Christ’s death was needed for our salvation; but it was not to appease an angry Father.
There are several theories in the Christian world about how Jesus Christ saved us from sin and reconciled us to God. Traditional Christianity teaches that the human race had turned away from God and God was angry and ready to destroy the human race. According to this view, Jesus interceded and offered the sacrifice of Himself, to die, to appease the wrath of the Father. This teaches that we are saved by acknowledging that Jesus, by dying on the cross, took upon Himself all the sins of the human race, and by a confession of belief in His sacrifice all of our sins are washed away and we are saved – made acceptable to God and able to enter into heaven. This is why an emphasis on a personal relationship with Jesus Christ is stressed by traditional Christian theology. It is, in their eyes, the way, and the only way, to heaven.
New Christianity teaches that God saved the human race by coming on earth, but He didn’t come merely to die. He came to restore freedom to human beings so we could again be free to choose. He came so that we would have a clear understanding of who God is, and what He asks of us. Before the Lord came on earth, the influence of hell had risen to such a level that it was essentially choking off the life from God with the human race. It was like a completely cloudy and polluted atmosphere which needed to be purified. The Lord cleared the way by taking on the attacks of the hells with His vulnerable humanity, and by His own inner strength putting them under lock and key so that they didn’t over-extend their influence and cause an imbalance. The final battle was the one on the cross – it was not the only battle. When Jesus proclaimed on the cross, “It is finished,” He was declaring that all the work He came to do against the hells was complete. On Easter morning His body was no longer in the tomb because all that was human was unified with the Divine, and made Divine.
By Ian Thompson, PhD, Nuclear Physicist at the Lawrence Livermore National LaboratoryFor the last hundred years, physicists have been using the quantum theory about the universe, but they still do not properly understand of what the quantum world is made.
The previous physics (referred to as “classical” and started by Isaac Newton) used ideas of “waves” and “particles” to picture what makes up the physical world. But now we find that every object in the quantum world sometimes behaves as a particle and sometimes behaves as a wave! Which is it? In quantum physics, objects behave most of the time like waves spreading out as they travel along, but sometimes measurements show objects to be particles with a definite location: not spread out at all. Why is that? It is as though their size and location suddenly change in measurement events. This is quite unlike classical physics, where particles exist continuously with the same fixed shape. In quantum physics, by contrast, objects have fixed locations only intermittently, such as when they are observed. So they only offer us a discrete series of events that can be measured, not a continuous trajectory. Quantum objects, then, are alternately continuous and discontinuous.
Why would we ever expect such a fickle world? Emanuel Swedenborg (1688–1772) has some ideas that might help us. He describes how all physical processes are produced by something mental, or spiritual, and this can be confirmed by reason of the similarity in patterns between the physical processes and their mental causes. In Swedenborg’s words, there are correspondences between the physical and the mental—that they have similar structures and functions, even though mind and matter are quite distinct.
I need to state what correspondence is. The whole natural world is responsive to the spiritual world—the natural world not just in general, but in detail. So whatever arises in the natural world out of the spiritual one is called “something that corresponds.” It needs to be realized that the natural world arises from and is sustained in being by the spiritual world . . . (Heaven and Hell §89)
Although these ideas are not part of present-day science, I still hope to show below that they may have some implications for how science could usefully develop.
Swedenborg’s theory of mind is easy to begin to understand. He talks about how all mental processes have three common elements: desire, thought, and action. The desire is what persists and motivates what will happen. The thought is the exploration of possibilities for actions and the making of an intention. The action is the determined intention, the product of desire and thought that results in an actual physical event.
The [actions] themselves are in the mind’s enjoyments and their thoughts when the delights are of the will and the thoughts are of the understanding therefrom, thus when there is complete agreement in the mind. The [actions] then belong to the spirit, and even if they do not enter into bodily act still they are as if in the act when there is agreement. (Divine Providence §108)
All of the three spiritual elements are essential. Without desire (love), or ends, nothing would be motivated to occur. Without thought, that love would be blind and mostly fail to cause what it wants. Without determined intention, both the love and thought would be frustrated and fruitless, with no effect achieved at all. In everyday life, this intention is commonly called will, but it is always produced by some desire driving everything that happens. Here is the pattern:
Desire + Thought Mental Action (Intention) Physical Action, or Event, in the World
Swedenborg summarizes the relationship between these elements as follows:
All activities in the universe proceed from ends through causes into effects. These three elements are in themselves indivisible, although they appear as distinct in idea and thought. Still, even then, unless the effect that is intended is seen at the same time, the end is not anything; nor is either of these anything without a cause to sustain, foster and conjoin them. Such a sequence is engraved on every person, in general and in every particular, just as will, intellect, and action is. Every end there has to do with the will, every cause with the intellect, and every effect with action. (Conjugial Love §400:1–2)
Now consider Swedenborg’s theory of correspondences mentioned above. He says that there is a similar pattern between the details of the effects and the details of the causes. ”As above, so below,” others have said. So if mental action produces some effect in the physical world, then, by correspondence, we would expect a similar pattern between that physical effect and each of the three elements common to all mental processes. We would expect something physical like desire, then something physical like thought, and finally something physical like mental action. Do we recognize these patterns in physics? And if so, do we recognize them better in classical physics or in quantum physics?
