The Theology and Metaphysics of Emmanuel Swedenborg
The life of Emanuel Swedenborg (1688–1772) was steeped simultaneously in the rational world of the physical sciences and in a deep Christian faith. He lived during the height of the Enlightenment, a period when intellectuals rejected dogmatic religious teachings in favor of science and reason, and his theology reflects a long struggle to understand the world of spirit through investigation of the physical world. Ultimately, that struggle was resolved when (as he described it) his spiritual senses were opened and he began to interact directly with the denizens of heaven, hell, and the world of spirits in between. Although his theological writings are based on experiences and visions that may seem unbelievable to a modern audience—as they did to many of Swedenborg’s contemporaries—he writes with full awareness of how difficult his accounts may be to accept. In keeping with his early scholarly training, he presents his ideas in a logical order, drawing examples from everyday life as proof of the truth of his words, inviting readers to judge for themselves.
God as Human
Swedenborg asserts in many places that God is not only human, but uniquely, definitively so. We in fact are truly human only to the extent that we live according to divine principles. Swedenborg therefore rejects the notion of a single human being who lives in heaven and walks around performing miraculous feats. God’s essence, Swedenborg tells us, exists outside of space and time, and therefore is truly infinite and eternal. God is human in the sense that that he is the source of all love and wisdom:
God, as the source of what is good and true, is their essence. Since we cannot deny this, we cannot deny that God is a person, since none of these things can exist apart from a person. (Divine Love and Wisdom #286)
Likewise, a human being living on earth is not human because of his or her body, but because of his or her ability to embody this divine nature:
All earthly individuals are born in the human form as to their physical bodies. This is because our spirit, which is also called our soul, is a person; and it is a person because it is receptive of love and wisdom from the Lord. To the extent that our spirit or soul actually accepts love and wisdom, we become human after the death of these material bodies that we are carrying around. To the extent that we do not accept love and wisdom we become grotesque creatures, retaining some trace of humanity because of our ability to accept them. (Divine Love and Wisdom #287)
Swedenborg goes on to say that God created the universe out of his eternal essence, and all things in the universe reflect a divine design that leads back to love and wisdom. That design encompasses all the functions that we see at work in our own bodies: perception (understanding truth), digestion and breathing (taking in what is good and releasing what is not useful), circulating the good and useful to all parts of the whole, and many more.
This design is in its purest form in the spiritual world, where the angels form communities that perform these functions for the benefit of all beings. Those who prefer to live only for their own selfish concerns remove themselves from the design and consign themselves to hell.
Rationality—that is, the ability to consciously choose either good or evil—is part of God’s design, and the freedom to choose is given to all humans, that is, to all beings capable of love and wisdom regardless of origin. (In his short work Other Planets, Swedenborg describes beings from other worlds who also fit this description.) After we are born, our rational ability grows along with our bodies, until we reach the point where we can consciously choose the path to heaven or the path to hell. Eventually, we can come to realize that this freedom is not really ours, but is the Lord’s gift within us. The more that we choose to close themselves off from God and reject his love and wisdom, the more we place ourselves outside of the divine design.
The central characteristic of love is not loving oneself but loving others and being united to them through love. The central characteristic of love is being loved by others and so being, in fact, united. The essence of all love consists of union-this is, in fact, its life, which is called joy, charm, delight, sweetness, blessedness, contentment, and happiness. Love consists in having one’s own belong to another and in feeling another’s joy as joy in oneself: that is loving. But feeling one’s own joy in another and not the other’s in oneself is not loving; this is loving oneself; the other is loving the neighbor.
– Divine Love and Wisdom 47
Only God is good, and there is nothing intrinsically good except from God. So, anyone who focuses on God and wants to be led by God is involved in the good; and anyone who turns away from God and wants to be led by self is not involved in the good. For the good that such an individual does is either for the sake of self or for worldly ends, so it is either for credit or simply imitative or hypocritical. We can see from this that humanity itself is the source of evil-not that this source was inherent in humanity from creation but that human beings adopted it by turning away from God toward themselves.
– Marital Love 444
We are all born into an involvement in self-love and love of the world from our parents. All the evil that by constant practice has become, as it were, second nature is passed on to one’s offspring, which has occurred cumulatively in a long sequence from parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents. So the derived accumulation of evil has become so great that the whole life of our self-image is entirely evil. This chain is broken and changed only by a life of faith and compassion from the Lord.
Arcana Coe/estia 8550
As soon as we are born, we are brought into a state of innocence, so that this can be a plane for other states and a core within them. . . . Then, we are brought into a state of good, heavenly affection, which is the state of love for parents and which for [infants] takes the place of love for the Lord ….
