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We know the story of Jesus turning water to wine, but what does it truly mean? In this episode, hosts Curtis Childs and Jonathan Rose use eighteenth-century theologian Emanuel Swedenborg’s understanding of correspondences to reveal the inner truth of that story.
What is the difference between wine and water, both of which correspond to truth?
Before we go further, let’s break the ice with a question.
Faith isn’t a simple off-and-on thing—it can grow and shrink over time. Swedenborg describes it as a confidence in and affection for truth that grows in a good life. For Jonathan, looking back at life’s struggles helps him see faith in action. In the end, it helps make him grateful for the hard times. Curtis feels like faith gives him a lens on life that helps him understand how it all fits together.
Almost nothing is as fundamental to life as water. In Swedenborg’s writings, he discusses “correspondences”—physical earthly symbols for heavenly ideas. Water can correspond to truth, which can be spiritual or earthly.
To find “waters” symbolizing religious and secular knowledge, and seas symbolizing a body of such knowledge, is quite common in the Word. (Secrets of Heaven §28)
This brings us to wine, starting with grapes. All food corresponds to goodness, or love in action.
Grapes stand for charity and its fruits. (Secrets of Heaven §1071:2)
So if grapes (food) represent good action, and water (liquid) symbolizes truth, then wine, a liquid made from grapes, stands for the truth that comes from charity.
“Wine” means spiritual good (which is the goodness of caring for those around us, as well as the goodness of faith). . . . The goodness of caring and the goodness of faith are in their essence truth because the Lord puts that goodness into our intellectual part by means of the truth which we call faith. (Apocalypse Explained §376:1)
Wine’s capacity to adjust our mental state symbolizes how spiritual good can change our mindsets. In one of the strangest stories in Genesis, after Noah navigates the waters of the flood, he plants a vineyard and gets embarrassingly drunk on wine. This actually symbolizes the creation and pitfalls of the new path to spiritual truth after humanity’s fall from grace.
Our time of learning spiritual truth directly from the source had ended, so we had to get at the truth through secondary sources, which could be corrupted.
After Eden, or our state of direct connection, Noah and his family formed a new church.
The fact that [Noah] drank wine means that they wanted to explore religious questions can be seen from the symbolism of wine. A vineyard or grapevine, as shown, is a spiritual religion, or the people of a spiritual church. Grapes, and clusters and bunches of grapes, are its fruit, and they symbolize charity and the effects of charity. Wine, though, symbolizes the faith that grows out of charity, and everything that goes to make up faith. So a grape is the heavenly side of that church, while wine is the spiritual side. The former—the heavenly part—belongs to the will, as noted so often before, while the latter—the spiritual part—belongs to the intellect. The fact that he drank some wine means that they wanted to explore religious questions, and do so by the use of false reasoning, can be seen from the circumstance that he became drunk, which is to say that they fell into error. The people of this church did not have the perception that the people of the earliest church had. They needed instead to learn what was good and true by studying religious teachings that had been gathered from the perceptions of the earliest church and saved up—teachings that were their Word. Like the Word, these religious teachings in many areas were such that they could not be believed in the absence of perception, because spiritual and heavenly matters rise infinitely beyond human comprehension. That was the reason for their use of skewed reasoning. But people who refuse to believe a thing unless they grasp it [with the senses] are completely incapable of believing. . . . Just as grapes symbolize charity, wine symbolizes the faith that develops out of charity, since wine comes from grapes. . . . “I will bring my people Israel back from captivity and they will rebuild the ruined cities and settle down and plant vineyards and drink wine from them.” (Amos 9:14) This is about a spiritual religion . . . which is said to plant vineyards and drink wine when it is the kind of religion whose faith is inspired by charity. (Secrets of Heaven §1071:1, 4, 5)
This represents the way that we grow out of our self-centered childish mindsets and into a more mature moral understanding. We talk about the correspondences of wine more in “Spiritual Fermentation.”
Be aware that the truth in us can never be purified of falsity without fermentation, so to speak—that is, without a fight put up by falsity against truth and by truth against falsity. After the fight is finished and truth has conquered, falsity drops away like the waste products of fermentation, and truth stands purified, like wine, which clarifies upon fermentation, the dregs settling to the bottom. The main occasion for this “fermentation” or fight is when our state changes, when our actions start to be motivated not by faith and truth (as they previously were) but by neighborly love and goodness. When we act on religious truth, our state has not yet been purified. It is when we act out of neighborly kindness that our state has been purified, because we then act on our will, where before we acted only on our understanding. Spiritual battles, or trials, are fermentations in a spiritual sense, because during them, falsity seeks to unite with truth. But truth spurns falsity and eventually sends it down to the bottom, which means that the dregs are removed. (Secrets of Heaven §7906:2–3)
In the Gospel of John, Jesus famously turns water into wine. This feels strange, right? Of all the miracles that Jesus performed or could have performed, why was this one of them?