I claim we do recognize them in physics:
We recognize the “something physical like desire” as energyorpropensity. These are what persist physically and produce the result, just like desire does in the mind. They are in both classical and quantum physics.
We recognize the “something physical like thought” as the wave function in quantum physics. This describes all the possibilities, propensities, and probabilities for physical events, just like thought does in the mind.
We recognize the “something physical like mental action” as the actual specific physical outcome, a selection of just one of the possibilities to be made actual. This is a measurement event in quantum physics, the product of energy or propensity and the wave function, just like the product of desire and thought is the mental action.
We will discuss energy and wave functions in later posts, focusing here on the final step of mental actions and physical events. According to Swedenborg’s ideas, the structure of mental processes and the structure of physical events should be similar. So, too, the function of mental processes and the function of physical events should be similar. Can we tell from this whether we should expect a classical world or a quantum world?
One feature of thought and mental action with which we should be familiar is time. That is, we always need time to think! Without any time gap between desiring and intending, we would be acting instinctively and impulsively. Sometimes that works but not always (at least in my experience!). Most often, there has to be some delay, even some procrastination, between having a desire and fulfilling it. That delay gives us time to deliberate and decide on the best action to select. And, most importantly, if it is we who decide when to act, we feel that we act in some freedom. It feels better.
If the physical world corresponds to those mental processes, according to Swedenborg, what hypothesis do we reach about physics? It is that there will be corresponding time gaps between the beginning of some persisting energy or propensity and the selection of physical outcome. Remember that quantum objects are selected and definite only intermittently—when measured, or observed—while classical objects are continuously definite with no gaps. All this leads us to expect that physical events should not be continuous; that is, we should expect a quantum world rather than a classical world.
In the predominately Catholic neighborhood where I grew up, most of my friends went to St. Matthew’s Catholic School while the rest of us went to public school. But religious differences did not separate us. In fact, we never argued about, and hardly ever discussed, religion. What was most important to us was whether or not we could get enough kids together to have a baseball game in the summer or a football game in the fall. In the winter we wondered whether or not the ice at Roger Williams Park was thick enough for a hockey game. On Elmwood Avenue, in Providence Rhode Island, in the 1950s the world of sports was far more important to us than religion!
But I do remember one summer evening, under the street lights, when my friends and I were hanging out on the corner. We were probably around thirteen or fourteen years old, and someone said, “If you don’t believe in Jesus, you can’t go to heaven.” This was not spoken in an accusatory manner. It was a mere, offhand statement that someone had simply heard and was now repeating.
“If you don’t believe in Jesus, you can’t go to heaven.”
While it was no more than a casual utterance, that statement caught my attention. It just didn’t sound right to me. It did not ring true.
Looking back, I can vividly recall that moment in time. There we were, about six or seven of us, gathered together near John’s Market. Some of us were sitting on wooden steps, and some of us were standing. It was around eight in the evening, and the street lights had already come on. I don’t know why, but suddenly I found myself saying,
“If you are a good person you can go to heaven.”
No one argued with me. And that was the end of the discussion. We were on to other subjects…the Yankees…the Red Sox…the batting averages of Mickey Mantle and Ted Williams…. My words had already drifted off into the summer evening, like fading light, but the conviction behind them remains to this day as a firm belief.
Many years later I discovered the Writings of Emanuel Swedenborg, and to my great delight I found out that you could indeed “go to heaven” if you were a “good person.”
But what did it mean to be a “good person”?
According to Swedenborg one becomes a “good person” through a process called “regeneration”—a process through which we gradually become less selfish and more loving. This process is not mystical, mysterious, or instantaneous. Rather, it is, as Helen Keller says, “a change that comes over us as we hope and aspire and persevere in the way of the Divine Commandments.” Swedenborg puts it succinctly: “All can be saved, and those are saved who acknowledge God and live good lives” (Divine Providence 325).
