[Sermons] Fearfully and Wonderfully Made

Reubenbell@aol.com Reubenbell@aol.com
Mon Apr 29 02:18:17 UTC 2002


FEARFULLY AND WONDERFULLY MADE
Rev. Dr. Reuben P. Bell
Swedenborg Chapel, Sudbury, MA
April 28, 2002

"You formed my inward parts; you knit me together 
in my mother's womb. I will praise You, for I am 
fearfully and wonderfully made." (Psalm 139:13-14)

There are psychologists who maintain that even as adults we carry a 
primordial memory of our earliest days - even those of our development in our 
mother's womb.  I don't think we do, but I am not a psychologist; at least we 
could all agree that our ordinary, accessible memory does not reach back that 
far.  Why?  Partly because of what we read today in Psalm 139, a dialogue of 
King David with the Lord, "I was made in secret," he said, "when I was woven 
together in the depths of the earth." (139:15)  That marvelous process, from 
which a single cell proliferates into a living, breathing, new person, is 
completely hidden from view.  To King David the process was a total mystery.  
To Swedenborg the revelator, who as a scientist first had written a major 
treatise on embryology, much of it was known, from the very good science of 
his day.  But much of it still remained a mystery.  In this day, of powerful 
and elegant science - genetics, molecular biology, and chemistry - we have 
unraveled an astonishing portion of that mystery; but even now, many of the 
most basic principles of development still remain unknown.This we do know: 
You began as two cells (gametes) one from each parent, each carrying half of 
the DNA that you would need. These combined into one completezygote, a single 
cell with your identity locked up within it.  This divided again and again 
until you were a solid ball of cells (morula), then more, until the ball was 
bigger and hollow (blastula).  And then, as it grew and grew, and those cells 
began migrating as if each one knew when to move, and where to go, this tiny 
living mass elongated, with a front and a back, and a left and a right, and 
the rudiments of organs.  This was the gastrula, the real beginning of a 
person in form, with a big head, limb buds, and a tail!  And then you 
continued to grow, steadily and perceptibly, until you drew a breath, and 
joined the human race.  You've probably seen the pictures of all the stages 
of this process, and a truly marvelous process it is; but with all the 
knowledge that modern Developmental Biology has brought to bear upon it, the 
more we know about it, the more we are inclined to feel not arrogant, but 
humble, as King David must have felt, in the face of such a mystery.  David 
said to the Lord, 

"You formed my inward parts; you knit me together in my mother's womb.  I 
will praise You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made; marvelous are Your 
works, and that my soul knows very well." (139:13-14)

And the Lord said to the prophet Jeremiah, 

"Before I formed you in the womb I knew you." (1:5)

What can this mean?  "Fearfully and wonderfully made," for sure, but did the 
Lord know you in the womb, as you were forming?  Listen to this, from The 
Divine Wisdom n. 75:

"THE LORD CONJOINS HIMSELF TO A PERSON IN THE MOTHER'S WOMB AS SOON AS 
CONCEPTION TAKES PLACE, AND FORMS HIM.  Life, which proceeds from the Lord 
Himself is present from first conception and is what gives form.  This is 
because in order to be the form of life which a human being is, and in order 
to be an image and likeness of God, which a person also is, and in order to 
be a recipient of love and wisdom, which are life from the Lord, thus a 
recipient of the Lord Himself, a person must be formed by life itself.  The 
Lord teaches that if a person loves the Lord he is in the Lord and the Lord 
in him, and the Lord has His abode within him.  All this work of preparation 
in the womb the Lord does for Himself.  This is why Jehovah, who is the Lord, 
is called in the prophet Isaiah: 

Creator, Former, and Maker from the womb (Isaiah 43:1; 44:2, 24; 49:5)."

Did the Lord know you in the womb, as you were forming?  What does He tell 
us?  In Matthew He says this, in no uncertain terms: "Surely, I am with you 
always, even to the end of the age."  Always.  And everywhere, I think it is 
safe to say.

"Your eyes saw my substance, being yet unformed.  All the days ordained for 
me were written in Your book, before one of them came to be." (Psalm 139:16)

Yes, the Lord knew you in the womb, as you were forming.

So after all this forming, this stepwise development, through all those 
stages, and shapes, what happens?  You're born into the world.  No mystery 
here, or is there?  The physiological events of labor and delivery are no 
longer a mystery at all.  That's called Obstetrics.  It's an elegant series 
of events, but none of them really baffling any more; and if the doctor can 
just keep from interfering, the whole process pretty much drives itself.  So 
where's the mystery?  Not in the natural world at all; but in the spiritual 
events at work within the process.  Where?  Right there before us, yet hidden 
from view, outside the reach of our natural eyes.  Once again we go to the 
Writings for information about spiritual development.  What happens at birth 
but not before?  We become fully human.  In The Divine Wisdom (n. 82) we find 
that from the earliest beginnings, there are two receptacles in the 
developing embryo, one for the will and one for the understanding, and these 
flow in as Divine love and wisdom from the spiritual world, in combination, 
as the life force of creation.  But, we're told, "nothing whatever of the 
will or of the understanding is present in the formation [of these 
receptacles]."  Here's what it says:

