Our Connection with Heaven and Hell

Ahab and Naboth: Our Connection with Heaven and Hell

By Pastor Alan Cowley.

August 28, 2016.


Where do your thoughts come from? Have you ever stopped to wonder? Most of the time we just go on about our lives assuming that our thoughts are all just generated in our own minds, that they are based on the things surrounding us, and on the ideas that we have taken in over time from reading books, interacting with one another, from well… from just doing what we do. But then there is that odd occasion where you just have that really weird, often disturbing thought, which pops in, and it’s so out of character for you.

Maybe you’re driving along, and the person in front of you is just going so slowly. The speed limit is 45, and they’re going 15, and there is no way to get around them. For the first couple minutes you might be able to remain calm, but then five minutes pass, it feels like a half an hour, and you think “I’m just gonna ram them right off the road and down the cliff… goodbye Jack!” Wow, really! Because he’s driving slowly… we start thinking about taking his life!?” Where did that thought come from? Well, it quite literally came from hell.

In the Christian world, the fact that we interact with spirits has been a very well-known thing. But how we interact has been greatly misunderstood. It seems that most people now think that somehow people can just get possessed by demons, they are not sure how it happens, but otherwise people are free from that possession, and so also the interaction with spirits all together. So was that thought in the car, “I’m just gonna ram them right off the road and down the cliff…” was that just temporary demonic possession?

The fact of the matter is, whether we like to believe it or not, that all of our thoughts and affections come to us through the spiritual world. Not just the evil ones, but also all the good ones, and every mundane thought in between. “Really, even the thought… ‘oh, don’t forget to brush my teeth before I go to bed.’” Yep, that thought to. However, it doesn’t work in the direct way many of us are probably thinking right now. We don’t have that thought about brushing our teeth, for instance, because some spirit with us needed to remind us to brush our teeth, and so they tap on our shoulder and whisper in to our inner ear “don’t forget to brush your teeth.” No… The spirits with us, are just going about their lives, and they have a thought which comes from above them, perhaps from a higher angel, thinking how they really might be misunderstanding some particular truth. Correspondentially, teeth are truths which help us to process how the Lord loves, kind of like how we process food. So for that angel, dirty teeth would represent some misunderstanding they have about truth, and their thought or experience is passed down into our minds, and we think, from our own circumstances, “Don’t forget to brush your teeth.”

Perhaps it just sounds like we are talking about some really odd part of New Church theology. And you are probably wondering why. “Is this really what I came to church to hear this morning?” Well listen to this:

“If people were only to believe what is actually true, that all good is from The Lord, and all evil from hell, they would not take credit for their good deeds, or blame for their evil thoughts. For in every good they thought or did they would look to the Lord, and with every evil that flows in they would throw it back into the hell which it came from.” (HH 302)     

That is a really dense statement, let’s hear it again.

“If people were only to believe what is actually true, that all good is from The Lord, and all evil from hell, they would not take credit for their good deeds, or blame for their evil thoughts. For in every good they thought or did they would look to the Lord, and with every evil that flows in they would throw it back into the hell which it came from.” (HH 302)    

That’s pretty powerful. Isn’t that what the Lord wants us to do? To recognize that everything that is good in life is from Him. And that we must stop doing what is wrong in order to live into that goodness. In Isaiah chapter on the Lord says,

“’Wash yourselves, make yourselves clean; Put away the evil of your doings from before My eyes. Cease to do evil, Learn to do good…; “Come now, and let us reason together,’ Says the Lord” (Isaiah 1:16-18).

And the spiritual circumstances that the Lord provides for us to cease doing evil, and learn to do good, is by associating us with both good and evil spirits, connected to us through our own loves, so that we might hear both sides and chose which direction we want to go in. Jesus said,

“Do you not yet understand that whatever enters the mouth goes into the stomach and is eliminated? But those things which proceed out of the mouth come from the heart, and they defile a man. For out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies. These are the things which defile a man, but to eat with unwashed hands does not defile a man.” (Matthew 15:17-20)

We receive influx from heaven and from hell, we consume what is good and true from heaven, and what is evil and false from hell. But it is not what enters into us that makes us clean or unclean, but what we do with the thoughts and affections that enter us; what comes out of the mouth.

The story we read this morning about Ahab and Naboth is a good one to see how this works. First we must recognize that the two main characters in this story represent the two sides of influence into our minds. Ahab, the evil King, represents the evil thoughts which flow in, and Naboth the good ones. And more specifically this story looks at the nature of envy, or coveting. So we will use that as our sample evil, knowing that all evils work in similar ways, and our defense against evil and the hells they come from is the same too.

So King Ahab wants Naboth’s vineyard for himself. And Ahab thinks he deserves to have it. He is the king after all…. And this is very much the way that we can act when we want to have something that is someone else’s. We think of reasons why they don’t deserve it, and how we do. People often say things like “It’s just not fair!” “Why does Joe have such a good job? I’m smarter than he is, more qualified… It’s just not fair!”

On a deeper level we often look at how happy someone else is, and think that it means that they must have had it easier than we do; that life was just somehow set up more in their favor. And these thoughts lead us to feel like a victim. They lead us to think less of others because, in our minds, no one else has to work as hard as we do for what we have. And when we do succeed in some way, we puff ourselves up in considering all of the adversity we had to fight through. Evil spirits love to introduce the victim mentality into our minds and let it steep until we feel justifiably cynical. They love to set us against other people. So when we notice these thoughts in ourselves, we should chalk it up as the Ahab within us.

