The World of Appearances
by Rev. Lorentz R. Soneson
The world of nature is a world of effects; the spiritual world is a world of causes. The appearance is that all that stands before the five senses of man is the real, the substantial, and the genuine. But the truth is that everything in nature exists because of a prior and more substantial world, the spiritual world.
The Writings explain that our physical surroundings are the result of a long chain of causes and effects, each a step downward; each more gross and more inert. The material world is the outer shell, the substance upon which other forces act; but it is totally incapable of acting on its own. There is no life per se in the material universe - it is dead. It may give evidence of life within it, but in itself it is lifeless.
Not one muscle of the body can move unless thought directs it to move. It is a slave to the commands of the mind. Even unconscious movements, as the beating of the heart and the respiration of the lungs, are the result of impulses originating from a higher degree. When the influx of life ceases, and when the brain no longer receives the orders for movement from the mind, the body is motionless.
Nevertheless, all life appears to originate and reside within the physical universe. The flower and the tree appear to have their own vitality. The whole of the animal kingdom gives every indication of possessing a unique spark of life within each separate creation. There is no evidence that our bodies receive life from a source outside of themselves. Life appears around us; this is undeniable. But the origin of life remains hidden. It is a mystery.
Man alone can debate this subject of life. The fish of the sea and the fowl of the air cannot even raise the question to themselves, for they cannot abstract and reflect. The human mind is unique in its ability to sense the appearance of self-life, yet question its source. The faculty to reason permits man to reach beyond the limitations of appearances and conclude that life actually inflows from another source.
Men of religion grant that life is a gift from a higher cause. This truth evidences itself most strongly when a new life comes into being at a birth; and again when life threatens to leave the natural body. Prayers of a new mother are of gratitude and thanksgiving for the gift of life to her offspring. Those on their death bed offer their prayers to their Maker, the giver of all life.
Another illustration serves to make the point. Man can be impressed by the workings of a machine, yet not be deluded into thinking that it holds beauty, order and power apart from its designer. It has independent function, but only what was built into it. It has movement and energy, but only to the extent that man feeds into it. It has purpose, within the limitations of its creator.
The scientific observer discovers, too, that anything living requires fuel and sustenance. But the fuel or food is not the, life of the living organism. He recognizes that there are hidden but undeniable forces constantly at work gathering together materials from the physical world, causing seeds to grow into full grown plants and animals, which in turn produce more seeds. But the life-giving influx remains unseen; it is in every part, while not a part of anything in the material universe.
The truth is that spiritual causes and spiritual ends do not appear before the five senses. All that the five senses can supply us with is knowledge of effects. But effects, viewed apart from their causes and their ultimate purposes and functions, are deceiving. Such is the plight of man on this earth. His external eyes, ears and other sensories can view the physical world of effects; but only his understanding, when prepared to do so, can view causes and ends. If he chooses to draw conclusions from his five senses alone, his scope of understanding is narrow and shallow. If his understanding is opened to see both cause and effect, he can view purpose, which is to glimpse something of God Himself.
This is the meaning of the words of the Writings: "Thought from the eye closes the understanding, but thought from the understanding opens the eye." (DLW 46)
The history of mankind reflects the struggle between the appearances of effects and a true understanding of causes. The rotation and shape of the world, the tides, the stars in the heavens are all examples of this deceiving world of appearances. The appearance is so contrary to the facts that it veils men's thoughts and conclusions. The earth looks flat; the sun seems to revolve around the earth; stars appear to be in motion. History shows how a few men, courageous, thoughtful, persistent, and curious, were able to see beyond natural evidence. They discovered the world of natural causes, the true realities in nature.
We know, too, that much that still baffles men's minds today will not be resolved until there come those who will seek causes, above the appearances, to find their answers.
But deceiving appearances are not limited to the world of science. Every human being since the fall of man has been born into a tendency to misuse his faculty of reasoning so as to interpret falsely the sensations pouring into the brain. The eyes and the ears report faithfully what falls upon them from the material universe. The deception begins with the natural mind that misinterprets what is reported. The serpent of the Garden of Eden, representing the most external and sensual level of the mind, is as beguiling today as it was to those of the Adamic Church. The curse of our fallen race is the persuasive power of the sensuous mind. It cunningly misconstrues sensations into conclusions both false and disorderly.
Happiness, the ultimate goal of all, automatically appears to be found in power and in possessions. Everyone, from childhood on, concludes that "getting," not "giving," can alone satisfy the longings of the heart. The appearance is that reputation, honor, and gain are the only worthwhile goals. No man is immune to these erroneous conclusions of the natural man.
Revelation from God was given to overcome these appearances. It appeals to the understanding, not the sensuous natural will. The teaching about a spiritual world, where men live to eternity, is contrary to the senses. There is no evidence in the sensual world per se to confirm this profound teaching of the Word. The Word of the Lord tells of a far greater happiness for those who serve others, rather than self. But what could be further from the appearance? Revelation explains that man is basically inclined to evils of every kind, that the Lord alone is good. Yet, man is convinced that whatever he thinks is true, and that whatever he does is good.
