One perfectly natural desire is to want to tell the future. We pick up our ears when we hear of foretold events. Who would not want a few days foreknowledge of the stock market for example?
Swedenborg could tell the future
A few incidents in the life of Emanuel Swedenborg suggest he had precognition.
Swedenborg wrote to John Wesley accurately predicting the time of his own death. The clinical psychologist Wilson van Dusen describes other examples of his psychic powers. (Chapter 7 Presence of Other Worlds).
Yet Swedenborg himself considered his gift of being able to tell the future of remarkable little importance and we are reliant more on the reports of others amazed at this phenomena than from his own pen. More common today is the idea that a dream — which usually portraits unconscious central life concerns in a symbolic way — can be precognitive by representing their future implications.
Some of Swedenborg’s dreams tell the future
Some of the dreams of Emanuel Swedenborg have been called precognitive. His Journal of Dreams is probably the oldest and longest series of recorded dreams in existence. It reports dreams and visions occurring in a critical formative period in the life of this gifted scholar. His dreams tended to be symbolic although he did venture his own interpretations.
“That which had been represented to me in a dream some days before happened to me; for in one day I was exposed to two deadly perils; this indeed happened to me, so that had not God then been my protector, I should have given away my life in two places. The particulars I will not describe.” (Dream 200)
In another dream he described dining with a priest and taking away from the table two silver cups. These he said symbolized what he had learned about the spiritual life. He wasn’t giving credit to himself for this valuable knowledge.
“I learned much about spiritual things; which is meant by the silver cups which I wished to send back to the priest; that is to say, to the glory of God I would again give to the church universal in some manner.”(Dream 63)
The dream was revealing something about his future role as a theologian. At that time he was far from knowing he would later produce 33 volumes of theology.
He described how he saw the church of the Moravian Brethren in a previous dream recognizing it when he came upon it in real life.
“Their church was represented to me three months before, just as I have since seen it, and all there were clad like priests.” (Dream 202)
How can anyone tell the future if it hasn’t yet happened?
The way I see it is that dreams show our unconscious feelings and insights. The event depicted in a dream sometimes actually takes place. If things in a dream later turn out as predicted, had this been inevitable all along? Or do they actually happen in waking consciousness because a dream message, such as an unconsciously expressed warning, went unheeded?
Parapsychological research (reported by Harvey Irwin and Caroline Watt) has unearthed some instances in which the event not only was avoided or prevented but seemed bound to have occurred had the person perceiving the future not intervened.
Boundary between the material and psychic realms
For many people, God, alone can tell the future. If so, perhaps God might see fit to tell the future to a person. Also possibly anyone who feels close to God may be more intuitively in tune with what the divine foresees. Is there a boundary between our wanting to tell the future and the higher knowledge of the spiritual world which transcends space and time? I agree with the view that these worlds were meant to be separate. Only for special reasons can the knowledge of one show in the other.
Swedenborg’s views on future knowledge.
In general Swedenborg himself felt knowledge of the future would threaten one’s humanity. He said the essence of being human is to be able to act from freedom according to reason. He argued as follows: if each of us knew for certain what will happen then we would no longer think interiorly how we should act or how we should live: our rationality and liberty would be diminished; rationality to understand what is right and good and liberty to think what is right and do what is good if we are able.
So for him in order to have happiness we must not know what the future holds. It would involve many things which would upset us. Religious people tend to believe that true happiness comes from trusting that God looks ahead and provides for one’s timeless spiritual needs.
“Do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.” (Matt 6)
For those of faith, the future will be happy if they go with the flow trusting in the stream of providence.
“Every smallest fraction of a moment of a person’s life entails a chain of consequences extending into eternity. Indeed every one is like a new beginning to those that follow, and so every single moment of the life both of his understanding and of his will is a new beginning. And since the Lord foresaw from eternity what man was going to be like in the future and even into eternity it is clear that providence is present in the smallest individual things.
(Swedenborg, Arcana Coelestia section 3854)
Copyright 2011 Stephen Russell-Lacy
Author of Heart, Head & Hands Swedenborg’s perspective on emotional problems