From the perspective of Swedenborg’s theology, this is a trick question.
Technically, according to Emanuel Swedenborg (1688-1772), anyone who rejects Jesus (“the Lord,” as Swedenborg refers to him) cannot go to heaven.
However, Swedenborg’s definition of “rejecting the Lord” is quite different from the usual Christian definitions.
By the usual Christian definitions of “rejecting Jesus,” yes, according to Swedenborg someone who has rejected and even mocked Jesus can go to heaven.
That’s why it’s a trick question (but a good one!): because it all depends on your definition of “rejecting Jesus.”
Let me explain.
1. Swedenborg rejected the Trinity of Persons
First, it is necessary to understand that Swedenborg utterly rejected the doctrine of a Trinity of Persons in God—which is the foundational doctrine of most of the rest of Christianity.
He said, instead, that there is one God, and that Jesus Christ is that God. So although Swedenborg does state that there is a Trinity in God, he says that that Trinity is in a single Person of God, and that Jesus Christ is that one Person. For more on this, see my article, “Who is God? Who is Jesus Christ? What about that Holy Spirit?”
Therefore, in Swedenborg’s view, anyone who believes in God is, in fact, believing in the Lord, or Jesus Christ, because there is no other God to believe in. Here is how he puts it in Divine Providence #330:5:
Someone could point out that they [non-Christians] do not know the Lord, and that apart from the Lord there is no salvation. But no one is saved because of knowing about the Lord. We are saved because we live by his commandments. Further, the Lord is known to everyone who believes in God because the Lord is the God of heaven and earth, as he tells us in Matthew 28:18 and elsewhere. (link added)
So from Swedenborg’s perspective, Muslims who believe in Allah are believing in Jesus Christ even if they do not call Allah “Jesus Christ” because Jesus Christ is the one God of heaven and earth. This means that for a Muslim, rejecting Jesus—or “the Lord” in Swedenborg’s terminology—would mean rejecting Allah. And Muslims who reject Allah cannot go to heaven (according to Islam and Swedenborg) because they are rejecting God as they know God.
Muslims, Swedenborg says, can go to heaven if they believe in God (Allah, as they call God) and live a good life according to the teachings of their religion. As Swedenborg says in the same section of Divine Providence:
It is an insane heresy to believe that only those born in the church are saved. People born outside the church are just as human as people born within it. They come from the same heavenly source. They are equally living and immortal souls. They have religions as well, religions that enable them to believe that God exists and that they should lead good lives; and all of them who do believe in God and lead good lives become spiritual on their own level and are saved. (Divine Providence #330.5)
2. Swedenborg rejected the Satisfaction and Penal Substitution theories of Atonement
Second, it is necessary to understand that Swedenborg’s view of Atonement and salvation departs fundamentally from Catholic and Protestant views.
It has only been for the last thousand years of Christianity, since Anselm, that some Christians (primarily Roman Catholics) have believed that Christ somehow stood in as a substitute for us in satisfying God’s need for honor and justice.
And it has only been for the last five hundred years of Christianity, since the Protestant Reformation, that any significant number of Christians (mostly Protestants) have believed that Jesus paid the penalty for our sin on the cross—something that the Bible never actually says.
Swedenborg rejected both of those theories of atonement as false and non-biblical. His view was much closer to the Christus Victor view of salvation that was the primary theory of atonement for the first thousand years of Christianity. (Unfortunately, the Wikipedia articles on Penal Substitution and Christus Victor are not very good. The Penal Substitution article is particularly weak on the history of that doctrine.)
In Swedenborg’s view, Jesus Christ made salvation available to all people everywhere by conquering the power of evil, the Devil, and hell and bringing them under his personal control. Without this, all people would have been spiritually destroyed by the mounting power of evil, which had reached its peak at the time of the Incarnation.
Because of Jesus’ battles against and complete victory over evil and hell, God (AKA Jesus Christ) was able to restore the balance between good and evil, so that every human being everywhere on earth now has the freedom to choose God and goodness over hell and evil. And all who do so, according to Swedenborg, are saved.
This would not have been possible without the spiritual work Jesus Christ accomplished by his life, death, and resurrection. The Crucifixion was not salvation. Rather, it was only the final battle, by which Christ achieved final victory over the Devil, or hell.
