Emanuel Swedenborg lived in Stockholm in the eighteenth century. He was a hardworking civil servant and theoretical scientist with a plethora of interests and achievements.
His spiritual books, which have been translated into many languages, today appeal to people from different cultures and religious traditions. This is because they contain a wealth of deep thinking and insight.
Swedenborg on Human Nature
According to Swedenborg, we are born neither basically bad nor basically good but have both positive and negative tendencies. As we grow up we become aware of the physical world around and of our being a separate, self-contained individual. This sense of self can be a positive thing as with self-development of personal skills, or self-reflection on inner feelings.
The trouble is there is a risk this sense of self can amount to self-indulgence and self-orientation.
Swedenborg on Personal Development
Swedenborg described clear visions of an invisible dimension of spirit. We do not realise we are part of this realm because we are grounded in the material world. It has both positive and negative influences on us. The positive impulses can be seen in good humour, friendly helpfulness or creative ideas. Negative ones include envy, irritability and being mean. Which desire we take on board is up to us.
Swedenborg on Freedom of Choice
Social norms, the law, money and so on, all limit personal choice.
Yet, deep down within the human spirit is there not a sense of inner freedom to choose between what we see as negative and positive, good and bad, right and wrong? Once we have become aware of the differences we are better placed to choose between them.
Swedenborg wrote that our inner freedom to choose comes from a human rational ability to understand what is good and true. This spiritual gift enables us to recognise a choice between for example what we crave and what would be more sensible. The heart may sometimes want something now, that in the long run is bad for us, but the good sense of the head may occasionally remind us of the pitfalls in pursuing it – whether it be fattening food, overspending on something we cannot afford, or getting our own way.
Swedenborg on Future Destiny
As they grow up children become aware of family values and what is accepted in society. Some mature into fulfilled and sensible adults. Others get stuck say in isolation, boredom, or foolish ways. Part of this can be the way individuals exercise their personal choices in life; whether to put effort into learning skills, rise to challenges, accept responsibility, etc. According to this view, as the desires we choose to rule our lives become more consistent, we begin to form for ourselves our own character.
Some people grow in good sense and caring attitudes whereas others remain self-focused.
Some gain a sense of fulfilment from leading a useful life contributing to the welfare of their family and community. Others however lack inspiration to live a life that goes beyond seeking bodily comfort, social status and power over others.
The good news is that recognising we have freedom of choice gives everyone power to turn their lives around and find contentment, joy and peace through a more spiritual way of living.
Swedenborg wrote that this is what a loving God wants for us all and is the purpose of creation. He testifies that the kind of character we form in this life continues into a spirit realm after death where we find ourselves with an immortal life that corresponds to our inner spiritual state.
Swedenborg on God and Innocent Suffering
Swedenborg said there is no dark side to God. God is no dictator. He respects our freedom to decide for ourselves what kind of life we want to lead and so does not compel us to do what is good for us. We are each responsible for deciding our own individual destiny.
The good and bad stuff that people get up to on earth over the generations gets built into the realm of spirits. Their different states inflow into our hearts and minds. This beneficially and adversely affects all aspects of the general state of humanity. One example is both altruism and also appalling inhumanity of man to man.
At the same time God is active in helping us. Divine life offsets disease with healing, it tempers hate with love, and moderates despair with inspiration. This is done in relation to the smallest detail of life without our knowing.
Swedenborg on Evidence for God
One cannot scientifically prove the existence of God who is invisible. There are witnesses leaving written testimony as to the divine nature of the historical person of Christ. Also facets of the divine are shown in the sacred scriptures of non-Christian religions and in the world of nature.
Swedenborg points out, what is beautiful around us symbolically shows the qualities of the divine in our thoughts and feelings. What is dangerous can be seen as mirroring the corrupting influence of people’s self-centredness
Swedenborg on Essence of Life
All religions teach :
- There is a God of love and wisdom.
- Human beings experience both the world of physical objects and the realm of consciousness or spirit.
- We are able to relate intimately to the divine spark, which is the foundation of all reality.
- Realising our spiritual nature is the highest goal and greatest good of human existence and this is what makes us truly happy and contended.
Swedenborg said we could pray to a tangible divine human aspect of God if we think of the Lord Jesus Christ. The teaching is that our risen Lord, like us, has heart, head and hands – although in his case it is a heart of compassion, a head of wisdom and hands of power. This is the visible aspect of God that we can get to know on a personal footing; the divine that flows into our consciousness to guide us towards the heavenly life.
Copyright 2013 Stephen Russell-Lacy
Author of Heart, Head & Hands Swedenborg’s perspective on emotional problems
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