-Arcana Coe/estia 3183
The Six Days
[Swedenborg takes the six days of creation as symbolic of six successive stages of spiritual growth. – Editor]
The six days or times, which are six successive states of human rebirth, are in general terms like this.
The first state is the one that precedes-both the state from infancy and the state just before rebirth. It is called void, emptiness, and darkness. And the first motion, which is the
Lord’s mercy, is the spirit of God hovering over the face of the water.
The second state is one in which a distinction is made between the things that are the Lord’s and the things that belong to the person. The things that are the Lord’s are called “the remnants” in the Word and are primarily insights of faith that have been learned from infancy. These are stored away and do not surface until the person reaches this state, which
rarely happens nowadays without trial, misfortune, or depression, which deaden the physical and worldly concerns that are typically human. In this way, the concerns of the outer person
are separated from those of the inner. The remnants are in the inner person, stored away there by the Lord for this time and for this use.
The third state is one of repentance, in which the individual, from the inner person, does talk reverently and devoutly and does bring forth good [actions] that resemble deeds of compassion. Still, they are not really alive because they are thought to be done independently. They’re called the tender plant, the seed-bearing plant, and, finally, the fruit tree.
The fourth state occurs when the individual is moved by love and enlightened by faith. Before this, the person did indeed talk reverently and bring forth good [actions ]-but out of a state of trial and constraint, not out of faith and compassion. So now faith and compassion are kindled in the inner person and are called the two great lights.
The fifth state is the one in which the individual talks from faith and, consequently, strengthens his or her devotion to what is true and good. The things now brought forth are alive and are called the fish of the sea and the birds of the air.
The sixth state occurs when the person says what is true and does what is good from faith and, therefore, from love. The things now brought forth are called the living soul and the animals. And since the individual is then beginning to act from both faith and love, he or she becomes a spiritual person, who is called an image [of God]. The spiritual life of such a person is delighted and nourished by things related to insights of faith and to deeds of compassion, which are called “food”; and the natural life is delighted and nourished by things related to the body and the senses. This results in conflicts until love gains control, and the person becomes heavenly.
Not all people who are being reborn reach this state. Some-most people nowadays-reach only the first; some, only the second. Some reach the third, fourth, and fifth; few, the sixth; and hardly anyone, the seventh.
– Arcana Coelestia 6-13
Einstein on Determinism and Freedom of Choice
“Through the reading of popular scientific books, I soon reached the conviction that much in the stories of the Bible could not be true. The consequence was a positively fanatic orgy of free thinking coupled with the impression that youth is intentionally being deceived by the state through lies; it was a crushing impression.”
Einstein did, however, retain from his childhood religious phase a profound faith in, and reverence for, the harmony and beauty of what he called the mind of God as it was expressed in the creation of the universe and its laws. Around the time he turned 50, he began to articulate more clearly–in various essays, interviews and letters–his deepening appreciation of his belief in God, although a rather impersonal version of one. One particular evening in 1929, the year he turned 50, captures Einstein’s middle-age deistic faith. He and his wife were at a dinner party in Berlin when a guest expressed a belief in astrology. Einstein ridiculed the notion as pure superstition. Another guest stepped in and similarly disparaged religion. Belief in God, he insisted, was likewise a superstition. At this point the host tried to silence him by invoking the fact that even Einstein harbored religious beliefs. “It isn’t possible!” the skeptical guest said, turning to Einstein to ask if he was, in fact, religious. “Yes, you can call it that,” Einstein replied calmly. “Try and penetrate with our limited means the secrets of nature and you will find that, behind all the discernible laws and connections, there remains something subtle, intangible and inexplicable. Veneration for this force beyond anything that we can comprehend is my religion. To that extent I am, in fact, religious.”
His belief in causal determinism was incompatible with the concept of human free will. Jewish as well as Christian theologians have generally believed that people are responsible for their actions. They are even free to choose, as happens in the Bible, to disobey God’s commandments, despite the fact that this seems to conflict with a belief that God is all knowing and all powerful. Einstein, on the other hand, believed–as did Spinoza–that a person’s actions were just as determined as that of a billiard ball, planet or star. “Human beings in their thinking, feeling and acting are not free but are as causally bound as the stars in their motions,” Einstein declared in a statement to a Spinoza Society in 1932. It was a concept he drew also from his reading of Schopenhauer. “Everybody acts not only under external compulsion but also in accordance with inner necessity,” he wrote in his famous credo.
“Schopenhauer’s saying, ‘A man can do as he wills, but not will as he wills,’ has been a real inspiration to me since my youth; it has been a continual consolation in the face of life’s hardships, my own and others’, and an unfailing wellspring of tolerance.”
