How do we perceive reality?

On that day the Lord with his cruel and great and strong sword will punish Leviathan the fleeing serpent, Leviathan the twisting serpent, and he will kill the dragon that is in the sea.  

-Isaiah 27:1

Dear members and friends,

The mysteriousness of serpents was noticed by many ancient people. Most myths and legends throughout the world have at least one old story about serpents or their upgraded version, the dragon. The Bible also mentions a mythic serpent called Leviathan, which is also described as the dragon in the sea. The word leviathan is from the Hebrew word livyatan, whose root means “to turn, twist, wind, or coil.” Many scholars agree that the motif of the mythical god who battles the sea serpent originated from ancient Mesopotamian. According to Babylonian myth, Marduk (the Babylonian king of gods) slayed Tiamat, who was a multi-headed sea dragon. In the story, Tiamat is believed to be the personification of “saltwater,” which was probably perceived by the ancient Babylonians as a mighty power of nature that overwhelmed them frequently. Thus, we could understand that the ancient people personified what threatened their lives the most, then created a narrative of their own god defeating the personified monster for them. 

Emanuel Swedenborg does not take on the mythological trait of the serpent or dragon in his symbolic biblical exegesis. Instead, Swedenborg uses correspondences to explain the meaning of the serpent. According to Swedenborg, the serpent in the story of the garden of Eden symbolizes human sensuality, which caused the fall of the first human beings. This sensuality could be understood as the reality that we create through our experiential physical senses: sight, smell, touch, taste, and sound. For us, it is natural to believe in such reality because we are born into such a condition. But according to Swedenborg, the first humans were endowed with the ability of perceiving and experiencing spiritual reality as well as physical reality. Thus, when they were twisted by the perception of their senses to believe that physical reality was the only reality, they lost their innate ability to perceive and experience spiritual reality. This is the meaning of the fall according to Swedenborg, and why the serpent became the archenemy of humanity ever since. 

My brothers and sisters in God, it is true to us that the reality we experience through our physical senses is more vivid and experiential than our spiritual reality. But let us never forget that the message of Jesus Christ was always about “being born from above.”  

Blessings, Rev. Junchol Lee