Annette and I extend our deepest sympathies to all those who lost a child, family member, friend, or co-worker in the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in Newtown, Connecticut. We hope that the following previously-written article may bring some ray of comfort to our readers who are shocked and grieving in the aftermath of the terrible tragedy of December 14, 2012.
Why have they died? Where have they gone?
If you or someone close to you has lost a child, you know the terrible pain and anguish this brings to every loving parent. It is hard enough to lose an adult family member or friend, let alone one whose life has barely started.
Where is the justice in this? Why does God allow such tragedies to happen? And what happens to our children and other loved ones who have died?
Nothing can take away the pain of losing a child. But wouldn’t there be some comfort in knowing where our children have gone and what will become of them?
Throughout many centuries there was great darkness on this subject. But today there is a great deal of light, thanks both to the many people in recent years who have described their near encounters with death, and to the book Heaven and Hell, published in 1758 by the spiritual pioneer Emanuel Swedenborg.
Supported by Jesus’ statements about children in the Bible, Swedenborg assures us that children who die continue to grow up in heaven under the care of loving angel parents and teachers, and that every single one of them becomes an angel.
How could God let children die?
Few things in life are as painful as losing a child. There is an emptiness that cannot be filled, a void where there used to be love. The love is still overflowing in our heart, but the one we long to lavish it on is no longer there. All that’s left is our memories, our child’s precious clothes and possessions, and an aching inside us that will not go away.
As the reality of the death settles in we naturally cry out, “Why? Why would God take my child? How could God allow these precious ones to suffer and die?”
We have similar feelings, similar aching questions, when anyone close to us dies. A husband or wife, a sister or brother, a parent, an aunt or uncle, a friend, a co-worker. Why do people have to die young? Why are these lives cut off early? Why didn’t God arrange things so that all people could live out their full lifespan? It’s hard enough to lose someone we love who has had a long, full life. But when that life is cut off at twenty, thirty, forty, or fifty, it seems unjust. Why should one person die young while another lives to be old? Why do so many good people have their lives shortened?
Divine justice or human folly?
Are these deaths someone’s fault? Did the people who died do something wrong so that God is punishing them? Or is it the result of some societal sin, and these untimely deaths are the decrees of divine justice?
First, let’s take a practical look. In fact, many people do die because of their own or others’ poor choices and bad behavior. Hundreds of thousands die each year from preventable causes such as abuse of tobacco and alcohol, reckless driving, unhealthful living, and the effects of poverty. There is an awful lot of human folly in this world, and it does take its toll.
But what about innocent children? What about adults who have lived good, clean lives yet still die young, perhaps due to the wrongful actions of others, or perhaps due to natural and unavoidable causes? Where is the justice in that? Is this the workings of some twisted divine justice?
No, it is not. Untimely deaths—especially the deaths of children—are not part of God’s will. We are assured in the Gospel that “it is not the will of your Father in heaven that one of these little ones should perish” (Matthew 18:14).
There are many reasons people die early. God’s will is not one of them. The Bible tells us that God “takes no pleasure in the death of the wicked” (Ezekiel 33:11). How much less would God desire the death of an innocent child? Please put out of your mind the idea that God has intentionally taken your child. The death of a child is something God permits not something God desires.
Then why does God let it happen?
Still, the ache remains. Why this child? Why any child? Why anyone who has not lived out a full lifetime? These questions weigh heavily on our minds and hearts.
And the fact is, none of us can know all of God’s reasons for allowing one child to die while other children live. God’s view is infinite. Ours is finite. God looks at things from an eternal perspective. Our view takes in only a limited view of the past and the present. We cannot know what would have taken place if our child had lived—how the world would be different, how we ourselves would have been different, how our child’s life would unfold.
In governing the universe and human lives, God sees all these things, for all people, in all times, in all their infinite possibilities and interconnections. And God is continually arranging things, not for our temporary happiness here on earth, but for our eternal happiness in the spiritual world after we pass on from this earth.
Though things may seem hopeless to us when we have lost a loved one, the Psalms assure us that “weeping may remain for a night, but rejoicing comes in the morning” (Psalm 30:5). That “night” may last for months, years, or even decades. But in God’s eternal view, there will at last be comfort and joy for all the sorrows we have endured here on earth.
Can we have any real knowledge of the afterlife?
Of course, this assumes that our life does continue beyond the grave. In former years, the fate of our children and other loved ones after death seemed destined to remain a mystery until we ourselves joined them at the end of our own mortal lives. But in recent years, thousands of people who have had near brushes with death have come back to tell tales of a beautiful afterlife where we are welcomed by angels, including family and friends who have died before us.
Over two and a half centuries ago Emanuel Swedenborg, an earlier explorer of the spiritual realms, wrote about his extensive other-world journeys in his most famous book: Heaven and Hell. First published in 1758, this book has since gone through hundreds of editions in over a dozen languages throughout the world. Most of what is presented in the rest of this article is from Heaven and Hell, especially its chapter on “Children in Heaven.”
What happens to our children after death?
The first thing Swedenborg assures us is that all children who die, no matter what religion they are born into, are brought up in heaven and become angels. Not a single child who has ever died or who ever will die will end out in hell, baptized or not!
Didn’t Jesus tell us in Matthew 18:3 that “unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven”? And a few verses later he said about the little ones, “I tell you that their angels in heaven continually see the face of my Father in heaven” (Matthew 18:10). Not only do infants and children go to heaven when they die, but because of their innocent, trusting natures, they have an especially close relationship with God to eternity.
Do children grow up in heaven?
Have you ever seen the pictures of little cherubs with wings gracing many a valentine and many an old religious children’s book? This classic depiction of angel babies has led some people to believe that babies who die will remain babies to eternity. But Swedenborg tells us that not only do babies and children who die continue to grow up, but they do so more quickly in the beautiful, loving, and healthful atmosphere of heaven than they would have here on earth.
Children who die are given angel mothers who are chosen especially for their sympathy and similarity of character to the particular infant or child. These mothers love their adopted children tenderly, as if they were their own. Infants think of them as their own mothers, while older children will look to them as their new angel mothers.
While Swedenborg does not mention angel fathers, saying that all who live in heaven think of God as their common Father, in this day and age I suspect that men have made some inroads into the formerly all-female career of child-raising in heaven. And if not in the younger years, Swedenborg does describe angel teachers who instruct older children as their minds open up to the vast stores of knowledge and understanding available to them in the spiritual world.
Are there schools in heaven?
Just as here on earth, children in heaven go through different stages as they grow up. Infants and toddlers simply take in the world around them, exploring it with their eyes, mouths, fingers, and everything else. But before you know it, their thinking minds become active, and they develop an insatiable thirst for knowledge.
In heaven, that eagerness to learn is never dimmed by educational methods that don’t fit the active, affectionate, and inquisitive natures of children. Learning in heaven is hands-on, and involves seeing, hearing, smelling, tasting, touching, and doing, not just sitting and listening, reading and writing. Swedenborg describes angel teachers with their students examining little bugs and talking about all their tiny parts. Another popular and effective learning method in heaven consists of what might be called spiritual movies (described before movies were invented!) that offer a vivid presentation of various spiritual subjects.
In other words, the “schools” in heaven are very different from the traditional rote learning so common here on earth since we first began formal education of children. Angel teachers are always adapting their teaching not only to the thinking minds but to the loves and emotions of the children. The instruction is always delightful and enjoyable to the children. It is also practical and hands-on. And it relates directly to issues and situations that the children themselves are involved in every day.
In short, children in heaven live, love, grow, and learn just as they do here on earth, only in a much brighter and more beautiful environment, surrounded by angels who love them, raise them, and teach them as if they were their own children. You can take some comfort, then, that even if your child is gone from this earth and there is a hole in your heart, he or she will be cared for lovingly, and will grow into an angel of heaven.
What about older children and teens?
Not all children who die are young and innocent. All too many die in the pre-teen and teenage years. And especially in the teen years, many of the deaths involve drugs, alcohol, violence, and suicide. The simple innocence of young children is gone, leaving parents and teachers to agonize and wonder if their teens who have died may be on a downward path instead of an upward one.
