Friday, August 18, 2017

Spiritual Insights into Psalm 1 by Swedenborg: True Spiritual Happiness



I recently authored the book The Symbolism of the Psalms, a massive work which combines a new translation with commentary from Swedenborg, which I previously blogged about here: The Symbolism of the Psalms: A Comprehensive Spiritual Commentary (updated with this new release). This originally began as a project to correct the translation of the Psalms, which one can read about in a blog post here from 2014: A Clairvoyant Dream of a New Translation of the Psalms. The translation follows the Masoretic Hebrew original.

The reason for the translation is that it quite apparent from Swedenborg's interpretation of scripture that every word of scripture is important. A slight mistranslation of the original Hebrew can significantly alter the meaning.  A spiritual interpretation demands more exactness, and translators unaware of the spiritual meaning have been very inconsistent in their translations. The translation then evolved into collecting quotes from Swedenborg on different passages of the Psalms as an aid for study.  And so, a full fledged commentary on the Psalms was born. It is now available from Apocryphile Press.  The work also restores the original poetic structure of each Psalm exposing the reader to the Hebrew parallelism where parallel lines are clearly shown.

I will discuss here in detail some points brought up by Swedenborg on the very first word of the first line of Psalm 1. It is based on the commentary of this work so readers can see how it can be useful in opening the spiritual sense of the Psalms and all of scripture.

WHAT IS TRUE SPIRITUAL HAPPINESS?

The first Psalm starts with this line:

Happy is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked

The word for "happy" is also the same Hebrew word as for the tribe of Asher, and is distinct from another word that is translated as "blessed."  Swedenborg, who had visions of the heavenly world, states that this happiness exceeds all understanding, and is based on the internal good within us that we receive and act upon. We will only discover it when we shed off the anxieties and cares of the physical world:
"As regards the happiness of eternal life, the man who is in affection for good and truth cannot perceive it when he is living in the world, but a certain enjoyment instead. The reason is, that in the body he is in worldly cares and in anxieties thence which prevent the happiness of eternal life, which is inwardly in him, from being manifested in any other way at that time." (Heavenly Arcana, n. 3938.7)
This is where the commentary from Swedenborg has the advantage over other Biblical commentaries: none of them had the direct spiritual experiences he did. This experience of true spiritual happiness goes beyond the normal enjoyments of everyday life, many witnesses who have had a Near Death Experience have experienced this, and it has been life changing for them where they have a new perspective on life.

So what do we carry with us to the afterlife? It is the good we do to others, for the sake of making them happy. The happiness of being useful is what leads to eternal happiness, and it grows to eternity. We will exist in harmony with others, who we will all know as if they were our long lost childhood friends. Sometimes we make a connection with another, many times not, and circumstances may separate us from our true friends and loves. That love we have in our heart is what will grow to eternity.

The Divine love flows in from the spiritual world into our physical forms; Divine love finds rest in us when we do good to others.  True spiritual happiness makes a descent into several lower levels, or degrees, which Swedenborg describes in the work Apocalypse Revealed when discussing the tribe of Asher (which means "happiness" in Hebrew):
"[Asher] signifies mutual love, which is the love of doing good use to the community or society, with those who will be of the Lord's New Heaven and New Church. By Asher in the highest sense eternity is signified, in the spiritual sense eternal blessedness, and in the natural sense affection for good and truth; but by Asher here is signified the love of doing uses, which is with those who are in the Lord's celestial kingdom, and is there called mutual love. This love descends proximately from love to the Lord, since the Lord's love is to do uses to the community and to each society in the community; and He does them through men who are in love to Him." (Apocalypse Revealed, n. 353)
The different degrees of happiness are as follows:

  1. Eternity (the highest celestial level), or the Eternal Good
  2. Eternal happiness (the intermediate spiritual level)
  3. Affection for good and truth (which we experience in the physical)

Achieving spiritual happiness can be achieved by simply focusing on it, and withdrawing from things of the sense, which Swedenborg discusses at length (Heavenly Arcana, n. 6201). Most do not even think of it, as people's minds think of external things of the body and the world. They thus discount anything spiritual as they cannot see it. It is also necessary to have combats against evil in order to attain eternal life (Heavenly Arcana, n. 59)

One's eternal happiness is not just entering the afterlife, it is based on one's affections for good and truth in this life. This is why it is said that every man will be judged according to their works (Matt. 16:27). We should not see judgment in a negative way; but rather this life is a chance to open up these higher spiritual levels, the more good we do, the greater the happiness. This is what Jesus meant by laying one's treasure in heaven (Matt. 6:20-21). But to build up one's treasure, one should seek to lead an active and useful life, with intent on serving the Lord. For all actions are governed by intent, and the highest intent is to serve the highest Good, which is God Himself.



