Is the Bible literally true?
Cut off my right hand?
“If your right eye causes you to sin, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to go into hell.” (Matthew 5:29-30)
Can my eye cause me to sin? Am I actually supposed to gouge out my eye or cut off my hand if I want to stop sinning? The Writings for the New Church explain that these instructions are not meant literally: “The ‘eye’ represents in the spiritual sense everything belonging to the understanding and to thought, and the ‘right hand’ everything belonging to the will and to affection, it is evident that ‘if your right eye causes you to sin, gouge it out’ represents that if one thinks evil, the evil must be rejected from the thought; also ‘if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off’ represents that if evil is willed the evil of the will must be cast out. For the eye itself cannot cause sin, nor can the right hand, but the thought of the understanding and the affection of the will, to which they correspond, can.” (Apocalypse Explained §600:8)
Is Jesus coming in the clouds?
“Men will see the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory. And He will send His angels and gather His elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of the heavens.” (Mark 13:26-27)
Will this really happen on earth? When? This passage refers not to an anticipated event, but an event that has occurred on a spiritual level: “By ‘the clouds of heaven’ in which He is to come, nothing else is meant but the Word in its literal sense (which sometimes hides/obscures the true meaning such as a cloud obscures the sun); and by ‘the glory’ in which they will see Him, the Word in its spiritual sense (in which all is revealed)” (Apocalypse Revealed §24). The Writings for the New Church give us the spiritual sense of the Word, which descends through the clouds, and then the literal sense becomes accessible and applicable.
Did a flood cover the earth?
“Noah was six hundred years old when the floodwaters were on the earth. So Noah, with his sons, his wife, and his sons’ wives, went into the ark because of the waters of the flood…and it came to pass after seven days that the waters of the flood were on the earth. The windows of heaven were opened. And the rain was on the earth forty days and forty nights.” (Genesis 7:6-12)
The story of Noah and the flood is not a literal story about life being wiped off the earth, but rather a story that represents the personal struggle and temptation that each of us faces in life—and the ways we can protect ourselves in these times of spiritual trials. The book Secrets of Heaven explains the inner meaning of this story: the ark that Noah, his family, and the animals go into for protection from the flood represents the church that carries us through hard times (§639). “By the ‘flood of waters’ is signified the beginning of temptation” (§739-740). The flood represents the temptations that come in life and threaten to wipe out everything good if we give in to them. It is further explained that “‘Noah went into the ark, from before the waters of the flood’ signifies that he was protected in temptation.” In the story Noah’s wife, his sons, and his sons’ wives came with him into the ark because they represent the resources Noah had to help him resist temptations. Noah’s wife represents goods, his sons represent truths, and his sons’ wives represent truths that are connected to goods (§742). We can see that while the story seems literally impossible it stands for something very real in our lives—turning to the church and the goods and truths that sustain us when we are faced with temptation.
by Abigail Echols,
from an article from New Church Connection
“God is one, and He is the Creator of all things and the Preserver of all things; so He is God of heaven and God of the earth.”
Arcana Coelestia 10815
We all have a pretty clear idea of what “natural” means – it includes anything having to do with nature, the physical reality we live in, and extends to the impulses we have that arise from the natural world. So it’s natural for the sun to shine, for water to flow and for plants to grow. It’s natural for us to want food, water and shelter. And it’s natural for us to want want sex, wealth, children, respect, control over ourselves and even control over others – all things that serve the natural goals of surviving and passing on our genetics. In the modern world that extends to desires for success in our jobs, for physical attractiveness, for the ability to compete for a respected place in the world, and other basic urges.
If you think about it, most of those urges are ones shared by animals, and those that aren’t are extensions of desires animals do have. For instance, an animal would not desire a promotion at work, but they do desire enhanced social status and access to resources, which is a more general expression of the same thing.
That’s one way Swedenborg uses the term “natural” – it distinguishes the physical reality we’re aware of from the spiritual reality we’re not aware of. And he says that within that physical reality, we are pretty close to being animals, driven by basic urges and instinct. But Swedenborg also says that the human mind is a spiritual organ, that within our minds we can rise above nature to see things in spiritual light. That’s how we can perceive a better possibility for ourselves as spiritual beings, and can decide to act contrary to our urges and instincts in pursuit of more exalted goals – things that animals can’t do.
But Swedenborg also uses the word “natural” to identify the lowest level of spiritual reality, and the lowest level of heaven. Angels of the natural heaven love to understand what the Lord wants and to do it, and love each other equally to themselves. Their orientation is toward outward action, putting deeper ideas from other sources into play. The same could be said of the natural level we all have in our minds: That’s where the deeper spiritual concepts get translated into specific ideas that can be put into action. It’s also where gather natural knowledge – scientific knowledge and other ideas arising from the natural world – so that it can be used in our spiritual thoughts.
What does Swedenborg say about animals in the afterlife? Will people be reunited with beloved pets after they die? Is there a doggie heaven with unlimited treats and squirrels to chase?
Swedenborg sees a clear spiritual difference between humans and animals. Here’s how he describes it:
“People who have convinced themselves [that we will not continue to live as spirits after death] tend to think that animals live and sense just the way we do, so that they too have a spiritual nature like ours; yet this dies along with their bodies. However, the spiritual nature of animals is not the same as ours. We have an inmost nature that animals do not, a nature into which the Divine flows and which it raises toward itself, in this way uniting us to itself. So we, unlike animals, can think about God and about divine matters of heaven and the church. We can love God because of these matters and by engaging with them; and so be united to him; and anything that can be united to the Divine cannot be destroyed. Anything that cannot be united to the Divine, though, does disintegrate.” (Heaven and Hell #435)
A major theme in Swedenborg’s writings is that our spiritual destiny is a matter of choice. We have to first understand the difference between good and evil, and then make a conscious choice when confronted with a moral dilemma, not just once but over and over throughout our lives. It’s the cumulative result of all of our choices that determines where we go after we die. (For more on this, see Swedenborg’s book Divine Providence, especially sections 71-99.)
