Ten Questions About The Life After Death
A lecture by The Rt. Rev. Philip N. Odhner,
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The knowledge of eternal life is most important to the good of religion with men. The question of whether there is a life after death, and of what quality is that life is one of vital concern to us, not only when we are confronted with the death of those whom we love or with our own death, but also in connection with our consideration of every problem of religion. Without a knowledge of eternal life we cannot possibly understand God's purpose in creating us, and without this we cannot grasp the nature of His Love, nor the nature of His will with us. Ignorance of the spiritual world may lead men to the doubt and denial of all things spiritual, and thus leave our religion a mere materialistic, worldly thing, without reason and without life.
Emanuel Swedenborg, the Swedish scientist, philosopher and theologian of the Eighteenth Century, stated that he was permitted by the Lord to be with the angels, and to speak with them as man with man, and that he was commissioned by the Lord to write down and publish the things thus revealed to him for the sake of mankind. To quote from the introduction of his work, "Heaven and Hell," "The man of the Church at this day knows scarcely anything about heaven and hell, or about his life after death, although all things are set forth and described in the Word; yea, many even who have been born within the Church deny them, saying in their heart, 'Who has come thence and told us?' Lest therefore such a spirit of denial, which prevails especially with those who have much worldly wisdom, should also infect and corrupt the simple in heart and the simple in faith, it has been granted to me to associate with angels and to talk with them as man with man, and also to see the things which are in the heavens, and those which are in the hells, and this for thirteen years; also from what I have thus heard and seen I am now permitted to describe these, in the hope that ignorance may thus be enlightened, and unbelief dissipated." (Heaven and Hell, no. l)
Because we believe that the wonderful things revealed about heaven and hell through Swedenborg constitute an entirely new basis for the thought of mankind in the understanding of spiritual things, we present here the answers given in his Writings to ten questions commonly asked about the life after death.
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1. Is the spiritual world a real world?
The spiritual world is a real world. By comparison with it, this world is relatively unreal. In the spiritual world there are all things that are in this world, and many more of which we are not conscious while we live here in the body. There are lands, and cities, forests, fields and oceans, as in this world. Everyone there has a body as in this world, with its five senses, and a mind, with its love and thought. The only difference is that the senses are keener after the death of the material body, the thought clearer, and the love more free.
So real is that world that if you were to die at this moment you would come into the consciousness of your spirit without noticing any difference in your surroundings. You would see the same room, the same city with its buildings. You would not realize in any way that you had passed into another world except that you would be surrounded by different people. Swedenborg relates that many men, on coining into the consciousness of the spirit, which takes place shortly after their death, refuse to believe that they are not still in the natural world before they have been instructed and shown by many wonderful experiments that this is indeed the case.
Many at this day think of angels and spirits as ghost-like creatures of no substance and form, as breaths of wind with no feeling or determined thought. This is because of the materialistic thought that prevails in the world, even in the churches, which supposes nothing to be real unless it is material, and unless it can be perceived through the senses of the physical body. Such people say that if there were a spiritual world, they could see it, and that surely by the aid of all our scientific instruments, by which we pierce into the inmost things of nature and by which we see into the farthest corners of the universe, we could detect some evidence of it.
The simplest reflection on the nature of your own spirit should be sufficient to dispel the fantasies of this materialistic thought. Consider for yourself, do you not live? Do you not have loves and thoughts? Are these not real things? The fact is that your love and thought are what direct your whole life, and that they are so real that nothing else can have any reality to you except that which touches or affects your love and thought. Can you mention anything that has any real meaning, apart from those things that enter and affect the love and thought of men? In a very true sense, love and its thought are the only real things to you. And yet has anyone ever seen love or thought with his eyes, or felt it with the hand? Can you measure them with a yardstick, or weigh them on scales? Has any microscope ever revealed any evidence of what they are in themselves? Or has any telescope revealed their presence in the far reaches of the universe? And yet would you say that for this reason they are not real, and that they have no substance and form?
The truth is that man's spirit and all things of it have nothing in common with nature and the material world, except while the spirit lives in the natural body. It has a spiritual substance and form which are the verimost realities, and yet which are not material and therefore have not the properties of matter. It exists in a spiritual world of its own, apart from the spaces and times of the natural world. Many people ask, Where is heaven? To this the Lord replied, "The "kingdom of heaven is within you." By this the Lord did not mean inside your body, in any spatial sense, but that the spiritual world is in the realm of your love and thought. These are spaceless, and yet they are within all natural things that have life. The spiritual world is therefore in and around us, as the reality which creates and brings forth all things in the natural world, just as our own spirit forms our body in the womb. When our body dies we come into the consciousness of that inner world. We do not fly off to some star at the end of the universe; we merely come into a consciousness of that which is within and above the material sphere. We then sense spiritual things even as the spirit in the body sensed natural things.
