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In this episode, host Curtis Childs from the Swedenborg Foundation and featured guests take questions from viewers and provide insights into spiritual matters with the help of eighteenth-century philosopher Emanuel Swedenborg’s spiritual writings.
The expert panel members are:
- Chara Daum, Latin consultant for the New Century Edition
- Dr. Jonathan Rose, series editor for the New Century Edition
- Chelsea Odhner, writer for Swedenborg and Life
Throughout this episode, our expert panel answers questions viewers had after watching previous episodes. Questions and answers are summarized below; please follow the links for the full discussion.
Swedenborg reported meeting Mary in heaven, where she appeared to him as a good, though relatively normal, person. She was humble and asked that people not regard her as anything other or more than human—in fact, it was the humanity that Jesus inherited from her that enabled him to do his work in this world and the next.
Swedenborg also says that people with prominent biblical roles weren’t necessarily guaranteed high status in heaven—some people are emphasized in the Bible because they have lessons to teach us, but if they did evil in the world, then they have to work through that in the afterlife just like everyone else.
2. What does Swedenborg say the church means? Is it a movement or is it inside each one of us?
The simple answer: yes, it’s both. He rarely uses the word to refer to a building; usually when he talks about a “church,” he’s speaking about:
- A religious epoch or spiritual age that is defined by religious characteristics or the people’s relationship with God—for example, the “Most Ancient Church” was an early period in human history when people were in direct communion with God
- A body of religious people—for example, the Christian church as a whole, or a denomination within it (the Catholic church, the Protestant church, etc.)
- A state of spiritual closeness with God that we build inside ourselves as we practice
Swedenborg also writes of the external church, meaning church organizations, and the internal church, meaning a body of people who are following true spiritual teachings. Members of this internal church can come from any external religion.
Related Episode: “The Spiritual History of the Human Race”
3. You’ve mentioned some people marry in heaven. So is there physical contact (OK, yes, I mean sex) too? And are only married people allowed to indulge?
Swedenborg offers extensive commentary in his writings on relationships and sex in both heaven and hell. In heaven, marriage happens between two people who are truly soulmates. They do have sex, which he describes as much more incredible than any physical experience.
There is also sex in hell, but it’s meaningless, unsatisfactory, and empty; the people are motivated by selfish desires rather than love for each other.
4. Do angels speak in something like tongues?
In heaven, everybody speaks the same angelic language and understands meaning clearly. On earth, people of all languages can understand when angels speak, because their communication transcends all earthly language.
Read more about the language of angels in Swedenborg’s book Heaven and Hell.
According to Swedenborg, we exist to form heaven—to live lives of love and wisdom and then, in the afterlife, join the vast community of souls who have done the same thing before us. Jonathan points out that an important aspect of this is freedom. In order to be truly good or loving, we have to be free to either choose that or reject it. A lot of the mayhem and madness of our world exists to bring evil to light so that we understand what it truly is and have the opportunity to either embrace it or reject it.
For Chelsea, the answer is joy. We are separate from God, but the goal is always to bring us back to him, even if that’s difficult to see from our limited perspective.
Building on those thoughts, Curtis points out that if the ultimate goal is an ever-increasing heaven, then the end result must be beautiful and amazing enough to make all of human suffering worth it. And individual trials and challenges can make us better and stronger in ways that we never could have achieved otherwise.
Chara wraps things up with this thought: Swedenborg says that heaven is a kingdom of usefulness. In the same way, individual suffering can make us more useful to others, because we then have the ability to help them through a similar spot.
6. Is it possible from a Swedenborgian perspective that we all may be creating our own heaven and hell through our own beliefs and experiences that we adhere to in this life?
Swedenborg reports that people are often surprised by their experience in the afterlife, so while we may live our lives with the goal of ending up in a specific place or state of being, it doesn’t seem to be possible to consciously form those circumstances or intentionally put ourselves there.
At the same time, Swedenborg says that what we experience in the afterlife is based on how we live our lives and what we truly value in our hearts, so our own little corner of heaven or hell will be based on our choices and behavior in this life.
7. Does Swedenborg speak of having access to the kingdom of heaven while here on earth?
For Swedenborg personally, the answer was yes: he describes having been in regular contact with the spiritual realms once his spiritual senses were opened.
For people in general, the situation is more complex. On the one hand, Swedenborg says that it is dangerous to seek out direct contact, because it’s easy to be deceived: we might think that we’re talking to an angel when actually it’s an evil spirit. On the other hand, he also says that we are surrounded by angels and evil spirits all the time, with both trying to influence us. If we lead good lives, he says, we may even be in contact with communities in heaven while still living on earth and not realize it. Heaven reaches to us even as we reach towards heaven.
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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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