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God Bless You, Part 1

Karl writes about the true import and meaning of words and how they have been obfuscated and dulled over time by progressively literal interpretations. If we have lost sight of the deeper connotations of the words within the Bible, how can we access what is available to us therein? -Editor

It may seem trite to make this statement, but most people, secular and non-secular, recognise that the Bible is purported to be a spiritual document. Atheism may reject that spirituality is an integral part of reality, but nonetheless the Bible is held in that regard. By assuming that it is a spiritual document, it follows that its concerns are spiritual.

But even such a simple statement poses problems, for what exactly is it that is meant by the word "spiritual"? What is it that makes what are, after all, only words on a page written long ago significant in terms of spirituality? Is it enough to think this because the word "God" is used so much?

Most people do not ask such questions, and it is enough for them that it is called spiritual, "the utterances of Almighty God," to accept it as such at face value, and like the advert for varnish, declare that it means "exactly what it says on the tin." 

But this can hardly be the case, and the fact that such a view is so extant in modern times is cause for wonder. The fact is that the biblical use of words and the meanings attached to them has become somewhat obscured by the dominance of the literalist view, and these meanings are largely based on the use of words whose meanings are to be found in any decent secular dictionary. This is what has led to difficulties with understanding what is meant by "spiritual," as if its meaning retained something to do with being purely "otherworldly," certainly not this-worldly, and since it is a this-world we inhabit, knowledge about any other kind is beyond our ken and must therefore be accepted as a kind of blind faith. 

Yet this is not the case. Much of the meaning of the Bible, its spiritual meaning specifically, can be gleaned from an understanding of its terms of operation. Many people would, naturally, shy away from this kind of assertion since it appears to be over-intellectual and hardly spiritual, so perhaps an example can serve to illustrate this. 

Because the Bible makes a number of statements from which we surmise that the world was created in seven days, the retention of this statement as fact is determined by the sense we have of what is meant by "created" and the "earth." Dictionaries concerned to define these words might do so with expressions like "form from nothing", or "make or form" on the side of the word "create" and "soil" or "planet" where "earth" is the subject.  Where the word "create" is concerned, however, what will not be found is the verb "to prepare." And yet, this is an integral feature of the meaning of the original Hebrew word. "Earth," too, has overtones of a receptiveness which is hardly what we think when we read this word. These are examples of how a meaning becomes overlaid by the appearance of others that are stipulated at a later time, and then applied backwards as interpretation so that the original meanings effectively are wiped out.

Given the primacy of this word "preparation," from a biblical and spiritual perspective, its meaning is then never disconnected from the words that surround it, whatever these may be. So, for instance, the word "earth" has the same root as "Adam" which spills over into the meaning of "ground," "soil," "field," "land," and so on, so that the distinction between the person and all these others becomes blurred, and Adam becomes a perception of man as an embodiment and archetypal representation of all that is meant by earth, which is effectively that which is prepared for reception. Furthermore, the root meaning of Adam is "red," as is the word for "ruby" and Edom, and red is associated with depth of feeling, so already the notion of ground is one that has a heart stem.

A similar form of treatment is also to be found in the word "heaven," so that what is found spiritually in the opening line of the Bible is the preparation of "man" as a creature (i.e. a living thing in an external sense) for a union of "man" as an internal living creature (i.e. a reflection of heaven).

None of this is available to sight, and therefore to understanding, when the meanings of words are taken to be those that have passed into common usage through dictionary definitions that are stripped of any kind of spiritual connotations. As a result, we are left with a purely physical view, in which what is spiritual, or the nature of God, is seen to be little better than a glorified manufacturing of physical reality. The great tragedy is that this latter view is now the widespread and common view. This is, in fact, a straw man view, set up by those whose aim is to knock it down, and this is a view that contributes absolutely nothing to a spiritual view concerned entirely with salvation. 

