Humanity has a mixed relationship with the Bible, to say the least. Some absolutely love it, and some can’t stand it, and you’ve probably got a pretty big spectrum in the people you know, and maybe even within your own experiences of the text.
The text seems to have this total split personality:
Jesus says “love your enemies” but Joshua says “pursue your enemies! Attack them from the rear and don’t let them reach their cities, for the LORD your God has given them into your hand”. It’s a hard thing to love. The only way to resolve the tension is through understanding the language of divine allegory or parable the Bible is actually written in, called correspondences.
Once we look through that lens, we can see that the Bible is a document about spiritual life, not physical life. Taking the Bible literally actually breaks and fractures the true message. But if you understand the Bible through correspondences, then the different passages are part of a unified whole.
There are three kinds of damaging quandaries that arise from taking the Bible literally.
First, how can we follow the commandment to love God when God sometimes seems so frightening, and at times immoral in the Bible?
Taking the Bible literally leads to fear of or anger toward God rather than connection with God. But understanding the Bible as sacred allegory teaches us about how our own view of God fluctuates depending on our state of mind. It’s a symbolic story about our personal spiritual journey, with all its ups and downs.
Second, what are we supposed to do with Jesus’ teachings about loving our neighbor, including our enemies, when the Bible seems to condone war, slavery, vengeance, and judgment?
Taking the Bible literally has been used to justify all sorts of hateful attitudes and actions. But understanding the Bible as a correspondential allegory about our inner spiritual journey paints a whole different picture. People, locations and events in the Bible all represent qualities and processes in our own hearts and minds. “Enemies” represent harmful thoughts and feelings, while “chosen people” represent the parts in us that God can speak to and lead.
Third, do we have to ignore scientific research and people’s personal spiritual experiences if they seem to conflict with the Bible’s text?
Taking the Bible literally leads to a war between science and religion, and a rejection of personal experiences. But understanding the Bible as a sacred allegory unites God’s Word with God’s physical creation, and unites God’s written message with the deep, personal messages from God that come to people during visions and near-death experiences. The Bible even acknowledges this use of symbolism: “These things I have spoken to you in figurative language; but the time is coming when I will no longer speak to you in figurative language” (John 16:25).
Correspondences are the key
Correspondences are the key to understanding that figurative language, so that it becomes direct and helpful. Watch the full video to see how we can use the key of correspondences to avoid the literalist pitfalls and get the true message in the Bible that is trying to reach out to us.
You can continue your study with our News From Heaven episode The Bible Can Blind You If You Use It Wrong.
And for extras on this topic from the offTheLeftEye team listen to the related Inside offTheLeftEye podcast episode: Love in the Bible and Swedenborg’s Change in Spiritual State.