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Whether you’re asking William Wallace or the founding fathers, everyone can agree that freedom matters. Emanuel Swedenborg wrote that there are in fact distinct levels of freedom—physical or political freedom is a first step but by no means the last.
In this episode, host Curtis Childs and featured guests discuss how God can lead to true liberation from the prisons of earthly pleasures and rational minds. So how can we take full advantage of our freedom and make the right choices?
Swedenborg wrote that we are essentially forming our spirits as we live here on earth, much as infants are formed in the womb. We gather spiritual nutrients, but only some things stay with us.
Anything planted in our mind in freedom stays with us, but anything planted in our mind under compulsion does not last. Things we do under compulsion do not come from our own motivation, but from the motivation of whoever is forcing us to do them. (The Heavenly City §143)
The only things that become permanent parts of our spirit are those that we choose in freedom and in accord with our rationality. Actions that are only rational without being free or only free without being rational fade without becoming a part of us, because we don’t consciously “own” them. (For more on this concept, watch “The Infinite in You.”) Swedenborg viewed freedom and rationality as essential and inseparable abilities.
The Lord protects these two abilities untouched within us and as things that are sacred through the whole course of his divine providence. There are several reasons for this. One is that without these two abilities there, we would have no discernment or volition and would therefore not be human. Another is that without these two abilities we could not be united to the Lord and therefore could not be reformed and regenerated. Then too, without these two abilities we would not have immortality or eternal life. (Divine Providence §96:1)
All of our earthly choices and actions receive life from the Lord, but we sometimes use free will to block this love out. When we freely allow the Lord to fuel our spirits and therefore our bodies, we’re acting in accordance with the divine plan.
Freedom is crucial to our spiritual life, but it’s more complicated than you might think. Swedenborg tells us that there are different types of freedom.
When do we feel free? Swedenborg says that freedom is the ability to do what we want and follow our life’s love.
All freedom is a matter of love, even to the point that love and freedom are the same thing. Since love is our life, freedom is also essential to our life. Every pleasure we experience comes from our love; there is no other source of pleasure. Acting for the sake of the pleasure of our love is acting in freedom, because pleasure leads us along, the way a river bears its burdens quite naturally along its current. Since we have many loves, some of which agree with each other and some of which disagree, it follows that we likewise have many kinds of freedom. In general, though, there are three kinds: earthly, rational, and spiritual. (Divine Providence §73:2)
We begin our lives self-centered, loving nothing but ourselves and the world. Since evil can stem from these loves, “it follows that thinking and intending evil is our earthly freedom” (Divine Providence §73:3). So why are we permitted this earthly freedom? In answer, Swedenborg asks why God did not remove the serpent from the Garden of Eden.
But, my friend, the reason God did not do all this is that he would have taken away human free choice by so doing, and yet freedom is what makes a human a human and not an animal. Once this is known, it becomes obvious that the two trees, one for life and the other for death, represent human free choice in spiritual matters. (True Christianity §469:2)
(And if you want to know more about that, check out “The Meaning of Adam and Eve,” which digs into Swedenborg’s interpretation of the Garden of Eden story in the Bible.)
But earthly freedom not only allows us to choose evil but to choose good. Through free will, we can become a conscious bridge between earth and heaven. However, earthly freedom has an expiration date—if we never try to rise above our worldly loves, we become spiritually stuck.
Doing harmful things in freedom seems to be freedom, but it is actually slavery. It comes from selfish and materialistic loves, which come from hell. (The Heavenly City §142)
There are many spiritual traditions where an obsession with worldly things is seen not as freedom but as bondage. Speaking from his personal experience, author and friend of the show Peter Rhodes talks about how his path to recovery started when he realized indulging his freedom to do self-destructive things was leading him to a dead end. He had to escape from the earthly “freedoms” he was a slave to in order to make his life better.
