THE NATURAL BASIS
THINKING FROM CORRESPONDENCES
Correspondences reveal the spiritual sense of the Word only to those who are led by the Lord
39. Having now seen from a few examples how correspondences can help in the understanding of spiritual things, we turn our attention to the more general question of whether it is wise to assist thought in this way. We have the Word of the Lord, the commandments and our faith. Do we go astray if we look for more?
40. It is certainly possible to go astray, for we are warned in The True Christian Religion that no one can see the spiritual sense of the Word except from the Lord alone and that anyone who wishes to investigate it from his own intelligence by means of a few correspondences will probably violate it (TCR 208).
41. From the above, we might think it better to diminish our study of spiritual things. There are many people who live good lives without needing a great deal of intellectual justification. On the other hand, many good folk are misled because they lack true knowledge and their efforts (which are in themselves good) actually produce evil. This is true in practical affairs and even more true in the inner life of the soul where temptations and battles between right and wrong go on. Probably every person who receives good would be better if he could improve the quality and quantity of the truth according to which he lives. Correspondences, more or less remote, inevitably take part in such improvement.
42. The truth in a man's mind may seem far from the objects of the world around him. His life may be ruled by ideas of sincerity and unselfishness which seem so abstract as to have no connection with natural objects. However, the connection is really there and can easily be traced; from earliest infancy he has learned to deal with material objects, and much of his way of thinking has arisen as a result of such experience. Probably everyone who has learned not to steal has his first prohibition related to some particular object. Thus we read:
It is known that man is not born into any knowledge, nor into anything rational, but only into the faculty of receiving them; also that he afterwards learns and imbibes all things by degrees, and this especially by means of the sensuous things of hearing and sight, and as he learns and imbibes he becomes rational. That these things are effected by the way of the body, that is, by an external way, since they are effected by hearing and sight, is evident. (AC 2557:2)Thus we also read:
Apart from an idea drawn from things knowable and capable of being seized by the senses, a man cannot think with himself; and he then thinks correctly, even concerning the things which belong to faith and love, when he thinks of them from correspondences; for correspondences are natural verities in which, as in mirrors, spiritual verities are represented. Wherefore so far as the ideas of thought concerning spiritual things are formed independently of correspondences, so far they are formed either from the fallacies of the senses or from things incongruous. (AC 9300:3)This strong statement must, however, be viewed in the light of many other passages in the Writings which point to the need for an acceptance of truth primarily because it is from the Lord. In the story of the sterility of Abimelech's wife and household on account of Sarah, Abraham's wife, we learn from the following passage that when the doctrine of faith is viewed from Divine truths, that is, from the Word, then all things confirm it. But when viewed from human things, that is, from reason and knowledge, nothing of good and truth is conceived:
for to view it from the Word is to view it from the Lord, but to view it from reason and science [i.e., external knowledges] is to view it from man; all intelligence and wisdom are from the Word, and all insanity and foolishness are from reason and science… (AC 2584:3)Nevertheless it is quite clear that reason and external knowledge have a very important role to perform, and as long as they are in their proper place of subservience to higher faculties, insanity and foolishness are not allowed to develop from them.
43. There was a time in the Christian Church when great emphasis was placed on the abstruse nature of Divine mysteries; men were taught that they could not understand them and must accept them without trying to understand. This attitude of mind leads to blind, mechanical, superstitious, merely animal obedience, far from the Lord's "and the truth shall make you free." No idea at all can be of use to a man if he does not think about the Lord's truth. Moreover, there are many passages in the Writings making it clear that any one who has an affirmative attitude towards the Lord's teaching is allowed to confirm his faith by whatever ideas and knowledges appeal to him for that purpose, even quite external ones. So we return to our last quotation: "so far as the ideas of thought concerning spiritual things are formed independently of correspondences, so far they are formed either from the fallacies of the senses or from things incongruous." This means that it is not only allowable but necessary to think from correspondences.
44. Thinking from correspondences is easy because, owing to influences from the spiritual world, we all think from correspondences, to some degree, without knowing it, as when we say "see" for understand, or when we talk about the warmth of love. Clearly an expert knowledge is not necessary to enable anyone to think from correspondences.
