Swedenborg & Life Live Recap: The Meaning of Sodom and Gomorrah — 10/14/19

Watch full episode here!

When taking on the controversial Bible story of “What Happened After Noah Got Drunk?“, our viewers had another pressing question.

Could you please do an episode on Lot and Sodom/Gomorrah? Does Swedenborg say anything about that story? Is that a real (not symbolic) story?

In this episode, hosts Curtis Childs and Jonathan Rose do their best to answer this question—with a little help from eighteenth-century theologian Emanuel Swedenborg.


Can you think of a painful ending of something that cleared the way for a positive new beginning? Or a bad habit that finally gave way to something better?

Curtis was once laid off from a good job some time ago, but it actually made it possible for him to make his way toward what he does now. He feels really lucky to be able to talk about spirituality as a full-time job. Similarly, Jonathan went through a terrible time of loss and confusion in his life that made it possible for him to be part of something bigger not long after.

The Set-up

Our viewer asked if the story of Sodom and Gomorrah was symbolic or real, and the answer is that it was both. According to Swedenborg, many biblical stories are things that actually happened but that also symbolize something about the spiritual world.

All Divine miracles have to do with things connected with the Lord’s kingdom and the Church. (Secrets of Heaven §8408:5)

All the stories in the Bible have to do with God’s efforts to save the human race as a whole and us as individuals. So even these darker stories have a positive and encouraging message about faith.

In an inner sense Sodom means nothing but the evil that comes of self-love. . . . Sodom symbolizes everything bad in general that comes of self-love, while Gomorrah symbolizes everything false that does. (Secrets of Heaven §2220)

One of the challenging parts of this story is Abraham’s apparent bargaining with God.

And the men rose up from there and looked out toward the face of Sodom. And Abraham was going with them, to send them off. And Jehovah said, “Shall I be hiding from Abraham what I am doing? And Abraham will unquestionably become a large and numerous nation, and all the nations of the earth will be blessed in him.” . . . And Jehovah said that the outcry of Sodom and Gomorrah had become great and that their sin had become very heavy. “Let me go down, please, and I will see whether they have made an end of it according to its outcry, which has come to me. And if not, I will know it.” And the men looked out from there and went toward Sodom. And Abraham was still standing before Jehovah. And Abraham came near and said, “Will you also destroy the just with the ungodly? Perhaps there are fifty just people in the middle of the city. Will you still destroy it and not spare the place for the sake of the fifty just people who are in the middle of it? Far be it from you to do according to this thing—to put the just to death with the ungodly and that it should be the same for the just as for the ungodly. Far be it from you; won’t the judge of the whole earth perform judgment?” And Jehovah said, “If I find in Sodom fifty just people in the middle of the city, I will spare the whole place for their sake.” (Genesis 18:16–26)

So what did this really mean?

And looked out toward the face of Sodom symbolizes the condition of the human race. . . . To send them off means that Jesus wanted to get away from these perceptions. . . . His perception (received from his divine side) and so his thought that the human race was like this struck him with horror. The Lord’s love for the whole human race was so immense that he wanted to save everyone forever, by uniting his human nature with his divine and his divine nature with his human. So when he perceived the character of the human race, he wanted to get away from the perception and the resulting thoughts. That is what his desire to send them off symbolizes. (Secrets of Heaven §§2217, 2222)

And so each of the stages of this story actually has to do with our own struggles with self-centeredness. God wants everyone saved, but people who hate heaven can’t tolerate heaven. This story describes God working through that.

In that same chapter of Genesis, Abraham continues bargaining with God down to sparing the city for the sake of ten just people, and this actually symbolizes Jesus trying to identify paths to salvation based on where people need to be met.

“Will you still destroy it and not spare the place for the sake of the fifty just people who are in the middle of it?” means intervening out of love, so that they would not then be destroyed. (Secrets of Heaven §2251)

Each step leading to the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah has an inner meaning that paints a story of self-centeredness trying to overcome the faithful.

And as for Lot being led out of Sodom before the fire and brimstone (Genesis 19), Curtis and Jonathan tag-team to give you a summary of that biblical story and its internal sense.