It was clear, then, that good people could be saved.
But what about believing in Jesus? After all, my friend had said, “If you don’t believe in Jesus, you can’t go to heaven.” Are Christians the only ones who get into heaven? Is everybody else condemned? In her book Light in My Darkness, which is a tribute to the teachings of Emanuel Swedenborg, Helen Keller deals with this question eloquently:
I had been told by narrow people that all who were not Christians would be punished, and naturally my soul revolted, since I knew of wonderful men who had lived and died for truth as they saw it in the pagan lands. But in Heaven and Hell number 74 [by Emanuel Swedenborg] I found that ‘Jesus’ stands for Divine Good, Good wrought into deeds, and ‘Christ’ Divine Truth, sending forth new thought, new life and joy into the minds of men; therefore no one who believes in God and lives right is ever condemned (emphasis added).
These words capture the essence of what I was trying to tell my friends on that street corner in Providence on that summer evening so many years ago. And this is why the New Church, with its profound belief in Jesus Christ, and with its loving acknowledgement that all who strive to keep the commandments will be saved, has become my religion. As Jesus said, “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father” (Matthew 7:21).
If I were back on the street corner today with my friends I would tell them that they are right — no one comes into heaven if they do not believe in Love, which is what “Jesus” (the principle) represents and what Jesus (the Divine Human) came into the world to give.
I would also add that we do not get into heaven by merely confessing that we believe in “Love,” or that we believe in “Jesus.” We must prove this by living what Christ teaches — practicing loving-kindness, offering mercy, demonstrating courage, giving understanding, manifesting patience, dedicating ourselves to useful service and, in the process, being filled with every benevolent emotion and noble thought that we associate with a loving and wise God.
In 1957, when I was thirteen years old, I could not possibly have said all these things, nor would I or my friends have been able to understand them. So maybe it was best that the Lord led me to say, quite simply, “If you are a good person you can go to heaven!” And I still believe that this is true!
The entire ministry of Jesus Christ on earth speaks of salvation. For example, the Bible teaches that He is the Truth, the Way and the Life (John 14:6), He comes with His reward and with His work (Is 40:10), and He comes to save the World (John 3:16). Many readers of the Bible can see that the Lord wants us to be “saved,” and to enjoy the salvation He offers. The question, though, is how does the Lord “save” us? Why is everyone not automatically “saved”?
One of the wonderful things about the teachings of the New Church is that we now know being saved is not about following arbitrary rules or joining an exclusive club. Being “saved” means you come to want what the Lord wants. The Lord made us and we are capable of responding to the love that He is continually offering.
This does not happen all at once. Like building a home or a friendship, coming to love what the Lord loves is a process that takes time and effort. Many of us experience moments of insight and perhaps even profound happiness in our lives, but these moments are part of something greater and yet more subtle. Salvation is about the Lord making us into angels, slowly and quietly. The Lord knows us really well. He looks at us in our lives the way a loving parent watches his children. The love a mother feels for a newborn infant is one of the most tender and most powerful feelings, and every mother hopes her baby has a long, exciting and rewarding path through life—her baby has lots to see and do! The same is true when the Lord gazes upon us.
This process does require something of us. It does not happen by default; it is our choice to walk this path. Both in His Word and in the world around us, the Lord is continually showing us how to join Him in His heavenly kingdom. The Lord has a recipe of salvation: His truth, His love, and His work. We need to know what He wants, we need to decide to do it, and then we have to do it. This recipe is simple to follow, and each day is filled with opportunities to apply it in life. We can cooperate with the Lord in the thousand small moments of our day, whether we are answering the day’s e-mail, talking a friend through a tough time, or taking out the garbage.
To show us what He wants, the Lord gives us His Word. He wants us to love our neighbors and to love Him. He wants us not to steal, lie, and murder. He wants us to know that there is a way to be kind to every person we meet. He wants us to know that we don’t have to be evil or selfish. The Lord’s truth is the first ingredient, and it tells us how our happiness—and salvation—is achieved. The Lord’s love is the second ingredient. There is no more abundant resource in the entire universe. We are all alive because of His love, and we have to accept His love if we are going to be saved. Once we have an idea of what the Lord wants—no matter how small or basic—we have to align what we want with what He wants. This is how we accept the Lord’s love. While it may seem a daunting task to change what we want, the Lord makes this easy for us too. He does not demand that we magically change what we want—He only asks that we choose to do what He wants. The teachings of the New Church bring us the good news that we aren’t always responsible for our thoughts and feelings, but the Lord provides us with the power to choose what thoughts and feelings we nurture in our lives. We can choose to do what the Lord wants even when a part of us resists it; this is accepting the Lord’s love into our lives. A wonderful promise from the Lord is that if we decide to do His will, we will slowly come to enjoy doing His will.