Rational freedom connects our earthly freedom to our spiritual freedom. In much the same way that humanity is a bridge between earth and heaven, the rational mind is a bridge between earthly and spiritual truths.
But even rational thinkers can miss the point and use rationality in the place of goodness. You may know people like this—they’re the ones who jump to criticize and argue rather than to empathize whenever they disagree with another person. They care so much about truth that they forget to leave room for goodness. The upside of rational freedom is that it allows us to take a step back from emotional reactions and negative thought patterns—in other words, to break free from hell.
Hell would love to use our rationality against us and other people, as explored in a past episode of the Swedenborg Minute. If you apply rationality to your own thoughts, you can keep the negative ideas in control. However, rationality can create barriers against spiritual consciousness when we’re motivated by fear of consequences and not by a desire to do good.
If our rational activity is only earthly and not spiritual, this is only an external freedom and not an internal one. We still do not love these virtues inwardly, only outwardly, for the sake of our reputation, as just noted. This means that the good things we do are not really good. We might be saying that they are to be done for the sake of the public good, but we are not saying this because of any love for the public good, only because of our love for our own reputation or for profit. Consequently, this freedom of ours has nothing of love for the public good in it, and neither does our reasoning, since this simply agrees with our love. As a result, this “rational freedom” is inwardly an earthly freedom. It too is left to us by divine providence. (Divine Providence §73:5)
Too much emphasis on rationality can make you cynical on spiritual matters and block you from experiencing true spiritual freedom. When combined with goodness, however, rationality can connect us to spiritual truth and help us become more loving and compassionate people.
Both earthly and rational freedom are means to an end, and that end is spiritual freedom. But what does that mean?
As most people today have absolutely no idea what a life of freedom is, let me offer this brief definition: freedom, or a life of freedom, is solely and simply being led by the Lord. (Secrets of Heaven §892:2)
While many might expect freedom to be fueled by our own choices, Swedenborg says that there is a difference between the choices we make while still in an earthly mindset and the freedom of choice experienced by someone who’s undergone a process of spiritual rebirth. But how does being led by the Lord translate to a state of freedom?
In a state of slavery, when cravings and falsity take control, those of us under their yoke think we are enjoying freedom; but this is grossly untrue. At such a time, we are carried away by the pleasure that our vices and the indulgence of them brings us, or in other words, by the pleasure that selfish kinds of love bring us. Since it is pleasure that engrosses us, we see it as freedom. (Secrets of Heaven §892:1)
Once you encounter true freedom, earthly freedoms will seem disgusting and unpleasant. If freedom is following your love, spiritual freedom is following your love for what is good and true. It’s all coming from your choice.
Over time, our spiritual freedom unites with rational freedom and overwhelms earthly freedom. Freedom is more than the ability to choose between good and evil – it’s the freedom to move within a positive purpose.
Freed from Freedom
Earthly, rational, and spiritual freedom all exist together in our mind, but we can choose which freedom to live by. True freedom comes when you are no longer controlled by your earthly impulses—you’re free to make decisions guided by your best self. You become the channel that allows God’s power to work on earth.
Even if doing the right thing isn’t enough in itself, it’s often true that doing good brings good even on Earth. Swedenborg wrote that when your inner thoughts override your baser instincts, it opens a path for God to bring you strength.
This allows you to embrace heavenly freedom, which lets you share your blessings and joy with others. The Lord desires this heavenly freedom for everyone, and it’s rewarding not just in heaven but on earth.
In the last segment, Curtis answers these questions from our viewers:
- Why does evil get to influence people, with illusions and coercion, but God cannot let people be aware that he exists except through personal awareness, because to do so would jeopardize free will?
- Can you define regeneration?
- I believe our negative thoughts create our own mental prisons now and after death. Is this true?
- Can “visionary” type dreams take away your freedom? NDE type experiences?
- Depression takes away my freedom because I lack confidence and self-worth, so how can I get my freedom back?
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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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