       "A person's will and understanding do not begin until the lungs are 
opened, and this does not take place until after birth; then the will becomes 
the receptacle of love, and the understanding becomes the receptacle of 
wisdom. They do not become such receptacles until the lungs are opened, 
because the lungs correspond to the life of the understanding, and the heart 
corresponds to the life of the will, and without the cooperation of the 
understanding and will, the person has no life of his own, as there is no 
life apart from the cooperation of love and wisdom by means of which the 
embryo is formed and vivified. 
       [Complete spiritual] life is not possible from the beating of the 
heart alone, but is only possible from the conjunction of this with the 
respiration of the lungs.
       There is life in the embryo before birth, but the embryo is not 
conscious of it." (n. 83)  

So as development proceeds, the receptacles for the Lord are prepared; but He 
is not fully present in His abode until the heart and lungs are conjoined in 
independent life.  From the spiritual perspective, being born is not just the 
next stage; it is truly the beginning.
       So once we have emerged from the womb, and taken those first breaths, 
once our heart and lungs are working together in true correspondence with the 
spiritual influx of Divine love and wisdom, what next?  Are we done?  Not at 
all.  An eternal lifetime of work lies ahead of us.  It is obvious that a 
newborn isn't done; a baby would perish if left all alone. And Conjugial Love 
n. 134 says that humans, among all the animals, are born with no knowledge at 
all - blank slates.  But it also says, 

"...they are born free of knowledge so they can gain all knowledge and move 
on to understanding it, and through this to wisdom.  And they are born with 
no love so that they can achieve all love by using their skills 
intelligently, and so that they can achieve love for the Lord through loving 
their neighbor.  This joins them to the Lord, which makes them become human 
and live forever."
  
The sky's the limit!  You, a human, can be educated all the way to heaven.  
And even the aging process, that we dread, and deny, and try so hard to 
conceal, is normal human development - it's in the genes.  So development, 
both physical in this life, and spiritual, here and beyond, never ends. But 
what about our souls and spiritual bodies?  How do they keep developing, as 
our eternal life unfolds?  First of all, we learn a wonderful lesson in 
Heaven and Hell n. 414.  In a description of the next life and how things 
work there, we are told that "to grow old in heaven is to grow young," and in 
The Divine Providence this is explained, by saying that

"...all who have lived well, when they enter heaven, come into the state of 
early manhood they reached in the world and continue in it to eternity, even 
those who had been old and decrepit men in the world.  Women, too, although 
they had been shrunken and old, return into the bloom and beauty of their 
youth."  (DP 324) 

Think about that for a moment.  What a wonderful thing to know...  Our 
spiritual bodies, perfect as they are beneath the ravages of time and entropy 
on our natural bodies, are our real bodies, for eternity.  I like that.  But 
what about your soul?
What did the Lord say to Nicodemus, who wanted to know about his prospects in 
the kingdom of heaven?  He said

"Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born again, he cannot see the 
kingdom of God." Nicodemus said to Him, "How can a man be born when he is 
old? Can he enter a second time into his mother's womb and be born?" 

Nicodemus didn't get it.  His mind was stuck in the natural, just like you 
and me most days, and the idea of being "born again" made no sense.  But 
Jesus was talking about his soul. 

"Most assuredly," He said to him, "unless one is born of water and the 
Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh 
is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit."