Because of this view of salvation and atonement, from the perspective of Swedenborg’s theology there is no need for non-Christians to believe that Jesus Christ died for our sins. The fact that Jesus did die for our sins is sufficient to secure our salvation, without the need for human belief in it. Rather, it is necessary for humans to believe in God and live according to God’s commandments—which, as the next item points out, is one and the same thing in Swedenborg’s view.
I realize this may raise many more questions. I am simplifying Swedenborg’s doctrine on these subjects in the interest of time. For Swedenborg’s own full presentation of these doctrines, please see the first volume of True Christianity.
3. Swedenborg defined “faith” as “the beliefs you live by”
Third, it is necessary to understand that Swedenborg defines “faith,” or “belief,” quite differently than many traditional Christian definitions of faith.
In Swedenborg’s view, faith is inseparable from charity, meaning action.
Another way to put it is that for Swedenborg, “faith” is not a mere intellectual belief or assurance that something is true. Rather, faith is the belief that we live by. In this, he is very much in line with the Apostle James’s views on faith:
What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them? Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead. (James 2:14–17)
From Swedenborg’s perspective, having faith in Jesus necessarily includes living by what Jesus teaches, because what we really believe is what we live by.
By the same token, rejecting Jesus means not living by what Jesus teaches. And although believing explicitly in Jesus is one of the things the Gospels teach, from the perspective of Swedenborg’s theology this is primarily for the purpose of inducing Christian believers to live according to Jesus’ teachings.
The most important teaching of Jesus, and therefore of Christianity, is expressed in Matthew 22:35-40:
One of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him. “Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?”
He said to him, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”
Based on this teaching of Jesus, Swedenborg says that those who believe in God and love God, and who love their neighbor as themselves, are saved and go to heaven no matter what their religion. These people, Swedenborg says, truly believe in the Lord (Jesus Christ) because they are living according to the central and most important teaching of Jesus Christ.
4. Rejecting Christianity does not necessarily mean rejecting Jesus
Fourth, it’s necessary to understand that according to Swedenborg, many non-Christians, including Muslims and Jews, reject Christianity and Jesus for two basic reasons:
- They see Christians living evil lives, which gives Christ a bad name.
- They view Christianity as polytheistic because of the doctrine of three persons in God (which is false, in Swedenborg’s view).
Swedenborg believed that it was necessary for Christianity to be completely renovated, and to reject the fundamental falsity of a Trinity of Persons in God before it would become acceptable to many believers in firmly monotheistic religions such as Judaism and Islam.
And Swedenborg believed that it was necessary for Christians to live by their religion instead of merely giving it lip service while living evil and self-centered lives, and thus giving Christianity a bad name.
So Swedenborg considered the rejection of Jesus among Muslims and Jews to be excusable because Christianity itself had become corrupt, and had presented to people of other religions a false picture of Jesus.
He looked forward to the day when a renewed and restored Christianity would present a true and belief-worthy picture of Jesus Christ as the one God of heaven and earth, who loves and saves all people, of every religion, who believe in God and live lives of love and service to their fellow human beings according to the teachings of their own religion.
This form of Christianity, he believed, would in time draw all nations to the beauty and power of the Christian faith, and to the belief that Jesus Christ is indeed the God and Savior of all.
(Note: This post is an edited version of an answer I wrote and posted on Christianity StackExchange. You can see the original question on StackExchange here, and the StackExchange version of my answer here.)
For further reading:
I’ve been a long time Swedenborgian. The Trinity is a tricky question when I get asked by other Christians. I usually have to take out a sheet of paper and I do a little diagram. I make a triangle with three stick figures on each end and label one God the Father, another God the Son, and the other God the Holy Spirit. And then I ask to make sure, “Is this how you would represent God.” They say yes.
Then I draw one big person and label it, “Jesus Christ, the Lord”. Then I draw a triangle within and label the ends of the triangle, God the Father, God the Son, and the other God the Holy Spirit.
I then explain that their is only one person, Jesus, the Lord, who is God. The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are a Trinity of Aspect/Function of one person, and not a Trinity of Persons. (It’s kind of like how I am one person, but I can be called a father, a son, a husband, a teacher, etc. It just depends on what aspect or function of me is being discussed.)
