(Note: This answer, imported from Christianity StackExchange, is more technical and scholarly in style than most of my posts here. However, the subject is worthwhile and informative for people who wish to gain a better understanding of atonement as presented in the Bible, in contrast to faulty and unbiblical traditional Christian understandings of atonement.)
Preface: 1 John 2:2 in Swedenborg’s writings
Emanuel Swedenborg (1688–1772) does not comment directly on 1 John 2:2 anywhere in his published or unpublished theological writings.
He does quote 1 John 2:2 in one of his unpublished notebooks, traditionally titled Scripture Confirmations, which served as a specialized Bible concordance for the composition of his final comprehensive work of systematic theology, True Christianity. In that single quotation of the passage, he translates the Greek word ἱλασμός (hilasmos) into the Latin word propitiatio, which is the standard Latin word for “propitiation.” You can see his original Latin here (it occurs in the fourth line of text), and an English translation here.
Introduction: Swedenborg’s general approach to “propitiation”
Although Swedenborg does not comment directly on 1 John 2:2 anywhere in his theological writings, he does discuss the concept of the propitiation for sins, mostly in his explanation of the meaning of the mercy seat of the ark of the covenant in the ancient Jewish tabernacle, and also in explaining the meaning of various Old Testament sacrifices and rituals of atonement.
Swedenborg largely skips over the traditional Christian theology that had grown up over the centuries around the concept of Jesus as the propitiation for sins. Instead, he draws his explanation of the meaning of this concept directly from the biblical text. And rather than relying upon later Greek- and Roman-derived philosophical concepts of “propitiation,” he seems to assume that the use of the Greek word ἱλασμός and its related forms in the New Testament draw their meaning primarily from the terms in the Hebrew Bible that are commonly translated in the Septuagint using various forms of ἱλασμός—and that this Old Testament usage is the primary referent of the term ἱλασμός as used in the New Testament. The writers of the (Greek) New Testament drew heavily on the Septuagint, which was a Greek translation of the Hebrew Scriptures produced two or three centuries before the birth of Christ.
To understand Swedenborg’s interpretation of Jesus as “the propitiation for our sins” as used in 1 John 2:2, then, it will be necessary to delve into the Hebrew word כָּפַר (kaphar) and its derivatives, which are the words most commonly translated in the Septuagint as ἱλασμός and its derivatives, and which therefore provide the primary meaning of ἱλασμός as used in the New Testament.
This we will do below. But first we must cover Swedenborg’s view of the traditional Christian understanding of Christ as a propitiation for our sins.
Swedenborg rejected the traditional notion of propitiation as appeasing the wrath of God the Father
Swedenborg was aware of, but rejected, the traditional philosophically-based interpretation of “propitiation” as meaning to appease the wrath of God the Father through the literal shedding of blood and death of the Son of God on the Cross. In Apocalypse Explained, his massive unfinished and unpublished exegesis of the Book of Revelation, he comments on the traditional Christian belief about the meaning of propitiation for sins. The passage is rather technical, so I’ll summarize its main points afterwards.
In respect to the first proposition, “That there is propitiation, that is, a propitiation of God the Father by the passion or by the blood of His Son.” This involves a rejection or alienation of the human race because of some anger or vengeance, that is called vindictive justice, which was laid upon His Son by God the Father, to the end that by the passion of His cross He might be reconciled to the human race, and thus be propitiated. But who does not see that for God the Father to reject from Himself the human race, or from justice to revenge their alienation, is contrary to the Divine essence itself, which is love itself, mercy itself, and goodness itself? Such vengeance, indeed, could not exist in any angel, and scarcely with any well disposed man, much less with God. Who does not also see that it is difficult to think that such vengeance was laid upon the Son by His Father, or that the Son took such vengeance upon Himself, and that God the Father has mercy from seeing or recalling this, and not from the Divine love itself, which in its essence is infinite, eternal, and immediate towards the whole human race? I do not know, therefore, whether anyone can think from God and with God that he has been rejected of God, and therefore that by the will of the Father the Son was condemned, and was thereby made a propitiatory and a throne of grace. Moreover, justice is a Divine attribute, but not vindictive justice, and still less can it be in one on another’s account; and if it is not justice neither is it according to Divine order for one to be saved on another’s account, though it may be by means of another. Nor can God be reconciled by any other means than by the repentance of the man himself. To be saved by means of the Lord, and also by means of the passion of His cross, thus by the Lord, is propitiation and expiation, as will be seen in what follows. (Apocalypse Explained #805:3)
The primary points Swedenborg makes here in rebutting the traditional Christian divine wrath- and justice-based concept of “propitiation” are these:
- It is contrary to the nature of God’s love, mercy, and goodness for God to reject humanity.
- It is contrary to the nature of God’s love, mercy, and goodness for God to execute vengeance upon God’s Son.
- God’s infinite love and mercy go out directly to the entire human race.
- Divine justice is never vindictive justice.
- Divine justice does not save one person due to the actions of another person (in this case, the Son of God), although that other person may be the means of saving the person.
- The only way for a human being to be reconciled to God is for that person to repent from his or her sins.
Atonement in the Old Testament
As stated in the Introduction above, Swedenborg draws the meaning of “propitiation” primarily from its usage in the Hebrew Bible.
Although there are a two or three Hebrew words that are translated into English as “propitiation” and “expiation,” the most common one by far is כָּפַר (kaphar).
כָּפַר is a Hebrew root word whose primary, concrete meaning is “to cover over.” Its first use in the Hebrew Bible is in the story of the building of Noah’s ark:
Make yourself an ark of cypress wood; make rooms in the ark, and cover it inside and out with pitch. (Genesis 6:14, italics added)
Here the Hebrew word for “cover” is a form of כָּפַר. And in a play of words not reproducible in English translation, the Hebrew word for “pitch” is כֹּֽפֶר (kopher), “pitch” being something that covers things over. This gives a sense of the original, concrete meaning of the relevant Hebrew word.
It is from this concrete meaning of כָּפַר that it derives its more figurative and abstract meanings: “to expiate or condone, to placate or cancel:—appease, make an atonement, cleanse, disannul, forgive, be merciful, pacify, pardon, purge (away), put off, (make) reconcile(-liation)” (from Strong’s definition of כָּפַר).
The original meaning of the Hebrew word, then, does not point to the appeasement of an angry God, but rather to God “covering over” sins, which is a Hebrew idiom for forgiving sins out of mercy. It also has the sense of purging or cleansing away sins.
This leads to Swedenborg’s understanding of “propitiation” in the Old Testament and in the Bible generally.
The mercy seat, or propitiatorium
Swedenborg’s most extensive discussion of “propitiation” comes in his exegesis of the mercy seat of the ark of the covenant, whose description first appears in Exodus 25:17–22. Here is the first half verse of that description:
Then you shall make a mercy seat of pure gold. (Exodus 25:17)
The Hebrew word here translated “mercy seat” is כַּפֹּרֶת (kapporeth), which is derived from the Hebrew word כָּפַר.
The common Latin translation of this word, which Swedenborg uses in his exegesis, is propitiatorium (see the Vulgate translation of this verse), which, obviously, is derived from the Latin word for “propitiation.”
Swedenborg’s exegesis of the mercy seat
This, then, is Swedenborg’s key reference in the Bible for his explanation of the meaning of “propitiation” throughout the Bible. Here is the opening summary from Secrets of Heaven (Arcana Coelestia) #9506, where Swedenborg comments on the first half of Exodus 25:17. (For his full exegesis, click the number link just above.)
“And you shall make a mercy-seat from pure gold” means the hearing and reception of all things that belong to worship arising from the good of love. This is clear from the meaning of “the mercy-seat” as the cleansing from evils or forgiveness of sins, consequently the hearing and reception of all things that belong to worship, dealt with below; and from the meaning of “gold” as the good of love. (Secrets of Heaven #9506, italics added)
He then goes on to speak in more detail about the meaning of the mercy seat as hearing and receiving everything related to worship because God spoke to Moses and the priests from between the cherubim on the mercy seat. And he states that only people who have been cleansed from evils and sins can hear and receive these things from God, as symbolized by the requirement that Aaron, the high priest, engage in rituals of purification and atonement before entering the Most Holy Place where God would speak to him from between the cherubim.
So in Swedenborg’s theology, the primary meaning of “propitiation” draws on the key meaning of the original Hebrew words, in which “to cover over” is taken as a metaphor for mercy and forgiveness of sins, which happens only when worshipers of God repent from their sins according to God’s commandments, and are thus cleansed from their sins by God.
For additional passages in which Swedenborg comments on the meaning of “propitiation” in relation to sacrifices for atonement prescribed in the Old Testament, see Secrets of Heaven ##10122, 10124, 10127.
Swedenborg’s general understanding of “propitiation”
Here is Swedenborg’s brief summary of the meaning of “propitiation” and other traditional Christian concepts that are related to sacrificial worship in the Old Testament:
Sacrifices and burnt offerings in general served to mean the regeneration of a person by means of the truths of faith in the Lord and forms of the good of love to Him, both received from the Lord . . . . The pardoning of sins, expiation, propitiation, and redemption are nothing other than purification from evils and falsities, the implantation of goodness and truth, and the joining together of these, which is regeneration. (Secrets of Heaven #10042:5)
“Regeneration” here means spiritual rebirth, or in New Testament terms, being born again. Swedenborg saw this as a process that involved repenting from our sins, reforming our desires, thoughts, and actions, and becoming a new person motivated by God’s love, guided by God’s truth, and doing good deeds for our fellow human beings (“the neighbor,” in biblical terms) from the power of God’s love and truth flowing through us.
So although Swedenborg does use the traditional word “propitiation,” his understanding of it is not derived from traditional Christian theology, nor from the more philosophical definitions of it that have developed over the centuries, but rather from the key words and passages in the Bible itself that define the concept.
These key words are occasionally used in the Bible to speak of appeasing someone’s wrath, such as in the story of Jacob reuniting with his estranged brother Esau in Genesis 32:1-21, 33:1-17, as seen specifically in this verse:
For he [Jacob] thought, “I may appease him with the present that goes ahead of me, and afterwards I shall see his face; perhaps he will accept me.” (Genesis 32:20)
However, these words are used far more often in the sense of forgiving sins out of mercy. And it is this primary meaning that Swedenborg draws upon in his understanding of “propitiation.”
And he insists that although God does indeed forgive all of our sins out of pure love and mercy, the only way we can receive that forgiveness is to repent from our sins and live a new life of love and service to our fellow human beings, as Jesus Christ and the entire Bible command us to do.
Summary and conclusion
“Propitiation,” as Emanuel Swedenborg understands it, has nothing to do with appeasing the supposed wrath of God the Father at our sins, as understood in traditional Christian theology. So it does not mean God being appeased by the shed blood and the death of his Son on the Cross.
There is no need for such appeasement, Swedenborg says, since such wrath and vengeance cannot be attributed to a God of pure love and mercy. God’s “wrath” and “vengeance,” when encountered in the Bible are, rather, metaphors for how God’s love strikes people who are in opposition to it because they are actively engaging in evil desires, thoughts, and actions. For more on this, please see my article, “What is the Wrath of God? Why was the Old Testament God so Angry, yet Jesus was so Peaceful?”
Instead, Swedenborg says, “propitiation” has to do with God “covering over” our sins, meaning forgiving them out of pure love and mercy—which forgiveness we receive when we repent from our sins and live a good life instead, as God commands us to do throughout the entire Bible, both Old Testament and New.
And this, Swedenborg says, we cannot do by our own power, but only from the power of the Lord God and Savior Jesus Christ working in us and through us—as Jesus himself said:
I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing. (John 15:5)
(Note: This post is a slightly edited version of an answer I originally 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:
- What is the Wrath of God? Why was the Old Testament God so Angry, yet Jesus was so Peaceful?
- Did Jesus Really Die to Pay the Penalty for our Sins?!?
- The Faulty Foundations of Faith Alone – Part 5: Jesus Paid the Penalty For Our Sins?
- Faith Alone Does Not Save . . . No Matter How Many Times Protestants Say It Does
- If You Think You’re Going to Hell, Please Read This First
Thank you Lee for a great post! I have two questions:
1. What to make of the continual metaphors of Jesus blood as “cleansing us” from sin (e.g. 1st John); also, what of the idea of Jesus dying “for” our sins, that is, “on our behalf” (huper in Gk), or Jesus “laying down his life [again] for us”?? (or even Paul’s famous “he made him who knew no sin, TO BE SIN” (2 Cor 5).
2. I’m not sure if this is related but, what of someone who thinks they are a Christian, e.g. an evangelical, who calls Jesus Lord and God, accepts his “sacrifice,” but is somehow radically self-deceived. In the afterlife, won’t they search for God, call out to him? In other words, would they really just ignore the search for God/Christ and wander away from the light of God into their own selfish desires?? Or perhaps this person, someone like this, would not then be self-deceived?
Thank you for your time. As always, your posts and reflections are most edifying.
Good to hear from you again. It’s been a while! And thanks for your kind words.
In response to your questions, on Point 1:
To take the last first, 2 Corinthians 5:21 has, unfortunately, been mistranslated in most English versions, probably because the translators were not paying enough attention to Paul’s reliance on the Septuagint, and probably also because the common mistranslation is taken to support the Catholic and Protestant satisfaction theory of atonement, and has therefore become a touchstone, especially for Protestants, to support their false doctrine. The mistranslation is therefore heavily defended in those quarters.
Here is how it should be translated:
For the explanation, please see this comment—which I am clearly going to have to turn into a blog post of its own, because that verse just keeps coming up.
About Jesus dying for our sins, or dying on our behalf, notice that the Bible never says anything about Jesus dying to make satisfaction for our sins or to pay the penalty for our sins. It never says that he came to take away the penalty for our sins, nor does it ever say that he came to reconcile the Father to us. Rather, it says:
See also Romans 11:27; Hebrews 10:4, 11; 1 John 3:5. Notice that always speaks of taking away sins. It never speaks of taking away the penalty for sin.
And it says:
Nowhere does the Bible say that Christ was reconciling God to us, or satisfying God’s honor, or justice, or wrath, so that God could save us rather than condemning us. And there is not a single word about the merit of Christ being imputed to us so that God could overlook our sins. It just isn’t there.
What is there, in both the Old and New Testaments, is God taking away our sins themselves through exhorting us to repent, telling us how to repent, and giving us the ability to repent. The taking away of sins is always, in the Bible, connected to repentance from sin, which was the first thing that John the Baptist, Jesus, and Jesus’ disciples all preached to the people.
When Jesus laid down his life for us, or for our sins, it was not to reconcile or satisfy or placate or “propitiate” (in the modern sense) the Father. Rather, God, the Father, was in Christ reconciling the world to himself. Jesus laid down his life for many reasons, and it accomplished many things. For now, the important one is that he laid down his life defending us from the power of the Devil by defeating the Devil’s power over “the world,” meaning human society. That’s why he said to his disciples just before his death:
At the time of the Incarnation, the Devil’s power had become so strong that even good-hearted people were losing the ability to resist evil and sin. The Devil’s power had also infiltrated the church and the religious leaders that were supposed to be leading and guiding people out of sin. And so the entire human race was in danger of being dragged down into hell. Jesus stood against the power of the Devil (which is the combined power of evil and hell) and defeated that power, thus freeing the world, not from its influence, but from its overpowering influence.
To use an analogy, Jesus was like an army of one going out against an invading army, defeating it, and turning it back. And in the process of defeating the invader, he gave his own life, like a soldier dying to protect his or her country. In the very same way, Jesus died because of our sins (because it was our sinning that had given the Devil all of that power), and for or on behalf of us. And now that Jesus Christ has defeated the Devil, Christ can give us the power to defeat the Devil, evil, and sin in ourselves if we turn to him, believe in him, and accept that power into our lives. The enemy is still standing at the border threatening, but Christ retains the power to defeat the enemy in us if we are willing to accept his fighting and overcoming sin within us.
It’s not about avoiding the penalty for sin. That’s a lawyer thing. (See: “Did Jesus Really Die to Pay the Penalty for our Sins?!?”) It’s about getting rid of the sin itself. And when we are no longer sinning, we are no longer drawing the wages of sin. Read the Bible for yourself, and you will see that it is always focused on getting rid of our sin. And once again, this happens through “repentance for the forgiveness of sins.” See, for example, Mark 1:4; Luke 3:3; 24:47; Acts 2:38; 5:31.
So where does the “blood” come in?
First, the idea that it’s about Jesus’ literal blood shed to placate the Father is not only unbiblical (as explained above), but very materialistic and physical minded—or “of the flesh” in biblical terms.
Second, this whole conception of Jesus’ sacrifices is completely out of line with how the sacrifices actually functioned in ancient Hebrew / Jewish society. That will be the subject of a future major article. Meanwhile, here’s the short version:
The Jewish sacrifices were not about placating or “propitiating” God as is commonly believed in traditional Christianity. Nowhere does it say that the offerings were a penalty or payment for sin, despite the shockingly bad translation of Leviticus in many modern versions, such as the New Revised Standard Version and the New International Version. Rather, the offerings were in the nature of a feast with God, variously celebrating God’s love, mercy, and salvation or “atoning” for sin in the sense of bringing the people back into communion and oneness with God through recognizing and repenting from their sins in the ritualistic act of sacrifice. The sin offerings (not “penalties for sin”!) were in the nature of feasts of reconciliation, when the enmity between peoples who have been in conflict with one another have been resolved and they sit down to share a meal together celebrating their reconciliation. Of course, the enmity and offense is always on the human side, and never on God’s side. It is always reconciling us to God, and never the reverse.
The whole idea that the sacrifices were penalties paid to God to placate God for sin is completely foreign to Hebrew sacrificial worship. But fleshing that out (so to speak) will have to away that future article. The upshot is that the entire foundation of Catholic / Protestant satisfaction theory is missing in the Bible itself, if the Bible is properly understood according to what it meant to its original writers, both Old Testament and New.
The “blood of Christ,” then, has nothing to do with satisfying and placating God through “paying in blood” for our sins. Rather, as Jesus himself taught us when he instituted the Holy Supper, the “blood sacrifice” is in the nature of a feast with God (whom Jesus Christ is among us) to celebrate our reconciliation with God through faith in Christ, repentance from sin, and a new life according to the Lord’s commandments.
As Jesus also taught us when he instituted the Holy Supper, the “blood” is not literal blood, but, as you say, metaphorical blood:
That cup did not contain his literal blood, which he had literally poured out into the cup to give to them to drink. In fact, eating or drinking blood was strictly forbidden to the Jews, because it was considered to be the life of the animal, which belonged to God. For example:
And this gives us some hint of the meaning of Christ’s blood poured out for us.
It was not his literal blood, but his life given for us. Yes, in a literal sense that meant his dying for us on the cross. But in a metaphorical and more powerful sense, it is the Lord God Jesus Christ giving us life from the divine life. And the divine life is not literal, physical blood, but rather the love and the truth of God, which is what gives us all of our life. Specifically in the context of the Holy Supper, the bread is the love or goodness of God, and the wine, or “blood” is the truth or wisdom of God. This is where all of our life comes from. And God, in Christ, liberally pours out that blood of life, which is God’s truth, to give us spiritual life.
For more on this, please see: “Eat My Flesh, Drink My Blood.”
There is much more that could be said about this, but I’ll leave it at that for now. Traditional Christian notions of Christ paying some penalty or placating or satisfying God through the literal shedding of blood are unbiblical, false, and, not to put too fine a point on it, a gruesome and blasphemous smear on the loving and merciful name of God. Any human ruler who acted in the way that satisfaction and penal substitution theories attribute to God would, we hope, be quickly deposed and locked up in a facility for the criminally insane.
And yet, Catholic and Protestant Christianity paints a picture of God as being precisely that madman, who requires the death of his own son, and must see the ebbing lifeblood of his own son flowing out of his dying body, in order to forgive human sin. Barbarous and blasphemous! The beautiful teachings of the Bible about God’s love and forgiveness, and Christ’s coming to reconcile the world to God, have been completely turned on their head. Over the centuries they have been utterly falsified into a horrendous human caricature of a bloodthirsty and insane god.
In actual fact, as Paul said, God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself, and not the reverse.
I hope the above explanations are helpful to you in understanding what the Bible, and Jesus Christ himself, actually teach on these subjects.
And since this has gotten long, I’ll reply separately to your second question.
In response to your Point 2:
It all depends on why these Christians are radically self-deceived.
You see, God doesn’t look at the outward appearance, but at the human heart (1 Samuel 16:7). And the heart, metaphorically, is where our loves, motives, and intentions lie. Whatever the outward appearance of our words and actions, it is the motives and intentions behind them that counts spiritually.
And Jesus taught us what should be the focus of our motives and intentions:
Despite any self-deception, if God sees that in our heart there is a reigning love for God and for our “neighbor,” or fellow human beings, then that self-deception can be overcome in our third stage after death, which is a period of learning for spirits who are moving toward their eternal homes in heaven. See: “What Happens To Us When We Die?”
But if God sees that instead of love for the Lord and the neighbor, what rules in our heart is love for ourselves and for the things of this world, then there is no hope of saving us, because we will reject any and all attempts at instruction and correction by the angels whom God assigns to this task. And then it will not be God, but we ourselves who send ourselves to hell in order to get away from those meddling busybodies who keep trying to tell us what to believe and what to do. See: “Is There Really a Hell? What is it Like?”
Please understand that it’s not that we aren’t allowed to love ourselves and the pleasures and benefits of this world. It’s when we love them in preference to loving other people and the Lord that they are a problem. As long as we have our priorities in the right order, it is perfectly fine and good to have a healthy self-esteem and take care of ourselves physically and mentally, and to enjoy the healthy pleasures that this world—which God created for our enjoyment and for our spiritual growth—has to offer.
