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When viewer Tor Halstvedt wrote us to share his own struggle with honoring his father and mother, we knew we had to have a deeper look at the inner meaning of that commandment. In this episode, hosts Curtis Childs and Chelsea Odhner reveal how eighteenth-century theologian Emanuel Swedenborg’s teachings can bring peace where the letter of the law fails.
What are ways that you have felt cared for and nurtured during your life journey?
If Chelsea had to pick, she’d point to a community of women who came together to support her and her family when her mother passed away. She deeply appreciates the care those women provided and still keeps up with them today. Curtis recalls the semi-rural environment that he grew up in where he was surrounded every day by the beauty and comfort of nature.
The commandment about honoring your father and your mother can sometimes give people pause—what if your relationship with your parents is strained, or even abusive? Let’s start by looking at this commandment’s exact wording.
Honor your father and your mother, in order that your days may lengthen on the land that Jehovah your God is giving you. (Exodus 20:12)
Taking this commandment at face value, you might question whether honoring your father and mother would ensure lengthening your lifespan here on earth.
According to Swedenborg, every line of scripture has at least three hidden levels of meaning—earthly, spiritual, and heavenly. Even the earthly sense of this commandment, which is to have gratitude and respect for people or situations that support and nurture you, takes us beyond the literal sense of the words.
These nurturers can be anyone—not just family. For some, nurturing can even come from nature itself or some other environmental factor.
A divine field of heavenly love constantly radiates from the Lord. . . . From this heavenly field an earthly field arises. . . . [The Lord] created a sun that is like a father to the physical world and an earth that is like a mother to it. The marriage of the sun as a father and the earth as a mother produces all the growth that adorns the surface of the planet. The influence of this heavenly field on the physical world occasions the miraculous progression in plants from seed to fruit to new seeds. It also results in many types of plant that turn their faces, so to speak, toward the sun by day and bow them when the sun sets, and in flowers that open when the sun rises and close when it sets. It also induces the songbirds to sing sweetly first thing in the morning and again after they have been fed by their mother, the earth. In these ways all these creatures honor their father and their mother. All these phenomena are proof that through the sun and the earth the Lord makes available all the necessities for both the living beings and the inanimate things in the physical world. (True Christianity §308)
But that’s just the earthly sense. The spiritual sense goes a little deeper.
We were given this commandment because honoring parents symbolized, and therefore meant, loving the Lord and the church. The heavenly meaning of father is the Lord. . . . The heavenly meaning of mother is the church. . . . Honor symbolizes wanting to do what is right, and prolonging the days of those who want to do what is right symbolizes the happiness of eternal life. This is how the commandment is understood in heaven, where they recognize no other father than the Lord and no other mother than the Lord’s kingdom, which is the church. The Lord gives us life from himself, and he nurtures us through the church. The Lord teaches us in Matthew the heavenly meaning of this commandment, which is that while we are in a heavenly state of mind we should not think of . . . an earthly father: “And call no one your father on earth, for you have one Father—the one in heaven” (Matthew 23:9). (Revelation Explained §966:2)
Isn’t it odd, though, that this commandment would be listed alongside ones like “don’t murder”? According to Swedenborg, it’s absolutely essential.
Since father and mother means the Lord and his kingdom, this commandment is the fourth in the series and surpasses in holiness the ones that come after it. The commandment about worshipping Jehovah (that is, the Lord) is first and second, because it is the holiest. Next comes the commandment about the Sabbath, because at the highest level of meaning it is a symbol of the union within the Lord of his divinity and his deified human manifestation. The commandment about honoring parents comes next, because it is a symbol of loving the Lord and therefore a symbol of his giving us a love of what is good and true. (Secrets of Heaven §8899)
If you’re looking for more on the other commandments, check out “False Gods: Mysteries of the 10 Commandments Explained,“ “The 10 Commandments: God’s Name Explained,“ and “How to Find Lasting Inner Peace.“
And the heavenly sense of father and mother brings us to their innermost meaning.