God the Father is the Infinite, Eternal Aspect of God that is everywhere, everytime, completely beyond our finite comprehension.
God the Son is the visible aspect of God that he allows us to see. It would include as he is in his human form (why Jesus was refered to as the Son of God), it would include the sun in the spiritual heavens which you can see, it would also include the Word which you can see and read. I would even include the picture of the Lord that you have in your head is an aspect of God the Son. Most people when they pray to the Lord have some type of a human image in their head.
God the Holy Spirit is the invisible aspect of God that we feel all around us. This is the aspect of God that is proceding from the Lord and doing everything around you, but you can’t visibly see it. The Holy Spirit is keeping the universe around you working, guiding everything according to the Lord’s purpose.
Well at least that is what I tell other Christians.
@Brian Lauthen: I do like your example! A former boss of mine who was Baptist, once explained the Trinity like the 3 forms of water; solid, liquid, and vapor. I always thought that was clever because it showed that the Lord could be different depending on what state we think of him, while always being one in the same.
It’s true that the Lord can be different to us depending on how we are thinking of the Lord, and what state of mind we’re in. However, as I say in my comment to Brian Lauthen below, the entire Trinity of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit is present in all of the different ways God appears to us. So whether God manifests as “solid,” “liquid,” or “steam,” it is the entire Trinity manifesting in those forms, not one “member” of the Trinity.
It is surprising that the comparison of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit to the three states of water (solid, liquid, and gas) persists so strongly in traditional Christianity.
Because this example is contrary to the traditional Christian doctrine of God as a Trinity of Persons. It is more of a modalist or Sabellian view of the Trinity. And modalism is rejected as heretical by almost all of the traditional Christian denominations, Catholic, Protestant, and Orthodox.
And yet the three states of water are commonly used as an illustration of the Trinity by Christian ministers and laypeople alike. It just goes to show that most Christians–even most Christian ministers–don’t really understand the doctrines of their own church. Perhaps that’s because their church’s official doctrine of a Trinity of Persons is self-contradictory and incomprehensible. So they go for easier illustrations that make sense to their minds.
It doesn’t hurt to think of God as appearing like the three states of water. After all, everything in the universe, including everything in nature, is an expression of the nature of God. However, this should not be confused with the Trinity of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit in God. For more on this distinction, see the article on Swedenborg and Oneness Pentecostalism that I linked in my comment to Brian Lauthen below.
Thanks again for all your comments here!
Hi Brian Lauthen,
Thanks for stopping by, and for your thoughts.
Yes, the Trinity is tricky–especially since a false view of the Trinity has reigned in Christianity for the last 1,700 years or so. This has skewed Christians’ thinking about God, and made it difficult for them to have a clear idea of who God is.
That’s why I love Swedenborg’s simple, clear statement that the Trinity in God is like the soul, body, and actions in us.
Anyone can quickly and easily understand this concept of the Trinity in God.
As this concept of the Trinity is filled in with more details of the Father (the divine soul), the Son (the divine body), and the Holy Spirit (the divine action), it settles and clarifies our thinking about exactly who the God of the Bible is. It causes the many statements about God under various names, and the statements in the New Testament about the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, to fall beautifully into place in our minds.
I would suggest, however, being careful in thinking of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit as being like the different functions, or roles, of who you are, such as father, son, husband, teacher, and so on. Though it’s natural for us to think of them that way because of our experience of the same person being both a father and a son (and it doesn’t do any harm if it’s held to lightly), the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit as presented in the New Testament are not different roles of God, or different ways God appears to us. That is a Sabellian or “modalist” concept of the Trinity, which Swedenborg does not support.
To clarify the difference, I’ve just posted here yet another answer I wrote on Christianity StackExchange: What is the difference between the Swedenborgian and Oneness Pentecostal doctrines of God?
Yes, God does have different roles, such as Father, Savior, King, Priest, Comforter, Hero, Prince of Peace, and so on. However, all of those roles involve the entire Trinity. They all come from the Father, and are expressed by the Son through the Holy Spirit. So the Father role of God should not be confused with the Father in the Trinity of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are not modes or roles of God, but rather “essential components” (Latin essentialia) of God. These three essential components are inseparable from one another, and are present in all of the many and various roles of God.
