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What is death even for? From our human perspective, it seems pretty terrible. But in reality, it’s an integral part of a much greater machine that’s powered by love.
In this episode, hosts Curtis Childs and Jonathan Rose examine what eighteenth-century philosopher Emanuel Swedenborg discovered about death and what’s beyond.
From our perspective, death seems final and pointless, but a greater understanding shows that it’s not just important, but good. Chelsea Odhner joins to talk about one common example—the ways the cells of our body are always dying and being reborn in order to keep the body as a whole healthy. This is an ongoing process, and similar processes occur in ecosystems like forests, where the death of animals and plants makes room for new species and new innovations. In a way, the history of evolution is all about the benefits of death. Individual plants or animals can only change so much to adapt to a changing environment. It takes new generations to develop traits critical to survival. Death allows for this diversity of life.
This happens on a spiritual level too—in some ways, our physical lives are incubators for our souls and eternal lives. This, Swedenborg tells us in Divine Providence §220, is why no angel or spirit in the afterlife was created as such—they were all born human so that they could grow into the spiritual beings that they would become. You could think of the body as a rocket ship that takes us into higher planes. Like a launching rocket, once we reach a certain point, we no longer need the heavy thrusters that started our journey, and we can continue on in a lighter and more streamlined form.
But just as there are little cellular deaths that help to maintain the health of our physical body, there are little spiritual deaths along the way that help to maintain the health of our spiritual selves. One important type of “mini spiritual death” is the shedding of our hereditary self-centeredness. We all start out as children being self-centered; that’s necessary for our survival. As we get older, we learn facts that help us develop empathy for others. The things we learn become the seeds from which a new spiritual understanding can grow.
But first, we have to detach from our self-centeredness. How do we do that?
The only way to dig out the root of evil is by doing battle against it. The more we do battle and thereby set evils to one side, the more what is good replaces them and we look what is evil in the face from the perspective of what is good and see that the evil is hellish and hideous. Since this is how we see it then, we not only abstain from it but develop an aversion to it and eventually loathe it. (Life §§94–95)
Since what’s right for your own self-interest and what’s right for everyone can look similar, how do we know evil when we see it? Fortunately, we have some powerful spiritual learning tools available to us: video games. With the right power-ups—truth and love from God—we can separate the self-delusion from the truth and defeat our own negative tendencies.
This process of death leading to new life is reflected by what Jesus says in John 12:24: “Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.” And that brings us just to the point where Jonathan can explain why Jesus himself took part in the process of death.
Death was always meant to be transformative, but it wasn’t always so painful. Chara Daum joins to help us understand the inner meaning of the story of Adam and Eve. In the earliest days of human existence, death was a seamless, natural transition between the physical and spiritual worlds. It’s only once we separated from the Divine that it started to become painful.
But it’s all for a good purpose, as we find in the episode wrap-up—we’re making 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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