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When answering viewer questions in the Good Question! episode “Purpose, Faith, and Bible Numerology?,” there was one we didn’t get to.
In terms of correspondences, what is the meaning of “turn the other cheek”?
In this episode, hosts Curtis Childs and Jonathan Rose do their best to answer this hard question with the help of the spiritual teachings of eighteenth-century theologian Emanuel Swedenborg.
Jonathan finds it empowering to think about the different layers that motivate the behavior he encounters. People are complex, and we tend to assume they’re nothing but the last time they annoyed us. But it helps to remember that we’re not as different from others as we might suspect. It can annoy Curtis when people are overly critical of others, but at the same time, he knows it’s not his place to criticize them either.
Just from a practical perspective, we know that love can be a powerful tool in overcoming hate. But Jesus’s language in the Sermon on the Mount is a whole lot more challenging than that. From the New Revised Standard Version:
“You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, Do not resist an evildoer. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also; and if anyone wants to sue you and take your coat, give your cloak as well; and if anyone forces you to go one mile, go also the second mile. Give to everyone who begs from you, and do not refuse anyone who wants to borrow from you.” (Matthew 5:38–42)
Is Jesus really telling us to be a doormat here? Swedenborg doesn’t think so.
Surely anyone can see that these words should not be taken at face value. Are you likely to turn your left jaw to someone who slaps you on the right jaw? Are you likely to give your cloak to someone who wants to take away your coat? Are you likely to give your property to everyone who asks? Who is not going to resist evil? No, nobody can understand this passage without knowing what is symbolized by the right and left jaws, a coat and cloak, a mile, a loan, and so on. The focus is on spiritual life, or a life of faith, not on physical life, which is life in the world. In this chapter of Matthew and the next, the Lord opens up heaven’s inner reaches, but he does so through images from the world. His point in using these images was to make it understandable only to heavenly people, not to worldly people, and the point in keeping worldly people from understanding was to prevent them from profaning the inner message of the Word. If they profaned it, they would hurl themselves into the most dreadful hell of all, which is the hell of those who profane the Word. That is why the Lord said in Luke: “To you it’s been given to know the mysteries of God’s kingdom, but to the rest, in parables, so that seeing, they would not see, and hearing, they would not hear” (Luke 8:10). (Secrets of Heaven §9049:5)
Appealing to common sense, Swedenborg argues that this sermon contains a message to heavenly people that’s concealed in harmless language. When people get to a place where they can understand, the instruction becomes more immediately practical.
This discussion shows how the Lord spoke when he was in the world. As he did throughout the Old Testament Word, he spoke for the benefit both of angels in heaven and of people in the world. His words were intrinsically divine and heavenly, because they originated in his divinity and came through heaven, but his message was presented through worldly images that corresponded. The inner meaning teaches what they correspond to. (Secrets of Heaven §9049:7)
When you’re talking to many different audiences, you have to be careful that your words are helpful to everyone. For us on earth, Jesus’s words were more about attitude and staying away from retaliatory thinking.
“Everything that you would want people to do for you, you do the same for them; this is the Law and the Prophets” (Matt. 7:12; Luke 6:31). Since this is the law in heaven (and because in heaven, the law of the church as well), all evil has a corresponding repercussion. This is called the consequence of evil, and it is inherent in the evil, almost part of it. . . . People who have depth, as heaven’s angels do, do not want to repay evil with evil. Instead, they forgive it, acting from the goodwill of heaven. They know that the Lord keeps safe from evil all who are in a place of goodness, and that he protects them according to that goodness in them. They also know that he would not be able to protect them if, as a result of the evil they do, they seethe with hostility, hatred, and revenge, because these emotions turn away the protection. (Apocalypse Explained §556:8)
While expressing these negative emotions might seem to serve us in the battle, they fail to help us win the war. Several of our past episodes address these very concerns:
- Justice and retaliation aren’t the same thing. Retaliation is all about punishing the evildoer, but justice supports the victim as well. For more on this, check out “Rediscovering Forgiveness.”
- No one actually gets away with evil behavior in the long run. We talk about this in “What Happens With Unsolved Crimes in the Afterlife” and “Is the Law of Attraction Real?”
- While love is understood as being tender, it can sometimes be tough as well. “How to Love Like God” and “Should You Love Everyone the Same?” cover how this works in detail.
Here are the things involved in what the Lord said, the meanings of which will be listed in order. “An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth” means that if a person takes away someone else’s comprehension of and feeling for the truth, their own comprehension of and feeling for the truth will be taken away to the same degree. An “eye” means a comprehension of the truth; a “tooth” means a feeling for the truth, because a tooth represents the kinds of truth and falsity that sense-based people have. Those who practice Christian goodness will allow an evil person to take these things away, as is described by what the Lord said about this issue. “Do not resist an evil person,” means we need not fight back against evil people or repay their evil. Angels do not fight with evil people, much less repay evil with evil. Instead they allow an evil person to act, because they are protected by the Lord, so none of the evil from hell can do them harm. “If somebody slaps you on your right cheek, turn your other cheek to them also,” means if anyone wants to do harm to our perception or comprehension of inner truth, they are allowed to as much as they want to try. The “cheek” means a perception and comprehension of inner truth: the right cheek means an affection for that truth, which leads to a perception of it; the left cheek means a comprehension of that truth. And because it says “cheek,” it also says “slap,” which means to do harm. (Apocalypse Explained §556:9)
In the spiritual world, evil destroys itself before it can hurt someone else. This means that spirits may allow people to misbehave as long as it works toward something better.