So when God relates to us as a Father, all of God–Father, Son, and Holy Spirit–are relating to us as a Father. It’s the same when God is relating to us as Savior, Comforter, Teacher, and so on.
Having said all that, I do very much like your explanation of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit in the second half of your comment.
Thanks again for your good thoughts!
As a Catholic with a great interest in Swedenborg, to a certain extent I always thought he belabored definitions of the Trinity a bit too much, almost to the point where he undermined his assertion that charity is far, far more important than any dogmatic tenets. In reality, I think most Christians actually do think of God as One, with Father-Son-Holy-Spirit as aspects. “Persons,” I believe was simply an attempt by the Christian thinkers of earlier eras to make sense of what is, at the end of the day, an unfathomable mystery. One of the reasons I believe Catholicism and Swedenborg’s teachings will eventually be reconciled is because Catholics believe in the Sacred Heart of Jesus as the ultimate expression of God’s infinite love — in fact, Jesus is pretty much THE representation for God in Catholicism (and Mary I believe is an unconscious expression of the female divine of which Swedenborg so eloquently spoke) — We don’t pray, “Father, Mary and Joseph,” we pray “Jesus Mary and Joseph,” for one thing. And while I agree with Swedenborg’s definition ultimately, I do find the Catholic idea of three persons equal to one another fascinating in that God is seen first and foremost as a being in relation to other beings, and never simply alone, like some stern stoic figure. I think a loving God is aware some people need to believe more in God as a mother (hence the devotion to Our Lady of Guadalupe among many Latin Americans, whose indigenous religious were goddess oriented) and others need to feel God’s fatherhood (hence the Protestant emphasis on just that). Swedenborg is really, I think, a person attempting to explain God to the scientific community, which is why he is one of the most valuable Christian thinkers of the past few hundred years. I really wish every Christian church could hold a conference on his teachings and see which ones they would be willing to accept. I even got a Swedenborgian minister to agree with me Swedenborgians could accept Marian devotion by pointing out Mary was the first to accept The Word, in her womb, so honoring her is perfectly in line with honoring anyone who accepted Jesus as well. Okay I’m rambling, enjoy your posts a lot, by the way!
Thanks for stopping by, and for your thoughts. Glad you’re enjoying our blog!
Ultimately, yes, it’s love and charity that are most important, and that determine whether we ultimately find our home in heaven or in hell. On this, Protestantism is dead wrong, and Catholicism is much closer to the spiritual reality of things.
Having said that, correct vs. incorrect doctrine still is important. Incorrect doctrine confuses people’s minds and can also lead them to act in ways that are not good. Intolerance against non-Christians, who, it is believed, are all headed to hell anyway, is just one example that commonly afflicts both Protestants and Catholics due to their church’s teaching that only Christians can be saved. I realize this stance has been softened some in recent decades within both Catholicism and mainline Protestantism, but the damage that this false teaching does still lingers.
It is true that most traditional Christians hold to the Trinity of Persons in innocence, and still believe that there is one God. But the fact that they commonly picture three figures both in their artwork depicting God and in their minds shows that this false doctrine still confuses their idea of God. And many false doctrines depend directly on there being, in effect, three gods. In Catholicism this includes the satisfaction theory of atonement that became official doctrine after Anselm and Aquinas.
Perhaps the damage done by the doctrine of Trinity of Persons is more subtle and less well-understood than that of some other false doctrines in traditional Christianity, but it is at the heart of every other false doctrine that confuses Christians’ minds, attitudes, and actions. So I believe it is still worth refuting and repudiating.
And though it would be nice to think that Catholicism would adopt Swedenborg’s view of God, I sincerely doubt that will happen. Major institutions tend to die before changing fundamental aspects of their existence. And the Trinity of Persons has been fundamental to Catholicism, and to most of the rest of traditional Christianity, for about 1,700 years now. I hope you’re right that Catholicism will eventually abandon it, but I suspect it will hold onto that doctrine to the bitter end.
