Watch full episode here!
When we look at the world, it can seem cold, indifferent, and meaningless. So naturally, we create a meaning for it by telling our own little stories about it. In these stories, we see ourselves as the hero, where we’re doing our best to overcome conflicts and get what we need.
But what if the life stories we tell ourselves aren’t even half of the adventure? In this episode, hosts Curtis Childs and Jonathan Rose reveal eighteenth-century spiritual teacher Emanuel Swedenborg’s perspective on our personal narratives.
Some of the narratives we tend to see around our stories can be hard to tolerate. While life can sometimes feel like a horror story or a tragedy, that’s not how things really are. So let’s take a look at the true story of our lives.
Chapter One: Setting
At first blush, the world seems complex but ultimately devoid of meaning. But the reality is that the whole narrative is set between heaven and hell, overseen by divine providence.
The Lord’s Divine Providence Has as Its Goal a Heaven from the Human Race.
. . . 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. (Divine Providence §27)
The laws of nature may not appear loving, but even they were created as part of a system designed to maximize human love and wisdom.
Chapter Two: Characters
The story stars us, but there are other characters and events around us. These events seem arbitrary or based on luck, but they too are crafted by God for our benefit. See our episode “Does God Control Good Luck?” for more on this. Still more characters come from heaven and hell.
There are good spirits and evil spirits with every individual. We have our union with heaven through the good spirits and our union with hell through the evil ones. (Heaven and Hell §292)
Chapter Three: Plot
The default plot is us versus the world, with us trying to extract as much pleasure as possible while minimizing pain. But we aren’t actually alone.
Most of all, angels regulate our emotions, since these constitute our life and our freedom. Angels watch to see whether hells that were not open before open up and exert an influence on us, which happens when we take to some new evil. So far as we allow, angels shut off these hells and remove any spirits who try to emerge from them. They also dissipate any strange new influences that have a bad effect. 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. (Secrets of Heaven §5992)
These angels are actually ushering us through the plot of our stories.
It is important to realize that hellish spirits who are permitted to attack the good in this way intend nothing but evil, since they want to drag the good down from heaven as forcefully as possible and throw them into hell. To destroy anyone’s soul—that is, to destroy anyone forever—is the central pleasure of their life. The Lord does not yield them an inch, though, except in order to bring good out of it. The good he seeks is to firm up and strengthen truth and goodness in people undergoing times of trial. (Secrets of Heaven §6574)
While there are parts of us that fight alongside the angels and God, there’s actually a double-agent inside of us that sides with hell!
Chapter Four: Conflict
Our real conflict isn’t us against the world, it’s against that part of us that’s against God. This double-agent that’s a part of us is called “inherited evil,” or ego, and we cover its history in-depth in our episode “The Meaning of Adam and Eve.”
In short, we tend to enjoy hellish things, and it’s hard to connect with heaven when you’re plugged into hell. So opening the door to God is one of the biggest parts of our story.
The reason divine providence focuses on what is infinite and eternal particularly in its intent to save the human race is that the goal of divine providence is a heaven from the human race. Since this is the goal, it follows that the main focus of divine providence is reforming and regenerating us, that is, saving us, since heaven is made up of people who have been reformed and regenerated. (Divine Providence §58)
Chapter Five: Theme
A theme is the core idea or message that stretches through the story. Our default theme is just about survival and the pursuit of happiness, but the reality is a complex and beautiful narrative about the tension between love and freedom, leading to redemption and celebration. It might even be something we can’t understand until we are angels.
Chapter Six: Narrative Arc
How does this all change the structure of our story? Well, for one, the true story doesn’t end. While there are ups and downs, the long-term picture is infinite upward growth. For more on that, check out “The Heaven Project.”
The true story of our life is set in divine providence, which means that it’s guided toward as much love as possible. We are always supported by God and heavenly spirits, so we just need to do our part to tip the balance toward heaven in our hearts and minds. Overcoming inherited evil leads to a journey of betterment that never ends.