The Magical Mystery Tour
In our modern materialistic age, people sometimes claim that there is no real information about the spiritual world.
That’s not true! There is a huge amount of information available about the spiritual world.
One of the clearest and most extensive sources of information on the afterlife was first published over 250 years ago: Heaven and Hell, by Emanuel Swedenborg. It offers a guided tour of heaven, hell, and our journey to one or the other after death.
Here’s a short version of that journey:
- Once we lose consciousness in this world, everything is warm and peaceful, because we are attended at death by the wisest and most loving angels.
- We then go on to a life much like we had here on earth—so much so that we may not even realize we have died.
- Sooner or later, our true inner self comes out, and is visible for all to see. We can no longer pretend to be someone we aren’t. It is now clear whether we’re headed for heaven or for hell.
- If we’re headed toward heaven, angels teach us what heaven is like before we actually travel to our own eternal home there.
Who says no one has come back to tell us?
Have you ever heard this one? “We don’t know anything about the afterlife because no one has ever come back to tell us about it.”
Either the people who say this haven’t been paying attention, or they simply don’t want to believe in an afterlife.
Some people used to think that Emanuel Swedenborg was the big exception to that old saying. Then we all found out back in 1975, when Raymond Moody published his book Life After Life, that thousands of people have had the experience of dying and coming back to tell about it. Many of them give vivid descriptions of what it was like to die and enter the spiritual world. And though every story is different, there are common threads running through them all. By now, so many books have been published with descriptions of near-death experiences that there’s really no excuse to keep on repeating that old canard about “no one has ever come back to tell us about it.”
Of course, skeptics say that all those people were just hallucinating because their brains were low on oxygen . . . and so on, and so forth. For those who don’t want to believe, there will always be ways not to believe. Jesus himself said, “If they do not listen to Moses and the prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from death” (Luke 16:31).
Yes, it’s possible for people to harden their minds against the afterlife so much that they’ll reject and explain away all the evidence pointing to its existence. That is part of our human freedom in spiritual matters, which God always protects for us.
But if you are open to the possibility of an afterlife, there is plenty of information out there. In fact, over 250 years ago the scientist, philosopher, and theologian Emanuel Swedenborg (1688–1772) published a detailed tour guide of the spiritual world based on extensive personal experience. What you’ll find in this article is just a small taste of the rich smorgasbord of knowledge about heaven, hell, and the world of spirits that you’ll find in his most popular book: Heaven and Hell.
For now, we’ll just look at what it is like to die, and what steps we then take on our journey toward heaven . . . or toward that other place.
The World of Spirits:
Grand Central Station of the Spiritual World
Some people believe in purgatory, where we pay for our sins before going on to heaven. There is no such place, says Swedenborg.
Instead, there is a halfway station that Swedenborg calls “the world of spirits.” It is called this because it is so vast as to be a world all its own, and it is made up entirely of the spirits of people who have recently died. This is where we get sorted out and routed to our eternal home in a process that may take minutes, days, weeks, months, or years—but at most a few decades.
The world of spirits looks and feels almost exactly like earth. In fact, it looks so much like earth that it is very common for people who have died to think they have not died at all, but are still living in the material world. There are even cities and towns there that match the cities and towns of this earth.
However, even though there is the appearance of permanent human dwellings in the world of spirits, it is by nature a temporary place for everyone living there. It is where we go right after our death because most of us are not quite ready for heaven or hell when we first die. We must go through a period of transition to prepare ourselves for our permanent home.
That period of transition comes in three stages—though the third is only for those who are headed for heaven. Let’s take a closer look at the process of dying and the three stages after death as described by Swedenborg.
What is it Like to Die?
Like most who describe their experiences of dying, Swedenborg says that once we lose consciousness in this world, death is a very peaceful experience. That’s because we are attended on the other side by the most loving and wise angels, who keep us enveloped in a peacefulness and a loving warmth that goes beyond anything we have ever experienced before.
At first we simply sense the angels’ thoughts and feel their love in our minds. But soon our spiritual eyes are opened, and we say goodbye to those warm, heavenly angels and begin our journey into the spiritual world. We are guided by lower angels—first more intellectual ones who answer our questions, then more pragmatic ones who guide us to our (temporary) homes and activities in the world of spirits.