Let’s continue with more symbolism in the spiritual world:
“If anyone wants to take you to court and take away your shirt, let them have your coat, too,” means if anyone wants to take away the inner truth that you have, let them take the outer truth as well. A “shirt” means truth that is deeper, and a “coat” means truth that is shallower. The angels let this happen when they are around evil people, because evil people cannot take any truth or goodness away from angels. They can, however, take it from people who burn with hostility, hatred, and revenge, because those kinds of evil reject and turn away the Lord’s protection. “Whoever forces you to go a mile, go with them two,” means do not resist anyone who wants to lead you away from truth toward falsity, or away from goodness toward evil, because they are unable to do it. A “mile” has a similar meaning to a “road,” since it relates to coming and going. “Give to everyone who asks of you,” means to allow it. “Do not turn away from anyone wishing to borrow from you,” means if someone wants to be taught, they should be taught. Evil people want to be taught so that they can pervert and deprive, yet they are incapable of doing so. This is the spiritual sense of these sayings, an explanation of the hidden aspects lying within the words. These hidden aspects are most apparent to the angels, who perceive the Word only according to its spiritual sense. They are also for people in the world who are in a place of good, when evil people attempt to lead them astray. It is clear from numerous experiences that that is the way evil people oppose those whom the Lord protects, since they have continually tried as hard as they can in every way to take truth and goodness away from me, but in vain. (Apocalypse Explained §556:9)
This kind of nonviolence was very visible through Jesus’s actions. Jesus shared his truth and time constantly, even to people who didn’t reward him for it.
According to Swedenborg, the same kind of interaction between good and evil that takes place in the spiritual world can take place in our own minds here on earth:
But now I must say what is meant in an inner sense by the words of the Lord quoted above. In an inner sense the passage concerns those who seek to use falsity to destroy religious truth (and therefore spiritual life) in a person on earth who is being tested and persecuted and in good spirits who are being harassed by evil spirits. A jaw symbolizes a desire for deep truth, and a right jaw, a desire for truth-from-goodness. Slapping it symbolizes the act of damaging that desire. A coat and cloak symbolize truth in its outward appearance. Dragging someone into a lawsuit symbolizes an effort to destroy that truth. A mile symbolizes that which leads to truth, a mile having the same symbolism as a way, or path. . . . Lending means teaching. This explanation shows what is symbolized by giving to everyone who asks: proclaiming one’s belief in the Lord fully and completely. The reason one is therefore not to resist evil is that evil does not hurt anyone supplied with truth and goodness, because the Lord keeps people like this safe. (Secrets of Heaven §9049:6)
Having planted those three seeds in our minds, let’s take a moment to meditate on these ideas.
Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can.
The more you study these passages, the more clear it becomes that we’re not being told not to defend ourselves, but rather that we are already defended by God, the source of light.
Jonathan: Fall correspondences
Curtis: Correspondence of the moon
At the beginning of the episode, we asked about healthy tools for handling negative behavior. Here’s what viewers had to say:
- kill them with kindness – juanita oaties
- I counter act with kind words about that person – GMaria • Ask the Spirits
- Realize you can only control your reaction, and trying to give benefit of doubt – Jo Lucas
- Remember that the person is listening to hell. That gives me compassion, and I don’t want to make the same mistake. – Joy Borazjani
- it would depend if it was persistent, non-stop melancholy emotions. I would say I would probably ask to be excused. – Robbie Tullos
- Say something nice about them, they look at you like What? It works and also serves as a sign you wont take part – Bonnie Bowers
- what i did a couple times is change the subject and give them a compliment….it freaked them out so bad never had another problem with them…lol – Angel Shining
- Think of them as someone who is sick. – Patty Prescott
- I think sitting with them and relating has proved most beneficial to not only them but me. It’s a mutual empathic relatability. Making certain I don’t attempt a 1 up on them. Simply sitting with them – Stephanie MoDavis
- It depends on the person and what they do or say. How often it is. It can be just walking away – Dawnabrat
- try to learn a bit about God’s love for all people – Jon Childs
- First SMILE. Then remember we are all on a Spiritual path. Some upward, some downward. Then remember the old adage…If you don’t have something nice to say…. – Matthew Bush
- in the martial art of aikido, you must surrender and stop trying to affect an outcome YOU want and allow the spiritual energy to take over, which allows an opponent to defeat themselves. – Matt Cline
- first I would acknowledge their feelings and then just be a witness to their feelings without trying to defend my own ego. – Pete Dawson
- Self-awareness is the first step to change! – BigBoogookie
- Humor is a great way to diffuse negativity. I wish there was deliberate humor in the Bible and in Swedenborg. I want to hang around funny angels! – David Higgins
Thanks for joining us—we’ll see you next week!
Related Swedenborg & Life Videos
“How to Love Like God” (News from Heaven)
“Purpose, Faith, and Bible Numerology?” (Good Question!)
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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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