You’ll find references to rebirth, or being “born again,” across almost all religions, but what does it really mean? And what does it have to do with pregnancy and birth as we understand it?
According to eighteenth-century scientist and spiritual teacher Emanuel Swedenborg, rebirth—or “regeneration”—is a process that we all go through as we develop spiritually. In this episode, hosts Curtis Childs and Jonathan Rose share how physical birth and spiritual birth reflect each other.
Regeneration is a process that largely happens to you once you’ve started the process with repentance.
Creating people anew—regenerating them—is the Lord’s work alone. (Secrets of Heaven §88)
Much like physical birth, regeneration is a process that, once initiated, continues in a natural progression under God’s guidance. In John 3:3–7, Jesus talks about being “born again,” and Swedenborg says he chose those words specifically.
Regeneration progresses analogously to the way we are conceived, carried in the womb, born, and brought up. For human beings, there is a constant correspondence between the stages a person goes through physically and the stages a person goes through spiritually. (True Christianity §583)
But while physical birth is something that your parents chose for you, spiritual life—that is, a life of goodness and caring for others—is something you have to choose for yourself and then grow into.
Due to a concept called “spiritual heredity,” we tend toward the same goods and evils our ancestors experienced.
We constantly tend toward and lapse into what we have received by heredity, so we ourselves reinforce this evil in ourselves and also add even more to it. These evils are absolutely opposed to a spiritual life. They destroy it. So unless we get from the Lord a new life, a spiritual life—unless, then, we are conceived anew, born anew, and raised anew (that is, created anew)—we are damned, because we want nothing and think about nothing but loving ourselves and the world, just as the people in hell do. (New Jerusalem §176)
Only through rebirth can we escape our hereditary evil, so in many ways much of our physical life exists to form a new spiritual body. In a way, you could say that being reborn and rising above our tendencies toward selfishness and doing harm is the whole purpose of our life on earth, because it couldn’t happen in any other way.
Conception and Growth
This process starts with a kind of spiritual conception, which continues into a long growth cycle. But what is that moment of conception? In the opening sections of Secrets of Heaven, Swedenborg compares the creation story to the process of spiritual rebirth, and the beginning of the process is a “let there be light” moment in which we understand that we need a whole new way of looking at the world.
We cannot be regenerated unless we know the kinds of teachings that lead us to a new life, a spiritual life. What we must be taught in order to gain a new, spiritual life are the truths that we need to believe and the good things we need to do—the truths that need to become part of our faith and the good actions that need to become part of our caring. (New Jerusalem §177)
What are these truths? Swedenborg goes on to list some of them:
- The Lord who is God from eternity came into the world to save the human race.
- The Lord has all power in heaven and on earth.
- Everything that has to do with faith and caring, that is, all truth and goodness, comes from the Lord.
- Heaven and hell exist.
- We are going to live forever—in heaven if we have led a life of goodness and in hell if we have led a life of evil.
But just as important as knowing these things is putting them into practice—doing the work of becoming more loving toward others. This is a practice called repentance, and you can learn more about it in the recent episode “Repentance: How to Be in Heaven Now.”
But regeneration has to be a gradual process, as Curtis and Jonathan illustrate using Jenga blocks. If you try to go too quickly, everything falls apart, but if you gradually replace your evil tendencies with good ones, you can maintain your spiritual equilibrium.
Labor and Delivery
The average length of pregnancy is forty weeks, and the number forty has a correspondence to periods of struggle. Similarly, the process of spiritual growth is often marked by crises of the spirit. But why are these struggles necessary?
Crises of the spirit help goodness in us gain control over evil and truth gain control over falsity. They help reinforce truths and join them to goodness and at the same time shatter evils and the falsities that arise from them. They also serve to open our inner, spiritual self and bring our earthly self under its control, break up our love for ourselves and for the world, and tame the cravings that arise from them. Once this has been done, we come into enlightenment and gain a perception of what is true and what is good, and of what is false and what is evil. This gives us intelligence and wisdom, which then keep growing day by day. During our spiritual crises the Lord alone is fighting for us. If we do not believe that the Lord alone is fighting for us and winning for us, then we are experiencing only an outer crisis that does not do us much good. (New Jerusalem §§194–195)
These struggles can lead to despair, especially if we’re praying for help and it appears that we’re not receiving an answer, but there’s a good reason for the pain. Chelsea Odhner joins to explain how this process is reflected through labor and delivery. It’s very common to reach a point in labor where the mother feels as if she can’t go on, but that moment of hopelessness actually means that delivery is very close.
Once the pain is over, we can rest and begin a new life guided by God.
People who are born from the Lord, that is, who are reborn, receive the Lord’s life. As I have said, the Lord’s life is divine love, or love for the whole human race, and the desire to save the entire race and all its members forever, if possible. (Secrets of Heaven §1803)
In the wrap-up, we’re reminded that the beautiful process of regeneration is going on throughout our lives—often without our awareness.
As a final thought, Curtis and Jonathan remind us that even if we don’t complete the process of regeneration in our lifetime—most people don’t—what really matters is that we make a start.
People who live lives of faith and caring but have not been regenerated in this world are regenerated in the other life. (New Jerusalem §184)
What was Swedenborg’s work life like? How many hours did he put into writing his many books and dividing his time between his work duties and other things on a daily basis? It’s something we all struggle with, balancing our spiritual life with our work ethic. It would be interesting to see it from Swedenborg’s perspective.
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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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