First, let me assure you that a teenager who commits suicide is not headed to hell as a result. If we as their parents, teachers, and counselors know the terrible struggles that some teens endure, and can sympathize with them in the despair they feel, won’t God and the angels similarly take a tender, loving, and forgiving approach to those poor, tortured young souls who feel they have no way out but to end their own lives?
Yes, the healing will take time even in the spiritual world. But all who die in tragic circumstances are given a level of care and counseling by angels with sensitivity and skills that go far beyond what even our best counselors on earth can offer. Teens who die tragic deaths by suicide or other means will get the help they need on the other side.
Neither will teens who die after having entered a criminal or immoral life be condemned on the other side. Some of them may require the spiritual equivalent of “tough love” to snap them out of their errant behavior. But that job will be done. For example, Swedenborg speaks of girls who have been drawn into prostitution being put into the care of strict angel instructors who penalize them whenever their thoughts lapse back into their former behavior, until they have put that way of life behind them.
In short, all who die before reaching adulthood, whatever their circumstances may have been here on earth, will get the care, guidance, and training they need to find their way to heaven.
Do love and justice triumph?
Here on earth, things often seem very unfair and unjust. There’s a simple reason for that: Here on earth, things often are very unfair and unjust. God allows human beings to run this world—and we humans are a mixed bag of right and wrong, justice and injustice.
But God runs the spiritual world in a very different way. Although there may be material injustice here, in the spiritual world not only justice but love triumphs because God is running the show, and God will not let those who are innocent continue to suffer.
If you have a child or teen who has died, you know in your own heart that your child had a good heart, whatever the outward circumstances may have been. God knows this too. And God will assign just the right angels to take care of your child and ensure that he or she grows into a loving and wise angel, and will be there to greet you with joy when your own time on earth is complete.
This article is © 2012 by Lee Woofenden
Very comforting. Thank you for this article. Patty Halajian
My child died recently age of six. A virus attached her heart and only lasted 48 hrs. People tell you wonders to try to confort you but in the end it hurts so much that I don’t know what to believe. My question is if she is in heaven can she see us on earth? It worries me that she can feel the sadness and that she would not be happy because she is no longers with us.
I’m so sorry to hear about the death of your daughter. Our thoughts and prayers are with you. Nothing can take away the pain. But I hope this article has at least given you a sense that your daughter is loved and cared for, and in good hands in heaven. You will be able to see her again.
In answer to your question, normally people in the spiritual world do not see people on earth. They live in a whole different realm: the spiritual realm. Instead of seeing the physical things that exist on this earth, they see the spiritual things that exist in that world. And that includes human beings. So she will not see you going about your daily tasks, and weeping when you miss her.
Your daughter is now in the care of very loving and wise angels, who are also skilled at helping children who have been separated from their parents by death. Though your daughter may sometimes sense your feelings at losing her (angels and spirits do often sense the feelings of people on earth), her new angel parents will comfort her and reassure her that you, too, are in God’s hands, even if you are very sad at losing her because you love her and miss her.
But most of the time, your daughter will be living her life like a normal, healthy child.
She is exactly the same little girl that she was when she was taken from you. She has the same thoughts and feelings, the same likes and dislikes, the same little quirks and habits that gave you joy and laughter while she was still with you here on earth. And though she may sometimes feel some sadness that you are not with her—after all, we all go through our times of happiness and sadness during our growing-up years—most of the time she will be happily playing, learning, and growing just as she did here on earth, only in a more beautiful place.
Once again, our thoughts and prayers are with you as you grieve the loss of your little girl. Please know that she has a happy life in heaven. And she will look forward to seeing you again when it comes your time to leave this earth.
If this is true I want to leave now so I may be with her
Thanks for stopping by, and for your comment. I am sorry to hear that you have lost someone you love. While the pain is great, I do hope this article will help you as you grieve, and give you a little more reason to continue on with your life until it comes your time to rejoin those who have passed on to the spiritual world before you.
Hi Kerry- So sorry for you. I lost my daughter June 3 2017. She was 22. I found her in her bed. She was my only child. For 22 years I was a mom. Now I am nothing. I want to be with her now. I pray to her everyday to come get me. I don’t eat much. I live off of tylenal pm and motrin pm. Hoping it will destroy my organs. I will never go to a doctor. I do not want to prolong my life any longer. It is so easy for people to say you have to get on with living. They are not in my shoes. I do not talk to friends – they have kids. or family. I am lucky I have a at home job that I do when I feel like it. I go to the grocery store every other week or so. I cannot stand seeing people. I cannot stand restaurants. I died when my daughter died.
Sorry to hear you’re still in such great pain from your daughter’s death. The anniversary is coming up soon. That will be a tough day. Please know that even if I’m not in your shoes, and can’t fully understand what you’re going through, my thoughts and prayers are still with you.
Thank you- every day is a tough day. The minute I wake up reality hits me.
Lee, I like this article and found it very helpful. I do have a question. You stated that “all who die before reaching adulthood, whatever their circumstances may have been here on earth, will get the care, guidance, and training they need to find their way to heaven”.
If a child can learn and regenerate their spirit in heaven, then why didn’t God just create heavenly schools in the first place, rather than this physical school on earth where some children can and will grow away from God and heaven?
That’s a great question, which could certainly turn into a whole article of its own. However, here is a short version:
First, notice that even though these (future) angels died as children, they still did have a life on earth, even if a shortened one. For us to be complete and stable human beings, we need to have lived in a physical body in the material world. This provides a foundation for our spiritual life that could not exist if we were directly created in the spiritual world. (Directly created angels are an impossibility.)
Beyond that, the question gets at the issue of why God created us human and free in the first place. If it would have been better for God to create us directly as angels, and not allow us to possibly choose evil and hell, then God certainly would have done that.
However, the reality is that it would be better for children who die to live to adult life, even with the possibility of choosing evil, if they could reasonably do so. That’s because when we die as children, even though we do become angels, we lack the full, human and angelic development that we would have achieved if we had grown to adulthood. Yes, children who die do grow up to be angels. And the younger they die, the higher the heaven they end out in. However, they are more limited in what they can do in the heavenly economy because they have not developed to their full potentials as human beings and as angels.
Even from a spiritual perspective, when people die as children, it is not a good thing compared to if they had been able to grow to adulthood. However, given the terrible conditions in so many parts of the world, and the many dangers to children even in the more developed parts of the world, it is an unfortunate fact of life that many people die before reaching adulthood. And God has provided that no one will go to hell who has not chosen it as a self-responsible adult.
I realize this leaves a lot of things unexplained and not backed up with information and ideas required to fully understand it. At some point in the future, God willing, I’ll take this subject up in an article of its own.
I find your descriptive answer very beautiful and fulfilling in nature, but I must wonder if it does leave more room than desired for a bit of challenging skepticism.
You state ‘That’s because when we die as children, even though we do become angels, we lack the full, human and angelic development that we would have achieved if we had grown to adulthood.’.
Simply growing to adulthood does not, in any way, infer human (I am presuming internal here) or angelic development. It simply means one has aged. Even people in comas simply age.
Unless we humans are like fine wine and can develop into something grander simply by being left unattended in the cold dark, I think this leaves a lot of room for misconception or error.
Granted, most of us don’t sit around doing completely nothing though the years of our maturity, but many of us neither do things to help us grow spiritually nor really grow internally as a better human being either. We are usually too busy proclaiming to have the world by the tail and acting accordingly.
You also state that children who die and become angels ‘are more limited in what they can do in the heavenly economy because they have not developed to their full potentials as human beings and as angels.’ If that is true and they can no longer increase their human development (unless we delve into the reincarnation paradigm), then does that mean regardless of further education in schools of Heaven, they will still be forever stunted in their growth and full development as angels?
And if not, doesn’t this contradict the reason we must go through human development in the first place? If schools and teachings in Heaven can compensate for the lacking level in human development in order to fulfill the goal of fully developing angels, It does lead one to question the underlying importance of the required human experience when there are, as you’ve admitted, so many who die young with too little experience.
Great questions! Perhaps I should have just gone straight for the full article. 😛
It’s true that simply growing up and growing older does not necessarily mean that we’re growing spiritually. Many people do spend their lives focused on material things and on their own pleasure and advancement to the exclusion of any spiritual goals and development.