A person who is taken to court for whatever offence is always offered legal representation. The reason for this is obvious; due process of law is extremely precise and defined by terms of operation that are not to be found in the common vernacular. Persons attempting to present their own defence are foolhardy if these terms of operation are unknown to them. The same principles of specialisation apply across the board to all forms and categories of knowledge; each particular category has a very well-defined field of operation which is facilitated by specific language uses, representing a specialised concept structure. Yet when it comes to matters of spirituality, and to religion as an expression of it, it is imagined that ordinary language will suffice. The example given of "creation" as preparation clearly shows that this is not the case, and that ignorance of this has led to disastrous consequences. To add a little more to this subject, we should note that besides the word "creation," the words "form" and "made" are also used, and in some places all at the same time. This cannot be simply for the sake of variety as if they all meant the same thing, otherwise we should translate the Hebrew into nonsensical English, such as "Jehovah has created you, and also he has created you and created you." Once something is prepared, however, it can be acted on, altered, and brought to more receptive states. This is what such technical words mean, and cannot be surmised from the meanings usually attached to them. In fact, the very ambiguity inherent in such language is deliberate, because the perception of man as an embodiment of many things, spiritual and physical, is an essential requirement. Considered in this way, every mention of seeds, harvests, famines in the land, and so on, which are mentioned constantly, have a direct bearing on the spiritual state of man as the embodiment or mirror of everything.

When this notion of man encapsulating the whole as an individual reflection is lost, it is at that point that what is spiritual is lost, and this applies across the board to virtually all religions. Consider merely the parable of the wheat and tares (Matthew 13: 25-40) as an example of this. On the surface, it seems to be saying that at some future point, maybe after death, there will be a separation made between good people and bad people, that the bad people will go to hell and the good people will go to heaven. This is easy to interpret, one might think. But consider this: Jesus spoke in parables so that those who could hear him would understand them, while those who refused to listen to him would not understand them. Is it not the case that both camps could easily understand this reading of the parable? Is it not obvious what it means? Or is there something else here, enfolded in these words, that requires more thought. What is the inner meaning if not that which is plainly visible? It is the fact that the wheat and tares are those things which are planted in the ground of Adam, or all men, which means both sexes, for ground is man. Man, therefore, is also a spiritually technical term and implies that which is almost entirely a mode of reception. Man is a receiver, just as the ground is also a receiver of heat, light, water, trace elements, and above all, seeds. But the state of man, especially the unprepared ground of man, is such that the inclination within is to bend in two directions, both up and down at the same time, directions that are variously considered as good and bad, or positive and negative, or earthly or spiritual. (These states, too, are highly technical in their implications and beyond the scope of the current subject.) For the sake of brevity, what is bad or downward tending is threatening to overwhelm that which is upward tending. But more significantly, when they are growing, a tare is virtually indistinguishable from wheat and comes to fruition because it is capable of feigning "wheatness."  Nor can these be removed without damage to the whole person, and so the parable, its deeper sense, shows something of the necessity of some higher spiritual ability or propensity that is able to effect such a separation without damaging the essential integrity of the person. Without it, the danger is that meanings become inverted and much that is bad will be regarded as good and vice versa. One hardly need spell out the implications of this in our modern context. For the time being, notice how much more significant this "reading" is of that parable, when the meanings of words are allowed to carry their own connotations, once the secular notion of tares and wheat are removed. The latter are positivistic and appeal merely to the rational mind concerned with physicality, while the former "reading" (as opposed to interpretation) requires a more holistic frame of mind in which reason serves the spirit, and is not commandeered into merely public service. 

Already, the major words of ground, heaven, seed, man, harvest, and creation are showing how a deeper level of meaning becomes apparent when these words carry spiritual embodiments. These all reflect a relationship that exists, or can exist, between those elements of a deeper life and the life as it is experienced—often called the ordinary life—which is transformed by them.