45. Many people have an emotional response to a glorious sunset; they enjoy the colours and perhaps the peaceful evening and leave it at that. But there is something heavenly about a colourful sunset and even more so about a colourful dawn. You only have to remember that the Lord is the Sun of heaven, that the light corresponds to His Divine Wisdom and the warmth to His Divine Love. You might even remember that the flaming red colour corresponds to celestial love and that the changing colours of the setting sun fill you with joy because they show the delight when celestial love flows into spiritual love. There is no intellectual exercise here, and yet merely by allowing a few such ideas to flow into your mind you are thinking with the angels!
46. Perhaps, however, the sunset does not thrill you. Maybe you like flowers (even if you like sunsets as well). Then you will find greater joy in them when you think that their beauty represents the delights and blessedness of conjugial love.
47. Everyone who is healthy enjoys good food. People of some religions tend to feel a little guilty about it, as it can easily become a matter of self-indulgence. If you think from correspondences, however, you know that it is orderly to enjoy your food, that the Lord also provides food and drink for the soul in the form of good loves and truths, and that the two kinds of food correspond. We can eat wisely (and nothing destroys the enjoyment of good food more certainly than eating unwisely!) in order to have a sound body as a fitting and useful home for a sound spirit which can serve the Lord in this life and in the next as well.
48. It requires no effort at all when you see mountains to think of their tops being in the sky and so corresponding to the loves or delights which raise us towards heaven and nearer to the Lord. Perhaps this is the real reason why people climb mountains, and it suggests that correspondences are effective even in those people who are not conscious of them. When you see a beautiful tree and take delight in it, what you are really doing is enjoying the delight from the spiritual world which flows into the corresponding thought. In the words of the once-popular song, "Only God can make a tree"; and the much older song (Psalm 1) which says of the man, whose delight is in the law of the Lord, "he shall be like a tree planted by the rivers of water." This unconscious appreciation of correspondences probably explains the popularity of Psalm 23. There the correspondences are easily understood and accepted.
49. Like Psalm 23, many other parts of the Bible are very poetic (despite what some people may think of the language itself) but it is necessary to realize that it is not merely poetic. The imagery in poetry can be according to the genius of the poet, but the imagery in the Word of the Lord is according to correspondences and precise representations which consistently express the inner sense in outer ideas (See Nos. 1-5, 15, 52).
50. We conclude, then, that thinking from correspondences is for everyone, and is the only sound way to elevate our thought to spiritual things. We may think from correspondences either by means of familiar things of daily life or by special knowledges. Each approach has its use.
51. We have seen already that modern science forms a better basis for revelation than did the lesser knowledge of earlier times (Nos. 3, 4, 15). This is because the correspondence is between spiritual things and natural things as they actually are. Thus the correspondences from which we think must be based as far as possible on true and accurate natural knowledges. Providing our method of seeing spiritual things reflected in natural things is sound, the wider and truer our natural knowledge, the better will be our vision of spiritual things. If we can make proper use of the current tremendous growth in scientific knowledge, the Church will have a better understanding of spiritual matters than ever before; whereby also its love will be strengthened.
52. Since our theme is thinking from correspondences, it is important
to consider the meaning of the word "correspondence" and to understand
it as accurately as possible. In the Writings correspondences, representatives,
and significatives are most frequently mentioned and usually the meanings
appear almost the same. However, we occasionally need to distinguish between
them because, although they are usually the same as to essential meaning,
this is not always the case. If we imagine they are always the same we
may go astray. For example, an evil priest in the representative church
was able to represent the Lord although there was no correspondence. We
read, for example that "evil men equally with good men can represent and
have represented the Lord's Divine" (AC 3670), and "they who are in things
contrary to love and charity are not in correspondence" (AC 3484). The
general law is nicely summarized as follows: "The things which flow in
out of the spiritual world and are
53. Obviously our progress in thinking from correspondences will be limited by our own knowledge and intelligence. Our knowledge can never approach the Divine Wisdom, and our intelligence is feeble and blind compared with the Divine Providence which has been used in the design of all things. It may well be that there is no particular so small or simple that it fails to embody all the Divine Wisdom. Thus, whatever subject we select for thought, we inevitably reach the limit of both our knowledge and our understanding. Until we realize its inevitability, this limit is depressing and tends to undermine our faith. It should do just the opposite! We should delight in the heavenly vistas extending beyond our sight and beyond our imagination. They confirm all we have been taught about the infinity of the Lord, and we should feel secure in the knowledge that such an infinite Creator is our Heavenly Father and our constant and closest companion. We undertake our exploration then with these limits constantly in mind; we rejoice at whatever is revealed and are in no way downcast at the things which remain hidden.