However, this life does have a way of bringing people face-to-face with their own character and their own mortality–and that can crack even some of the tough cases. There are many stories of men and women who spent the bulk of their lives pursuing money and advancement, only to go through a personal crisis later in life, and as a result turn toward more humanitarian and/or spiritual goals in life. Until we die, the end of this chapter of our story has not yet been written.
So yes, it’s quite possible to “grow too soon old and too late smart,” as the saying goes. It is possible to die without having made any significant spiritual progress. However, even if that does happen, it was our own choice, since none of us can life a full life and die without having been presented many opportunities to grow emotionally and spiritually. So though it may seem paradoxical, even if we waste our life, it doesn’t mean it was a waste for God to give us a lifetime in which we had every opportunity to pursue a spiritual path if we were willing to do so.
Also, even though many people don’t progress very far on the spiritual ladder, even reaching the bottom rung is enough to land us in heaven–albeit in one of the lower levels of heaven. We may shuffle off this mortal coil more focused on material things than on spiritual things. But if along the way we learned to treat our fellow human beings with some decency and respect, do a useful day’s work, and get our money and pleasures honestly, we will have developed the base-level character to continue in a reasonably happy and productive life in what Swedenborg called the lowest, “earthly” or “natural” heavens. That is where people live if they have been decent, fairly honest, fairly hard workers and are willing to labor for the benefit of their fellow human beings while reaping the enjoyments they desire for themselves. Their eternal lot is to do a day’s work under the direction of others, willingly doing their part. Very much like the vast bulk of decent, honest workers here on earth.
In short, even if we have not embarked on any great life of love and enlightenment here on earth, if we have developed any solid positive characteristics at all that become a settled part of our character, have devoted at least some of our lives to serving others, and that have pushed aside pure selfishness and greed as our focus in life, then God has a place for us in heaven, and we will become part of what I called the “heavenly economy.”
About children and continued development in heaven:
It’s not exactly that children who die are “stunted” in their growth. They do become fully adult, and live a happy, even blissful life in the angelic community of heaven.
Rather, children and teens who die will always have something of the character of their level of development here on earth, even after they have grown to adulthood in the spiritual world. And that means they will not have the same level of power and effectiveness as angels as they would if they had lived out a full lifetime here on earth.
For example, someone who dies as an infant will grow into an adult who is sweet and innocent, without the sharper edges in their character that would have been there if they had faced this life with its evil and its struggles. They are kept in this sweet and innocent state in the highest heavens because that was as far as they had developed here on earth. Picture, if you can, a sweet, innocent adult who has been sheltered from any pain, hardship, and disappointment, and is very open to the love that pours in from God without any resistance or filtering. This is a very good life.
However, these innocent, child-like angels must be sheltered from any engagement with resistance or darker forces because they had not developed the experience or strength to face such things before they left this earth. Though their large numbers create great realms of love and light in heaven, and they contribute to the influence of light and love in the universe, they do not have the level of power and outreach that characterize angels of the highest heavens who went through a full lifetime of struggle and engagement, and reached the “second childhood” of being loving and innocent in nature from a position of wisdom and strength.
Swedenborg uses the terms “the innocence of ignorance” and “the innocence of wisdom” to distinguish the two. Those who are innocent because they have never faced the struggles of life just don’t have the level of angelic power and influence that those do who wouldn’t hurt a flea because they’ve seen the pain, suffering, war, and tragedy of life, and have determined through that hard experience that they themselves are going to focus their lives on being a beacon of love, light, and compassion in the midst of any darkness that may surround them or come their way.
Every angel continues to learn and grow to eternity. Even those who die as infants continue to learn, grow, and develop as angels. However, each of us learns and grows in the direction, and with the character, that we developed here on earth. If we die early, we are not stunted in our growth. Rather, our growth is directed along a certain general vector.
To use a modern scientific term, our life here on earth directs our eternal life along a “cone of probability” or “cone of uncertainty.” That spiritual “cone” defines the parameters within which our various learning, choices, and growth in the spiritual world will travel. There is no end to the growth and learning we can experience, and as on earth, our choices will determine the exact direction we go in our spiritual growth. However, it will not go outside that general direction or cone that was set by our life on earth.
I hope this helps to clarify some of the meaning behind my initial response to Walt’s comment.
Barbara, I just lost my 23 yr old daughter. Found her in her bed. I feel exactly as you do. I don’t go out. I live in bed, I don’t care anymore. Idk how to live without my baby girl. I want to be with her wherever she is
So sorry to hear about your daughter’s death. I hope this article gives you some help and comfort. Our thoughts and prayers are with you.
Hi. Debbie sososo sorry for what you are going thru. I am here for you. I hate typing. If there is a way we can communicate by phone, I would live to talk to
Thanks for your response. Please don’t post phone numbers here, though. If both of you agree, I could send you each other’s email addresses, and then you could take it from there.
That would be great. It has been 2 years 48 days since my daughter – my only child died. I found her. My husband of 30 years died 4/2/19 I found him. I am all alone. The only thing I have in life to look forward to is death. A psychic told me I will live into my eighties. I hope I die on my eightieth birthday. only 23 more years. NO REASON TO LIVE!!!!
Once again, very sorry for all that you’re going through. I’ll wait to hear back from Debbie before sending you each other’s email addresses.
Debbie- sososo Sorry. you are not alone. I hate typing. if there is a way we can communicate by phone or email to each other that would be great.
Sorry – meant to say ‘our maturing years’ rather than ‘the years of our maturity’.
Context does make all the difference!
Difference of opinion Lee – but that’s what makes the world interesting 🙂
“…the question gets at the issue of why God created us human and free in the first place. If it would have been better for God to create us directly as angels, and not allow us to possibly choose evil and hell, then God certainly would have done that.”
I think He did – but we rebelled. Adam and Eve / the (Kabbalah) Big Bang / whatever theory you want to believe in. But also, if we knew no evil, we would not know good – thereby we would have no choice. We would be angelic robots, if you will. There is no freedom in that.
Children dying? The only way that I can get my head around that one is in the way Kabbalah explains it. But then you need to believe in reincarnation – or maybe not. Those little kids may very well have been “angels” that came to earth for our benefit and not their own.
The shame isn’t in their dying – it is in us not learning anything from it.
Thanks for your thoughts. Yes, differences of opinion keep us thinking and growing spiritually.
About the children, basically, when we muck it up so badly that they die, God and the angels receive them and give them a much better upbringing, which leads them to heaven. I think we on earth do learn something from it. Unfortunately, we’re awfully slow learners.
I agree with your thoughts about freedom vs. robots. An angelic robot is a contradiction in terms.
Many claim our loved ones in Spirit can see us. I have thought about this and wondering about it in relation to Swedenborg in the Spirit Realm also. Would it be reasonable to say that if they could “see” us, it would be our Spirit rather than our physical form? They no longer have physical eyes themselves. I also feel that this physical body is not “us” or “me” at all but merely the vehicle for my spiritual experience on Earth? In relation to my question, I have noticed that the face of a dead person looks somehow less like them, that the depth of them is gone, leaving a husk behind. Also Lee, thank you for replying to my comments. Sometimes I can’t seem to respond but I do read and appreciate the time you take to do so.
Good to hear from you again, as always, and thanks for your kind words. I say what God gives me to say, and leave the rest in God’s hands.
In general, Swedenborg says that angels and spirits are not consciously aware of the people on earth that they are associated with, and vice versa. There is a connection and flowing of thoughts between the minds of angels and spirits and the minds of people still living on earth. After all, our mind is spiritual, not material. However, that flow is usually an unconscious one.
Of course, that is not a hard-and-fast rule. Sometimes people on earth do become aware of angels and spirits around them. When this happens, the angels and spirits become aware of those people as well, so that the conscious awareness and communication becomes mutual. In the past several thousand years this has been relatively rare because people on earth have been largely materialistic and sense-oriented in their thinking and desires. However, in these days when more and more people are seeking spiritual understanding and life, such conscious communication seems to be becoming more common.
