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The spiritual writings of eighteenth-century philosopher Emanuel Swedenborg can address many of life’s most difficult questions, but the questions don’t run out. Luckily, our expert panel has gathered to answer what they can.
The expert panel members are:
- Curtis Childs, host of Swedenborg and Life
- Shada Sullivan, M.Div. student, Center for Swedenborgian Studies
- Dr. Jonathan Rose, series editor for the New Century Edition
- Chelsea Odhner, writer for Swedenborg and Life
Throughout this episode, the expert panel works together to answer questions from viewers. Questions and answers are summarized below, but follow the links for the full discussion.
Though he was a gifted scientist, Swedenborg’s most notable gifts were his visions of the afterlife. In the dream diary he kept during the period when his spiritual sight was beginning to open, he writes with a sense of purpose. He felt called to help humanity by sharing what he’d experienced. He also describes a sense that his entire life—his education, his career, and so on—was preparing him for this task.
God created all humanity in his image, so what does it mean that there are two genders? Swedenborg describes God’s humanity not in terms of physical gender but in terms of the spiritual characteristics that make us human—in particular, love and wisdom. Sometimes Swedenborg will associate love and wisdom with either masculine or feminine characteristics, but he also says that God contains an infinity of different aspects and attributes. When we try to attach human distinctions to God, we’re actually working backwards—really, each human is showing a different facet of one God.
According to Swedenborg, our purpose in this world is to regenerate—to become spiritually reborn. This is a gradual process that can begin in this world and, unless the person chooses to reject spiritual growth, continues to unfold eternally in the afterlife. From that perspective, very few people will (or are supposed to) fully complete their work while still living on earth.
There’s a passage in Swedenborg’s writings where he talks about the reasons people die when they do. He says that sometimes it has to do with the useful things that they can do in this world, either for themselves or for others, but sometimes there are useful things that people can do in heaven. In other words, some people may cross over at an early age because they’re needed in the afterlife to help others.
Swedenborg makes it clear that God’s intention is that we all go to heaven, and angels will do everything they can to comfort a soul in distress and help them find their best possible outcome. Mental illness—often a factor in suicide—impairs our ability to make sound decisions, so anyone who commits suicide as a result of mental illness is not accountable for that action. People only go to hell if they consciously choose that path, not once, but over and over again. One act cannot define our entire spiritual trajectory.
On the other hand, many people who commit suicide do so because of extreme emotional pain. If those psychological issues exist in this world, the person will still have to work through them in the other world—death isn’t an easy way out.
Related video: “Do Suicides Go to Hell?”
A bit of context: When Swedenborg uses the term “the Word,” it sounds like he’s talking about the Bible, but that’s not necessarily the case. For him, the Word is actually a set of divine teachings that today are seen most clearly in the Bible but that have also existed among other cultures at other times. The key feature of the Word is that it’s written in correspondences, meaning that beneath the often contradictory literal text is an inner meaning that reveals timeless truths about living spiritually. Swedenborg also writes that not every part of the Bible contains the Word. The other parts are either historical (providing life lessons through a description of events) or, in the case of the New Testament, doctrinal (providing instructions for an emerging church).
Jonathan has studied this question in detail, and he noticed that Swedenborg’s opinion seems to change over time. Swedenborg provides a list in his earliest theological work (Secrets of Heaven) that clearly states which books are divine, and this list doesn’t include the epistles. However, later on he starts to quote the epistles more and more until his last work (True Christianity), where he does refer to them as the Word. It seems as though initially Swedenborg was focused on the parts of the Bible where he found the deepest meaning, and then later he broadened his focus to include the others.
Related free e-book download: Sacred Scripture / White Horse
Related video resources: Jonathan’s Nunc Licet Bible Study video stream (not sponsored by the Swedenborg Foundation)
Swedenborg describes angels as occasionally going through periods where they fall back into a lower state of mind as part of their natural cycle of spiritual growth. But can they fall as far as hell?
For angels, hell is a state where they’re immersed in their own selfishness and thus separated from God. They never completely lose that sense of self, Swedenborg writes, but even when they go through dark periods, it’s not permanent. Fundamentally, angels are ruled by a love of others, and so that keeps them from living in hell.
Swedenborg wrote much about the correspondences of numbers, and he found that higher angels of the heart tend to speak almost entirely in numbers. If a person on earth repeatedly sees the same number, it might have some special meaning that’s unique to that person. However, Swedenborg didn’t say anything specific about the numbers 333 or 1111.
Related episode: “The Spiritual Meaning of Numbers”
The panel agrees pretty much unanimously—yes, they can. Panel members share stories of times when this has happened to them or when they’ve heard of it happening to others. And, too, there may be angels who love us as deeply as do family members who send us peaceful, loving thoughts while we sleep.
A big part of our initial entry into the afterlife is the processing of all the things that we’ve done (good and bad), working through the intentions behind each one, and understanding how our actions affected others. In many near-death experiences, people have found that they’re able to feel how they’ve made other people feel. Although Swedenborg doesn’t say that specifically, it’s very much in harmony with the things he does write about the afterlife. He describes people who have committed serious crimes, for example, undergoing a very intense process of confronting their actions and understanding their guilt.
Related Swedenborg and Life Videos:
Swedenborg and Life “Spiritual Questions Answered” 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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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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