I hope this helps.
Re: Reply 2. So I guess you are saying that if someone finds themselves in the afterlife and finds that this afterlife does not operate according to the rules of Sola Fide Christianity, and the person really loves God and his neighbor and sincerely prayers to God, he will find his way to him?
This makes me wonder the effect of “calling on the name of the LORD” in the afterlife? For one, is it not that those in hell “can’t” so much as they “won’t”?
Also, as you know, I think, I’ve read many, many of your posts. You describe Swedenborg’s picture of the afterlife as “not all that different from life now.” I am wondering, do people still pray to God then? or do they have, so to speak, direct access to Christ?
Btw, I really love Swedenborg’s thoughts on the “Trinity.”
Yes, sola fide Christians will find that the afterlife does not operate as they thought it would. They will discover that God is far more loving, merciful, and expansive than they ever thought possible, so that there are many more people in heaven than their former beliefs would allow. And yes, even though they are in doctrinal error, if they love God and the neighbor and sincerely pray to God, God will welcome them with open arms. Even though they would consign me to hell because according to them I believe the wrong thing, I assign them to heaven because despite believing the wrong thing, their heart is in the right place.
However, they will have to unlearn many things and learn the actual truth before moving on to heaven. People with false beliefs cannot enter heaven because the falsity in their mind conflicts with the light of heaven, which is truth. However, if it is not “falsity of evil,” in Swedenborg’s terminology, meaning falsity clung to because it justifies evil motives and actions, then they will allow themselves to be taught by angel instructors, and will gladly accept the genuine truth that those angels teach them. Swedenborg describes such spirits as being very embarrassed at their former wrong beliefs, and very angry at their church for its dense ignorance and for inducing such blindness upon them as well. Some of their pastors do not fare as well in the spiritual world as they do.
In the afterlife, calling on the name of the Lord does bring the Lord’s presence. Even if we may be shrouded in darkness here, such that we can’t always feel the Lord’s presence even when the Lord is right here with us, in the afterlife, after our first stage of outward life (see the article on the afterlife that I linked for you in my previous reply), everything becomes clearer and clearer, and the Lord is immediately present with us whenever we call on the Lord. Usually it is an inward presence, but sometimes it is a visible presence as well.
And as you say, those in hell, and evil spirits heading toward hell, can’t call upon the Lord because they won’t call upon the Lord. Once we enter the second stage after death, the stage of our inward life, we are incapable of saying anything that we don’t actually believe. And since evil spirits reject and hate the Lord, they cannot call upon the Lord because it conflicts with the thinking that flows from their loves and motives.
In a similar vein, people who have confirmed themselves in the doctrine of the Trinity of Persons and are unwilling to give it up in the afterlife can no longer pronounce the words, “There is one God.” When they attempt to do so, what comes out instead is, “There are three gods”—which is the actual belief they hold in their mind even if here on earth they say “one God” with their lips to avoid embarrassment, and out of church-induced habit. For an account of this happening to confirmed trinitarians, see True Christianity #16.
In other words, in the spiritual world, once we are past our stage of externals, there is no difference between “can’t” and “won’t.” Ever afterwards, to eternity, our mind and body are a seamless whole, so that we cannot express in word or deed anything that we do not actually think, love, and want within ourselves. That is what Jesus meant when he said:
And yes, people still pray to God in heaven. How they see God depends upon their state of mind and heart. Most commonly they experience God as the spiritual sun, midway up in the sky in the east. The warmth that comes from that sun they experience as God’s love, and its light they experience as God’s truth. However, sometimes the Lord does appear to them personally as a human being, just as he did to his followers after his resurrection here on earth.
I am glad to hear that you are still reading the posts here. I thought after our last exchange that we had lost you. It’s good to know you’re still around.
Oh no no, not at all. I think I mentioned to you that I am a professor — and for some reason it’s easier for me to get on here and keep up during the Christmas break. I still get the emails whenever you post and try to keep up with the reading.
What’s interesting is that everything you are saying to me now, in your replies, just “makes sense” intuitively. The same thing about the Trinity. I always felt, in my heart of hearts, Swedenborg’s view was “just right” and that the Trinity, at least as it is understood by most, is simply tritheistic. So how is it that I was able to come to the same “conclusions” Swedenborg had, without having read him? Would Swedenborg say that if you seek God truly you will be given knowledge?
God does indeed sound much kinder and nicer than he is often depicted in Christianity.
A worry: I still have many sins and imperfections that only slowly die off. Will we be purified afterwards? I will of course review your posts on the afterlife. Where is the best place to go for the Trinity?
Yes, Swedenborg would say that those who sincerely seek the truth out of a good heart will find it.
That is, if they haven’t been too strongly inculcated with false beliefs, which will blind their eyes to the truth even if their heart is good. There are millions of good-hearted Christians in precisely this situation. When people come here insisting upon faith alone, or the trinity of persons, or predestination, or some other unbiblical and false doctrine, assuming they don’t get belligerent and insulting, I generally feel sorry for them. They are sincere and good-hearted, and if it weren’t for the blindness of the churches they are attached to, they could have so much better and broader beliefs, and so much closer and warmer a relationship with Jesus and with their fellow human beings.
Others, though, are bitter and narrow in their heart, and condemnatory of anyone who doesn’t believe as they do. In that case, their narrow beliefs reflect the narrowness of their heart. Of course, I can’t know for sure that that’s what’s happening. Unlike God, I cannot look directly into people’s hearts. But the way they come across, it certainly seems that way. Most of the time I simply delete their comments before they even appear because any attempts at engaging them in discussion would be fruitless. Pearls before swine, and all that.
However, for those whose hearts are good, even if they remain blinded by false doctrine here on earth, in the afterlife they will easily leave it behind. Simply experiencing the atmosphere of heaven and the reality of God’s love is enough to sweep away vast mountains of falsity from the minds of those whose hearts are sincere. Such people become willing and eager students of their angel tutors. They find their way to heaven with a new clarity and brilliance of thought that they had never experienced here on earth.
As for remaining sins and imperfections, that is true of us all. And though we should always strive for perfection as Jesus urges us to do, we will never actually attain perfection to all eternity. As the book of Job says:
The idea that God cannot tolerate even the slightest sin in us is a Protestant shibboleth that has no sound basis in the Bible. It is one of the false corollaries of their false doctrines of justification by faith alone and the imputed merit of Christ. The passage that is usually quoted to support it, James 2:10, is about breaking one of the Ten Commandments, not about committing the least little sin. This is clear from the context, in which James lists which laws he is talking about:
As his examples show, James is here using “the law” in a more restricted sense that refers to the Ten Commandments, which are also called “the law” in some contexts. He is not saying that anyone who breaks the least commandment in the law of Moses, such as failing to tithe mint, dill, and cumin, is transgressing the entire law. This, once again, is a Protestant misconception and misreading of the Bible used to justify Protestantism’s unbiblical and unjustifiable doctrines.
We are given a lifetime here on earth because that’s how long it takes to “work out our salvation with fear and trembling” (Philippians 2:12). Being born again is a process, not an instantaneous event. The instantaneous event is conversion, which is a turning around from traveling toward hell to traveling toward heaven. But once we have been turned around, we still have to walk the path out of hell and upward toward heaven. That is the task of our life here on earth. And if, when we die, we are walking that pathway toward heaven, we will continue to walk the same path to eternity, even once we have found our heavenly home. As Swedenborg puts it, there is never a time when any angel can say, “I am now perfect.” Rather, angels continue to learn and to grow toward perfection to eternity.
Here are the key posts about the Trinity:
Okay, that last one isn’t strictly about the Trinity. But after wading through the increasing negativity in articles 2-4, I thought you might like to end on a positive note. 🙂
Incidentally, now that I’ve published Volume 2 of my planned five-volume “Spiritual Insights” series, the next volume will be Volume 1, on “God and Creation.” That volume will pull together all of the articles from this blog about God, and put them in an orderly sequence for ease of reading and reference. I hope to make that volume available in late January or early February.
Re: Reply 1: Thank you for that refreshing answer! All makes sense to me. I am wondering and asking in order to better reply to rebuttals of this. I checked the Greek to 2 Cor 5:21 and the word that you suggest be translated not as “sin” but as “sin offering” is simply the Greek word sin. Now I understand you can argue that that is the intention behind it, but it’s not “literally in the text.” 2 Cor 5:21 reads “τὸν γὰρ μὴ γνόντα ἁμαρτίαν ὑπὲρ ἡμῶν ἁμαρτίαν ἐποίησεν ἵνα ἡμεῖς γινώμεθα δικαιοσύνη θεοῦ ἐν αὐτῷ” (the one not having known sin for us sin was made…” Right?
Again, I find your reply convincing. I am wondering how you might respond.
Also the bit about sacrifice, blood and life, and conquering Satan makes much sense to me!
Did you read my comment on 2 Corinthians 5:21 that I linked for you? It’s all laid out there.
Yes, the Greek uses the same word as the word that is usually translated “sin” because it is following the Septuagint, which follows the Hebrew Bible, which uses the same word for “sin” and “sin offering.” So it is indeed “literally the text.” It is simply a different definition of the word hamartia.
As I’m sure you are aware, words have different meanings, and we understand which meaning is intended by the context. As I said in another article (“Doesn’t Ephesians 2:8-9 Teach Faith Alone?”), if I say “pool,” you don’t really know what I mean unless I add at least one more word to it. If I add the word “swimming” before it, it means one thing, if I add the word “hall” after it, it means something quite different. It is the same with the Greek word hamartia in the New Testament and with the Hebrew word chatta’ath that it reflects in the Old Testament. The context tells us whether it means “sin” or “sin offering.”
In the case of 2 Corinthians 5:21, if we read it as “sin” it makes it into a nonsense sentence. Hamartia is a noun, not a verb. People sin (verb); they don’t be sin (noun). Traditional Christianity has attempted to make sense out of a gibberish translation because it seems to support their doctrine.
But Paul is not such a poor and sloppy writer that he would write a piece of grammatical garbage like that. And the wider context of Paul’s letters, in which he speaks of Christ as a sacrifice, makes it abundantly clear which definition of hamartia he intended there. See, for example, Romans 3:24–25 and 1 Corinthians 5:7, and the letter to the Hebrews generally—though that was probably not written by Paul.
Christ as a sacrifice for our sin is a strong theme in the New Testament. It is the obvious meaning of Paul’s words in 2 Corinthians 5:21. Only false doctrine could blind a person to that meaning. That and an unawareness of the basics of how language works, and of the basis of the New Testament’s vocabulary in the Hebrew Bible and the Greek Septuagint.
Ah! I missed the linked comment. But I was aware of the Septuagint precedent. Ok, what you say now clears that up! Thank you
Ah thank you for pooling all of these resources together for me. I know I had already read most of them, but I’d like to review them again.
Also, thank you for the clarification. Very, very helpful.
Finally, then, as I wondered, can one come to the same insights as Swedenborg, without having read him directly? That is, if someone just reads the Bible, do you think they could arrive at Swedenborg’s understanding of the One God ?? I’m sure you have answered this question before, to me, and in those articles about the charge of Seballianism or Modalism, right? I will look for it ….
You are most welcome. Answering these questions for sincere seekers is truly my pleasure and my joy.
Theoretically, yes, someone could come to the same conclusions without reading Swedenborg. And some have come pretty close. Unfortunately, the reigning darkness in Christianity makes that very difficult, and very rare. Doing so would require a person who is willing to unlearn everything he or she has been taught about the Bible and its meaning, and think along completely new lines. And there just aren’t many people like that around.
Also, according to Swedenborg, he was constantly led by the Lord in everything he wrote that was for the doctrine of the new church represented by the New Jerusalem, which he saw as beginning during his lifetime. (That’s why God called him to do this work at that specific time in history.) If there are few people willing to unlearn everything they have learned and start fresh, there are even fewer who are willing and able to do so under the constant guidance of the Lord from within. I have read articles and blogs by many people who have perceived one of the major errors of traditional Christianity, but for lack of guidance and understanding, they have fallen right into other errors that in some cases are just as bad or even worse.
I unapologetically follow Swedenborg’s teachings and guidance because I believe that he was specially selected and sent by the Lord to clear away the old “Christian” falsity and deliver new and genuine Christian truth to the world that it sorely needed. Without this, I believe that the Age of Enlightenment and its aftermath would have swept Christianity and religion away altogether. But because God delivered the genuine truth by means of the mind and pen of Swedenborg, Christianity in its true form can be revived and revitalized instead of dying. I would add that unlike traditional Christian theology, Swedenborg’s theology is based solidly and soundly on the entire Bible, not just on a few verses from Paul ripped out of context and twisted to mean things that never entered Paul’s mind.
In case you don’t already have enough reading material, here are a few more articles along these lines:
Mind you, I don’t read Swedenborg’s writings blindly, nor do I believe everything he says just because he says it. As I cover in the first article linked above, some of the things Swedenborg said were mistaken based on the limitations of scientific and religious knowledge of his day. And that is, I believe, a protection against our adopting anything he says on the basis of blind faith. Swedenborg himself said that we should evaluate everything we read or hear based on the Bible, reason, and experience. If it passes biblical muster, makes sense to us, and has the ring of truth, we should adopt it. If it doesn’t make sense or doesn’t pass biblical muster or have the ring of truth about it, we should lay it aside. Perhaps at some future time we’ll pick it up again. Or perhaps it is part of the rough human matrix rather than part of the gem of genuine truth within that human matrix.
However, the key theological points in Swedenborg’s system are, I believe, very sound, and solidly based on the Bible, even if a few of the ideas used to support them may have been a little off. And it is the key points on the nature of God, the Bible, the life that leads to heaven, and the nature of the afterlife that are most important. For those, there simply isn’t any better source than Swedenborg. Why should we go looking for someone else?
The Bible gives us the basics, and opens up a direct relationship with Jesus Christ in a way that no other book can. Swedenborg opens our eyes to see all of these things in the Bible, and in our own mind, heart, and life.
My apologies. I found your post on Modalism. Reading now. (It’s interesting that “at times” even Trinitarian Christians will sound Swedenborgian, but then quickly retract it with affirmation of the different persons of God, e.g. “God became man” or “Jesus is God” — by God they mean “the Father” but when you press them on it they simply say “God the Son became man” or something like that.
Yes, when you press into trinitarian doctrine, it becomes clear that God did not become Man, but rather the Second Person of God became Man. In crude terms, only one third of God became Man. Or in more accurate terms, only the second of three gods became Man.
Even then, if you push harder, you find that the “Man” part is not actually fully divine. There is a separation between the “Son from eternity,” which is fully divine, and the Incarnated Christ, which is still believed to be the son of Mary—i.e., a finite human being, only connected with God the Son, but not itself actually divine. (This will likely be denied, just as they deny that they believe in three gods, but it is the reality of their doctrine.)
So as Swedenborg says, they divide God into three, and Christ into two.
In Swedenborg’s doctrine, by contrast, there is one and only one God, and it is the Lord God and Savior Jesus Christ, in whom is the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. This is why, when Jesus commanded the apostles to baptize all nations “in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” (Matthew 28:19), they obeyed this by baptizing in the name of Jesus:
Every time there is a mention of baptizing in anyone’s name, it is in the name of Jesus. There is not a single instance recorded of them baptizing “in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” Now, either the Apostles disobeyed the Lord’s direct and final commandment given to them personally in the Great Commission—which is inconceivable—or the name of Jesus is the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.
The Oneness Pentecostals know this, and point it out in their doctrinal materials. Unfortunately, they have fallen into the trap of modalism. It is one of the instances of what I mentioned earlier: a group of people seeing the error of a major traditional Christian doctrine, but then falling into another error that is often just as bad. In the case of modalism, I actually think it is less false and destructive than the Trinity of Persons. At least it preserves the oneness of God. Unlike Nicene Christians, Oneness Pentecostals are not polytheists. But their modalist doctrine still allows them to fall into many of the errors of traditional Christianity—errors that are not possible with Swedenborg’s doctrine.
Two follow ups:
1. Why would God allow this MANY Christians to be so deceived?
2. Related: what then is the way Swedenborg suggested to get close, personally close, to Jesus Christ in this live?
Your first question is a complex one.
It has to do with the first Christian church needing to run its full course, and become fully corrupted, before God could bring about the Second Coming, and start the new Christian Church symbolized by the New Jerusalem in the book of Revelation. As you know, in the narrative of Revelation there are many epochal battles that take place before the New Jerusalem can begin its descent. These symbolize spiritual battles that take place in the collective mind of humanity, relating to particular doctrinal and ecclesiastical travesties that have taken over in Christianity. Until these have filled out the full measure of their corruption, the world and its human community simply isn’t ready for a new dispensation.
In particular, as long as the existing Christianity still had the ability to lead and guide people toward salvation, even if it was corrupt, it was not yet time for it to be overthrown and superseded. And the corruption of a church by greed, lust for power, and resulting false doctrine takes place gradually, over centuries, not all at once.
I believe that the arrival of Calvinism with its doctrine of double predestination represented the beginning of the end for the existing Christian church. At that point the doctrinal teaching in a significant segment of Christianity had become so falsified and corrupt that it could no longer provide for people’s salvation at all, because that teaching, in its “pure” form, holds that it doesn’t even matter what people do because their fate is already predetermined. At least sola fide says that people have to take some action, namely, having faith in Jesus. This requires at least some movement on the part of the faithful, and it can be accompanied by add-ons of repentance, good works, and so on, even though those are rejected as being salvific. But under double predestination, not a single thing that the believer does has any effect whatsoever upon his or her salvation. God has already decided before Creation who will be saved and who will be damned.
Still, even that horribly false and destructive doctrine took time to work its way into the culture and utterly destroy Christianity among its adherents. So “the end was not yet.”
Another factor is arriving at a time when people are ready for new understanding. As long as the Church held sway over the people politically, socially, and mentally, there was no opening for anything other than what the church taught to make any serious inroads. People who attempted to make such inroads generally didn’t live long. The corrupt and murderous Church made sure of that.
But with the arrival of the Enlightenment in the seventeenth and eighteenth century, there was a new opening. Academic institutions began to dethrone the Church as the final arbiter of truth and the censor of all curricula. Thinkers were able to speak out against the church without being burned at the stake. And that new freedom began to filter down to the population generally.
Then, and only then, could the Lord send someone like Swedenborg to overturn the old false foundations of an utterly corrupt Christianity, and lay—or rather, excavate and uncover—the foundations for a restored and renewed Christianity.
For a related article, please see:
Why did God Wait So Long to Come Down as Christ?
On your second question, Swedenborg’s main advice is to turn to the Lord in faith and love, repent from our sins, and live according to the Lord’s commandments to love God and the neighbor in active ways, practicing these things every day of our life. Only by repenting from our sins in action, and thus allowing the Lord to remove them from our mind and heart, can we draw close to the Lord.
It’s not that the Lord turns away from us due to our sin. The Lord is always turned toward us in love, no matter how wicked and sinful we may be. Rather, it’s that when we are engaged in sinful desires, thoughts, and actions, we turn ourselves away from the Lord, and refuse any relationship with the Lord.
In order to have a close relationship with the Lord, we must draw close to the Lord. We do that by expelling the evil and falsity within ourselves and in our actions, and replacing it with the good, the truth, and the lovingkindness in action that flows in from the Lord when we remove those blockages of evil and falsity.
Of course, in reality it is the Lord removing them, but we must act as if we are doing the work ourselves so that we have some agency and it becomes a part of our character, all the while recognizing in our mind that it is really the Lord doing that work within us. This is Swedenborg’s “as if of self” principle. We are to shun sins as if we were doing it ourselves, while recognizing that without the Lord’s power working in us, we would have no ability to shun any evils as sins, but would rush headlong into them and fling ourselves headlong into the worst hells.
By repenting from our sins and doing good acts of love and service for our neighbor as if of self, we create an identity of our own, from which we can have a relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ, and also with our fellow human beings. God gives us the gift of that sense of self so that we can live our own distinct and unique life, and have the enjoyment of being human and of having real relationships with God and with our fellow human beings, including especially our spouse.
For an article on this seeming paradox, see:
Containers for God
As we avoid evil behaviors, and in this way sideline the wrong thoughts and desires they flow from, we grow closer and closer to the Lord, because our life increasingly flows in from the Lord without our corrupting it into something contrary to the life of the Lord. This enables us to have a close, living, personal relationship with the Lord as we recognize that it is the Lord who loves us and gives us everything we are and everything good in our life every moment.
Here is one more related article:
How do I Love God with my Whole Heart?
Ah this is such great stuff! Thanks!! You make it seem so clear haha!
Does this imply then that we can’t ultimately have “assurance” of our salvation? or can we, because we can really know our heart?
RE: The Trinity. If the incarnation of God is to reveal God as Jesus so we can really come to him, why does it seem that one of the big “revelations” of Jesus about God was that God was “Father,” or (better) “Abba” to us? Since it would be strange for Jews (Or today Muslims) to call God such an intimate term, it seems that the “abba relation” is significant. Often in the New Testament, it seems, it paints things as “to the Father, through the Son, in the Spirit” (Why are these relations really significant?). I know those who espouse “some” form of the Trinity will say because we “enter into God’s own self-relation.” Do you have any comments on this.
Once again Lee I am very grateful for your taking the time to answer me so carefully. I assure you I am studying what you say and so appreciate it.
Thank you. Once faulty ideas are cleared out of our mind, the Lord’s truth really is very plain and clear. Yes, there is infinite divine truth that goes beyond our ability to comprehend. But what we can comprehend is not contradictory or confusing, but shines out in clear light. If a doctrine is so confusing that we have to “take it on faith” because it doesn’t actually make any sense to us, then that is most likely a false doctrine.