What is more likely to happen, I think, is that Catholics themselves will gravitate toward a more Swedenborgian view of God even while the church officially holds to its historical Trinity of Persons dogma. As I said in some of the earlier comments on this thread, many rank-and-file Christians already hold non-trinitarian views of God despite their church’s official teachings. I suspect that eventually Swedenborg’s view of God will blanket the earth even while traditional religious organizations still hold to their traditional doctrines. Their leadership will bemoan the “ignorance” of their laity, but the laity will actually hold truer views than the clerical leadership of their churches. This is already quite common.
For a related article, see:
Does Doctrine Matter? Why is it Important to Believe the Right Thing?
Getting a bit back on topic, I did want to share my thoughts about a good friend of mine who recently denounced his Christianity and has taken up Buddhism. He was raised in the Lutheran Church and I remember his confirmation from when we were in high school over 20 years ago. It was a really big deal to him; many proud friends and family members.
The thing that saddened me the most about his decision is that I believe he’s gone this route because of the bad image that some Christian groups are receiving in the media by picketing funerals for fallen troops and such. I suggested to him that any religious group can get the message mixed up and do lousy things for what they believe are the right reasons. Can you imagine how hard it would be to be Muslim in this day and age?
I’m sure Buddhism teaches some sound philosophies, and he certainly seems no different than the good friend I’ve always known; maybe even more confident in himself somehow. It just bugs me a bit that he might have chose this for some flimsy reasons or that maybe he’s partially closed himself off from a more solid form of spirituality.
Yes, it’s hard to see friends and family abandon our faith for another one. I recall one ardent Swedenborgian couple, now deceased, who struggled greatly when their only child, a son, became a Buddhist in his adult years. And yet, as you say, he remained the same wonderful, quirky person he had been when we knew him as a teen.
It is comforting to know that no matter what religion a person joins or belongs to, God is still present there. That person can still grow spiritually and find his or her way to heaven. See my article, “If there’s One God, Why All the Different Religions?”
Yes, it’s sad to see people leave Christianity because of the loathsome actions of some “Christians.” And yet, the important thing is that each of us find a spiritual path that works for us, and helps us to grow into a better and more loving person. If Buddhism currently does that better for your friend than Christianity, that is something to celebrate rather than to lament.
It is also fairly common for people to leave Christianity, then return to it later in life when they have worked through whatever issues they may have had with Christianity. They commonly come back with a broader and more mature perspective on Christianity. Sometimes it is necessary to reject the old, faulty view of Christianity by leaving Christianity altogether. This clears the decks, so to speak, so that eventually a new and better form of Christianity may be able to take its place.
That’s also why I’m not terribly concerned about the rise of atheism in the world today. It’s all part of the process of clearing away the old, false religion to make way for a new and truer form of religion. In relation to this, here are a couple of articles you might find interesting:
Thanks for the great article, and for giving me additional reading assignments! 🙂 Just a couple of quick questions. I agree that people who love God and love their neighbor will find their place in heaven regardless of their religious affiliation. How would you suggest I defend this when some of my more hardline friends quote John 3:16 and Matthew 10:33?
Thanks as always, and I’ve really enjoyed the new insights. It’s helping me better articulate what I believe to others.
On John 3:16, please see:
Does John 3:18 Mean that All Non-Christians Go to Hell?
On Matthew 10:33, notice that the entire chapter is Jesus giving instructions to his twelve disciples before sending them out to preach, teach, and heal. The chapter is introduced with these words:
Everything that follows in the chapter is his instructions to them, as is clear from the first verse of the next chapter:
In other words, the “whoever” of Matthew chapter 10 verses 32 and 33 refers to Jesus’ disciples, not just to any old person. By extension, what he is saying is, “If you, who are my followers, acknowledge me before others, I will acknowledge you before my Father in heaven; but if you, my followers, deny me before others, I will deny you before my Father in heaven.” To apply these verses that are addressed to active Christians who are sent out to spread the Gospel to all people, including non-Christians, is to take them entirely out of context.
In a nutshell, Jesus is saying that Christians must accept and bear witness to Jesus Christ—where appropriate, of course; it was the disciples’ job to preach, teach, and heal in Christ’s name. For Christians to deny Christ is to reject their own religion, their own beliefs, and their own God. Such rejection, if persisted in while still claiming to be among the faithful, will have eternal consequences.