A spiritual angel . . . understands “father” to mean the Lord and “mother” to mean the church; and they understand honoring to mean loving. But a heavenly angel understands “father” to mean the Lord’s divine love and “mother” the Lord’s divine wisdom, and honoring to mean doing what is good because of him. (Sacred Scripture §67)
Now that the soil is tilled, let’s dig deeper. The church, in all its senses, is about nurturing people. And the Bible often uses mother to refer to the church in some way.
In the spiritual meaning, honoring your father and your mother refers to revering and loving God and the church. In this sense “father” means God—the Father of all—and “mother” means the church. . . . In the spiritual meaning, “mother” stands for the church because as mothers on earth nourish their children with physical food, so the church nourishes people with spiritual food. For this reason in various places in the Word the church is called “mother”; for example, in Hosea: “Bring charges against your mother. She is not my wife and I am not her husband” (Hosea 2:2, 5). In Isaiah: “Where is the certificate of your mother’s divorce, whom I put away?” (Isaiah 50:1; Ezekiel 16:45; 19:10). . . . In the heavenly meaning, “father” stands for our Lord Jesus Christ and “mother” stands for the communion of saints, meaning his church that is scattered throughout the entire world. The following passages show that the Lord is the “Father”: A Child is born to us; a Son is given to us. His name will be called God, Hero, Father of Eternity, Prince of Peace. (Isaiah 9:6) . . . Philip said, “Show us the Father.” Jesus says to him, “Those who see me see the Father. . . .” (John 14:7–11; 12:45) The following passages show that in the heavenly meaning “mother” stands for the Lord’s church: I saw a city, the holy New Jerusalem, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. (Revelation 21:2) The angel said to John, Come. I will show you the bride, the wife of the Lamb, and he showed him the holy city Jerusalem (Revelation 21:9, 10). . . . “The New Jerusalem” means the new church that the Lord is establishing today. . . . This church, not the one before it, is the “wife” and “mother” in this sense. The spiritual offspring that are born from this marriage are acts of goodwill and true insights related to faith. The people who have these things from the Lord are called “the children of the wedding,” “children of God,” and “those who are born of him.” (True Christianity §§306–307)
With these spiritual and heavenly senses, all these passages make a lot more sense. We’re not talking about literal mothers and fathers, but spiritual nurturers and creators.
Honor your father and your mother is symbolic of loving what is good and true; and at its highest level of meaning, this means loving the Lord and his kingdom. This is consistent with to honor as a symbol for loving. The spiritual meaning of honor is love, because in heaven they love one another and in so doing they honor one another. Within honor there is love, and in heaven they refuse to be honored unless there is love in it; in fact, they denounce it, because it is not alive with goodwill. This interpretation is also consistent with father as a symbol for goodness. At its highest level of meaning, this refers to the Lord in regard to his divine goodness. The reason why at its highest level of meaning the Lord is father is that he gives us new life; and through this new life, he makes us his sons and heirs to his kingdom. It is also consistent with mother as a symbol for truth. At its highest level of meaning, this refers to the Lord in regard to divine truth; and therefore, it refers to his kingdom, since the divine truth that comes from the Lord constitutes heaven. The reason the Lord’s divine truth constitutes heaven is that in the other life, he is the sun in regard to divine goodness and the light in regard to divine truth. This divine light coming from the Lord as their sun is what enlightens the minds of angels and fills them with intelligence and wisdom, making them angels of light. Divine goodness is within divine truth, as heat from the sun is within the light of springtime and summertime in this world. In order that your days may lengthen on the land is symbolic of our life in heaven. . . . To lengthen refers to becoming a better person. A lengthening of our days means living a long time; but in heaven there is no time and space, so this is talking about the state of mind of people in heaven. In order that your days may lengthen means becoming a better person, because lengthen describes the intensification of their positive state of mind. That Jehovah your God is giving you symbolizes where the deity is and its resulting influence. . . . In heaven . . . their father is the Lord and their mother is his kingdom. . . . In the Word, mother means the church, which is also called the bride and wife of the Lord. The Lord’s kingdom is the same thing as the church—the sole difference being that the Lord’s kingdom on earth is called the church—and so it is also symbolized by mother. (Secrets of Heaven §§8897–8900)
With father representing divine love and mother representing divine wisdom, it becomes much more clear why honoring them both is such an important commandment.