About having assurance of salvation, I have come more and more to think of that as a nonissue for people who have the right frame of mind. Really, it’s a rather self-centered thing to focus on. Will I get to enjoy heavenly bliss? It’s like being married and putting your primary focus on what you get from the marriage, rather than on what you can give to your partner in marriage. People who are married on the basis of what they can get out of it aren’t usually married for long, or if they are, it is either a stormy or an empty marriage. For people who are in the right frame of mind, the issue isn’t whether I am assured of salvation, but whether I am doing the work, both spiritual and practical, that’s in front of me. If we focus on that, then we don’t have to worry about “assurance” of salvation because we are living our salvation.
Of course, the Trinity is a huge subject. The big issue, I think, is whether we are thinking materially or spiritually about what we read in the Bible. If we think materially, then Father, Son, and Holy Spirit certainly do look like separate beings. But if we think spiritually, they resolve into different aspects of one God. That’s because God is not a physical being, who has physical progeny as we humans do, but a divine being, who exists on an entirely different plane of reality even while reaching down into our physical and spiritual planes of reality. Biological relationships do not apply to God.
I believe the Bible was written as it was precisely because many people cannot lift up their minds to spiritual things and spiritual relations, still less to divine things, and they needed some way to comprehend how God could be in heaven and here on earth at the same time. For physical-minded people, the idea of a Father and Son took care of that. And as long as they didn’t try to delve into doctrinal theory, it worked fine for them. They still thought of Jesus as “God with us,” and they focused on living as Jesus taught and showed them to live.
However, when, in later generations, they got around to inquiring into what it means for there to be a Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, since they were still physical-minded, all of their theories were based on human fathers and sons, biological relationships, and so on. So they thought of the Father and Son as separate beings like human fathers and sons. It took a while longer for them to come up with any coherent idea about the Holy Spirit, which was an afterthought in the early creeds.
Jesus was cluing us in to all of this when he said, “It is the spirit that gives life; the flesh is useless. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life” (John 6:63). I believe I already referred you to my article, “Eat My Flesh, Drink My Blood,” which teases out how Jesus was separating out the merely physical-minded people from those who could think at least somewhat spiritually. Unfortunately, though his early followers did have some (albeit limited) ability to think spiritually, those who came afterwards became almost entirely physical-minded (“fleshly,” in biblical terms), and therefore all of their doctrinal formulations were fallacious and wrong. Today’s evangelical and fundamentalist Protestantism is very physical-minded, as is most of Catholicism. That is why their clergy and laypeople are able to swallow whole such irrational and unbiblical doctrines.
The idea of God as our Father and we as God’s children does appear in the Old Testament, though mostly in the Psalms and Prophets. This poetic use of God as “Father” should clue us in that it is not meant to be taken literally in either the Old Testament or the New Testament. God has a relation to us that is like that of a Father. And the relationship of Father to Son in the Trinity is like that of a father and a son, but is not actually a father-son relationship in the ordinary human way.
There is no Son “begotten from eternity.” That is a totally unbiblical idea. If that were so, we would see the Son mentioned in the Old Testament. But except in very poetic passages, there is no mention whatsoever of anything that could be read as a divine Son in the Old Testament. That’s because the Son was born, not from eternity, but in time. When Swedenborg rejects the Trinity of Persons, one of his key points is that the idea of a Son born from eternity is completely false, wrong, and unbiblical, and did not exist prior to the formulation of the Nicene and Athanasian Creeds. He is just as intent upon denying the idea of a Son born from eternity as he is on denying that the Trinity consists of Persons.
The idea that the three Persons of God hung around before creation talking to each other and loving each other is laughable, and shows just how far from understanding both God and creation those who hold to it are. Yes, there are internal “relationships” in God, but it is more like the inner conversations we hold with ourselves, only at an infinite divine level. We are not three people talking to one another, but one person having internal conversations between different parts of our mind. Just so, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are different parts of the “mind” or being of God, not three distinct persons having a conversation with one another and loving one another. The very idea shows that those who hold to it are polytheists.
Oh, and speaking of the Son speaking to the Father, here is another article I should refer you to:
If Jesus Christ is the One God, Why Did He Talk and Pray to the Father?
Ah! again that makes complete sense re: the Trinity. See for me, it’s just so obvious that Jesus Christ is God and that he is, in a sense, the Father, i.e. God himself in that I do feel God when I feel him; I can’t distinguish. I have really no sense of God other than through Jesus — and of course through love.
Re: assurance. I agree with you that it “can” be asked selfishly, but I don’t think I was asking it in that manner. Rather, I wonder about it only because I know (and would like to believe) that I will absolutely get to be with Christ forever (Paul seemed to express the same desire, namely that he would rather be cut off and be with Christ, which was far better). Keeping to your analogy of marriage, I hate being apart from my wife, and when I am, I long to see her very soon. It is the same with those of us who truly are in love with the Lord. Does that make sense?
The relationship of God/Christ to the church is presented in the Bible, both OT and NT, as a relationship of husband to wife, or bridegroom to bride. So yes, there is a similar relationship, though of course not exactly the same. I would say that your burning desire to have a relationship with Jesus, and the fact that you already do have a relationship with Jesus, is your “assurance” that such a relationship will continue in the afterlife. The only thing that could prevent this would be if you at some point made a decision to turn away from God. And there’s a simple solution to that: Don’t ever make that terrible decision! (And once you’ve finished your life here on earth, you don’t even have to worry about that anymore, because you’ve already made your decision.)
Don’t worry that some minor sin or some nagging flaw in your character is going to keep you away from God. God is not picky and persnickety about whom God will have a relationship with. God wants a relationship with all of us. And God will have a relationship with us if only we don’t willfully turn away from God. God doesn’t require us to be perfect in order to love us, any more than we require our wife or husband to be perfect in order to love her or him. God loves us far more than we love our spouse.
I react against the “assurance” thing because it is usually used as a hook by fundamentalists and evangelicals to reel in people who have low self-esteem and are ripe fruit to be plucked by religious hucksters and added to their paying customer base. It dovetails perfectly with their idea that God is really angry at you, and if you don’t get things exactly right, God is going to reject you and send you to eternal torture in hell. . . . But wait! We have the solution! Just have faith, and you can be 100% sure that you are saved!!! This was the subject of one of the first sermons I ever preached as a new thirty-something pastor, which I have since posted here, edited to fit into its new “location”:
Did Jesus Really Die to Pay the Penalty for our Sins?!?
And yes, for me there is no difference between God and Jesus. I wasn’t brought up with the Trinity of Persons. I’ve always thought of Jesus as being God’s human presence with us, not as some separate being. When I pray to Jesus, I am praying to God. That’s who God is for me. I use the various names for God in various contexts. Lord, God, Jesus, Christ, Father, Son, Holy Spirit. To me, they are all different names focusing on different aspects of the same Divine Being. Throughout our lives we get called by different names, nicknames, and titles in different contexts and by different people. But they’re all just different approaches to the same singular person. So it is with all of the different names for God.
Ah beautifully put — I never thought of it like that (the nicknames). That makes complete sense, otherwise how could God be “one”?
I was raised similarly (in a way).
I see completely your concerns about the “Assurance” language. I think your explanation makes total sense.
I have (I think) just recently read that posting on Jesus dying to pay the penalty — But I’ll review it.
Also, finally, I have read the several articles here on the trinity, but do you have any posted on the Holy Spirit? In particular, the Johannine “sending of the spirit” (Jn 14-16), — that Jesus will send “another paraclete” to be with us forever (who is with us now but will be in us). Is this simply then a way of saying how Jesus will give himself to live in us after his glorification? Especially given the way Christ and the Spirit of God and the Spirit of Christ are all used interchangeably by Paul in Romans 8????
Thanks Lee. I appreciate your helping me here and I want to communicate how much this has/is and continues to be such a help for my walk with Christ.
It’s getting late and my brain is fading, so I’ll just dash off one more quick one without giving it full and proper biblical referencing and support.
No, so far there is no article here specifically about the Holy Spirit, the Paraclete, and so on. (So many topics, so little time!)
In general, the Holy Spirit in the fullest sense of that term did not exist until after Jesus was fully glorified (made divine) and ascended to the Father—i.e., became fully one with the Father. That’s why John said that “the Holy Spirit was not yet because Jesus was not yet glorified” (John 7:39 – there is no “given” in the Greek). And that’s why Jesus spoke of “another paraclete.” The Holy Spirit is sent by the Son from the Father, and that could not happen until the Son (who/which was born in time) had become fully one with the Father. So the Holy Spirit was given after Jesus ascended to the Father, as epitomized by the day of Pentecost as narrated in the Acts. Before that there was, of course, a spirit of God, but that is not the same thing as the Holy Spirit.
Ultimately, you should get yourself a copy of the first volume of Swedenborg’s True Christianity, and read the first three chapters. That’s where all these questions about Father, Son, Holy Spirit, Creation, Redemption, and so on are answered in organized, sequential, in-depth fashion.
Thanks, I read it. Helpful indeed. I think last time we disagreed it was about whether “most Christians” understood things the way that intellectual Christians do (most Christians I talk to indeed share Swedenborg’s positions, including myself, on the Trinity; however this isn’t evidence but rather merely anecdotal).
A more pressing question re: the original post you made here. What of 1 Peter 2:24 “he bore our sins in his body on the tree”???
You are most welcome.
I would say that it’s quite common for ordinary Christian to think of the Trinity and other subjects as Swedenborg presents them.
That’s partly because over the two and a half centuries since they were published, Swedenborg’s teachings have become diffused, via many channels, throughout Western culture all out of proportion to the relatively modest number of card-carrying Swedenborgians out there. Swedenborgians have published all out of proportion to their small numbers. Some of those books don’t explicitly mention Swedenborg, and they continue to this day to be read by ordinary non-Swedenborgian Christians, who absorb many things from them.
When I was still actively selling new and used Swedenborg books on eBay and other online platforms a decade ago, I had one buyer in Canada who would purchase as many copies as I could lay my hands on of the commentaries on the Gospels of Matthew and John by the Rev. William Bruce, who made a point of never mentioning Swedenborg in those commentaries. This buyer would give these books to ordinary Christians living in his rural area of western Canada, and they ate them up.
Swedenborg’s Heaven and Hell used to be number three in all-time religious best-sellers, after the Bible and John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress. Whether that is still the case, I do not know. But it has gone through a huge number of editions in dozens of languages. Just providing bibliographical information on all the known editions of Heaven and Hell takes up 35 pages in James Hyde’s Bibliography of the Works of Emanuel Swedenborg. And that only covers editions published up to the time Hyde’s Bibliography was published in 1906. There have been many more editions of Heaven and Hell published all around the world in the century since then.
This very website averages about 1,500 hits a day, and I can assure you that most of them are not Swedenborgians. An interesting case in point is that each year during Advent season the article, “What is the Meaning of Gold, Frankincense, and Myrrh?”, which lies dormant much of the year, has a big spike, peaking at 500 or 600 hits in a single day just before Christmas. Having been a preacher myself, I’d be willing to bet my bottom dollar that a quarter to a half of those hits are Christian pastors looking for new material to preach about in their Advent, Christmas Eve, and Christmas Day sermons. Who knows how many ordinary Christians in traditional Christian churches are getting a little infusion of Swedenborg during Advent courtesy of Spiritual Insights for Everyday Life! 😀
But it’s also for a more pragmatic reason: Traditional Christian theology about God, atonement, salvation, and so on simply doesn’t make sense. So when ordinary people hear their preachers saying this or that, and it doesn’t make sense to them, their mind translates it into something that does make sense. The something that makes sense is, quite often, what Swedenborg taught. That’s because, unlike traditional Christian theology, what Swedenborg taught on these subjects actually does make sense. In many ways, it’s just common sense.
For these reasons it is very common that what the preacher is preaching is not what the congregation is hearing.
Another deeper reason for this is that in reality the Lord is our only teacher. He teaches us from within using what human teachers “teach” as raw material in teaching the truth to people whose hearts and minds are open to it. This sounds strange at first, but it is the truth. You may think of yourself as a professor and teacher, but you aren’t actually teaching your students anything. God is, from within. That’s why they are able to understand and make sense of what you are saying. At least some of them are! 😛
This is why Jesus said:
It doesn’t hurt for people to be called “teacher,” “rabbi,” and “father” in ordinary conversation. But we should always keep in mind the deeper truth that the Lord is our only Teacher, Rabbi, and Father.
I’ll respond about 1 Peter 2:24 in a separate comment.
About 1 Peter 2:24, a common feature of Protestant (and Catholic) interpretation of passages such as these is that they add things that the text of the Bible doesn’t say. For example, when they read, “He bore our sins in his body on the tree,” they read it as, “He paid the penalty for our sins in his body on the tree” (Protestant) or, “He made satisfaction with the Father for our sins in his body on the tree” (Catholic).
1 Peter 2:24 doesn’t say either of these things. Nor does the Bible say them anywhere else. These things simply aren’t taught in the Bible.
But because traditional Christians have been inculcated with false, human-invented doctrine, they—especially doctrinally instructed Protestants—wear goggles of false doctrine through which they read everything in the Bible. This makes them quite literally incapable of reading what the text of the Bible actually says. This has been a true amazement to me in my many discussions and debates with Protestants. They simply don’t see what the text says. And if they do, they simply ignore it. I find this astounding and quite baffling.
1 Peter 2:24 doesn’t say any of the things that Protestants attribute to it. It says, simply, that Jesus bore our sins in his body on the tree. In the most ordinary reading, this means that in being crucified he suffered physical torments on “the tree,” or the cross, due to human sin, which is what visited that terrible death upon him.
God didn’t kill Jesus. People did. The Jewish religious leaders condemned him for blasphemy (but really, for threatening their positions of power and influence), and handed him over to their local Roman prefect, who was the one who actually ordered his crucifixion—once again, not because Jesus was actually guilty of anything, but in order to avoid a riot and keep order, which was a major element of a Roman governor’s job.
In short, sinful humans visited their sinfulness upon Jesus Christ by nailing his body to a cross. That is the concrete meaning of the words in 1 Peter 2:24, that “he bore our sins in his body on the tree.”
In a deeper sense, throughout his lifetime, culminating in the Passion of the Cross, Jesus Christ bore the full brunt of human sin, which, under the personifications of “the Devil” and “Satan,” relentlessly attacked him, attempting to defeat him, destroy him, and prevent him from saving humanity from the power of the Devil, evil, and hell. The Crucifixion is not itself salvation, as is taught in Protestantism and Catholicism. Rather, it was the final battle against the combined power of human evil and sin, in which he “bore in his body,”—this time, his spiritual body, meaning his heart and mind—all of that human evil, and achieved full victory over it.
Once again, an analogy is a soldier going out to fight an enemy invader in order to protect his or her country. That soldier may take shrapnel, or a direct hit, and get maimed or killed by enemy fire, thus “bearing in his or her body” the “sin” of the invading enemy. This does not “make satisfaction” or “pay the penalty” for that sin. The invader is still evil and sinful in using force to attempt to dominate, conquer, and subjugate a neighboring nation. The invader is still fully responsible for and guilty of its collective evil and sinful actions. And the defenders “bear in their bodies” that sin as they willingly offer themselves and their bodies up as a human shield to defend the country and the people that they love.
That is what Jesus was doing here on earth. And that is what Peter was talking about in 1 Peter 2:24.
Also one last thing, Lee, Re: the Trinity. Why is it, do you think, that the New Testament seems to go through great pangs to never directly say Jesus is the Father (although it does seem to suggest this all over the place)? E.g. “Grace to you and Peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus” etc. Was it simply trying to figure out how the whole thing worked? Clearly Jesus is identified as God, as divine, (e.g. John 20:28). But still….why not just say it more and more directly?
A lot of this is due to translation. In the original Greek many of these expressions are not, for example, “God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ,” but rather, “Our God and Father the Lord Jesus Christ.” This is just an example pulled off the top of my head. I don’t know if that’s what the Greek says in the particular passage you’re thinking of. However, in general, if the translators were not trinitarians, many expressions in the New Testament would not come out sounding so trinitarian.
Another factor is that in the Gospels, which mostly describe his human lifetime on earth, Jesus was not yet fully divine. (See: “If Jesus Christ is the One God, Why Did He Talk and Pray to the Father?”) During his lifetime it would not have been correct to call him “God” or “the Father” because that was only partly true. Notice that it is only after his resurrection that Thomas directly calls him, “My Lord and my God” (John 20:28). According to Swedenborg, Jesus dispersed and left behind in the sepulcher the last vestiges of the finite human self that he had gotten from his human mother Mary, so that at the time of his resurrection he was fully divine, and fully God. Only then was it fully correct to call him “God.” Notice also that in his (post-resurrection) appearances in the book of Revelation, far more divine qualities are attributed to him than during his lifetime on earth.
Beyond that, it remains important to remember that the Bible speaks heavily in metaphorical language. If we attempt to read it literally, we are immersing ourselves in the letter that kills rather than in the spirit that gives life (2 Corinthians 3:5–6). Simple-minded people don’t think deeply about these metaphors, and they innocently think of Jesus as God’s Son. This makes sense to them, and it does no damage as long as they don’t inquire too deeply in an intellectual way into “the mysteries of faith.” People who are able to think more deeply and spiritually are able to understand what the metaphors point to, and therefore can inquire intellectually into the mysteries of faith without falling into error and falsity.
Why did Jesus speak to the people mostly in parables? Because ordinary people don’t think philosophically and theologically. They think concretely. So Jesus, and the Bible generally, puts most “theological” topics into concrete, non-philosophical, non-theological language so that the great masses of ordinary people will have something to hang onto in their minds. They need to have a picture painted for them in words. And even for more abstract thinkers, the abstractions must be grounded in some pragmatic, concrete reality or their minds will go sailing off into the stratosphere and leave all practical reality behind.
Okay, here’s a book recommendation for you, and I strongly urge you to read it. It really opened my eyes when I read it as a young man. I had assumed, having grown up Swedenborgian without studying the Epistles much, that the Epistles supported Protestant doctrine. This book convinced me otherwise, and got me thinking along the lines that I still think along in regard to the Acts and the Epistles. Here it is in the Kindle version: Great Truths on Great Subjects: Six Lectures Delivered in Brighton, England, by the Rev. Dr. Jonathan Bayley. If you prefer the print version, you can get it here. (I just put these editions online recently. They are not yet linked to each other, though they should be within the next couple of days.) This is the cream of the crop of classic Swedenborgian literature. I think you will greatly enjoy it.
Full disclosure: I scanned, edited, and typeset the text of this edition, and I do get royalties from sales of it. But it is the best edition out there, short of getting an original! 🙂
Got the book on Kindle. Thank you for the rec. So far this book is fantastic. Everything you are saying here is ringing absolutely true. You’re so right that most people simply find these ideas either irrational and absurd or just don’t think about them, but feel them, and if the latter, they often articulate them much like Swedenborg. (I speak for myself here at least prior to having read Swedenborg or talked with you on here).
For example, in speaking with many people about the Trinity, they often say of Jesus and The Father that they are “one and the same.” This of course is not the creedal formulation of the trinity which says “one in essence” but distinct in person.
Also, wow! I didn’t realize 1500 a day come here. Man. Something’s going on.
Early on in my pastorate in Massachusetts I befriended the Methodist pastor just down the street. One day she asked me what our beliefs were. I gave her a thumbnail sketch, including our rejection of the Trinity of Persons in favor of a a Trinity in one Person. She commented, “Yes, I never could go for that Trinity stuff.” We never had doctrinal conversations after that (we worked closely together on local ecumenical and interfaith issues for years), but it always struck me that here was a mainline Christian pastor who rejected one of the most fundamental, longstanding doctrines of her church.
Glad you’re enjoying the book! I knew you would. It is one of my all-time favorites. And I’ve read a lot of Swedenborgian literature.
And yes, there is a real thirst for genuine truth and understanding. Otherwise so many people wouldn’t be coming here, reading the articles, and asking questions.
Another case in point:
One of the more eager members of the church I pastored was a former Catholic who had married into our church. (The church was in a heavily Catholic area. It had a lot of former Catholics as members.) She liked to tell the story of how, as she learned about Swedenborg and his teachings, she would say, “Yes, that’s what they taught us in the Catholic Church.” Then one day she went to her priest and happily recounted to him some of the things she was learning about God and salvation. He assured her in no uncertain terms that this was not at all what the Catholic Church teaches!
What she had heard in Mass and Catechism was not what the priests had been teaching her!
Fantastic. I’m loving these texts (True Christianity and the one you edited).
Also, practical question: does it then matter which aspect/component of God one prayers to? I prefer to pray to Jesus, but Jesus mentions prayer to “the Father” (I realize its the same person, but in the scripture there’s often this sense of “to the Father through the Son in the spirit” — also in the early church.
I don’t think you’ve written anything on here about prayer, have you?
For me, I find prayer to be “made easy” if I simply talk to Jesus; for me its the “secret” to prayer. I have a hard time communicating this with others though.
Glad you’re enjoying the books. Of course, Swedenborg is always great! And whenever I can turn someone on to Bayley, I get a special thrill.
I think praying to Jesus is best. This creates a human, interpersonal relationship with God that is not so strong if people pray to the Father or to the Holy Spirit. And since Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are all in Jesus, praying to Jesus is praying to all of them. It’s not as though they’re separate Persons or anything! 😉 Also, I take Jesus’ statement that “no one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6) as marching orders to approach Jesus, and not to attempt to bypass Jesus and approach the Father directly.
There’s not a lot here about prayer. But here are a couple articles that do take up prayer at least briefly:
Surprisingly, prayer is not a major topic in Swedenborg’s works either, despite the fact that he had a very intense prayer life. However, see Arcana Coelestia #2535 for a nice statement about prayer.