Now "water" in the Word always means truth in some form, and "Spirit" means 
Divine truth coming to us as the Divine Proceeding, from the Lord Himself 
through the heavens, into our rational minds.  "Water and the Spirit": the 
things we humans were born to learn and use, to educate us all the way to 
heaven.Your soul has a form, imparted by the life that flowed into you as an 
embryo, establishing those receptacles we read about - making you a receiver 
of life and truth and love.  And just as your body grew and changed and 
developed in complexity, so does your soul grow, and change, and develop, 
from an animal to an angel - but only if you so desire; only if you get the 
education and live the spiritual life.  The textbooks for this education are 
ours: the Word with its genuine truths - "no-brainers" like the Ten 
Commandments, and the Parables from the Lord Himself, and His sermons and 
sayings throughout the New Testament; and those wonderful rational teachings 
of the New Revelation.  Where do we learn of the soul's embryology?  Go to 
the Arcana Coelestia, Volume I, Chapter 1, which explains, almost 
word-for-word the Genesis creation story.  No longer just myth or cryptic 
ancient lore, what unfolds there is the stepwise process of the soul's 
creation, coming-into-being, and development, changing from "formless and 
void," to enlightened, to fruitful, and finally to heavenly.  Here is the 
soul's development, laid out in pragmatic, recognizable stages of natural to 
spiritual to celestial life; it's a sermon for another day.  And if you were 
to lay these teachings out, side by side with the biology of human 
development, all the way to its end, you would see that the processes are the 
same.  And why not?  There is only one reality, and that is heaven and its 
Creator in human form, flowing into and giving form to all that is natural.  
I urge you to read that part of the Arcana Coelestia.  But beware: Things 
will never look the same again if you do. You were born with no knowledge so 
that you can "gain all knowledge and move on to understanding it, and through 
this to wisdom." (CL 134)  Now it is permitted.
       You must be born again.  Not to "enter a second time into [your] 
mother's womb and be born," as Nicodemus misunderstood it, but to go through 
that same process with your soul.  And where is the womb of our souls?  Right 
here, in your life on earth.  That's where the process goes forward; that's 
where it happens.  And here's the vitally important part: If it doesn't begin 
to happen here, it cannot happen at all.  Those who become spiritual in this 
life can finish their spiritual embryology in the next.  Those who do not 
will not.  So what you do here counts: your education in the truths that lead 
to good, going forth together to take you to heaven. 
       How would you explain it to Nicodemus, or to someone like him, who 
probably lives on your street, works in your office, who knows you from your 
school or your childrens' activities?  Nicodemus was affirmative, and wanted 
to know, and he had the tremendous good fortune of running into the Lord 
Himself for his education.  Those other people: they're yours to teach.  How 
would you explain that they must be "born again"?  Relax, it's simple: When 
your soul (which is your mind) begins to love the Lord, which means that it 
wants to do what He commands, and when it begins to love the stories from the 
Word for the truth in them, and when it begins to love the wonderful things 
in the Writings for the New Church because they are true and useful; and when 
this soul wants to do good things to people, and not to do bad things any 
more, then it is born again.  Not done... just born.  But once born, it can 
develop forevermore.  The Lord does the work, just as life flowing into the 
embryo forms it and makes it grow, although it seems that we do it of 
ourselves.  And when we are done, we will give thanks, just as King David 
did, saying to the Lord,

"You formed my inward parts; You knit me together in my mother's womb. I will 
praise You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made."

AMEN   

THE LESSONS

Psalm 139:1-3, 13-16

1O LORD, You have searched me and known me. 
2You know my sitting down and my rising up; 
       You understand my thought afar off. 
3You comprehend my path and my lying down, 
       And are acquainted with all my ways. 

13For You formed my inward parts; 
       You knit me together in my mother's womb. 
14I will praise You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made; 
       Marvelous are Your works, 
       And that my soul knows very well. 
15My frame was not hidden from You, 
       when I was made in secret, 
       When I was woven together in the depths of the earth. 
16Your eyes saw my substance, being yet unformed. 
       All the days ordained for me 
       were written in Your book,  
             before one of them came to be.

John 3:1-9

There was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews. This 
man came to Jesus by night and said to Him, "Rabbi, we know that You are a 
teacher come from God; for no one can do these signs that You do unless God 
is with him." Jesus answered and said to him, "Most assuredly, I say to you, 
unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God." Nicodemus said 
to Him, "How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time 
into his mother's womb and be born?" Jesus answered, "Most assuredly, I say 
to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the 
kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is 
born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not marvel that I said to you, "You must be 
born again." The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear the sound of it, 
but cannot tell where it comes from and where it goes. So is everyone who is 
born of the Spirit."

The Divine Wisdom n. 84

THERE IS A LIKENESS AND ANALOGY BETWEEN THE FORMATION OF A HUMAN BEING IN THE 
WOMB AND HIS REFORMATION AND REGENERATION. 

A person's reformation is altogether similar to his formation in the womb, 
with this difference only, that for a person to be reformed he must have will 
and understanding, while in the womb he has no will and understanding; but 
this difference does not exclude the likeness and analogy.  For when the Lord 
reforms and regenerates a person He leads his will and understanding in like 
manner.  But through the will and through the understanding there is an 
appearance that the person himself leads himself, that is, wills and acts 
from himself, and thinks and speaks from himself; and yet he knows from the 
Word and from doctrine from the Word that it is not himself but the Lord, 
consequently that all this is only an appearance. 
In his reformation the two higher degrees of person's life are opened in him, 
and these were the dwelling-places of the Lord in his formation; also the 
lowest degree is reformed, which was inverted and reflected from birth.  From 
this analogy and likeness it is clear that the person who is being 
regenerated is as it were conceived, formed, born, and educated anew, and 
this so that as to love he may become a likeness of the Lord, and as to 
wisdom an image of the Lord, and, if you are willing to believe it, the 
person is thereby made new, not alone in having a new will and a new 
understanding given to him, but even a new body for his spirit.  The former 
things, indeed, are not erased, but are put aside so as not to appear, and 
through love and wisdom, which are the Lord, new things are formed in the 
regenerate person as in a womb; for such as the will and understanding of a 
person are, such is that person in each and all things.



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