Monday, November 16, 2009

Do Unto Others

I've been reading the Book of Esther, and am struck by themes that I've never really noticed before. For one thing, the narrative offers an interesting commentary on the natural human tendency to exercise unrighteous dominion, and particularly men's tendency to exercise unrighteous dominion over their wives. At the heart of the story is Esther's courage in standing up to the unthinking and unrighteous dominion of Emperor Ahasuerus, knowing full well how he had treated her predecessor, Queen Vashti, for standing up to him. And Esther was responding to a crisis that had been provoked by the courtier Haman's outrage that Mordecai the Jew had refused to bow down to him. The Book of Esther is also a powerful commentary on the type of courage that is required for those without power to stand up to those who do have it, especially when the latter are using their power unrighteously.

But the particular unfolding of Haman's fate is also instructive. It is not simply a story about how Haman's plot to destroy the Jews was thwarted through faith and courage. It is an amplification of the golden rule. It is a morality tale with a powerful warning. Beware! Because the harm we seek to do to others, we ultimately only do to ourselves. The traps we lay for others, are traps we actually prepare for ourselves. The corollary message of course is: The good we do to others is good we do not only to others, but to ourselves as well.

It is not just that Haman plotted harm, and then was ultimately the recipient of harm. It is that Mordecai, his enemy, received the precise honors that Haman plotted for himself. Haman was hung on the precise gallows that he constructed for Mordecai. Those who would have destroyed the Jews were destroyed by the Jews. Their harmful intentions were literally mirrored back at them. They received precisely and in exact measure only what they prepared for their hated enemies.

There's a spiritual principle at the root of the Golden Rule, and at the root of the dire warning contained in the story of Esther. We come closer to that spiritual root of human relations in the covenant that we make at baptism, to "bear one another's burdens," and to "rejoice with those that rejoice, and mourn with those that mourn." We should do unto others as we would have others do unto us, because in the divine economy, there is no significant difference between "us" and "them". In the eternal realm, our personal, individual happiness (if such a thing exists) will depend upon the happiness of those around us. Or, perhaps more truly stated, our happiness is the happiness of those around us. In the divine economy, the ultimate punishment is isolation (outer darkness), and the ultimate reward is communion. It is only natural, then, that our ability to receive that reward is contingent upon our ability to recognize the interconnectedness of our personal fortune with the fortunes of all those around us.

What is of particular importance is that our attitude toward our "enemies" is based upon a false awareness of reality. The logical construct of "enemy" is a lie. To believe that one has an enemy is to believe that one is justified in harming another human being. It is literally to cut ourselves off from the very human beings whose happiness is the condition of our own. To nurture enmity is the lie that, above all other lies, Satan wants us to believe in, to invest our whole lives in believing and living. In fact, it is the one lie that Satan himself is least likely to recognize as a lie. Satan, after all, has cast all of his fortunes on the principle of enmity with God. And Satan made war with God because he believed too forcefully in the rightness of his cause, that his coercive plan for forcing us back to God's presence would be more effective than God's plan of free choice. What terrible and terrifying ironies! What tragedy! A tragedy that far too many of us are unthinkingly on the road to. For when we make others our enemy, we become an enemy -- not only to others, but to God. Who of us is not in this predicament to some degree?

But don't worry! Christ came to overcome enmity, to restore harmony, to reestablish friendship between humanity and God, and friendship among all humanity. The entirety of Christ's teachings, life and atonement were designed to break us out of that false awareness, to lead us step by step into the truth that will enable true fellowship with God. But we have to let go. We have to let go of what Satan couldn't: our rightness, and our willingness to pursue our rightness to the point of enmity.

This spiritual principle is far more dangerous to history's winners than its losers, far more dangerous to the conquerors than the conquered. For "the last will be first, and the first last."

Latter-day Saints -- who value marriage so terribly highly -- might consider what it will mean in the divine economy to have invested so much in taking marriage away from others.

But that's not a warning I can take the least bit of comfort in. If I harbor hardness of heart or a desire for harm against those who have harmed me, there will be no comfort for me either in the grand scheme of things. If I wish good for myself, I must find it in my heart to work for the good even of those who have esteemed me their enemy.


Anonymous said...

This is a timely message for me today- VERY- about "doing unto others and myself". Thank YOU! Your post will keep me from doing something destructive. I owe you a lot for posting this. Thank you!

J G-W said...

Thank you... I'm very, very grateful to hear it! Let peace flow like a river!