It may surprise you to hear that the Bible has a deeper meaning in the words it uses and the stories it tells. This deeper meaning does not predict the future by some mysterious code; it is about you as you are on the inside. Once you see this, the Bible becomes an extraordinary tool for personal discovery, something very different from the Bible you may have struggled with and given up on. Learning about this deeper and more spiritual meaning may reawaken your interest. If you have never been interested in God or religion, or feel turned off by them, you may appreciate a chance to look again in the light of this new way of seeing the Bible.
Here is a simple example for you. Many battles are mentioned in the Bible. We have battles inside us, conflicts between our selfishness and our desire to love other people. The Bible says that the people always won their battles when they obeyed God. ‘God’ means the highest truth we can know. When we choose to go with this truth instead of our ego, we will always win our battle. The strategies for success are there in the details of each Biblical battle plan.
People who study dreams tell us that everything in the dream is about something inside us. If you dream about your dog, it is not really your dog but something dog-like; devotion perhaps. The Bible works in the same way. Whenever it mentions a tree, it is talking about a noble idea that is growing in your mind, deeply rooted, reaching higher, branching, and bearing fruit. Little wonder that the Garden of Eden, the symbolic first “place”, had the Tree of Life at its centre. This is a graphic picture of the human mind, of consciousness, as it is meant to be.
Every single thing in the Bible has its own rich symbolic meaning, which helps us to understand our spiritual life. ‘Mountains’ stand for higher levels of awareness. ‘Wells of water’ describe our capacity to draw up or draw on true ideas from deep in our mind, to have access to truth that refreshes and cleanses us, as water does. Coins, those small bright shiny objects that are valuable and can be invested, stand for insights in our mind that can be put to good use, and earn interest because they have real worth.
‘Rocks’ mean true ideas laid down in our mind
Notice how the deeper meaning is always related to the qualities or use of the object. This is the link between physical and spiritual levels, between things ‘out-there’ and ‘in-here’. Once you see this, you can explore the symbolism yourself. Try this one: the Bible often mentions pearls, and finding the pearl of great price. Think of the many qualities of pearls, including how they are formed. Ask yourself, what is it within me that is like a pearl? How did it form? What gives it its value?
A good technique is to read a verse in the Bible and after every noun add the words “in me”. So for example you may have ‘the king-in-me’, ‘the rock-in-me’, ‘the poverty-in-me’, and yes, even ‘the God-in-me’. This method may seem strange at first but it will help you to see that, for example, there is something king-like in you, some ruling principle which guides your thinking: hopefully it is a good king and not a tyrant.
Going further and deeper
Looking at things one-by-one helps us to work deeply with the Bible, but we will get even more from looking in this way at a whole story. Let’s look at several Biblical stories to see how they describe situations inside us. Here is a simple example, one that perhaps revolutionises our usual understanding of the words said. Jesus said, “Follow Me, and I will make you fishers of men”. (Mark 1: 17). Our first idea here could be that Jesus is asking us to go and ‘catch’ people for God. But think about fishing: you bring a fish up to the surface from out of the depths. To go fishing is to bring something living and useful to the surface, into view, to help someone see their value and that what they have deep within them is wonderful and good. This is something inside them – inside us all – that can often stay unknown. What a different and deeper meaning to these words of Jesus! This is now a truth that unites all religions, not divides them.
Reconstruction of an ancient Egyptian wall painting from the tomb of Knum-hotep, administrator of the eastern desert. A ‘Asiatics’ (Semites) arrives in Egypt: note their un-Egyptian multi-deputation of coloured garments – a bit like the sons of Jacob, maybe.
‘Fish’ mean living ideas deep down in our mind
The Story of David and Goliath
This story of a boy and a giant describes how conversations often go on inside our mind. David is young, with no armour, and trustful of God (that highest truth), and ready to fight Goliath who is huge, well-armed, and so strong that the whole camp of Israel trembles. Every morning Goliath comes forward from the Philistine camp and taunts them. David gets ready to fight. He selects five pebbles from a stream. The stream is the flow of experiences in life; the five round stones are a handful of solid truths that have become part of you over the years, having been shaped and rounded by the life through which God has led you.