And so goes our story, Ahab requests the vineyard from Naboth, it seems like an innocent request, it seems like Ahab is offering a fair deal. However, Ahab is reminded by Naboth that what he wants is against the Law.

Naboth says to Ahab, “Jehovah forbid that I should give you the inheritance of my fathers.” And when Naboth tells him that Jehovah forbids him to give his land away, he was not just making something up. It was not an empty statement to keep his land. He was following the Law given through Moses about land ownership, He was following the Lord’s Word. And this is what we should do when evil thoughts seep in. We can think, “what does the Lord have to say about this?” And then all of the thoughts which come to mind from the Word are brought to us by angels and good spirits, as though from our own memory.

So what does the law say in Naboth’s situation? Firstly, you don’t own the land. The land is owned by Jehovah, and the plots of land that were divvied up among the tribes, families, and households were not allowed to be permanently sold or given. The law stated “The Land shall not be sold permanently, for the Land is Mine; you are strangers and travelers in My land” (Lev. 25:23).

The children of Israel were more like tenants in the places they lived. They were given their place according to their inheritance. That’s it! That was the deal! And they were supposed to tend their land as tenants of the Lord. And we are supposed to do the same, to be good stewards of our minds.

And this is where the struggle in our mind could end. We have an initial thought or desire, “I want what he has.” We can be reminded of what the Lord has to say about it, and we can choose to stop coveting there­–the thought can go into the stomach and then be eliminated, or we can let it go deeper. The rest of this story about Ahab and Naboth shows what happens if we let it go deeper.

Ahab doesn’t like what the Law is, and he goes back to his palace and whines and cries about it, and then enters Jezebel. The Jezebel in us represents a perverse line of reasoning which tries to justify why we should have what we want, and how we can follow through to get it. She represents every powerful persuasion for personal pleasure stemming from our inner lusts. And in looking at what happens in our story, we learn how interconnected evils can be. Because that simple, seemingly innocent desire to have what is someone else’s, leads Ahab to lie, steal, and murder, in order to obtain the vineyard he so desired. One evil leads to another in a way that when one commandment is broken all of them are in a sense broken.

The Lord, Jesus Christ, teaches us saying, “He who finds his life will lose it, and he who loses his life for my sake will find it” (Matt. 10:39). Naboth lost his natural life defending the Lord’s commandments, and yet he found his spiritual life, that he wanted to be led by the Lord. The Heavenly Doctrines for the New Church teach us that “Those who acknowledge God and His Divine providence are like angels in heaven, who are averse to leading themselves and love to be led by the Lord” (Divine Providence 208). This is how we find our lives, to lose our own will in order to have it replaced by the Lord. In a sense, losing our own life so that we may find it.

Ahab on the other hand found his life, in that he got what he maliciously desired, and in the end he was condemned for it, and so truly lost his life. The prophet Elijah was sent by the Lord to Ahab to tell him ‘Thus says the Lord: “Have you murdered and also taken possession? In the place where dogs licked the blood of Naboth, dogs shall lick your blood, even yours.”’” So Ahab said to Elijah, “Have you found me, O my enemy?” And he answered, “I have found you, because you have sold yourself to do evil in the sight of the Lord: ‘Behold, I will bring calamity on you. I will take away your posterity, and will cut off from Ahab every male in Israel, both bond and free.’” (1 Kings 21:19-21)

But we do not need to go as far as Ahab did in order to recognize hell in our minds and cast it out. There were several places when he could have stopped: before he even approached Naboth; after Naboth reminded him of the law; or even after Jezebel proposed the plot kill Naboth and steal his land. For us, we can stop whenever we recognize that our thoughts do not originate in ourselves but come in from heaven and hell.

The Lord places us in a spiritual position where we can hear ideas from both heaven and hell, so that “If [we] were only to believe what is actually true, that all good is from The Lord, and all evil from hell, [we] would not take credit for [our] good deeds, or blame for [our] evil thoughts. [And so] in every good thing [we] think or do [we can] look to the Lord, and with every evil that flows in [we can] throw it back into the hell from which it came.” (HH 302)

If we practice paying attention to the origin of our thoughts and affections we will get better at seeing where they come from. We can catch ourselves when evil and false thought creep in from hell and throw them back.  So when we find ourselves thinking “I’m just gonna ram them right off the road and down the cliff…” we can say, “I know you!!! You’re that Jezebel who works with the devil! Get out of here, we aren’t friends!” We encounter evil in our thoughts so that we can turn away from it and be reformed by the Lord. It is not what enters the mind that defiles us, but what comes out through our intentions and actions. And we can only be accountable for our actions if we are in a state of freedom. A freedom which the Lord provides through our connection with evil spirits from hell, and angels from heaven.

“So that we can be in freedom for the sake of our reformation, we are united in spirit with heaven and with hell. With each of us there are spirits from hell and angels from heaven. By means of the spirits from hell we encounter our evil, and by means of the angels from heaven we encounter the good we have from the Lord. As a result, we are in a spiritual equilibrium-that is, in a freedom.” (Heaven and Hell 599)