Thank you, Lee… VERY helpful! I just finished reading “Does John 3:18 Mean that All Non-Christians Go to Hell?”… makes a LOT of sense.
I hope your week is off to a great start!
Just another quick one on how to handle the objection that some people will be saved by their works when it comes to them living a good life even if they belong to another religion. Specifically, the reference to “not by works lest any man should boast” in Ephesians 2:9.
I’m a little unclear on what objection you’re referring to. However, on Ephesians 2:9, please see:
Doesn’t Ephesians 2:8-9 Teach Faith Alone?
Hi Lee… this was perfect. Very well explained and detailed. Thank you 🙂
I have had an on/off relationship with Christianity for many years. Sometimes I will go back and forth in a single week. I have so many doubts that I can’t remedy; the genealogies of Jesus, miracles, the harsh, unloving things he (as it seems) said. What happens to those who no longer believe in Jesus as God, but just as an ancient teacher? Swedenborg seemed to say that without Jesus one cannot believe in God as a person, yet Jews, Muslims, Bahai’s and others believe in a personal God, just not an enfleshed God. Didn’t Swedenborg see Socians in hell because they believed Jesus was just a man? How about (some) Buddhists, who are technically atheists? I don’t know what to believe anymore. I want to believe we are “more than molecules,” I deep down believe we are, but I find it ever more difficult to accept some of the big tenants of Christianity.
Good to hear from you, as always.
First of all, many of the “big tenets of Christianity” are not Christian or biblical at all, and are simply not true. See:
Unfortunately, what passes as “Christianity” today has little to do with what Jesus Christ and his Apostles taught in the Bible. If you can’t accept some of the “big tenets” of the so-called Christian Church of today, don’t worry. Those “big tenets” aren’t really Christian; they are not taught in the Christian Bible, and they are not true.
On some of your specific issues:
The genealogies of Jesus in Matthew and Luke not only conflict with each other, but especially in the later parts of them, they have no obvious basis in the text of the Hebrew Bible. However, the biblical genealogies never really were about tracing an accurate biological bloodline. Rather, they are about establishing the identity of a clan and nation based on identifying with “heroes of old” who are their spiritual forebears.
We speak, for example, of philosophers or theologians who are “in the lineage” of earlier philosophers or theologians, not because there is any blood relationship, but because they continue in the same line of thinking that those earlier thinkers did.
In the case of the genealogies of Jesus, their point is not to establish a bloodline for Jesus. This is clear because both genealogies (in Matthew 1:1–17 and Luke 3:23–38) are traced to Joseph, and yet the birth stories in both Matthew and Luke make it crystal clear that Joseph was not Jesus’ biological father. Some Bible scholars claim that the Luke genealogy is actually Mary’s genealogy, but that’s simply not what it says in the Gospel of Luke.
Further, Jesus denies his (the Messiah’s) Davidic lineage in Matthew 22:41–46; Mark 12:35–37; Luke 20:41–44.
Clearly, then, the genealogies in Matthew and Luke are not intended to establish a bloodline from Jesus to David, and beyond. Rather, they were meant to establish a spiritual “bloodline” that connects Jesus to all of the important figures in Jewish culture and belief. The fact that they don’t provide an accurate physical bloodline, and even disagree with each other on Joseph’s bloodline, is not so much irrelevant as it is a testimony to the fact that these genealogies were never intended even by their original writers to establish Jesus literal, physical bloodline.
And we know from Swedenborg that the names and figures in all of the Bible’s genealogies represent successive stages in the spiritual life of humanity.
As for the miracles described in the Bible, from a Swedenborgian perspective (which is really just a genuine Christian perspective), it doesn’t matter very much whether they actually took place as described in the Bible. Maybe they did, maybe they didn’t. I wasn’t there, so I don’t know for sure. What’s important about the miracles is not their historical accuracy, but their lessons and their meaning for our spiritual life today. Every one of the miracles described in the Bible speaks spiritually of the inner miracles that God does for people who are God’s faithful followers.
For example, the miracles of feeding thousands of people with a few loaves and fish are about the Lord’s multiplication of spiritual food for the faithful, meaning the spiritual knowledge, understanding, and wisdom that the Lord causes to multiply for those who seek to do the Lord’s will. Every miracle in the Bible similarly has a deeper meaning that relates to our spiritual life today.
