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If you’ve got questions about God, eternity, or existence, eighteenth-century philosopher Emanuel Swedenborg has a few answers to share. With the help of his writings, our expert panel has gathered to address viewers’ pressing questions.
The expert panel members are:
- Chelsea Odhner, writer for Swedenborg and Life, standing in as a guest host
- Chris Dunn, M.Div. student at Bryn Athyn College
- Chara Daum, Latin consultant for the New Century Edition
- Dr. Jonathan Rose, series editor for the New Century Edition
Throughout this episode, the expert panel works together to answer questions from viewers. Questions and answers are summarized below, but follow the links for the full discussion.
1. What’s the meaning of baptism by water and fire?
Colloquially, “baptism by fire” is often used to mean going through heavy experiences, but it has biblical origins. While John the Baptist baptized people with water, which corresponds to truth, he told them that Jesus would baptize them with the fire of the holy spirit, which corresponds to love. So while baptism by water is symbolic, baptism by fire is an ongoing process of spiritual rebirth.
Jesus taking on the human condition showed us his understanding of us and formed a bridge between divine love and the spiritual truths we need to understand in order to contain and express that love. His presence on earth in a physical body was his way of communicating our own potential and hinting at the regeneration we are capable of.
Swedenborg often wrote of his frustration at not being able to represent all the truth he felt with the words he had available to him. He was doing his best to share what he experienced but would be the first to admit that it paled in comparison to what he experienced firsthand. It’s valuable to view his work in the context of his time and culture, so some passages might feel more empowering and timely than others. Basically, if it drives you toward good and truth, take it how you will.
It’s difficult to answer exactly what occurs, but Swedenborg did see that death is a deeply personal thing guided by angels. Space in the afterlife is different from physical space, so physical nearness may not have as much effect as spiritual closeness.
Jonathan believes that contact between those on earth and those who have crossed over is regulated by the Lord so as to not cause harm to the living. But while contact might not often be noticeable consciously, Swedenborg suggests that your loved ones stay close to you and support you emotionally—especially soulmates. Chara points out that experiences can vary widely; some might feel the presence of their loved ones profoundly, while others might not. It’s important not to judge your relationship one way or the other, because there are certainly factors beyond our understanding.
Love never hurts, so it’s valuable for plenty of reasons to spend time praying. Prayer helps us align with the Lord’s will, and it creates a feeling of community that can only help spirits in need.
There’s a lot that they do, but most of their role is in bringing perspective and knowledge. They can’t tell you how to live your life or do anything that would put your spiritual freedom at risk, but inviting their help through prayer can allow them to do more good for you. Some people have found that prayers for spiritual strength tend to be more immediately effective than requests for physical needs, such as financial success or happiness. Angels form a supportive community that can carry us through our most difficult moments, and that’s one of the most important things they do.
The lower earth, or “underground realm,” seems to be a part of the spiritual world between the world of spirits (where most people begin their afterlives) and hell. It’s described as a cave, something literally underground, and sometimes filled with water. It seems to correspond to a stage in which what you’re thinking is false, but there’s always a way up and out.
Chelsea suggests that evil is loud largely because it’s an aberration. God is goodness, love, and truth, so that kind of input can almost feel like white noise if you don’t pay close attention. Jonathan notes that evil can also seem loud when you’re in the midst of it, but that drives us to seek the peace and calm of a higher spiritual state. You could compare the human mind to a house where evil occupies the lower levels, and angels are always working to keep it from getting out of hand. If you put your house in order and make love your priority, then you can move up and down the stairs at will to different levels.
Ultimately, it’s easy for evil to draw your focus and be overwhelming; but providence will use it to make you stronger and move you toward God.
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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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