Three Seeds

Now let’s dig deeper into the story of Sodom and Gomorrah. Before their destruction, these two cities were looked upon as a beautiful place.

Lot looked about him, and saw that the plain of the Jordan was well watered everywhere like the garden of the Lord, like the land of Egypt, in the direction of Zoar; this was before the Lord had destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah. (Genesis 13:10)

According to Swedenborg:

Before Jehovah had destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah symbolizes the outer self as destroyed by evil cravings and false or distorted convictions. This can be seen from the symbolism of Sodom as evil cravings and from the symbolism of Gomorrah as distorted convictions. These two are what destroy our outer self and divide it from our inner self. . . . Cravings for evil belong to the will, and distortions adopted as convictions belong to the intellect, and when the two of them take over, our whole outer self is destroyed. Once destroyed, it also detaches from our inner self; not that our soul, or spirit, separates from the body, but that the goodness and truth coming from our soul or spirit does. Then goodness and truth no longer influence us except in a distant way. . . . The Lord came into the world because the outer self in the human race had been ruined in this way and its link with the inner self (that is, with goodness and truth) had been broken. He came into the world, then, to join and unite his outer self with his inner, or in other words, to join and unite his human quality with his divine. The present verse [Genesis 13:10] describes the character of the outer self when united to the inner. (Secrets of Heaven §1587)

Self-centeredness can be good in moderation, but it is dangerous when it takes over and replaces God. 

They looked out toward the face of Sodom symbolizes the condition of the human race. . . . A face symbolizes everything inside us, both bad and good, because those things shine out from our face. . . . The worst evils of all trace their origin to self-love, because self-love is what destroys human society and heavenly society. . . . Self-love . . . is directly opposed to the divine pattern in which we were created. We have been given more rationality than animals so that we can wish each other well and do each other good, individually as well as collectively. This is the code of life we were created for. Love for God and for our neighbor constitute that code. . . . Love is also the code of heaven, which we would inhabit while living in the world. Inhabiting heaven means inhabiting the Lord’s kingdom—the same kingdom we would pass into upon shedding the body that had served us on earth. There we would rise again into an ever more perfect heavenly state. Self-love is the chief agent, in fact the only agent, that destroys these goals. Materialism is not as much to blame. It is true that materialism is directly opposed to the spiritual qualities of faith, but self-love is directly opposed to the heavenly qualities of love. Those of us who love ourselves do not love anyone else but work to destroy everyone who fails to worship us. We wish well and do well to no one but a subordinate, or someone who can be enticed into subordination, like some twig grafted onto our appetites and delusions. These considerations make it clear that love for ourselves is the wellspring of all kinds of hatred, vengefulness, and cruelty, and all kinds of horrendous deceit and fraud. So it is the wellspring of every unspeakable assault on the proper order of human society and the proper order of heavenly society. In fact, self-love is so degenerate that when the restraints on it loosen . . . it runs so wild that it makes us want to control not only our neighbors and fellow citizens but the universe and even the supreme Deity himself. We do not know about this tendency . . . because we are bound by restraints we are mostly unaware of, but so far as the chains loosen . . . we go berserk. A great deal of experience in the other world has taught me this. Because these traits lie hidden in self-love, people who love themselves and lack the bonds of conscience also hate the Lord more than anyone else does. They hate all religious truth too, since religious truths are the actual laws of order in the Lord’s kingdom. . . . The real self-lovers are those who hold others in contempt and consider them worthless by comparison with themselves. They have no concern at all for the common good unless it benefits themselves, or unless they themselves are the common good, so to speak. Above all, they hate any who will not coddle and serve them; they persecute such people and, so far as they can, rob them of their belongings, position, reputation, and even life. If you plot things like this in your heart, be aware that you have more self-love than most. (Secrets of Heaven §2219)

For people who are overcome with self-love, all that matters is that others worship them as they love themselves.

