Public and Private Thought – Sermon by Rev Derek Elphick

Text: Luke 12:2-3

“For there is nothing covered that will not be revealed, nor hidden that will not be known. Therefore whatever you have spoken in the dark will be heard in the light, and what you have spoken in the ear in inner rooms will be proclaimed on the housetops.”

from Divine Providence 104

Every person has an outward and an inward level of thought. This is clear to anyone who observes the thoughts and intentions of someone else as shown in his speaking and acting, and who also observes his own thoughts and intentions when he is in company and when he is alone. For anyone can talk with someone else in a friendly way outwardly and yet be at enmity with him inwardly. Anyone can talk about love towards the neighbour and love to God from his outward thoughts but within he cares nothing for other people and does not fear God.

There is a passage in the Bible which sometimes disturbs people. It first appears in Matthew’s gospel and then again in Luke, with a slight change. It says: “There is nothing covered that will not be revealed, nor hidden that will not be known. Therefore whatever you have spoken in the dark will be heard in the light, and what you have spoken in the ear in inner rooms will be proclaimed on the housetops.” Another translation puts the last sentence like this: Whatever you whisper within four walls will be shouted from the top of the house.

People are sometimes terrified of this teaching because it seems to suggest that on the day of judgment all our private thoughts, particularly the shameful and regrettable, will be made public and exposed. And having these painful embarrassing thoughts publicised is also thought by some people to be a vindictive act of God. In explaining the meaning of this passage, the teachings of the New Church do indeed say this much: “After death, nothing whatever of a person’s thought, speech or action in the world is hidden but it is open to view”. And, “A person carries with him his whole memory, and nothing is so well hidden in the world that it is not brought out into the open after death, in public.”

In a broader context, Jesus said, “There is nothing covered that will not be revealed” in direct response to the hypocrisy of the Pharisees. Jesus said that no secrets would remain hidden with the person who pretended to be something he was not. You might remember that the Pharisees received the sharpest criticism from Jesus because they pretended to be something they were not. It’s interesting just to note here that the word “hypocrite” comes from a Greek word meaning ‘to play a part’ or ‘to act’.

In the spiritual world, it is impossible to pretend to be something you are not. After death, when the Lord’s angels ever so gently review a person’s Book of Life, they have absolutely no interest in broadcasting the faults of a person’s past or in raising embarrassing hurtful memories. Only those who deny their crimes or who deny their true identity will have their private thoughts broadcast in the way the passage from Luke suggests, and this is done only so that all people may enter fully into the joy of their own hearts. As a result, every person’s essential character will still become open to view in the spiritual world, which is why nothing whatever of a person’s thought, speech or action in the world is hidden but is open to view.

Only in this world do we have two sets of thoughts, one public and one private. These two sets of thoughts are distinguished by the way we act when we’re in company and when we’re alone by ourselves. As one passage says, “Every person who reaches maturity has an outer and an inner level of thought. This is clear to anyone who observes his thoughts and intentions when he is in company and when he is alone.”

Eventually, we’re told, our public open thoughts and our private thoughts will make one by correspondence. They will fully match up. They will become one because in the spiritual world everyone speaks just as he thinks and thinks like he speaks. But, by contrast, here on earth we enjoy a special kind of freedom in which we can act one way when we are in company and in a completely different way when we are alone by ourselves. This special kind of freedom serves not only as a protection but also as an essential part of our earthly life.

As long as people are in this world, they can keep their deepest thoughts and most private feelings hidden, and they can manufacture whatever kind of public image they want. Everyone is free to move through his or her life publicising as much or as little of his true thoughts and feelings as he wishes. As a result, an insincere person will say all the right things in public, flattering as many people as he or she can, and yet will privately laugh at those things when alone; whereas a sincere person will make every effort to publicly say what he or she privately thinks. The teachings of the New Church use the example of public officials and religious leaders to illustrate this point. We are told that people in these types of professions can manufacture a very convincing public image and yet privately hold very little interest for the public welfare or common good. One teaching says that public officials and religious leaders might very well perform their use from natural affection alone, which is for the sake of self, that they may be honoured and exalted to prestige, or for the sake of the world, that they may gain wealth and become rich. In some cases, these self-centred goals drive such people to perform more excellent uses than those who truly are in the spiritual affection of use. There’s another teaching which talks about the hypocritical church leader who, on returning home after his sermon laughs at all he said and expounded from the Word to his audience. And yet this same preacher, who secretly laughs at what he says, can move people ‘to tears’ with what he says in public.

So long as we live in this world we will never know whether someone is faking his public image or not. Many people are frankly disgusted by the amount of hypocrisy they see around them, particularly when hearing the honeyed phrases that seem to flow so effortlessly out of the mouths of many public officials, church leaders and corporate bosses. The general public will, most likely, always be suspicious of the lofty words spoken by many of its leaders, and this seems to be one reason why a large segment of the world population remains deeply sceptical of church organisations. Unfortunately, churches are often surrounded by scandals, and the public (understandably) has difficulty in trusting the leaders of these organisations, even the legitimate ones.

