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If God loves us all equally, why isn’t life fair? Or, more accurately, why doesn’t it seem to be fair? Understanding correspondences—something in the physical world that helps us understand spiritual principles—may help us get see why some people seem to be born with every advantage, while others have to struggle from the start.
In this episode, host Curtis Childs and co-host Dr. Jonathan Rose explore the writings of eighteenth-century scientist and spiritual teacher Emanuel Swedenborg to see what they can learn about God’s role in the circumstances, both good and bad, that can define our lives.
Recent research in neuroplasticity has taught us that our senses are not as different as we might think. In fact, we don’t even really see with our eyes—we see with our brain, which just collects data from our eyes.
What does this have to do with our circumstances in life? Let’s start with Swedenborg’s view of the brain:
Only through humankind is there a descent from the heavens into the world, and an ascent from the world to the heavens. The brain and its inner depths provide the means of descent and ascent because they contain the actual rudiments or starting and ending points from which absolutely everything in the body stems and flows. They are also the source of the thoughts in our intellect and the emotions in our will. (Secrets of Heaven §4042)
Just as sight is actually the result of the brain interpreting the signals it receives, the brain also interprets spiritual reality based on the input it receives. Where does that input come from? Our inner self or spirit, which is the part of our mind closest to spiritual reality. In other words, it’s our spiritual senses that determine how we view and act in the world.
Spiritual Brain Regions
Even if you’re born blind, your brain is wired to see. In the same way, even if you’re born into unfortunate circumstances, your spirit is hard-wired with everything you need to grow as a spiritual person. Specifically, we each have three spiritual levels—Swedenborg calls them vertical levels:
These three vertical levels exist in each of us from birth and can be opened in sequence. As they are opened, we are in the Lord and the Lord is in us. (Divine Love and Wisdom §236)
But what happens when people don’t seem to have the circumstances in life that would help them grow?
For example, one of the foundational concepts in Swedenborg’s theology is married love. Most people think of this in terms of a relationship between two people, but what happens if you don’t find a partner in this world, or if you do and it goes horribly wrong? Are you cut off from that aspect of spirituality? No, says Swedenborg. True married love is about the union of truth and goodness inside our heart, and it’s something anyone can experience.
What about education? Learning is an important part of growth, but what about people who don’t have access to good schools—or any schools at all? Again, Swedenborg says no. His experience was that wisdom doesn’t depend on what you learn, but what you love. And for those who want to learn, all knowledge is available in heaven.
What about those with unhappy childhoods? We might think of the idyllic innocence of childhood as an important part of spiritual development, but not all children are so lucky.
Angelic spirits spoke with me . . . and it was given me to know that they were from societies where there is calm, for I felt a calmness of mind, and this for a half hour or an hour. They told [me] that they were with a little child, that this was their state of blessedness. I realized then and spoke with the angels of the fact that with little children after birth, there are angels who are in a state of innocence, then that there are those who are in a state of calm, finally those in a state of caring for others… (Spiritual Experiences §4382)
In other words, no matter how horrible the outward circumstances, children have a deep connection with heaven that is feeding them what they need.
Or, to put it biblically, there are places where thieves can break in and steal what you have, but there are always levels they can’t reach—the heavenly levels of your spirit. Everything good is safe there and it can’t be harmed.
Swedenborg has a name for this part of us that can’t be harmed: the remnant.
To explain what a remnant is: It is not just the good and true things that we learn out of the Lord’s Word from the time we are small and that become stamped on our memory. It is also all the states that rise out of those things, such as 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. (Secrets of Heaven §561)
Now here’s a tough one: what about people who find themselves in situations where they have to do horrible things to survive? Jonathan takes on that question in part three.
The Parable of the Ox
Even if our education or innocence can be reclaimed in heaven, what does that do for people who are forced into hellish situations? The Old Testament might have a hint.
If an ox gores a man or a woman to death, then the ox shall surely be stoned, and its flesh shall not be eaten; but the owner of the ox shall be acquitted. (Exodus 21:28)
Swedenborg believed this passage referenced our inner and outer selves. The owner is our inner self, and the ox’s behavior represents our outer self—the part that reacts to unfair circumstances. What matters is that we not “eat the ox,” or make that behavior a part of ourselves.
. . . [In heaven, we are not judged] according to the things done, as they appear outwardly before people—in fact, not as they appear before a judge—but as they appear inwardly before the Lord and by him before angels, that is, according to what kind of desire and understanding the person put into them. In the world, there are different circumstances that soften and excuse crimes and also that make them more serious and more blameworthy. And yet accusations after death are not made according to the outward circumstances of the act but according to inner mental circumstances. . . . For the acts go to the grave with the body, but the mind rises again. (Love in Marriage §530)
The same goes for inherited evil (that is, the tendencies or personality traits we’re born with) or impaired rationality (such as mental illness)—whatever our circumstances, they are taken into account. We are not judged on what we are forced to do, but on who we truly are.
In the wrap-up, we’re reminded that the physical world exists to teach us about the spiritual world, and that the truth of the spiritual world is merciful, kind, and fair. No matter what you’ve been through, you can attain heaven and find peace.
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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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When we wake up in heaven, Swedenborg tells us, angels roll a covering from off of our left eye so that we can see everything in a spiritual light. The offTheLeftEye YouTube channel uses an array of educational and entertaining video formats to look at life and death through an uplifting spiritual lens.
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