Monday, July 31, 2017

The Spiritual Meaning of the Woman of the Apocalypse



The book of Revelation, or the Apocalypse, is a highly symbolic work.  The most comprehensive interpretation can be found in the works of Emanuel Swedenborg (he wrote 3 volumes entitled Apocalypse Revealed, which was drawn from about 6 volumes of an unpublished work entitled Apocalypse Explained, combined here in one work: The Apocalypse Revealed and Explained). Many others have tried to interpret and failed, and where they failed Swedenborg only succeeded as the internal spiritual meaning was revealed in spiritual visions. Whether or not one believes in visions, the interpretation is rational and consistent.

I would like to focus here on the symbolism of the woman of the Apocalypse, mentioned in chapter 12:
And a great sign appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars. She was pregnant and was crying out in birth pains and the agony of giving birth. And another sign appeared in heaven: behold, a great red dragon, with seven heads and ten horns, and on his heads seven diadems. His tail swept down a third of the stars of heaven and cast them to the earth. And the dragon stood before the woman who was about to give birth, so that when she bore her child he might devour it. She gave birth to a male child, one who is to rule all the nations with a rod of iron, but her child was caught up to God and to his throne, and the woman fled into the wilderness, where she has a place prepared by God, in which she is to be nourished for 1,260 days. (Rev. 12:1-6)
In the traditional interpretation, the woman is the church or the virgin Mary, the child is Jesus, the dragon that wishes to devour the child is Herod who tried to kill Jesus after he was born, and the child being caught up to heaven is a reference to the ascension of Jesus. As for the woman dwelling in the wilderness, the Seventh Day Adventists (and others) apply this to a 1260 year period of Roman Catholic dominion ending in the 18th century, which happens to coincide with the time Swedenborg began receiving heavenly revelations concerning scripture, the afterlife, and the Second Coming.

There is an inherent problem in this interpretation: with the way the book of Revelation is structured, this describes future events from John's time, not a flashback of what already happened. That this is so, can be seen from the following earlier commandment of Jesus to the apostle John:
Write therefore the things that you have seen, those that are and those that are to take place after this (Rev. 1:19)
The "things which you have seen" are the past, which covers chapter 1, "those that are" are the present, which covers chapters 2-3, "those that are to take place after this" is the future state of the church and the last judgment, covered in chapters 4-22. This can be seen at the beginning of chapter 4:
Come up here, and I will show you what must take place after this (Rev. 4:1)
THE SPIRITUAL MEANING OF THE WOMAN

This means the woman, the child, and the dragon describes a future spiritual conflict from John's time. Overall, the book of Revelation describes the final end state of the Christian church itself, and the establishment of a New Christian Church. The woman of the apocalypse seen in heaven represents this New Christian Church, which is seen in heaven as it will be first established in the spiritual realms before being manifested here on earth. Thus the traditional interpretation that identified the woman with the Church is correct, which is supported in scripture as the church is described as the bride of Christ. What the traditional interpretation does not know, however, is that the woman of the apocalypse represents a new age of the Christian church.

So why is the woman clothed with the sun, has a crown of stars, and has the moon under her feet? Some have interpreted these as an astronomical references.  However that is not the case: throughout scripture, the physical sky is used as symbolic reference to the spiritual heaven. The sun, moon and stars have the following meaning:
  1. The Sun is a symbolic reference to love of the Lord. The reason for this is that in the spiritual heaven, the Lord lights all of heaven as a spiritual Sun. This central Sun of heaven has been seen by visionaries and in Near Death Experience accounts. This is the origin of "sun worship" in the ancient world. For the woman to be clothed with the sun signifies that this new Church will consider love to the Lord as primary, and faith or religious belief as secondary.
  2. The moon, in general, is a spiritual symbol of those who follow the commandments according to their faith. They act primarily from truth, instead of first from love. In the spiritual heaven they are more distant, thus the central sun of heaven appears to them like a moon, as truth is but a reflection of love.
  3. The stars, in general, represent different angelic societies of heaven which appear at a distance as a star. Stars in the spiritual sense also signify spiritual knowledges. One is first introduced to higher spirituality through knowledge, and this is represented by the Magi who followed the star of Bethlehem.
Thus in the prophetic last days, it is said the sun will turn black, and the moon will be blood red. This is not an astronomical event, but rather signifies that spiritual love and charity will die, and truths will be falsified and profaned. One can see this in that most people talk about religious "faith," but only rarely do they first talk of love and charity, and living a life according to the commandments. If love was the focus, all the religious disputes would disappear.