As for some of Jesus’ sayings being “harsh and unloving,” if you call a thief a thief, is that harsh and unloving? If you call a murderer a murderer, is that harsh and unloving? If you call a hypocrite a hypocrite, is that harsh and unloving?
Jesus was simply telling the truth. And the truth is its own defense. If the hypocritical religious leaders of his day had actually listened to him, they and their culture would not have gone down to destruction a mere forty years later, when their fruitless political rebellions finally led to the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple by the Romans in 70 AD. Jesus loved the Jewish leaders just as much as he loved everyone else. But he saw that they needed harsh medicine. A few listened, and were saved. Most did not, and they went to destruction.
Next, if people cease to believe that Jesus was divine, but adopt other beliefs that they follow in living a good life, then they will not be condemned. Unfortunately, traditional “Christianity” has so destroyed the beautiful teachings of Jesus that millions of thinking, caring people can no longer accept “Christianity.” But what they are rejecting is not really Christianity at all. It is the blasphemous, non-Christian perversion of Christianity that blind “Christian” leaders have, over the centuries, substituted for the teachings of the Bible. It is not the fault of sincere ex-Christians that the “Christian Church” has misrepresented Jesus’ teachings, and thereby driven people away from Jesus Christ. For some related articles, please see:
The Socinians and other “heretics” that Swedenborg saw in hell were ones who continued to cling to their false beliefs because their hearts were evil. People of good heart easily accept the truth about the Lord God Jesus Christ after they enter the spiritual world. But people who are selfish and greedy cling to false doctrine because it justifies their evil behavior. It is only these who end out in hell. No good-hearted person goes to hell, even if he or she may have had false beliefs here on earth.
Finally, about non-Christians in general going to heaven, please see these articles:
I hope these responses, and the linked articles, are helpful to you.
You are right to question Christianity, because much of what “Christianity” teaches, especially in its Catholic and Protestant branches, is simply not true, and has nothing to do with what Jesus and the Bible teach. It will be necessary for you to flush all of that old false garbage out of your mind before you can accept genuine Christianity as Jesus and his Apostles originally taught it. The articles linked above, and many others here, can help you with this process of cleansing your mind from old falsities, and putting the truth of genuine Christianity in their place.
I’m curious as to what you think about the drug movement of the 60’s. One one hand, it seems a lot of people were able to achieve higher levels of consciousness and thus able to love more deeply. On the other hand, quite a few felt as if they were in hell when taking drugs. I’ve always been interested in the music of that time period because it was so creative and most of it felt so genuine. I wonder if some people were able to more easily able to feel Christ’s love and creative energy. A lot of people who took psychedelic drugs talk about dropping the ego and destroying the self. That sounds a lot like Jesus saying to deny ourselves. They just didn’t know where the love was coming from.
When I was a teenager in the 70s, I went to a church camp in Maine with my family for three weeks every August. On our weekly outing days, some of us liked to climb the mountains in the area. We’d start in the morning at the base of a mountain, and hike up the trail all morning until we reached the top. (My greatest feat was to climb Mt. Washington in bare feet! 😀 ) Once there, we’d sit on the rocks at the top and take in the spacious view as we ate the lunch that we’d carried up with us. It was a great reward for the effort of climbing the mountain.
This was in the wake of the drug movement of the 60s. One outing day as I was sitting at the top of a mountain enjoying the well-earned view, it occurred to me that taking psychedelic drugs is like taking a helicopter to the top. You get the view, but you didn’t do the work to get there. You therefore don’t appreciate it the way you would have if you’d gotten there under your own power. And the experience doesn’t have the same effect on and foundation in your character that it would have if you had climbed the mountain yourself.
Yes, the drug movement did give a lot of people a lot of freaky spiritual experiences by piercing the veil that ordinarily separates our waking consciousness from the spiritual realms. (What they experienced, though, was not what the spiritual world is really like. It was more like a spiritual Salvador Dali painting.) However, these experiences were not well-founded in the character of the people having them, and they didn’t result in the solid, well-founded, and constructive change in society that would have resulted if mass numbers of people had put out the effort to develop their spiritual life to a higher level rather than mass numbers of people taking short-cuts to the top via drugs.