That the spiritual world is more real than the natural world can be seen from this, that in this world men can hide their real thoughts and feelings by means of the natural body and their material surroundings. They can pretend to be that which they are not, using natural things to mask their true character. So much is this so that we often hear people say that the whole world is nothing but a sham, most of the men in it being hypocrites to such an extent that You can't count on their being what they appear to be. In the spiritual world this is not so. There the love and thought of men appear in their own true form. There is nothing with which to hide that form. Thus in the spiritual world things really are what they appear to be, whereas in this natural world they often are not what they appear to be. In this world a man may appear selfish when he is unselfish. He may appear old when in spirit he is young. He may appear generous when at heart he is a miser, and so on. In the spiritual world this is not so. The body and form of man in that world reflects in every detail the true character of his love and thought.
2. Does our personality survive the death of the body?
After death a man lives on in every respect the same as before except that he is no longer clothed with a material body, but lives in a spiritual body which is the true form of his love. Man retains everything of his love and its affections, every thing of his thought, everything of his memory. The whole of what we call his personality continues without the least change. Indeed the truth is that a man's character there comes into its own, for there is much in our spirit which we cannot express in this world due to imperfections of the natural body, but the spiritual body is of living spiritual substance and not of dead material substance, and in it the love and thought of man are imaged forth perfectly. The face, the hands, everything of the spiritual body reveal to all the character of the man. Certain changes would be brought about in our external appearance because of this. Those of deformed body in this world would not so appear in the other world, since such deformity is of the material alone, and not of the spirit. Those who are old and worn out with age would appear once again young and beautiful, since age with its decrepitude and wrinkles are of the material body, and not of the spirit. On the other hand, those of a deformed spirit, those who are selfish and avaricious and cruel, would appear in the spiritual world as ugly and monstrous, thus as their true selves, no matter how young and beautiful they may have seemed here.
3. Do we meet again those whom we have known and loved?
Distance in the spiritual world is entirely according to the quality of a man's love. Those are spiritually far from us whose loves are very different from our own, and those are near to us who have a similar love. From this law of the spiritual world we often speak in this life, saying that those we love are "very near" to us, and that those for whom we have no affection are remote from us. From this law of the spirit we can see that all who love each other meet in the life after death. Husbands and wives, children, parents, friends, all who love each other are re-united, and live together or near each other according to the nearness of their loves.
In heaven, however, only genuine loves survive. If we have loved someone here on a false basis, thinking them to be that which they are not, this is there made known and a consequent separation takes place. There are no natural relationships in the other life, but spiritual relationships, which arc those of love. A man then is not your brother because he had the same natural father and mother, but only if his love is of a similar quality. If there is a spiritual affinity as to love, then a natural brother is also your spiritual brother; if not, then a separation takes place, even as happens in this world between brothers who have nothing in common spiritually.
In a wide sense all in heaven are brothers, or sisters, since they all acknowledge the Lord as their common Father, but they are close or remote according to their loves. From this fact it also follows that the relationship of parents towards their children becomes a brotherly and sisterly relationship, and does not remain that of parents towards their children. This is in accord with the Lord's words, "Call no man your father upon the earth; for one is your Father, which is in heaven." (Matthew 23:9.) Still it is a spiritual as well as a natural law that children derive from their parents a similar genius and a similar love. For this reason it would follow that those who have been in this relation on earth would for the most part live near each other in the life after death, if their spiritual development has been similar.
The joy of the reunion in heaven of those who have loved each other on the earth is boundless, and can only be measured by their joy in continuing to live together in the perpetual growth of their love and friendship into eternity.
4. Does marriage continue after death?
The teaching of the Writings of Swedenborg is that the genuine love of one man and one wife is the most blessed and happy that God gives to human beings. This love is called Conjugial Love, and is an inmost union of the two in love and thought and in every word and deed. In all true marriages on earth something of this love is present, and such a marriage continues on into eternity and is the inmost source of all heavenly joy and happiness. Those marriages on earth in which there is nothing of this true love are of themselves dissolved at death, since such marriages have been of the body alone, and not of the spirit. In this case, if the husband and wife are such as can enter into heavenly society, that is, if they are nevertheless unselfish people who have love to God and love towards their neighbors, a suitable partner is found for each of them with whom they can receive Conjugial Love, and with whom they can live in increasing happiness into eternity. Here again the same law holds true, that a similar love unites, and a dissimilar love separates; but in the case of man and wife the love is not only similar, but it is one with them both.
