The stories in the Word are the owner’s manual for life. In this owner’s manual you find “quick reference” principles that define basic operation. By this I mean fundamental, clear and accessible teachings about right and wrong as found in the Ten Commandments, the Sermon on the Mount, and many of the Lord’s words and actions. This basic instruction about how to live is sufficient to get anyone on a healthy spiritual path.
Then there is the more detailed instruction. The descriptions for the finer points of spiritual life, the in-depth “how to” type of instruction that gives information about what happens when troubles come up.
Finally there is contextual teaching about the Lord, the spiritual world, and how we are influenced by the spiritual world. In the New Church, we view the Old and New Testaments as containing all this information. Some of it is clearly taught, and some needs a bit of decoding as it lies beneath the different narratives in the Word.
The system for seeing the far-reaching and life-altering truths that are concealed in these stories is spoken of in the Writings. For example, books of Secrets of Heaven systematically go through many of the stories of the Old and New Testaments showing the truth concealed within apparently conflicting stories. Books like the Doctrine of the Sacred Scripture show how impossible stories, like the creation of the universe in exactly seven days, work to portray deeper realities of the gradual growth of a person’s spirituality and relationship with the Lord.
The stories themselves are important. They serve a a rich – sometimes beautiful, sometimes harsh – foundation of imagery that speaks to the varying emotional states of our life. They comfort us when we are grieving, give us courage when we are weak, or help us find peace when disturbed. They give us direction when we need to get out of a spiritual rut.
Knowing the deeper level of the stories gives them context in the Lord’s plan. In these three levels of revelation – the Old Testament, the New Testament, and the Writings – we see the Lord’s presentation of how life works, in detail and the big picture. It is extremely comforting because we can begin to see how the Lord loves us, how He is continually leading us, even when the circumstances of life are difficult.
In the final pages of the book True Christianity we read that “it is now permitted to enter with understanding into the mysteries of faith” (508). A fundamental element of the New Church is the system described in its doctrines that gives an individual the ability to read the stories in the Old and New Testaments and see what the stories mean on this deeper, spiritual level. The system for understanding the spiritual meaning of the Word is twofold. First, one ought to seek to know the Lord with a willingness to love Him by living according to His teachings in the Word (Doctrine of the Sacred Scripture 57). This opens one’s eyes to see the Word’s deeper meaning. The process is described in John: “He who has My commandments and keeps them, it is he who loves Me. And he who loves Me will be loved by My Father, and I will manifest Myself to him” (John 14:21). A second step is to look for the plain statements about who the Lord is and what He directs us to do with our lives. We can use these concepts to shed light on the other apparently more murky stories. The system takes both practice and prayer.
When one cultivates a regular habit of devotional reading of the Word, with prayer to the Lord for the spiritual light one needs to understand the stories, it is amazing to see the wisdom that the Lord offers. Not only does one find practical advice for living, but one also finds peace and trust that the Lord is nearby.