Thank you Lee. I hope you know I really appreciate what you are doing on here, for me and for everyone. I find, since speaking with you on here, my relationship to God has grown simply because many of the things I’ve always wanted to think and believe about God, prayer, Jesus have been confirmed. It’s as if, via this site, I’ve been “given permission” to follow what I’ve always knew to be true about God. Does this make sense?
When you said that about Jesus — it’s just how I’ve always felt, namely talking to him just makes things so much easier
Ok I’ll check out those sites.
Thank you for your kind words. You are more than welcome. This truly is my joy.
And yes, it makes perfect sense. It is a common experience for Swedenborgian ministers to have people tell them, “This is what I’ve always believed. I just didn’t know there was a church that taught it!” Swedenborg himself said that the Lord sent him to do this work so that people of simple faith (which was a compliment for him) would not lose their faith, but could have it confirmed and strengthened. This goes against the common stereotype of Swedenborg as a complex, heady intellectual.
Oh, and I recall, when I was a pastor, having a woman who had grown up in our Sunday School as a girl, but had fallen away from the church as a teenager and adult, come back a couple decades later to take her elderly mother to church after her father died. After she had been attending for a while she said to me, “You know, I always thought that my spiritual beliefs were just something I came up with within myself. But now I realize that I got them from going to Sunday School here at the New Jerusalem Church.”
About prayer, here’s a book recommendation for you:
(Click the image to review or purchase it on Amazon.)
It’s out of print, and available only in paperback (not Kindle or eBook), but it’s well worth ordering a copy. Gwynne Dressser Mack was a thoughtful and soulful Swedenborgian. I don’t agree with everything she says, but it’s a fine book on various aspects of prayer.
Edit: I just realized that the Amazon book cover link doesn’t work on all platforms. Here’s an alternate text link: Talking with God: the Healing Power of Prayer, by Gwynne Dessermack
As I am reading and thinking about this post, I noticed you didn’t comment on 1st John 2:1, namely “…if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the Righteous” then of course it says “he is the propitiation (mercy seat, kippur, etc.) for our sins.” Why would we need an “advocate with (pros)” or before the Father if at least sin doesn’t in some way alienate us from him?
The word commonly translated “Advocate” in 1 John 2:1 is parakletos, which is traditionally translated “Comforter” in the other four places it occurs (John 14:16, 26; 15:26; 16:7, KJV), but in newer translations is commonly also translated “Advocate.” In those four passages in the Gospel of John, it clearly and explicitly refers to the Holy Spirit. But in 1 John 2:1, John identifies the paracletos, not specifically with the Holy Spirit, but with Jesus Christ.
This makes it sound like in 1 John 2:1 John is saying that Christ pleads our case before the Father, seeking mercy and exoneration from the Father in a legal sense. And it is good to keep in mind that the Bible commonly speaks according to the human appearance of things. People naturally think that God will be angry at them and will condemn them for their sins. That’s because when we are in a state of evil and sin we can’t grasp or conceive of a reaction of love and compassion; our mind works along paths of condemnation and punishment, which is what we feel we must deserve for our evil actions. And for believers in God, it is natural to think that this will be God’s reaction. John therefore speaks to this idea and feeling in us, saying that Jesus will “plead our case” with God, and convince God not to condemn us, very much as Moses is portrayed in Exodus as pleading the case of the Israelites with God after they have made and worshiped the golden calf, and turning God’s wrath into forgiveness—albeit with consequences.
And so if people of good heart who have fallen into some evil or sin think of Jesus as pleading their case with the Father, this is not a bad thing. It gives them a sense of hope, but also doesn’t let them off the hook. They feel they have to give Jesus some material to use in pleading their case. And that can motivate them to repent from their sin, stop committing that evil, and clean up their act. Think of a teenager who normally dresses in a hoodie and low-riding pants (or whatever is in style now) who is in court for robbing a convenience store. His public defender will advise him to get a suit and tie, or at least some respectable looking clothes, and a respectable haircut, and come to court looking clean-cut and expressing remorse for his actions. His defender will point to him and say, “Look, he’s just a kid and he made a stupid mistake. But he’s trying to clean up his act. Sending him to jail among the criminals will only confirm him on a bad path. Your Honor, I ask you to sentence him to community service, and give him a chance to straighten out his life.”
All of this makes complete sense to ordinary people who slip into some bad behavior. They can think of Jesus as pleading their case, and Jesus can say to them, “I’ll be happy to do that, but you’re going to have to clean up your act and give me some good material when I bring your case to the Father.”
But the reality of what’s happening is that the Father has already forgiven our sins, because the Father is pure divine love, “making his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sending rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous” (Matthew 5:45). Our “Advocate” is the divine truth, which “pleads our case” with the Father meaning presents the facts of the case. If we recognize our wrong and repent from it, that fact is “presented” to the divine love by the divine wisdom, which sees all. And then the forgiveness from the Father can flow down to us because we are in a state to accept it, since we have repented from our sin.
What doesn’t happen is that if we keep sinning, the “Advocate” will get us off the hook anyway. If that young kid gets community service, but then turns around and commits another robbery, the next time he goes in front of the judge he’s getting jail time. But if he recognizes that he made a mistake and cleans up his act, he won’t have to go in front of the judge again because he won’t commit any more crimes.
Hmm. I’m confused here. So you are saying that the Bible can sometimes present things falsely? (Or at least in a misleading way?). Given that its the verse before the propitiation verse (2:2), why not just take your reading here all the way and say that 1 John is using propitiation in the traditionally (misunderstood) sense, if you’re going to say that it’s misrepresenting the “real” relationship with God anyway? Also, I thought you’d say that thinking falsely and believing false things about God and our relationship to God (e.g. that we would need someone to plead our case before the Father) is dangerous spiritually? But it sounds like you are saying here that the Bible sometimes presents things falsely so “ordinary people” can understand it?
In other words, this response here seems like a slippery slope…
Also, who doesn’t keep sinning? I know I am not sinless, and in effect, ultimately, I can’t stop completely (“if we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us” right?). Perhaps this isn’t the same thing as willfully continuing in sin?
Pay close attention to what the commandment actually says:
It is worded carefully. It forbids making misleading statements that are harmful and damaging to one’s neighbor. It is not a simple commandment against saying anything that isn’t true—although that certainly is the ideal. Rather, it forbids saying damaging untruths.
If God were always to speak to us according to the absolute divine truth as it exists in the being of God, none of us would understand a word God was saying. In fact, it wouldn’t even fall into human words, but would be as high above our thoughts and our language as the heavens are above the earth (Isaiah 55:8–9).
God therefore speaks to us in human words, according to human concepts, always bending us toward the truth, but always expressing it in ways that we can grasp and understand. This often means speaking in terms of common human fallacies that have become part of our culture and so ingrained in our minds that they cannot be immediately extirpated from our mind and our culture. This, for example, is why God commanded the Israelites to offer sacrifices, even though in fact (as the Prophets say), God had no desire for sacrifices whatsoever. In commanding sacrifices, the Bible wasn’t “presenting things falsely.” Rather, it was using established beliefs and customs (in this case, the established custom of animal sacrifice) to bend people toward honoring and obeying God for their eternal good.
All of this is in accordance with what we are told poetically in Psalm 18:26–27:
When we are crooked, God is shown to us “twisted.” It’s not that God actually is twisted. It’s that God appears to us in a twisted way when our minds are at odds with God’s mind due to evil, falsity, and sin. The sun is never actually dark and stormy. But when there are dark and stormy clouds between us and the sun, the sun may appear that way.
In a crude way of speaking, yes, the Bible “presents things falsely.” It is not actually true that God is wrathful and angry at us, and punishes sinners with eternal torment in hell. But that is how it appears to us when we are in a wicked and sinful state. And God speaks through that appearance in our minds in order to bring about our ultimate good. So it is not “false witness against our neighbor,” to use the wording of the Commandment. It is using our own fallacies to bring about our eternal good.
That is what keeps us off the slippery slope. Falsehoods told from malice with the intention of harming another person, or of covering up our own wrongs in order to escape the consequences, are indeed flatly forbidden in the Bible. But speaking according to the appearance of things in people’s minds in order to bend them toward good is not forbidden in the Bible. This is not “lying” or “bearing false witness against our neighbor” because it is simply using what people already think in order to turn them away from evil and toward good.
Is this more nuanced and subject to misuse in the hands of unscrupulous people than misquoting the commandment as “Thou shalt not speak a falsehood?”
Yes it is.
But is human life complicated and messy?
Yes it is.
And God deals with us in our complications and messiness, not according to some unrealistic ideal of absolute truth that we humans have no hope of understanding or responding to.
In accordance with all of this, it is not dangerous spiritually for people with simple-minded ideas of God—ideas that are influenced by human evil and sinfulness—to think that God is angry with us due to our sins, and that we need Jesus to plead our case with God so that God does not condemn us to hell. For people of simple mind and faith, this provides motivation to repent from sin and begin living a life according to the Lord’s commandments, in hopes that God will spare us punishment and raise us up to heaven—which God will indeed do in that case.
We must always look at the intent behind what people, and God, are saying.
If a man tells his wife she is beautiful even though physically she is greatly overweight and unhealthy, is he “bearing false witness” against her? No. He is speaking of the beauty he sees in her, and ignoring the relatively unimportant issue of her physical appearance. His intent is not to speak falsely, as a physical-minded person who sees only her body might think, but to focus on what is good and beautiful in her.
If a mother presents an angry face to her son who has just punched his brother, even though she is actually sorrowful at his behavior, and concerned for his long-term wellbeing as a person, is that “bearing false witness”? No. It is presenting to him what he needs to see in his recalcitrant state so that he will over time restrain himself from doing things that are wrong. Her angry face, which doesn’t accurately represent her actual feelings, it is for his temporal and eternal good.
The Bible is not a theological treatise intended to lay out in precise terms the ultimate truths of God and spirit. Rather, it is a practical guide to living a life that leads to heaven, aimed at people who are at all levels and stages of human life, from those wallowing in the dankest, darkest pits of disgustingly evil behavior to those who are far along on the pathway to the light of the New Jerusalem—and everyone in between.
The Bible must speak to us in our own language, according to our own ideas and misconceptions, or it will never reach us when our minds and hearts are far from the love and wisdom of God.
For a related article, please see:
How God Speaks in the Bible to Us Boneheads
I never said or implied the Bible should be read literally or like a theological treatise, but if it presents misleading information re: our relationship with God, namely that he is angry and we need a paracletos (a defense attorney essentially) to plead our case, because sometimes “simple minded” folks just cant understand Swedenborg. To be honest, I think Swedenborg’s presentation is far “easier” to understand than this. Moreover, given that the following verse is about propitiation, why go through all the grueling arguments you did above to say that anyone who read (misread) propitiation as appeasing an angry God was somehow deluded and ignorant, only to say that the verse before in fact says this very thing!
Hmm… last year I tried to say the same thing about justification by faith alone and you told me that — not my holding the doctrine (which I said I didn’t according to the way you understood it)– my mere WILLINGNESS to say that those who held the doctrine were not ipso facto mislead (but perhaps understood it in a way comparable to Swedenborg) was putting my eternal soul in “jeopardy.” I don’t understand now. (Interestingly, the book you recommended to me, which is fantastic, talks about “Saving faith” vs. faith that doesn’t save, which was my point).
It’s not that simple-minded folks can’t understand Swedenborg. It’s that simple-minded folks (which in some cases is all of us) can’t understand pure divine truth because we are in a state of evil and sin, or at least a state of being distant from God, so that what we think and believe in our minds is contrary to the actual truth of God.
Unfortunately, if something is deeply engraved in our mind by cultural and religious training from infancy onward, it is not going to go away easily. If we hear something contrary to it, we will simply reject what we are hearing as false.
I have experienced this for myself. I once had a fundamentalist Christian pastor get very angry at me because I said that God is not actually angry at us. She rejected everything I said because in her mind it was obvious that God is indeed angry at us because of our sin—so if I’m saying something different, then in her mind I am speaking falsities. At that point I ceased that line of discussion with her because clearly it was doing more harm than good.
This is what God is dealing with in speaking to fallen humans. We have ideas in our head that are deeply engraved there, and yet are false. If God tried to directly contradict those deeply ingrained ideas, instead of rejecting our existing beliefs, we would reject God, and everything God said to us. And so God speaks to us according to the fallacies and prejudices that are indelibly etched upon our mind and upon our culture, seeking to bend us toward what is good and true. This is what these words in the prophet Isaiah mean:
The “bruised reed” that he will not break is our damaged understanding of divine and spiritual truth. He won’t break it because then we would be left without the support of anything at all that functions as truth in our mind. Even though many of our religious doctrines and ideas may be fallacious, they are what we look to to guide our lives. So God works with our fallacies to move us along on our path of spiritual rebirth and life, until such time as we are able to accept genuine truth and replace our old fallacies with it. For many people this does not happen until after they have entered the spiritual world.
The “dimly burning wick” that he will not quench is the faint light of weak and fallacious beliefs. If he were to quench them, we would have no light at all. And so that line of the prophecy gives the same message as the one before it: God will guide us according to the light that we have, even if it is dim and sputtering, and not in accord with the brilliant light of genuine divine truth.
This is how God faithfully brings forth justice into the darkness of our minds and lives.
I’d rather not get back into the conflicts we had before. I will simply reiterate that the “saving faith” that Bayley speaks of in the book I recommended to you is not faith alone, but faith together with good works.
Many people who hold to “faith alone” don’t understand what it actually means according to Protestant doctrine. That is providential. If they did understand the doctrine as it is in itself, and they still held to it, it would be much more damaging to their souls. It would lead them away from living a good life, and toward mere belief, which does not save anyone.
Unfortunately, believing in faith alone tends to be harmful even to decent people. It conveys the idea that the most important thing is believing the right thing, and that our actions are much less important. This gives only weak support for doing what actually does save us, which is living according to the Great Commandments because that’s what the Lord has commanded us to do—i.e., out of “faith,” or faithfulness, to the Lord.
Bottom line: Faith without works is dead. And if Protestants would simply drop the unbiblical “alone” that they always attach to “faith,” they would provide much better guidance and inspiration for their people to walk the path toward eternal life.
Unfortunately, for doctrinally knowledgeable Protestants it’s not so simple. That “alone” is tied up with a whole fasces of false doctrine that is at the core of the identity of their religion. To drop that “alone” would be to abandon what makes Protestantism Protestantism.
And Protestantism will, in the end, die due to its inability to drop the simple word “alone” that Luther added to “faith,” and built into the foundation of his new religion.
I agree, I don’t wish to rehash an old argument. Not my intention. So ok, would you say though that the insight that faith precedes love is correct? that is, faith, saving faith, causes love (good works, whatever), insofar as faith is the reception of the love of God in Christ which moves our heart to love him and others?
I guess for me, i just find it hard to believe anyone who really loves Christ would find it repulsive to love people, even if they just want to please Jesus, right?
How would you then interpret biblical passages oft quoted by evangelicals, such as Romans 10:9 — “If you confess with your mouth ‘Lord Jesus’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead you will be saved, for a man believes in his heart and is justified, and declares with his mouth and is saved.”
But, let me be clear: I do not espouse any of the doctrines that say faith without love can save you.
The reason Christians tend to put faith first is that faith actually is first temporally. But in terms of priority and origin, love is first. You can read one of Swedenborg’s statements about this in True Christianity #336.
It is actually not correct to say that faith causes love. Despite the Protestant shibboleth that “good works are the fruits of faith,” as with so many of the things Protestants claim, the Bible never actually says this. I have looked hard for such a passage, and I’ve challenged Protestants to show me such a passage, and it just doesn’t exist in the Bible. It sounds sort of biblical, but it isn’t actually biblical.
However, because we humans experience faith in Christ first in time, and feel the love of Christ in our heart only after we put our faith in Christ, we experience faith as coming first, and love as coming from faith.
But the reality is that faith flows from love, not the other way around. If the love of Christ were not within us, usually beyond our conscious awareness, prompting us toward putting faith in Christ, we would never do so. It is primarily God’s love that saves us. Both faith and good works flow from that love of God within us.
And yes, I agree with you that anyone who really loves Christ will find it fulfilling, not repulsive, to love other people. However, there might be resistance to this at first for people who have been soured by life and by their interactions with sour parents, teachers, and so on up to the time that they turn their life over to Christ.
About Romans 10:9, notice that it says “confess with your mouth” and “believe in your heart.” This is not mere intellectual belief, but belief that comes from the heart. In other words, it is belief that comes from love, as I was saying just above.
Also, there is a general assumption in the New Testament that ordinary people are not hypocritical, as the established religious leaders are commonly assumed to be. While this is not always true, of course, the idea is that if an ordinary person believes in Jesus and expresses belief in Jesus verbally, it reflects what is actually in that person’s heart.
Professional religious folks such as priests, ministers, professors of religion, and so on have professional reasons for espousing certain beliefs that are the basis of their livelihood. This means that although many of them are indeed sincere in their beliefs, there is also a financial incentive to espouse and teach certain beliefs whether or not such religious leaders actually hold to them in their heart and in their inner thoughts. That is why religious leaders and professionals of various types are more likely to be hypocritical in their beliefs than are ordinary people, who, for the most part, don’t gain any financial advantage by expressing particular beliefs.
As an example of this, look up Jean Meslier (1664–1729), a French Catholic priest who wrote a book-length treatise espousing atheism and materialism that was published only after his death. If he had published it during his lifetime, he would have been defrocked and would have lost his livelihood. So he kept his actual, heartfelt beliefs secret, and continued to pretend to espouse the beliefs of the Catholic Church during his lifetime.
Unlike when the New Testament addresses the existing religious leaders, when it addresses ordinary laypeople the default is to assume that people who express belief have real belief in their heart. This is accepted until they show otherwise by their actions.
A final point that perhaps makes my question(s) to you clearer: Regarding the death and resurrection of Jesus, one is faced with a problem of its meaning, precisely because this is THE EVENT that the biblical writers refer to over and over again as showing, declaring, revealing not only the ultimate love of God, but God’s nature as love itself. So it matters what it means, one can read it in light of appeasing an angry God, which you admitted there is “some” scriptural warrant for that. OR one can read it with reference to some outside metaphysical system, e.g. Swedenborg’s idea (which I asked you about) that Hell and Heaven were imbalanced and Jesus’ conquering of death reset the scale so that humans could love again and not sin. In either case there is an appeal to some kind of metaphysical framework to understand the cosmic effect Jesus’ death had.
So what I’m after here is your hermeneutic: it sounds like you would say to me “yes, Duane, but the metaphysical framework that is appealed to is necessarily dependent upon an idea or image of God, and the idea of God in the “sacrificial” framework is angry and ultimately unloving, but the God presented in the metaphysical framework of the “ransom theory” or the Christus victor” theory or in Swedenborg’s own idea is not compromised.
Does this sound right???
For some time now I’ve had in mind to write a full-length article, and post it here, about the meaning of the ancient Jewish sacrifices, and what it means for the New Testament theme of the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. Although in some of the surrounding pagan cultures the primary function of sacrifice might have been to appease an angry god, I do not believe that was the case in Hebrew/Jewish sacrificial worship. Though it might have been somewhat infected with that idea, I believe that the primary meaning of sacrifices for ancient Jews (and probably for people in many of the surrounding cultures as well) was that of a sacred meal with God.
These ritualized feasts with God reflected the various types of feasts that humans had with one another, such as:
Each of these types of feasts, and probably several more that I’m not thinking of at the moment, are reflected in the various types of sacrifices that the ancient Jewish people were commanded to offer to God on various occasions. In every case, the purpose of the sacrifice was not to placate an angry God, but rather to celebrate God’s presence with the people and God’s love love for the people, to express thanks for God’s bounty, and to rekindle the people’s relationship with God after they have fallen away into sin, but are now recommitting themselves to loving God and following God’s commandments.
Understanding the Old Testament sacrifices in this way—and I believe it is the correct way to understand them, based on what is written about them in the Bible itself—casts the New Testament theme of Jesus as a sacrifice for our sins in an entirely different light. When the New Testament writers were writing about this theme, I do not believe they had in mind the idea of placating an angry God. Rather, I believe they had in mind a rapprochement, or “atonement” with God that involved rekindling a good and loving relationship with God through repenting from sin returning to faithfulness to God’s commandments and to following God’s way of love, faith, and active kindness to one’s fellow human beings.
This, I believe, is ultimately what Jesus “sacrifice” was all about, and not some placating of an angry God through punishment and vengeance for human sin poured out upon God’s Son. To use Paul’s words, “God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us” (2 Corinthians 5:19, emphasis added).
The message of the New Testament is not one of placating an angry God, but one of a loving God reaching out to us and bringing us back into harmony with God’s ways of love, faith, and kindness.
To continue with the theme of my previous reply, Jesus himself presided over a feast that was to commemorate the event of his “sacrifice,” or crucifixion. It is linked explicitly with the feast of Passover. His “shed blood” is subsumed into the symbolism of the cup of wine that his disciples are commanded to drink in memory of him, and his “sacrificed” flesh is subsumed into the symbolism of the bread that his disciples are commanded to eat in memory of him.
In other words, in the Gospels themselves (at least, in the three synoptic Gospels), Jesus very clearly identifies his sacrifice, and his shed blood and sacrificed flesh, with a sacred meal with God. Jesus himself is “God with us,” and as God he is sharing a sacred meal with his disciples to commemorate and embody the event of his sacrifice.
This is one of the major New Testament warrants for the idea of sacrifice in general, and of Christ’s sacrifice in particular, as a sacred meal with God, which in this case involves sharing the substance of God with his followers. For more on the meaning of this sacred meal with God, please see:
Eat My Flesh, Drink My Blood
In focusing on the crucifixion as Jesus shedding his blood to placate an angry Father God and pay the price for human sin, Protestants (and to a somewhat lesser extent Catholics also), have completely missed the point of Jesus giving his flesh and blood for us to eat and drink—not literally, of course, but spiritually. His sacrifice for us involves feasting on the substance and life blood of God. And the substance of God is love, while the lifeblood of God is truth. This is the true meaning of God’s sacrifice for us: Pouring out God’s life-giving love and truth for us, so that we may have spiritual life.