The spiritual meaning is governed by context, and for the woman to be standing on the moon has an interesting meaning. In this sense, it signifies a state of the New Christian church revealed from heaven, but not yet in conjunction with a church on earth that follows the doctrines of the New Church. If what was revealed from heaven was in union with a church on earth, the woman would have been seen as standing upon the earth. But she is not, which signifies a state in which a revelation is made that is not yet accepted in practice on earth. This is the state where we are today: we have one of the most spectacular Christian revelation sitting right in front of us in the works of Emanuel Swedenborg, and yet so few Christians are aware of it.

The Roman Catholic interpretation is based on their false practice of Marian veneration, and is thus a superficial interpretation. It is "superficial" in the sense that Mary herself is a symbol of the church, but inasmuch as one identifies the woman with Mary the individual it becomes a false interpretation. Both the Roman Catholic and Protestant versions of Christianity will be replaced by this New Christian Church which is first established in heaven. The falsification of Christianity by both the Roman Catholic and Protestant churches are represented by the woman Jezebel in the letter to the church of Thyatira, and the whore of Babylon described in chapters 17-18. As many will hold onto their old traditions with their inherent falsehoods, this will lead to a spiritual conflict between the older traditional Christian churches and the new. This conflict is first described in chapter 11 (see The Identity of the Two Witnesses of Revelation) and continues in chapter 12 of the Apocalypse.

THE SPIRITUAL MEANING OF THE CHILD CAUGHT UP TO HEAVEN

In the traditional interpretation, the child born to the woman that is caught up to heaven is Jesus Christ. Another interpretation is that the child collectively refers to the saints who are "raptured" before a final tribulation (for a more spiritual interpretation of the rapture, see Is the Second Coming a Physical Event or Spiritual Event?).

The spiritual interpretation is not so literal as the above two interpretations. In the spiritual sense, for the woman to be in pain and travailing to give birth signifies the difficult reception of a doctrine in regard to Jesus Christ. In dreams, when one sees woman who is pregnant that signifies a troublesome time, and to be in pain giving birth means to accept a very hard truth. In this particular case, the child that is born represents the doctrine that Jesus is the Divine God Man, who is Divine even as to his human. His human form is known as the Son of God.  It is a difficult truth, because of three primary false doctrines that have infested the traditional Christian church:
  1. The division of God into three personal beings, a form of tritheism, and,
  2. The division of Jesus Christ into a permanent Divine and human nature, and,
  3. The separation of faith from charity or good works, that living a good life contributes nothing to salvation.
The above three points, unfortunately, forms the foundation of modern traditional Christian churches. They accept it without question as the foundation, even though these particular doctrines were not known or generally defined until centuries after Jesus had come. The primary doctrine of the New Church is centered on the Divine Human, and that the true Trinity is the Divine itself, the Divine Human, and the Divine proceeding, which is present in one person, Jesus Christ.

For the child to be caught up into heaven signifies that the doctrine of the Divine Human of the Lord will be protected by heavenly angels, despite intense opposition from those who make God three and separate faith from charity, represented by the dragon. The woman then flees to the wilderness, which signifies that the doctrines of the New Church will be in obscurity and known to a select few people for a long period of time. This represents the present state of the New Christian Church. The story of Enoch ascending into heaven has a similar meaning, which signifies the spiritual knowledge of the ancient church was preserved among a select few for future posterity.

Although Swedenborg does not make the connection, the interpretation that the child born to the woman seen in heaven is the doctrine of the Divine Human can be seen in the spiritual sense of Joseph's dreams (Genesis 37), where Joseph sees the sun, moon and eleven stars bowing down to his sheaf. This is explained in detail in the work Heavenly Arcana (aka Arcana Coelestia or Heavenly Secrets).

