The Swedenborgian tradition values freedom of thought in matters of belief. Any precepts of faith that we accept should make sense to our minds and our hearts.
For this reason, the Swedenborgian Church of North America avoids making definitive statements on doctrine, in order that all people of faith might come to their own conclusions. We welcome good faith dissent and discussion around the many ideas contained in Swedenborg’s works, which has produced a rich tradition of theological discourse.
We invite you to contact us if you have any questions, thoughts, or reflections regarding the principles outlined below.
Some general tenets of Swedenborgian spirituality
Swedenborg shared in his theological writings a view of God as infinitely loving and at the very center of our beings. In his view, God is Love and Wisdom itself, quite literally incapable of judgment, punishment or anger. It is our call to be vessels of this love, and to share it, whatever form it may take. The emphasis is not on accepting particular doctrines, but rather on leading a life of love. The oneness of God is emphasized; Divine Love is represented by the Father and Mother imagery of the Bible, and Jesus is the incarnation of Divine Wisdom. Divine Love and Divine Wisdom come together in Divine Action, represented by the Holy Spirit.
One of the most important elements of Swedenborg’s theology is the principle that the Bible has an inner, spiritual meaning within the text, meaning that the stories in the Bible depict deeper spiritual realities within us. The entire biblical story unfolds as a personal spiritual journey from the Garden of Eden in the book Genesis, to the Holy City in the book of Revelation. The many twists and turns found in the stories depict the journey we all must take if we are to be spiritually regenerated. This means that problematic or difficult statements in the Bible do not need to be taken literally.
“The purpose of creation is a heaven of the human race.”
-Emanuel Swedenborg, Divine Providence 323
The spiritual task of life on earth is to overcome our ingrained selfish tendencies and to learn to love God and others more fully. In this way, we enter into closer union with God. It is a life-long process (perhaps an eternal one). This path of growth can be challenging, but it can also help us to learn more about who we are and what we have to bring to the world.
In every moment God is seeking to bring about good. In this way, there is a general flow of providence that is working to draw us all toward the heavenly life. God does not ordain tragedy, but within a tragic or traumatic moment the Lord can bring about amazing good through inspiring those involved to heal themselves and become healers for others, by inspiring communities to come together in love and justice. This stream of providence is always flowing; sometimes we can see it and sometimes we can’t. It is like a cross stitch: on the back it is often quite messy but when you look at it from the front you can see the beauty of the pattern emerge.
Swedenborg reported that the spiritual world was very real, more real than this world, and that each of us has an eternal spiritual body (our soul) that will continue to live on after our earthly bodies give out. This spiritual world is very close to us. It can sometimes be seen through personal mystical experience, intuition, moments of prayer, artistic expression, powerful acts of kindness, loving community, and insight into the deeper truth of scripture as we make it real in the way we live our lives.
Swedenborg reported back that angels were not another species of being, but are all people (of any faith) who have lived good lives by the best that they know and now find their place in heaven. In heaven, angels live in community; they marry, work, play and enjoy diverse pleasures and joys. They also interact with this world, watching out for us, bringing us love and comfort, and helping us to overcome spiritual battles. Swedenborg wrote extensively about the lives of angels in one of his most popular works, Heaven and Hell.
Swedenborg was given to visit and see not only the heavenly realms but the hellish. He came back to report that while God is always drawing us toward love and the life of heaven, this is never done with compulsion. Human beings are always given the freedom to choose a life of selfishness and domination over a life of mutual love. We see hell as a state of being that manifests itself when we are trapped in self-interest and destructive cycles, and are unable or unwilling to respond to the promptings of love that God is offering us. Part of the journey of life, for all of us, is to go through these states of ‘hell’ and come out on the other side more capable of loving ourselves and others in a healthy and effective way.
A God of love would never condemn people to hell for not having the “right” faith. The most important part of our spiritual process is how we use what we know, and how open we are to learning. What we believe only becomes real when we act according to our belief. It is important to know truth and to seek truth about God, but the development of our inner spiritual character depends upon us using the truth we know to love our neighbor. And not just love in an abstract way, but to do good things for their benefit. Salvation, therefore, is an ongoing process of transformation. By serving our neighbor in mutual love, we create an ever larger capacity within ourselves to love God, and we are “saved” from our own worst tendencies.
The idea of the second coming throughout the history of Christianity has always been a little controversial. Is it going to happen in our lifetime? Will there really be wars on the earth and will some people really just disappear from the earth in an instant and be taken up to heaven? Will the dead rise from their graves?
Swedenborg reported that the Second Coming had actually begun to take place in his lifetime – and in fact is still taking place. It is not an actual physical appearance of the Lord, but rather a returning of spirit and truth within each of us.
“At that time people will see the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory.” Mark 13:26 refers not to a physical spectacle but to the way God will come out of the ‘clouds’ or our own foggy understanding to be more clearly revealed to us. This is continually happening as the world grows in love and wisdom.