This isn’t really about a “hermeneutic.” It’s more about paying attention to what the Bible actually says, not only from a universal standpoint but also from the perspective of the culture in which these events took place and are described.
I suppose this could be called a “hermeneutic.” But I think of it more as simply reading what the Bible actually says, and understanding what it actually means. I don’t think Swedenborg was following some “metaphysic” as much as he was paying intensive attention to what the text of the Bible says, while clearing his mind of accreted religious dogma and listening for the voice of the Lord leading and guiding him to understand the meaning of the text.
That is how I strive to approach the Bible as well, though I can’t claim to have anything like the level of divine inspiration that Swedenborg did when he wrote his massive commentaries on the Bible. Knowing that I don’t have anything like that level of enlightenment, I turn to Swedenborg as a guide, and then turn to the Bible itself, seeking to see what it says, and means, in its own terms, and seeking also the depths of spiritual meaning that it contains as God’s Holy Word, where God speaks to us in spirit and in truth.
The bible doesn’t literally say a lot of things, but it implies many (as you yourself have made recourse to in your arguments). But I think it’s fair to say that if “faith saves you” (which the bible says clearly many times, e.g. “your faith has saved you”) and if love is required (“only faith working through love”) and if one is not justified by works, it stands to reason that faith qua the reception of God’s love leads to love (“we love because he first loved us”). So I’d say “we love because he first loved us” in that context of 1st John seems to be indicating faith causes us to love, faith as the “belief in the love that God has for us.”
Now, it’s also implied in the idea that “a man is justified by faith, apart from works of the law” — which is obviously where the Reformers got “sola fide” from. The only way around this is to take a “New Perspectives” on Paul approach and say that “ergon” there doesnt mean works as in good deeds but rather ceremonial laws (e.g. circumcision). The only problem with this is that the context of Romans is that the law is obviously having to do with more than that, namely deeds, since he says that the Greeks have a law in their conscience, etc. For example, “Now we know that whatever the law says it speaks to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be stopped, and the whole world may be held accountable to God. For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin.”
“Do we then overthrow the law by this faith? By no means! On the contrary, we uphold the law” (if this were the circumcision law, then Paul would be saying everyone should be circumcised — he’s obviously talking about good deeds).
The argument from Romans does seem to go something like:
All have sinned and the law was given to show people this:”What then? Are we Jews[a] any better off? No, not at all. For we have already charged that all, both Jews and Greeks, are under sin,”
Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we[ have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.
Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God.
Note there: Paul literally says Jesus’ blood saves us from the “wrath of God.” And that we now have “peace” with God through Christ.
Now, let me be clear: I am saying I agree with you, but that it’s hard to fault people for believing in Christ appeasing God’s wrath, when it literally says that.
Also, let me be clear: I’m not saying these things to win an argument (as I said, in fact I agree with you) or to cause conflict on the page. I am honestly trying to work all of this out in my own head so that I can respond to others who point to these passages.
I have found that those who are stuck in a belief in salvation through faith alone simply cannot see anything other than faith alone in the Bible, even where it explicitly rejects faith alone and the other tenets that go along with Protestant doctrine. So if your desire is to convince people caught up in faith alone that their doctrine is incorrect, you will be banging your head against a wall.
However, if you’re really trying to convince yourself, all I can suggest is that you keep reading Bayley, Swedenborg, Woofenden, and others who recognize that although faith is indeed important, love, not faith, is primary. Paul himself, the “apostle of faith” says this plainly:
I could go on taking up passage after passage in Paul if you like. But I have found that this gets nowhere as long as a person is stuck in the idea of the primacy of faith, and especially if the person is stuck in the idea of the exclusivity of faith as a means to salvation.
Yes, there are many statements about being saved by faith. However, in general I believe their real meaning is that we are saved through faith. I.e., faith is the gateway through which we walk to gain access to salvation. But it is not actually what saves us. That would be God’s love, also called God’s “grace” in English translations of the New Testament.
Faith also provides the gateway to what we are supposed to do in order to be saved. Once we are listening to Jesus because of our faith, then we are ready to take the steps that actually save us. And those steps all have to do with following the two Great Commandments, upon which, Jesus says, depend all of the Law and the Prophets—which, in the idiom of his time and culture, meant the entirety of Scripture. The two Great Commandments are both about love.
I’m not sure there’s a lot more I can say or do to help you. I could continue in the weeds of one passage after another. But I doubt that is going to make much of a difference, because seeing those passages differently requires a shift in perspective, which generally doesn’t come from looking at Bible verses pixel-by-pixel.
For now, I’d suggest continuing with Bayley, and see what that does for you.
Meanwhile, yes, I believe that in every case in which Paul speaks of being saved by faith without works, the context clearly indicates that he is speaking of the works of the Law of Moses, meaning “circumcision” or being an observant Jew. Acts 15 lays it all out quite clearly. I would encourage you to read the context of those statements, and notice that “circumcision” comes up just about every time.
And speaking of the “New Perspectives” on Paul, you might be interested my answer to this question on Biblical Hermeneutics StackExchange:
What are the oldest known records of interpretation agreeing with New Perspective on Paul?
Thank you Lee for your time and patience. I really appreciate it. What you say makes sense. I will continue to read what you’ve written (particularly to me today, as I have to reread them a few times). I think you are right, in the end it’s the lens through which you see this stuff.
Again, I am not looking to be convinced or converted here. I was simply wondering how to “deal” so to speak with those passages. So it indeed makes and has made a difference to me.
Again, Lee, I am most grateful for your taking the time to explain these things to me. I’ve ordered the other book on prayer that you recommended too.
To gather together a few key indicators in the text of the Bible of what Paul means when he rejects “works” as saving:
These are by no means the only indicators, but they are some of the clearest ones, that Protestant doctrine is mistaken when it says that Paul rejected good works as saving. Please do read the answer I linked for you on Biblical Hermeneutics StackExchange if you haven’t already. It contains some key passages from Swedenborg’s writings on this subject.
I don’t find the argument convincing. Why do mental gymnastics to make Paul say this stuff? Why not just agree with Swedenborg and throw out the Pauline corpus as altogether uninspired, or at least “less” than Gospel? This is what Swedenborg did because he recognized that Paul’s theology didn’t fit — this doesn’t bother me in the least. It’s more honest to the text.
Also, yes, you are correct that circumcision comes up in context, but Jews simply didn’t make that distinction between the ceremonial laws and the moral ones. There is one law.
Again, in the context of Romans, the law is understood as combining both (ceremonial and moral), otherwise it would render Paul’s saying that thee Greeks have a law in their conscience (“a law unto themselves”) unintelligible:
“Now we know that whatever the law says it speaks to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be stopped, and the whole world may be held accountable to God. For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin.”
There you have “works of the law” in the context of its moral sense, given that the law itself gives knowledge of sin. You have the same issue in Romans 7, except here Paul talks about us dying to the “law” that “awakens sin in us” — in either case its a going beyond the law to the spirit , namely love.
“Do we then overthrow the law by this faith? By no means! On the contrary, we uphold the law” (if this were the circumcision law, then Paul would be saying everyone should be circumcised — he’s obviously talking about good deeds).
— I know you said you didn’t want to get into the weeds about this. Let me be clear: I am not rejecting Swedenborg’s or your overall point. I am saying that I find it easier to say “Paul was speaking in metaphors which were unclear” rather than saying Paul didn’t believe this:
I mean, again: “Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God.”
(I think Paul thought this).
Swedenborg’s view of Paul was more nuanced than that. It is true that he didn’t include Paul’s letters in his canon of inspired Scripture. He also didn’t include the rest of the Epistles, nor did he include the book of Acts. However, that doesn’t mean he rejected them. His view of being “not the inspired Word of God” was not that they are worthless or wrong, but that they don’t have a continuous, connected spiritual meaning. More specifically, here is what he said about them in a letter to Dr. Gabriel Beyer, one of his early followers:
In short, though Swedenborg didn’t consider the Epistles, including Paul’s Epistles, to be part of the Word of God, he did consider them to be good sources of Christian doctrine, instrumental in building up the church. He even considered them to have a certain level of inspiration from the Holy Spirit, though not of the sort that caused them to have an internal meaning.
As for Paul’s theology, Swedenborg says in the above-linked section from Apocalypse Revealed that many statements in Paul’s writings “make it apparent that Paul rejected faith apart from good works just as much as James.” In other words, Swedenborg, like yours truly, did not read Paul as teaching faith without good works.
In fact, no one read Paul as teaching faith without good works for the first millennium and a half of Christianity. It wasn’t until the Protestant Reformation that Martin Luther promulgated his doctrine of justification by faith alone, and all of the rest of the Protestant theologians followed in his footsteps. Even today the bulk of Christianity does not read Paul as saying that we are justified by faith alone, without good works. The idea that Paul must be read as teaching salvation by faith without good works can’t stand scrutiny, because the vast bulk of Christians, throughout the vast bulk of Christian history, and even to the present day, have not and do not read Paul as teaching justification by faith alone, without good works.
Swedenborg never said a negative word about Paul or his epistles in his published works. He is, however, much harder on Paul in his unpublished writings, especially in his journal of spiritual experiences, traditionally titled Spiritual Diary, and now generally titled Spiritual Experiences. There, he says that Paul was the worst of the apostles, and he comes just short of saying that Paul is in hell. Swedenborg saw Paul as being consumed by self-love (“ego,” in today’s terminology) after his conversion to Christianity just as he was before.
Based on my reading of Paul’s letters, I came to the same conclusion. Paul is always talking about himself, bragging about himself, giving blow-by-blow accounts of his great sufferings, and vaunting himself over the other apostles. I don’t particularly enjoy reading Paul’s letters, not because I think he is teaching false doctrine, but because they are dripping with ego, which makes them rather unpleasant reading overall. Having said that, there are indeed some beautiful passages in Paul’s writings.
Still, Swedenborg says that being full of self-love doesn’t preclude a preacher or teacher from delivering sound teaching and doctrine. Yes, there is a tendency toward false doctrine when the motives are self-centered. But ego can also drive people to excel at their work in order to show how great they are. A self-absorbed preacher who thinks he (or she) is the greatest can still deliver good, doctrinally sound, and moving sermons and writings.
What I do think Paul’s ego did was to cause him to write in a fancy and complicated style to show how smart he was and how far ahead of the other apostles he was. Even his co-workers in Christ found his letters hard to understand (see 2 Peter 3:15–16). So his letters lend themselves to misunderstanding. And because of his heavy emphasis on faith, Swedenborg says (in his unpublished writings), “the Church, indeed, explains the Word of the Lord, but by means of the Epistles of Paul; for which reason also it everywhere departs from the good of charity, and accepts the truth of faith” (Spiritual Experiences #4824). In other words, although Paul doesn’t actually teach faith without good works in his letters, because of his style and because of his heavy emphasis on faith, church people who rely heavily upon his letters tend to reject good works and focus mostly on faith, or on believing “the right thing” (which, for the most part, is actually false, and “the wrong thing”).
Because Paul uses a fancy style and is always playing with words, it’s easy to misread and misunderstand what he’s saying. That’s why it’s important to put his letters in their cultural and religious context, and also to pay careful attention to the context of his statements within his letters themselves. Reading a few verses out of context almost guarantees misunderstanding of what he is saying. But putting those verses in their wider context makes it clear enough what he is saying.
And that, once again, is that it is not necessary to be an observant Jew to be saved.
Yes, of course, there’s more to Paul’s letters than that, and much nuance. But this is the fundamental message of Paul’s letters as a whole. He was “an apostle to the Gentiles” (Romans 11:13), and he was bound and determined that his work of converting the Gentiles would not be hamstrung by requiring them to be circumcised and become observant Jews.
And yes, the Jews did, and still do, distinguish between various types of law in their scriptures. For just one example, though Jews themselves are required to adhere to the entire Law of Moses to the extent that this is possible, they recognize a broader and less restrictive law that is for all people, not just Jews, called the “Noahide Laws.”
In short, the Jews certainly do recognize different tiers of laws. Whether they recognize the same tiers that Swedenborg outlines in Apocalypse Revealed #417 I can’t say for sure because I am not conversant enough with Jewish beliefs. But it is simply incorrect to say that the Jews recognize only one amalgamated law. Jews recognize that there is a specific, detailed Law for Jews, and a broader moral and civil law for Gentiles.
I know I haven’t responded to all of the points you brought up, but it has gotten very late, and I need to get some sleep, so I’ll leave it at this for now.
A final note: Why make an appeal to history and to the Church Fathers? One certainly cannot do this re: the Trinity?
Yes, we can make appeal to the Church Fathers re: the Trinity. We just have to go much farther back in Christian history. The first of the early Christian theologians to propose a Trinity of Persons theory was Tertullian (c. 155 – c. 240) in the third century. Before that it is not present in any of the early Church Fathers whose writings are extant. (And we can’t base positive theories on the absence of evidence.)
Yes, of course, trinitarians later back-read the Trinity into the earlier Church Fathers, just as much later Protestants back-read faith alone into the early Church Fathers. History is written by the victors. But objectively speaking, the Trinity of Persons does not appear until the third century, and it was not adopted (in modified form) as official church doctrine until the Council of Nicaea in the fourth century, and wasn’t codified in its final form until the Athanasian Creed a century or two later.
We can watch the takeover of Christianity by trinitarianism in the language of the successive “ecumenical creeds” of Christianity.
So from Tertullian to Nicaea to Constantinople to “Athanasius,” we see the doctrine of the Trinity of Persons progressively developing and being adopted by the main body of Christianity. There are definite (or in the case of the Athanasian Creed, somewhat uncertain) dates at which its various components appeared on the scene, and those moments are attached to particular human theologians and councils that originated these ideas.
Yes, Nicene Christians and their theologians will say that this is the “development of doctrine.” But the fact remains that there are specific points in Christian history before which the main ideas that define the Trinity of Persons did not exist in Christian thought. This is simply a matter of objective scholarship.
Fantastic responses. Thank you.
Let me ask you this briefly in the same vein from a different angle: if someone fell in love with God, with one’s heart choosing God and loving God, how on earth could they turn away from that, once they’ve “tasted” and “saw” that the Lord is good? Seems mind boggling to me. I understand there are temptations, but once one comes to see Jesus as God and how all satisfaction is in him, the other pleasures of the world seem minuscule in comparison.
And it does seem unbelievable that someone could experience the love of God and then fall back. I don’t think it is common for people who have gone very deep into the love of God. However, evil has its allure and its pleasures as well. How many happily married middle-aged men have succumbed to the allure of a tasty young female? Personally, I can’t imagine it. But it does happen. Ditto for people experiencing God and then committing adultery in Old Testament sense of “whoring after other gods”—the primary “gods” in modern society being the allure of physical pleasure, worldly power, and financial success.
I completely agree with everything you said here in both of these posts. It just rings true. 1. about the love of God being primary and 2. the analogy of marriage to our relationship with Jesus.
Thanks for being such an inspiration
You are most welcome.
So I think the reason why sola fide and substitionary atonement is so popular with Christians is not because it makes theoretical or rational sense, but rather emotionally it somehow (mysteriously) communicates to Christians that God loves them unconditionally — if and only if it is (of course) received properly. What I mean by this is that for those who can open their heart, once they hear that Christ died for them and that all they have to do is accept it, for some reason, this allows the love of God to pour into their hearts in a way that couldnt before for these people. In other words, for a lot of people “assurance” of salvation can really change people.
What do you think about this???
“If and only if it is received properly” are the operative words.
In itself, satisfaction theory in all of its forms, both Catholic and Protestant, is a false and destructive doctrine. It tends to short-circuit the regeneration process by conveying to people that they don’t have to do anything to be saved and go to heaven. Christ has done all the work, it says, and all we have to do is believe it and drink it in.
What this doesn’t account for is that human evil and sin forms a wall against the free gift of salvation from the Lord. The work we have to do is tearing down that wall by repenting from our sins and living according to the Lord’s commandments, especially the ones to love God with everything we’ve got and to love our neighbor as ourselves. If we don’t do this, then even though the gift of salvation is indeed free, we will refuse and reject that free gift.
Many “Christians” who are walking around thinking they are saved are not, in fact, saved, because they have not done the work of “preparing the way for the Lord in the wilderness” of their own self-centered souls, and “making straight in the desert” of their worldly hearts “a highway for our God” (Isaiah 40:3). Without this, there is no path for the Lord to travel on to give us the gift of salvation.
There is a saying that “freedom is not free.” We have to fight for it, or it will be taken away from us. And though this saying refers to political freedom, it applies to spiritual freedom as well. Only in the case of the free gift of salvation it’s not that we “deserve” or “work for” salvation. It’s that we have to do the work of clearing out the obstacles within ourselves to receiving that salvation. And yes, looking deeper, it is the Lord who gives us the ability to do that work. On our own we could never do it. But we still have to do the work. That’s why the letter to the Philippians says to “work out your own salvation with fear and trembling” (Philippians 2:12). If, as Protestants commonly believe, Paul taught that all we have to do is believe and receive salvation, then this statement would make absolutely no sense. Paul would be engaged in blatant self-contradiction.
But that is not what Paul means in any of his statements about salvation, as I have said here many times. Protestants (and Catholics) who believe this way have completely misunderstood the teaching of Paul, and of the whole Bible, about salvation.
But back to your question, if traditional Christians “receive properly” the false satisfaction theory that they are taught by their ministers and priests, then yes, it can have the effects you mention. But “receiving it properly” means not really believing it in their heart, but recognizing that if they wish to receive the gift of salvation, they must do the work of preparing in their heart, mind, and life a highway for our God, and clearing away, one by one, all of the obstacles that litter and choke that highway and prevent Christ from entering their life and saving them.
If they receive it improperly, thinking they can just receive the free gift of salvation without doing the work of regeneration, and therefore that they can just keep on living in the thoughtless, self-centered, and greedy way that they had been living up to the point of their being “saved,” then they will find themselves on the broad and slippery slope to hell when their life on this earth is over.
I hear all the time from Protestants who think they are saved just because they believe that Jesus paid the penalty for their sins by dying on the cross. I also hear from people who live among Protestants, and who tell me that these people who preach salvation by faith alone are bad people, engaging in all sorts of unethical, immoral, and wrong behavior, and thinking that they’ll be saved anyway because “Christ has paid the penalty for my sins.”
Make no mistake about it. People who live in that way thinking they are saved by Christ’s death on the cross will go to hell, not to heaven, after they die. Their “satisfaction theory” and their “faith alone” and their “Jesus paid the penalty for my sins” will have no power whatsoever to save them when their book of life is opened, and it is found that they have loved neither God nor their neighbor, but have lived a thoughtless, self-centered, destructive life while proclaiming themselves saved by the grace of God even though they are sinners.
There are many people who think they will be first who will instead be last when they face judgment in the spiritual world.
So although yes, to some people satisfaction theory seems to express the unconditional love of God, and it can therefore have the effects you mention on them “if it is received properly,” its more general effect is to make people personally and spiritually lazy, thinking that they don’t need to do the hard work of repentance from sin and reformation of their heart, mind, and life. That is why it is such a false and destructive doctrine.
Besides, satisfaction theory is entirely unnecessary for people to see and recognize the great love that God in Jesus Christ has for them.
Speaking for myself, I often weep when I read verses in the Bible that describe the Lord’s love, his passion, his suffering, and his triumph over the powers of evil that would drag us down to hell, knowing that I don’t deserve any of that. There are some Bible passages that I have great difficulty reading from the pulpit because they affect me so much. In the later part of my ten-year pastorate there were often lay readers who delivered the Scripture readings. And though they were not as polished at reading as I was, I especially appreciated it when they read a passage that is so meaningful to me that I probably could not have made it through without my voice cracking. For some of those passages, if I had not had a lay reader I would simply not have preached on that passage, which would have been a pity.
The same thing happened to my father from time to time when he was reading and preaching in church about the Lord’s salvation, despite the fact that he was a seminary professor and a leading intellectual in the church. He would suddenly stop talking mid-sentence and you would see him shifting back and forth on his feet until he could regain his voice and resume the Bible reading or sermon.
There is absolutely no need for satisfaction theory to see and be touched by the great love of God for us in Jesus Christ.
The “satisfaction theory” god is a mixed beast, who both hates us and loves us: hates us when we don’t “accept the free gift of salvation,” and loves us when we do. This god’s love is anything but full, pure, and unconditional. If you’re on his right side, you’re golden. But if you’re on his wrong side, you’re screwed.
But the real God of the Bible, despite appearances to the contrary, is a God of pure love, who loves us when we are sinners and loves us when we are not, and aches to give us salvation, happiness, and eternal joy if only we will clear away the obstacles within ourselves, and open ourselves up to God’s infinite and tender love for us.
Here are two articles in which I express some of these things:
If the true doctrine of salvation and atonement were preached to those Protestants and Catholics who now have satisfaction theory preached to them, and who “receive it properly,” they would be even more deeply affected by the love of Jesus Christ, and would have even greater motivation to not only talk the talk, but walk the walk of Christian living.
I feel the same way you do about Jesus and often get the same way when I read Bible verses about Jesus out loud or hear them read or simply see the name “Jesus.” I do truly love the Lord and I know that I can’t work or earn that. But sometimes the way you are saying this sounds like you are saying we have to work “as if” he didnt love us, or strive, etc. etc. — even though you preface it with God’ gives us the ability to do it.
