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Isn’t it reasonable to want a heaven on earth? A heaven on earth sounds great—living in perfection and happiness, without any suffering and tragedy. Why wouldn’t we want that? In this episode of Swedenborg and Life, host Curtis Childs and special guests lead us through an examination of heaven, looking at the specifics that would be needed to create a heaven on earth, as well as examining the pitfalls of human assumptions about heavenly life. This discussion leads us to an exceptional realization about the nature of heaven and the happiness within.
Couldn’t Hurt to Try
Throughout history, people have tried to create small pieces of heaven on earth, usually coming in the form of “utopias.” Featured guest Dr. Dan Synnestvedt begins his portion of the video by examining some of the ideas of the famous philosopher Plato. Plato wrote his Republic looking to eliminate the problems he saw throughout society, ranging from a deep lust for power to civil war to problems with political family favoritism. By creating a system that allows people to specialize, he saw an opportunity to educate selected individuals—creating the educated group of guardians who would run the society in an intelligent and wise way. However, this “ideal” system had problems of its own, ranging from eugenics, inequality, and deception to censorship and issues with power. Plato’s system provides a good example of the problems that any “ideal” system comes across: no system is perfect or without issues. Throughout history, we see this again and again. People in power enforce regulations and boundaries; and the people revolt and rebel, either secretly or in the open. These are all ways of trying to control the masses by changing the exteriors of life and controlling the external environment.
Curtis looks at this situation from the Swedenborgian perspective, focusing on the difference between our physical and spiritual realities. Swedenborg notes that the physical and spiritual realities are distinct from each other—you cannot travel far enough in a physical way to reach the spiritual world. They exist on different planes. In the physical world, as stated in True Christianity §793, we can act differently from how we feel on the inside. However, in the spiritual world, actions are aligned with the love we have inside. According to Swedenborg, the goal of the physical world for each individual is to line up action with love—this way, we put their deepest loves into action and act according to how we want to be on a deep, spiritual level. “After death, we all lead the same kind of life we led in the world . . . with the sole difference that now things hidden in their hearts are uncovered” (Last Judgment §56). This means that change must come from inside, and not be brought on by external environments.
Curtis goes on to show viewers a summary of Swedenborg’s idea of compulsion—that all real change must come from freedom instead of from external pressure. The only real change must come from the inside of each of us. Swedenborg writes that we should compel ourselves from a place of wanting to be better, pushing ourselves to grow and change into what we love and want to be. This is a desire to upgrade our own lives, to be better and “force our outer thought processes to consent, or to accept the pleasures of our inner desires” (Divine Providence §145). Curtis notes that people must first have their basic needs met in order to grow and change internally. We all must have access to food and clothes; and from there, we can decide to change internally.
We all have a tendency to wish that life could be better, easier, more fun, and happier; and this tendency leads toward an idea or vision of heaven. Normally, heaven resides in our solution to trouble and problems. People get ideas of heaven from the Bible and from everyday life, creating dreams and hopes of bright, happy futures. Swedenborg describes the process in which people learn about the true nature of heaven—especially when they find that the dream they had in their head falls short of anything heavenly in reality.
The next segment of the show takes viewers on a journey through one of Swedenborg’s stories of heaven. In this story, told from Conjugial Love, we read about six preconceived notions that people had of life in heaven and their experiences with both their already formed ideas of heaven and the actual heaven that Swedenborg describes. Dr. Jonathan Rose, who translated this story into English, talks about these six groups of people. Curtis points out that each of these groups has a very specific goal: to free each person from their previous ideas about heaven and the happiness that resides there so that they could be free and enjoy the real nature of heaven. All of these experiences were shattering ones, meant to destroy incorrect and unhappy views of heaven.
Group One: Thinks heaven is all about having fun
For those in the first group, they believe that heaven is all about having fun and interesting conversations, socializing with others, and relaxing together. However, when they are restricted to only their previous idea of heaven, they tire quickly of the conversations and constant socializing. They try to get out, but they cannot do so until they see that heaven is more than they thought it was. In Conjugial Love §5, Swedenborg writes that real pleasure comes from being useful; and the resulting pleasure is the “life and soul of all heavenly joys.” “Use” is the center of the happiness of heaven.
Group Two: Constant dining with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob
The second group believed strongly that heaven would be made up of meals with the Old Testament patriarchs. So, according to their wishes, Swedenborg says that they were served meals with each of the patriarchs on a rotating schedule—constant food with Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and the disciples. Quickly, everyone got sick of eating and wanted to get out. But in their concept of heaven, there was no escape. In Conjugial Love §6, Swedenborg writes that these individuals learned that food was not delightful in and of itself but that it was only fun if it was a reward for progressing into the state of heaven. Even the food in heaven is all about doing something meaningful and enjoying the fruits of the labor.
Group Three: Sitting on thrones and judging
This group saw heaven as a way to rule, having the power to reside over the undeserving. In this part of Swedenborg’s story, the people went into heaven and received all their finery and servants; and they sat, waiting to enforce their power over the people. However, their time to rule never came. They waited and waited for nothing. They got very bored. In Conjugial Love §7, Swedenborg says that the real meaning of kings, princes, and power comes from a meaning of wisdom and performing useful services. Power goes easily astray unless it is entirely selfless.
