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How does salvation work? Many disagree on this simple question—or whether it’s even worth asking—but eighteenth-century scientist and philosopher Emanuel Swedenborg had a unique perspective on the issue.
In this episode, host Curtis Childs and featured guests explore what he discovered during his mystical explorations of the afterlife. From what he learned and wrote, salvation isn’t the result of one act; instead it’s a process of spiritual reformation and regeneration that runs in cycles.
Six Days to Salvation
The idea of the work week appears across many faith traditions. During the course of his spiritual experiences, Swedenborg learned that the Lord’s six days of labor and one day of rest in creating the universe was a metaphor for our own spiritual journey. The six days of labor each represent different ways of fighting against self-centered, earthly desires, and the seventh day is a period when we’ve achieved a state of peace—even if only for a little while before the battle starts again.
If you want to know more about what each day represents, check out our past episode “What the 7 Days of Creation Mean.” In this episode, we’re focusing on the day-to-day spiritual work that makes up this cycle of spiritual growth.
But first, let’s talk goals. What do we mean by salvation?
It is a fixed and unchangeable law that the closer we move to the Lord, the closer the Lord moves toward us. (True Christianity §100)
Curtis illustrates the point with containers filled with water. Divine love and wisdom is the water constantly pouring into us, but if we’re filled with other types of junk, there’s only so much divine influence we can absorb. We have to get rid of our inner “stuff” so all that’s left inside us is pure, clean water. When we’re filled with nothing but love and wisdom, we’re united with God, and that’s salvation.
It’s important to understand that you’re not alone when it comes to salvation—God is right there to help, but you have to be involved in the process. You need to get started, then the Lord gets flowing.
The Daily Grind
Salvation isn’t one big moment, but a constant process made up of acts of repentance.
Acts of repentance include any and all actions that result in our not willing, and consequently not doing, evil things that are sins against God. (True Christianity §510:1)
In other words, every time we work to remove a piece of “junk” from our inner self, we’re performing an act of repentance. Throughout the episode, we’ll see this in action with the simple example of Curtis cleaning his apartment.
In one example, he manages to resist the temptation to trick someone else into doing the work. Then we see laziness averted when he decides not to sweep dirt under the rug by remembering this number:
When we are considering doing something evil and are forming an intention to do it, we say to ourselves, “I am thinking about this and I am intending to do it, but because it is a sin, I am not going to do it.” This counteracts the enticement that hell is injecting into us and keeps it from making further inroads. (True Christianity §535:1)
These are minor examples of temptation, but they represent moments when we might have the urge to do something harmful with long-lasting consequences. And just because we resist temptation once doesn’t mean that we can always do so. Even in the tiniest moments of daily life, we can find ourselves taking action that we regret later.
When we are living in kindness and faith, we regret our faults every day. We think about our bad traits, admit them, avoid acting on them, and ask the Lord for help. (The Heavenly City §163)
It’s OK if sometimes we backslide and make mistakes. The end goal is a state of joy and rest that represents another step on the road to regeneration.
Looking Under the Hood
With the help of Dr. Jonathan Rose, we learn that the tests Curtis just went through were influenced by spiritual forces of good and evil. As Swedenborg experienced, we all have angels and evil spirits with us constantly, and they become part of the inner struggle.
For example, when Curtis is cleaning, the side of him that’s influenced by evil spirits might think, “Isn’t this the worst? There’s so many better things you could be doing!” The angelic side, however, focuses on the good that will come out of the chore. But here’s the interesting thing: those same evil spirits who encouraged him to slack off then fill his mind with negative, self-abusive thoughts as a result. Angels, on the other hand, provide loving support and encouragement.
This kind of battle goes on beneath every action everyone takes every day.
The tests that we undergo are nothing else than battles between the evil spirits and angels who are present with us. The evil spirits summon up every wrong that we have ever done or even considered from childhood on. So they stir up what is evil and what is false in us and condemn us for it. Nothing gratifies them more; it is the central pleasure of their lives. But through the angels the Lord protects us and prevents evil spirits and demons from pushing beyond the furthest limits of our endurance and drowning us. (Secrets of Heaven §741)
While hell is working to destroy us, the good spirits work to protect us from the worst influences and the effects of those actions. We still have to actively fight against temptation, but when we do, God will be there for us.
Even so, as we saw in the last section, being confronted with our faults can allow negative thoughts to flood us. In those darkest times, it’s easy to think that God isn’t really there:
As long as our trials continue, we think the Lord is absent, since evil demons disturb us, sometimes to the point where despair almost prevents us from believing God exists at all. But the Lord is closer then than we can possibly believe. When the trouble ends, we find comfort, and then we first believe the Lord is present. (Secrets of Heaven §840)
All of Curtis’s work was in order to prepare for a Christmas party, which, like the Sabbath day, is a metaphor for our true salvation.
All the while [we are going through regeneration] the Lord is constantly fighting on our behalf against evil and falsity and through these battles strengthens us in truth and goodness. The time of conflict is when the Lord is at work . . . and he does not rest until love takes the lead. Then the conflict ends. (Secrets of Heaven §§62–63)
In summary, salvation isn’t about judgment; it’s all about allowing love to take the lead. And it isn’t as hard as you might think:
Divine providence works in a thousand ways, some most mysterious, in each of us, and . . . its constant effort is to purify us. This is because it is focused on the goal of saving us; and all that is required of us is that we set aside the evils in our outer self. The Lord takes care of the rest, if we ask. (Divine Providence §296:15)
For a little taste right now, here’s a meditation in images on the concept of peace and joy in salvation.
Questions (with Dr. Jonathan Rose)
- Right after we die do we become angels or do we have to wait until Jesus returns?
- Are we better at what we have a passion for in the afterlife, say like playing an instrument? Would we be a virtuoso?
- Does Swedenborg say anything about what happens to human souls right after the body dies in his visions?
- If we haven’t defeated dirty wrongful habits on our deathbed will we not make it to heaven? Will those impurities block us?
- Now do other people’s demons (or whatever you call them) affect you also? Do they say the same things to you or have a different perception for 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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