The third ingredient to salvation is to put the first two (His truth and His love) together in action. If we think we know what the Lord wants, and decide to do it, all that is left is doing it. When we build a home, we must actually build something. When we build a friendship, we have to do more than think nice thoughts about our friend. We work at it. People are not saved by passing a multiple-choice test on what the Lord wants, and they are not saved by passionate pleas and praise. People are saved by the quiet, subtle, life-changing work of coming to love what the Lord loves. None of this can happen without the Lord’s cooperation. He is always ready to help in an instant—all He asks is that we try, and He will rush to our side.
But what about when we stumble? Can we make so many mistakes that we are hopeless? One of the comforting truths of the Word is that setbacks and failures are never the end of the story. We all stumble, we all make mistakes, and we are all human. Our loving Lord knows this too. When we are building a house, sometimes we make a mistake; we might even have to tear down a wall or two to fix the mistake. When we are building a friendship, we can say or do something that damages that friendship, but we can apologize and strive to make it right. With salvation, though, we are doing it with the Lord, and He never gives up and never withholds forgiveness.
The Lord does ask us to keep trying. Because His gift of salvation is a process, we can never truly say that we are done in this life. There is always more to learn, and we can always develop a deeper appreciation of His truth. We can always be kinder than we used to be and live the Lord’s love more than the day before. The more we learn and do, the more we love—which will let us learn and do even more.
We really shouldn’t worry about whether we are ‘saved’. There is no real ‘finish line’ to cross. Angels in heaven strive and work to be better people, just as we do on earth. They love their work, they strive to be better, and they live more and more in the Lord’s love to eternity. We will do the same thing after we die, so long as we have tried to live well according to the Lord’s Word. The Lord cares for two things more than our salvation: our freedom and our happiness.
The reason He wants us to be saved is because He knows that we will be happiest if we join Him in His heavenly kingdom. But He guards our freedom most carefully of all; without our freedom, without an ability to choose, we cannot come to love Him or be happy or be saved. From just His love He would save every person in the world, no matter what, but from His wisdom He knows this would not leave us in freedom. Instead, He gives us every tool in His Word, every moment in our lives, and every chance at forgiveness—all in the loving hope that we will choose happiness in the salvation He offers.
In general there are with man spirits of such a quality as is the man himself. If he is avaricious, there are spirits who are avaricious; if he is haughty, there are haughty spirits; if he is desirous of revenge, there are spirits of this character; if he is deceitful, there are the like spirits. Man summons to himself spirits from hell in accordance with his life. The hells are most exactly distinguished according to evils of cupidities, and according to all the differences of evil. Thus there is never any lack of spirits like himself to be called out and adjoined to a man who is in evil.
The evil spirits with man are indeed from the hells, but while they are with him they are not in hell, but taken out from thence. The place where they then are is midway between hell and heaven, and is called the World Of Spirits…. In this world called the world of spirits there are also good spirits who likewise are with man. Into that world also come men immediately after death, who after tarrying a while there, are either sent away into the lower earth, or are let down into hell, or taken up into heaven, each one according to his life. In that world, the hells are terminated above, being there closed or opened at the good pleasure of the Lord; and in that world, heaven is terminated below; thus it is an interval that distinguishes heaven from hell. From this it may now be known what the world of spirits is. When evil spirits who are with man are in that world, they are not in any infernal torment, but are in the delights of the love of self and of the world, as also of all the pleasures in which the man himself is; for they are in every thought and every affection of the man; but when they are sent back into their hell, they return into their former state.
Money has a cultural hold on all of us. It is quite hypnotic. Money has put us into a trance so profound that our cognitive ability has diminished to the point of simply knowing the price of things at the expense of being able to discern the true value of things.
Like modern physics, we have divorced ourselves from a life of meaning and values. In America, money is how one keeps score.
Money thwarts our search for meaning yet it exerts a powerful pressure on us that is constant. It is hard to become spiritual when our stomachs are empty and we have no roof over our heads. Even worse, spiritual growth has been almost completely abandoned as a means to finding happiness. Instead, we will not be happy until we keep up with and finally surpass the Joneses.
We better ourselves by bettering someone else. This economic philosophy is contrary to God’s great commandment of loving the neighbor.
