“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the Lord.
“For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts.” – Isaiah 55:8-9
God created the heavens and the earth. In doing this He had eternal ends in view. This and other earths were formed and men created upon them. Generation after generation of men are there formed and gathered into the spiritual world. There, if they have lived rightly, the Lord forms them into heavens, where they are being continually perfected and formed more and more into His image and likeness.
We are born knowing nothing either of this world or of the spiritual world. But we are endowed with the capacity to develop and to learn. We are born without knowledge. We see very little, hear very little, and our sense of touch is dull. The only sense that is developed is that of taste. The babe feeds without instruction from the first hours of its life. At first we have no desires other than to receive pleasant sensations of warmth, to have small discomforts removed, and to satisfy the hunger. When external comfort is attained, we are content.
As we learn a little more, our desires enlarge. We are interested in various amusements. Toys become attractive, and a desire for knowing about things develops. We like to learn of all that is going on about us, and to try our hand at imitating what other people are doing.
In maturity the things at which we played in childhood we like to make real. We want a home of our own, we want to share in the work of the world. Such naturally are our goals, and such are our thoughts. We plan for them and work for them, always expecting to be satisfied, but never really content even when we obtain what we wanted: always seeing something beyond, which seems important to our full content. And even if we have all that we have learned to desire and enjoy, there is never complete satisfaction.
This is because the natural world is not all that there is. We are inmostly spiritual beings, and as the heavens are higher than the earth, so the Lord’s ways are higher than our ways. And the Lord’s providence is constantly operating to substitute His purposes for our purposes and His thoughts for our thoughts.
Only very gradually can this be done. The first step is a knowledge of right and wrong and obedience to the right. Our natural desires do not limit themselves. We have to learn, first from our parents and then from the Divine commandments the limits of our rights, and that wrong must not be done to others. Through proper training by parents and then by self-training we learn that the gratification of our natural desires is not so good when pursued without restraint as when regulated by the laws of right, and that there is greater happiness in restraining them in obedience to what we know as right than in unlimited self-indulgence.
When we are so far accustomed to controlling our natural desires, it is not difficult to learn the next lesson which the Lord teaches, that is, that the love of usefulness is better than the love of the world. So in childhood we should be trained to do useful work, and this while the heart is still tender so that it will feel the pleasure of being useful. The Lord’s providence cooperates by requiring that the means of living and of obtaining the good things of the world shall usually be useful work for the community. The laws of right and wrong also cooperate by requiring that a just equivalent of useful work shall be given for the returns obtained. When these things are learned and lived, the way is prepared for the lesson that the doing of useful work is in itself a greater good than the enjoyment of its returns or of any amount of worldly possessions. And this is an immense gain, in the substitution of the Lord’s ends for our natural ends. And it is a gain that is susceptible of perpetual increase as we learn better and wiser forms of usefulness, and as the love of usefulness is expanded and purified.
One more great lesson and the transformation is complete, and that is to prefer love of the Lord to the love of self. In learning the previous lessons – to love right more than uncontrolled self-indulgence and usefulness more than the world – we have had to contend constantly with the urgency and perverseness of our natural loves. We have become wearied with them, tired of their continual and insatiable demands. And at the same time we have been learning of a true satisfaction and contentment that are not natural to us but are given to us by the Lord in the right and useful life according to His teachings. So now we are enabled to see that of ourselves and in the service of self we tend always and only to evil, and that of the Lord and in the service of the Lord we are always in good, and we learn from this that to lay down self and its requirements is to seek first in all things to do the Lord’s will.
Thus the Lord’s love and its infinite and eternal ends take the place of our natural desires and their shortsighted ends. True, we do not grasp their infinity and eternity; nevertheless we take a real hold of them, we know that they are infinite and eternal, and we know that the Lord will open them to us little by little as we are able to understand, and will lead us on and on to a more full comprehension of their greatness and their goodness forever and ever.
Although the Divine purposes for us are so contrary to our own ends, literally as far above them as the heavens are higher than the earth, it is necessary that we should be first introduced into the natural desires and their temporal ends; otherwise it would not be possible for us freely to choose and to love the Divine ends. In order to choose, we must first be something with the power of choosing; and in order that we may choose any given influence or end, we must be something outside of that influence or end and not controlled by it. For this reason, in order to become spiritual we must first be natural, in order to choose the Lord and His purposes for us we must first be ourselves with our natural and temporal ends.
Our natural desires have their purpose and use. They serve to preserve the basis of life – the continuance of the human race, the production of the means of living – which is essential in order that there may be men who may be taught of the Divine purposes and learn to pursue and to love them. This natural basis is preserved through the natural desires, though we may be unconscious of anything higher. We must indeed have the power to learn of the Lord, to compare His teachings with our natural desires, and to choose between them. We cannot overcome our natural desires from any power of our own but must look to the Lord for this power, which He gives as we learn and keep His precepts. And when we choose the right and good and look to the Lord, we restrain and chasten our natural desires but we do not reject or discard them. They cease to rule in us; but as means for uses and for support of higher things they are ennobled and their pleasures are more delightful as servants than they were as rulers.
We should come to realize that all our natural possessions obtained in this world are not permanent, for we all know that there is nothing in this world that we shall always retain. Everything of this world is temporary, our homes, our possessions, and even the honors we may receive here. Yet if rightly used, they can serve as means to higher things.
There is no possible acquisition in which we can rest and be satisfied. We can be satisfied only in spiritual progress. If a child should stop at the beginning of his development, we should be worried about him. If a man should stop with the development of his natural reason and powers and make his life to consist only in their exercise year after year, his condition would be little better. And even if one should attain a comparatively high state of spiritual development and stop there, neither improving nor enlarging century after century, how stagnant his existence would become!
It is foolish to set for ourselves any particular attainment or condition, natural or spiritual, as a permanent goal. As a temporary goal it may serve as a spur to progress; as a permanent end it can mean only stagnation and spiritual death. Compared with any thought of fixed attainment, the thoughts of Him who is infinite are as far above as the heavens are higher than the earth. So we are given the command, “Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.” This means that the Lord alone is the only worthy object of human love, the only object which can keep us truly alive and growing. Those who set their hearts on Him He will lead into ever new states of love and truth. The Lord’s power operates in them as they live from Him, leading them onward. In them the Lord rejoices, and in Him they rejoice and are content.