Spirit: The Final Frontier

Space: The Final Frontier? - Star Trek: The Next Generation

Space: The Final Frontier?

It’s about time I ’fessed up: I am a big fan of science fiction in general, and of Star Trek in particular. Whenever I watch an episode of “Star Trek: The Next Generation,” I thrill to the grand voice of Patrick Stewart as Captain Jean-Luc Picard, intoning those inspiring words in the show’s opener:

Space: the final frontier. These are the voyages of the starship Enterprise. Its continuing mission: to explore strange new worlds, to seek out new life and new civilizations, to boldly go where no one has gone before.

Yet as much as I enjoy venturing with Picard and his crew on an exciting voyage into the frontiers of space (as the human mind imagines it), there is always a little voice in the back of my head saying “Yes . . . but space isn’t the final frontier.” So I offer you this modified version of that famous call to exploration:

Spirit: the final frontier. These are the voyages of the starship Humankind. Its continuing mission: to explore strange new worlds of spirit, to seek out new ways of living and new levels of civilization, to boldly go where we have never gone before.

Spirit Trek

Let’s call it “Spirit Trek.” This truly is a voyage into the final frontier. Not the frontier of outer space, but the frontier of inner space. It is a voyage into the frontier of spirit. This is the voyage on which Jesus sends us when he says:

Truly, I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born again. . . . Truly, I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit. What is born of the flesh is flesh, and what is born of the Spirit is spirit. (John 3:3, 5–6)

When Jesus originally spoke these words, Nicodemus, the religious leader to whom he spoke them, was confused. For someone steeped in a form of religion that involved mostly the observance outward rituals and literal laws, the things of spirit truly were a strange new world. It was unexplored territory. It involved a whole new way of living: a way of life inspired by deeper goals of faith in God and kindness toward our fellow human beings, rather than a life driven by a desire for more money, more power, more status, more possessions.

If all the people on earth, or even a sizable percentage of the world’s people, were to live in this new and spiritual way, the earth would see a whole new level of civilization: a civilization built on mutual respect and service rather than on competition and striving for domination. It would lead to a civilization, a world, being newly created in the pattern of the holy city, New Jerusalem descending out of heaven from God. And that is a place—no, it is a state of mind and being—where we, the human race, have never gone before. It is a whole new and very exciting way for us to live. It is a way of life that we long for in our heart of hearts as we struggle along in a world that seems so far from the heavenly ideal, and as we realize that we ourselves fall far short of the glory for which God, our Creator, designed us.

Out with the old!

As we look forward with longing for that great future age of peace, harmony, and mutual goodwill among all the peoples of the earth, let’s look back for a moment to another time when the churches of the Western world had fallen far from their heavenly state, and were concerned mostly with the material concerns of wealth and power.

By the eighteenth century, the Christian church had long since left behind spiritual power for worldly power. Some nations were under the sway of the Catholic Church; others were under the sway of various Protestant churches. People who defied the political power of the church usually did not live to tell of it. And when Catholics and Protestants met, it was often with drawn swords and murderous intent. The harps and clouds of heaven were taken very literally—and so was the fire and brimstone of hell. God was a God to be feared, and the Bible was a book to be literally and strictly obeyed. Yet under a thin veneer of civilization, the most cruel, inhuman, and degraded abuses went on largely unchallenged. It was the final pages of a dark chapter in a long and weary human history that abounds in dark chapters.

It’s no wonder that just as Jesus’ strange words of spirit and life confused and confounded his listeners, there was an equally confounded and confused reaction when another bold explorer of the world of spirit, Emanuel Swedenborg (1688–1772), published the first volume of his religious writings. In the opening lines of that work he wrote:

The Word in the Old Testament contains secrets of heaven, and every single aspect of it has to do with the Lord, his heaven, the church, faith, and all the tenets of faith; but not a single person sees this in the letter. In the letter, or literal meaning, people see only that it deals for the most part with the external facts of the Jewish religion. . . . Yet each and every detail down to the smallest—even down to the tiniest jot—enfolds and symbolizes spiritual and heavenly matters.

These are the opening lines of Arcana Coelestia, or Secrets of Heaven. The first volume of this massive spiritual work, written entirely in Latin, was published in London in 1749. It was followed by seven more volumes of heavenly secrets, each continuing the remarkable, and to many people, the unbelievable story of Swedenborg’s voyage into the strange new world of spirit as found within the pages of the Holy Bible.