Yet this relationship of elements is anything but ordinary. Even in the terms of the language in which such meanings may be obscure initially, readers of the Bible are struck by the epic scale at which it is pitched. Can it be that the individual is possessed of such enormous scope? Yet the denial of such meaning has an effect, and it is one that leaves the scale unaltered, but shifted to the surface. In the absence of spiritual meaning, we find the tares of our lives to be the dominant force striving to make themselves appear to be possessed of this scale. We find it in the tree of knowledge, attempting to supplant the tree of life; or Babel, striving to reach up to and supplant heaven itself in its attempt for total mastery. Yet all the great vision and scope of the spiritual is brushed aside in the secular world as it re-enacts the incident in the Garden of Eden daily, and insisting that its own tares of meaning are the real truth, and exclusive at that.

We should be mindful of the fact that most people in the Christian world have been raised in a religious tradition that is struggling with meaning, given the way that the terms of reference have become etiolated through the surreptitious and largely unconscious processes of language change. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the use of the words "blessed" and "blessing." It is quite clear in our own time that these have a specific connotation, but like any system of knowledge, can it be that they have a lost meaning that is not at all part of that connotation? If so, the implications are quite significant.

Going back to the very beginning of the Bible, we find it fully intended from the opening line that a preparation is being undertaken to establish a relationship between heaven and earth as representative of every single person at an individual level in which the drama of a "new creation" is enacted. That relationship is actually a search for a way of joining those elements together, and the technical word used in the Bible to represent that joining together is "covenant." When we consider the nature of the Bible, pregnant with such intention, the customary terms that define the two parts are "Old Testament" and "New Testament." In actuality, since the joining of heaven and earth within us is a timeless process, and never-ending, running from generation to generation, we could more accurately replace the word "Testament" with "Covenant." The problem is that this sense of a joining together in a dynamic way that is implied by covenant has been reduced to a more passive sense in words like "agreement" in which the urgency of a true covenant is lost. The word is now steeped with a way of thinking determined by secularism and by a conditional spirit. When applied backwards to the spiritual context, it retains this sense which is bolstered further by the manner in which the Bible has been written. That is to say, it reads like a list of conditions: if we obey God, and if we follow all his commandments, and if we undertake to follow all His precepts and decrees, then we will be rewarded. This is a very secular way of thinking, and when religion is seen this way, it is little better than rule-following. However, in the spiritual context, a covenant is a participative activity, a two way process, much like the vision of angels ascending and descending Jacob’s ladder in his dream (Genesis 28: 12). Jacob, being the last of the patriarchs, also represents the one closest to our own nature as physical beings, and one sees this reflected in his initial understanding of this event, in which he agrees in that early stage to a joining to something higher, but only if he gets what he desires (Genesis 28: 20). But is this not how all life journeys begin? In fact, that desire for some kind of reward exists at that lowest level of entry in the process of preparation, and is an integral part of it. The participative spirit is one that does not have built-in guarantees, but in the process of radical changes, one begins to notice those elements in that process that baulk further progress, and these are, generally speaking, those elements of tare-thinking that fake the genuine spiritual element in one’s self that prevents a joining together. These tares are linked to our own intentions and desires that do no more than serve our own interests, while the desire for a union with a deeper life promotes simultaneously the pursuit for seeking for ways of weakening their grip on our lives. As this weakening occurs, over a period of a lifetime, so there then begins a new kind of life that is meant by angels descending. Our part in the covenant is the not-doings of things that prevent conjunction, while the part in the contract on the deeper side is the instilling of more significant intentions which is meant by the Lord making his abode in us. It is this joining together that is heralded by preparation at the beginning of the Bible, and which is meant by being "born again" or more accurately "born from above." So one should see the notion of a Bible expressing a creationist account of the universe, or this particular planet, as something insignificant in contrast to the evolution of the human spirit as the true creation story of incredibly epic proportions.

Karl Birjokov

Karl discovered Swedenborg eight years ago, and took to his writings like a duck to water. As a lapsed Christian, his interest was revived, and he has become a part-time lay preacher at a New Church in his area near London. The Swedenborg Scientific Association has published a number of articles he wrote, and recently published a lengthier one this year entitled "Swedenborg in the 21st Century." The first of a two part article is currently being published entitled "Influx and the Proprium."