‘Rivers’ mean active ideas flowing in our mind
David and Goliath meet in a one-to-one confrontation in the valley, away from the two armies on the hills. Our struggles are no different: they pit a single truth against one demanding wish that insists we must have our own way. This is a battle fought in us daily. David slings only one stone, his first sure-fire truth, and Goliath falls. Whenever you act on what you know is true, you easily slay the seemingly invincible argument that urges us to be selfish.
The Story of Creation
God made the world in six days and rested on the seventh. This is the opening chapter of the whole Bible. It is an outline of our spiritual journey, by stages, from chaos to humanity, and acts as a preface for the whole Bible. Let’s look at what this means – Before we understand anything true, our mind is chaotic and without direction. God (that highest truth) commands there to be light. At this point, there is only light and dark, a first essential distinction for us. We now begin to see a focus, an alternative way, some options.
On the second day, God commands waters above and below to divide. In fact, separations happen on each of the first three days, before life begins. The two waters are our discovery that there are two levels to our life: a higher spiritual level of love and purpose, and a level of use and activity that serves the higher one.
‘Stars’ mean bright ideas sparkling in our mind
On the third day dry ground emerges. A solid base that we can depend on now forms in our mind. Our spiritual life can now begin to show itself in the very first plants, ideas growing in our mind that begin to take root. On the fourth day the light that was general is now identified as we look up and see the source of light, of truth. The sun in the sky is God, that highest truth which is the source of all life and activity. There is also the moon, which reflects sunlight at times of night in our mind when we cannot otherwise see, and need to be reminded. On the fifth and sixth days of creation living creatures appear: fish and birds in sea and skies, then animals that roam the earth. These symbolise the fact that we are created as free-spirits with independent thoughts and feelings that motivate and fill us. Now it can be said: Let us make human beings in our image and likeness. Being human means using our free-will and our rationality, knowing it comes from the highest source, from God who is truth. Each ‘day’ is a distinct stage in the process of becoming a spiritual person. This is a creation story of how we are re-created.
Water Turned Into Wine
Here is a third example of a deeper meaning to a Bible story. This is a story about Jesus in the world, a world “peopled” by many different needs and attitudes. The story is set at a wedding. We can immediately ask what this wedding is in us? What in us is to be joined together? Well, it is our sense of goodness to the truth that we know. Our wish to do good is to be married to our understanding of what love means.
The wedding feast runs out of wine. “Wine” stands for the truth when it invigorates us. But this can run dry. How can it be restored? Jesus commanded them to fill six empty water pots to the brim with water. When they draw it out it becomes wine. Here is the symbolism. Our commitment to life needs to be complete, up to the brim. When we have this total commitment and then help others (the drawing out), the ordinary water miraculously becomes wine.
‘Wine’ means pure ideas satisfying our mind
Not just any wine but the very best! It is the wine that everybody expects will be served before the inferior wine, not last of all when no one can tell the difference. Our idea of ‘best wine’ continually changes as we discover that each stage in life is better than the one before it. Each time it happens it seems like a miracle.
Some Final Thoughts
This outline aims to introduce a deeper more personal level of meaning to the Bible, a book that for many people is synonymous with religion, God, and holiness. We hope this deeper meaning now begins to shine through what is often confusing on the surface. Deeper meanings don’t replace the beauty and power of Bible stories, they infill and transform them. There is one more meaning for us to look at. The Bible often gives the disturbing idea of an angry God, full of revenge and destruction. For many people this is understandably a terrible idea and they may never read another word. Can God really be like that? No, God cannot be like that at all. His nature is all-loving. He is unable to harm anyone. The source of life seeks our eternal happiness. We are created to experience deep joy, peace and fulfilment. But whatever stands in the way of these blessings opposes them. Divine anger, or the zeal of all that is true, is never once directed towards people but rains down on each and all things that come between us and the goal for us. If we truly want it, any negative state in us will feel this wrath and be destroyed. Only then will we be able to experience the inner joy and peace for which we have been created.
This is the text of a leaflet produced in Australia by the Sydney New Church (Swedenborgian).