Swedenborg and Life Recap: 10 Questions: Psychopaths, Miracles, and Effective Prayer – 5/29/2017

Watch full episode here!

Life has a lot of mysteries, and that means viewers have more questions than can be answered at the end of a normal episode. To address those mysteries, host Curtis Childs and featured guests come to the rescue—with the aid of the spiritual writings of eighteenth-century philosopher Emanuel Swedenborg.

The expert panel members are:

  • Karin Childs, writer for Swedenborg and Life
  • Chris Dunn, MDiv at Bryn Athyn College Theological School
  • Dr. Soni Werner, author and professor emerita of psychology
  • Chelsea Odhner, writer for Swedenborg and Life
  • Dr. Jonathan Rose, series editor, New Century Edition
  • Shada Sullivan, MDiv, Center for Swedenborgian Studies
  • C. Richard Bell, Swedenborg and Life contributor
  • Chara Daum, Latin consultant for the New Century Edition

Questions and answers are summarized below, and you can follow the links for the full discussion.


1. If it’s the Lord’s desire for all of us to be saved and happy forever, how does that work with the inner nature in all of us that Swedenborg says cannot be changed?

Karin Childs explains how our life is made up of what we love, or care about the most. We might love different things while we’re here on earth, but there’s only one love that makes up our life. We can change that fundamental “ruling love” while we’re on earth, but after we die it will stay with us—that’s why it’s important to do our best to become better people while we’re still alive. There are two key tools we can use to accomplish this:

  1. Conscience—the willingness to resist evil (which for Swedenborg means doing harm to others)
  2. Usefulness—the willingness to do good things for others

Conscience is about our own attitude toward others, and usefulness is about putting those feelings into action. If we use these two tools, it’ll put us on the path to spiritual growth. Very, very few people become truly spiritual in this lifetime, and that’s OK—the only people who are in danger of remaining the same forever are the people who never try to change.

From the episode: “Spiritual Questions Answered 11”


2. How old was Swedenborg when his visions started?

In Chris Dunn’s readings about Swedenborg’s life, he learned that Swedenborg had been very spiritual even since his youth. While he was 55, in the midst of his scientific career, his normal travel diary turned into a record of some very strange, vivid dreams. Then, at 57, he had a vision of the Lord and began his spiritual experiences in earnest.

From the episode: “10 Early Signs of a Spiritual Awakening”


3. Can evil spirits act through people, psychopaths for instance? Those who seek to intentionally harm us? 

As a psychologist, Dr. Soni Werner has studied psychopathy—which is now more commonly known as Antisocial Personality Disorder. People with this disorder are often unable to understand the harm they do, and so they are not willfully choosing to do evil in the world.

Swedenborg does say that hell and evil spirits are constantly seeking to influence everyone with harmful, negative thoughts, but everyone has the choice of whether to give in to evil or chase good.

From the episode: “The Day-to-Day Process of Our Salvation”


4. How do you connect with the Lord when you don’t feel he is winning and your mind and your ego tells you hell is stronger?

Curtis Childs has felt this kind of despair, but, with the help of Swedenborg, he’s found tools to get through it.

  1. Feeling like this doesn’t mean that something is wrong. This could be a spiritual night—part of a natural cycle that always gives way to day.
  2. Remember that hell always lies. Evil spirits work their hardest to keep you from questioning them, because when you do, you see the truth of God’s strength.
  3. This is how we grow—only through spiritual struggles can we grow and get better. This gets us closer to God.

From the episode: “What If I Don’t Like Heaven?”
Related episode: “Conscience: How to Build Heaven in Your Mind”


5. What is meant by “the meek shall inherit the earth”?

This phrase shows up twice in the Bible, so Chelsea Odhner feels it’s worth unpacking. Earth means “the church,” referring not to a building or an organization but rather to the way that people connect to the Lord. Meekness, or humility, is what allows us to hear and feel the Lord’s goodness and truth.

So far as the heart is humbled, so far the love of self and all the evil therefrom ceases; and so far as this ceases, so far good and truth, that is, charity and faith, flow in from the Lord. (Secrets of Heaven §2327)

So that’s what “the meek shall inherit the earth” means; if you’re in an open, receptive state, then God’s love can flow into your inner self.

Chelsea also recommends reading Psalm 37 (one of the places in the Bible where this phrase occurs) if you’re feeling weak or overwhelmed by evil, because the whole Psalm contains spiritual teachings about trusting the Lord.

From the episode: “Spiritual Questions Answered 11”


6. Based on Swedenborg’s view, what kind of prayer can be considered the best or the most effective prayer? What is the best time, place, words, and method for prayer?

