6. Accepting Temptations As Part Of The Spiritual Life (Psalm 6)

O Jehovah, do not rebuke me in Your anger; nor chasten me in the heat of Your fury; have mercy on me, O Jehovah, for I am weak; heal me, O Jehovah, for my bones are troubled. My soul also is greatly troubled and You, O Jehovah, until when? O Jehovah, return, deliver my soul; save me for Your mercy’s sake. For there is no memory of You in death; who shall give thanks to You in Sheol? I am weary in my groaning; I shall make my bed swim in all the night; I melt my couch with my tears. My eye is dim because of grief; it wastes away because of all those distressing me. Depart from me, all workers of iniquity, for Jehovah has heard the voice of my weeping. Jehovah has heard my plea; Jehovah will receive my prayer. Let all my enemies be ashamed and greatly troubled; they shall turn back, ashamed in a moment. (Psalm 6:1-10)

…temptations involve feelings of doubt regarding the Lord’s presence and mercy, and also regarding His salvation. The evil spirits who are present with man at such times and who are the cause of temptation do all they can to infuse a negative outlook, but good spirits and angels from the Lord in every way disperse that doubting attitude, all the time preserving a feeling of hope and in the end strengthening an affirmative outlook. Consequently a person undergoing temptation hangs between a negative outlook and an affirmative outlook. Anyone who gives way in temptation remains in a doubting, and sinks into a negative, frame of mind, whereas one who overcomes still experiences feelings of doubt; yet he who allows himself to be filled with hope remains steadfastly in an affirmative outlook. (Arcana Coelestia 2338)

We saw in our look at the second Psalm that the Lord is never angry with anyone, and we can state that in Him, who is Divine Love and Wisdom, there is nothing that even resembles fury. So the Psalmist’s cry…

Jehovah, do not rebuke me in Your anger; nor chasten me in the heat of Your fury;…

…is not a statement concerning the nature of the Divine but is a statement that captures the nature of the doubts that enter a person’s mind when in the midst of spiritual temptation. For temptation to be temptation there must be doubt. So, the truth of this verse relates to the spiritual fact that when we enter into a states of feeling distressed or anxious in the spiritual life, thoughts arise out of these states that cast doubt on what spiritual truths and principles teach.

Truths teach that the Divine is love and wisdom, and that from love by means of wisdom the Lord governs all things down to the smallest detail of each and every one of our lives and that it is an impossibility for the Divine to be angry or furious with anyone. Now we may say that we believe this on one level but often we find another belief at work in how we respond when we are actually in a state of spiritual temptation. When states of anxiety grip us and we feel distant from God, false ideas flood and in and the truths we have are twisted in our minds. For example, if God is the cause of all things then when something unpleasant occurs we can easily slip into thinking that God is unhappy with us, that we must have done something to earn his anger and displeasure, and interpret what’s happening to us as some sort of rebuke or chastisement from Him.

We need to be aware of how the mind works when we are faced with states of difficulty in the spiritual life because this kind of understanding is able to sustain us in times of doubt, even though it may appear as if we are coming apart. In basic terms, our mind is motivated to find the reason for things. We are constantly in the question of why which becomes obvious when we are in difficulties. Why is this happening? Why me? – are common human responses to adversity in life. So to, in the area of our inner life when we come into uncomfortable states of mind, our first response is often to unconsciously begin to look for why we are feeling the way we are. The automatic unconscious nature of this response is something that we need to be aware of because what kicks into operation and captures our attention at this point, are the reasoning functions of the lower mind.

This level of mind is open to the lower spiritual influences that are opposed to the spiritual life. Reasoning from this level of mind is based on an acceptance that what is true is how we feel, which opens the gate for thoughts to arise that look to confirm and justify how we are feeling. We then fall into forming conclusions, like the Psalmist, who is in a state of having lost sight of what truths teach, and concludes wrongly that God is bringing these difficulties upon him because he has offended Him is some way.