Not all of it is good, of course. There are evil and deceptive spirits eager to mislead us and cause us to stumble just as there are angels and good spirits who love to inspire us along an upward path. For more on this, please see:
What about Spiritualism? Is it a Good Idea to Contact Spirits?
About physical eyes vs. spiritual eyes and what they can see, it is not possible for physical eyes to see anything spiritual. When people have visions or experiences of spiritual things, that is always with their spiritual eyes, and never with their physical eyes.
However, although spiritual eyes ordinarily see only spiritual things, apparently spiritual eyes do have the ability to see physical things as well. This is demonstrated in out-of-body experiences, in which people see their physical surroundings, and often their own physical bodies, while their physical eyes are closed and their body is lying unconscious.
Still, angels and good spirits living in the spiritual world generally have little interest in seeing or thinking about earthly and physical things, so they would rarely use the ability their spiritual eyes have of seeing physical things. If they do consciously interact with people still living on earth, it will almost always be with those people’s spirits, not with their physical bodies.
It is possible for our spirit to appear to others in the spiritual world even while we are living here on earth, though most often we do not appear to anyone there. We are most likely to appear to others in the spiritual world when we are deep in thought on spiritual subjects. We then may appear to angels and spirits as someone walking along absorbed in our own thoughts. But if they try to talk to us, we will vanish from their sight. This is a phenomenon Swedenborg reported.
Evil spirits do commonly love physical things, and may even try to see into the physical world, but this is mostly not allowed.
I should also mention that it is possible for angels and spirits to see the physical world through the eyes of someone still living in the physical world. This usually happens only when there is conscious communication between people living in the other world and people living in this world. And once again, it is a rare occurrence, not a common one.
Spirit possession is one case in which an evil spirit inhabits the body of a person still living on earth and uses that person’s senses to see, hear, taste, and touch things in the physical world. But since the time of Christ, complete possession has been rare to non-existent. Some elements of spirit possession do still happen in schizophrenia and other mental disorders, but the person generally retains his or her own will and consciousness as well, and only “shares” it with the spirits who are impinging upon his or her mind.
And yes, our physical body is not our true self. Our true self is our spirit, which lives on after death after we leave our physical body behind. However, as long as we do continue to live in this world, our physical body is a part of us, because we live in and through our physical body.
I hope these thoughts are helpful to you. Please feel free to continue the conversation if there’s something I’ve missed.
Assuming you lost a sibling at a tender age, say 4 years old. So, once the children become angels, will they ever relate to us as their brothers and sisters? Because you say they are adopted by new angel parents. So when their real parents join them in heaven, does the real mother take over from the adopted mother in their upbringing?
Hi Mummy’s girl,
When we first die, we are able to recognize family members and friends from earth, and they are able to recognize us. That’s true even if they died long ago, and both we and they have changed. The reason for this is that we keep the character we had when we die, even if it matures in heaven, and that makes it possible to connect with those who had some connection with us here on earth.
What happens next, though, depends on how close or far away we are from one another in spirit.
In heaven, we gather together with people who have similar loves, motives, beliefs, values, and so on. By the same token, we separate from those who have very different loves, motives, beliefs, values, and so on.
This doesn’t necessarily mean we can never see them again. Those who wish to can travel to other parts of heaven and the spiritual world. However, siblings and friends who have grown very far apart in spirit will generally lose interest in knowing and having contact with one another, and the memory of such earthly relationships will fade over time.
On the other hand, friends and family members who are close to one another in spirit may very well live in the same community or neighborhood of heaven. In that case, parent-child relationships will tend to fade, and everyone will think of one another as friends and as spiritual brothers and sisters.
For more on what what we go through after death, please see the article, What Happens To Us When We Die?
lost my 16 year old son in a single plane accident. To think that he would only think of me as a brother or friend really hurt. I pray the God I serve will allow us to see each other as Dad & Son. Its been 8 months and I have been seeking God and the trurh. So confussed what to believe.
I’m so sorry to hear about your son. That is an extremely painful experience.
The main point I wanted to make is that our children who have died are alive and well, and are loved and cared for in heaven. And further, that we will see them again when it comes our time to pass into the other world.
When that happens, you will know your son as a son, and he will know you as a father. You will be able to reunite and catch up on each other’s lives.
It is only in the long term that our biological and family relationships tend to fade. Remember, we will be in heaven to eternity. And as the years go by, we will all be adult angels living in a society in which earthy and biological relationships have less and less importance to us, and our relationships as fellow angels become more and more important.
Isn’t our greatest goal as parents to see our children grow into fine adults who take their places as full, contributing members of society? And especially of God’s kingdom in heaven?
Thank You for clarifying. It’s 8 months to this date. My wife & I went to the accident site for the first time today. The void is painful & the separation is the hardest to accept. I’ve raised my hands to God & asked him to take over. Hes led me to your site. I will continue to look & pray for understanding & comfort.
You are most welcome. Our thoughts and prayers are with you.
I lost my son a month ago. He wad not just my son but my best friend. The only thing that keeps me going is knowing I will see him again. Thank you for your article it truly helped.
I’m so sorry to hear about your son’s death. And I’m glad that the article was helpful to you. Your son is still with you in spirit. And when your work on this earth is over, you will see him again, and have a joyful reunion.
hi Lee, I lost my son 3 1/2 years in car accident four months ago, since then I have been searching a lot about my son’s destination. thanks a lot for your article, at least I know he is not cold and lonely. As for me and the rest of family we lost happiness and joy almost forever. I wonder if we can recover from this big loss, while we have been injured but survived except him. Pray for us.
I’m so sorry to hear about your son’s death. It is a terribly painful wound, and difficult to heal from. I’m glad this article has given you at least some comfort. We will keep you in our prayers.
Hi Lee, I lost my 10 year old boy 2 weeks ago. I’m so hurt and keep on wondering if he is in heaven indeed. He was a good boy attended his Sunday school and knew his bible verses. All his classmates spoke highly of him. He had his moments where he would be naughty and talk back but we always disciplined him as a child and he would listen. I feel very guilty for not making him accept Jesus Christ as Lord and savior. I feel I could have done more than just attend Sunday school. I’m a christian worshipper and I’m wondering if I would be with him indeed in heaven one day. I’m so confused.
Hi Spha’s mom,
I am so sorry to hear about your son’s death. I hope this article has given you some hope, even though the wound is still very new and raw.
I can assure you that you have provided your son with the foundation he needs to continue growing in the afterlife into an angel in heaven. Accepting Jesus Christ is something people must do in their own time when they are ready, usually as teenagers or adults. Meanwhile, Jesus is still with those who are being raised as Christians. Your son will be raised to adulthood in heaven by Christian angels who will build upon the foundation you have laid for him by bringing him to Sunday School and providing direction and discipline for him at home.
In short, though it’s inevitable you’ll worry whether you “did enough,” I’m here to tell you that you have nothing to worry about or feel guilty about. Your son will do fine in heaven. And when it comes your time to leave this world, you will have a happy reunion with him. Then you will reap the rewards of your labors and your heartbreak when you see the angel he has become.
Meanwhile, our hearts go out to you. We will keep you in our prayers.
Hello,,,i found out a friends baby boy is having cancer that he according to the doctors most probably wont survive,we are devastated that little baby is just 5 months old now,he looks like an angel ,smiles even though he is in pain….i just keep crying when i think about it and can not even imagine how his mom feels….pray for him while he still is here,but if it happens he does not survive this ,will he be in a better place,and will he remember us? love us?
I’m so sorry to hear about your friend’s baby. We’ll keep them all in our prayers. And yes, if the cancer does take him, he’ll be in a better place. As I said in the article, he will be raised by loving angel parents to become an angel himself. And yes, in the spiritual world we can know who our earthly parents and children were, and still connect with them. Eventually, though, all the angels come to think of one another as brothers and sisters, and of God as their divine Parent. But meanwhile, we can all reconnect with all of our friends and family members as we each arrive in the spiritual world.
Thank you for your reply,do we all think about each other as brother and sisters eventually,or only children?