Heavenly good is that of love for the Lord; spiritual good is that of love for our neighbor. The latter . . . comes from the former . . . because no one can love the Lord without also loving other people. Love for the Lord contains love for our neighbor, because it comes from the Lord and therefore from Love itself for the entire human race. Dwelling in love for the Lord is the same as dwelling in the Lord, and people who dwell in the Lord cannot help dwelling in his love, which is a love for the human race. . . . All the nations of the earth will be blessed in him means that he will save everyone who lives in charity. . . . Saving faith is not simply a way of thinking, or an acknowledgment of a tenet, or a comprehensive knowledge of the theology. No one can be saved by any of this, because it cannot take root in anything deeper than a thought. Thought saves no one. It is the life we have acquired for ourselves in the world by means of religious knowledge that saves us. This life remains, but any thinking that does not harmonize with our life dies away until it disappears. . . . There are two kinds of life, in general; one is hell’s and the other is heaven’s. We acquire a hellish life from all those aims, thoughts, and deeds that emanate from self-love and so from hatred for others. We acquire heavenly life from all those aims, thoughts, and deeds that belong to neighborly love. . . . This evidence shows what faith is: it is charity. Everything called a doctrine of faith leads toward charity. Charity contains all those doctrines. . . . When bodily life ends, our soul reflects our love. . . . Speaking generally, there is only one doctrine, which is the doctrine of charity. . . . Charity does not differ from faith any more than wanting what is good differs from thinking what is good. Anyone who wishes well also thinks well. . . . But the human race began to wish ill. People started to hate their neighbor and to inflict revenge and cruelty on others. In the end, the part of the mind called will became wholly depraved. (Secrets of Heaven §§2227, 2228, 2231)

Correspondence Meditation

Having planted those three seeds in our minds, let’s take a moment to meditate on these ideas.

The difficulties described in this story show how people can overcome and grow past any degree of self-centeredness.

While the story of Sodom and Gomorrah seems like a devastating picture of judgment and condemnation, it’s truly about God’s relentless pursuit of our salvation.

Elevator Pitch

In this segment, Curtis and Jonathan explain Swedenborgian concepts in just one minute or less.

Jonathan: Conjugial Love

Curtis: Order of Loves


At the beginning of the episode, we asked about challenging experiences that opened the way to something good. Here’s what viewers had to say:

  • My divorce. I was so shattered in the beginning. I had just read “Love What Is” so I looked for the good in it. – Joy Borazjani
  • After my failed marriage I was at a pretty low point in my life but that was when I started reading Swedenborg and self introspection and bettering myself spiritually. – Matthew Bush
  • Being gay the story of sodom and gomora has been used to affirm me as a abomination. How much God literally hated me. I left God for many years. though he never really left me. A decade [later] I found a reconciling church that loves me for the way I was created. – Josta356
  • At the end of relationships of course that’s painful, though eventually along my path I move upward, and closer to my goals. through changing circumstances comes a change in state – Sean Smith
  • After years of being bullied at school and almost having a breakdown, I was finally sent me to another school where I made new friends and developed a little self esteem and confidence. – Pete Dawson
  • Whenever I’ve come to a definite END or major change of something in my life, I’ve come to think of it as but one chapter of my life ending – not the whole story. – Phil Bush
  • An acerbic break with a past church set me off to find the New Church. – Will Linden
  • I had a job which I really worked hard at and I was well paid but I always thought I’m not good enough ! After I left that place then I started to come to my own and trusted my abilities – light
  • I lost almost everything to addiction. “But what seemed at first a flimsy reed, turned out to be the hand of God.” 🙂 – Terra Ray
  • My job was in a rut, including a bad performance review. But, my mind was opened to change, and out of the blue my present job opened up which I love. – Jon Childs

Thanks for joining us—we’ll see you next week!


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What Happened After Noah Got Drunk?

“Who Was Swedenborg?”

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In a lighthearted and interactive webcast format, host Curtis Childs from the Swedenborg Foundation and featured guests explore topics from Swedenborg’s eighteenth-century writings about his spiritual experiences and afterlife explorations and discuss how they relate to modern-day life and death.
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