Zeus king of the gods lived on Mount Olympus and men roamed freely there on the Mount and elsewhere amongst the gods. Living at that time was a man called Epimetheus and he was the wisest amongst the men for he knew the secrets of life. Epimetheus took the beautiful Pandora as his wife.
(Now Pandora had been fashioned from water and clay by the gods and sent down among mortal man to punish them for Prometheus's act of stealing fire and giving it to men.)
Pandora moved into the home of her new husband, and took up her wifely duties..." Now, said her husband "you have all my worldly goods. You can take care of the house and all the animals that I have. You can go anywhere on my property and clean and sweep every corner, but I beg of you, never go to the north room. Keep it locked at all times."
Now, Pandora set about her duties and was soon finished. As there was nothing else left to do she became restless and bored and so she began wandering around the house and eventually coming to the north room, she tried the door but it was locked. She went away, but thoughts of the room kept going around inside her head. "Maybe I can just take a little look "she thought to herself, “just take a quick peek; surely there would be no harm in that". After a little while she decided she would get the keys and open the door. She returned to the room and unlocked the door and the door opened noiselessly. Pandora peered into the room, but it was totally empty with the exception of a box in the middle of it. Pandora's curiosity knew no bounds, she felt compelled to open the box, and so she did, and out came hundreds of creatures looking like insects. The insect like creatures bit and stung Pandora all over her body. Then they flew out of the window attacking her husband and the unassuming people in the countryside. Quickly, Pandora shut the lid and sat on it. While sitting there on the box she heard knocking coming from inside it. Now she was reluctant to open the box again thinking that she had already done enough harm. "Let me out", said a tiny voice, "and maybe I can help you". Pandora thought about it and decided to take one more chance. She opened the box and out came a tiny fairy.
"I am Hope,” said the fairy, ”Pandora due to your curiosity you have let out all possible troubles for mankind. There will be no peace of mind for humans from this day forth. There will be greed and jealousy, insanity and lust, there will be plague and hatred, men will fight each other, wives will be set against husbands, sons against fathers, brother against brother, there will be famine, pestilence, vice and destruction. The world will know great sorrow.”
Hearing this Pandora started to cry and sob terribly, for the great harm she had brought upon herself and her fellow humans. "Do not cry so much Pandora,” said the fairy, "yes it is true that you have unleashed all manner of afflictions upon the world, but you have also let me out. I will always be there to bring hope to humans, whenever they are in trouble. I will always be there as the promise of Hope!”
And lightly fluttering back and forth on her snowy wings, Hope touched the wounded places on Pandora's and Epimetheus' creamy skin, and relieved their suffering, then quickly flew out of the open window, to perform the same gentle healing for the other victims, and to cheer their downcast spirits.
This story which many of you are familiar with is the ancient fable of Pandora’s box from Greek mythology. It comes in a number of different versions, but all have more or less the same basic elements, and the account presented here is a composite of a couple different renditions that I have read.
The myth is at its heart an explanation for how evil comes into the world. The woman Pandora who was created by the gods was endowed with many gifts as is the meaning of her name in Greek. But aside from the many good qualities that she possessed, there was also built within her a strong sense of desire and great curiosity which as the story goes, ultimately got her in trouble along with everybody else.
In another rendition of the story, before the box is opened, Pandora and her husband Epimetheus would blissfully walk hand in hand through the forests refreshing themselves with the luscious fruit, which hung so temptingly within reach. The narrative sounds so very much like another story we are all familiar with …
It almost sounds like a Greek version of what happened in the Garden of Eden. We have a happy couple enjoying each other and the forest around them. The wife is given full access to all of the material goods of her husband, the full run of the house, and care of all the animals save one small restriction. The woman becomes enamored by the something that was forbidden to her. She gives into her curiosity and decides to experience what has been refused to her. An idyllic untarnished earth quickly gets turned upside down by the one little event and suddenly the world knows pain and sorrow.
Like Eve, Pandora is depicted as the antagonist. She is the culprit who introduces misery upon the world. It is interesting that in these kind of primeval stories, the woman gets cast as the bad guy. Was it an arbitrary choice of the ancient writers, or should we infer something more about the theme of the woman?
It is interesting to note that the Greek narrative mentions that the gods created Pandora out of clay and water. This is hinting at the idea that she was created out of the earth, fashioned out of mud, a product of the soil of the world. Pandora’s origin suggests to us that she had a particularly earthly nature as opposed to a spiritual nature, and an earthly nature is a nature of desire and curiosity.