In heaven, in time everyone becomes an adult angel in the prime of life, whether they died as children, teenagers, young adults, middle aged, or elderly. Biological relationships from earth then no longer have any meaning. But connections of mind and heart do. And since all are adults, the angels all relate to one another as (spiritual) brothers and sisters rather than as parents and children.
That is how it works after we have been living in the spiritual world for many years or many decades. At first, though, we do recognize one another as parents and children, biological brothers and sisters, and so on. This means that we can get together with family members after we die, catch up on each other’s lives, and so on. But over time we will be close to our family members only if we are close to them in spirit. And then we will gradually no longer think of them as our parents or children, but as fellow angels who are all children of God.
Hi, Lee Kanchan here I lost my son 25years old very religious whole family is grieving for him iam really missing him but after reading your article iam feeling much better Thank you so much Lee GBU
I’m sorry to hear about your son’s death. And glad to know that this article was helpful to you as you and your family grieve. Our thoughts and prayers are with you.
I am really enjoying reading your blogs on the after life. You have pretty much confirmed what I believe and had read previously. Except for the animals part- I believe they do indeed have souls and do go to heaven 🙂
On the subject of children. If there’s a situation where a child has been killed by someone, in those last moments would that child’s soul still be with its body experiencing the fear and pain or would it have left earlier to make its way to heaven? Surely no child should know its about to be killed or experience the pain of this?
Presumably when these children’s souls go the after life they will have no memory of any of the pain or fear they experienced as a result of how they died be it an illness or a murder?
Thanks for stopping by, and for your comment. I’m glad you’re enjoying the blog!
About children who die traumatic deaths, it’s hard to know exactly what they’re feeling and not feeling during those terrible events. Our body/mind does have the ability to block out pain when it gets too overwhelming. And at the moment our soul passes over to the other side, (with very few exceptions) we are flooded with a sense of peace due to the presence of heavenly angels with us to help us in our transition to the spiritual world. So even if children (or adults) do experience trauma in the moments or hours leading up to death, that trauma is replaced with peacefulness and an atmosphere of love and light as soon as the transition is made.
And though children will likely retain some memory of those traumatic events, young children, especially, live in the moment, not in the past or the future. And children in heaven are entrusted to very loving angels who love them as if they were their own children. So any past trauma is quickly swallowed up in the present experience of love, safety, and security in their present life in heaven.
For older children and teens it may be a little more difficult. They live less in the moment, and their experiences have had a greater effect in forming or hurting their mind and heart, which has begun to crystallize a little more. So there may be a period of transition when the old trauma continues to have an effect. But again, with the help of loving and wise angels, even older children and teens who die having had a hard and traumatic life will be able to move past that dark beginning and move on to a happy life in heaven.
I lost my daughter to heroin overdose. She was 22 and my only child. I miss her so much. I wish she left me a grandchild. She died June 3rd 2017. I do not want to live or be in this world anymore. All I do is think of different ways to kill myself so I can b with her. They say she is in no more pain but I am now in pain. I have had enough. I pray that God will take me and either let another child live or let another mother live. Please have everyone pray to God to take me now
Thanks for stopping by, and for telling your story. I’m so sorry to hear about the death of your daughter. That is always terribly hard and painful, but especially when she is your only child. Yes, she is in a better place now. And because of your love for her, you are in a worse place.
And yet, I do believe God still has a reason for you to be here, even if that’s not clear to you now. The death of your daughter is still very fresh. And though the pain will never go away as long as you are living here on earth, there will still be some healing over time. I do hope this article is of some help to you.
Also we don’t know what God has in mind in the various events of our lives. Perhaps God saw that your daughter would be in better shape eternally if God allowed her to leave this earth now than if she had continued on. God always looks at our eternal happiness first.
Perhaps knowing a little more of what your daughter is now experiencing might help. Here is one more article on this website that may give you some comfort and insight about what your daughter is now experiencing:
What Happens To Us When We Die?
Whatever struggles led your daughter to get caught in the trap of hard drugs, she is now getting the help she needs to face them and find some healing for her spirit.
Meanwhile, we’ll keep you in your prayers, not for your death to happen soon, but for you to find some comfort, meaning, and expansion of heart as you grieve the loss of your daughter from this earth.
Thank you for responding. I really really do not want to live anymore. I have had no many bad things happen that I can’t take it anymore. God knows how much pain I am in. I am so tired. I just want to go home.
I’m sorry to hear it. I wish there were more I could do for you from this distance. Do you have any friends who can help you through this terrible time? There are also online forums where people who have lost loved ones can go to get support from others who have experienced the same thing.
To tell you how mean my sisters are- They had an 80th surprise birthday party for my mother- They invted her friends. of course we were not invited. When my mother told me about her party she said to me I had a wonderful time. She should have said to them I have another daughter, son and law and granddaughter that should be here but she didn’t. she didn’t want them to get mad at her.
No. I have a husband that is sick. But right now he is so mad. I cannot talk to him. MY oldest sister was brutally murdered. I have a brother but he is in his own world. He tried to commit suicide. He poured gasoline on himself and set him self on fire. That was two years of hell for me. My mother who is 86 does not drive. I had to take her to see him in the hospital in the philly. He was there for 7 months then he had to get 3 lawyers. he was charged with arson – he did it in a company truck. we had to get him a bankruptsy lawyer. he lost his house. and we had to get him a social security lawyer- he is too mentally ill to work. so I had to take him everywhere. I have 2 sisters who have not spoke to me in 12 years. those 2 did nothing to help my mom with my brother. not even visited him once. I feel bad for my daughter cause at Christmas she could not see her cousins who were like the sisters she never had. she would cry. I had a friend that backstabbed me, but she just died. I am not speaking to my mother now. I am mad that she never tried to get my sisters to talk to me maybe my daughter would have had some happy Christmases with her cousins. Since Holly died and if my brother dies before me. I will have no next of kin. I asked my mom if she would talk to them about that. she won’t. I did so much for her- stayed every weekend with her to take her to church, food shopping and out I would have her every Sunday for dinner and make sure there were left overs for her. And now she can’t do this for me. Me and my husband are deep in debt. 3 months late on the rent. could not afford his oxygen tank the company came and took it away. we cannot afford to pay the funeral home 3000. My husband does not get much for his social security disability and now they take out 140 for medicade. I just don’t understand. I have done so much for everyone and my 2 sisters have not done a thing to help. they are both wealthy. the one works for adp and is way up high in the company making high 6 figures, my other sister is a teacher- makes 100,000 a year. her husband owns a big landscaping business and the have 5 houses including one down the shore. I could not afford to miss work to help my mom and brother but I did without pay. we would live off credit cards.
I am starting to believe that there is no God. All I wanted in life is like everyone else. The American dream but no such luck. We could never afford a home. I was not able to go to college. I had 2 miscarrages then it took 7 years with fertility doctors to have a baby. and then of course I get pregnant after I got laid off and had to do 3 months bed rest. So with all this from the past years and with hollys drug problem and My husband being sick- not sure how much longer he has. I have had enough. We fight because neither one of us wants to die last. I always tought that I would find him dead in bed first.- not holly. All I keep seeing is her laying there. I have been seeing a therapist weekly but I cant afford the co- pays any more but it doesn’t matter. he said that there is nothing he can do for me. So please cant you see why I do not want to go on living. There is no joy no nothing. It is so hard with my daughters death and being so poor. If there is a God and he sees my struggles, then why is he not helping. Since I don’t have Holly anymore and my life is always going to be a financial struggle why go on. I have no one to help me.I have nothing to look forward to except my death. I wake up every morning disappointed that I am still alive. I am not taking my blood pressure medicine or any medicine and I am not eating much. I eat as much salty stuff as I can and if I was told I had cancer or some disease I will not do anything about it. I will never go to a doctor again if I feel sick- I hope the sickness will kill me. How many people do you think would want my life.
