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In this episode, hosts Curtis Childs and Jonathan Rose discover what eighteenth-century philosopher and theologian Emanuel Swedenborg meant when he said “church.” Spoiler alert: it’s more than just a building.
Curtis would love to share the idea of the influence of the spiritual world on our daily life. All day, we seem to be constantly attacked with thoughts and ideas we don’t want, but Swedenborg tells us those thoughts don’t necessarily come from us—in other words, it’s OK to be critical of your own thoughts and feelings.
Curtis sneaks in another one, because it’s so hard to choose: divine providence—the knowledge that God guides everything toward good.
Jonathan wishes everyone knew that there is a loving, divine presence in everything—including all our thoughts and ideas. In addition to being a reassuring thought, it gives a whole new meaning to prayer and asking the divine for answers. It can be remarkably freeing to know that there’s a love there that has your back no matter what.
Weekly Swedenborg Keywords
Swedenborg has a unique definition for almost everything. Here, Curtis and Jonathan discuss what he meant when he wrote about churches or “the church.”
The most important thing to understand is that he never meant “a building where worship takes place”—those, he called “temples.” What does he mean, then? The answer involves a lot of layers.
The church takes a particular form where the Word exists and the Lord is known by means of it, and therefore where divine truths have been revealed. . . .
There are a lot of important ideas here, but the most important might be that this statement can encompass many different faiths. The Word can be more than the Bible.The Lord can be more than Jesus. And the church as a body of the faithful can take many different forms. Swedenborg continues:
Still, though, this does not mean that people are part of the church by merely being born where the Word exists and the Lord is known; people are part of the church only if they are being regenerated by the Lord by means of truths from the Word—that is, they are living caring lives. . . . The Lord’s church includes all people in the world who are living a good life according to their own religion. . . . All the people who live good lives and acknowledge one God, no matter where they are, are accepted by the Lord and come into heaven. This is because everyone who is devoted to doing good recognizes the Lord, since goodness comes from the Lord and the Lord is present in it. (New Jerusalem §246:1, 2)
That definition sounds pretty broad, but, as Swedenborg goes on to explain, it’s also intensely personal:
The church, like heaven, is within us as individuals, so the church in general is made up of people who have the church within themselves. . . . There is no church within us unless the truths we have been taught are grounded in good actions from a caring heart, and therefore grounded in the way we live. There is no church in us if all we care about are the truths that we call matters of faith. . . . People who are of the church—that is, people who have the church within themselves—are drawn to the truth for its own sake; that is, they love what is true because it is true. They also search the Word to find out whether the teachings of the church in which they were born are true. (New Jerusalem §246:4, 1)
The church inside us is the part of us that seeks the truth of love and goodness. This means that anybody who seeks and serves love (no matter what they call it) is part of the same church.
Curtis illustrates this with balloons. We may think of a church as a certain point on the globe, but really, it’s everywhere that there are people who have faith.
But Swedenborg uses the word “church” in other senses as well: sometimes to refer to a particular religious faith or to a denomination within Christianity—just as we do today. But he also uses the word to refer to spiritual ages in humanity’s history. So when he talks about the “New Church,” he’s talking about the fifth spiritual age of humanity. This age was just starting during his lifetime, and we’re still seeing it come into effect. This transformation is not instant, but gradual, and it begins within people’s hearts.
What is this new spiritual age like? We find out in our road trip.
Spiritual World Road Trip
Swedenborg encountered this meaning of the church while meditating on divine omnipresence. While God is present in all things, Swedenborg experienced him as more present in holy things (those that are true and good) than in others. Swedenborg describes having an experience of God as light and flame in various everyday experiences—on the street in London, at his home in Stockholm, and also in a temple (that is, a church).
Even now, we can see the presence of the Lord when we experience joy or see the beauty in everything. We just don’t always recognize it. It’s an internal state, much like the church is for us.
During this live show, viewers chatted in their questions. Here’s what they asked—just click a question to see the answer:
- Do you think we can personally think up a beautiful thought and introduce it into the universal church?
- Did Swedenborg believe that his use of the term “church” was the intended meaning of that same word in the Bible?
- I wonder where we go if we don’t want to claim any particular religion? I just want to live a good loving life and seek my higher power.
- If Jesus never sinned, then how could he fully know what it was like to be human? To fail a test of a temptation is an essential part of being human—how did Christ experience this?
- In the afterlife will we have a better understanding of why someone has hurt us? Will we be given a chance to forgive them and perhaps gain a new friend?
In this section, Curtis interviews one of our viewers—Javier Garza of Monterrey, Mexico. Javier actually found Swedenborg before he found the channel because an author he liked wrote a lot about Helen Keller. Helen Keller was very into Swedenborg, and so reading her work got him interested in Swedenborg and offTheLeftEye.
Since reading Swedenborg can be challenging, Javier finds Swedenborg and Life helps him understand the messages and how they apply to his life. The concept of regeneration—the process of looking inside yourself and thinking about your motivations and how to bring goodness and truth into your life—has changed the way that he relates to other people in his life. He’s been searching for a new church in Mexico, but he has only been able to find a community online so far.
At the beginning, we asked viewers which of Swedenborg’s ideas they wanted the whole world to know. Here are some of the answers.
- God can only love us.
- God does not send people to hell to burn forever.
- The Second Coming is not what we’ve been told.
- Heaven and hell are states of mind that anyone can achieve. There is hope for all.
- We survive physical death and life goes on forever.
- Negativity and hate feed demons and make them stronger.
- The idea of usefulness vs. a selfish love for power.
- We are guided by heaven through providence.
- There is a reality behind the reality and it’s in constant communication with us.
- Scriptures can help us on a real personal level.
Thanks for joining us—we’ll see you next week!
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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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