Emanuel Swedenborg, an 18th-century scientist, philosopher, and theologian, provided a unique lens through which to view the Bible and its profound influence on individual enlightenment. His insights, which form the bedrock of the teachings given to the New Church, offer a rich tapestry of understanding regarding the process of spiritual illumination that arises from consistent and genuine engagement with the Bible. Through this lens, we can gain insight into how one should approach the Bible and the transformative power it holds.
At the core of Swedenborg's teachings is the belief that every story, character, and event in the Bible has a symbolic spiritual significance. Further, a subset of books of the Bible which Swedenborg refers to as the Word, present these symbolic meanings in one continuous and complete story of the spiritual journey of the individual soul and the larger story of humanity's relationship with God. The Word is Divine revelation replete with layers upon layers of meaning. While on the surface, we find literal interpretations, buried beneath these are profound spiritual truths, something Swedenborg termed the "internal sense."
When we approach the Word with sincerity and humility, a conduit is opened through which the Lord can enlighten our understanding. This divine light imbues the heart with truths that are not merely grasped intellectually but resonate deeply within the soul, influencing one's actions, desires, and entire being.
This enlightenment is inherently linked with an individual's intentions and state of heart and mind. The truly humble and receptive heart is granted the discernment to unearth the spiritual treasures hidden within the pages of the Word.
Of course, if we are being honest with ourselves, a truly humble and receptive heart is not a consistent state for any of us. Our motives and intentions are shifting constantly along a continuum between love of self and love of the Lord. This constantly shifting spiritual state will inevitably have an impact when approaching the Bible with a specific question or request for Divine guidance. When approaching the Word with a specific query there's a danger that we may gravitate towards passages that seem to confirm our existing beliefs, desires, or biases. This is not dissimilar to the phenomenon of confirmation bias, our tendency to favour information that confirms or strengthens our existing beliefs or values.
Such an approach does a disservice to the reader and the Word itself. Instead of facilitating a pathway for the Lord's enlightening truths to shine forth, we risk remaining tethered to surface-level interpretations, which may align more with our personal inclinations than with the deeper spiritual truths awaiting discovery.
In his work Divine Providence (195) Swedenborg describes this, linking our understanding to our intention or motivating principles: “We call "good" whatever we feel as pleasant because of the love of our volition, and we call "true" whatever we therefore sense as appealing because of the wisdom of our discernment. In each case, this flows from our life's love like water from a spring or blood from a heart. Together they are like an atmosphere or a wave that surrounds the whole human mind.”
Swedenborg's teachings caution against a selective or piecemeal approach to the Word. If we dive into its pages merely seeking specific answers or justifications for our personal beliefs, we risk misinterpretation. Worse, we may be shutting ourselves off from the truly transformative truths that could reshape our understanding and life.
Instead, we should be immersing ourselves in the Word and praying to the Lord for clarity of thought and enlightenment regularly. Such consistent engagement serves as fertile ground, allowing the Lord to naturally and organically illuminate our understanding over time.
The Bible, without a doubt, holds answers to many of life's most profound questions. Yet, as Swedenborg highlights, the path to true enlightenment requires more than just a selective or instrumental approach. It necessitates humility, openness, and a commitment to consistent engagement with the Word.
By resisting the temptation to read the Bible with a pre-determined agenda and instead allowing the Lord's teachings to flow naturally into our consciousness, we create space for deeper truths to reveal themselves. In doing so, we embrace the essence of Swedenborg's teachings, trusting that with sincere and regular engagement, the Word's profound insights will unfurl, guiding us in our spiritual journey.