heaven is granted only to the people who know the path to it and follow the path. We can know the path to heaven to some extent simply by considering what the people who make up heaven are like, realizing that no one can become an angel or get to heaven unless he or she arrives bringing along some angelic quality from the world. (Divine Providence 60)
Here we are given a clue. We are basically being told to be more like the angels... Okay... But angels live in a very different place than we do. You might be thinking, “that’s easy to say but they don’t have to deal with all of the stuff I have to deal with. I mean they are already in heaven!” And it is true, life in this world can be very hard and trying. And it can push us to act in ways that are not so angelic. However, it was through the same trials and temptations that every single angel developed their angelic qualities, so too must we.
In Psalm 84 these hard times, or temptations, are meant by the "Valley of Baca". Another way this can be translated is the Valley of Weeping, or of Lamenting. Passing through the Valley of Baca signifies the challenges we face, the temptations we must fight in. And in this psalm, we also find an answer to what we need to do when in this Valley of Weeping. We read: “Blessed is the man whose strength is in You, whose heart is set on pilgrimage. [And] As they pass through the Valley of Baca, They make it a spring!”
“They make it a spring.” You see, our lives develop through fighting in temptation, and trusting that the Lord can and will provide everything we need to leave behind the evil loves that dry up our spiritual life making it a desert. The “spring” here is the fountain of truth flowing from the Lord’s Word, giving us the tools to put aside our selfish wants, and replacing them with a love for useful service. It is only by using the Word and the truth contained within it, by drinking it in, that we can truly see Its value, and decide to make that truth the fountain of our lives, and a springboard for personal development.
But the truth is not everything we need. We could have all of the truth in the world and it would be useless if we never used it. We must also be determined to reach our goal... We must have our hearts set on the journey to heaven. “Blessed is the man whose strength is in God, whose heart is set on pilgrimage.” With such a strong determination, temptations will still confront us, but we can draw on the Lord’s strength to get through them.
From temptation to temptation, we can go, as the psalm says, from “strength to strength,” that is from truth to truth, developing angelic loves or qualities which will “appear before God in Zion.” The angelic loves that we develop are what makes us compatible with heavenly communities.
Now, not all of the temptations we face are very obvious. And a lot of the time the truth is not obvious either, but there is a process to understanding both. Let's go back to what was said in Divine Providence. “We can know the path to heaven to some extent simply by considering what the people who make up heaven are like…. And inherent in that angelic quality is a knowing of the path from having walked in it and a walking in the path from the knowledge of it.” You may know the common saying, that “good judgment comes from experience, but experience comes from bad judgment.” In a way, this process is a bit of trial and error, and the Lord knows this! We are not born knowing how to act, or what to do. We are not born knowing how to work through temptation. It is something we have to get some experience doing before we can get good at it. But after a while, we will start to recognize what works and what doesn’t work. We have to start walking on what we think is our path, and over time we learn more and more about ourselves, about what the Lord wants for us, and the path becomes more apparent and gets easier to walk in.
So, what is happening in us during this time of trial and error? While we gain experience in how we should live The Lord builds our trust in Him and in His Divine Providence. We build trust in Him by using the things He teaches us about life, about temptation, about how to treat our friends and family, our neighbors, and even our enemies. And while we do this we can begin to see that what He teaches us works. His truth works when we use it in our lives. His Divine truth is the map that shows us our path to heaven. When our psalmist made it through the Valley of Baca He looked up to the Lord and said, “Behold our shield, and look upon the face of your anointed.” The word shield here is talking about his trust in the Lord's protection. He is looking back over his time in the trenches of life, and saying, “you know what God, You were right, You do know what works in my life. You do know what is best for me. Please show me where I should go next.”
What this experience in life brings us, is a very angelic quality. Assuming we have used our experiences to grow our trust in the Lord, that experience brings us integrity. One of the more beautiful lines in the psalm we read today talks about living with integrity. We read: “The Lord God is a sun and shield; The Lord will give grace and glory; No good thing will He withhold from those who walk uprightly.” Another way that we can translate the end of this is: “No good thing will He withhold from those who live with integrity." The Hebrew itself is ambiguous in meaning. "Halach" can mean 'to walk' or 'to live'. And "Tamim" can mean 'to stand up' or 'to have integrity. And integrity is one of the most universal angelic qualities.
Integrity is an interesting word. The Latin origin is from the word integer, which we use in our number system, an integer is a whole number, and this is what it means, wholeness or oneness. So to live with integrity is to be whole, or as one. It is making who you are on the inside, the same as how you act on the outside. It is holding true to your values even when you are tempted to do something else.
Integrity also refers to the idea of completeness. And we are incomplete without the Lord. Part of living a life of integrity is to integrate, the Lord fully into our lives. So living with integrity is staying true to ourselves, but only to the part of us that is in line with the Lord as we understand Him in His Word.
We mentioned before that integrity is one of the most universal angelic qualities, and this is the reason: all of the angels in heaven act the way that they think, and they also think the way that they act. The Heavenly Doctrine puts it like this:
By creation man is so formed as to have his interior and exterior thought make one by correspondence; and these do make one in those that are in good, for such [people] both think and speak what is good only. But in those that are in evil, interior and exterior thought do not make a one, for such [people] think what is evil and say what is good. (HH 499)
This is one of the things that makes heaven so wonderful. Imagine how great it would be to always know that the other people around you are saying things that are true and doing things that are good, and more wonderfully, that we are too.
This is what integrity truly is. It is to make a one of your interior and exterior thought. So that what we think and want on the inside is the same as what we say and do on the outside. This is a wonderful angelic quality that we can bring from this world to the next. Where “no good thing will he withhold from those who walk uprightly.”
Now return in your mind to your idea or picture of heaven. Now whatever your picture is I want you to imagine a pathway between you, here and now, and that beautiful place which you want to live in, in heaven. Can you see the beautiful place at the end? How about the dark and dreary places in between? We know that the path will go through some dark places along the way, there may be deserts, dark forests, and splits in the path where we won't know what to do; but if we trust in the Lord, and use the truth that He gives us in his Word and hearts, we will be able to reach that paradise. The Lord tells us that
There really are paths in the spiritual world, paths that lead to each community of heaven and to each community of hell. We all see our own paths, spontaneously, it seems. We see them because the paths there are for the loves of each individual. Love opens the paths and leads us to our kindred spirits. No one sees any paths except those of his or her love.
“Oh Lord of hosts, blessed is the man who trusts in You!”