Imagine the strongest man who ever lived, a warrior who has met and conquered, who can and has dealt with a vast array of terrifying enemies. Yet this man can also be kind and tender, understanding and gentle, and he has a huge soft spot for children. The stories about him are legendary, fascinating and inspiring. While he will fight whenever needed to protect the innocent, and he is a definite force to be reckoned with, he still treats his enemies with understanding wherever possible without doing harm. He has been attacked by every sort of enemy you can imagine (and some you can’t), and he has plumbed the depths of doubt and despair, not to mention physical torture, yet he never gives up and the quality of his character remains steadfast. In fact, even his friends have been known to hinder him in his battles, so that he truly stood alone, and he has dealt with that situation firmly but kindly. The epic of his life story is so amazing that all the stories of myth, legend and modern superheroes look like child’s play by comparison. He has faced every evil in the universe, undergone every temptation possible, suffered every agony, fought with what was bad inside of himself as well as outside, and felt abandoned by all his friends and even by God. And he has persevered and conquered out of a blazing love and an intense clear-sightedness and a knowledge that the fate of everyone in existence (in this world and in the spiritual world, both those who love him and those who hate him) rested on his shoulders.
Well, I imagine you know Who I am talking about. It’s taken me decades to realize it, but I am finally beginning to see that all that talk in the Writings about the Lord coming to earth to subdue the hells and glorify His human is actually pretty amazing. To be honest, hearing about glorifying His human and subduing the hells always sounded dry as dust and above my pay grade. I wish I had realized earlier what an amazing story it is, and the quality of what the Lord did when He came on earth. I wish I could have better inspired my children with this story as they were growing up.
A few things have come together over the last few years to help me start realizing what I was missing.
- The explanations of the Easter story in Bible Study Notes by Anita Dole (“the Dole Notes”), especially Volume 4, pp. 246-251, 390-397 and Volume 5, pp. 154-160, 338-348 and Vol. 6, 160-166
- The end of Geoffrey Childs’ book The Path: The Inner Life of Jesus Christ
- David Lindrooth’s article “The Greatest Gift” in New Church Life (November/December 2023, page 443)
- Numbers in the Writings that I have run across; many of them are Arcana numbers that are cited in later part of the section on “The Lord” found near the end of The New Jerusalem and Its Heavenly Doctrine.
We’ve just celebrated Christmas, when the Lord was born on earth and His amazing earthly story began, and in a while we will celebrate Easter, when the Lord finished that story. Despite the emphasis always placed on Christmas (and I do love Christmas!), one could argue that Easter is even more special and should be celebrated even more joyfully. The Writings for the New Church lay out the story behind Easter, and it’s the most inspiring story you could ever hope to read. The Lord was working in two worlds simultaneously, suffering and persevering and reorganizing, and the culmination of His journey came at Easter. The intense love and farseeing wisdom and willingness to suffer for the sake of others that are apparent in every step of His story are enough to blow you away. He is the ultimate Hero, the archetype of a Hero. (And perhaps the birth of the New Church is even more celebration-worthy, because we are finally able to realize what the Lord did and is doing and to what lengths He will go in His ardent love for us.)
I used to think, “Well, yes, what He faced was daunting, but after all, He was the all-powerful God, so it wasn’t hard for Him.” What I didn’t realize was that it actually was hard for Him, and that He experienced a level of pain and despair that surpasses anything we can imagine. In fact, even the angels ended up getting in His way. He faced the ultimate challenges and suffering, and He slowly and painfully brought His fully-flawed humanity into line with His Divine Soul. It had to be that way, and He signed up for it to be that way, because He loves us and was unwilling to force us to see the light and turn toward heaven. Instead of forcing us (and thereby removing our free will and humanity), He came to earth and showed us the path by walking it Himself. At the time when He came, people could no longer find the path, even provided that they realized enough to look for it. He showed us how to find the path and how to walk it, so that we can freely choose to do so if we wish. He is our Champion, and He will walk every step of the way with us – we just have to ask.
I am still in the early days of understanding the magnitude of the Lord’s life story and the difference it makes in His daily presence with us, but here is one quotation that particularly struck me. After describing the way temptations work, Arcana Coelestia 1820 goes on to say: “These few, indeed very few, observations show the nature of temptations – in general that the nature of a person’s temptations is as the nature of his loves. They also show the nature of the Lord’s temptations, that these were the most dreadful of all, for as is the intensity of the love so is the dreadfulness of the temptations. The Lord’s love – a most ardent love – was the salvation of the whole human race; it was therefore a total affection for good and affection for truth in the highest degree. Against these all the hells contended, employing the most malicious forms of guile and venom, but the Lord nevertheless conquered them all by His own power. Victories have this effect, that after they have been won, wicked genii and spirits do not dare to attempt anything; for their life consists in their being able to destroy, but when they perceive that a person is able to withstand them, they flee even when they are making their first assault, as they usually do when they draw near to merely the threshold of heaven.”
I’d be interested to hear other people’s thoughts and realizations about the Lord’s story.