On an individual level – and as members of a church organisation – we may at times question the legitimacy of our own public image. There are many people who experience devastating hurt and disappointment in their lives, who struggle against the very ideals they try to model publicly, and who also choose to keep these struggles private. We would never call these people “fakes” or “frauds” for covering up the inconsistencies and contradictions in their own lives, and yet when we find ourselves working so hard to cover up our own troubles, we might very well think we are being a fake or a fraud. This very issue bothered an American President a number of years ago when he was in office. He once confided to his wife, “I wonder why we are made so that what we really think and feel we cover up”.

Of course, the goal of our earthly life is to invite the Lord to be present and active in every part of it as we go about our public, private and domestic duties. The following teaching adds to this by saying that the private world of our inner thoughts and feelings is actually the channel which introduces heaven to our outward, public life: “Heaven flows by way of the internal person into the external or outward person, and the outward person gains a perception of what exists in heaven. It is for this reason that the human being has been created in the way he has.”

The thoughts and feelings of our inner private world have been created to flow into our outward life, into our public world and presentation. We have all seen this process in action with little children and also with the elderly, often with humorous results. When you sit down with a little child, he will tell you exactly what’s on his mind. His private thoughts flow with complete ease into his public world; little children don’t need to manufacture a public image. And when people reach the last years of their adult lives, they too, in most cases, will tell you exactly what’s on their minds. They seem to hold little interest in keeping up appearances and seem almost relieved to let the manufactured image of their public life which has served them so well, crumble and fall away.

But having the freedom to publicly say or do what we may not privately think or feel is an essential part of our earthly life. In the book “Conjugial Love” there is a whole chapter which explains in detail why it is so important for married partners to publicly show their love toward each other during those times when they don’t privately feel it. The chapter also stresses the point that this kind of ‘role-playing’ is not hypocritical because its purpose is to heal the marriage relationship not only before the eyes of the couple but also before the eyes of any children, as well as before society.

There are also other sections in our teachings which talk about the importance of compelling ourselves to go through the motions involved in the work of regeneration even when we don’t feel like doing it. And again, this kind of ‘role-playing’ is not hypocritical since the person doing it is sincerely trying to amend his or her private life, something a hypocrite would never dream of doing.

If we were forced to give a running commentary on everything we truly thought and felt, we would find ourselves with very few friends at the end of the day. It is essential that people can be free to unravel the contradictions and inconsistencies of their life in privacy. This is a protection which every person well needs, and it is confirmed in the following teaching:

From his inner thought a person can view his outward thought, reflect on it, deciding whether it is evil or not. The mind of a person owes this characteristic feature to what he has from the Lord, which is his liberty and his rationality.

In the modern world of talk shows and public confessionals, it seems that many people feel pressurised to publicise their private thoughts. In the media, celebrities are expected to share their deepest thoughts and feelings as though the world couldn’t go on without knowing them. And we can all point to moments in our own lives when we publicised a private thought prematurely; a thoughtless comment to a co-worker, a piece of advice to a friend who really needed to hear it, or that brutally honest critique of our spouse. And even though we may regret some of the things we “let out”, we may still argue it’s better to “say it like it is” than sugar-coat every private thought.

We may also argue that if everyone speaks as he thinks in the spiritual world, as we are taught, then why waste time playing a charade here? But that teaching on the spiritual world also points out the fact that people in the spiritual world may be silent, and not publish the thoughts of their mind. In other words, while our essential character will become open to view in the spiritual world, we will still be free to maintain a level of privacy that suits our own preference.

People don’t need to be terrified or overly troubled knowing that one day what they think and feel will become public, because they are involved in the process right now. All sincere adults who try as well as they can – when circumstances and opportunities allow – to publicly say what they privately feel ought to know they are on the right track. As little children, we had no difficulty publicly saying what we privately thought, and during our final years on earth, we will, most likely, have no difficulty doing it again (if we don’t already). In fact, we might find it quite refreshing.

With the years in between, the Lord ever so carefully helps us to develop our true character and identity within the safety of our private world. While the Lord certainly encourages us to keep our struggles and concerns out in the open where they can be dealt with squarely, He knows that we also need a certain level of protection while living in this world. The Lord, therefore, helps us unravel many of the contradictions and inconsistencies that appear in our public world, again within the safety of our private world. It is also allowable – and necessary at times – to manufacture a public image that may not reflect our true character, because it takes time and patience for our public and private thoughts to make one by correspondence. But when they do, we will enter into the greatest happiness we can imagine. For when people enter heaven they come into the highest joy of their own heart.

Amen.

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