My name is Solomon Keal. I am a minister for the General Church of the New Jerusalem, which is a Swedenborgian Christian denomination. These are some of my thoughts about the Lord, the symbolic meanings in the Bible, life after death, faith, charity, usefulness, loving the Lord and one's neighbor, the 2nd Coming, Swedenborg's Writings, and other theological stuff.
Monday, April 19, 2010
A Study of the Nature of the Language of the Word, and the Process of Deriving Doctrine from the Word.
“And God said, ‘Let there be light,’ and there was light.” (Genesis 1:3)
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through Him, and without Him was not anything made that was made. In Him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” (John 1:1-5) “The Word in this passage is the Divine truth that is in the Lord and from the Lord, so here it is also called the light, which is Divine truth.” (HH 137)
The Word is the Lord’s Divine truth. What we call the ‘Bible’ - or the literal sense of the Word - is the container for this Divine truth. (See TCR 210) By reading the physical words on the paper, we can develop an understanding of the Lord’s Divine truth. This provides a natural basis for the Lord’s immediate presence with us. And so it is extremely important to read the Word.
But “the Word is not understandable without a body of teaching.” (TCR 225) This is because the Divine truth lies hidden within the actual physical words of the literal sense. If one thinks about it, it would be impossible for the Lord’s infinite truth to be fully represented by finite words, unless there were levels or dimensions of truth within truth.
In the New Church, the ‘body of teaching’ which interprets the Word is drawn from the Writings of Emanuel Swedenborg, who, by being enlightened directly from the Lord, drew it from the letter of the Word.
What are the levels or dimensions of truth in the Word? The highest level of truth in the Word is the truth that relates to the Lord and love to the Lord. This is the celestial or heavenly sense. The next level of truth in the Word is the truth that relates to loving one’s neighbor. This is the spiritual sense. Both of these senses are internal to the literal or natural sense of the letter. The natural sense of the Word includes the actual letters of the Bible, as well as a literal understanding of the stories in an historical and moral way. (See AC 3712, De Verbo 35, TCR 212). Because the spiritual and celestial sense both reside within the natural sense, there are often what seem to be redundant dualities or trines representing these two or three senses. Phrases like “void and empty” or be “fruitful and multiply” reflect this reality.
It is these internal meanings that make the natural Word holy, (see TCR 200) because it would be impossible for finite letters to be equivalent to infinite truth if this were not so. But it is in the literal sense of the Word that the fullness of that holiness resides, (see TCR 214) because in the literal sense is contained truth for humanity on every level. Thus it is that Divine doctrine exists in all levels of the Word (AC 3712).
The literal sense of the Word is like the body of a person, while the internal or spiritual sense is like the soul of a person. (see AC 2311, SS 5). We can’t get to know a person’s soul without their body. The body is the means whereby their soul is knowable. Also, without a body, a person’s soul would not be able to function in this world. The soul is the reason why a person’s body is alive. All these things are also true of the internal and literal senses of the Word. And just like the truths about a person’s soul don’t always match with the truths about a person’s body (for example a really good person could look physically ugly), the internal truths of the Word don’t always shine through the literal sense in an immediately obvious way. But the more we try to get to know a person in an accepting and loving way, the more we see their true nature shining through any physical ugliness, quirky behaviors or confusing way of talking. The same is true with the Word. The more familiar we become with the entire literal sense of the Word, from a sincere desire to understand the Lord’s goodness and truth, the more that internal truth will shine through.
When we are getting to know a person, we principally get to know their soul by means of the things they say and do. The things they say and do are most often accomplished by their face and hands. And so it is also true that we especially get to know the internal sense of the Word through its ‘face and hands.’
"The doctrine of genuine truth may also be fully drawn from the literal sense of the Word; for the Word in that sense is like a person clothed, but whose face and hands are uncovered. Everything in the Word pertaining to man’s life, and thus to his salvation, is there unveiled. The rest is veiled; and in many places where it is veiled it shines through as the face appears through a thin veil of silk. Moreover, as the truths of the Word increase from the love of them, and are co-ordinated by love, they shine more and more clearly through their coverings and become more obvious. But this also it brought about by means of doctrine." (SS 55, see also TCR 229)
So the body of teaching that we need in order to fully understand the internal sense of the Word, still “has to be drawn from the Word’s literal meaning.” (TCR 225) But how is that to be done when the literal sense of the Word is so often confusing, strange, and contradicting? The same way that it is to be done when dealing with a person. We should look for the good in that person, or in other words, we should look for the Lord’s goodness in the Word. “Divine truth needed for a body of teaching becomes manifest only to those who have enlightenment from the Lord.” (TCR 225)
What is enlightenment? In a natural sense it means that a person can see because there is light and not darkness. In a spiritual sense, it means that a person can understand truth because of a connection with the Lord through heaven, and not with hell. “Enlightenment comes to people who love truths because they are true and who make them useful in their lives, because these people are in the Lord and the Lord is in them.” (TCR 231) So in one sense enlightenment comes with an attitude adjustment; when we choose to think positively, rather than negatively. But how does this work?