I agree that we have to work, but this isn’t my “experience” (phenomenologically, if you will) of it. My experience is that I am free to rest in the love of God and naturally, almost instinctually, love follows. It’s not that I have to do the right thing, it’s that I WANT to do it, because I want to please the Jesus I know who loves me. Does this make sense?
So it doesn’t “feel” like work at all. There are times I fall and fail, but I immediately feel sad and repent out of, again, love for our great God Jesus Christ.
We don’t have to work as if God doesn’t love us. Rather, we have to work as if we were doing it by ourselves, while recognizing in our mind that it is actually the Lord giving us the ability to do that work.
And the “work” part of it is when our old selfish and greedy self resists, making it hard for us to do what is good and right. As we overcome our selfishness and greed, it more and more ceases to be work.
Doing good in its own right isn’t work at all. It is a joy and a pleasure for those who have the love of God and the neighbor in their heart. The “rest from labors” that we experience in heaven is not sitting around idly, but rather having no conflict within ourselves, so that we don’t have to battle back our evil impulses in order to do what is good and right. We do what is good and right because we love to do so. And we enjoy it greatly, so that indeed it does not feel like work. That is why Jesus told us that his yoke is easy and his burden light.
Ok, but I guess I don’t see totally why we have to lie to ourselves and act as if it was our own power? This ties to the point about “assurance” I keep bringing up. In 1st John 5:13 — “I write this to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, that you may know that you have eternal life.” Moreover, in John, he always calls people who don’t love “liars,” which i think is significant. He doesn’t say you can love God, hate your brother, and thus fall away. He says that if you claim that you’re lying. In other words, you don’t really know him.
My point comes back to the point about marriage (the analogy). If I keep thinking I could fumble to ball with God, if I keep thinking that my wife could leave me, or I could leave my wife, it seems like it would destroy my joy.
I know I love my wife now, I know I’d never leave her. I know I love my Lord now, I know I won’t leave him. So, as of now at least, by analogy, can’t I say simple “I’m saved” ? So long as one does a rigorous moral inventory to assure there exists no self-deception?
I think it’s fine to think of ourselves as saved as long as we’re walking the walk, and not just talking the talk. When we give our life to Jesus and actually live it, our life is indeed transformed, and we are indeed saved, even if there is still a long process of spiritual rebirth ahead of us. That’s because now, instead of traveling toward hell, we have turned around and are traveling toward heaven. Whatever direction we’re going in life when it comes our time to leave the physical world behind, that’s the direction we’ll keep going in the afterlife. And the sooner in life we make that turn-around, the more progress we’ll have already made before our time on this earth is over.
As for assurance, though we don’t have 100% assurance during our lifetime on earth, because we could always do something incredibly stupid, which is turning around and going the other way again, once we die and move to the spiritual world our choice has been made, and we don’t have to worry about that anymore. That is one of the joys of life in the spiritual world.
About the “as if of self” thing, it’s not a lie because it is the reality of our experience. The reality is that we ourselves do not have any ultimate reality. Only God is life, or existence, in itself. All of our reality and life is secondary, derived from God. If God didn’t give us a sense of self and autonomy, we would have no distinct existence at all, and would therefore be incapable of having an interpersonal relationship with God or with one another.
Everything we do, and everything we are, is “as if of self.” Our very identity as a person is “as if of self,” because in reality it all comes from God and from the spiritual world. But God gives us that sense of self so that we can have a real existence. Our sense of ourself is just as real as we are. And our sense that we do things by our own power and ability is also just as real as we are.
Here are a couple of articles that take up this tricky concept, among other strange philosophical concepts:
Thank you Lee! Also, I’ve gotten the other book you’ve recommended on prayer by Dressermack. It’s really fantastic.
I agree with everything you say here. Yes, the idea that God made a “metaphysical move” and place on Jesus this ontological concept “sin” and in doing so “condemned sin in the flesh” seems to either not make sense and/or wind up with, as you said, aa strange notion of a violent blood thirsty God.
Is there a sense then in which my sins put Jesus on the cross? literally? or metaphorically?
Also, a question about love. When we are asked by the Lord Jesus to love others, as he loves them, does that mean we love them where they are, accepting their freedom of self-determination; in short, not trying to change them? or are we to make demands on people, at times, and show “tough love” so to speak? (I ask because I often have, e.g., students seeking spiritual advice from me who simply are not ready to hear about Jesus and enter into a personal relationship with him). Any thoughts?
Glad you’re enjoying the Gwynne Dresser Mack book on prayer.
Inasmuch as our individual sins are individual components of the total weight of human evil and sin that Jesus lived and died to defeat, yes, our individual sins were borne by Jesus on the cross. The fact that your sins and mine were long in the future at that time does not matter, because Jesus died for all of humanity’s sins, past, present, and future. This is true at minimum because that death made it possible for you and me to repent from our sins and be saved instead of being inevitably dragged down to hell by the weight of humanity’s sin and our individual sin.
This dying for our sins, though, was not in itself a taking away of our sins, as is believed in those churches that adhere to satisfaction theory. Jesus does take away our sins, but his death on the cross only completed his ability and power to take away our sins. The actual taking away of our sins happens when, through his power, we repent from them and stop committing them. This is the only way sins can be taken away. The idea that they are magically and automatically taken away by mere belief on our part because Jesus “died for them” or “took them upon himself” is a pure fantasy.
This is why metaphorically and spiritually, Jesus is still dying for our sins today, and didn’t only do so 2,000 years ago. We humans are still committing sins, and Jesus is still dying within each one of us in order to bring us to repentance from sin and the resulting remission of sin. As he said:
This happened in the flesh 2,000 years ago, but it also happens within each one of us when we “crucify the flesh” of our selfish and evil desires, and are, through that process, resurrected to new spiritual life. This is something Jesus does in each one of us each time we come to repentance from sin and the beginning of a new life. And Jesus experiences this whole process going on within us far more intensely than we do.
In answer to your question about love, this isn’t an either/or proposition, but a both/and proposition.
Yes, we are to love people by respecting their freedom of self-determination.
And yes, we are also to make demands on people at times, and show tough love.
Jesus did both. He set the choice in front of people in very stark terms. Then he left it to them to make that choice.
Jesus did not mince words when it came to confronting people, especially the rich and powerful, with an unflattering portrayal of their current life, its corruption, and their inevitable destruction as a result of it. However, once he had done so, it was up to his hearers whether they would take his message to heart, turn, and be saved.
This, I believe, gives us our blueprint and marching orders for how to deal with the people around us. Yes, we must respect their humanity and their right and ability to make their own choices about their own lives. But yes, we must also, where appropriate (and this is a judgment call), confront them with the truth of where they are morally and spiritually at this time in their lives, and where it will lead them.
In order for people to make informed choices, they need to have the case on both sides clearly presented to them. Once they have heard the arguments, they can evaluate them for themselves, and decide which way to go moving forward. If we fail to present people with the realities involved in the course they are currently on (assuming it’s our job to do that in particular cases), then we are not giving them the information they need to make an informed choice.
An example of someone who is empowered to do this is a parolee’s parole officer. A good parole officer is not a shrinking violet, but must have the capability of presenting to often knuckle-headed and headstrong offenders the realities of what’s going to happen to them if they violate the terms of their parole. Any parole officer who doesn’t do this is not doing his or her job, and is not providing proper service to his or her clients.
Teachers of various types also have this responsibility with their students, depending partially on the particular subject matter. Abstracted from subject matter, teachers regularly tell their students, “If you want to learn the material, get a good grade, pass this class, and get credit, you must listen and participate in class and do your homework. If you don’t, you will fail, you won’t get credit for the class, and you won’t gain the benefit that this class has to offer.” And of course, if the subject matter involves issues of life and how to live it, a good teacher will lay out the patterns of different types of behavior, both good and bad, and where they will lead us.
For a related article, please see:
Can Christians be Hardass?
In what sense was Jesus then “human” like us, given that he knew things we dont and had experiences that we simply cant have. That is, certainly my life and thoughts and decision would be different if i could from time to time access heave, talk with angels, or with God. Given Jesus was/is God, how exactly did his humanity go with his divinity then? In short, even simply having angels “minister” to me visibly in some way would likely change my choices.
First, it’s important to understand what makes us human, and where our humanity comes from.
We are human, not because of the shape and structure of our body, but because of the capabilities of our mind, or spirit. People who are lacking various body parts are just as human as people who have all of their limbs and organs. But people whose minds are not functioning properly, while still human, are severely limited in their ability to express their full human potential. (They are still human because their spirit is still fully functional even if the limitations of their body and brain prevent them from expressing their full humanity.)
More specifically, what makes us human is our ability to think about God and about spiritual things, and our ability to make free moral choices. Adam and Eve (who are symbolic of an entire early race of human beings) were not the first physically humanoid creatures on earth. But they were the first whose minds were raised above purely physical and social things to an awareness of spiritual realities and of God. And notice that immediately upon their creation the two named trees of the garden, representing the first human moral choice, were placed in the garden where they lived. Without moral freedom, we are not human.
More abstractly, human minds have the higher, heavenly and spiritual (spiritual love and understanding) levels of reality, whereas lower animals lack these, but have only the earthly, or action level of spiritual reality. Animals do have a will and an understanding, but it is limited to earthly and social matters such as food, safety, warmth, reproduction and so on. Animals have no concept of God, and they do not make free moral choices between good and evil. As a result, animals’ characters are largely limited to the influences of instinct and environment, within which they have limited choices that do not extend to observing and changing their basic drives and character. Humans, however, do have the ability to observe themselves and to make moral choices that change their drives and character.
Finally, to put it in brief form, we are human because God is human, and not the other way around.
God not only has all of “our” human capabilities in infinite form, but God’s humanity is the source of our humanity. We are created human in the image and likeness of God.
This should also begin to make it clear that there are different levels or tiers of humanity.
God is human in infinite form and capability. God’s spiritual love is infinite, and God’s spiritual understanding is infinite, and God has infinite power to execute what God’s heart wants and what God’s head knows.
We humans are all human in finite form and capability, as should be obvious to anyone who is not tripping on acid. There are limits to how much we love, how much we know, and how much we can do.
But more than that, different people are human at different levels.
Some people stick mostly to worldly and social matters, focusing their lives on money, status, power, relationships, sex, and so on. While these things are not necessarily bad, they are rather low-level. People who focus on these things are not all that different from lower animals, except that they do have the ability to make moral choices even within their worldly focus.
Some people focus more on learning, intelligence, and understanding, and at the top end of this scale, on learning about spiritual and eternal things as well as material and temporal things. These people are exercising their humanity on a higher level than people who focus only on outward activities and attainments. Animals can have power and status in their species hierarchy. Only humans can develop their thinking minds.
And some people focus on love for God and their fellow human beings, and on expressing that love in their lives. And by “love” here I don’t mean physical love or even only love of improving other people’s physical circumstances (both of which are good in their own place), but a love of improving people’s spiritual and eternal state as well. People who devote their lives to this, even if outwardly they are working secular jobs, are at the highest tier of humanity from a spiritual perspective.
About not having contact and communication with angels, that is a function of the fact that in general, humanity has fallen to, and lives on, the lowest of these tiers most of the time. The earliest people on earth, Swedenborg says, had open communication with angels, and directed their lives and the lives of their families according to the spiritual inspiration and understanding they gained from the spiritual world. But as humanity fell away more and more from a focus on God and spirit, and began focusing more and more on physical things and physical pleasures, that early open communication with the spiritual world was gradually lost.
However, it was never entirely lost. The Bible and other sacred books contain many stories of humans having conversations with angels. And there are stories of people who are in communication with the spiritual world running through nearly all ages and cultures. Today, there is a huge mushrooming of angel contacts, especially through near-death experiences, which have, ironically, increased greatly because science and medical technology has made it possible to save the lives of many people who in earlier ages would have died.
So it’s not that we humans can’t be in contact with angels. It’s that the bulk of humanity has focused the bulk of its attention on material and worldly goals and accomplishments, so that we are not paying attention to the spiritual world, and have generally lost their inherent skill and capability of communicating with the spiritual world. Even most people who are interested in spiritual things do not have this capability developed and usable because they are embedded in a materialistic culture that does not recognize or develop this part of our human capabilities. You can go to school to learn all sorts of worldly things, but where can you go to school to develop your spiritual abilities? There are very few such places on the face of this earth, and very few people taking advantage of them. And unfortunately, many places that claim to develop these powers within people are cults rather than legitimate spiritual groups and organizations.
I believe that the time is coming when we humans will re-develop our spiritual capabilities, and will once again have open communication with angels. But there is a spiritual battle going on in the world between spiritual awareness and secular materialism. The tide of that battle will have to turn toward re-engagement with God and spirit before humanity will make any great strides toward spiritual awareness and open contact with the spiritual world.
Meanwhile, some of us continue to labor to bring spiritual awareness to humanity, hoping to lay the foundations for that future time when God and spirit will once again be a living part of human society.
No no, I understand all of that: what humanity “is,” but I’m essentially asking if explicit knowledge and awareness of the spiritual world somehow qualitatively changes the human being’s relationship to freewill. So , in other words, I am trying desperately to make the right choices, to love God fully and my neighbor, but I really believe in some ways it would be a tad easier if I could talk with angels or with Jesus face to face. Wouldn’t this make the whole thing much easier, simpler?
So what I am saying is: yes I understand what human are vis-a-vis animals, and I understand the various degrees human beings can use and misuse their freedom, but does knowledge and awareness of the spirit realm not somehow affect the ability to make better choices?
Certainly it affects it. But we are all human, with free will, regardless of our particular level of spiritual awareness. The difference is that people with more spiritual awareness will be able to go farther, and to higher levels, in their regeneration process. Just as there are three general levels of human focus and awareness as I mentioned in my previous reply, so there are three levels of heaven. The vast bulk of spiritually unaware or material-world focused humans will find their eternal home in the lowest “natural” level of heaven. Those who have greater spiritual focus and awareness will, if they do the work, find their eternal home in the higher spiritual heaven, or the highest heavenly heaven.
That highest level is called the “heavenly” heaven because that is what heaven is supposed to be. Early in his theological writings, Swedenborg used the word “angels” only for the inhabitants of that highest heaven. The rest he called “angelic spirits.” However, later he began using the word “angel” to describe all inhabitants of heaven, but distinguishing them into heavenly angels, spiritual angels, and natural angels.
So yes, explicit knowledge and awareness of the spiritual world does have a qualitative effect upon our relationship to freewill. But it is not a black and white difference. Rather, greater spiritual awareness leads to greater access to the higher levels of heaven.
Still, that greater spiritual access doesn’t have to be direct. Even in ancient times, Swedenborg says, it was usually the elders in a family or clan who had direct contact with angels. They passed the wisdom gained on to the rest of the family or clan. Personally, I don’t seek direct contact with angels and spirits. Having access to Swedenborg’s descriptions of the spiritual world, and also to those of near-death experiencers and others who have had briefer contact with the spiritual world, is enough for me. If the Lord ever sees fit to give me a direct experience of the spiritual world while I’m still here on earth, I would feel blessed. But that’s in God’s hands. My job is to keep walking my spiritual path regardless.
I understand. I feel similarly, that is, whatever the Lord wants. I was just wondering if in some ways it would be easier to avoid some temptations of the flesh .e.g. if you know that the other world is there. So I look back at my life, the silly decisions I’d made, if I had known with more certainty …. But then, doesn’t knowing here replace faith?
Also, does Swedenborg allow for progression up to the highest heavens in the afterlife, or are you essentially stuck there? I know of a few NDE’rs who speak exactly like Swedenborg on this, but they seem to indicate you have all the time in the world (Literally eternity) to move on if you’d like and eventually all do or will, as the goal will be to reach the heavenly throne room. (I’m not saying this is what Swedenborg said. I am saying this is what another NDE person has said).
Not everyone can be Bill Gates or Elon Musk. There have to be people to sell the software and build the rockets, not to mention sweeping the floors and taking out the trash.
Not everyone can be Michael and Raphael. There have to be ordinary angels to form the ranks of their celestial armies, not to mention angels to keep the rabble in hell under control.
In this day and age in the liberal West children are brought up to think they’re special. They are told that they can be anything they want, and that even the child of a janitor can grow up to be President of the United States. And there’s a certain amount of truth to that. But the fact is, most children who are born will not become rich and famous and fill the headlines of the news channels. Most people will spend their lives as ordinary worker bees, keeping the machinery of society going.
And that’s a good thing, or Bill Gates, Elon Musk, and the President of the United States would not be able to accomplish anything at all. And neither would God.
God needs all sorts of people to keep human society, and the spiritual world, going. It’s all well and good to think that the great Yours Truly is going to be one of the GREAT ONES, change the world, and inhabit the highest reaches of heaven. And if a particular person has such aspirations, he or she should certainly go for it. But he or she had better be ready to work very, very hard day after day, month after month, and year after years. Slackers and dreamers need not apply.
For most people it’s much better to be content with the lot that has fallen to us, and with the person we are, and to do our best in our little corner of the world. Forget about the throne room of heaven:
No one in heaven wishes he or she were somewhere up higher. Everyone there has as much happiness and joy as he or she wants, or could handle. In fact, in the spiritual world those who long to be greater and higher end out in the lowest places. This is what Jesus was talking about when he said:
The wedding banquet, of course, is heaven and the kingdom of God.
It is up to us to do what is in front of us in the best way we can, and to do the work that the Lord has given us to do with application, cheerfulness, and humility. We can leave it to the Lord to assign us a place in heaven, whether high or low, where we will be happiest and most contented with our life, and where we will be the most useful in accomplishing the Lord’s purposes for us.
More specifically, according to Swedenborg, no, once we have found our home in heaven we don’t move up to higher heavens, but live where we are for the rest of eternity. We continue to grow and develop as a person just as we do here. (That’s probably what those NDE-ers mistook for “moving upward to the throne room.”) But we are the person who we are, and that, at a fundamental level, doesn’t change. Nor do we wish it to change, because we are supremely happy to be who we are, living where we are. We’re not “stuck” there. We love it there! It has everything we want.
As for the stupid things we did when young, we can all say to the Lord, and to our fellow human beings as well, “Do not remember the sins of my youth or my transgressions” (Psalm 25:7). It is through the foolishness of our youth that we begin to learn wisdom, as we see where our own stupid choices and actions lead us, and realize that we need to look upwards for guidance.
The idea that I am going to be God’s perfect, sinless child is not a wise or realistic one. That was Jesus’ job, not ours. Better to recognize, with David, that “I am a worm, and not human” (Psalm 22:6) and from there grow into our humanity.
That makes sense to me. Sure. I just want to hang with Jesus. But now wait, does Swedenborg and Swedenborgians really think that there is nothing left to the imagination or mystery re: the afterlife; that is, do you really think you know how the whole thing works completely?? I mean that not rhetorically, but sincerely and wonderfully.
Reading the account of a seasoned traveler to another place and another world is one thing. Experiencing it for yourself is a whole different thing. I expect to find the spiritual world both very familiar and very surprising. I trust Swedenborg’s accounts of the spiritual world. I have also read many accounts of NDEers that, in the main, confirm what Swedenborg experienced and related to us. Still, actually living there will be a whole new experience.
That’s a great point. I have too read so much of the NDE literature, and, it’s remarkable how similar it is to Swedenborg — i mean exactly. I read much of the NDE literature prior to Swedenborg, and if I were reading that literature with my professor cap on, I would accuse the NDE’s of plagiarism! Ha! Even the way they describe God, the purpose on earth, etc.
Also: I have read your book sections on this and the articles on here about what happens when you die. You sometimes mention “one can have a life review.” — Is this not an essential element of the initial stages of death? NDErs seem to all say this happens, but is this more optional or varied according to you and Swedenb?
When Raymond Moody’s Life After Life came out, there were a lot of very excited Swedenborgians. Finally what we had been saying all along had hit the big time! Our former Boston Church managed to book Moody as a speaker not long after the book came out. There was an SRO crowd, mostly non-Swedenborgians from the surrounding community. One Swedenborgian in attendance asked if Moody had gotten his own copy of Heaven and Hell yet. (He quoted from it in Life After Life, but the quotations were from a secondary source.) He said, with a wry smile, “I’ve gotten about seven copies from Swedenborgians.” 😀
It’s been about twenty years since I did really heavy reading in the NDE literature. My recollection, though, is that while the life review is a common element of NDEs, it is not universal. Some people have one, some don’t.
It’s also good to keep in mind that God knows which people will be staying and which people will be going back. I expect that the experience of those who are going back is somewhat different from that of those who are staying, because under God’s providence it is tailored to their continued life here on earth rather than for moving on to their eternal home in the spiritual world. Swedenborg’s explicit descriptions of the life review are usually in the context of people who are attempting to deny the things they had done during their time on earth. Beyond that he only makes more general statements about coming into a full recollection of one’s life on earth.
And yes, that makes perfect sense now that I think about it.
Ok here is my conundrum now given all you said: I know the Bible well, had been studying it for years, but then came across NDEs, then Swedenborg. I feel like I love to read both, but its almost as if the way things are presented via Swedenborg is easier to understand and makes more sense, whereas the Bible doesn’t provide an interpretative lens and so depending on my “hermeneutic,” I could come out with very different understandings of God, the soul, the work on earth, salvation, etc. SO what I’m saying is, I sometimes find reading Swedenborg/NDE more edifying in that it presents the truths from the Bible, but in a very REAL way. I am not suggesting that these supersede scripture or anything — but what do you think about this? Should there be a hierarchy of preference ? I’m sure there is logically (that of scripture over later revelation), but in terms of the way God is presented, I find I can often sense his love more through the NDE/Swedenborg stuff (and THEN return to the Bible with that, which then makes the Bible “light up” so to speak).
I know you’ve written an article on this — but I was wondering about this particular preference.
Yes, the article to read on this subject is:
Do the Teachings of Emanuel Swedenborg take Precedence over the Bible?