The desire nature is also referred to as the lust of the flesh and its object is what the 5 senses can experience in the physical world. This nature is curious and wants to experience all kinds of sights, smells, sounds, tastes, and touches. Not that these senses are bad, but the young soul does not realize the addictive nature of the sense life. Like the stomach that is never full and always hungers for its next meal, so the desire nature is never satisfied. Early on the experiences of the sense world bring gratification but are quickly followed by the pain of doing without their pleasures. The desire nature leads to the exploitation of others as well as the world around us to satisfy its craving. In this way it brings sorrow to everything, and this is the story of Pandora’s box.
Eve is very much like Pandora, because she epitomizes the desire nature in human beings. The woman was taken out of the side of Adam, out of his flesh to signify that she would possess a strong desire or flesh nature with an appetite for the material world. The woman then represents what might be called the lower nature of mankind, the part that is in common with the animal world and its cravings. Adam on the other hand is like Epimetheus the husband of Pandora. They represent the higher nature or spiritual nature of man that doesn’t fall prey to the appetites of the flesh, the part of mankind that experiences God.
Now we’ve seen the story of Pandora’s box and the account of Adam and Eve presented as an interpretation for the origin of human suffering and misery, the story of how evil came into the world. We’ve focused on the negative side of the story, the beginning of human woes, but now I’d like to shift gears a little and focus on the Pandora story from another angle.
But first let me take us back to 1981, when the movie world was introduced to perhaps one of the greatest films of all time. Raiders of the Lost Ark hit the theaters and became a blockbuster adventure story. The action packed thriller featured Harrison Ford who played Indiana Jones, an archaeologist on the hunt for the greatest treasure of antiquity, the Ark of the Covenant. With his girlfriend Marion, the couple deftly locate the Israelites’ famed object buried in the sands of Egypt only to have the Ark confiscated by the Nazis. They race around the globe, struggling with the Germans for control of the sacred possession.
Hitler was said to be obsessed with the occult and greatly desired the Ark for its divine powers which he sought to use as a war weapon. As the story builds to a climax, Indiana Jones and Marion are captured by the Nazis, tied up, and are escorted with a procession of the villains up to a location where the Ark was to be ceremonially opened. Bound together against a pole the couple helplessly await what is to happen next.
The grand opening takes place at night on a lighted hillside on an island in the Aegean Sea. The chief Nazi archeologist takes it upon himself to play priest and standing before the Ark with rabid curiosity has the lid taken off of it. He reaches in fully expecting to see some of the articles that Moses put in the sacred vessel like the tablets of stone, but much to his disappointment, his arm returns only a handful of sand which he disrespectfully throws back into the Ark.
We are led to believe that perhaps the Ark didn’t have any great power within it afterall (or at least not anymore.) In that anti-climatic moment, when it looks like the Nazis are ready to pack up and go home something begins to stir. Strange glowing spirits begin to emerge from the Ark. Appearing harmless at first they suddenly transform into hideous manifestations of death. Swirling about the soldiers in a terrifying dance, the spirits proceed to put all of the Germans to death in an especially gruesome way. In the aftermath, all of the Nazi debris is swept up in a giant whirlwind and carried in an updraft into the heavens. After cleansing the scene, the lid of the Ark returns again to its resting place on the sacred container with a clap of thunder.
Indiana and his girlfriend are of course unharmed having escaped the carnage by closing their eyes to the horrors. They discover themselves set free of their shackles and the story proceeds to find the ark taking up new residence in a U.S. government building housed in a crate among countless others. It is safe again and will bring no harm in its new hiding spot.
Now maybe it is clear why I made a tangent for the movie world. There is something in common between the Pandora fable and the Raiders of the Lost Ark adventure. The unifying element in both stories is a box. In the case of Pandora, the box doesn’t have much of a description. In one version of the story it was a chest of dark wood surmounted by a delicately carved head. The Ark of the Covenant was also known to be made of wood but was additionally overlaid with gold. Similarly, Pandora’s box and the Ark both shared carved figures on the top, the Ark having two golden cherubs seated on the Mercy Seat.
In both the Pandora tale and the Indiana Jones adventure another unifying theme is found at the climax of the stories. At the highpoint, we find evil spirits emanating from the box when the lid is taken off. The nasty contents, pent up inside of the chest spring out to harm and kill. What was holed up in these outwardly innocuous containers was something downright toxic and poisonous.
One might wonder where all of this bad stuff came from to start with. At least in the case of Pandora’s box we are given the explanation [in one rendition of the story] that the gods filled the box with malice as a punishment for mankind. But how about the Ark of the Covenant? How is it that this holy box of God should be filled with so much malice as well?