Swedenborg published these volumes anonymously. It was not his intent or desire to start a church named after himself. Rather, he was focused on deepening people’s understanding of the Bible and aiding them with their spiritual growth and in their relationship with God.

In with the new!

Like Nicodemus, most of Swedenborg’s contemporaries regarded these spiritual voyages as strange and confusing flights of fancy. They asked, “How can these things be?” But Swedenborg had already replied to this question, quite calmly, in that first volume:

The Lord, in his divine compassion, has enabled me to understand the inner meaning of the Bible. This meaning contains deeply hidden secrets which no one has ever had the slightest conception of before now. It would be impossible to understand them without knowing what the other life is like, since this is what most of the Bible’s inner meaning refers to and describes. Now, however, I can tell about what I have heard and seen while I have been with spirits and angels during the last few years. I realize that many people will say it is not possible for anyone to talk with spirits and angels while still living in the physical body. Some will say I am hallucinating and some will say I am writing these things just to get a following. Others will make other objections. But none of this discourages me, because I have seen, I have heard, and I have felt. (Arcana Coelestia #67–68)

With these words, Swedenborg invites us to explore strange new worlds of spirit, to seek out new ways of living and new levels of civilization, to boldly go where we have never gone before. These are the voyages of the starship Humankind into the worlds of the spirit—the true final frontier.

That voyage begins simply, gently, yet oh, so powerfully in the opening words of the book of Genesis, which is the beginning of God’s Word to humankind:

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters. And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. (Genesis 1:1–3)

To material, human eyes, these words seem to be merely an ancient, mythic account of the creation of the physical universe. Yet the light that God created with these words was not limited to the kind of light that our physical eyes can see. Not at all! The light that God creates is the brilliant inner light that illuminates our understanding. It is a light that enables us to see those amazing new worlds of spirit that Swedenborg found in his inspired voyages into inner space.

This is the light of spiritual truth.

The final frontier

The voyage of our own personal starship into the vast reaches of spirit begins when God opens our inner eyes to that deeper light, which radiates out from the Creator so gloriously. When our eyes have been opened to this light, we can never again be satisfied with the fleeting, temporary possessions and pleasures of this earth. Yes we will continue to appreciate the wonders of God’s creations in the material universe. But when our spiritual eyes are opened we see far greater wonders—wonders that had previously been hidden from our eyes.

God is calling each one of us to a voyage into that world far beyond the stars. It is an exciting voyage of discovery, because every discovery is not only tremendously enlightening, but intensely personal. On this journey we will discover our own ability to understand both ourselves and the people around us in ways that can heal past hurts and make new and deeper connections of trust and friendship.

On this journey, we will discover that beyond all the ways we have been stifled, beyond the ways we have stifled ourselves, there is a power of love within us that is greater than anything we had ever conceived of before. This power of love can propel us to deep and lasting joy as we express our love to one another through acts of kindness and compassion.

On this journey, we will make the most exciting discovery of all: that beyond all our power to grasp it, there lies at the center of the universe an infinite, powerful, intimate, compassionate, and intensely personal love. This love is in the person of the Lord God, our Creator and Savior, Jesus Christ.

Spirit: the final frontier. These are the voyages of the starship Humankind.

This article is edited from a talk I originally delivered on September 19, 1999.

For further reading:

 

About

Lee Woofenden is an ordained minister, writer, editor, translator, and teacher. He enjoys taking spiritual insights from the Bible and the writings of Emanuel Swedenborg and putting them into plain English as guides for everyday life.

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21 comments on “Spirit: The Final Frontier
  1. Brian says:

    Thanks Lee, this one really put a smile on my face! 😀

    It’s interesting to note that Gene Roddenbery, the creator of Star Trek, had some ideas about humanity in the future that, at least on the surface, were in line with what Swedenborgians believe as well. He felt that we would outgrow our bigotries, desire for material wealth and enter into a new age of cooperation for the betterment of all mankind. I’m not sure what his spiritual beliefs were, but regardless of space travel, it sure would be something if by the 23rd or 24th centuries we could even be close to a world like that.

    • Lee says:

      Hi Brian,

      According to the Wikipedia article on him, Gene Roddenberry was a humanist. Apparently he didn’t identify himself as an atheist, and believed in some sort of God, but he rejected organized religion as it exists in present-day culture.

      Whatever his beliefs were about God and religion, as you say, he certainly did believe in the betterment of humankind, and in serving our fellow human beings—which, as you say, is very much in line with what Swedenborg taught. One of the reasons I prefer Star Trek to many other science fiction universes is the high morality and dedication to service to others that is at the core of its primary society and culture (the Federation). Of course, that gets tested, and sometimes violated, but it remains a constant in all of the Star Trek series.

