Watch full episode here!
It would be easy for God to prove his existence—one miracle could convince anyone. But miracles are rare at best, and there are still people with faith that can move mountains. If God is really here for us, why won’t he show himself to us clearly? But that question presupposes two more: Is it really valuable to God for everyone to know he exists? Could it be that if God demonstrated his own reality, it would do more harm than good?
In this episode, host Curtis Childs takes us on an exploration into eighteenth-century scientist and mystic Emanuel Swedenborg’s spiritual writings about God, free will, and the purpose of our lives in this often confusing world.
A Wrench in the Works
The human mind could actually be overwhelmed by witnessing a miracle. Let’s look at how Swedenborg understood our thought process.
He describes an inner self, which is more connected to the spiritual world, and an outer self, which is attuned to the details of our life in this world. Our rationality acts as a bridge between the two.
When everything is working in the right order, life from God flows into our inner thoughts, and we have the freedom to process that in any way we choose. The impulses then flow through our rationality into our outer thought, which becomes the knowledge that influences the way we act in the world. If everything is working the way it’s supposed to, we’re constantly learning and growing.
Miracles are a wrench in the works that blocks our rationality. If we don’t need to think about what we believe, then there’s no flow from our outer mind to our inner mind, and the learning process is shut down. If all that seems a bit abstract, Curtis uses a succulent pot to break it down.
The takeaway: if you think you understand something, it’s harder to experience it firsthand; think about what you’ve learned, and gain a full, detailed knowledge of what it’s like.
This shows us that a faith caused by miracles is not real faith but only second-hand belief. It has no rational content, let alone spiritual content. It is actually an outer shell with nothing inside it. The same holds true of everything we do on the basis of this kind of second-hand faith, whether it is acknowledging God, worshiping him at home or in church, or benefiting others. When the only thing that prompts the acknowledgment, the worship, and the devotion is some miracle, then we are acting from the earthly level of our human nature and not from the spiritual level, because the miracle instills faith from the outside and not from the inside—from the world, then, and not from heaven. (Divine Providence §131)
The Philosophers’ Road
Faith cannot be forced. It must earn its place to have any impact. Swedenborg illustrates this through one of his “memorable occurrences,” a story of an encounter in the spiritual world (True Christianity §79). In the story, a group of philosophers were arguing in favor of a materialist, atheist viewpoint, while some bystanders, including a priest, were arguing the opposite point of view.
The priest said that anyone could be lifted up to experience a heavenly mindset, if the self-centered desires that held them back were removed. To show that this was the case, the Lord allowed the philosophers to be raised up to heaven, where they spoke with angels and realized they had been wrong.
Happy ending, right? Unfortunately, because that wasn’t their natural state, a short period of time in heaven exhausted them, and they decided to leave in search of someplace more agreeable . . .
No matter what the philosophers saw or were told, it didn’t change their beliefs—their beliefs were based on the things they loved (on their will, in Swedenborgian terms), and even definitive proof wasn’t enough to change that.
Miracles Kinda Don’t Matter
Our spiritual journey is all about changing the will in freedom. You can’t have faith without free will, which is one of the building blocks of consciousness. Whatever we do out of our own free will becomes a permanent part of us.
Both our will and our free choice could be referred to as living forces, because action stops when the will stops, and the will stops when free choice stops. (True Christianity §482:2)
Taking freedom away from a human is like taking wheels off a car. If the goal is to get someone to heaven, all miracles can do is drag that person. This is why miracles don’t work as proof of God’s existence—they take away the freedom to learn and choose on our own.
At the end of the day, miracles don’t help people who are going in the right direction or people who are going in the wrong direction:
The effect of miracles on good people is different from their effect on evil people. Good people have no desire for miracles, but they believe the miracles in the Word. If they do hear anything about a miracle, they think of it only as a minor argument that strengthens their faith, because they base their thinking on the Word and therefore on the Lord and not on the miracle.
It is different for evil people. They can actually be constrained and compelled to faith and even to worship and devotion by miracles. This lasts only a short while, though, because their evils are pent up inside, and the compulsions and gratifications of those evils are constantly working away inside their outward worship and devotion. In the effort to let them break free of this confinement, these people think about the miracle and wind up calling it a sham, a trick, or a natural event, which enables them to return to their evil ways. (Divine Providence §133)
Some people may have spiritual experiences, but those experiences can be deceptive. Just as there are heavenly spirits who love and support us, there are evil spirits who produce events that seem like miracles or send us messages that seem to be spiritual teachings. It can be hard to judge, but we are meant to use our freedom and rationality to choose what to believe.
In the wrap-up, Curtis notes that the way God works in our lives is complex and fragile. If we’re forced into belief, no matter who we are, it could do more harm than good. The spiritual journey is supposed to be all about weighing the truth of any piece of information we come across. And yes, that includes Swedenborg’s writings!
- Aren’t some of us “needed” to fill the spots in hell in order for free will to exist for people on the planet? Equilibrium vs. “all of us are created for heaven”? How does that match up?
- Is there a difference between desire for miracles and desire for power?
- What does Swedenborg say about the subconscious?
- If miracles don’t normally help much then why do people still have them sometimes, and why do people have NDEs that might compel them in a similar way?
- How is it that there are people that “feel” God inside personally, but others struggle to find that, even if we are studying and thinking about God?
Related Swedenborg and Life Videos
Free E-Book Downloads
Support Swedenborg and Life! Enjoy our programming and want to help us produce more free videos, books, and other faith and spirituality content? Make a donation or become a member of the nonprofit Swedenborg Foundation!
Want to watch more Swedenborg and Life videos? Visit our offTheLeftEye YouTube channel and be sure to subscribe for new uploads!
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.
View the entire Swedenborg and Life Playlist
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.
View our offTheLeftEye YouTube channel