The last I checked, good things were placed into the Ark by Moses after it was crafted in the desert of Sinai. Aaron’s rod that budded found its home there as well as the two tablets of stone and the pot of manna. Somewhere along the way it picked up some garbage, and that is the story that I would like to develop now.
This Ark that we are so familiar with and Pandora’s box which we have learned about today are one in the same thing, and they are also a part of our own human anatomy. This container that we call a box is a generic word for many things. Sometimes we use the word “chest” synonymously. That thing that is attached to two arms, two legs, and a head we also call a chest and it is filled with many things. Like the poles that were used to carry the Ark around from place to place in the Old Testament, we also have limbs which transport our own chest from here to there.
There are many images of the Ark in the Old Testament. Even veiled in the ceremonial practices in the desert, the Ark can be seen in its relation to man. In the book of Numbers, the Lord gave instruction to Moses and Aaron about packing up the Ark for transport whenever the Israelites were going to break camp and move on. In the beginning of Chapter 4 the Lord directed that “when the camp is to move, Aaron and his sons are to go in and take down the shielding curtain and cover the Ark of the Testimony with it. Then they are to cover this with goatskins, spread a cloth of solid blue over that and put the poles in place.”
It sounds like an elaborate ritual, but it is far from an arbitrary thing. The solid blue cloth is a symbol of the spiritual. Blue is the color of the skies, and the heavens which are high above the earth are meant to illustrate spiritual reality. The goatskins are generically animal skins which are the covering of the flesh. Putting the two ideas together, we have another image of man. This Ark is housed under the skin and within the flesh. It is within man represented by his chest. Over the flesh is a covering of blue, the spiritual nature which ideally rules over the animal nature. So we see in this obscure passage from the desert a kind of hierarchy with the spirit over the flesh which contains the Ark.
Now the Nazis weren’t the first group of people to have a bad encounter with the Ark. Back in the time of Samuel, the Ark fell into the hands of the Philistines and was with them for seven months. Feeling a little divine pressure, they decided to return it to its rightful stewards in Israel. They put it on a cart and hitched it to a couple cows which brought it back across the border into the town of Beth Shemesh. But all did not go well for the people of Beth Shemesh that day as 70 of them died, and in the passage we are told that the people perished after they had looked into the Ark. They had taken the lid off of the box and met a surprise, not unlike Pandora and our friend Indiana Jones.
But what is this toxic stuff inside of the Ark that has proven so lethal in these various stories that we have looked at today? It is something within man no doubt, something deep inside that is hidden from him. Stored in man’s box, in the chest is the stuff of the subconscious mind, a very deep well to be sure. Just as the lid keeps the contents of the box isolated from the outside, so does the subconscious remain concealed from the conscious mind.
Sometimes the Bible refers to the oceans or the sea as a symbol of the subconscious. The sea is very deep and so it can conceal many things. This body of water can also be thought of as a part of our human anatomy, also within the box we call our chest. The sea is what we would link to our gut, the heart of the belly. It is the emotional center of the body, the place where we feel stressors first. When someone is anxious, he will sometimes say that he has “butterflies in his stomach,” or when something traumatic happens to someone, he may say, “that was a gut-wrenching experience.” And we have all heard someone tell us sometime in our life to “trust your gut” which means to trust your feelings and the emotions inside of you rather than just your conscious mind.
The sea which we find in ourselves is just like the sea in the outside world. It is a place of salty waters, of bitter waters, negative experiences of life that have retained their record in the subconscious. It is the place where unhappy occurrences in life find a home. When something bad happens in our lives and we don’t deal with it (usually because it is too painful to feel at the time,) we harden ourselves to it, and it passes from the conscious mind into the waters of the unconscious mind deep inside of us.
These bad experiences could be anything. They could be the feelings of a child growing up in an alcoholic home. They could be the emotional roller coaster of divorce, or the feelings of a young person who didn’t receive much attention in the formative years.
Whatever these things are, they have gone into hiding and are as far away from us as the moon is from the earth. Because they are subconscious we just don’t know that they are there. But this doesn’t mean that they aren’t having an effect on us. These negative emotions inside of the box are a poison to the whole body. What lies buried deep within festers and rots inside. Instead of housing God, the Ark within becomes a toxic waste dump.
What lies within us can have an effect on us both physically and spiritually. One well known Proverb says, “A heart at peace gives life to the body, but envy rots the bones.” Envious feelings attack the bones, and what is significant about the bones is that they are the place where blood is created. The life of the creature is in the blood, and if this blood has become polluted it ruins the health of the whole body.