  2. Rob says:

    The last episode showed us that space isn’t the “final frontier”. Remember Q and the paradox?

    • Lee says:

      Hi Rob,

      Yes, despite the opening monologue, there are plenty of suggestions in Star Trek that there are frontiers beyond physical space.

      • Rob says:

        What I remember along those lines that really stands out is the episode with the “Traveller”; where he speaks of reality being a contiuum of matter, energy and thought.

  3. Amy Payne says:

    I remember seeing this on an old (possibly tripod) site years ago, and it seemed like the original writer of the “strange new spirit” intro had smoked too much pot, while I agree with it, changing the wordsfrom something popular isn’t the way to get your point across, originality is needed in the world just as much as everything else.

    • Lee says:

      Hi Amy,

      Thanks for stopping by, and for your comment.

      FYI, this article is an edited version of a sermon I preached over a decade and a half ago, when I was serving as pastor of a church in Massachusetts. You can see the original version here. I wrote it from scratch, out of my own thoughts. I’ve been a Star Trek fan for decades. I wasn’t aware of any other article on this theme, but if you can find a link to the one you’re thinking of, I’d be interested to see it. I can also certify that no drugs were harmed—or even touched—in the writing of this article. 😉

  4. Ella says:

    Greetings, I appreciate your insight into the conceptual aspects of the Old Testament. I fully agree with your summation regarding the historical aspects of religion concerning the Protestants and the Catholics. I’ve only read the Bible 3 times, but I’m not convinced of Jesus being “Lord and Savior”. To me, he was saying that anyone can get to the Father by living in the example that Jesus was living. Just as in the way he told his followers to go out and heal. When he says he is the “Son of God” – we are all Children of God. Jesus was a Jew, who firmly believed in adherence to the teachings of Abraham and Moses. But he also began to understand Hebrew text and their stories beyond the limited teaching of the external. He was telling us to seek God within! Why does this external – as you so beautifully described – stop, or only apply to the Old Testament? In my humble interpretation, I don’t get where anything Jesus said was meant to imply that Isaiah 43:10-13 was amended or should be disregarded.
    Just my thoughts.

    • Lee says:

      Hi Ella,

      Thanks for stopping by, and for your thoughts. And thank you for your kind words. I’m glad you’re enjoying the articles here!

      I do see Jesus differently than you do, and also differently than traditional Christianity does. To me, Jesus Christ is not some second “person” of God whose job was to appease God’s wrath and satisfy God’s justice. Rather, Jesus is the one God coming to us in human form out of pure love for us. See: “The Logic of Love: Why God became Jesus.”

      However, for us humans here on earth, the main point is to live the way Jesus taught. Our particular doctrines and beliefs about the nature of Jesus, God, and so on, are secondary. Even if you and I may see things a little differently, that is no obstacle to our being fellow travelers on our way to the higher realms.

  5. This is a wonderful article! I love the comparison you made between Star Trek and the Spirit Trek, the final frontier. I do feel that when you’re on a spiritual journey, you grow inside and feel the depth of God’s Love.And material things don’t mean as much to you as the deeper truths and love from God. There’s nothing wrong with enjoying life, but when your spiritual eyes open, you see so much deeper.

  6. AJ749 says:

    Hi Lee im just wondering where does swedenborg say that angels and such do not know about the physical world as in facts etc.

    As he mentions a few times when he has had to inform angels and spirits of earthly matters but i cant remember him directly saying it.

    I remembered your article on how spirits and angels from other planets didnt know the name of their planet since they have no sciences thus earths in the universe shows only what swedenborg knew of the physical world

    • Lee says:

      Hi AJ749,

      Offhand, I can’t think of a place where Swedenborg explicitly says that angels don’t know about things in the physical world. He does say that the angels and spirits who are with us pay attention to our inner states (thoughts and feelings), and have only a dim sense of the external scenery and events that, in our experience here on earth, are associated with those inner states. And he says that angels and spirits cannot see with their spiritual eyes what is going on in the material world. (Though a statement in Last Judgment #24:2 suggests that this is possible.)

      He also speaks of people in the spiritual world asking newcomers from the earth for news about what is going on here. See, for example, the series of stories in True Christian Religion #692, 693, and 694. If they had any direct knowledge of physical events, they wouldn’t have to ask people who had recently arrived from the earth for news from there.