Truth be told, many, if not most, Swedenborgians do give precedence to Swedenborg over the Bible. Traditional Swedenborgians commonly consider everything Swedenborg wrote to be absolutely true, and if the Bible says something different, they’ll go with Swedenborg over the Bible.
However, as I say in the linked article, I believe this misses the point of both Swedenborg and the Bible. The Bible is specifically geared toward reaching people of all different types and cultures, at all different levels of spiritual development or lack thereof, and motivating them toward living a life that leads to heaven—which means repenting from their “sins,” or wrong behaviors, and living a life of love and service toward their fellow human beings.
Pretty much anybody can read the Bible, especially the Gospels, and get the point. That is, if their brain hasn’t been scrambled by the false “Christian” doctrine that has long since replaced the teachings of Jesus and the Bible in traditional “Christianity.” And even those whose brains have been scrambled commonly get Jesus’ point and believe that if they want to be saved, they must stop doing wrong things and start living a good and compassionate life instead, regardless of what their church teaches them about salvation.
Meanwhile, realistically, not many people are going to read Swedenborg straight-up. They might read Heaven and Hell. (There’s a reason it is by far his most popular book.) But put Arcana Coelestia or True Christian Religion in front of them, and they’re not likely to get more than a few sentences in. I know. I’ve tried it. 😐 It takes a certain type of highly spiritually motivated person to directly read Swedenborg. (Not necessarily intellectuals. But people who love the things Swedenborg teaches.) That’s why none of his books besides Heaven and Hell have ever been big sellers.
What people will sometimes read is “collateral literature,” meaning books written by Swedenborgians that present his ideas in more popular and readable ways. And unfortunately, there aren’t a whole lot of really good ones aimed at ordinary non-Swedenborgians. My readers here at Spiritual Insights for Everyday Life are spoiled because I have made it my life’s work to put Swedenborg’s ideas into ordinary English for ordinary people. It has taken many years of practice to get good at it. And even now, my wife Annette helps a lot in keeping my feet planted on the ground and my head in the same space as ordinary non-theological folks. (She loves Swedenborg, but did not grow up Swedenborgian as I did.)
Once you start getting into the Swedenborgian literature, though there is a massive quantity of it, there are only few books, such as the Gwynne Dresser Mack book on prayer that I recommended to you, that are really readable for ordinary people. After those few books, the literature starts getting more and more technical and abstruse. There isn’t even a really good basic introduction to Swedenborg written for a contemporary audience. That’s rather shocking. I’m going to have to write one just so that there will be one.
All of this highlights the difference between Swedenborg and the Bible. You’re a professor and an intellectual, so reading Swedenborg is no problem for you. But for the vast bulk of people, Swedenborg’s writings are a mountain too high to climb. That’s because his books are doctrinal books, intended to lay out doctrinal principles, and also exegetical works, intended to explain the spiritual meanings within the Bible. (Yes, about two-thirds of Swedenborg’s published theological output is biblical exegesis—and its probably closer to three-quarters if you include his unpublished works.)
Meanwhile, the Bible is a pragmatic, direct, life-oriented book that is really, for the most part, a story about the relationship between God and humanity, along with some basic, direct teachings about what we must believe and do to get to heaven. The Bible doesn’t attempt to delve into the doctrinal and technical aspects of all of this because God knows it would leave the vast bulk of humanity behind. Even the Gospel of John is too much for many ordinary people, who just scratch their heads at Jesus’ long monologues there about God and spirit. Aside from a few pithy quotes from John, most people stick with the Synoptic Gospels, which they can understand.
However, even for professors and intellectual types, the Bible has something that Swedenborg doesn’t. While Swedenborg explicitly teaches doctrinal and spiritual things, the Bible has all of that and more contained within it, in its spiritual meaning. In addition to having its literal sense that anyone can read, and even understand if their brains haven’t been scrambled by false doctrine, the Bible is written entirely in symbolic or “correspondential” language that has multiple levels of deeper meaning, the highest level being entirely about the Lord God Jesus Christ. This depth of meaning goes far beyond anything in Swedenborg’s writings. Really, in all of his voluminous writings, Swedenborg was simply pointing to the infinite treasures and depths of wisdom that exist within the Bible. That’s why, once again, two-thirds to three-quarters of his theological output was biblical exegesis. And even in his 20+ volumes (in English) of biblical exegesis, he often says, in so many words, that he’s only scratching the surface, and that there is far more meaning contained in each verse of the Bible than he could possibly explain in an entire book.
So yes, we read Swedenborg and we read the reports of NDEers, and then we go back to the Bible and find it “lit up” with the understanding we have gained. There is a very real sense in which the entirety of human experience is a commentary on the Bible.
I know I’ve linked this article for you before, and you’ve probably read it already. But for the benefit of those reading in, here it is again:
Can We Really Believe the Bible? Some Thoughts for Those who Wish they Could
Thank you Lee. That’s very true and very helpful to me. When I first became a Christian and read the Bible, and then attended an evangelical Church (18 years ago this was), I was struck with how there wasn’t much emphasis on the need to love, or that the “love command” was often eclipsed in favor of other things. Jesus was certainly central, and that was great, but it seemed to have been missing the point of growing in love. Whereas certainly in Swedenborg this emphasis on both Jesus and Love permeate the literature.
Your experience in that evangelical church is a testimony to the fact that Christianity in general, but especially traditional and conservative Protestantism, has abandoned love in favor of faith. As a result, their faith isn’t genuine faith either. However, those who actually live by Jesus’ teachings about love and kindness to the neighbor do have real faith.
Lee, I have three questions to sort of tie up loose ends:
1. Are you aware of any NDEs that were of evangelical Christians having their views challenged? The only evangelical I know of was Don Piper (90 minutes in Heaven), but he doesn’t really get into any theology, as far as I know, but rather just descriptions of Heaven. I’m wondering if there is someone who believes Sola Fide and is sent back realizing the need to love (Ian McCormick’s NDE seems to be Sola Fide-espque?).
2. Does Swedenborg comment on Jesus supposedly preaching to those in Hell (“Those in Prison”)? Did Jesus? Did he get any “takers”? Ha!
3. Finally, a pattern I’ve noticed is this: there seem to be very few people that I know of who manage to build the bridge between faith and love (maybe I’m generalizing here), but the most Jesus-y people I know, who truly love the Lord, tend to have strange theologies of Hell and atonement. I don’t know if it’s just a misplaced affection for a literal reading of scripture, that in other words they might love Jesus so much they would want to faithfully stick to a strict literal reading of Paul or something. On the other hand, very loving and accepting people I know tend to be really not “ready” to “go full Jesus.” What do you make of this? (It reminds me of Feuerbach’s mistaken notion that Faith and Love are simple incompatible on the grounds that the former is exclusive, while the latter inclusive).
1. Once again, my heavy reading in the NDE literature took place about twenty years ago, so I may not be the best person to ask this question of. However, my general recollection is that some evangelicals who had NDEs saw pearly gates and such, and had their current beliefs buttressed by the experience, whereas others abandoned the narrowness of evangelical beliefs. One person who could answer your question a lot better than I is Garret Weeks. You might be interested in watching his video course on NDEs—which, unfortunately, he has not yet gotten back to continuing. Here’s my review of it, with links:
A Short(ish) Video Course on Near-Death Experiences
2. The Bible passages interpreted to mean that Christ visited hell, such as 1 Peter 4:6; Ephesians 4:9, do not actually say that Christ went to hell, but that “the Gospel was proclaimed even to the dead” and “he descended into the lower parts of the earth.”
In Swedenborg’s understanding, “the dead” are people who are spiritually dead. And of course the Gospel was proclaimed to them, because they were the ones that Jesus and his apostles wanted to save and bring to spiritual life.
And “the lower parts of the earth,” in Swedenborg’s spiritual geography, is not hell, but an area in the world of spirits just above hell, where many people of good heart but weak minds held in thrall to evil spirits pretending to be religious leaders were trapped for many years before finally being released at the time of the Lord’s first coming, and again at the time of the Lord’s second coming. So yes, he got many takers. Swedenborg gave a similar interpretation to this passage in the book of Revelation:
See, for example, his explanation in Apocalypse Revealed #325.
3. I would say that the people who most loudly proclaim their love of Jesus tend to have strange theologies of hell and atonement. Jesus himself said:
The people who truly love Jesus are the ones who take his teachings to heart, and live a life of (mostly) quiet love and service to their fellow human beings.
Meanwhile, because of those trumpet-blasting hypocrites who call themselves “Christian” while acting like anything but true followers of Jesus Christ, many good-hearted people have a bad taste in their mouth about Jesus and Christianity. They assume that these bigoted, intolerant “Christians” represent what the Bible, and Jesus, actually teach. And they want no part of it precisely because they are very loving, accepting people. Those so-called “Christians” will have to answer for their lies about Jesus Christ when it comes their time face the metaphorical judgment seat in heaven. Meanwhile, their false doctrines and bigoted lives are causing incalculable damage to many innocent souls here on earth, who would gladly embrace Jesus if the true Jesus were preached to them.
If Feuerbach said that love and faith are incompatible, he was indeed mistaken. Love and faith, without each other, are not love and faith. However, there is a germ of truth to his “inclusive vs. exclusive” idea about love and faith. A better way of putting it is that love draws everything and everyone together, while faith distinguishes everything and everyone from one another. It is in the interplay between these two that we live.
I’m into these NDE videos you recommended. Fantastic stuff. I’m also reading through the end of True Christianity (again) and the theme you’ve been hitting me with is clear: the heart. That is, what one desires, what one wants, is ultimately the key. I realized I’d been teaching a version of this in Aristotle who says that your character is determined by your final end, or telos, which your choices sort of determine but also flow from. My question is, is this correct, namely that we can in a sense “choose” our final end, or our deepest desire; it sort of seems strange to say we can fix our ultimate desire via the choices we make, given that choices ultimately flow out of it, but then again it doesnt.
So my question is: what is the relationship between choice and desire, is it that each affects one another, our choices affect our desires, and our desires affect in turn our choices, indeed like Aristotle claims, namely through inculcation and habituation?
Glad you’re enjoying Garret Weeks’s NDE videos. I had some great conversations with him while he was still active on YouTube. I hope he gets back to continuing his video series one day.
Your subject is philosophy? If so, what areas of philosophy do you cover?
It sounds like Aristotle’s “final end,” or telos has a similar function to Swedenborg’s “ruling love.” According to Swedenborg, our ruling love (or “dominant love” in some recent translations) is what determines our entire character. That is what becomes fixed at death, and determines our eternal home and our eternal direction.
As for how we choose it, that’s a complicated question, as I’m sure you’re aware, since it gets to the heart of who and what we are as human beings: our free will. I doubt I can tie that one up into a neat little package. However, one factor to understand is that we do not have a single will, or “love,” but multiple loves that form multiple wills within us. The fundamental question is which one of them will rule. They all vie for dominance in our life, and we make the choice as to which one will win.
At the most basic level, there are four categories of love (motive, will) according to Swedenborg:
In general, love of the world is love of material possessions, wealth, and the pleasures we gain from them. Love of self is love of our body, our physical pleasures, our reputation, and our position and power in society.
The order I have listed them is the order they are meant to be in, with love of the Lord ruling, and the others falling into place underneath. If love of the neighbor rules, that is also good, though not as good as if love of the Lord rules. If either of the other two rules, we have moved over into evil. Love of self—also called love of dominion or ruling from love of self—is the source of the worst evils when it rules, and love of the world is the source of lesser evils when it rules.
Though there are as many variations on these loves as there are people, our basic choice is which one we will put first in our life. That choice is generally made through struggles, trials, and temptations that test us to see what we will consider most important in our life. Once again, this is a struggle between multiple wills within us. Only when we have completed our life on earth do we have a singular, uncontested will, with all of the other wills, or loves, arranged underneath it.
How, exactly, do we make that choice? What is the “chooser”? That is an excellent question. I’m not sure I have a really satisfactory answer. We are complex beings, not simple ones. If we use the comparison of a major war among earthly powers, in which various nations are contending with one another for supremacy, or at least not to be dominated by the opposing powers, what determines the fate of the battle? Philosophers and historians have debated that question for thousands of years. About all I can say with some level of conviction is that I believe God does give us free will as an essential part of our humanity, and we do have the capability of choosing between the various alternative loves or motives as to which one will rule in our lives.
If something else occurs to me, I’ll return to the question.
Lee, that makes perfect sense! In the end, then, would the “ruling element” that rules all other desires or wills be simply that in which we take the most joy? Because I think we all can agree we have desires pulling us different places, but in the end, it’s what you most desire, and most love, and most delight in that determines who you are? (this is precisely what Aristotle says, if so, namely good character is about delighting in what is truly good; Thomas Aquinas appropriates this a bit from Aristotle too, but it’s much clearer in Aristotle).
Your explanation makes perfect sense in that the limit here is freedom, which is ultimately inexplicable.
My area is philosophy, yes. I teach the history of philosophy (which is one of my areas), but I write a lot on phenomenology, existentialism, philosophy of religion (I’m sort of a jack of all trades, in the history of philosophy).
Yes, that pretty well sums it up.
Swedenborg was well-versed in Aristotle. His theological works contain many explicit and implicit references to Aristotle. It’s quite likely that he was aware of this particular connection.
I’ve been reading carefully some parts of True Christianity.
1. Swedenborg seems to say that you “can” be saved if you have never heard of the Gospel or of Jesus Christ, but if you have heard and then reject it, you are guilty of rejecting the true God. (So faith and belief do not seem to be as irrelevant as I thought).
2. Given Swedenborg’s theory of atonement and redemption, that humans were slaves prior to Christ’s setting them free; what of those before Christ came?
3. I’m very interested in Swedenborg the man. What kind of person was he? I read a little of his background and it appears that many of his beliefs were already with his father, is that true?
True Christianity does bear reading carefully, and repeatedly. There’s always something new every time through. In answer to your questions:
1. Belief, if not merely hypocritical, is not arbitrary. People’s beliefs do, over time, tend to come into coherence with their motives and actions, if their motives and actions don’t come into coherence with their beliefs. Yes, if Christians reject Christ, that puts them out of the running for salvation because, knowing who God is, they reject God. Now, if they become Muslims or Hindus or Jews, and they are faithful to their adopted religion, then they can still be saved. But if someone calls him- or herself Christian, but rejects Christ, what does that say about the person?
2. The enslavement of humanity was progressive over time. Each “church,” or religious era, started out good, but then became progressively more corrupt. At the time of the Incarnation, humanity had reached its low point, and was in danger of being shut out of salvation altogether. The slavery, to use that metaphor, had reached nearly absolute proportions. The slaves had to be freed because there was almost no life left for them. People of good heart and good actions could still be saved prior to the coming of Christ. But it was becoming increasingly difficult. This is what Jesus was talking about when he said:
3. Swedenborg was indeed a fascinating character. He was brilliant, of course. But beyond that, while studying nearly all the knowledge of his time, especially scientific and philosophical knowledge, he was willing and able to chart his own course rather than being a follower of anyone else. Every time some scholar says “Swedenborg got his philosophy and theology from x source,” it turns out to be a rather flimsy connection. Yes, he borrowed ideas from here, there, and everywhere, but he formed them into his own system, which isn’t the same as any other system that existed prior or subsequent to his articulation of it.
Swedenborg’s father, Jesper Swedberg, was a pietist, and that certainly helped to focus Swedenborg on heart and action rather than only on faith. But Swedberg was also a Lutheran cleric. And Luther became Swedenborg’s primary theological whipping boy. So certainly Swedenborg’s father did influence him. But Swedenborg, once again, charted his own course that became quite independent of his father’s stance on things. There is some biographical evidence that the death of Swedenborg’s father was a key event in Swedenborg’s life that set him free to chart that course theologically.
There are many good biographies of Swedenborg, and several bad ones. The Toksvig biography, while popular, is sloppy in its scholarship, and has been the source of many hard-to-shake rumors about Swedenborg, such as that he wrote his theological writings by automatic writing, which he certainly did not. Go ahead and read it if you want. It has some interesting observations. But read some better biographies first. Here are three good ones that are certainly worth reading, in order of length and complexity:
That should keep you busy for a while!
Been reading all you’ve recommended. Is there a best way in your opinion to feel the love of Christ now? Is there a way to do this ? Is the reason we can’t simply basket in the bliss of it right now because it would
Harm our freedom?
Excellent questions. About feeling the love of Christ, here’s something Jesus says:
The key to feeling Jesus’ love is to love him by keeping his commandments. And as you know, his commandments all boil down to the two Great Commandments: to love the Lord our God with all our heart, mind, soul, and strength, and to love our neighbor as ourselves. Along the same lines, Jesus says:
“Laying down one’s life for one’s friends” literally means dying for them. But spiritually it means devoting our lives to loving and serving our friends, which, spiritually, means the good from the Lord that exists within everyone. This is the neighbor that we are to love and serve. (See the chapter on “Love toward the Neighbor, or Charity,” in The New Jerusalem starting at #84. Or read my translation of it here, where “neighbor” has been translated as “friend.”)
And in the Parable of the Sheep and the Goats in Matthew 25:31–46 Jesus says that as much as we have done a kind deed for one of the least of our fellow human beings, we have done it for him.
In short, the way to feel Christ’s love is to follow his commandments to love our fellow human beings and do good deeds for them as part of our daily life. When we do this, Christ’s love flows into us and through us. We are not only containers, but conduits for God’s love. The more of it that flows out of us, the more of it flows into us. He is the vine, we are the branches. But the branches are meant to bear fruit—fruit that will last. And that fruit is our good deeds done for others, and showing Christ’s love to them through our words and our actions.
For more on this, please see:
How do I Love God with my Whole Heart?
And see also:
How Do I Love My Neighbor?
About not basking in the bliss here on earth, that is partly due to the blockages in our own character, which are the remaining taint of selfishness and materialism that we are here on earth to battle and overcome. As long as we are focused on ourselves and the things of this world, we are turned away from Jesus. And though Jesus still loves us, we don’t feel that love because our back is turned to it. Not that we’re prohibited from loving ourselves and the things of this world; but when we make them primary in our life, they become evil instead of good. Our job here on earth is to re-focus our life on loving God and the neighbor first, and the world and ourselves second.
Not feeling the bliss of Christ’s love is also due to our living in this material world, which both responds to and resists God and spirit because of its own material nature. It responds to God because it is an expression of God’s love and wisdom. But it resists God because it is by nature dead and unresponsive, and only with difficulty receives life from the Lord. We know, of course, that there is abundant life on this planet. But we are seeking diligently for life elsewhere in our solar system and in the wider universe, and so far we have not found it. Most of this material universe is dead and unresponsive to the life of the Lord, its Creator. As long as we live in this world, in our physical body, we will not be able to feel the full warmth and glory of the Lord’s love for us. This is what Paul was talking about when he said these well-known words:
When we arrive in the spiritual world after our life here on earth is over, if we have done the work of regeneration, and devoted our lives to loving and serving our fellow human beings using the experience, skills, and capabilities that the Lord has given us, we will no longer see the Lord’s light or feel the Lord’s love dimly, as in a mirror, but will see and feel them as fully as we are capable of receiving them, face to face with the Lord. Unlike our physical body and this material world, our spiritual body and the spiritual world are fully responsive to God’s love (assuming we are not in hell), and we can feel the bliss of the love of Jesus as fully and deeply as we have prepared ourselves to feel it through a life of love and kindness to our fellow human beings here on earth.
Even here on earth there is a warm glow and a sense of satisfaction and joy when we can do something good for a fellow human being out of genuine love and concern for their long-term wellbeing and happiness. As for me, I feel it when I have been able to help someone overcome fears and falsities that are holding them back from living a full life expressive of the good that God has put in them. When I can lead people to know the truth, and that truth sets their spirit free, I feel the love of Christ working in me and through me. That is a great blessing, and my greatest joy.
Others can have similar feelings when they, from their own knowledge, skill, experience, and regard for others, are able to help other people along their life’s path in various ways. For teachers, as you know, there is great joy and satisfaction when a student responds and sees new light and life in the material being taught. God gives us capabilities, and God also gives us joy in expressing those God-given capabilities for the good of our fellow human beings.
What you just said is so powerful and something I’ve thought for SO long (about those very passages) but have never really had it confirmed until now. Thank you! Everything you say is so true — it I think strikes people as odd too that the way to feel him is not some mystical prayer method, but rather the very act of love that he himself is.
I have a few follow ups in the same vein:
1. It seems in those Farewell Discourses (John 13-17), in ch. 15, Jesus seems to equate the gift of the spirit (his coming to dwell with us, he and his father dwelling with us) with the very command of love itself, that is, the keeping of the command. He says “if you love me, you’ll keep my commands, and I will ask the Father and he will send you another helper…etc.” Am I reading this right? That is, the keeping of the love command is the same as abiding in his love, which is the same as the gift of the spirit? “If a man loves me he will keep my commands, and I will show myself to him and my father will love him, and we will come and make our home with him.” (Thus the Spirit isn’t some special gift that we get other than the gift of love itself?). Am I getting this right now? (How come no one talks about this in Christianity!!).
2.How can I be sure I am making progress on and in love? I desire it and strive for it, but sometimes it feels like I just keep screwing up and can’t love people the way I should and want to love them.
Yes. This is why Swedenborg is not at all supportive of a secluded, monastic life of prayer and self-denial. He says that people who have lived this sort of life, even if they may have good hearts, have difficulty fitting into the life of heaven, which is a life of active service to others in a living human community. Monastics who are good people at heart therefore tend to live at the outer fringes of heaven together with other confirmed monastics and celibates. Their life of constant prayer and solitude did not prepare them for true heavenly joy, which is the joy of actively loving and serving the neighbor.
