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So there’s a large percentage of the world’s population who believe that this book called the Bible is actually the Word of God. Whether you fall in that camp or not, it’s hard to deny the power of the Bible’s influence around the globe—in both good and bad ways. In this thought-provoking episode of Swedenborg and Life, host Curtis Childs and featured guests review Swedenborg’s spiritual experiences and resulting philosophies about the deeper, spiritual messages contained within the Bible. Throughout his writings, Swedenborg takes what many consider to be a book of outdated moral lessons and turns them into modern, timeless messages of love and hope for people of all genders, races, and religions.
The Perennial Revelation
Curtis opens up the episode with a question: What is the need and function of a revelation?
On our own we know nothing of heavenly and spiritual affairs, so we learn about them from divine revelation, which is the Word. —Secrets of Heaven 3880
In this introductory clip, Curtis provides a brief overview of the revelation of every era of humanity that Swedenborg described in his writings. From the beginning of the human race, which was very close to heaven and had direct communication with God, all the way to the eighteenth century, when Swedenborg was writing.
Related Swedenborg and Life Video: The Spiritual History of the Human Race
By that point in human history, much evil had been done in the name of God and religion. Swedenborg said the revelation for our modern era is a new understanding of the true meaning of scripture. As portrayed in this animated excerpt from True Christianity, Swedenborg actually had a defining vision for a new spiritual mindset for humanity.
Immediately after experiencing this life-changing vision, Swedenborg then had an interaction with an angel who explained how he should explore the hidden meanings of the Bible to learn and share the truths about the Lord.
From that point on it became Swedenborg’s mission to study the literal words within the Bible to uncover the internal sense of the Word of God.
Secrets of Heaven
Swedenborg became so passionate about his new mission that his first and largest title, called Secrets of Heaven, was a verse-by-verse exposition on the books of Genesis and Exodus.
It is characteristic of the Word’s style that there is something holy in every statement, even in every word, even at times in the letters themselves; so the Word unites us to the Lord and opens heaven…The Word fills us with good desires that come from love and truths that lead to wisdom, provided we read it with the help of the Lord and not just on our own. It fills our will with good desires that come from love and fills our understanding with truths that lead to wisdom. As a result, we gain life by means of the Word. —Sacred Scripture 3
Swedenborg was so diligent in his explorations of the Bible that he discovered the many times things are paired together over and over again, and he even offered an explanation for the dualities of the Bible.
Swedenborg says these things are paired together purposefully to symbolize the union of the heart (love) and the mind (wisdom) as one. It’s a powerful revelation that serves as the basis for Swedenborg’s theory about the Bible’s main message.
Curtis introduces a graphic representation of the books of the Bible from Genesis to Revelation to show the three different types of narratives Swedenborg described within each book.
Genesis 1-11: Fictional narratives that are full of symbolic lessons
Rest of Old Testament: Historical and prophetical content with meaning that’s both concealed and unconcealed
New Testament: Historical stories of Jesus’s life that have concealed internal meaning
Essentially, Swedenborg says that even through all the violent and vengeful words of the Bible, the hidden message is about love for the Lord and others. He says that even the Ten Commandments convey this internal meaning, and Curtis elaborates on the significance of that here.
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Did You Mean That Literally?
If God wanted to provide us with a printed form of communication to last for eternity, then why would he obscure its true meaning behind complex symbolism? Why wouldn’t the text just mean exactly what it says? Curtis explains Swedenborg’s philosophy about how divine concepts require earthly containers like the Bible and introduces an animated excerpt from Sacred Scripture to explain the concept further.
We can tell from this that in its literal meaning the Word is really the Word. There is spirit and life within; the spiritual meaning is its spirit and the heavenly meaning is its life. This is what the Lord said: “The words that I speak to you are spirit and are life” (John 6:63). The Lord said his words to the world and said them in their earthly meaning. Apart from the earthly meaning, which is the literal meaning, the spiritual and heavenly meanings are not the Word; [without it] they are like a spirit and life without a body—and like a palace that has no foundation to rest on. —Sacred Scripture 39
We can see an example of Swedenborg’s philosophy about literal v. internal through his interpretation of the prophesy about Egypt, Israel, and Assyria becoming one. Swedenborg says that the prophesy represents scholarly study, rational thinking, and spirituality become one—and is the future of science and spirituality working together for the best of humanity.
The Word in Heaven
Indeed, without the Word no one would know anything about the Lord, about love and faith, redemption, or any of the other secrets of heavenly wisdom. In fact, without the Word there would not be a heaven, just as in the world there would not be a church without the Word —The Word of the Lord 14
Swedenborg says the Bible does exist in heaven, but the Word in the spiritual world or afterlife is not the same as the word in the physical world or earth. Spirits and angels have an almost immediate revelation or understanding of the deepest spiritual sense of the Word in heaven so there’s no need for historical narratives and metaphors. In fact, there are different levels of understanding the Word amongst angels depending on the level of heaven they occupy. Chara Daum, a translator for the New Century Edition, explains how angels understand the Bible on different levels.
Next, Curtis takes the audience through five excerpts from Swedenborg’s writings to shed some more light on the differences between the literal and spiritual meanings of the Word. Throughout his writings, Swedenborg reveals how the Bible is more of a spiritual tour of heaven than a book of moral instructions.
The inner meaning gives the Lord’s Word life. That meaning is like a soul whose body is the superficial sense. The case resembles that with human beings; when our body dies—when we join the angels—our soul comes alive, and when our soul lives, we no longer know anything of bodily affairs. By the same token, we no longer know what the literal meaning of the Word is, only what its soul is. —Secrets of Heaven 1143
If you believe there’s both a literal and internal sense of the Word, how can you gain access to the deeper level of understanding? Curtis answers that very question with a series of excerpts from Arcana Coelestia. According to Swedenborg, it’s possible to connect with the Word even if you have never read the Bible, are not Christian, and have never followed his teachings on the internal sense. Swedenborg says the way to connect with the Bible’s spiritual message is to live it—or practice what you preach.
You can be connected to the spiritual Word simply by living a life of love because love for the Lord and others is the core message of the Bible.
In his mercy the Lord accepts and saves anyone anywhere on the globe who has lived a good life, because goodness itself is what accepts truth. A good life is the actual soil in which seed, or truth, is planted. An evil life positively does not accept the seed.—Secrets of Heaven 2590
Questions from Viewers
In the last segment, Curtis answers these questions from our viewers:
- After ES had access to the spiritual realm, did his hard times or difficult life lessons stop?
- Didn’t Jesus condemn the Pharisees because they rewrote many of the OT stories making God a supremacist, racist God that demanded Jewish hegemony over nations rather than Love for all?
- So, if one keeps reading the Bible, will God help open our hearts on the deeper and more real meaning?
- Did Emanuel Swedenborg ever meet anyone who claimed they were Satan?
- Will God rapture people when earth’s life is over?
- What would Swedenborg think about GMOs, vaccines, toxins, and the state of the environment and our corresponding health today?
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About Swedenborg and Life
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 in a lighthearted and interactive live webcast format.
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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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