    • Lee says:

      Hi AJ749,

      About the science and technology of this earth not existing elsewhere, see Worlds in Space #136. Swedenborg makes similar statements elsewhere as well.

      It is on this basis that I conclude that people from other planets would have no way of knowing what planet or solar system they are from. How could they, without the science of astronomy, telescopes, and so on? Most likely they wouldn’t even know they were living on a planet in space. More likely their conception would be like that of the ancient Hebrews as reflected in the Bible: that they lived on a flat or perhaps curved expanse of land that had a curved expanse of sky above.

      If, based on our earthly science, someone from our planet (an angel or Swedenborg) were to ask an angel or spirit from another planet, where they had no telescopes, no astronomy, and no developed science or technology, what planet they came from, the question wouldn’t mean much to them. Most likely, whatever they did say about the land they came from would fall into ideas already present in the mind of the angels and spirits from our earth. Hence (as I believe) the misidentification of their having come from the other planets in our solar system, when we now know that those planets are not now, nor were they ever, habitable by advanced life forms such as human beings.

      There is a bit more on this issue in my article:

      Aliens vs. Advent: Swedenborg’s 1758 Book on Extraterrestrial Life

      • AJ749 says:

        Hi Lee when i see people criticize swedenborgs authority over this issue the problem seems to be the source of the information , Swedenboeg says that he recieved information from the lord alone and not from any angel,

        Who was it who told him about the planets and the life on them wasnt it the spirits from those planets ?

        • Lee says:

          Hi AJ749,

          Swedenborg didn’t say that everything he wrote was from the Lord alone, and not from any angel. Rather, he said:

          I also testify that ever since the first day of this calling, I have accepted nothing regarding the teachings of this church from any angel; what I have received has come from the Lord alone while I was reading the Word. (True Christianity #779, italics added)

          He made no claim that everything he wrote constituted the “teachings of that church” (the new church that he said was beginning in his day). Much of it clearly isn’t. For example, he included in his published writings many stories of his conversations with angels and spirits in the spiritual world. These obviously did not come “from the Lord alone, while he was reading the Word.”

          When he does give a source for the information that a certain group of spirits came from this or that planet, he never says that the Lord told him. Rather, he says that it came “from heaven.” In other words, from angels. According to his statement quoted above, this specifically excludes it from being the “teachings of this church.” It is human information (angels are humans who have gone to heaven), not divine information.

        • Lee says:

          Hi AJ749,

          To add to what I said in my previous reply:

          The very idea that people should accept what Swedenborg said based on authority is, in my view, a major mistake that has caused all sorts of problems in reaching out to the world with Swedenborg’s teachings.

          Swedenborg himself rejected authority-based faith. He called believing something just because someone else said so “blind faith,” “historical faith,” and other pejorative terms. He said that people should believe something only if they see and understand that it is true.

          Unfortunately, historically many Swedenborgians did make an “authority” out of Swedenborg, thinking that they must believe every word Swedenborg ever wrote in his theological period just because he wrote it. In fact, a break-away group of conservative Swedenborgians founded a schismatic church, the General Church of the New Jerusalem, based on this very principle of the “authority” of Swedenborg’s writings. They even went so far as to declare that Swedenborg’s writings, like the Bible, are the Word of God.

          This goes far beyond anything Swedenborg ever said. In fact, their belief that Swedenborg’s writings are the Word based on their authority runs contrary to everything Swedenborg taught about what makes the Word of God be the Word of God.

          As a result of this non-Swedenborgian belief of theirs, they have fought a rearguard battle to attempt to maintain that everything Swedenborg wrote in his theological writings is true as written, without any error. The only problem is, we now know beyond a shadow of a doubt that some of the things he wrote are not true as written. For some examples of this, see the section titled “1. Swedenborg’s writings are not unquestionable, inerrant truth” in this article:

          Do the Teachings of Emanuel Swedenborg take Precedence over the Bible?

          Unfortunately, when non-Swedenborgian scholars and people who are new to Swedenborg get the idea that Swedenborg claimed that everything he ever wrote was divinely inspired and absolutely true, it creates an impossible standard. Then, if they find even one thing Swedenborg was wrong about, such as there being people on the other then-known planets in our solar system, they reject the whole body of his writings.

          But what other author do we require to be 100% correct, or we will reject everything they ever said? There are errors in Newton’s writings, in Darwin’s writings, in Einstein’s writings, and so on. Yet the major principles they covered in those writings are still an integral part of science one to three centuries later. Scientists don’t expect these brilliant thinkers to be infallible. Rather, they read them and look to them for the sound ideas they contributed to science, and set aside the rest.