The Lord said, "They who are held worthy to attain to another age and to the resurrection from the dead, neither marry nor are given in marriage; for they cannot die anymore." This has been interpreted to mean that the angels are sexless, and that they do not live in a married state. But reflection will show that this teaching does not refer to the marriage of man and woman, but to the marriage of love and faith in each heart and mind. Otherwise, why should the words be added, "For they cannot die anymore"? It would make no sense to say this in connection with the marriage of man and woman. On the other hand the spiritual marriage of man's love and faith in a good life is what brings him spiritual life. If this spiritual marriage has not taken place on earth, it cannot take place in heaven; and if it has taken place on earth, nothing can ever bring about its destruction in the life after death. Compare also the teachings in Genesis 5: 1, 2, "In the day that God created man in the likeness of God made He him; male and female created He them; and blessed them and called their name Adam." Here it is evident that man and woman together are the likeness of God and His image. They together are as the Lord said, "one flesh," and to think that they do not remain such after death is contrary to all the perception of those who are blessed with that true love which is called Conjugial.
Swedenborg testifies that all in the heavens live in the married state with that partner who is one with them in love.
5. What is the form of society in the spiritual world?
The teaching is that the angels for the most part live in societies, larger and smaller, corresponding to the cities and towns of this earth. Some also live apart, as it were in rural districts. Each society has its own form of government, just as each country in this world. The form of government is adapted to the genius of the people in those societies. But they are all alike in this, that the government is one of mutual love, and is administered through instruction. There is no necessity of compulsion since all in the heavens are in the love of the common good.
Wealth in heaven is measured only by the reception of wisdom from the Lord. This the angels receive each in accord with the use which he performs to his society. All their necessities, such as their spiritual food, clothing, and shelter, are given to them freely, in accordance with the needs of their functions and offices. There are rich and poor there, in the sense that some receive more of wisdom than others, and some perform more exalted uses than others. There is however no sense of proprietorship, as all acknowledge that what they have is from and of the Lord alone, and each one wills that all that is his should belong to everyone else. According to the teaching in the New Testament, the rulers consider themselves as the servants of all. All contribute to the common good, and receive the requirements of their happiness from the common good.
In this the form of heaven is as the form of the human body, in which each part contributes to the health of the whole, and each receives from the whole that which is necessary for its own good health. In fact the societies of heaven perform functions for each other corresponding in every way with the uses which the different parts of the body perform for each other. The whole of heaven is thus like one Grand Man, and is so seen by the Lord. This Grand Man may be called the Body of the Lord, in which He lives, and in which He rules as the soul of man lives and rules in his body.
6. Do we have occupations and employments there?
Many people entertain the idea that heaven is a place of eternal rest, and by this they understand a place where men do no work, but sit around in eternal idleness. Nothing could be further from the truth. Every man was created to be of service to the human race. All joy and happiness which are genuine come to man from the performance of the service for which he was created. Even in this world we can see that a man who does nothing, who contributes nothing to the good of his fellow men, cannot be happy. In heaven everyone performs some function or office in accordance with his genius and abilities, and in the performance of this work lies all heavenly joy for him.
The teaching that heaven is a perpetual Sabbath does not mean that the angels do nothing but attend church services and sing hymns or play on harps. By the perpetual Sabbath is meant rest from the combat against the evils of their self-love. They do indeed glorify God, but this they do in the performance of their daily work. To glorify God means, "to bring forth the fruits of love; that is, faithfully, sincerely, and diligently to do the work of one's own function, for this is of the love of God and of the love of the neighbor. And this is the bond of society and its good. Bythis God is glorified, and then by worship at stated times. Have you not read these words of the Lord, Herein is my Father glorified, that ye bear much fruit, and ye shall become my disciples?" (Conjugial Love, no.9.)
Every man is judged in the spiritual world according to the quality of his life on this earth for the reason that his love is according to his life, and all judgment in the spiritual world is according to the love. If the love is selfish, its quality is evil. If the love is unselfish, its quality is good. A man's character takes on a certain fixation in his bodily life in this world, according to his free choice and determination in spiritual things. For this reason the essential quality and order of his loves is not changed by death. Nevertheless no man is to be judged by the external appearances of his quality in this life. It is his ruling love, his ruling motive, that determines a man's true character, and this is not always seen in this life, but becomes evident in the life after death.
