Personal Revelation: A guide to a personal interpretation of the Book of Revelation by Michael Stanley published by The Swedenborg Open Learning Centre, Manchester
Exposure of our individual shadows
Traditionally the last book of the Bible has been understood to be a symbolic prophecy of momentous events to come at the end of the world. This Christian scripture has probably been more mishandled by religious cranks than any other part of the Bible: for example it has been used to foretell the future according to distorted views of evil projected on to others.
A central message of the Personal Revelation however is that it is a mistake to identify oneself with good and identify others with evil without recognising our own shortcomings. David Lorimer points out that we see this kind of distorted perception in the attitude found in the West to the ‘axis of evil’ and also of Muslim fundamentalists to the United States; neither recognising what Carl Gustav Jung refers to as the shadowy side of oneself.
In the past there was a general awareness of the care and concern of many Christians and even at times their courage and saintliness as they attempted to shine new light in dark places. However, these days we are more aware of the inadequacy, disunity and ineffectiveness of the Christian church, not to mention its failures and crimes as these have been more and more disclosed.
Michael Stanley’s book makes the case that there is likewise a hidden truth about each of us including a dark side which is uncomfortable to accept. His thesis is that unless we gradually develop spiritually during life on earth, we will after our death each be obliged to face our own individual scary and disturbing apocalyptic process. This is apparently needed to separate what is good, from what is bad, deep down within the character we have formed for ourselves; this for the sake of our personal transformation.
Social context of the Book of Revelation
The Book of Revelation was written at a time when the Roman Empire was helped to hold together by the political expedient of enforcing the worship of the Emperor upon all subject peoples. Christians could avoid taking part in pagan ceremonies at the risk of social ostracism but they could only escape paying divine honours to the Emperor at the risk of death. If myth serves to provide an explanation of the functioning of the universe, then in times of such persecution, only a cataclysmic end to the then world order would have seemed to be a solution to the social evils of the day.
No wonder then that the language of the Apocalypse is bizarre and sometimes grotesque containing prophecies, as it does, concerning the impending end of the world and the creation of a new heaven and a new earth, thus offering comfort and hope to those who were suffering from bitter persecution and martyrdom.
Personal or historical revelation
Should we therefore view the biblical account as a psycho-spiritual textbook to provide individual guidance (as is claimed in Personal Revelation) instead of a fantasy to meet the emotional needs of the time it was written? Since the writings of the Christian existentialists there has been a fear amongst many religious people that Christian doctrine can be psychologized away as having no cosmic validity. Are we no longer to see the Apocalypse as a world changing event?
There are some on the unorthodox fringes of Christianity who believe that there is a specific date in the future when Christ will come again, establish the kingdom of heaven and the dead will be raised. They seem to have the fantasy that everything will be just fine for them whatever their personal way of living and character has been.
It has been pointed out that, in the visions of the spiritual philosopher Emanuel Swedenborg, there is evidence of a historical social meaning in God’s Word, in addition to a timeless individual one. Both having a spiritual message. The former describes the violent and frightening images seen in the book of Revelation, in terms of events that Swedenborg said took place in the 18th century in what he terms “the spiritual world.” In other words the end of the world has already taken place – the world being not the physical world of our material universe but rather the inner spiritual world of a historical period. According to this Swedenborgian perspective, what was seen and heard, in the after life of spirit, represented in vivid imagery, what was going on within the souls of the spirit people there. A general judgement of their inner state was apparently needed to disclose the hypocritical nature of many Christians of that time. Aspects of their character and what they underwent were mirrored in apocalyptic imagery.
In addition, Michael Stanley maintains that, to really appreciate the true value of the book of Revelation, from a fully Swedenborgian angle, it is necessary to consider this interpretation, of an internal historical sense, as a stepping stone, from which in a personal and individual way, one can approach an understanding of its individual significance whatever time in history one lives.
How credible is Personal Revelation?
Much biblical language in the Apocalypse such as the Dragon and Armageddon seems to be concerned with destruction and therefore many people view hell as a total and permanent annihilation due to the wrath of God towards human beings as a whole including the innocent. On the face of it, this biblical language seems to fit in with the understanding of those people, like Carl Gustav Jung, whose concept of God is broad enough to encompass evil. Personal Revelation however contains much material to refute what Michael Stanley would regard as these total misconceptions.
For him, God’s judgement amounts to individual self-evaluation and personal choice. Personal Revelation maintains that there is a searchlight of truth that illuminates the inner attitudes of a person. It uncovers the hidden destructive motivation of the ego which, although partly unconscious, have been active in the mixed motives of the inner spiritual life. As it does so it stirs up some feelings of inner disturbance or turmoil however ill-defined which are reflected in the imagery of the biblical text.
What the disclosure of one’s dark side is said to accomplish, is a separation of what is good and bad within the individual, so that people are obliged to make a personal choice. Thus according to this thesis, choosing to favour their dark side would mean their separation from those who opt for a heavenly way of living.
I admire this book. I feel it really shows how a religious understanding can encourage us to be transformed by inviting the light of God into our lives and acting on it. It encourages us not to wait until an otherwise unavoidable day when we would have to judge ourselves in the stark light of reality on our personal day of judgement.
Personal Revelation is available from the Swedenborg Open Learning Centre, 25 Radcliffe New Road, Radcliffe, Manchester, M26 1LE telephone 0161 766 2521
Copyright 2013 Stephen Russell-Lacy
Author of Heart, Head & Hands Swedenborg’s perspective on emotional problems