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If you have spiritual questions, our expert panel has the answers—or at least they know which of Emanuel Swedenborg’s theological works does.
The expert panel members are:
- Curtis Childs, host of Swedenborg and Life
- Jonathan Rose, series editor for the New Century Edition and co-host of Swedenborg and Life
- Shada Sullivan, Swedenborgian Church of North America
- Chelsea Odhner, writer for Swedenborg and Life
Throughout this episode, they work together to answer questions from viewers. Questions and answers are summarized below, but follow the links for the full discussion.
Swedenborg actually found himself in the same boat, so he stopped going to church, despite the fact that he drew a lot of criticism for it. Jonathan relates how Swedenborg describes worship services in heaven, where the preachers are unable to preach without an audience that shares their belief.
Shada, who recently became an ordained minister, shares that with church attendance declining across all denominations, she hopes that people will continue to attend services regardless of the denomination. She points out that there is other value in church, such as community and service opportunities. Also, as Chelsea says, by working from within a church, it can be easier to start initiatives or suggest ways of worship that are meaningful to you.
Chelsea understands Swedenborg’s perspective to be that all thoughts are from an outside influence. Thoughts don’t belong to us until we decide to act on them. Curtis points out that we don’t actually own anything in isolation. He uses the example of the mug in front of him, which was designed and made by someone else, and even the water in it came through the efforts of other people. Thoughts work the same way. By watching our thoughts, we can learn more about ourselves—is a particular negative thought completely foreign, or does it have a resonance inside us that might point to an issue we need to work on?
When Swedenborg mentions meditation, he seems to mean it as focusing the mind rather than emptying the mind. He doesn’t provide a specific recipe for how to meditate, but he does talk about the importance of self-reflection and examining one’s own thoughts and feelings.
Related episode: “Five Kinds of Spiritual Experiences”
There’s an anecdotal account of someone asking Swedenborgian theologian George Dole whether anyone will spend all of eternity in hell, to which he responded, “Nobody has yet!”
This is a tough question, because even Swedenborg seems to say contradictory things: in some places he suggests that even the worst people can be redeemed if they want to be, and in others he seems to say that once a person has truly chosen to embrace evil loves, they aren’t capable of changing.
Jonathan’s interpretation of this is that there’s nobody who can’t be saved, but there are many who choose not to be. Hell isn’t really about punishment, it’s about God providing a safe place for hell-minded people to follow what they love. That means it’s actually fairly pleasant for evil people—but it’s far from God and therefore spiritually empty.
But Curtis puts forth a “heretical” thought—is God secretly planning a way for everybody to be saved, even if it takes millions of years? Can a person’s fundamental nature be changed? Couldn’t God make that possible? (Follow the link to find out!)
So if hell is something you choose willingly if you’re evil, why does Swedenborg describe some people as being “cast” into hell?
Chelsea suggests that even though it might look like some people are being cast down, it may just be a reflection of the way those people are drawn into hell because of their inner nature. Jonathan agrees, and he adds that some spirits may be in denial about the choices that they’ve made—they may want to pretend that they didn’t choose an evil path, when in reality they did.
Each person is unique, so Jonathan recommends that you look at what you love in order to learn how to share your loves with others. Even bringing a unique perspective to the world can be a contribution in and of itself. Beyond that, Chelsea adds, praying, reading sacred scripture can offer guidance in unexpected ways, and the Lord will also guide people to where they need to be if they’re open to that guidance.
Shada points out that moments matter in everyone’s life—there’s no such thing as too small a way to serve. “I really think it’s beautiful the optimism that can be found in just the small things.”
Curtis adds that divine truths have to be true for everyone, regardless of how wealthy you are or where your talents lie. No matter what your means, it’s your motivation that matters—you’ll find a way as long as you keep looking for it. In a way, sharing this question is a service in itself.
In the show that the viewer mentioned, Curtis and the team looked at what Swedenborg said about regeneration, and they examined parallels to the processes that other cultures describe as happening during reincarnation. (Watch the episode “Do We Reincarnate?” or read a recap.)
The panel talks about the ways that spiritual growth is similar to reincarnation. For example, the recent episode on spirals brought home the idea that we may constantly be coming back to the same point in our mind or activities, but it gradually becomes either higher or lower, depending on how we react to events. In a way, every time something about us changes, or we experience a significant loss, it’s like a little death inside us, and from that comes a rebirth as a different type of person.
You can get an additional perspective on the topic of Swedenborg and reincarnation from this post on our Spirituality in Practice blog.
Bad news first: Swedenborg not only talks about two people merging into one—in the context of two people sharing a deep bond as married partners—but he also describes entire communities appearing as a single angel, or even the whole of heaven itself.
Shada finds beauty in Swedenborg’s teaching that as angels give up their sense of individual self, they actually receive more of a sense of self-identity—but this time on a higher, more divine level. Jonathan adds that Swedenborg describes it less as an erasure of identity and more as an alignment and celebration of identities that work well together. Everyone is distinct and remains unique; there are just additional degrees of intimacy.
Related episode: “The Infinite in You”
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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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