There are several other Proverbs that speak for themselves in this regard: “A happy heart makes the face cheerful, but heartache crushes the spirit.” “A cheerful look brings joy to the heart, and good news gives health to the bones.” “A cheerful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones.” “The words of a gossip are like choice morsels; they go down to a man’s inmost parts.”
Harboring judgment or unforgiveness inside can often be a root of depression and a sad countenance. Anxiety disorders are many times stemming from episodes of fear and trauma in our childhood. Cancer and arthritis are often diseases of bitterness and resentment. They are illnesses of consumption; they eat us up inside and this is what bitter feelings do to us. Heart attacks may come from cold and insensitive hearts. Hardened hearts which are frozen over want to stop and are prone to cardiac arrest. When we have swallowed a bitter pill we may find ourselves one day suffering from diabetes only because we are not sweet enough anymore.
Up until now we have focused on the Ark and how it has been a symbol of the container of human experience. It is one of a few images in the Old Testament for the same idea. During the Babylonian exile, the prophet Ezekiel was a captive with his people along the great river Euphrates. One day the Spirit lifted Ezekiel up in a vision and transported him to Jerusalem, to the temple to see what was going on there. The passage says that the Lord brought Ezekiel to the outer wall of the temple and instructed him to dig a hole through the wall. So he dug a hole through the outer court and came to a doorway which he opened. And passing through the door he looked and saw portrayed all over the walls all kinds of crawling things and detestable animals and all the idols of the house of Israel.
What Ezekiel saw on the inside of the temple was another peek on the inside of a human being. Not only can we refer to the Ark as an object within ourselves, but we can likewise look at the temple as a symbol of the house of man’s body. When Jesus spoke about the temple in the gospels, he was often talking about himself. Remember that he said, “Destroy this temple and I will raise it up again in three days.” In the epistles of Paul we are told that we are also the temple of the Holy Spirit. This temple always has been the place where we are to find God. Recall that the temple is the place where Mary found her Son Jesus (who is God himself,) and it is the same location inside of ourselves that we must find God if we are ever to find him.
But instead of finding God in the temple, Ezekiel has discovered creepy crawly things and detestable animals. He has seen things that move upon the ground, crawling things meaning that they are things of a lower nature, things of man’s lower nature. He has seen animals depicted on the walls referring to the animal nature of man, the sins of the flesh which have cluttered up the temple.
Now I have spent a good deal of time describing a problem that all people have to varying degrees. I have talked about ugly things that are locked away deep inside of the chest, forgotten in the sea of the subconscious, and defiling the temple. A picture was painted of stuff inside of the box of man that he is unfortunately not even aware of. And regrettably, he suffers from things that he is not conscious of. In the words of Hosea, “My people suffer from lack of knowledge.”
The cure to this condition that puts man in a prison of his own making, is to first accept the idea that there may be something lurking inside of us that is obscuring the face of God, blocking it from shining on us as brightly as it should. The first step in most recovery programs is coming out of denial and admitting that there is a problem, and it is the same solution to this spiritual problem which afflicts so many of us.
The second step is to find an isolated place where we can be alone with God. In the solitude of this personal retreat, we must become very quiet inside and begin to listen to God as he moves our thoughts in a certain direction. We may find ourselves focusing on some long ago event that we hadn’t thought about in years, some relationship that had gone sour, some episode of abuse or of fear long off of our radar screens.
The third step involves being prepared to feel emotions that have been locked away for a long long time. The same way that they came into us they have to leave us. The feelings that were denied experience for whatever reason need to be heard and released. They are often not rationale and not intelligent. They are rantings and ravings and deep sobbing but they are real and need to be expressed in all of their ugliness in order to be free of them.
Once we let God bubble to the surface what has been buried in the subconscious, and we cooperate with him by reliving those painful events or situations that have been in hiding, then we will find that the experience has suddenly been neutralized and has lost its stronghold over us. When we confront these things, we for the first time come face to face with the truth about ourselves, and in unloading the ugliness that lives inside, this truth sets us free.
Now maybe you are thinking that I have sketched an overly simplistic solution to this very deep problem. Admittedly this formula is an oversimplification but it is an outline of the basic elements in the process of becoming a free person. People often spend years in therapy and counseling to get to the root of their problems. I can say from personal experience that often a lot of prayer and meditation is needed to condition the self to be rid of the bad stuff on the inside. It is a process, sometimes very long in which the ice starts to melt and the heart begins to soften.
I had come to realize that a number of things were blocking the fullness of God in my own life some years back, and I will share with you a couple of examples from my own experience to give an idea of the stuff we might expect to find hidden in the box.