Dr. Jonathan Rose shares that he’d like to know the answers to those questions himself! Swedenborg doesn’t talk about times, places, or words for prayer, but he does describe this encounter in the spiritual world:

[Some spirits] argued with me about the Lord. “It’s surprising that he doesn’t hear the prayers we pray, that he doesn’t help his supplicants,” they said. “You can’t be heard,” I was allowed to answer, “because what you’re aiming for is contrary to the well-being of the human race. You’re praying for yourselves at everyone’s expense, and when you pray that way, heaven closes up, because in heaven they pay attention only to the goals of people praying.” The spirits did not want to acknowledge this but could not answer it. (Secrets of Heaven §4227:4)

In other words, heaven only responds to the goals of the people praying, and it only responds to goals that work for the whole human race. Prayer should come from the Lord, not from what we want for ourselves.

Inflow must exist within every single part of worship. Those who have no knowledge of the secrets of heaven suppose that worship begins in ourselves since it flows from the thoughts and feelings within us. But worship that begins in us is not true worship; consequently offerings of thanksgiving, adoration, and prayer which begin in us are not the offerings of thanksgiving, adoration, and prayer that are heard and accepted by the Lord. They must begin in the Lord to be present in us. (Secrets of Heaven §10299)

From the episode:“Spiritual Questions Answered 10”


7. Some religions believe in miracles, but do miracles really come from heaven and do these inhibit the divine design or what a person is supposed to follow? What about being able to have “supernatural” powers? Are the miracles of Jesus possible to do by anyone? Always so curious about magic, etc.

Shada Sullivan explains that all miracles fall within God’s divine design, so they aren’t supernatural but instead are just a part of God’s nature. The spiritual is constantly flowing into the natural, so many things that seem like miracles to us are part of nature—and much of nature is already miraculous. Jesus’s miracles were only possible because of his part in the divine design.

There’s another side to this question, however: Why doesn’t God perform miracles that will prove he exists? Swedenborg says that a faith that is genuine has to be based on rationality. In other words, you have to consider what you believe and how you will live your life based on those beliefs. A miracle that takes a shortcut past our rationality can’t create true faith.

From the episode: “Conscience: How to Build Heaven in Your Mind”
Related episode: “Why Doesn’t God Prove that He Exists?”


8. Was Swedenborg a follower of Jesus Christ? He refers to the Lord, but I wonder how he viewed Christ. 

In his studies of Swedenborg and the Bible, C. Richard Bell learned that Swedenborg was very much a follower of Christ. Swedenborg refers to him mostly as the Lord because he understood Christ and the Lord to be one and the same. Richard uses a bottle of water to illustrate the point: If a drop of water goes into the ocean, it merges with the ocean and becomes indistinguishable. But if part of the ocean is put into an earthly form like a bottle, now it’s approachable, and we can interact with it much more easily. The essence hasn’t changed, only the container.

From the episode: “Spiritual Questions Answered 8”


9. I love that you have shared that Swedenborg said not to judge others’s paths. Yet I find myself judging myself very harshly as I try to become more spiritual. Any thoughts on this?

Chara Daum understands this kind of harsh thought as another kind of spiritual attack. Her studies—and her personal experience—have also shown that this kind of self-judgment can actually be another kind of self-centeredness. She’s found the following steps helpful:

  1. Break the cycle. Distract yourself by doing something else so that you don’t keep getting sucked farther and farther into these self-defeating thoughts.
  2. Ask yourself a question: Is it you doing the judging? Swedenborg talks about evil spirits that surround us and love to make us feel bad about ourselves. Angels inspire feelings of hope and courage.
  3. Take a deep look at your intentions and behaviors, and ask the Lord for help if there are things that you need to change.

In short, be gentle with yourself, and invite the Lord to guide you to where you need to be.

From the episode: “Spiritual Questions Answered 11”


10. Why is it that you sometimes meet someone that you have never met before but yet you feel as though you know them? Is this to do with your past life?

In Jonathan Rose’s research of Swedenborg, he hasn’t found anything to support the idea of past lives. However, Swedenborg does describe this phenomenon—in fact, in Heaven and Hell §46, he speaks of having this experience himself. He identifies these people as kindred souls, and he speaks of the way that the Lord brings such people together in the spiritual world. They may never have met before, but they instantly recognize each other and feel a kinship.

From the episode: “Revelation: Vision of a God-Centered Life”


Related Swedenborg and Life Videos:
Swedenborg and Life 10 Questions Playlist
“Who was Swedenborg? What should I read?”


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  • About Swedenborg and Life


    In a lighthearted and interactive live webcast format, 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.
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