The spiritual practice that Spiritual Christianity teaches is a life of conscious attention. This involves learning how to bring spiritual or higher truths to bear on our lower states of life so that we are able to be more conscious of when lower states of mind that are opposed to the spiritual life are active, and casting doubt on what spiritual truths teach. The more aware we are of how this level of life captures our attention so that we lose sight of truths, the better prepared we can be in being able to work with the Lord in order to have them managed.

We also need to realise that the only way we can be strengthened in spiritual principles from the Word, and so in the spiritual life, is through experiencing spiritual temptations or difficulties, along with the doubts they draw out. This idea of drawing out doubts is a very important point. Temptations do not cause us to doubt, they merely draw out states of doubt that already exist in us due to the false beliefs we hold onto and cherish. The process of temptation is the means by which the false things we hold to are brought into our conscious awareness so that we can see them and have them removed. The appearance is that temptation causes us to doubt because our experience of the process is that the doubt follows on from temptation. But this is an appearance. Doubt exists because of the false beliefs which we hold to, and inner conflict arises when the truths we are seeking to live from are attacked by the falsities that exist in our lower minds.

The spiritual meaning of verse two reveals a growing understanding of what belongs to the process in the midst of temptation.

…have mercy on me, O LORD, for I am weak; heal me, O LORD, for my bones are troubled.

One of the goods that results from temptation is the implanting within us of a sense of our utter dependence on the Word as the Lord in spiritual matters. The work of struggling with doubts in the spiritual life is not really ours at all. In matters pertaining to our spiritual growth and development it’s all the work of the Lord. It certainly feels like our struggle but the process involves having truths of the Word becoming more fixed into our sense of who we are and these truths are living when they are working to this end. These truths are the Divine in us and it is these that fight for us and push back against the things in us that are opposed to the spiritual life. This is why the Psalmist says,

have mercy or be gracious to me O Lord for I am weak

Here is an acknowledgement that in and of ourselves we are unable to lift one finger in support of our spiritual advancement but are utterly dependent on the truths of the Word to direct us. The call for healing, …heal me, O LORD, for my bones tremble…again speaks of how limited our own understanding of things is. The bones of the body forms its support structure and as all things in the Word describe spiritual realities in natural terms, the bones of the body correspond to the basic mental structures around which our mind or sense of ourselves is formed. The trembling of bones then represents the fragility of our sense of self when falsities and doubts attack those spiritual principles that have yet to be fully worked into our minds in support of living a genuine spiritual life.

Commitment to Spiritual Christianity as a life practice may not be the most attractive pursuit from a natural perspective, as can be seen from our reading of the Psalm, but its appeal is not to what is lower in us but to what is higher. When we respond to truths, a higher level of life is awakened within us, yet our sense of ourselves is still attached to what is lower and can be for many years. The presence of spiritual truths forming a higher level of consciousness within us is under constant attack from what is lower. The lower seeks to undermine and pull down what is higher in us from the Word, but in the work of regeneration this process ultimately works to strengthen what is spiritual as our sense of ourselves is extracted from the lower realms of mental life and planted in the goods and truths of the Word, and so in the Lord.

When we know this then we can be strengthened in this knowledge which is seen in the Psalmist’s final response to his predicament…

Depart from me, all workers of iniquity, for the LORD has heard the voice of my weeping. The LORD has heard my plea; the LORD will receive my prayer. Let all my enemies be ashamed and greatly troubled; they shall turn back, ashamed in a moment.

Here we see that the experience of struggle and temptation has led to a new found confidence and trust in the Lord – that He does hear us and receive our prayer when we yield to truths to resist what is evil and false as the basis for our spiritual life. Not that the Lord sets conditions on our being heard but spiritually to have a sense of being heard arises with when adverse conditions recede and more favourable conditions begin to advance. The natural person interprets favourable changes in their conditions as their prayer having been finally heard, but the spiritual person knows that the Lord always hears. He also knows that whether the conditions are experienced as unfavourable or favourable, patience must be exercised so that the process might be seen through to completion and that the enemies of the spiritual life might be turned back at the precise moment that corresponds to the Lord’s perfect timing.

Let all my enemies be ashamed and greatly troubled; they shall turn back, ashamed in a moment.

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