I don’t drink alcohol but I think I will and then take a whole bottle of tylonal pm. So you can see- I really do not want to go on anymore. Life is not going to get better for me- only worse. My husband has lung problems, cardio problems, sees a cardiologist a pulminologist a hemotologist., They found another nodule on his lung. he is now diabetic. cannot afford to go to diabeties classes. he has to see a podiatrist- cant afford it and now he has weak kidneys. we cant afford to see a urologist. My husband is 60 years old. every doctor he sees thay say the same thing you are to young to be having all these medical issisues. He worked with chemicles for 28 years at work but there is no way to prove that is what caused him to get sick
So tell me if you had my life would you want to go on…… I do have a dream – I wish I could hit the lottery for millions and start a charity for parents who have lost a child to drugs or alcohol. It is so difficult going back to work just after 3 days. It is not like losing a parent or sibling. I know its painful beleuve me when my sister was murdered- stabbed 27 times, broken neck, broken jaw. she was 40 an 89 pounds. She lived in vegas. I t took 8 years for the police to find her killer. two days after they found her my dad died. he had a heart attack after she was murdered. I was numb for 4 months. I would be able to help the parents financially if they are struggling and need to take time off from work but don’t get paid. I would be able to pay there housing utilities, food and help with funeral. It is bad enough when you lose a child suddleny but no one can imangine what its like to be poor and lose your child- only child. I appreciate you listening to me and praying but the best thing everyone can do is pray for my death. What do I have to look forward to- more financial struggles my husbands health detoerating If there is a God and sees my worries I think he would understand If I took my own life. If God knows what our struggles are going to be thru out our life then why did he let me to be born. Or if there is a God he must hate me so much that he is punishing me.
Thanks for telling more of your story.
Yes, I do understand why you would not want to be here anymore. And yes, I do think God would understand if you took your own life. God’s feelings about it would not be anger, as some religious people think, but sorrow. And no, I don’t think you would automatically go to hell for committing suicide, as some religious people think (see my article, “Does Suicide Work?”).
Aside from the general sadness and loss it represents, the problem with suicide is not that people who kill themselves go to hell, but that their spiritual growth tends to get arrested at that point, and they lose the ability to make further major progress on their spiritual path. Whatever choices we make and whatever life we live here on earth, that is what determines our eternal place in the afterlife.
That may not matter to you right now given your extreme pain at your daughter’s death. And that’s very understandable. But consider your aspirations to be able to help others who have lost a loved one. That is not only a fine, spiritual, and selfless aspiration, but it is also something that can give you a reason to keep living. If you take your life now, any possibility of doing that, at any level, will be lost. Even in the afterlife you won’t be of much help to people who have lost someone because you cut off your own life before you had the opportunity to face and move through your own loss, and therefore before you gained the experience and spiritual growth necessary to help others. (And yes, angels do help people, both here and after they die, who have gone through terrible loss and pain.)
Perhaps you may think that in your bad financial situation, you could never really help anyone else who is facing the same terrible situation you are. And financially that may well be true. I’m not going to pretend that it’s likely that you’ll suddenly get rich and have all the money you want to help others out of their big holes. However, emotionally you can, in time, still be of great help to others who have been through what you’ve been through. In particular, the power of the Internet makes it possible to get together virtually over great distances with others who have lost children. Here is just one forum that I know of that you could go to and find others who have lost adult children:
There, especially since you have no one to help you and comfort you in person right now, you may find others who can help you through this very dark time period. And in time, you, too, may be able to help others through their loss. There are many other forums like this on the Internet.
Of course, your life is in your own hands. Just consider that perhaps this terrible loss may be what gives you the ability to help others who are suffering as you are suffering. It is when we can help one another that God shines into the darkness of our grief, through our compassion for one another.
I wanted to ask…is there any point of a baby’s development where it might theoretically be too early? You know…for them to have an eternal soul that can live in heaven?
On the one hand, it seems like an extremely silly question…especially to the traditional Christians around me…but I keep reading things (here and in other Swedenborgian forums) about how the afterlife is so similar to this life and how people start out looking the same way they do here, when they first cross over, and so…I can’t help but have trouble imagining the situation for a tiny group of cells, or even an embryo…how could it be cared for by an angel?
I guess I should let you know that it’s not just a matter of curiosity for me, since I just had a miscarriage (doctors confirmed it last Thursday), and it was extremely early in the pregnancy, and probably even earlier when the baby stopped growing, so…it may have just been a blastocyst at the time…but yet, we were already so attached to it, and…we want to see the baby someday, you know? 😦
Traditional Christians affirm that a human soul is established at the moment of conception, and I want very much to believe that, but things I’ve read and heard about Swedenborg’s teachings (which I also want to believe, as they ring true for me and make sense to me and answer a lot of my burning questions in a logical way) made it sound like humans really have to start out on earth because the physical body here somehow helps form the spiritual body, and there’s just not any other way to “initialize” a human soul…
Hence my concern…does it need to get further initialization than just a fertilized egg? Does its brain or body need to get to any particular point in development?
If your answer is simply “I have no idea”, I will understand, but I had to ask… I thought maybe somewhere buried in Swedenborg’s voluminous writings there might be some reference to something that might give us a clue… Like – and maybe this is just a fantasy, but it occurred to me as a theoretical possibility – if the angels that become “surrogate mothers” to babies that cross over can even nurture the tiniest miscarried babies inside their spiritual bodies…maybe Swedenborg will have seen some pregnant angels and made note of it…I don’t know, maybe it’s just silly, but I would imagine there might be some women that pass away without ever having children and perhaps would even want to have that experience of pregnancy and childbirth, and maybe that would be a way to give them what they longed for in addition to a “warmer” place (emotionally speaking) for the miscarried babies to grow rather than a celestial incubating chamber of some sort… Assuming they do have a continued existence in the spiritual world…
I know that marital relations don’t result in babies in the afterlife, but it seems easy to imagine that if a pregnant woman died (and her baby with her), she could still be/appear pregnant in the spiritual world and give birth there (painlessly, I’m sure), so if that seems within the realm of possibility, then the other idea doesn’t seem quite so far-fetched…right?
But if you have to tell me I’m crazy, please do so gently 🙂
Hi Seeking to understand,
First, I’m sorry to hear about your miscarriage. Even if it does happen very early in the pregnancy, when you’re looking forward to meeting your new baby, it is a real loss.
I wish I could give you a clear answer to your question. Unfortunately, Swedenborg didn’t say anything clear about when a human soul becomes “spiritually viable” (viability wasn’t a societal debate in his time as it is in ours), nor did he make any mention of pregnant angels. As a result, Swedenborgian scholars have taken different positions (if they take a position at all), all the way from the moment of conception to the taking of first breath after birth as the point at which a soul becomes eternal.
Perhaps right now isn’t the time for you to read about this debate, given your recent loss. If so, please feel free to skip the rest of this comment, with my apologies, until you do feel ready to delve into it. But since you asked, I’ll summarize for you some of the thinking on this subject, so that you can have a little more material to weigh it out for yourself.
The “first breath” theory is based on statements in Swedenborg about the beating of the heart and the breathing of the lungs being the key factors of human life, corresponding to our will (our love and motivation) and our understanding (our thinking, rational mind). Our heart corresponds to our will, and our lungs to our understanding. In several places Swedenborg ties full humanity, including thinking and sensation, to our first breath. See, for example, Arcana Coelestia #3887; Divine Love and Wisdom #401, 407; and in his unpublished (by him) works, see especially On the Divine Wisdom #3:5 (scroll down to subsection marked “ [82.] (5)” for the specific mention), and also #6 (scroll down to the section marked “ [93.]” for the specific mention).
The counterargument is that just because a fully functioning will and understanding haven’t developed on earth, that doesn’t necessarily mean they can’t complete their development in the spiritual world based on the formation that did take place here on earth, even if the individual had not yet reached birth and taken his or her first breath. Would an infant who died in childbirth fully formed and ready for life outside the womb really not have eternal life just because he or she didn’t quite make it to taking that crucial first breath? Honestly, that doesn’t seem reasonable or merciful to me. And in my own experience, one of my (now adult) children was born without a heartbeat, and of course, not breathing, and had to be revived. I find it hard to believe that his eternal life would have been snuffed out if the revival had been unsuccessful, and he never got a chance to take his first breath. He was a fully formed human baby, ready for life in the world.