There is a union of love and wisdom in every divine work. . . . This is why it endures, even to eternity. If there were more divine love than divine wisdom or more divine wisdom than divine love in any created work, nothing would endure in it except what was equal. Any excess would pass away. As divine providence works for our reformation, regeneration, and salvation, it shares equally in divine love and divine wisdom. We cannot be reformed, regenerated, and saved by any excess of divine love over divine wisdom or by any excess of divine wisdom over divine love. Divine love wants to save everyone, but it can do so only by means of divine wisdom. All the laws that govern salvation are laws of divine wisdom, and love cannot transcend those laws because divine love and divine wisdom are one and act in unison. (Divine Love and Wisdom §§36–37)
Having planted those three seeds in our minds, let’s take a moment to meditate on these ideas.
No matter what your relationship with your earthly mother and father might be, you still have a divine mother and father that you can honor and be nurtured by.
In this segment, Curtis and Chelsea explain Swedenborgian concepts in just one minute or less.
- Curtis: Divine Providence
- Chelsea: Divine Order
At the beginning of the episode, we asked how you’ve felt nurtured in your life. Here’s what viewers had to say:
- When I feel all alone, and helpless the Lord always sends someone to let me know I’m not, at many times in my life. – Sean Smith
- My Granny taught me about love and goodness, she always gave me a cuddle and I could lie with my head on her knee and she would stroke my hair. She taught me how to be moral and good. – Ali Lou
- I have always felt nurtured by nature. Hedgerows 6 feet tall, sunshine, meadows surrounded by dry stone walls and winding rivers. Whenever I’m there I always feel safe and loved. – Pete Dawson
- At 17 yrs. old my mom took care of me after I was thrown 100 ft. in a car accident. I couldn’t bath or dress myself. My mom was wonderful. – Dawnabrat
- My grandparents treated me with such love and caring.Even now I understand how great their love for me was. – Bonnie Gates
- I love to watch (and re-watch) movies that I connect with and same with books—they are comforting. – Jon Childs
- I considered suicide b/c I was worried God didn’t exist, so all the suffering truly meant nothing… I asked for proof there was more or I was going to end it. I immediately felt a serene sense of peace and tranquility. – BigBoogookie
- It was my grandma. She took care of me and unconditionally loved me. No matter what, I knew she loved me… even when my mother didn’t …. – Janni Roberts
- My oldest sister, Linda, has been a constant source support and unconditional love throughout my life. She is a rock-solid blessing beyond words. – Carl Godlove
- Until I was 10 I lived in the country with both my parents with my Grandparents house next door in a community that all provided something useful for the other community members – Matthew Bush
- I heard Brennan Manning sermon about God’s unfailing love on the day I was very depressed and needed to hear that – Sheila Montgomery
And finally, here’s what Tor had to say:
- When I was very little and had to endure all this suffering, religion and the presence of God was a main reason that I survived. Because survival is the main concern when all these bad things happen. There are so many grown-up people around that look at your show, without hope, maybe sitting at home looking darkly into the wall. Give them hope, give them the courage to speak to a friend, a priest or whoever it is. So that they at last can tell their story, and start healing.
Thanks for joining us—we’ll see you next week!
Related Swedenborg & Life Videos
“False Gods: Mysteries of the 10 Commandments Explained“
“How to Find Lasting Inner Peace“
“The Meaning of the Book of Revelation: the Four Horsemen”
“The Meaning of the Book of Revelation: Souls Under the Altar”
“Suicide, the Rapture, and Dating in the Afterlife?” (Good Question!)
“The 10 Commandments: God’s Name Explained“
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