FAQ'sIn this section you can read answers to many frequently asked questions about the New Church teachings. If you don't see the question and answer you are looking for, don't hesitate to ask your own in the comment section of the "contact form," which is accessible from the top of this page.
God? - or the Son of God??
A. The term, son, like the term, father, is descriptive of a relationship. In spiritual terms this may not only be a relationship of persons but of essential qualities or states. Thus "a wish is father to the thought," or we may speak of "the fathers of Confederation." So "the Son" in this case refers to the truth, or "the Word" that was made flesh and dwelt among us as the outward expression of His own Divine Love for the salvation of the human race. Still, Jesus was literally "the Son of God" in that He had no other father but "the power of the Highest."
Why did Jesus Pray to the Father...?
A. In taking on a body of flesh and blood the Lord assumed the outward limitations of a finite man even as He retained the inner spirit of the Divine. So He was both God and man, the combination providing for a uniquely Divine and human consciousness, which He adopted specifically so that He could confront and overcome the evils of the day on the natural plane. He began His life, as every infant does, with an extremely limited understanding, but through the course of His life He grew in knowledge and wisdom so beautifully that by the time of His death He had perfected all His human faculties and so "glorified" the natural as to make it one with the Divine. But in the process there were frequent vacillations of state: sometimes He recognized His own Divinity very clearly (see John 10:30, 12:43 and Luke 4:21, for examples), and at other times He felt quite separated and "alone" (see John 6:37; 17 and Mark 15:34). The closer He came to the end of His life the more He "connected" with His inner nature until the final temptation on the cross when He despaired of His mission one final time, only to rise again on the third day having completely "overcome the world."
About the Trinity...
A. In Hebrew "God" generally is a plural noun, therefore any pronoun used for God must also be plural. But the plurality is not one of persons, it is one that speaks to the great variety and multiplicity of the truths of His wisdom. Some in the traditional church like to think God is talking with the angels while He is creating the earth and its people, but that is based on the assumption that angels were created first, which we dispute (see below). In any case there is only one verse that uses plural pronouns for God in the creation story, and that is the verse in which He proposes to create man (Gen. 1:26). And in that case He is looking to create two kinds of "man," male and female, which two forms reflect His own dual nature as Divine love and wisdom. In every reference before and after that God speaks of Himself as one.
In any case God is infinite, and what is infinite cannot be divided into three "persons," each of whom is God and yet, as the traditional diagram at the left illustrates, not God.
About the Holy Spirit
A. The personal pronoun (he) is not in the original Greek of the New Testament referring to the Holy Spirit. In the King James translation of 1611 either masculine or feminine gender was assigned to all nouns - much like today's French - even though it had nothing to do with what we call gender today. So the pronoun, he, was assigned to "the spirit of truth" when today we would more likely use the word, this, or perhaps "it." What is misleading to us might have been clear to a 17th century reader, except that the doctrinal convictions of those reading it unfortunately predisposed them to think of the Holy Spirit as a person.
What about the Rapture?
A. The term as it is used in many Christian churches refers to the state of those who will be caught up to God and saved at the time of the Last Judgment. There are many different theories about this, all drawn from literal readings of Scripture, but since the New Church does not adhere to a literal interpretation of the Word we do not believe in a literal or physical Rapture. Rather we believe that those who are willing and prepared will "see" the Lord in His second coming with the eyes of their spirit, that is, their understanding, and they will be "caught up" in the joy and excitement of that new understanding, thus new faith and love.
What do you mean "all can be saved"?
A. Remember Jesus Himself referred to "other sheep" in His flock (John 10:16). Since sheep symbolically mean all who live a good life and are willing to follow the Good Shepherd, we believe these include all who do eventually accept Him, even if (for reasons beyond their control) they were not able to do so in this world. It is the willingness to believe and the effort to live right that qualify the spirit, and such a spirit will have no trouble acknowledging the Lord in the spiritual world after death. Still, we do not believe that "all" are saved, only those who actually do receive the Lord as soon as they are given a fair chance.
How can you trust Swedenborg to be correct?
A. First of all we don't consider them Swedenborg's interpretations. We believe they are revelations from the Lord Himself, given through Swedenborg because he was uniquely prepared and positioned in history to be able to receive the information and communicate it accurately. He certainly was a remarkable man, but even he said the teachings were not from him but from the Lord. In addition, however, we find that almost every discipline of human thought tends to confirm what Swedenborg wrote, if not in detail still in general, and the more we learn the more consistency we discover - just the opposite of what happens in many religions. Finally, we find that his writing wonderfully integrates and explains many of the apparent contradictions of the literal sense. In other words, it all adds up and really demonstrates the power of Scripture.
