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In this episode, hosts Curtis Childs and Jonathan Rose work with our viewers to discover what eighteenth-century philosopher and theologian Emanuel Swedenborg thought about will, understanding, and how to get into heaven.
Both Jonathan and Curtis were raised Swedenborgian, but the first book Jonathan remembers having a deep impact is Heaven and Hell. Reading that, he had the realization that every person is complete in their own perfect way. We aren’t just 0.000000001% of the human race; we’re each one whole life.
When he was seventeen, Curtis took a Swedenborg hiatus for a few years. The most important book he remembers reading as he returned to Swedenborgian studies was Secrets of Heaven. The specific concept that jumped out at him was the idea of falsities—that spiritual truth or untruth isn’t a matter of agreeing or disagreeing with a particular doctrine. It’s all the tiny lies we tell ourselves that separate us from God.
Weekly Swedenborg Keywords
In this section, Curtis and Jonathan look at two concepts that are vital to understanding Swedenborg’s work: will and understanding.
We have two abilities that make up our life, one called will and the other understanding. They are distinguishable, but they are created to be one. When they are one, they are called the mind; so they are the human mind and it is there that all the life within us is truly to be found. (New Jerusalem §28)
The mind (will and understanding combined) is the spirit—this is the part of you that’s eternal and truly human.
Will and understanding contain goodness and truth (see last week’s episode for more on those two terms)—our will contains everything that is good about us, and our understanding contains everything that is true.
Jonathan points out that the Latin intellectus, from which we get the word understanding, gives us a clue about the meaning: it’s the part of our mind that reflects and gives options for proceeding, while the will is the part of our mind that chooses the path. Swedenborg anticipated what dieters everywhere have experienced firsthand: when the will is lacking, it doesn’t matter what we tell ourselves intellectually that we should do. And when it comes to spiritual growth, if we feed truth to our intellect and we genuinely desire to do good in the world, then we become better and better people. However . . .
Just as goodness is the reality underlying something and truth is how that thing becomes manifest from goodness, so our will is the reality underlying our life, and our understanding is how life becomes manifest from our will. (New Jerusalem §32)
In other words, while desire is very important, without the knowledge (understanding) of how to make that work, you won’t get anywhere. Curtis and Jonathan demonstrate the important role that understanding plays in our life through a play in two acts featuring puzzles.
But wait . . . can’t our wills contain more than goodness? Don’t people do bad things? Let’s visit the spiritual world to make sense of this all.
Spiritual World Road Trip
One of the best parts of traveling with Swedenborg is that we can get to know eighteenth-century personalities both as they were on earth and as they were in the afterlife.
In this road trip, we’re going to meet the bishop Rhydelius. Rhydelius was an intellectual—he had been a professor as well as a bishop. Swedenborg writes that Rhydelius believed in deathbed repentance, meaning that a person could get into heaven, regardless of what they had done in life, simply by asking forgiveness in the moments before death.
When he died, the angels invited him into heaven and offered him a home; but they warned him that if he was not of the same character as they, he should be careful of heaven’s light and heat. When the light did reach Rhydelius, he went blind for a moment—but when his sight was restored, the angels were more radiant than ever.
This is because the light of heaven, which is truth, needs the right understanding. Then, the heat of heaven, which is goodness, struck him with pain and made him heavy, so he fell. When he asked for help, the angels revived him. The angels then asked if he wanted to be in heaven. He decided he wasn’t ready for heaven yet.
Later on, Swedenborg saw him in heaven again and saw that he had found truth and goodness through his own will and understanding.
During this live show, viewers chatted in their questions. Here’s what they asked—just click a question to see the answer:
- Does Swedenborg ever reference alternate dimensions? Could the levels of heaven and hell be what many today refer to as such dimensions?
- Does Swedenborg advocate selling everything and giving it to the poor, as Jesus advised one man?
- Could we have a memory of what has happened to others as if it were our own?
- How do we know our will is good, without deceiving ourselves?
Curtis takes a moment to interview a viewer, Pete Dawson from New Jersey. Pete found the show through Facebook, which advertised a quote from our Heaven and Hell Facebook page. He then searched YouTube for Swedenborg, and started binging videos from offTheLeftEye.
One thing that really resonates with Pete is the divine order, or providence—no matter how chaotic things seem, there’s a positive intention behind it. He also loves the idea of usefulness and the thought that our life here is just preparation for the next life.
At the beginning, our hosts asked viewers which book introduced them to Swedenborg. Here’s the breakdown of the top three.
- Nearly half the responders got started with Heaven and Hell.
- The next most popular was Divine Providence.
- And Swedenborg and Life itself came in third!
Thanks for joining us—we’ll see you next week!
Related Swedenborg and Life Videos
“How You End Up in Heaven or Hell”
“What If I Don’t Like Heaven?”
“The Day-to-Day Process of Our Salvation”
“Regeneration: How Radical Love Is Born”
“Repentance: How to Be in Heaven Now”
“Who Was Swedenborg?”
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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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