This determinism appalled some friends such as Max Born, who thought it completely undermined the foundations of human morality. “I cannot understand how you can combine an entirely mechanistic universe with the freedom of the ethical individual,” he wrote Einstein. “To me a deterministic world is quite abhorrent. Maybe you are right, and the world is that way, as you say. But at the moment it does not really look like it in physics–and even less so in the rest of the world.” For Born, quantum uncertainty provided an escape from this dilemma. Like some philosophers of the time, he latched onto the indeterminacy that was inherent in quantum mechanics to resolve “the discrepancy between ethical freedom and strict natural laws.” Born explained the issue to his wife Hedwig, who was always eager to debate Einstein. She told Einstein that, like him, she was “unable to believe in a ‘dice-playing’ God.” In other words, unlike her husband, she rejected quantum mechanics’ view that the universe was based on uncertainties and probabilities. But, she added, “nor am I able to imagine that you believe–as Max has told me–that your ‘complete rule of law’ means that everything is predetermined, for example whether I am going to have my child inoculated.” It would mean, she pointed out, the end of all moral behavior.
But Einstein’s answer was to look upon free will as something that was useful, indeed necessary, for a civilized society, because it caused people to take responsibility for their own actions. “I am compelled to act as if free will existed,” he explained, “because if I wish to live in a civilized society I must act responsibly.” He could even hold people responsible for their good or evil, since that was both a pragmatic and sensible approach to life, while still believing intellectually that everyone’s actions were predetermined. “I know that philosophically a murderer is not responsible for his crime,” he said, “but I prefer not to take tea with him.” The foundation of morality, he believed, was rising above the “merely personal” to live in a way that benefited humanity. He dedicated himself to the cause of world peace and, after encouraging the U.S. to build the atom bomb to defeat Hitler, worked diligently to find ways to control such weapons. He raised money to help fellow refugees, spoke out for racial justice and publicly stood up for those who were victims of McCarthyism. And he tried to live with a humor, humility, simplicity and geniality even as he became one of the most famous faces on the planet.
Denzel Washington to Christian Men’s Conference: Pray Daily, ‘Listen to God,’ Remember ‘Strength and Leadership’ Are ‘God’s Gift to Us’ – September 2021
Oscar-winning actor Denzel Washington told a crowd at a Christian men’s conference on Saturday to pray daily, “listen to God,” and remember that “strength and leadership” are “God’s gift to us.”
“At 66, getting ready to be 67, having just buried my mother, I made a promise to her and to God, not just to do good the right way, but to honor my mother and my father by the way I live my life, the rest of my days on this Earth. I’m here to serve, to help, to provide,” Washington said at “The Better Man Event” hosted by First Baptist Orlando in Florida, according to a report by the Christian Post.
During the nearly 30-minute discussion, Washington told his spiritual mentor, Pastor A.R. Bernard — the senior pastor of the Christian Cultural Center in Brooklyn, New York — what God has been telling him every time he prays.
“The world has changed,” Washington said. “What is our role as a man? The John Wayne formula is not quite a fit right now. But strength, leadership, power, authority, guidance, patience are God’s gift to us as men. We have to cherish that, not abuse it.”
The veteran actor continued:
It [the Bible] says in the last days we’ll become lovers of ourselves. The number one photograph now is a selfie. So we all want to lead. We’re willing to do anything — ladies and young men — to be influential. Fame is a monster and we all have these ladders and battles, roads we have to walk in our given lives. Be you famous or whoever’s out there listening, we all have our individual challenges. It’s cliché [but] money, don’t make it better. It doesn’t. Fame just magnifies the problems and the opportunities.
Washington also offered some advice for men seeking success.
“Stay on your knees. Watch me, but listen to God,” he said. “I hope that the words in my mouth and the meditation of my heart are pleasing in God’s sight, but I’m human. I’m just like you.”
“What I have will not keep me on this Earth for one more day,” the Training Day actor added. “Share what you know, inspire who you can, seek advice. If you want to talk to one someone, talk to the one that can do something about it. Constantly develop those habits.”
In 2017, the Remember the Titans star said his role as a defense attorney in Roman J. Israel, Esq. reinforced his belief that black men “can’t blame the system” because we make it “easy work” when it comes to filling America’s prisons, and suggested fatherlessness was part of the problem.
“It starts at the home,” Washington said at the time. “It starts at home. It starts with how you raise your children. If a young man doesn’t have a father figure, he’ll go find a father figure.”
“So you know I can’t blame the system. It’s unfortunate that we make such easy work for them,” he continued. “I grew up with guys who did decades (in prison), and it had as much to do with their fathers not being in their lives as it did to do with any system. Now I was doing just as much as they were, but they went further.”
