The well-known phrase above uses a truth in nature to convey a psychological lesson. A bad apple not only spreads bacteria and fungus to the rest of the batch, but a rotten person can send a lot of good people astray and towards ruin.
The human mind has this instinctive talent to use physical or natural scenarios to offer insights into an assortment of human predicaments. The phrase “a chain is no stronger than its weakest link” also contains this physical/psychological parallelism. This parallelism between two distinct realities is also called “metaphor.”
A moviemaker makes use of the power of metaphor when portraying an evil character moving around in the dark shadows. In this case, the physical surroundings are used to magnify the character’s inner quality and heart. This allows the audience to gain dramatic insights about the invisible motives of such a character.
The best definition of a metaphor is using visible things to help describe invisible things. I find it quite intriguing that nature accommodates herself to offer deep insights into the human psyche.
Scientists dismiss metaphor as a sloppy tool for finding truth, but when the going gets tough, even they will resort to using metaphor to help others form a clearer picture of their theories.
But is metaphor the result of happy coincidences or does it have more to do with the actual structure of reality? According to scientist/theologian Emanuel Swedenborg, metaphor, allegory and analog are a language containing both symbolism and science. He called this language the science of correspondences.
His scientific explorations led him to discover that the physical universe is a mirror image and analog of mental processes. He didn’t stop there, either. The world of nature also portrays profound spiritual lessons—if one knows how to interpret them.
For instance, what is the difference between the phrase, “a rotten apple spoils the barrel” and the biblical verse “Jacob took stones for pillows”? Obviously they describe different physical scenarios, but according to Swedenborg’s worldview they make use of the same symbolic language.
Let’s briefly touch on the parallelism represented in Genesis 28:10,11. Stones represent various forms of knowledge, which make up the principles we stand for. These principles form the ground and support for our spiritual life just as rocks and stones of the mineral kingdom support and provide a foundation for physical life. Using stones for pillows makes absolutely no sense unless we look to metaphor. The knowledge and ideas of one’s worldview and faith (spiritual stones) are that which provide the mind with the most comfort and rest. The metaphor works!
If Swedenborg is correct, then Bible interpretation and its derivative theologies have only scratched the surface of God’s revealed wisdom! Swedenborg further claimed that this sacred symbolic language was one of the strategies by which the Lord would make all things “anew.” This knowledge can completely change how we view the world and the narratives of the Holy word!