Jesus did take time for himself to withdraw to the desert or the mountain to pray and commune with God. But then he returned to an active life with his disciples and among the people, teaching, preaching, and healing.
In answer to your other queries:
1. Due to the legalistic nature of much of Western Christianity, the Paraclete has commonly been interpreted as a defense attorney arguing our case with God. And for some people who are in a state of opposition to God, this metaphor can be helpful.
However, the Greek word parakletos comes from words meaning, “to call or summon to one’s aid.” That’s why, though modern translations usually translate it as “advocate,” focusing on the legal meaning of the word, older translations more commonly translate it as “helper” or “comforter.” It is “one who is called in to help.” And helping is not just an intellectual thing. We help the people whom we love and care about.
The Holy Spirit is not only the spirit of divine truth, but also the spirit of divine love. Whatever goes forth from God is always God’s love and God’s wisdom together, in equal balance, even if we split them up when we receive it, often focusing on the truth over the love.
Unfortunately, the Western Church as a whole has long since receded from love and focused so much on faith that it has almost banished God’s love from its doctrine and its life. Especially in Protestantism, it’s all about correct belief. Love and kindness, which was the primary teaching of Jesus, has taken a back seat. That’s why “no one talks about this in Christianity.” And when love and kindness are relegated to an afterthought, and everything is about faith, even the faith is not a genuine faith. True faith is always hand-in-hand with love and kindness. As James put it, faith without works is dead.
2. That’s why we have a lifetime here on earth. We need that much time to work on our regeneration.
True confessions: I got curious where you teach, and googled you. Unless you’re faking us out by using a photo of your younger self on your university profile page, you’re still a relatively young man, with most of your life ahead of you.
I would suggest going easy on yourself. Though I still consider myself something of an idiot when it comes to actually being a decent human being, there’s no comparison to how much of an idiot I was when I was in my twenties and thirties. And my teenage years? Brrrrrr! I’m so glad those years are behind me! Though 60 is just around the corner, I still figure it will take another decade or two or three before I’m anywhere near ready to move on to the spiritual world. I hope God gives me that much time, because I still have an awful lot of work to do.
Just keep at it day after day. Our material self is a stubborn beast. It doesn’t give up easily. And we can’t change all at once. We have to change one piece at a time. And as we know from the physiologists, the human organism has millions of parts, and trillions of cells. If the Lord weren’t making those changes organ by organ and cell by cell from within, with infinite skill, we would have no hope. But if we do our part day by day, correcting our obvious wrongs and doing our best to become a better, more thoughtful, more loving person each day, the Lord will do the real work from within of transforming us into new creatures in Christ.
If you do your spiritual work every day, and if God is gracious and gives you a long and full life, when it comes your time to move on to the spiritual world you will have traveled the distance, and it will be said of you, “Well done, good and faithful servant. Enter into the joy of your Master.”
Thank you Lee! Yes I’m 36 now (I think that picture was from when I was 30, so I’ve aged a bit!). I appreciate your extremely helpful responses here. I’ve really now come to understand all of this I think. I hope you know how much you’ve helped in my “final transition” to seeing all of this stuff fully and synthesizing it. I am very grateful.
The question now is: how the hell do you find a church community that sees this?!?!
You are most welcome. Our conversations are a joy to me as well, knowing that it is seed falling in fertile soil.
A church community? That is the $64,000 question.
The reality is that institutional Swedenborgianism has not done well. Putting new theological wine into old ecclesiastical bottles has not proved particularly successful. If you put all of the card-carrying Swedenborgians in the world together, there might be enough of them to qualify for one Catholic diocese, or maybe two. But they are spread thinly around the world, and scattered among several different Swedenborgian denominations that diverge from one another along the usual liberal to conservative divides. And all of them are in decline.
If you live near where you teach, your closest Swedenborgian churches would be an hour and a half to two hours away. And there’s no guarantee that they would be congenial to your personality and preferred worship style even if it weren’t a ridiculously long drive to get there. However, if you want to look them up, you can do so here:
World Map of New Christian Groups, Publishers, Churches and Schools
Given that many Swedenborgians don’t live anywhere near an actual Swedenborgian church, those who want to participate in worship commonly find a local non-Swedenborgian congregation that fits their preferences for social outlook and worship style, and attend there. It’s not an ideal solution, but at least it provides some sense of spiritual community.
Fortunately, the practice of true Christianity (which is how I think of it, rather than as the commonly accepted and therefore largely unavoidable term “Swedenborgian”) is more about how you live in your everyday life than it is about where you go to church. Therefore many isolated Swedenborgians, and even some that are not isolated, don’t worry about going to church, but practice their beliefs through learning and service in their day-to-day life.
Honestly, even though I am a Swedenborgian minister, I don’t miss going to church, though Annette does. Our closest congregation is seven or eight hours away in Kansas. What I do miss is the opportunity to teach in person, and to engage in discussion with a group of physically present people. Annette and I are working on a solution to that for the two of us.
On a meta level, I have my doubts that the traditional ecclesiastical paradigm of Sunday worship in a church building will survive much longer. It is on the wane, and I doubt its decline is going to reverse in the future. What will replace it? I don’t know. That’s something that I think about a lot, and still don’t know the answer. I think people will continue to want God and spirit in their lives. In fact, I expect a resurgence of spiritual engagement when the traditional church structures are finally dead and gone. But I don’t claim to know what organization and institutional forms, if any, the new spiritual life of humanity will take as the new church era that Swedenborg predicted comes into its own, and replaces the old and dying Christian church.
Thank you Lee. A Follow up:
What kind(s) of devotions do you recommend so that one can “remember love” and remember to live with love in the heart towards God and others? Is bible reading on the same level as other reading? Should one read Swedenborg first before the Bible (Since it’s largely the Bible he’s quoting anyway?). I know you’ve written an article about the relationship between Swedenborg and the Scriptures, but what I am asking is what do you think and recommend as far as devotional life (as a means toward love)?
I recommend daily Bible reading. Not just the New Testament, but the Old Testament as well. Start at the beginning and read at least a chapter a day, from beginning to end. For reading the Pentateuch, do yourself a favor and get a copy of this translation:
The Five Books of Moses, translated by Everett Fox (The link is to its hardcover edition on Amazon, which is out of print but used copies are available.)
Fox’s translation brings much of the flavor of the original Hebrew into English, providing a text that is as close to reading the Torah in Hebrew as you’re going to get in English. It will be a little extra work at first to get used to the Hebraisms, but it will be worth it to give you a living sense of what Moses (the traditional author of those books) actually wrote. (And no, I don’t think Moses actually wrote all of it.)
While we humans on earth are reading the Bible in its literal meaning, the angels who are with us are hearing and enjoying its spiritual meaning, even if the person reading it doesn’t know or understand the spiritual meaning. In this way Bible reading creates a connection with heaven in a way that no other book does.
Meanwhile, as a separate practice, get a copy of Swedenborg’s Secrets of Heaven, volume 1 (the link is to my book listing of the volume), and start reading. Don’t try to coordinate it with your Bible reading or you’ll never make it through the Bible. The purpose of reading Secrets of Heaven is to learn and stock you mind with the spiritual meaning of the Bible and all of its various elements.
As you learn how the spiritual meaning works, and learn the correspondences of particular people, places, and things in the Bible, your daily Bible reading will rise to a whole new level of spiritual connection. You’ll be able to read the Bible, not just as ancient Jewish history and lore, but as a living document guiding you on your own spiritual path, and connecting you with the Lord Jesus Christ and what he did, and does, for you. Don’t get impatient. It takes time to wrap your head around correspondences and the spiritual meaning. But as you do, many, many things in the Bible that were formerly obscure or seemed dry and irrelevant will start coming to life.
Another book to get for yourself is:
Dictionary of Correspondences: The Key to Biblical Interpretation, by George Nicholson (The link is to its Amazon page)
This is a handy (if old) reference work giving quick explanations of the spiritual meaning of people, places, and things in the Bible from Swedenborg’s writings. Again, don’t get too bogged down in your Bible reading. It’s best to keep a flow going. But if you get curious about what some particular thing you’re reading means spiritually, you can get a quick idea by looking it up in the Dictionary of Correspondences. This, however, is not a substitute for reading Secrets of Heaven, which will, over time, orient you to the spiritual meaning in a way that quick reference books won’t.
As you engage in this practice of Bible reading and learning the deeper meanings of the Bible, you will find, if you are looking for it, that the Lord’s love and wisdom will shine through to your heart and mind in the pages of the Bible. Because not only the angels, but the Lord is personally present with us in the Bible when we read the Bible and seek the Lord in it.
Swedenborg, of course, saw Christian history very differently. In his view, the Christian Church was assaulted and torn apart by heresies right from the time of its infancy.
Do yourself a favor and read Swedenborg’s “heresy tour-de-force” in True Christianity #378.
Aside from its breathless pace and entertaining catalog of heresies, it is worth reading for its sheer audacity in charging every part of traditional Christianity with rank heresy. According to Swedenborg, the Christian Church that had come to exist over the centuries was “Christian not in essence or in reality but in name only” (True Christianity #668).
My engagement with traditional Christianity over the past few decades, especially with its Protestant variant, has led me to the same conclusion: The “Christian Church” of today is not Christian. See:
Today’s Christianity: Vastly Void of Truth
I am thankful I came across this message board. It is rare to be able to interact with people who critically think about their religion.One thing that the Lord taught me regarding faith is that those who put the all in faith, are actually just calling the things they believe to be faith. In other words, they believe a thing and say they have faith where it is clear in the scriptures that belief comes from hearing and this leads to faith and to the word which is Christ. And of course Christ is the power of God to change lives, and so the works of faith are done from that power and not of ourselves. Although it appears as such, when we give up our own lives (Proprium) to be worthy and then we get it back again, we live from that power as tho from ourselves.That is our acceptable offering to God. In fact the whole Lords prayer is this very thing. His will, not ours and as it is done in heaven, so, it is to be done on earth (we are the earth)…as above, so below etc. This was part of the teaching I was receiving regarding the tithes and offerings and the true circumcision which is..Be not conformed to the image of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of the mind. The mind is renewed by the word of God. And the word is not just written in words, but also written in our hearts by the spirit. The good works of God are done within us and these save us, for it is difficult for us to accomplish good works in front of men, lest we cast pearls before swine of give holy things to dogs.But shunning evils as sins and loving the neighbor as yourself are the best works I think we can accomplish. Unless you are able to give up everything…family, friends, etc. which not everyone can do that, but for those who can and do, great works are in store for them. (so I have been told) Again, not vain works of the conformity of the flesh, but works from God as tho from ourselves.
I apologize if I am stepping out of line here, and interjecting my own experience of thought on your subject. I certainly did not wish to interrupt a conversation. I am new to this as I have been alone symbolically in the wilderness for many a year now with no correspondence or sharing of ideas. I receive a myriad of similitude and correspondences and can not write them quickly or express them adequately however, my spontaneity is mostly sincere.
Thanks for your further thoughts. It is clear you have been meditating on these things for many years, and have produced many fruits of the spirit in your own heart, mind, and life. Feel free to express further thoughts or ask any questions you might have. I’m glad we can provide a point of contact for you so that you can step out of that wilderness.
P.S. I also think you DO have in Paul the “Christus Victor” idea, namely that Christ reversed the sin of Adam, where Adam is representative of all “mankind.” Here would be much closer to Swedenborg (and a consistent theology for that matter in line with a God of love, not one who needs “blood” and is wrathful): Christ came to live a perfect life and “Hell” threw everything they could at him to sway him from this perfection which could reverse Adamic slavery to sin and therefore free us by giving us his power.
Would this work with what you understand to be atonement? Did I put it correctly? So Christ died “for us” in that he died to save us from our sins, i.e. remove our bondage to sin. Let me know if I’m “getting” it yet.
Yes, unlike salvation by faith alone, Christ victorious over his enemies is clearly and definitely present in Paul. For example:
And he lends that power and victory to us so that we may also defeat sin and death in our lives:
Paul never says that we are saved or justified by faith alone. But the theme of Christ victorious over the evil and worldly powers (i.e., death, hell, the Devil, sin, and so on) and reigning as a glorious king of an all-encompassing kingdom reverberates throughout his letters. This, of course, includes delivering us from bondage to sin. As with the other Epistles and the Gospels, there is nothing about saving us from the penalty from sin, but there is passage after passage about saving us from sin itself, and from its power over us.
This is all part of the theme of Christus Victor, or Christ victorious over the evil powers, and saving us from them, that formed the basis for Christian atonement theory for the first 1,000 years of Christianity, and that still forms the basis of the atonement theory held in Eastern Christianity.
There is a reason this view of atonement held fast for the first millennium of Christianity, and was overthrown only in Western Christianity, and only after the Great Schism split the main body of the Christian Church in two. That historical event, and the fact that Anselm came along in the Western church not long after the Great Schism, is why satisfaction theory, including its Protestant variant, holds sway only in Western, not in Eastern, Christianity. And the Catholic Church itself did not hold to this theory for the first millennium of its existence (if we are generous in saying that it went all the way back to the Apostles, which it really didn’t; institutionally and theologically it was largely a product of Nicaea).
In contrast to the absence of any “satisfaction” and “penal substitution” language in the Bible, there is a rich trove of “God victorious in Christ” language in the New Testament, which draws on extensive imagery in the Old Testament of God as a victorious warrior king, who defeats our enemies for us, bringing us salvation.
So yes, I would say you’re “getting it.”
And it continues to boggle my mind that Protestant leaders, and to a lesser extent Catholic leaders, can largely pass over that extensive theme in the Bible of God and Christ victorious, and found their atonement theories on such a thin biblical foundation that there are no explicit statements of it whatsoever in the Bible, and none at all that cannot be more convincingly understood as fitting into the Christ Victorious model.
Ah. Ok. I see. You are certainly right historically. Cannot disagree with you here. Protestants seem to deal with this by saying “there was a falling away…for…1500 years”! Ha!
And, you are of course right that the majority of Christians (Catholic and Eastern Orthodoxy) do not read Paul as saying this either.
Your response is very thorough. There’s no need to go into the other stuff. My point was only to say that I am not convinced by the New Perspectives argument. I think Peter said it best as you quoted. Also, I guess Paul was trying to say that the love of God was shown in the death of Christ.
I hope you know that through dialoguing with you I have indeed come to a deeper and better relationship with The Lord God Jesus. For many, many reasons. So your responses are much appreciated.
Thank you for your kind concluding words. That is why I keep at this: because I know it is meaningful to you, even if we may sometimes butt heads along the way.
The funny thing about the “New Perspectives” argument is that it is “new” only in Protestantism. Within Protestantism NPP has caused great ferment. But outside Protestantism the general reaction to NPP is, “Yawn. That’s what we’ve been saying all along.” See Wikipedia -> New Perspective on Paul -> Catholic and Orthodox reactions.
Swedenborg also said the same thing two centuries before those Johnny-come-latelys. Once again, if you haven’t read it already, please see my answer on Heremeneutics StackExchange here:
What are the oldest known records of interpretation agreeing with New Perspective on Paul?
The arrival of the NPP in Protestantism is similar to a rebellious teenager who has hit adulthood and is suddenly struck by the thought, “Hmm, maybe Mom and Dad were right after all.”
However, I doubt that the main body of Protestantism will ever adopt the NPP. It is too threatening to the existence of Protestantism as a distinct religion, which is founded on interpreting Paul as teaching salvation by faith alone.
Also there is that bit in Luke 7 about the sinful woman’s faith saving her, but its more to the idea that she knew was loved/forgiven, which in turn, “caused” her love. “Her many sins are forgiven, because she loved much; but the one forgiven little, loves little.” So I think there is support for a causal relationship between receiving God’s love (via faith) and loving in turn, as cause to effect, respectively. No?
Without getting into a long disquisition, the faith of the woman in Luke 7:36–50 is anything but faith alone. Faith isn’t even mentioned until the very last line of the story. Before that it’s all about her action and Simon the Pharisee’s lack of action.
This story supports James’s (and Swedenborg’s) insistence that real faith is faith that is coupled with love and with action. Without them it simply isn’t faith.
But yes, I believe this woman showed such a great outpouring of love for Jesus because she had experienced, or heard of, something of Jesus’ love, compassion, and forgiveness expressed toward sinners such as herself. The primary driver was not “faith in Christ” in the present-day sense, but the experience of the love of Christ. If anything, it was the love that drove the faith, and not the other way around. As I said in a previous reply, I believe this is always the case with genuine faith. Even if many people experience faith first in terms of time, it is always the love of God within us that brings us to faith. Faith then becomes the doorway leading us to a more conscious awareness of that divine love.
I have searched the site and this thread and I don’t think you have yet commented on the proper Swedenborgian reading of Isaiah 53 and the suffering servant or its appropriation by New Testament writers? I know it is often the first “go to” by advocates of penal substitution as it says things like “it was the Lord’s will to crush him,” “he was wounded for our transgressions, crushed for our inequities, but through his wounds we are healed,” etc.? It’s also mentioned in the verse from 1 Peter where he bore our sins.
I did recently comment on two of the key verses in Isaiah 53 here. It’s not a full commentary, but it will at least give you a taste and an idea.
As I think I’ve mentioned to you before, the search function here on the website searches only the text of the articles themselves. To search for material you think is in comments, you can use Google in this format: “[search term] site:leewoof.org.” If you did that and didn’t find the comment I just linked to, it might be that it’s too recent to have been indexed by Google yet.
For a full Swedenborgian commentary on Isaiah go to this link to download a scan in PDF format of The Prophet Isaiah, by J.H. Smithson, published in 1860. This is a rare book; it is very difficult to find physical copies of it. As far as I know, it is the only full Swedenborgian commentary on Isaiah ever published. Most of it consists of quotations from Swedenborg’s writings related to the various chapters and verses in Isaiah. However, Smithson adds his own commentary at times when there is no direct commentary in Swedenborg on a particular verse. In other words, it is more of a reference work than a “commentary” in the strict sense of that word. Still, it is a very useful volume for people interested in Swedenborgian Bible commentary.
Thank you I just looked. Ok and no I didn’t know that for some reason (how to search on the site).
Two brief follow ups:
1. Insofar as the wages of sin is “death,” didn’t, in a qualified sense then, Jesus pay the penalty for our sins insofar as he died, since death is indeed the punishment? That would make sense for me, but it’s a far cry from God metaphysically punishing him.
2. In what sense can it be said that Jesus took my sin and died for me, that is, that my own sins put him on the cross, and that he takes my own sins into himself?
2a. You noted this a bit when you said Hell and the Devil conspired to do this. I still don’t quite understand how Hell/the Devil is a conscious being (I asked you this before). How could the collective unconscious of Hell produce a consciousness?
1. “Paying the penalty for our sins” as it is used in the context of penal substitution theory doesn’t just mean suffering harm due to our sins, but taking the punishment that was due to us for our sins instead of us.
A human example of the first is a criminal shooting and killing an innocent person.
A human example of the second is the murderer being sentenced to the death penalty, but having someone else go to the electric chair instead.
One is a tragedy. The other is an injustice.
Jesus suffered harm due to our sins, like the person who was shot and killed by the criminal. He did not pay the penalty for our sins instead of us, like the person who was sent to the electric chair instead of the criminal who committed the murder. That would be an injustice contrary to the will of God, as stated explicitly in the Bible itself. See the passages quoted in: “The Faulty Foundations of Faith Alone – Part 5: Jesus Paid the Penalty For Our Sins?”
Besides, Jesus didn’t take the penalty that was due to us for our sins. The penalty for our sins is not mere physical death, but spiritual death, meaning an eternity in hell. Jesus didn’t suffer that penalty. He suffered only physical death, not spiritual death and eternal damnation. If Jesus had taken the penalty for our sins, he would would be roasting in hell, now and forever. (I’m speaking according to the literalist view of hell.)
2. Jesus suffered attack and ultimately crucifixion for the collective sins of humanity. This was not a matter of each person’s sins being individually thrown at Jesus, but a matter of the sins of humanity as a whole attacking and killing him. And the greatest agony was not the physical death, but the spiritual agony of being viciously attacked by those whom he loved and wanted to save.
Jesus does suffer for our individual sins, not merely historically, but in the present. Contrary to the unbiblical notion among Protestants that God cannot look upon sin, God sees every sin we commit in every detail, sees how they hurt others, and sees how they hurt us, not only in time, but to eternity. And God suffers seeing the harm we do to ourselves and one another. The Lord restrains us from our evils and sins as much as possible without violating our freedom, which involves getting right down and dirty with our sins and our sinful nature. When we are in internal combat against our evil and sinful desires, thoughts, and actions, it is actually the Lord doing the fighting for us.
So still today, the Lord is in a continual battle against evil, falsity, and sin within each one of us. And there is just as much suffering in this battle as there was in Jesus’ battle against human evil two thousand years ago. It isn’t physical pain. It is the emotional pain of seeing someone you love being attacked, ravaged, and destroyed. It is the anguish of a mother who sees her teenage son descending into crime and drugs, and then getting shot and killed by a rival gang. That is the kind of suffering that Jesus “takes upon himself” in relation to our individual sins.
As for the Protestant notion that our sins are imputed to Jesus so that it is as if he committed them, and his righteousness is imputed to us as if we didn’t commit our sins, that is an abominable error, a vile travesty, and a rank profanation of the biblical truth.
2a. Think of the collective awareness of an extended organized crime family whose members all work together to carry out its illicit and destructive activities. The criminality and criminal actions of each member of that crime family adds together with those of the others to create a collective criminal consciousness and criminal syndicate. There is a shared awareness of the activities of the whole group, which is greater in those higher up in the hierarchy, and lesser in those who are lower down. And given that the Devil (i.e., hell), is a spiritual entity, the shared consciousness and awareness is much greater and more distinctly experienced by the individual evil spirits in hell than it is for people who form crime syndicates here on earth.