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The familiar trope of the angel and devil on your shoulders may actually reveal an essential spiritual truth. Eighteenth-century theologian Emanuel Swedenborg learned that everything, including our most private thoughts and feelings, is part of a larger network.
In this episode, hosts Curtis Childs and Jonathan Rose explore these ideas, taking us through each part of that gigantic spiritual network.
There are so many networks that operate in our lives, from the genetic network that makes us who we are to the food distribution network that provides us with the groceries in our supermarkets.
But could our consciousness also be part of a network?
The overarching rule for the spiritual world’s influence on us is that we cannot think or will anything on our own; everything flows in. Goodness and truth come from the Lord through heaven and therefore through the angels with us. Evil and falsity come from hell and therefore through the evil spirits with us. Their influence is exerted on our thinking and our willing. I know that this is true, although it cannot help boggling the mind, since it is contrary to appearances. Actual experience, however, must determine how the matter stands. (Secrets of Heaven §5846)
Our thoughts do not originate within us; instead, they flow from the spiritual world—both from heaven and from hell. But the source of that energy all comes from one place: God.
Seem complicated? Well, it helps to think in terms of an ecosystem. Life can take many different forms, and nature sometimes seems to be at odds with itself. Ultimately, though, all of the energy that feeds this life comes from the light and heat of the sun. But we can’t take the sun in directly. Instead, it’s funneled through other things that we can understand and digest—for example, through an apple tree that grows and provides us with fruit to eat.
God’s life energy works like that for us, too, as human nature has over time become such that it does not function in the way in which it was designed. So rather than receiving God’s energy directly, a network of influence has been put in place so that we can receive it in different ways, depending on how we live our lives.
We human beings . . . do not live by the code ordained for us or by any law of that code, so a particular influence is exerted on us. That is, we have with us angels and spirits through whom the influence is exerted. If we did not, we would hurl ourselves into every kind of wickedness and quickly plunge headlong into the deepest hell. The spirits and angels bring us under the Lord’s control and guidance. If we followed the code we were created to live by, we would love our neighbor as ourselves and in fact more than ourselves. That is what angels do. Instead we love only ourselves and the world. We hate our fellow human beings except to the extent that they encourage our domineering ways and give us worldly blessings. Since our lives go directly against the heavenly pattern, then, the Lord governs us through individual spirits and angels. (Secrets of Heaven §5850)
But why does that network include evil spirits?
Think of these evil spirits like social media—the same way our news feeds respond to our online behaviors and become customized to show us what we might be interested in, so too does God’s truth adjust itself to speak to us where we are, even if those places are darker than others.
According to Swedenborg, our network includes two spirits and two angels:
The two spirits linked to us put us in contact with hell, and the two angels put us in contact with heaven. If we were not in touch with heaven and hell, we could not live for even a second. Deprived of the two kinds of communication, we would drop dead as a log, because we would then be deprived of connection with the original source of existence—the Lord. This too was once demonstrated to me by experience. The spirits with me backed off a little, and as they did, I started to feel as though I was dying. I really would have died, too, if they had not been sent back to me. (Secrets of Heaven §5849)
What makes this network so important is that it gives us our free will. And we need our freedom as badly as we need the air to breathe.
The Lord, working through angels, could lead us to good aims by his almighty power, but to do so would be to rob us of life. . . . It is therefore an unbreakable law of God that we are to be free, and that the seeds of goodness and truth, or of neighborly love and faith, are to be planted in the soil of our freedom, never in the soil of coercion. What is accepted under pressure does not last, it vanishes. (Secrets of Heaven §5854:2)
So much of our life is made up of what Swedenborg might call “lower cravings”—selfish, sometimes cruel, instincts. But in order to sustain the free will that is essential to our lives, angels are unable to help us deal with these craving unless we are willing to some degree to turn away from them.
So in addition to maintaining our freedom, the network allows for a progressive spiritual regeneration process, which, Swedenborg says, is also extremely vital.
If we were not reduced to compliance with [this process] in a temperate, gradual way, by the redirection of our freedom, we would die at once. (Secrets of Heaven §5854:3)
We are connected with other spirits all the time—and everything we think or do, we do in unison with them.
The hells are divided up very precisely along the lines of evil desire in all its different varieties, so a person in whom evil is active never lacks like-minded spirits to call on and connect with. (Secrets of Heaven §5851)
These spirits don’t know they are connected to us, but angels are aware of it all and are trying to direct things for our benefit.
This whole system was designed to pull us toward heaven without sacrificing or even risking our free will. Angels invisibly protect us from all sorts of unseen threats, but they also inspire us to do good.
Above all, angels call on the goodness and truth we harbor and use it to block the evil and falsity stirred up by evil spirits. . . . Being in the middle, we are free to turn toward one or the other. These are the kinds of ways angels from the Lord lead and safeguard us. (Secrets of Heaven §5992:3)
God has constructed a whole network of consciousness to make sure his life energy gets to us. As receivers of that energy, we can choose whether to open up to the good signals or the bad ones.
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In a lighthearted and interactive 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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