The debate about this parallels the issue of when an embryo reaches viability such that it can survive outside the womb—something medical science keeps pushing earlier and earlier. Another position, then, is that the soul becomes viable when the body becomes viable, even if the embryo or fetus is not yet born and has not yet taken the first breath. Though this position hasn’t been advanced much among Swedenborgians, it’s not unreasonable to think that there is a correspondence between physical viability and spiritual viability.
On the other hand, physical viability is based on our particular level of medical science—and it seems somewhat doubtful that something as critical as eternal life would be determined by our level of earthly science and technology.
Still, I lean toward this being a minimum position. Wouldn’t the angels be at least as good at keeping alive the souls of the not-yet-born as we are at keeping their bodies alive? I find it hard to believe that a human being that is physically viable and could survive outside the womb would not also be spiritually viable and capable of eternal life. Even if the lungs have not yet taken a breath, if they are capable of breathing, this implies to me that the fetus is capable of spiritual breath (understanding) as well.
And incidentally, related to the above-linked passages from Swedenborg’s writings, current science generally rejects the belief of Swedenborg’s day that embryos and fetuses in the womb are incapable of sensation, and we know for sure that they are capable of motion. There’s been a certain amount of head-scratching about these statements among Swedenborgians. The simplest explanation is that Swedenborg was simply mistaken on this point due to the limitations of the medical science of his day. However, he could also have been speaking of conscious sensation and voluntary motion. That is how some people understand what he wrote on this subject. Even if he was a lifelong bachelor, it seems unlikely that he was unaware that babies kick in the womb. It is a common experience for mothers, and can be felt by midwives and doctors, and by anyone else that the mother allows to touch her to feel the baby’s kicking.
Still, the argument remains that if a developing human being is capable of living outside the womb, doesn’t this imply that his or her soul is also capable of living in the spiritual world? This is the basic argument of the “viable from physical viability” position.
The “viable from conception” position is based on Swedenborg’s statements in a number of places in his theological writings that each new soul is an offshoot of the father’s soul, which is carried in the father’s semen (the function of sperm wasn’t yet clear at that time), and enters in the mother’s womb into the egg—which provides a body to house that soul. This theory goes at least as far back as Aristotle, and was still the reigning theory of the genesis of a human being in Swedenborg’s day, though it was in the process of being dethroned. Basically, the idea was that the soul comes from the father, and the body from the mother.
Based on advances in genetic science since Swedenborg’s day, I have come to believe that the formation of a human soul parallels that of the human body. We now know that the father and the mother contribute nearly equal genetic material to the fertilized egg. This happens in a complex process that we apparently understand somewhat differently now than when I took high school biology lo, these many years ago. But it still apparently basically involves something like a half-set of genes from the father and a half-set of genes from the mother combining to form a full genetic blueprint once the egg is fertilized. A sperm or an egg by itself cannot form a human being. But once the genetic material of the two combine, they form a full set of genetic blueprints for a unique new human being—i.e., it is a full set of human genetic material.
So my belief is that Swedenborg was right that a human soul is present at conception, but only half right about where it came from. I believe that like the genetic blueprint contained in the fertilized egg, the human soul is a combination of unique offshoots from both the father’s soul and the mother’s soul.
The main point, though, upon which all Swedenborgians do agree, is that there is a human soul present from conception. And for those who delve into it more fully, that soul is what directs the formation of the individual’s body. This suggests even more strongly to me that there is a correspondence between the way the soul forms and the way the body forms, the soul operating from its spiritual “genetic blueprint” through the genetic blueprint represented by the chromosomes and their component genes that direct the unique formation of each individual human being.
In a nutshell, then, the “viable from conception” argument is: Since there is a human soul at conception, a person is spiritually viable from conception, because a human soul is by nature eternal.
The counterargument is the one you suggested: it would seem necessary for a certain amount of physical development to take place here on earth as a basis for viable spiritual life. And there is a certain amount of force to that argument as well. Physical viability does have some meaning, even if it is a moving target.
For one thing, practically speaking, we now know that there are massive numbers of fertilizations that don’t result in a viable pregnancy, and that don’t even interrupt the woman’s regular menstrual cycle, or perhaps just cause her to miss one cycle. Given the exploding population of earth, and the likely staggering number of times this happens, would there even be enough surrogate mothers in the entirety of earth’s heaven to bring them all to term, if surrogate mothers is how the spiritual world handles miscarriages and abortions? In other words, the “viable at conception” position also has its problems, even if it would be the neatest solution to say that once there is a human soul, which takes place at conception, there is an eternal soul.
The question, then, is: How much of a human soul is necessary for it to be eternal?
This brings us right back to your original question. And once again, unfortunately, I just don’t have a clear answer for it. I lean toward either the conception or physical viability positions, and lean heavily away from the “first breath” position. But I really don’t know for sure.
I will say that my grandmother, Anita S. Dole, was a firm believer in the “eternal soul at conception” position. This was personal to her, also. She had nine miscarriages before, between, and after her three children (my mother and her older sister and younger brother) were born. And though it could be objected that she was not objective about this, no one could question her solid knowledge of Swedenborg’s teachings. She was the author of the six volume Bible Study Notes, based in part on her having read Swedenborg’s massive Arcana Coelestia from beginning to end no less than seven times during her lifetime. Even if her reasons for believing in viability from conception were personal—she firmly believed that she would meet all of her children when she entered the spiritual world—she certainly had a deep and solid knowledge of Swedenborg’s teachings. At minimum, her belief was certainly not based on any lack of knowledge and understanding of Swedenborg’s writings.
As for angels serving as surrogate mothers for those who die before birth, I have often had the same thought. However, it is just a thought. There is nothing explicit in Swedenborg that I’m aware of either to support or to deny it. If it is possible, I suspect there would be many willing would-be angel mothers. But the fact that Swedenborg never mentions what would certainly have been a very common phenomenon even in his day does cast some doubt on this idea. So once again, it is simply an unknown—to me, at least.
Perhaps this has all left you even more confused than before. If so, once again, my apologies. But rather than just toss off an “I don’t know,” I figured I’d at least go over for you the various positions and arguments and factors involved. At least this way you don’t have to reinvent the rather wobbly wheel that is the Swedenborgian debate on the issue of exactly when our soul is eternal.
If nothing else, I hope all of this assures you that you are certainly not crazy. Many people have expended much thought on this issue. And for those who have actually experienced the loss of a new life forming in the womb, it is anything but a theoretical issue. I only wish I could give you a better and more definite answer. Meanwhile, my thoughts and prayers are with you.
Thank you for taking the time to reply thoroughly and not just toss off an “I don’t know”, I really appreciate that…!
I think this gives me enough food for thought, to where I can decide what I think makes sense to me… Just to share what I’m thinking so far…I feel myself settling into the idea that, since it is agreed that there is a human soul present from conception, and since it seems at least very likely (if not 100% certain) that God could keep at least some of them alive either through surrogate mothers or the spiritual equivalent of technology, then if the only problem with the eternal-soul-from-conception idea is a question of whether there would be enough resources to take care of all of them…the obvious answer seems to be that God could choose to take care of the ones that anyone knows or cares about, longs for, or might miss…does that seem too selfish of a perspective to take? Might one argue that it would not be fair to the other fertilized eggs? That’s the one thing I’m still not sure about…but considering they theoretically would not have any self-awareness at that point, it seems more fair than letting them all go, even the ones that someone is longing to meet… 😦
Oh, it just occurred to me that, in case someone else down the road is reading this who is struggling with the same sorts of questions, I should share the other reasons I have for coming to that conclusion… One is that Colton Burpo (about which the Heaven is for Real book was written…and later turned into a movie) says he met his miscarried sister (who he didn’t even know about until after she ran up and started hugging him) when he visited heaven during a surgery… I looked it up and his mom was about 2 months along, so for me, that is hugely supportive of the idea that babies are spiritually viable *at least* that early…
In my case, I was not that far along (about 6 weeks, but I can’t be certain it had been developing more than a week or two before something went wrong), but I have one other reason for hope, which is that when my husband and I went to a chapel and held a little mini-funeral just between the two of us and God, as we were leaving, a cardinal bird landed loudly on the trunk of the car, and started pecking at the edges of the window, continued to peck loudly all around the bottom and up one side of the rear windshield, and then flew up to perch on the bottom of the window next to me for a moment before it flew away. My husband and I both immediately sensed that it was a message from, or at least about, our baby, to let us know he or she is indeed in heaven, being cared for (we think by its grandparents), and I think that the cardinal was used to very loudly get the attention of our physical senses at this time when our internal spiritual senses were not able to pay attention…
I couldn’t easily find anything specifically Swedenborgian about what cardinal birds correspond to, but I did find lots of other material about their symbolism, and it is widely believed that they are often used to deliver spiritual messages and greetings from beyond, including from deceased loved ones among other things, so that is comforting…
I just wanted to share that in case it helps give hope to anyone else who might be going through something similar, but without access to birds or other messengers when they need them…
Hi Seeking to understand,
You’re welcome. More briefly in response to your additional thoughts:
If we do have eternal souls from the moment of conception, I don’t believe God would save some but not others based on whether they are loved and wanted by other human beings. That, to me, is too close to the “unwanted child” idea. If God grants eternity at conception it would be for everyone.