Something of the veil of appearances is penetrated as one grows older. Youth considers power as synonymous with physical strength. Beauty to a young maiden is confined to the appearance of her body. Yet as they grow older, they are more able to dispel this notion. The older and wiser come to see that power resides in truth; and true beauty is wherever there is true order. These forms of truth and beauty are ageless.
This penetration of the world of appearances is further illustrated by those who come to see the true meaning of marriage between one man and one woman. The initial appearance of marriage to some young people is that it is a coupling together of physical strength and protection from the man, with the physical beauty of the woman. Because of the borrowed state associated with new love in the beginning stages of marriage, they feel they have captured for themselves the secret of happiness. In one sense, they have. Their borrowed state has led them to give to each other without reserve and without reward. This is truly the secret of happiness, though it must be achieved through the process of reformation and regeneration. But when the bloom of first love begins to recede, they are led to recapture their love by means of physical aids. Those who persist in regaining their love for each other, are led to see that selfishness and worldliness must be set aside. They come to see the innate need they have for each other. The masculine mind cannot receive the sphere of conjugial love from heaven, except through the wife. The feminine mind is the only doorway through which this divine gift can enter into his life. And the wife eventually recognizes that she needs to gain her goals of strength, her power and protection through her husband, not as physical entities, but as truth from the Lord, coming through the masculine mind. These are their mutual needs, for so they were created.
However, if the woman succumbs to the world of appearances, and seeks only material security and physical goals, then she will shut off that influx of conjugial love that the husband so desperately needs. She will starve him of food he needs for healthy spiritual growth. He must receive an influx of heavenly affection, mercy and tolerance, in a word, love, that tempers his judgment and rationality.
By the same token, if a man limits his search for truth to his own (corrupted) rational reasoning power, he starves his wife of her needs. When a man does not reach beyond his own intelligence to a source of truth outside of himself, he is depriving his wife of her food from heaven. He must go beyond a search for knowledge and intelligence, to a love of becoming wise, and finally, to a love of wisdom itself. His wife must receive a constant flow of truth through the masculine mind to guide her in her daily life. But when each partner performs his task properly, they feed and strengthen each other, as well as conjoin themselves into a single angel.
The world of appearances we live in, however, hampers this ideal joining of two minds and souls into one. So overpowering is the deceiving world of effects that many are thwarted in achieving this worthy end. Many men feel they can supply the needs of their wives without turning to the Word, the source of all truth. This creates confusion, friction and disappointment on the part of the hungry wife. Her cry for solid spiritual food is often misunderstood by the husband as dissatisfaction and
a loss of her love. But only Revelation can provide what she needs, and he need only go to the Word, search out the truths, live them himself, and offer them to her.
The appearance to the wife, when she senses the hunger in her husband, is that he seemingly demands more physical affection and personal admiration. What his soul cries out for is that heavenly sphere of conjugial love that will permeate and modify his role in the marriage. The chaste wife who heeds the Commandments can see through the confusing appearances of his requests and offer him her perception, her mercy, and her singular love that descends from the highest heaven.
The doctrines of our church, describing the composition of the masculine and feminine minds, are the only true answer to happiness in marriage. They reveal how the external degree of the mind is perverted. The will, and thence the thoughts therefrom, cannot be restored to genuine order, but only sublimated and brought into subservience to a new and higher will. This new will, the gift of a merciful Creator, can be received by anyone who will prepare himself to receive it. This preparation, we are told, is by means of acquiring a knowledge of doctrine into the understanding; by study and by obedience. The understanding can be raised above the relentless clutches of the external man, for moments of illumination. It is during these moments that the veil of appearances is withdrawn, and man can view both the natural world and the world of the spirit with clear vision.
By man's determined effort, the Lord can slowly replace the world's false appearances in the understanding, with the genuine truth of His creation. Continuous combat against evils in oneself removes the falsities. The five senses of the regenerating man report the happenings outside of the body, just as before, but now the mind is capable of seeing true order, rather than disorder, within them. It is as if he is now perceiving through new senses, new eyes, and new ears. And, indeed, he is. For a whole other person, which had remained dormant, begins to come alive. This other person is called the internal man.
The world that appears before the internal awakens, is a most deceiving one. This world of nature sheds only the light of the natural world into the mind. The man who dwells in this world alone, although he believes he sees clearly in its light, actually lives in a world of darkness and changing fantasies. It appears to its inhabitants as real, substantial, and genuine, but it is not! The real and substantial world is the world of causes, the spiritual world. This world can only be seen in the light of heaven.
This world of heavenly light and heat awaits all who persist in their effort to see spiritual truth. Let it be the desire uppermost in our hearts to awaken this internal man. Such will surely come to pass if we but approach the Lord, love the truths of the church, and do its goods.
-New Church Life 1978;98:424-428