Animals don’t have the capacity to make that type of conscious choice. For example, if a delivery person walks onto someone’s lawn and is bitten by a dog, was that a rational decision on the dog’s part? Did it watch the person coming and think, “Is biting this person the right thing to do? What are the potential consequences of my actions? Is this violence truly necessary?” Probably not, right? Swedenborg would say that a person has to be at least capable of asking those questions in order to be spiritually responsible for his or her actions. If we didn’t have the awareness of right and wrong that allows us to be spiritual people, then we couldn’t enter the afterlife.
So, do all dogs go to heaven? Swedenborg would say no. In heaven, he says, the animals are actually correspondences: like everything in the environment of the afterlife, they represent spiritual principles at work and can appear or disappear depending on the needs of the moment. If a person does see a dog in heaven, for example, it means that someone nearby—maybe even in the physical world—is experiencing a desire to express spiritual truths; it doesn’t mean that a particular dog has made the transition from the physical world to the afterlife.
But, he adds, none of this means that animals on earth can’t also reflect the divine.
Everything in the universe, Swedenborg tells us, was created and is sustained by a living energy that emanates from the Divine. He describes that energy as pure love and wisdom, and when he talks about the way it enters into and affects us, he uses the term influx. Animals experience influx too, but in a different way.* When a bird cares for its chicks, for example, or a dog acts to protect its human companions, those animals are expressing divine love unconsciously, in a purely natural way.
Discovering inner health and transformation
Traditionally, the father has been the bread-winner for the family. These days, however, many women have well-paid jobs in the professions and business. The two sexes are said to be equal, and the ‘new man’ as a father is supposed to reduce his time at work so as to be as actively involved as the mother – not just in domestic chores – but also in time spent with the children, and in thinking about their health and schooling.
Does the gender of the parents matter?
However in doing more of what mothers have traditionally done, some men are beginning to wonder if there is any unique role for a father that can be valued. As the mother goes out to work, the father is no longer the sole or sometimes even main family bread-winner.
A lead article in the Journal of Marriage and Family concludes “The gender of parents only matters in ways that don’t matter.” This assumes there is nothing that a father brings to the table of parenting that is not easily replicated by the mother. Is a father then not distinctly needed other than as an additional parent?
The father in animal studies
In fish, reptiles and in many species of mammals, there is seen little or no paternal role in caring for offspring. It is the females who must do all the work of caring for the young. For example a male bear leaves the female shortly after mating and will kill and sometimes eat any bear cub he comes across, even if the cub is his. Bear mothers spend much of their cubs’ early life protecting them from males. Domesticated dogs are not monogamous with their mates and show little interest in their pups.
On the other hand there are some animals where the fathers take a paternal caring role with their young. A male wolf helps feed, protect, and play with his pups and is the one who does most of the hunting for the young when the mother is securing the newborn pups. Most male waterfowl are very protective in raising their offspring, sharing scout duties with the female. Examples are geese, swans and gulls and a few species of duck. When the families of most of these waterfowls travel, they usually go in a line and the fathers are usually the ones guarding the offspring at the end of the line while the mothers lead the way.
In animal studies, whether the parents are monogamous seems to be a crucial factor in the involvement of the adult male in the young.
The love of a mother
In humans, from the child’s conception, the mother is the parent who nourishes the baby and forms the primary attachment which is continued as the infant grows and experiences her affectionate nurturing care. And so she is likely to be the major caregiver of the children, even if she herself is employed to a larger or smaller extent in the labour force. According to spiritual philosopher Emanuel Swedenborg, the love of children directly affects women because of the linkage of a deeper monogamous affection he called conjugial love with the female sex.
In recent years social science studies have been showing the benefits on children of healthy father-child relationships for example higher self-esteem, increased curiosity, greater empathy.
Why should this be the case? Is it because two parents are better than one? Or is it because each sex has something special to offer to child raising?
The mother is usually more affectionate and closer to children whereas the father tends to be more emotionally distant. Some men will drift and muddle through their home life, others make every effort to be a thoughtful and loving parent giving time for play, and keeping an eye on the child’s well being.
Swedenborgian view of gender
For Swedenborg the male mind is more prone to understanding and the female to feeling and thus a father has a tendency to see things from a broader perspective. If there is something in this, then in so far as a father is interested in his children’s welfare, can he not offer a distinctive good sense? For example as a result of his male approach to life children may be more interested about the world around them and develop greater problem solving skills.
A father’s influence on the children may be indirect as often the mother has more contact with them. Nevertheless her loving care and way of dealing with the child may possibly be influenced after discussing common concerns with her partner and getting his views on wider issues.
Does a good father not also combine with his partner to contribute to the caring and moral atmosphere in the home? If so he is likely to want to explore and share good ideas of relevance to the child’s developing understanding. Arguably, in the fatherly role, a man can be instrumental in fostering ethical principles and ideas about the meaning of life that remain unconscious within the child as he or she developments into adulthood.
Copyright 2014 Stephen Russell-Lacy
Author of Heart, Head & Hands Swedenborg’s perspective on emotional problems
Posted on8th October 2014