A Voice out of the Cloud

by Rev. Galen Unruh
retired Swedenborgian minister
In the October, 1994 Issue of Our Daily Bread

A while ago, another and myself pondered on the sad state of affairs in our world. It seemed that no matter where we looked in the world, there was nothing but failure. Pride, greed, jealousy, materialism, escalating corruption in government - the whole picture of demoralizing human conduct.

My friend could see nothing but an end to another of earth's "civilizations." And history does indicate that mankind has rise to peaks of great accomplishment, only to fall again into unremembered oblivion. We talked about the possible solutions to humankind's problems. And he said, "I don't think there is any solution."

"Things have gone too far," he said. It was then that I proposed this consolation: "Man lives in time, but God thinks in terms of eternity. I am still glad there are those who keep on acting and working as though it were possible to solve the problem. Else heaven itself would fall and hell would rule eternally."

There are those who say that our society should utilize capital punishment more frequently. I suppose the hope is that we would eliminate the evildoers in this manner. Such a notion, however, excludes the relationship of heaven and hell, and of both with this very world we call the physical, material world. We do not remove a murderer from our world by putting him to death. We merely move him from the visible to the invisible. And there, if he is really as evil as it is made to seem that he is, he will find associates, some of whom may be much more ingenious than he is, and together they may use their influence upon our world unrelentingly.

No, our very real need is to know how to build a psychic shield against evil, and to be able to use it effectively. Otherwise, what purity and innocence is still left here will be destroyed. Last Sunday we pondered on one aspect of the revelation we have been given - that of the world of symbolism and some of the its meaning for our lives. In the writings of the church we are told that the evil ones in the spiritual world seem to themselves to be humans. Yet, in the eyes of the angels they do not look like people at all. They are represented as animals and fowl of various kinds, their ugliness and fierceness dependent upon the nature of their evil. Only in heaven do people appear as upright men and women. You see, to be human means that we are the receivers of the Lord's Divine truth and His Divine love. This is what makes us human. And that is, in reality, the Lord's own Divine Humanity. Anything other is upside down, inverted, opposite to the laws of Divine Order - thus it is that the evil ones are seen from heaven as though they have their feet touching the lower extremities of heaven, with their heads immersed in the deep pits of a filthy hell. Insofar as they are removed from heaven they are not human. Whatever is human about us is all entirely from the Lord - no other.

The symbols we speak of, or the knowledge and use of the laws of correspondence, are far more powerful than we can possibly imagine. Just think for a moment what the Lord said: "Drink ye all of it; for this is my blood of the new covenant." And again, "This is my body which is given for you. This do in remembrance of me." These are the symbols of Divine truth and goodness. When we drink the wine and eat the bread we are thinking and feeling the very power of God to save mankind, which He can and does.

But when those who worship evil do this, they do it in complete denial of the truth and love of God. They pervert, falsify, and destroy the concept and practice of the marriage of good and truth in human life. They turn the laws of divine order upside down, and practice their art of persuasion in devious ways, in an attempt to keep mankind from recognizing the One who created us.

We are told that whether we recognize God or not in our lives is dependent on our recognition of this holiest of all marriages in the Lord - the marriage of good and truth, which He Himself is, in essence. Whatever we are thinking at any given moment of our very lives is either of truth or falsity. Whatever actions we pursue are either of evil or good origin. We sometimes speak of what Swedenborg refers to as "our ruling love." What is it that we desire most in this life? Where do our affections lead us, in thought, word and deed? What is it that makes up the character of an individual? It is not some lazy notion. Character is nothing more nor less than our response to the predominant ideas we are carrying around in our minds. What are we thinking of most of the time? Is it of ourselves, the world - or is it of relationships, in terms of being a good neighbor, of doing whatever it is we are doing for the glory of God and in His service?

Yes, what is that predominant idea to which we hold? The very thought of truth and goodness, of the closeness of God, begins to build the psychic shield which protects us from the power of the evil ones. "Thou art my shield and buckler." Symbols again. From out of the Word of God. Powerful correspondences. They put predominant ideas into our minds with which we stem the tide of evil.

Perhaps we in our world of science and technology are too prone to thinking we can solve all the deep mysteries of God. It may tend to remove us from the awe, the wonder, the holiness, we need in our approach to the Lord. Perhaps we need that kind of direct confrontation with God which Isaiah had. His vision so deeply affected him taht he saw the whole earth filled with glory. He saw the door posts of the temple move: he saw the place filled with smoke. Suddenly he was overcome with his own impurity, his uncleanness. He tells how he was purged with a live coal from the altar. A live coal. The fire, the love of God, purifying a man from his evils. God, making ready his agent to go forth and speak the Word.