OLD IDEAS DIE HARD

Old traditions die hard, and it takes time for those who have been falsely taught since childhood to change their mind. Preconceived falsehoods prevent people from understanding and accepting the truth. I recently heard a minister divide doctrines into three buckets: essential doctrine, bible teachings, and a "gray area" of teachings that don't matter which cause useless arguments. The first thing he mentioned for essential doctrine was of course the trinity, and by that meant a trinity of three persons. Anything outside of that he classified as "heresy" and was worth fighting against. And that immediately brought to mind the image of the dragon fighting against the woman and child of the Apocalypse. He got his buckets right, but dropped the wrong thing into the wrong bucket. What most do not realize is that it is possible to drop that Nicene Creed into the bucket of "gray areas" that do not matter and yet still follow essential doctrines of Christianity (see Oneness Theology vs. a Trinity of Three Persons and Is the Nicene Creed Biblical? Does the Nicene Creed define True Christianity?).


Tuesday, July 18, 2017

The Spiritual Meaning of the Serpent in the Garden of Eden


The story of Adam and Eve, and their fall by the serpent in the Garden of Eden is still treated as a literal story by many literalists and creationists, causing many to discount Christianity as a whole. Literalists fail to understand a symbolic allegory when presented with one, and indeed will vehemently deny it when presented with that view. In the New Church view, the first 11 chapters of Genesis is written in the form of an allegory, and true history only begins with the 12th chapter of Genesis. Many still believe that the serpent of the Garden of Eden was an actual talking snake, although the Catholic Church has officially moved away from that view and regards the serpent as allegorical.

So if the serpent of the Garden of Eden is an allegorical symbol, what does it symbolize? The most simple answer is that it is simply the personification of evil, and some would go further to say it is a personification of the devil or Satan. However in the revelations of the New Church, there is no individual devil or Satan - hell as a whole is called the devil and Satan. And the origin of evil is man himself from the abuse of the free will he has been given. An individual devil or Satan is a later belief that came as part of tradition, and perhaps the early influence of the Zoroastrian religion from ancient Persia.

The spiritual meaning of a serpent is one who withdraws from heavenly things towards things of the senses and this world. Those who withdraw from their core spirituality towards external material things are called serpents, because serpents crawl on their belly closest to earth, and do not walk upright like men which signify those who live a spiritual life. Those who withdraw from their spirituality and fall into their lower natural desires are represented by beasts, and as the serpent is the lowest it represents those who depend and follow their external senses to the denial of everything else:
"The Most Ancient people did not compare all things in man to beasts and birds, but called them so. Such was their language. Such also it remained in the Ancient Church, after the flood; and similar language is preserved in the Prophets. The things of sense with man they called serpents; for just as serpents are next to the earth, so are things of sense next to the body. Reasonings from things of sense concerning the mysteries of faith, they therefore called the poison of the serpent; and the reasoners themselves they called serpents. And because these reason much from things that are of sense, or visible — as are things earthly, corporeal, worldly, and natural — it is said 'the serpent was subtle beyond every wild animal of the field.'" (Heavenly Arcana, n. 195)
Thus those who state that the serpent represents Satan before his fall are mistaken, and those who believe in an actual serpent in a Garden are deceived by an extreme literal interpretation of scripture. The serpent represents those who only believe in what they receive from their senses. And in modern times, it is worse, where the philosophies of naturalism and materialism prevail, and it affects our way of thinking:
"In ancient times they were called serpents who had faith in things of sense rather than in things revealed. At this day it is still worse; for there are not only those that believe nothing but what they see and feel, but those who confirm themselves by deductions of science unknown to those of most ancient time, and thus blind themselves to a much greater degree. That it may be known how they blind themselves who form conclusions respecting heavenly things from things sensual, scientific, and philosophical, so that they then see and hear nothing at all, and are not only deaf serpents but also flying serpents, which are much more destructive" (Heavenly Arcana, n. 196)
Thus, with this understanding, the "seed of the serpent" represents all belief which comes from arguing from the senses, and the "head of the serpent" is the dominion of evil whose power was destroyed when God chose to become incarnate in human form to fight directly against the hells. So what about the serpent being cursed, so that it was now forced to crawl on its belly? Again it is symbolic:
"That the serpent should go upon his belly means that the sensual could no longer look upward to heavenly things, as before, but looked downward to things corporeal and worldly, is evident from the fact that in the ancient time by the belly were signified things nearest to the earth, by the breast, those that are above the earth, and by the head, those that are highest. So here, the meaning is that the sensual, which in itself is the lowest of man, should go upon its belly, because it turned itself to what is earthly... Therefore when man looked to heavenly things it was said that he walked erect, and that he looked upward or forward, which is the same; and when he looked to corporeal and earthly things, that he was bowed down to the earth, and looked downward or backward." (Heavenly Arcana, n. 247-248)
This is why, in many ancient religions and customs, people would bow down to the earth before God, acknowledging their natural lowness and that heavenly things were higher than the things of the self or one's ego. That this signifies a withdrawal from communion with heaven, can be seen in the book of Revelation where Jesus declares that the "tree of life" is present in paradise or heaven (Rev. 2:7).

