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In Genesis 9, Noah gets drunk and ends up cursing his grandson Canaan. What’s the deal with that? In this episode, hosts Curtis Childs and Jonathan Rose unpack that story with the help of eighteenth-century theologian Emanuel Swedenborg.
And they’re not stopping at just making sense of this confusing tale for us. Taking things even further, we’re going to see if we can uncover how this story can guide us in our daily lives and spiritual journeys.
Jonathan acknowledges that there can even be a kind of delight that comes with having such negative thoughts, but he overcomes them by putting himself in someone else’s shoes. This compassionate approach helps him see beyond his own judgment.
Curtis finds that these thoughts come bundled with a sense of his own self-importance that is just inaccurate. When he reminds himself that he’s in no position to judge and that he’s just as flawed as everyone else, it’s easier to cut down on the judginess.
In this story, Noah gets a little drunk off some of the wine from his vineyard. He was naked in the middle of his tent when Ham, father of Canaan, saw him and told his brothers. Ham’s brothers carefully covered Noah without looking at him, but when Noah woke up, he cursed his grandson Canaan.
This feels wrong for a lot of reasons. Was what Ham did so wrong? Why is poor Canaan even involved? Isn’t Noah supposed to be a good guy? What valuable lesson, if any, can be learned from this story?
In the days of Noah, cursing someone was serious business. According to Swedenborg:
The Lord never curses anyone; he does not even get angry. It is we instead who curse ourselves by turning our backs on the Lord. (Secrets of Heaven §1093)
To understand this, we have to understand the correspondences of the characters—the way that biblical stories symbolize spiritual truths. Here’s how Swedenborg understands that story:
- Noah drunk = people who have made mistakes
- Ham = faith separated from goodwill
- Canaan = external religious practices separated from goodwill
- Shem = faith united with goodwill
- Japheth = external religious practices united with goodwill
This story is interesting because it sounds like the dynamic of your average family, as it talks about things that could happen to people even today. So it’s sometimes hard to think of these characters as representing mindsets. Reverend Chuck Blair talks about how these ideas can apply to us today.
Let’s start by understanding Ham’s actions. What we see in his behavior is judgment and contempt toward others’ small failings and faults.
People who adopt faith separated from charity are depicted here by Ham and the notice he took of his father’s nakedness, that is, of his father’s errors and perversions. Those are the only things that people like this can see in another individual. . . . The fact that [Ham] pointed it out to his two brothers means that they sneered at [others’ errors and perversions] now follows logically, since people devoid of charity always feel contempt for others. In other words, they always mock others and broadcast the faults of others whenever they find an opportunity. If they do so discreetly, it is only superficial restraints that impede them. . . . As a result, they nourish these impulses deep down while putting on an outward show of friendship. In doing so, they acquire two auras, which are clearly perceived in the other world. One—the inner one—is full of hatred; the other—the outer one—mimics goodness. Because these auras are at complete odds with one another, they cannot help clashing, and the consequence is that when such people are stripped of their external aura and can no longer pretend, they hurl themselves into every unspeakable wickedness. (Secrets of Heaven §§1079:1, 1080)
When we judge others, we always think there’s a good reason to do so. Maybe we think it’s funny, or even true, but at the end of the day, it’s still just gossip.
There are different angles on witnessing others’ mistakes that we can learn about with Shem and Japheth.
But it is different for people who have the faith that comes of charity. They take notice of good qualities. Whatever evil or falsity they may see, they excuse it, and if they can, they work to correct it in the offender, as the present passage says Shem and Japheth did. . . . Shem, as noted, symbolizes the inner church; Japheth, the corresponding outer church. They took a garment means that they put a good interpretation on the situation. And both of them put it on their shoulder means that they did so with all their might. And went backward means that they paid no attention to errors and perversions. And covered their father’s nakedness means that in doing so they excused those wrongs. And their faces were backward, and they did not see their father’s nakedness means that this is the proper thing to do, and that we should not concentrate on such wrongs, which are blunders and downfalls resulting from misguided thinking. (Secrets of Heaven §§1079:1, 1082)
It can be tempting to give in to judgmental behavior, but Shem and Japheth focused on doing the decent thing. So what brings Canaan into it?
As long as such people possess neighborly love and a conscience based on that love, they have inside themselves, within their outward worship, a deeper form of worship. This is because the Lord is at work within them. . . . Things are otherwise for those who have no love for others and therefore no conscience. They are able to engage in a show of worship, but it is disconnected from any inward content, just as their faith is disconnected from charity. This kind of worship is called Canaan, and this kind of faith is called Ham; and since a disconnected faith generates this kind of worship, Ham is called Canaan’s father. (Secrets of Heaven §1083:4)
So the correspondence between mindset and behavior and familial relationship is complete. In the end, though, it’s not actually a terrible curse, since Canaan’s charge would be to serve the love and goodwill that Shem and Japheth represent.
Having planted these three seeds in our minds, let’s take a moment to meditate on these ideas.
These images of compassion show how we can help others, rather than being critical, but they also bring to mind how we can have patience for ourselves. Judgment always comes from hell, so we need to practice mercy for everyone.
It can be difficult to overcome judgmental thoughts, but each time you move past one, you’re moving away from hell.
At the beginning of the episode, we asked how you diffuse your judgmental thoughts. Here’s what viewers had to say:
- Jesus !!! -Kevin Mann
- Remember the mistakes I’ve made and how I needed mercy, compassion, and love. -Heather Bates
- I ask myself how I would react if the person did just the opposite, and realize I would probably find a reason to object to that too. -Will Linden
- Only LOVE man. Nobody should be superior -Yan Mikhlin
- I always feel guilty afterward……normally to diffuse my thoughts I do meditation or go out for a walk. -Bonnie Bowers
- First realize it’s part of the purging process and don’t internalize it or condemn yourself. -michele33 S
- I tell myself that God loves them no less than he loves me if I start to judge someone -Jen Blossom
- Sometimes I think of when I did something dumb when I was in a similar situation. -Phil Bush
- I dismiss them knowing they come from evil spirits and tell myself to be kind and loving no matter what all people deserve love -Bonnie Gates
- I try to accentuate positive thoughts. I try to place the idea then I am thinking of better times ahead. -mtp358
- Take a deep breath, pause & take the time to respond instead of reacting. -Anne Santos
- I try to put myself in the other person’s shoes and tell myself they are on a path of there own and I couldn’t possibly know how hard that path has been. -Matthew Bush
- Love God by meditating on. His attributes instead Of ruminating on the offender and offense. -FannyFaye Davis
- I stop, breath, and remind myself that there have been plenty of times I too have been stupid. -Maudy Paden
- Thanks to Swedenborg and you guys, I just tell myself, these aren’t my thoughts, and I don’t really feel that way. -Pamela Collins
- “There but for the grace of God go I” or, one of my favorite quotes from [the movie] ‘GroundHog Day’ “Well, I am a jerk”, in other words, our lower selves are all jerks so be kind. -Jon Childs
- It has helped me to try to think of where other people are coming from instead of making snap judgments. -Carrie Parsons
- I think of everything I’ve learned from Swedenborg’s teachings and think, “We are all Angels in training, learning to love.” That very often, halts the harsh, judgemental thoughts. -Pete Dawson
Thanks for joining us—we’ll see you next week!