Starting in my college years I began to be plagued by bouts of anxiety, and the troubled thoughts usually had to do with feelings of being out of control. You might not have known it about me as I was one to well conceal what was happening in my own mind. On the outside I might have appeared preoccupied, but inside my mind was playing over and over again like a broken record. I would become fixated on a problem or an idea and couldn’t let it go. Many times I felt like a prisoner of my own mind, unable to control it, and being driven in all sorts of random directions.
I knew the anxious thoughts were absurd and unrealistic, situations that could never happen and yet there was a persistent fear of losing control. I wondered why other people weren’t troubled in this way and decided that perhaps this was just the way my evolving adult mind was wired, with a propensity toward worry and anxiety.
It was after some years that I decided that this problem of mine was really not a natural or normal thing at all, and in a time in my life where God was working to clean out the emotional baggage of many years the problem came to the surface. In prayer one evening, as I was sitting still before God, my mind began to move toward an event that I hadn’t thought of in many years, an occurrence that happened when I was 10 years old. It was the winter of 1981 and our family dog had just given birth to 9 puppies. It was an exciting event for a child to see them being born and witness new life coming into the world.
The puppies were usually content to sleep or nurse from their mother, but one of the nine was troubled and used to cry all the time. As the newborns were with us a couple months, it began to be somewhat annoying, at least for one member of my household who tended to have a short fuse. One night while lying in bed trying to sleep, I heard this little dog whining away for a very long time. This family member of mine got pushed over the edge and storming out of the bedroom went to the place where the 9 pups had their bed. I suddenly heard a shocking noise, like something getting hurled against a wall, and then there was silence. The person stormed back to the bedroom, and all was quiet.
I didn’t dare get of bed, fearing the worst. Somehow I fell asleep and when I awoke all thankfully appeared normal, all 9 animals still breathing and looking well. I went to school and didn’t think anything more of it until this night in prayer when the event came rushing back to me, and re-experiencing the horror of it, I began to sob uncontrollably for some time, deep convulsions and floods of tears welled out of me.
I don’t know to this day what happened that night back in 1981, but in the mind of a child it was something brutal and horrifying. The event passed quickly out of the mind but not out of the body. Surprised as I was, it lay underground buried in the subconscious graveyard of my life. Now it had resurfaced and was permanently gone exiting the same way it came in and along with it the root of the fear and anxiety that had also become a part of me.
Some months after this cleansing experience, the quietness of prayer brought me another surprise. For as many years back as I can remember, I had never been a person to smile a whole lot. Usually fairly solemn and somber, you would see me as someone with a generally serious look on his face most of the time. Not that I couldn’t laugh at something funny or grin at something amusing, I was generally a poker face with a more sober expression.
This too I believed was something normal for me. In the world there were clearly the more light-hearted smiling types and on the other end of the spectrum the rather stoic serious looking people. There was room on the planet for both, and I decided that I must have naturally been made more like the latter.
This too was to change in an experience of prayer with another unexpected revelation. I will never forget it as I was driving on a trip to Pennsylvania some years ago. I saw in my mind’s eye how I had treated a certain family member with coldness for so many years. Tolerating more than loving, I had judged the individual and thought badly of the person. In my mind the person wasn’t worthy of much respect because of things that had happened.
It was shown to me in this moment of prayer how God viewed this family member and the truth of it hit me hard. I realized that while I had judged and condemned this individual, this relative had actually loved me and accepted me without any reservation. My wall of coldness broke down and again through a powerful outpouring of tears I repented of my judgment, and as the tears began to subside I realized that something had also changed on my face. I was actually smiling naturally for the first time in as many years as I could remember. The muscles around my mouth were actually in pain for a few days from that point, because they hadn’t been used in that posture for what seemed like forever. And then I discovered that when the heavy heart becomes unloaded of certain emotional baggage, it becomes natural to smile all the time like the light-hearted people of this world.
I experienced the truth first hand that through judging another I had fallen under judgment and it was reflected in my face for such a long time. Once I ceased condemning, the judgment was immediately lifted from me. When the sin evaporated, the clouds that were blocking the face of God disappeared and I realized that the stern God that I had so often projected had really been smiling all along.
We choose which face of God we want to see. When buried under a load of emotional baggage we are more likely to see only the Old Testament God, the angry warrior Jehovah. When we cleanse out the box, we begin to behold the face of the New Testament God, the Lord of love and peace.
Now remember the story of Pandora. After all of the vile creatures had come out from the box, we are told that “all that was left inside was Hope.” And after we cleanse the box of our own chest, all that we will find inside is hope which is the constant expectation of God’s goodness and his face shining down upon us. Amen.