When the Lord took Peter, James and John up on the mountaintop, it was because He knew they were now ready to behold a bit more of the glory of God. It was so glorious that they didn't want to come back down. They wanted to stay a while longer and build monuments up there in memory of what happened. They were so overwhelmed by the power and majesty of the Lord that they were afraid, just as was Isaiah. But the Lord told them not to be afraid. He wanted them to know His real Humanity. A voice spoke, and they heard it coming form a bright cloud.

A voice out of a bright cloud. The Word of the Lord. Perhaps the Lord's Word to many people seems more like a dark cloud. For some that cloud is off in the distance somewhere. But when a Voice speaks, from out of a shining cloud, then someone has seen something, heard something out of the Word in the clear lights of heavenly understanding. One just has to believe that it is possible to become a new person. A person acknowledging his own sinfulness, yet allowing the great God of the universe to come into one's life with power and glory - moving the doorposts of the temple of the mind and heart, causing enough change that a smoke arises from the fire of a holy love for life. 

It is written that no man can see God in His entirety and live. But Isaiah did not experience anything like physical death. Rather he became a new person. the old man had died, and by the power and grace, Isaiah became a new creation, a twice-born man. God showed Himself to be not only holy and transcendent, but also gracious and forgiving, the giver of new life.

God's call is recognized and answered not by those who consider themselves worthy of and ready for such a call, but by those who know themselves to be unworthy and unready but nevertheless called; not by those who rely on their own moral strength and moral superiority but by those who know their own weakness and sin and also the grace and forgiveness of a holy and loving God. There is something decidedly differently in our relationship with God, after we have been exposed to higher levels of understanding and experience. Such people know themselves to be only agents and channels of the work God would accomplish through them. They know they are still unclean, sinful people; they confess themselves to be limited, self-centered, and qualitatively different from the transcendent holiness of Deity by which they have been confronted and grasped.

Yet they are also different; different just because they had experienced the Lord in a different manner. They know now that side of life which God intended for them to know. God challenges them to be what they were created to be, and they know that God will sustain them to do what He has called them to do. When and if we hear this kind of call, we enter a life that makes more demands than we can possibly fulfill. But when God calls, we are assured that He will sustain us, empower us, to do the task He has called us to do. Some may be empowered to interpret the signs of our times to God's people, if that is what is needed. Others may be empowered to see much less. The important thing, however, is to know the God who calls, and to know Him both as transcendent God and incarnate Lord. To know that He is the source of our own humanness, for He is Humanity itself.

We can, then, respond with ultimate confidence that the One who calls can and will work through us to accomplish His loving purposes. For the One who is holy and whose ways are not our ways is also the One who rules in His infinite love and wisdom. And against Him the gates of hell shall not prevail.


Six days later, Jesus took with him Peter and James and his brother John and led them up a high mountain, by themselves. And He was transfigured before them, and His face shone like the sun, and His clothes became dazzling white. Suddenly there appeared to them Moses and Elijah, talking with him. Then Peter said to Jesus, "Lord, it is good for us to be here; if you wish, I will make three dwellings here, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah." While he was still speaking, suddenly a bright cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud a voice said, "This is my Son, the Beloved; with Him I am well pleased; listen to Him!" When the disciples heard this, they fell to the ground and were overcome by fear. But Jesus came and touched them, saying, "Get up and do not be afraid." And when they looked up, they saw no one except Jesus Himself alone.

As they were coming down the mountain, Jesus ordered them, "Tell no one about the vision until after the Son of Man has been raised from the dead." And the disciples asked Him, "Why, then, do the scribes say that Elijah must come first?" He replied, "Elijah is indeed coming and well restore all things; but I tell you that Elijah has already come, and they did not recognize him, but they did to him whatever they pleased. So also the Son of Man is about to suffer at their hands." Then the disciples understand that he was speaking to them about John the Baptist.

Matthew 17:1-13

Reading from Swedenborg:

In the Word throughout it is said that Jehovah appeared "in a cloud," and that He was "girded with a cloud," also that "beneath His feet was a cloud"; in which passages by "cloud" is meant obscurity of truth, specifically, the literal sense of the Word, for relatively to the internal sense this sense is obscurity of truth. This was signified by the "cloud" when the Lord was seen by Peter, James, and John in glory; when from Mountain Sinai by the people; and when by Moses upon his entering to Him here; and also by the circumstance that the Lord so often said that He "would come in the clouds of heaven." The literal sense of the Word is called a "cloud," because the internal sense of the Word is called a "cloud," because the internal sense, which is called "glory," cannot be comprehended by a person, except one who is regenerated, and is also enlightened. If the internal sense of the word, or truth Divine in its glory, were to appear before a person who is not regenerated, it would be like thick darkness, in which he would see nothing at all, and by which he would also be blinded, that is, would believe nothing. From all this it can be seen what is signified by a "cloud by day," namely, obscurity of truth; and when the Word is treated of, the literal sense.

Arcana Coelestia (Heavenly Secrets) #8106





Music: How I Love You
1999 Bruce DeBoer