OVERCOMING THE SENSES AND BECOMING MORE SPIRITUAL

With this understanding, to become more spiritual one must learn how to withdraw one's desires from material things, and even to withdraw oneself from the senses:
"Unless man's thought can be elevated above sensual things, so that these are beheld as below him, he cannot understand any interior thing in the Word, still less such things as are of heaven abstracted from those which are of the world; for sensual things absorb and suffocate them. It is for this reason that those who are sensual and have zealously devoted themselves to mere outward knowledges, rarely apprehend anything of the things of heaven; for they have immersed their thoughts in such things as are of the world, that is, in terms and distinctions drawn from them, and thus in sensuals, from which they can no longer be elevated and so be kept in a point of view above them..." (Heavenly Arcana, n. 5089)
There are several external means for withdrawing from the senses:

  1. Quiet meditation and prayer, closing one's eyes. This withdraws one's thoughts from the senses.
  2. Fasting. This withdraws one's will from one's cravings.
  3. Chanting, certain kinds of music, affecting the hearing.
  4. Incense, affecting the smell.

Each physical sense corresponds to something internal:
"The sensual which is especially subject to the intellectual part is the sight; that which is subject to the intellectual part and secondarily to the voluntary is the hearing; that which is subject to both together is the sense of smell, and still more the taste; but that which is subject to the voluntary part is the touch." (Heavenly Arcana, n. 5077.3)
One's external senses of the body must be brought under control in order to become more spiritual:
"All the external sensuals of man have relation to his internal sensuals, for they are given to man and placed in his body, that they may serve the internal man while it is in the world, and be subject to its sensuals; when therefore a man's external sensuals begin to rule over his internal, the man is lost; for then the internal sensuals are considered merely as servants, to serve for confirming those things which the external sensuals command with authority." (Heavenly Arcana, n. 5077.2)
One first becomes introduced to spiritual matters through means of knowledges, but the goal is to become elevated above mere natural knowledges to more internal spiritual things by living by the truth:
"The regeneration of the natural is effected by the instilling of spiritual life by the Lord through the internal man into the knowledges therein. This instilling has been treated of in this chapter. But when man is thus far regenerated, if he be such that he can be further regenerated, he is elevated thence to the interior natural, which is under the immediate auspices of the internal. But if the man is not such, his spiritual life is then in the exterior natural. The elevation is effected by a withdrawing from what is of sense and outward knowledge, thus by elevation above them, and then the man comes into a state of interior thought and affection, thus interiorly into heaven." (Heavenly Arcana, n. 6183)
When one understands this, one understands the power of a spiritual life in Jesus Christ:
Behold, I give unto you power to tread on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy: and nothing shall by any means hurt you. (Luke 10:19)
This means, in the spiritual sense, that those who live a spiritual life will overcome all falsehoods of evil:
"That the Lord has [all Divine] power He Himself teaches in express words in Matthew: All power is given to Me in the heavens and on earth (xxviii. 18); and in Luke: Jesus said to the seventy who returned saying that the devils were obedient to them, Behold I give you power to tread upon serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy; and nothing at all shall hurt you. . . . All things have been delivered unto Me of My Father (x. 19, 22). By these words is described the power of the Lord over the hells; devils are they who are in the hells; serpents and scorpions are evils and the falsities of evil; to tread upon them is to destroy the evils and falsities; the hells are also meant by the enemy over which they were to have power." (Heavenly Arcana, n. 10019.4)