What about "fallen angels"?
A. It doesn't. There is only one passage that speaks in terms like this and it is clearly a metaphorical reference to Babylon. See Isaiah 14:12, but consider the context beginning at verse 3. The reference to "Lucifer" is to the king of Babylon whom the prophet condemns for his arrogance, predicting that he will be cut down. Of course Babylon also represents a spiritual state of arrogance in ourselves, and we, too, may be cut down (and go to hell) if we persist in that state, but no angel in heaven has ever "fallen from grace" and gone to hell.
What about Predestination?
A. We prefer to turn the question around. If God did not foresee everything how could He possibly provide what is needed in each moment? Providence cannot work in general without working in every particular, or the whole thing comes apart. Still, foreseeing is not controlling. It is always conditional, just as we say to a child "You're going to hurt yourself!" -- but what we mean is that she will hurt herself if she continues as she is going. So God foresees the consequences of every choice we make and provides accordingly, but in the moment we make a new choice He foresees other implications and again provides accordingly. It is a concept that is extremely hard for us to fathom, but we accept that God in His infinite wisdom is more than capable of this marvelous process.
What about Reincarnation?
A. The idea that a person keeps coming back into various earthly forms until he or she finally "gets it right" seems to us to destroy the whole principle of human free will. Besides, one doesn't have to "get it right" in order to be saved, one only has to love God and serve the neighbour as best he can and the Lord will take care of the rest. Angelic life is not static but dynamic, and we continue to learn in heaven to all eternity - based on the character and loves we have cultivated in this world. In response to the so-called evidence of reincarnation, for example the knowledge of things that one has never in this life experienced, we believe that spirits have such close communication with people on earth that on some rare occasions the memory of a spirit who has experienced certain things may be superimposed on the mind of a person who has not had that experience, making it look and feel as if he did. See the book, Heaven and Hell, paragraph no. 256.
the Relationship between a Husband and Wife
A. Paul was a Jew raised with Old Testament traditions that included this idea (see Numbers 30), which he took literally (Paul's epistles, being sermons and commentaries on the Gospels, do not contain an internal, spiritual sense like the rest of the Scriptures). But in the spiritual sense there is no thought of men ruling over women. Rather a husband and wife represent the human will and understanding in a reciprocal partnership, one that often requires the understanding to lead, and check, and moderate the inclinations of the will. Even so, without the will, the understanding is pretty lifeless, and even Paul admitted that "the man also is (or lives) through the woman; but all things are from God."
How can there be Marriage in Heaven?
A. He didn't. Read Matthew 22:30 very carefully. What He said was that "in heaven they neither marry nor are given in marriage." But are they "married"? It's not just a quibble. First of all the Lord was answering the questions of those who didn't even believe in the afterlife, and who held firmly to the idea that in marriage a man virtually owned his wife. She was generally considered chattel along with his other goods, in no way having an equal relationship with him. In addition, the words, marry and marriage, refer to the wedding ceremonies that set up these contracts, not a real loving union. So of course the Lord denied that sort of marriage in the afterlife. But beyond that, marriage is a universal symbol in the Gospels for commitment, especially the cooperative unity or integrity of thought and will, and the fact is that if we don't have that sort of integrity in this life we won't have it in the next life either. But if we do then that it is sustained by the Lord and that state of spiritual "marriage" can and does continue in the spiritual world.
What about Divorce?
A. Our teachings follow the instruction given by the Lord in Matthew 19, that is to say, divorce is permitted under strict conditions - to free a man or woman from an unfaithful partner - in which case the innocent party is allowed to remarry. But any other conditions - and there are many - that may cause unhappiness or stress in a marriage are, we believe, to be resolved through separation rather than divorce. The simple reason for this is the vows that a couple make when they marry and which cannot under any circumstances be neglected. But the deeper reason is that there is a spiritual bond established by marriage (and by the sexual relationship in particular) that cannot be broken in good faith. So if a divorce occurs for any reasons short of adultery then the parties are not free to remarry, since doing so would produce a kind of spiritual confusion for all the parties involved.
Where are you on forgiveness?
A. "Forgiveness" comes from a root word that means to let go, or send away. In the act of forgiveness, then, we let go of our grievances against a person. This does not mean that we have to "forget" what happened, or that we won't learn important lessons from the experience of being hurt. It may be necessary to exercise real caution in any future dealings with a person who has committed an offense, but this does not mean we cannot love him. In fact Christian love is the love of Christ, which includes His love for the salvation of all, and thus His provision of what is good and true for every person who is willing to receive it. We can certainly have that love, and we can have it unconditionally, either by affirming the good we find in a person or by promoting it where it appears to be lacking.