"We can understand how this happens by perceiving that for vertical levels, one is above the other, with the earthly level, the terminal one, acting like an inclusive membrane for the two higher levels. As the earthly level is raised toward a higher level, then, the higher activates that outer earthly level from within and enlightens it. The enlightenment is actually happening because of the light of the higher levels from within, but it is received gradually by the earthly level that envelops and surrounds them, with greater clarity and purity as it ascends. That is, the earthly level is enlightened from within, from the light of the higher, distinct levels; but on the earthly level itself, it happens gradually." (DLW 256)
So it is not simply by reading the physical words of the Bible that we gain enlightenment in spiritual truths, but by mentally focussing on searching for the Lord’s goodness and truth in those words. This mental focus is what opens our minds to heaven which is where the enlightenment and understanding truly comes from. The understanding of the literal sense of the Word is like a container which, if turned in the right direction, can hold spiritual truth from the Lord, but if not turned in the right direction, remains empty.
Emanuel Swedenborg had this focus, and so he was enlightened by the Lord as to the spiritual meaning of the Word in a very detailed way. His spiritual eyes were opened to the true nature of the Sacred Scripture, much like the Lord’s disciples’ minds were opened after His resurrection. “And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, He interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself.... Then He opened their minds to understand the Scriptures.” (Luke 24:27,45) Swedenborg was appointed by the Lord to be enlightened in this way so that he could provide the means for a new revelation of truth. This new revelation is the second coming of the Lord as was prophesied by the Lord in John: “I have said these things to you in figures of speech. The hour is coming when I will no longer speak to you in figures of speech but will tell you plainly about the Father.” (John 16:25) In the Writings of Swedenborg we are told about the nature of the language used in the Word. The ‘figures of speech’ are alluding to the symbolic language of the Word. The concept of symbolic speech is not a new one, since the Lord Himself explained some of His own parables. But the finer details of that ultimate parable known as the Bible, is explained by Swedenborg to be a language of correspondences, representations and significations.
‘Correspondences’ describe the relationship between spiritual things and natural things. All natural things exist because of spiritual things; but the two exist in different dimensions known as discrete degrees. What we think of as natural realities are really just manifestations of spiritual realities. Water, for example, is a natural manifestation of truth. Water ‘co-responds’ to truth, because they respond together; they respond in the same way. Water quenches our natural thirst and cleans our physical bodies, the same way that truth quenches our spiritual thirst and cleans our spiritual bodies. “Correspondence is the appearing of the internal in the external.” (AC 5423). Water behaves in this way because truth behaves in this way.
While ‘correspondence’ describes the very real relationship between spiritual and natural things, ‘representations’ describe the appearance, manifestation, or image on the natural plane. (see AC 4044) In the stories of the Word, water represents truth. ‘Signification’ means that the words themselves in the Bible represent things. For example: water corresponds to truth, and so therefore water represents truth, and the word ‘water’ in the Word signifies truth. (see AC 2899) “Correspondences, representatives, and significatives conjoin the natural world with the spiritual.” (AC 7290)
The entire divinely inspired Word was written using this kind of language, and so it contains within it Divine truth, because it is multi-dimensional. Knowledge of correspondences allows us to, as it were, break the code of the literal sense. But we must be careful with this knowledge:
"You might think that we could gain a body of genuinely true teaching by exploring the Word’s spiritual meaning through the study of correspondences. In fact, a body of teaching is not gained through that meaning; it is only enlightened and corroborated by that meaning, for... people who know a few correspondences are capable of falsifying the Word be connecting and applying correspondences to support some preconceived idea already lodged in their mind." (TCR 230)
So once again we come back to the important fact that we must always go to the Lord for enlightenment. It is only the Lord that can open our eyes to Divine doctrine; the genuine truth in His Word. “When the Spirit of truth comes, He will guide you into all the truth.” (John 16:13)