“I just didn’t get caught, but they kept going down that road and then they were in the hands of the system,” the actor added. “But it’s about the formative years. You’re not born a criminal.”
‘Singing is praying twice’: Andrea Bocelli recalls working with the Tabernacle Choir – October 2021
“Faith is the anchor of my life. I’ve come to faith after a long journey, as late as in adulthood. I consider it a priceless gift that I try to safeguard and enhance; that upholds me day after day. Music has always been my strongest passion; whereas I earned the law degree to appease my parents and their worries for my professional future. Song — and music, in general — can be a conduit to faith, as can be every creation of the human genius.
“Artists have a great responsibility toward society. Having to manage the health emergency, I’m afraid, often penalized music and culture, neglecting and often reducing them to accessory elements,” Bocelli told the Deseret News in an email, with the aid of a translator.
“Whereas, to the contrary, art (music included) is a gift that builds and fortifies the spirit,” he continued. “When I couldn’t make music live, I made the best of it online, trying, through song, to convey a message of hope, faith and positivity.”
Now, a year and a half after that groundbreaking Easter performance, Bocelli has returned to sharing that message via live, in-person concerts. The Italian tenor’s current tour in support of his new album “Believe” stops at Vivint Arena on Saturday — his second concert at the arena in three years.
Ahead of his return to Salt Lake City, Bocelli reflected on a special collaboration with the Tabernacle Choir at Temple Square, his life during the pandemic and his faith.
DN: Does the ‘Believe’ tour mark your first in-person performances since the pandemic began? How do you feel to finally be returning to the stage?
AB: All of this makes me happy: I missed the stage very much, and, with it, the embrace of the public; the opportunity to capture its emotions and energy. Of course, I am a bit apprehensive as well. I feel like an athlete starting to compete again at the highest level, after a long period of forced rest.
Nonetheless, I can only but be overjoyed with this gradual return to normalcy. The world needs to go back to making culture and frequenting art, to restore faith and one’s own identity. And this is the strong message that I would like to convey through my singing and, especially, through this tour.
Helen Keller on Faith and God
Helen Keller reports “since the age of sixteen she has been a strong believer in the doctrines given to the world by Emanuel Swedenborg. Helen credits Swedenborg for giving her a faith that turned her darkness into light. It is to him that she acknowledges her indebtedness “for a richer interpretation of the Bible, a deeper understanding of the meaning of Christianity, and a precious sense of the divine presence in the world.” She mentions particular gratitude for three main ideas: “God as divine love, God as divine wisdom, and God as power for use.” Emanuel Swedenborg was the author of ‘Heaven and Hell.’
“When I began Heaven and Hell, I was as little aware of the new joy coming into my life as I had been years before when I stood on the piazza steps awaiting my teacher. . . . My heart gave a joyous bound. Here was a faith that emphasized what I felt so keenly—the separateness between soul and body, between the realm I could picture as a whole, and the chaos of fragmentary things and irrational contingencies that my limited senses met at every turn. I let myself go, as happy healthy youth will, and tried to puzzle out the long sentences and weighty words of the Swedish sage. . . . The words “Love” and “Wisdom” seemed to caress my fingers from paragraph to paragraph and these two words released in me new forces to stimulate my somewhat indolent nature and urge me forward evermore. . . . I was not “religious” in the sense of practicing ritual, but happy, because I saw God altogether lovely, after the shadows cast upon his image by the harsh creeds or warring sects and religions. The Word of God, freed from the blots and stains of barbarous creeds, has been at once the joy and good of my life.” – Helen Keller
John Henry Newman, Letter to J. Walker of Scarborough, May 22, 1868
1 Corinthians 13 – from the Complete Jewish Bible translation
I may speak in the tongues of men, even angels;
but if I lack love, I have become merely
blaring brass or a cymbal clanging.
I may have the gift of prophecy,
I may fathom all mysteries, know all things,
have all faith — enough to move mountains;
but if I lack love, I am nothing.
I may give away everything that I own,
I may even hand over my body to be burned;
but if I lack love, I gain nothing.
Love is patient and kind, not jealous, not boastful,
not proud, rude or selfish, not easily angered,
and it keeps no record of wrongs.
Love does not gloat over other people’s sins
but takes its delight in the truth.
Love never ends; but prophecies will pass,
tongues will cease, knowledge will pass.
For our knowledge is partial, and our prophecy partial;
but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass.
When I was a child, I spoke like a child,
thought like a child, argued like a child;
now that I have become a man,
I have finished with childish ways.
For now we see obscurely in a mirror,
but then it will be face to face.
Now I know partly; then I will know fully,
just as God has fully known me.
But for now, three things last —
trust, hope, love;
and the greatest of these is love.