Group Four: Heaven as a paradise, a land flowing with milk and honey
This scene of luxury comes from the idea that heaven is like the perfect Garden of Eden, with never-ending fruit from the trees. However, this experience quickly turned into a monotonous and tedious life; and the people tried to get out, only to find that there was no exit. In Conjugial Love §8, Swedenborg writes, “Heavenly joy and so eternal happiness . . . are not the outward delights of a paradise unless they include at the same time the inward delights of a paradise.” People must have the inward satisfaction that comes from being useful and helpful to have the external rewards. When this meaning is understood, the scenery gets more and more beautiful.
Group Five: Endless worship and glorification of God
In this group, heaven consisted of an endless worship service. However, without internal satisfaction leading the experience, people couldn’t bear the constant worshipping. Swedenborg points out that the people started to lose their minds because “glorifying God means to bring forth the fruits of love, that is, to perform the work of one’s occupation diligently,” showing that the glorification of God happens through living out his love (Conjugial Love §9). Without the internal glorification, the external meant nothing.
Group Six: Just a matter of getting in and receiving happiness
This group of people entered heaven before they were internally ready. For them, heaven existed only on the outside, with nothing matching the show of love. This combination had a horrible impact on those who entered the party in heaven. Swedenborg notes that this happened because “heaven [is a matter of] the state of a person’s life . . . Everyone who becomes an angel carries his own heaven within him, because he carries the love that belongs to his heaven” (Conjugial Love §10).
According to Swedenborg’s story, each group realized that their idea of heaven lacked the internal component, the love that guides each person toward heaven.
So Upon the Earth
How do we get heaven on earth? According to Swedenborg, the church is heaven on earth; and everyone who has love and wisdom in them is part of the Lord’s church. We can become a miniature heaven on earth by having love and wisdom, according to Heaven and Hell §57. The church exists within each person, not outside. “Every individual in the church has heaven inside if she or he is governed by truth and at the same time by goodness from the Lord” (Secrets of Heaven §9808).
Curtis shows a clip describing the heavenly city from the book of Revelation. According to Swedenborg, angels understand this passage in a spiritual way, showing the heavenly teachings of the Lord and using everything good and true as a foundation for heaven. Heaven, in general, comes from a variety of love, meaning that the unity found in heaven comes from a different way of loving for each individual. Love unites everyone through all the differences.
One way to think about changing the world is to encourage us to think about our internal lives—what do we think is happy and good? What goals, dreams of happiness, or ideas about right and wrong do we have? Curtis says that if we as individuals tap into the heavenly marriage of divinity and humanity in the Lord, as found in Secrets of Heaven §2803, we unite ourselves with the Lord’s love. We unite with the Lord through mindsets, which can stem from either heavenly or hellish places. We have the ability to see anything as a good or bad thing, depending on what they’re looking toward and how they want to be led. Peter Rhodes tells a story about happiness as it relates to comparing one’s condition to another. Happiness and heaven are all about perspective.
According to Swedenborg, good things are ready and accessible but can only come from changes on the inside. His perspective is full of practical advice about being part of the world: “Let it be known that the life that leads to heaven is not one of withdrawal from the world but a life in the world . . . our abiding character after death is determined by the quality of our life of thoughtfulness in the world. Heavenly bliss flows from the Lord into a life of thoughtfulness” (Heaven and Hell §535). Everyone gets into heaven in the same way they create their own heaven on earth—through doing good things because of a love for what is honest, fair, good, and true. This can turn into something amazing in the afterlife. In this view of the world, everything is wonderful because of an overwhelming feeling of inner joy and peace. The physical world can change after that process begins.
In the end, Curtis shares comments from those watching live on how they see and feel heaven in their own lives; and he responds to a variety of different questions from viewers.
Questions from Viewers
- What does Swedenborg say about 1 Corinthians Chapter 15, where it says we shall not all sleep but we shall be changed in a moment and in a twinkling of an eye. Does he believe that this is a literal thing or a correspondence of something else. And if so, what?
- Are falsities like a dark fog ruining true reflection by obstructing the light we would otherwise be receiving from the Lord?
- So heaven is not a place . . . it is a state of being? If you are a loving, kind person, you are a part of heaven. Then what do you do to be useful in this wonderful state?
- Do you think Swedenborg when he had died thought that he was just having another spiritual experience and didn’t know that he had passed on?
- What about people born in China and practice Buddhism and never even heard the name of Christ?
- If God is knowledge/reality, and outside the realm of perception, and we are an extension of God’s creation which is as perfect as God’s creation, how or why do we believe we are separate?
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Host Curtis Childs from the Swedenborg Foundation and featured guests explore topics from Swedenborg’s eighteenth-century writings about his spiritual experiences and afterlife explorations and discuss how they relate to modern-day life and death in a lighthearted and interactive live webcast format.
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