We’ve spent more than one hundred episodes discussing Emanuel Swedenborg’s writings, so it might be time to step back and examine his work as a whole. His perspectives on the afterlife, God, the Bible, and spiritual growth may already have influenced your life more than you think.
In this episode, host Curtis Childs and featured guests explore how Swedenborg’s spiritual experiences can teach us about the relationship between this life and the afterlife.
Let’s start at the beginning—who is Emanuel Swedenborg? If you study the lives and works of Johnny Appleseed, Daniel Burnham, or Helen Keller, you’ll find Swedenborg’s influence spread far and wide.
Considering his reach, the question might be why we don’t know Swedenborg better. Jonathan Rose discusses what this eighteenth-century philosopher and theologian contributed and why he might have left the public eye. Despite his many advances and inventions, Swedenborg’s spiritual experiences may have had a negative impact on public opinion.
Nevertheless, it’s worth taking notice when a genius like Swedenborg starts writing about life, the universe, and everything.
Swedenborg is perhaps best known for his work on the subject of the afterlife. He wrote about his journeys in the afterlife in painstaking detail, almost like a journalist. He described terrain with plants, animals, houses, and people, very much like our world.
As soon as we arrive in the other life, we are all recognized by our friends and relatives and by people we have known in one way or another. Further, we talk with each other and continue to see each other in keeping with our friendship in the world. I have heard many people who had just come from the world overjoyed to see their friends again, and their friends overjoyed that they had arrived. It often happens that married partners meet and welcome each other joyfully. (Heaven and Hell §494)
In the afterlife, you’re able to travel instantaneously to wherever you intend to go. This is a key part of Swedenborg’s experience of heaven and hell. After we die, we gravitate to like-minded people, whether they are fundamentally in a state of love and inner peace (heaven) or in a state of selfishness and hate (hell). Our state of mind—or spirit!—affects the reality around us.
This happens regardless of our faith on earth:
Heaven includes everyone who has lived a good life since the very beginning of our planet. (Heaven and Hell §415)
Heaven and hell are opposites, and we experience the pull between these two states of being in our daily lives in the form of positive, life-affirming thoughts and feelings versus negative, self-destructive ones. In Swedenborgian terms, this could be called “the struggle for the mind.” Positive thoughts and feelings flow from heaven, while negative thoughts come from hell. This can lead to inner turmoil—especially for people who are on a path of spiritual growth—as these two opposing forces work against each other.
Swedenborg also wrote extensively about God. He understood God as the blueprint, inspiration, and cause for all people and as the very definition of love and wisdom. Curtis invites viewers to explore the subject through a series of beautiful images and quotes from Swedenborg’s writings.
One of the most important points that comes through is that God is always loving, never the angry being that he’s sometimes made out to be:
From these few points you can see how insane people are who think that God can condemn anyone, curse anyone, throw anyone into hell, predestine anyone’s soul to eternal death, avenge wrongs, or rage against or punish anyone. People are even more insane if they actually believe this, let alone teach it. In reality, God cannot turn away from us or even look at us with a frown. To do any such thing would be against his essence, and what is against his essence is against himself. (True Christianity §56)
Divine providence is the way the Lord’s divine love and wisdom govern us. (Divine Providence §1)
While we’ve heard of God and the afterlife, correspondences are less well known. Correspondence is the universal symbolism of everything—a sort of language God uses to communicate to us.
A great deal of experience has enabled me to see that nothing exists in the natural world and its three kingdoms that does not represent something in the spiritual world, or that does not have something in the spiritual world to which it corresponds. Among many other experiences, this one also illustrated the point: There have been times when I talked about the organs of the body and traced their links with each other, from those in the head to those in the chest and on into those of the abdomen. Some of those times the angels above me led my thoughts through the spiritual qualities to which the organs corresponded. This they did without making a single mistake. They were not thinking at all about the physical organs I was considering but only about the spiritual qualities to which the organs corresponded. The nature of angels’ intelligence is such that their spiritual knowledge teaches them all there is to know about the body, even the most deeply hidden mysteries, which cannot possibly come to our own knowledge. In fact, they know all about everything in the whole universe . . . (Secrets of Heaven §2992)
First, it’s important to understand that when Swedenborg speaks about the Bible, he uses the term the Word. The Word is not only the Bible; it’s all the spiritual truths that have been taught to us throughout human history. In the oldest days, Swedenborg says, people understood these truths through direct revelation from God. When human beings lost that connection, they began to use correspondences to understand spiritual truths. It was only later, after we lost the ability to understand correspondences, that the truths were communicated through the written word, including the Bible.
The Word . . . contains secrets of heaven, and every single aspect of it has to do with the Lord, his heaven, the church, faith, and all the tenets of faith; but not a single person sees this in the letter. . . . The truth is, however, that every part of the Old Testament holds an inner message. Except at a very few points, those inner depths never show on the surface . . . [but] each and every detail down to the smallest—even down to the tiniest jot—enfolds and symbolizes spiritual and heavenly matters . . . (Secrets of Heaven §§1, 2)
In Secrets of Heaven, Swedenborg actually went through the Bible book by book to uncover the correspondences. Translator Chara Daum discusses how Swedenborg noticed correspondences in dreams as well.
“The Shape of Heaven”
“Spiritual Insight through Gardening”
“What the Bible Is”
“What Light and Heat Can Tell You about God”
There are two states that we all inevitably enter into and go through if we are to turn from an earthly person into a spiritual person. The first state is called reformation, the second is called regeneration. In the first state we look from our earthly self toward having a spiritual self; being spiritual is what we long for. In the second state we become someone who is both spiritual and earthly. The first state is brought about by truths (these have to be truths related to faith); through these truths we aim to develop goodwill. The second state is brought about by good actions that come from goodwill; through these actions we come [more deeply] into truths related to faith. To put it another way, the first state is a state of thought that occurs in our intellect; the second state is a state of love that occurs in our will. As the second state begins and progresses, a change takes place in our minds. There is a reversal, because then the love in our will flows into our intellect and leads and drives it to think in agreement and harmony with what we love. As good actions that come from love take on a primary role, and the truths related to faith are relegated to a secondary role, we become spiritual and are a new creation. . . . Then our actions come from goodwill and our words come from faith; we develop a sense of the goodness that comes from goodwill and a perception of the truth that is related to faith; and we are in the Lord and in a state of peace. In brief, we are reborn. (True Christianity §571:1)
Without usefulness as a third party, love and wisdom would be as unreal as the heat and light of the sun would be if they had no effect on people, animals, and plants. That heat and that light become real by flowing into things and having an effect on them. (True Christianity §67)
Since heaven comes from the human race, then, and since heaven is living with the Lord forever, it follows that this was the Lord’s goal for creation. . . . The Lord did not create the universe for his own sake but for the sake of people he would be with in heaven. By its very nature, spiritual love wants to share what it has with others, and to the extent that it can do so, it is totally present, experiencing its peace and bliss. Spiritual love gets this quality from the Lord’s divine love, which is like this in infinite measure. It then follows that divine love (and therefore divine providence) has the goal of a heaven made up of people who have become angels and are becoming angels, people with whom it can share all the bliss and joy of love and wisdom, giving them these blessings from the Lord’s own presence within them. He cannot help doing this, because his image and likeness is in us from creation. (Divine Providence §27:2)
All of this exists to serve what Swedenborg saw as the purpose of creation.
- Are all of Swedenborg’s theological stances based on information from angels?
- Did Swedenborg say anything about the location of heaven and hell in relation to where earth is?
- How did Swedenborg feel about his role as a spiritual tour guide?
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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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