And yes, there could be other ways God would arrange for these souls to be taken care of in the spiritual world besides using angel women as surrogate mothers. What that would be I don’t really have any idea. I will say, though, that Swedenborg says that children grow up more quickly in the spiritual world than they do here on earth because of the spiritual environment they are in there. So if we are eternal from conception, completing what would normally be a nine-month gestation in the womb on earth might not be quite such a long process in the spiritual world.
Thanks also for your second reply. I’ll leave that one to speak for itself.
Hm, yes, I see what you’re saying… And thinking more about the resources issue (not just during the earliest phase but raising the children later, too), it occurs to me that if it’s been the same way since the beginning of human history, there might be a lot more angels from earlier times in history than what we would be aware of based on how many people have lived and died on the earth (that we know about), so…maybe it’s not as extreme of a situation as it seems on the surface. And I’m not clear on how or whether resources can even be an issue in heaven, but I think that question might be better to pose in a different thread…
At any rate, thank you for the information…it’s good to know that the idea is not specifically contradicted by Swedenborg’s teachings… I think that’s the main thing I needed to know, in order to be able to have more hope than fear… I appreciate your compassionate responses.
Just wanted to say thank you Seeking to understand for your question. This is something I have been thinking about for a long time for myself and recently my daughter suffered two miscarriages. Thank you Lee for your seriously considered answer. Although we cannot truly know here on earth I do have hope and your discussion here has greatly helped.
Much love to you Seeking to understand
Hi , i like this forum very much as they sort of help me with pains and agony that i am going through. I lost my son recently, he was 24 and he had all at his feet. Graduated from university, starting a career that he had so much passion for. He made the world as his oyster. He had a son but was not married. He died from an accident at a nightclub , he fell and hit his head from a small dispute, some people were responsible for this. after five days of the accident , he lost his life. My son was had a very kind heart, especially for his cousins that lost their father a year back He always look out for his siblings and families. He love his parents , son and girl friend very much. There are times when he is just being a boy but normally he is a good and a humble kid, that had so much respect for other people. A week before the accident, he gave his life to God in one of the church service that we attended, but there are times , that he tend to slip back , but i know in his heart that he really wanted to change his ways. He talked to his girlfriend , that same week that he wanted to quit drinking beer and quit going out. But the influence of his friend made this tough for him. He was our joy and pride and pain of losing him cannot be explained. I cry every day , i think of him every minute of the day and i would give anything to see him or hear his voice one more time. I think of future of what he could have achieved and it so painful to know that his life was cut short , when had so much to offer to this world. I would really want to know where he is now ..whether he had made it to heaven , as i am pretty sure that he was intoxicated when the accident happened. That is what is made me worry, it is my prayer to God everyday to have his spirit in the care of his loving hands. While he was at hospital , fighting for his life …we lifted him up in prayers to the Lord and we whisper in his ears to make peace with the Lord. Please can you help me ..and tell me , where my son would be and whether he made it safe to the other side. This will do so much for me …as all i want is for him to be heaven with the Lord as i would really want to see him again. .
I would appreciate very much your answer please.
I’m so sorry to hear about the death of your son, at such a young age. That is always very painful for those left behind, especially parents and partners. Our thoughts and prayers are with you.
In answer to your concerns, it is not what we’re doing at the time we die, but our entire character, and especially what’s in our heart, that determines whether we will go to heaven in the afterlife.
From what you say, your son was a good and thoughtful young man, even if he was still a young man with all that entails. Though I don’t have God’s eternal and omniscient vision, I think I can say with some confidence that your son is now moving toward heaven, not toward hell.
That doesn’t happen instantly. He’ll have some experiences in the spiritual world to go through along the way. These will involve sorting out what he truly wants in his heart, and assuming it is heaven that he wants, leaving behind those few foolish and destructive things he got involved in here on earth. For more on what he is experiencing now, and the spiritual processes he is going through, please see:
What Happens To Us When We Die?
I hope this helps. If you have further questions or concerns, please don’t hesitate to ask.
My daughter went home to be with Jesus on the 10th June, 2021 through a car accident. We prayed or protection before traveling. We were all in the car and all survived except her. She is 11 and loves the Lord so much. It really hurts me terribly that she had to go and I feel like dying and wished I had taken her place even though life would have been tough for them on earth without me but they would have survived. I lost my Dad when I was 2 and have survived by the grace of God to this day! I have two other children and my wife to live for but my daughter who departed this sinful world was the closest to me. Why does God allow us pass through so much pain in this life? Why didn’t He stop my daughter from going?
I am so sorry to hear about the death of your beloved daughter. There is no greater pain in this world than losing someone near and dear to our heart. I hope this article gave you some help and comfort.
There are no easy answers to the hard questions such losses press in on our hearts. We can only continue to move forward, and put our lives in God’s hands, hoping for peace and understanding to come in its own time.
Still, it helps to have some sense of how God could be present in the midst of all the hard things of this world. Here is an article that gives a basic response to that question:
If God is Love, Why all the Pain and Suffering?
For a deeper dive, here is the first article in a four-part series:
How can we have Faith when So Many Bad Things happen to So Many Good People? Part 1
I hope these articles are helpful to you. Nothing will take away the pain. But at least understanding can bring us some sense of goodness in the midst of the evil of this world.
Meanwhile, our thoughts and prayers are with you and your family.
Thank you so much for this article, I’ve been searching a lot about what happens to a child after death to have my questions answered. I lost my child at 12 years old. He died of head trauma because of his classmate who punched him in the head. As a mom, I’m still thinking how is he doing and if he is in Heaven. I’m thankful that when he was 10 yrs old, we prayed together that he accepted Jesus as his Saviour. I did my best to keep him active in church and have him attend Sunday school. But I’m not sure enough if he’s able to understand everything taught to him in church because he’s still young. He’s in pre-teen so there are worldly influences around him that I was not able to control him much, but I’m just doing my best to guide him and still attend in church. I want to know how happy he is right now and just wanted to be sure that he’s safe in God’s hands.
I’m so sorry to hear about the death of your son, at such a young age, especially the way he died. It is a very heavy burden for any loving parent to bear.
I’m glad this article has given you some solace and hope. I can assure you that even as we speak, your son is being cared for by loving angel foster parents who will raise him to be an angel in heaven himself. God is loving and merciful, and will not allow any of his young children who die to be carried off to hell when they have not yet reached the age where they can make their own choice about what path they wish to walk in life.
You did everything good that you could for your son while he was in your care. Now your son is safe in God’s hands. I’m sure he misses you, just as you miss him. But he is in the best hands, and you will be able to see him again when your life on this earth is complete, and you move on to the spiritual world.
If you would like greater understanding and assurance, I recommend that you read the chapter on “Children in Heaven” in Emanuel Swedenborg’s book Heaven and Hell. You can download or purchase the book using the links given at the book notice I’ve linked for you here, or you can read the chapter online, starting here. Just click the right arrow at the top or bottom to get to the next section as you read. The language may be a bit old-fashioned, since this book was originally published in Latin in 1758, but it is still the best book ever published about the afterlife, and it has the most hopeful and helpful message about our children who have died.
Meanwhile, our thoughts and prayers are with you.