Although man's essential character and ruling love remains the same after death, this does not mean that he does not progress. Every spirit progresses in the perfection of his life, increasing in knowledge, in wisdom, and in the extension of his .usefulness into eternity. This may be illustrated by the fact that as we progress in age in this world our loves, our essential character, become more and more fixed, but that we never cease to learn, and grow continually in wisdom of life.
8. Does everyone go to Heaven?
Every human being whatsoever that has been born into the world, even if he has lived but for a moment, is an immortal soul, and lives to eternity in the spiritual world. The question as to whether all in that spiritual world are in heaven, or whether some go to hell is clarified by this; that every man lives there in his own love, and if his love is unselfish, a love of God and the neighbor, he is in heaven, since heaven is made by those loves; if his love on the other hand is a selfish love, so that he loves self and the world above all things, then he is in hell, since those loves make hell, and are hell in themselves. The fire and brimstone of hell mentioned in the Bible are nothing more or less than the activity of the evil loves of self and the world and their enjoyments. Hell is then nothing more than a continuation of the life of the loves of self and the world with those who choose to remain in them during this life. It is not a place of torture or eternal punishment, but merely the fatuous life and happiness which are received by those who are ruled by those evil loves.
Every man, no matter what his religion may be, is brought into heaven and is instructed in such a way as to receive the truth according to his genius, if he lives according to his religion, and in some measure combats and overcomes the rule of his self-love.
9. Do we see God in the life after death?
The God of Heaven is the Lord Jesus Christ. There is no God beside Him. The minds of Christians have been confused by a misinterpretation of the teachings of the New Testament, to the effect that the Father and the Holy Spirit are different in person from the Lord. The true Christian teaching is that the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit are one in the person of the Lord Jesus Christ. As Paul said, "In Him dwelleth all the fullness of the Godhead bodily." (Col. 2:9.) The Father is the Lord's soul, which is in Him as the soul is in man. The Son is the Human which the Lord assumed by birth in this world. The Holy Spirit is the Divine which proceeds from Him into the minds of all human beings, regenerating them and raising them to Himself in heaven. There are not three Divines, but one; nor three persons, but one, and that one is our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.
The Lord appears in heaven at certain times before the eyes of the angels, and when He appears He is seen as He was in the world, of a like countenance and stature, Hisface "shining like the sun in its strength" as described by John in the Apocalypse (Apoc. 1:16.) But it must be known that the Lord is not among the angels as one of them, nor does He rule over them in person as a king of this world over his subjects. The Lord is with the angels as their life, as the Love and Wisdom of their will and understanding. He is thus most truly and intimately present in all their affections and thoughts, since these all are from Him, and are His; yea, it is He Himself in them. The angels also see the Lord represented outside of themselves as the sun of Heaven from which come their spiritual heat and light, which are their love and wisdom. The Lord is thus spiritually omnipresent with the angels as all that is good and true with them. So also He is present with the spirits of men while they live in this world. The angels thus see God in all that is good and true. But on occasion for the sake of special uses they see Him also in His Divine person.
No one can scientifically prove or disprove anything that is said about the spiritual world, because that world lies entirely beyond the realm of merely physical demonstration. But if we believe in God we must also believe that He can give His creatures the ability to see what is true of the spirit, if they will to see it from Him. We believe what has been revealed through Swedenborg about the spiritual world because everything which he has written about it is in agreement with former revelations of the Word of God contained in the Bible. Also what is said in "Heaven and Hell" and in other theological works given to us through Swedenborg has the self evident authority of all that is Divinely true It is such as to bring order and light into our minds on this most vital subject when before there has been nothing but ignorance and confusion. Add to this that what is said is such as to appeal to sound reason with all men, and is in agreement with all rational thought concerning God and His purpose with men.
No man can believe anything unless there is within him an internal dictate that that thing is true, and unless he can see that it agrees with the Word of God or that it is the Word of God. If, in addition, a thing can be confirmed by his reason and by scientific observations that are seen to be in agreement with it, then that thing is not only seen to be true, but is firmly established as such in the mind. We believe that the revelations of the spiritual world given through Swedenborg more than meet all these requirements for full belief. We believe that ignorance and doubt with men can be entirely dispelled through that revelation, and that our life in this world can thus be given a meaning and a guidance that far exceeds anything that has ever been given to the human race before. We therefore urge you all to read and study "Heaven and Hell" and the other works of the Lord given through His Servant Emanuel Swedenborg.