          Once we get out of our head the idea that Swedenborg was some sort of infallible demigod who could never be mistaken in anything he wrote, reading and appreciating Swedenborg’s writings becomes much easier and more reasonable. If we come to something that he was clearly mistaken about, we can set that aside and move on. There is plenty of sterling spiritual information, understanding, and wisdom in Swedenborg’s writings. We don’t have to accept and believe every single word he ever said to gain and benefit from that vast store of information, understanding, and wisdom.

          I realize that some people think this will put us on a slippery slope to not believing anything he said at all. But this is a fear based on lack of any real spiritual understanding or insight. Was Jane Goodall worried that if she missed or overlooked a single grimace or gesture of the chimpanzees she studied, she would go sliding down a slippery slope to complete ignorance and denial of everything she had learned about chimpanzee behavior? Was Isaac Newton worried that if he made one wrong measurement, his entire cosmology would be destroyed? Was Albert Einstein worried that if he made a single mathematical mistake, his entire theory of relativity would collapse in dust and ashes?

          These people spent their lifetimes immersed in their fields of study. They had a solid and well-rounded grasp of the subjects they wrote about. They had the confidence in their material to know that even if they made a mistake here and there, or misread something here or there, their entire body of knowledge and principles had an integrity to it that would stand the test of time.

          If some Christian and spiritual leaders are so worried that if they don’t accept every single statement in the Bible, or in Swedenborg’s writings, as literal, inerrant, authoritative truth, the whole edifice of their faith will collapse, I have to question the depth and solidity of their faith, and of the knowledge and understanding behind it.

          Speaking for myself, when I was young I had some worries that maybe everything I believed was wrong. Issues such as Swedenborg’s mistaken claims that there were people living on the other planets in our solar system troubled me.

          But as the decades have passed, all of these superficial issues and qualms have faded into the background for me. I no longer worry about such things. Yes, Swedenborg was wrong about some things. But his overall system is so powerful, believable, practical, and sound that all those little rough edges have faded into insignificance.

          I don’t worry that if I don’t accept every single thing Swedenborg ever wrote as authoritative and absolutely true, I will lose my faith. I don’t worry about that because I see through years of study, experience, and testing in the fields of real life that the major teachings he delivered to us are true, and that all the rest of it fits in like pieces in a puzzle. There just happen to be a few pieces thrown into the box from a different puzzle, which have to be discarded in order to make the whole picture work.

  7. AJ749 says:

    Hi Lee great comment, to add regarding the authority angle i was reading an afterlife forum thread today and Swedenborg was a main feature and i must say i was quite suprised how easily people dismissed swedenborg.

    One user came on and said he was a nutjob because he thought swedenborg had created his own religion (without reading swedenborg) , others were not sure what to think based upon the source of swedenborgs information (at the time the topic of Deception during OBEs amd spirit communication was being discussed) and others thought he was trying to be a a cult leader/someone special because he didnt provide details as to how he had the experiences so that they could also have them.

    Regarding the last part other than here and on off the left eye i have rarely if not never seen others use the passage where swedenborg talks about God opening his spiritual eyes so he could have these experiences and not himself which is what people think.

    I sat there reading a comment questioning why swedenborg didnt have a blueprint as to how he had the experiences and that if it was a real experience he should share it with others and promote others doing it rather than him being the sole source

    I was just thinking that A. He dosent promote people having OBEs and other similar things because he saw and expericed first hand the dangers that are present in them and that B. If the Lord opened his spiritual eyes and as swedenborg says protected swedenborg during his “astral travels” then yes he is a bit special in the sense that he may be one of the only legitimate sources on this topic

    • Lee says:

      Hi AJ749,

      Yes, there is a lot of misinformation and lack of knowledge out there about Swedenborg. Plus, a lot of people are focused on having amazing spiritual experiences rather than on becoming a good person. One of the first comments ever posted on this blog was a complaint that this was all rather ordinary, and why didn’t I tell people how to have the spiritual experiences that Swedenborg did?

      If people would focus on becoming better people instead of wasting their valuable earth time on spiritual thrill-seeking, they would experience amazing spiritual things all in due course, when they enter eternal life.

      • AJ749 says:

        I do find it funny how these people who try these spiritual experiences to “develop there conciousness” are the ones you will find who leave new age spirituality saying how damaging it can be

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