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Hosts Curtis Childs and Jonathan Rose answer questions about spirituality and the afterlife in every episode, but viewers have more they need to know. To find those answers, our expert panel consults the spiritual writings of eighteenth-century philosopher Emanuel Swedenborg.
The expert panel members are (in order of appearance):
- Chara Daum, Latin consultant, New Century Edition
- C. Richard Bell
- Chelsea Odhner, writer for Swedenborg and Life
- Stewart Farmer, technical director, Swedenborg and Life
- Karin Childs, writer for Swedenborg and Life
- Curtis Childs, host of Swedenborg and Life
- Dr. Soni Werner, retired psychology professor and author
- Chris Dunn, MDiv student at Bryn Athyn College Theological School
Throughout this episode, our experts will work to answer questions from viewers. Questions and answers are summarized below, and you can follow the links for the full discussion.
Chara Daum reads some disappointment in this question, but her understanding is that humanity is beautiful and created in God’s own image. If that’s true, then there’s no such thing as “just” a human—if nothing else, humans reflect the Divine. Sure, we have our struggles, but that’s why God came to Earth as Jesus—to experience these struggles firsthand and show us a better way out.
The Lord’s human manifestation is divine. For us to gain access to the Father we have to go to his human manifestation, since this is how Jehovah God put himself in the world and made himself visible to human eyes. Through this he became accessible. (True Christianity §188:6)
Just as God went through the trenches of human experience to a better state, so can all of us. We aren’t just stuck in a static existence; we have the ability to look at ourselves and weed out the things we don’t like—which is the first step to becoming an angel.
- Why isn’t Swedenborg more well known around the world? It seems someone so in tune with God like Swedenborg would be popular in religious circles.
- Did Swedenborg intend to start a new church?
According to C. Richard Bell’s research, Swedenborg’s theological writings were actually considered a threat to many religious circles, especially those active in his time. Swedenborg’s scientific background and straightforward spiritual accounts make spirituality more accessible while simultaneously confronting many of the most powerful institutions in his world.
The answer to the second question is, simply, no. Swedenborg did write about a new church, but he was referring to a new spiritual age rather than a specific religious institution. He wasn’t seeking attention for himself; he just wanted the knowledge he’d received to be passed on to others.
The short answer is no. Chelsea Odhner found a letter from a nobleman who wrote to Swedenborg asking to become his disciple, and in the letter the man asks specifically about verses from the early books of the Bible that contain the secret to being able to speak with spirits. Swedenborg’s reply, in which he politely declines the man’s request, reads as follows:
With respect to some verses in the books of Moses, which possess the property and power of introducing man to intercourse with spirits and enabling him to speak with them; I do not know of any verses in Scripture which have this property more than others; I only know that the Word of God is everywhere written in such a style, that when a man reads it with affection and attention, spirits and angels have a part in it, and adjoin themselves to him; for the Word of God is so written that it forms a bond of union between heaven and earth (see what is written on this subject in the work on Heaven and Hell, nos. 303 to 310). (Documents concerning the life and character of Emanuel Swedenborg, Document 217)
In the same letter, Swedenborg goes on to say that the Lord usually prevents spirits and human beings from speaking with each other because it could endanger a person’s life, so he would discourage others from attempting it.
Later on, Swedenborg did have friends who defended and shared his work, but none who he personally trained or even encouraged.
Related episode: “Is It Safe to Talk to Spirits?”
It’s a complicated question, but Stewart Farmer believes that the spiritual world will make more sense than dreams purely because it’s a reflection of your inner state—the things you see derive logically from the things you love, and the people you meet are real people, not products of your subconscious. That said, Swedenborg’s experience was definitely strange, ethereal, and sometimes absurd to living eyes.
- Is the “Rapture” right in your opinion? Will it take place?
- Is our Lord coming back? Will we be raptured up?
Karin Childs points out that the word rapture does not actually appear in the Bible. People have pieced various passages together to come to the idea of the rapture, but Swedenborg learned that these texts were symbolic rather than literal.
It’s also worth remembering that, according to Swedenborg, the Bible was written both for people on earth and people in the world of spirits. That means that some of the things described actually refer to events that would happen in the spiritual world rather than to us on Earth.
Curtis’s reading of Swedenborg tells him that suffering isn’t ever the end goal, but learning from it can help us grow closer to God, especially if it leads to greater humility and compassion for others. When we’re suffering, God is even closer to us than usual, even if it seems like he’s absent. If we approach suffering and setbacks as opportunities for growth—however difficult that may be in the moment—that helps to enhance the good that comes out of it.
To Dr. Soni Werner’s understanding, God only cares about your overall state of being—the motivations that go into your actions and the values that drive you. If your judgment was impaired when committing an action, Swedenborg would say that it doesn’t affect your spiritual state. However, there are levels of severity. A person who is drunk and uses poor judgment as to how much he or she is drinking is a very different case from one who while sober and in a rational emotional state plans to go out and get dangerously intoxicated and then afterward revels in the feeling of having been drunk. If it gets to the point where their actions are harming others and they still don’t stop, that can have an impact on their spiritual state.
With all that said, after death, you just become who you truly are and what you truly love, and that doesn’t have much to do with your mental state at the moment of death.
This is a reference to the biblical book of Revelation, verse 20:4, where it says that at the Last Judgment certain souls “lived and reigned with Christ a thousand years.”
Karin Childs says that according to Swedenborg, everything described in the book of Revelation has already happened in the spiritual realm, but the language is very symbolic. This particular verse describes a good-hearted group of people who were being protected from false teachers until it was safe to be guided into heaven, where they “reign with Christ” by helping to bring his love into the world. Karin reads from Apocalypse Revealed, going over the full text of the verse and giving a step-by-step review of the correspondences.
Related episode: “The Last Judgment”
9. My question is “is man inherently evil?”If all that is good and true come from the Lord, does that mean our inherent nature is without goodness or truth? Or are we inherently neutral? If we receive influx from both heaven and hell and it is with our free will in which we choose one or the other does that mean we start on a more neutral ground? What about the “remains” that the Lord places with us as infants? Are we born with them? And if so does this mean that we are born with inherent goodness?
Chris Dunn says that according to Swedenborg, we’re not born evil or with original sin—that is, we aren’t tainted by the actions of Adam and Eve in the garden of Eden. We are, however, born with inclinations toward evil, which Swedenborg calls “hereditary evil”—traits that are passed down and sometimes reinforced through family lines. If we act on those inclinations, then we bring evil into our lives.
Our inclinations toward evil are countered by remains or “remnants” that are built-in from our childhood:
To explain what a remnant is: It is . . . a state of innocence from babyhood, a state of love for our parents, siblings, teachers, and friends, a state of charity toward our neighbor and compassion toward the poverty-stricken and needy. In short, it is all states of goodness or truth.
These states, along with the good and true things imprinted on our memory, are called a remnant. The Lord preserves them in us, hiding them away in our inner being without our slightest awareness and carefully separating them from things that are our own—in other words, from evil and falsity. (Secrets of Heaven §561)
Our innate innocence and love of truth help to balance out any capacity we have for evil.
Chelsea believes the answer is absolutely yes—a life lived in love is much more important than any set of beliefs. You might start out not believing and be led into belief through your experiences, or, if you belong to a faith tradition that doesn’t emphasize belief in the afterlife, you might be brought into a more spiritual state of awareness through a different path. What matters is that you acknowledge that you’re part of something bigger and lead your life accordingly.
Chelsea also suggests that if you’re opposed to the idea of an afterlife, it can be interesting to explore why that is. Your answer could lead you to some insights about, for example, your concept of God.
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