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In this episode, we tackle one of the biggest questions ever asked: how was the universe formed? Religion and science seem to argue about creation and chaos, but eighteenth-century scientist and spiritual teacher Emanuel Swedenborg learned more.
For one, creation did not begin on a physical level—before anything physical could exist, the spiritual world had to get itself straight. For that to happen, there had to be a creator.
If there were not one God the universe could not have been created or maintained. (True Christianity §13)
Furthermore, this creator had to be human. This doesn’t mean two arms, two legs, and a head—that’s not what makes us human. What makes us—and the Creator—human is the ability to love, to know, and to act.
This vast system called the universe is a work connected as one thing from beginning to end because God had a single purpose in creating it: an angelic heaven populated by the human race. All the things that make up the world are means of fulfilling that purpose, because someone who intends an end result also intends the means to achieve it. (True Christianity §13)
Everything that happens is playing a role in getting us to a place of deep, pure joy. This is complicated because we all have free will, but the divine design by means of love is leading us in the right direction.
This all begins in the spiritual world. And that starts with God, whose underlying reality cannot be fully understood by finite beings, no matter how hard we try.
For that reason, God had to manifest in a way that we could perceive.
In the spiritual world, divine love and wisdom look like a sun. (Divine Love and Wisdom §83)
God began with a spiritual sun, created from his divine love and wisdom. In the spiritual world, the love and wisdom actually give off literal heat and light, just like the physical sun does in the physical world.
This dynamic helps to explain the beginning of the Gospel of John, which seems more like poetry than history.
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. . . . The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world. He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. . . . The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. (John 1:1–4, 9–10, 14)
This seems incredibly abstract, but it’s actually outlining some beautiful truths. Many have understood this to mean that Jesus was a separate person who existed alongside God at the beginning of time. But according to Swedenborg, this Gospel is really comparing God manifesting as the spiritual sun to his manifestation as a physical human form.
The angels who were teaching Swedenborg how this works did so by explaining to him step by step the concept of auras.
Just like how the sun’s heat and light are received by the earth’s atmosphere to give us warmth and brightness, spiritual atmospheres are needed for God’s love and wisdom to be received and to do something—that is, they have to be useful.
There are three things in the Lord that are the Lord—a divine element of love, a divine element of wisdom, and a divine element of service. These three things are made visible outside the sun of the spiritual world—the divine element of love through its warmth, the divine element of wisdom through its light, and the divine element of service through the atmospheres that enclose it. . . . The third thing that emanates from the sun [in the spiritual world] is an atmosphere that serves as the vessel of warmth and light, and it emanates from that divine aspect of the Lord that is called “service.” (Divine Love and Wisdom §296)
The spiritual world and physical world are even more similar than that. In the spiritual world, there are spiritual bodies of water and spiritual lands that are affected by the spiritual sun through its atmospheres. The lowest of these spiritual atmospheres actually make up the physical world, which is where it starts for us.
Since the atmospheres do diminish as they move lower, it follows that they are constantly becoming denser and less active, ultimately so dense and inactive that they are no longer atmospheres but inert substances, and in a physical world they become stable, like the substances on earth that we call “matter.” (Divine Love and Wisdom §302)
This pattern repeats itself throughout the divine design, and it all comes back to what makes us human.
It is important to know that everything that radiates from the sun around Jehovah God in the spiritual world relates to humanness. . . . As a result, all the objects that take shape there before the eyes are symbolic of a human being. (True Christianity §56)
But we shouldn’t get caught up in the standard definition of humanity. God is so much more than that.
[People might] think to themselves, “How can a human God wander from place to place through the universe creating things?” . . . [But] the God who is visible as a sun far above the spiritual world, who cannot be given any appearance of space, is not to be thought of in spatial terms. In that case, we can understand that the universe was not created out of nothing but out of God, and that God’s human body is not to be thought of as large or small or of some particular height because these are matters of space. This means that God is the same from first to last, in the largest and smallest things. It means also that this Person is at the heart of everything created, but nonspatially so. (Divine Love and Wisdom §285)
Heaven is the divine design in its most realized form—a human being. That’s what it looks like when the plan all comes together. This was the purpose of creation—to create and share love with other conscious beings.
Before creation, God was love itself and wisdom itself. That love and that wisdom had a drive to be useful. Without usefulness, love and wisdom are only fleeting abstract entities, and they do indeed fly away if they do not move in the direction of usefulness. . . . God created the universe so that usefulness could exist. . . . When useful service results, love and wisdom take on a real existence. In that useful service, they set up a place for themselves to live and stay, and there they rest as if they were at home. We are that way ourselves when God’s love and wisdom are in us and we do something useful. The reason we were created images and likenesses of God, or forms of the divine design, was so that we would be able to do God’s useful services. (True Christianity §67)
So if you’re ever feeling unimportant, just remember this—the universe literally exists to help people, yourself included.
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In a lighthearted and interactive 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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