Understanding the Bible
On it’s surface the Bible can present a confusing picture of God. This is no more so the case than when a person takes the words and stories of the Bible literally. Jesus often criticised the people of his day for taking the words and regulations of the Old Testament so literally as to miss the spirit of these words. Speaking to the pharisees, Jesus said: "For you are careful to tithe even the tiniest income from your herb gardens, but you ignore the more important aspects of the law—justice, mercy, and faith" (Matthew 23:23).
A similar criticism can be brought to bear on us today when we read of the creation story and reject any scientific ideas about the early history of our world. Similarly, we can be led away from God if we believe that since science has given us insight into the geology, biology and evolution of the world we live in that the Bible can not be true. But, what if the Creation story is telling us something true, just not about the creation of the world? What if the Creation story is telling us of how God creates each of us, spiritually? In other words, what if the Bible is speaking to us in parables. Certainly the lessons we learn from parables are true, even when the parable may not be literally true.
Emanuel Swedenborg writes of the Bible as like a person clothed, but with hands and feet bare. Where it is bare, good and truth appear as they are in heaven, or with the spiritual sense evident in the literal sense. He compares the outer meaning to the garments of the Lord, while the inner is likened to His body. God’s purpose in “clothing” the Bible’s inner meaning in this way was so that the internal meaning could not be falsified.
Some may consider this idea of an inner meaning, or spiritual sense, with scepticism. But there are several passages (we might consider them “hands and feet” passages) that say just this:
“I will speak to you in a parable. I will teach you hidden lessons from our past.” (Psalm 78:2)
“Jesus always used stories and illustrations like these when speaking to the crowds. In fact, he never spoke to them without using such parables.” (Matthew 13:34)
“The Spirit alone gives eternal life…And the very words I have spoken to you are spirit and life.” (John 6:63)
And certainly the Lord was not speaking literally but spiritually when he said to Nicodemus; “You must be born again” (John 3:7)
It is with knowledge of this inner meaning to the Bible that we seek a greater understanding of the true nature of God and our purpose in this world and the next.