Through correspondences, we know that this is more than a simple party trick. This action symbolized the purification of common doctrine into real action on faith.
When we live according to [spiritual] truth, it becomes goodness. So, a new will is formed via the truth in that part of us, and then anything that comes from the will is called goodness. This will is the same thing as conscience. Conscience is a cognizance of truth because it is shaped by truth of all kinds that come from the church’s teachings and the Word’s literal meaning. . . . “Water turned into wine” in Cana of Galilee means something similar. . . . So, when the Lord “turned water into wine” it means that he turned the exterior truth of the church into deeper truth, uncovering the interior things that lay hidden within the exterior. . . . The “six stone water pots supplied for Jewish ritual washing” represent all the exterior truth (which contained the inner truth) in the Word. . . . “Six” means all, and is used in the context of truth; “stone” means truth; and “Jewish ritual washing,” means purification from wrongdoing. . . . And we become the church to the degree that we are purified. (Apocalypse Explained §376:1, 29)
All these stories are a whole lot deeper than they appear—they represent lasting, meaningful movement toward a living faith.
Having planted those three seeds in our minds, let’s take a moment to meditate on these ideas.
Think about the example of someone training to be a nurse. They come out of nursing school with all sorts of book knowledge, which is like water. Years later, they’ll have all this practical experience that allows them to take much better care of those they serve. That’s the wine.
Jonathan: Why have hope?
At the beginning of the episode, we asked how your faith has deepened and grown. Here’s what viewers had to say:
- Experience has made my Faith reality – Leianne Lazarus
- Easy. Tragedy. Being shaken out of complacency and forced to see how lifeless and hopeless things are without something more, ergo God. – War Hawk
- The Grace of God has made my faith more real. The things I’ve seen, prayers answered, healing in myself and others – princessncg1
- Learning and discernment for truth. – Dave Collins
- The journey that comes with searching him out. It has shown me so much – MoArk Man
- A long life of many challenges slowly breaking down my ego – Jon Childs
- I pray to God what I want to achieve to serve other better and I accept God’s blessing and share with others, then all that I want magically show up in my life. it may take time but will show up. – Rainlion0
- Swedenborg and OTLE for sure. When I started reading Swedenborg he made the Bible make sense to me. You know the TRUTH when you hear it. – Matthew Bush
- When you demonstrate faith in every aspect in your life, belief becomes deeper and richer. The connection to God amplifies itself. – Fiberbeads
- Certain events that I have experienced in my life’s journey, has made my faith deeper and more real. – mtp358
- My husband becoming very ill and his death made my faith deepen. When the reality hit, my faith became real. – Bonnie Bowers
- I lost a lot of faith when my husband died . . . in truth my faith system was re-shaped. I am still trying to figure things out to be honest. I just keep living and learning. – Victoria Gates
- A very evidential experience of after-death communication – EarInn
- My faith got stronger, when my prayers got answered. Also, when I read the Bible and see the truth in the verses. – Sheila Montgomery
- My Experience, Expansion and Divine guidance have helped make my faith deeper and more real. – Egill Hallgrimsson
- What gave me more faith was the realization that as I couldn’t get help from my fellow man spirit came to the fore. – Mark Singleton
- Learning about a concept, but then struggling or suffering through that idea in real life. – Kendall M.
- Just understanding how Gods wisdom is so perfect gives me such a strong faith and I know it all – Bonnie Gates
- Now being retired, my husband and I have time to read Swedenborg at breakfast and discuss it. This has definitely deepened my faith and made it into a more living faith for me. – Kaye Lermitte
- Grief – Janni Roberts
- My faith deepened when I realized my relationship with the Divine was intimate and personal and independent of dictated dogma or theology by earthly “authorities” telling me what it is. – Matt Cline
Thanks for joining us—we’ll see you next week!
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About Swedenborg & Life
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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When we wake up in heaven, Swedenborg tells us, angels roll a covering from off of our left eye so that we can see everything in a spiritual light. The offTheLeftEye YouTube channel uses an array of educational and entertaining video formats to look at life and death through an uplifting spiritual lens.
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