Do not get me wrong. Money is important. But more and more, it is being made from cunning and cleverness rather than from a sincere desire to be of service to others. In most cases, we seek to help ourselves rather than to improve the well-being of others.
The big problem is that we have separated the acquiring of money from the enrichment of our innermost being. Making money enters into everything we do EXCEPT for our spiritual growth. But making money should be intimately involved with our spiritual growth as well!
Why? Because, making money should be the “fruit” of our God-given talents. These talents are lost in the corporate scheme of things where one is swimming among sharks and looking to gain some advantage.
We are in our current financial crisis because greed, envy, and self-identity have taken the cockpit in the acquisition of money. Rather than happiness, any success at making money leads to fear in keeping it—to the point that nothing can be really enjoyed anymore.
Surveys often show that many of the most “successful” people feel they are missing something in their lives. Acquiring riches can dull us to the richness of life and love. Such individuals have not paid attention to their souls. This type of success poisons everything.
All wars, all forms of social injustice, crime, and the destruction of the environment, emerge from this blind striving towards wealth and power.
How we acquire money and spend it shows WHAT WE ARE. We are looting America and God’s gifts.
How do we escape this financial and social captivity?
First we must not live above our means. Next we should work on our relationships with friends and family (before we find ourselves making this discovery on our deathbeds). Finally, we must either do the jobs we have from a sincere principle of mutual love and service, or find new ways to make a living that offer us true self-worth and deep satisfaction.
Follow this simple path and you will begin to experience heaven itself.
When it comes to the question of whether you will go to heaven, like Woody Allen, you might want to keep your options open.
“I don’t believe in an afterlife, although I am bringing a change of underwear.” (Woody Allen)
And you may wonder if there really is a heaven, is religion of any relevance? You ask “Can’t I get to heaven my way? Why should my beliefs make any difference to my fate?” If you haven’t killed anyone or done anything really bad why worry about it?
Inner character needed to go to heaven?
As a child I used to believe that whoever does more good things than bad things will go to heaven. So I wanted to keep a tally of right and wrong things that I was doing. However, later I came to understand that the afterlife is not a reward or punishment for the kind of life one lives on earth: instead one’s eternal destiny can be thought of as the fulfillment of what already has begun to grow in one.
In other words inner personality is defined by the intentions behind behaviour; the motives that have grown through life and come to rule the heart. It is not necessarily what comes into your mind what reveals this true character but rather what you do with those thoughts or would like to if you could. The conclusion to this line of thought is that this spiritual state is what determines whether you are suited to go to heaven — suited to a heavenly life consisting of mutual goodwill and fairness is personal dealings.
And so those who can enter into the heavenly sphere after death are those who have allowed the heavenly state to come into their lives on earth: who, perhaps unknowingly, have been undergoing a process of spiritual growth by being liberated from their self-centred materialistic tendencies.
Religious beliefs needed to go to heaven?
If what one feels with the heart and does with the hands, is at least as important as what one believes with the head, then religious belief can be seen as only one dimension to religiosity.
Jesus Christ claimed “I am the way and the truth and the life.” (John 14:6)
And I happen to think that praying to my personal deity helps my spiritual orientation to life. For me, religion points to an aspect of life that rises above the usual preoccupations with individual self, transcending worldly needs and desires, when we look at things from a broader, less self-centred, more universal perspective. It has the perspective of eternity. It offers me an understanding of the deeper problems around with meaningful answers to questions concerning suffering and evil that point me to a heavenly supernatural realm of being beyond our ordinary experience — in other words to go to heaven when I die.
Jesus also suggested that religious belief is insufficient for heaven. In his sermon on the Mount, he said:
“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.” (Matt 7:21)
According to Swedenborg you are already in heaven in the spiritual, subconscious level of your mind when you recognise and acknowledge what is Divine. Consciously, you may have taken on all sorts of beliefs and yet have a kind of inner perception and following of spiritual principles which means you have not been hateful, selfish, nor lived in other bad ways. A rational humanist or an agnostic may live a better life than those who are affiliated with a religion. Swedenborg wrote that after death, for those who are willing to learn, and this is their free choice, there will be a time of preparation when mistaken religious and notions can be amended by what is more deeply good and true so that they can see in heavenly light. Then one can go to heaven.
“I am not sure exactly what heaven will be like, but I know that when we die and it comes time for God to judge us, he will not ask, ‘How many good things have you done in your life?’ rather he will ask, ‘How much love did you put into what you did?” (Mother Teresa)
Copyright 2011 Stephen Russell-Lacy
Author of Heart, Head & Hands Swedenborg’s perspective on emotional problems