Our First Stage After Death:
The Stage of Outward Life
At that point, we settle into a life very much like the one we had lived on earth. Why? Because that’s where our mind and heart are—and in the spiritual world, our thoughts and feelings determine our surroundings.
In fact, we may or may not even realize that we have died. Perhaps the experience of dying now seems to us like a particularly vivid dream. But everything around us looks pretty much the same, so we put it out of our mind and go about our daily business. We get up and go to work, go home, eat, relax in front of the TV or at the computer, and head to bed when we’re tired.
Maybe it will seem strange to us that we are no longer with the people we had been with here on earth. But it is amazing how the human mind can convince itself of things. And if we have not believed in an afterlife, we will probably convince ourselves that we are still living on earth.
If we have believed in an afterlife, though, we will accept the news when those first angels who guided us through the process of dying tell us that we have died and are now spirits. We then naturally want to see what the spiritual world is like. And of course, we want to see our family members and friends who have died before us.
We do have an opportunity to see and talk with everyone we had known who has gone on to the spiritual world. Just thinking about them brings them close to us—though at first we will probably experience this as their visiting us or our going to visit them in their homes. If we have been married and our spouse had died, we get back together and resume our life together. And of course, we can see children, parents, grandparents, and other friends and relatives who have died.
This existence similar to our life in the world continues for a longer or shorter time, depending on how strongly we cling to our former material existence.
Sooner or later, though, things begin to change.
Our Second Stage After Death:
The Stage of Inward Life
As long as we are living here on earth, we can think and feel one way, but say and do something else. We can hate someone’s guts, but treat them politely. Or we can love them and tell them that we don’t.
During our second stage after death we lose this ability to pretend to be one kind of person when we are different inside. Step by step, any outer masks that we had worn on earth, any false external personas, melt away from us, and our true self is exposed.
By the time we have gone through this second stage after death, we will always say exactly what we think, and we will always express our real feelings about the people and things around us. We may still be able to stop ourselves from saying or doing anything at all. But we can no longer lie, and we can no longer pretend we love what we hate and vice versa.
This is what Jesus was talking about when he said, “There is nothing concealed that will not be disclosed, or hidden that will not be made known. What you have said in the dark will be heard in the daylight, and what you have whispered in the ear in the inner rooms will be proclaimed from the rooftops” (Luke 12:2–3).
No one in heaven or in hell is allowed to speak and do what they do not think and feel. Any external politeness we have adopted without the internal kindness and consideration that it corresponds to will be stripped away. On the other hand, any external gruffness that conceals a heart of gold will also be stripped away.
By the time we are finished with this stage, each one of us will be a case of “what you see is what you get.” Even our physical appearance will change so that our very features express our inner character. That is why angels appear so beautiful, while devils appear so hideous.
Our Third Stage After Death:
The Stage of Learning
For people who are heading to hell, there is no third stage. They are so full of themselves that they do not believe anyone can teach them anything. So they reject any attempts of angels and good spirits to teach them. Once their inner selves have been fully revealed and they are just the same outwardly as they are inwardly, they rush down to their final homes in hell because that is where they most want to be. Hellish spirits prefer the company of other hellish spirits.
For those heading to heaven, though, there is a third stage. This is where we learn the ways of heaven before we actually go there.
It’s like going to live in a foreign land. Before we go there, it is a good idea to learn the local language and customs so that we’ll be able to get along in our new home.
The fact of the matter is that the churches here on earth have done a poor job of training people about heaven and what it is like. That’s because they have not known much about it—and what they have “known” is mostly mistaken. On the other side of the coin, most people have been so busy just getting along in this world that they haven’t taken advantage of the information that is available about heaven and how to live there. As a result, few people arriving from earth have any real knowledge about the ways of heaven.
So if our heart is good, after we have become outwardly exactly what we are like inwardly, we are taught by angels all the basics that we need to know about what makes heaven, and what we need to do to live there. There is no need to learn any new language because everyone in the spiritual world speaks the same spiritual language. But there is a need to learn such things as the fact that heavenly joy is not sitting on a throne being fanned by scantily clad beauties and having handsome waiters serving us peeled grapes . . . but that real heavenly joy is the joy of serving others, and the satisfaction of doing God’s will.
Of course, we will continue learning more and more about God and heaven to all eternity. But by the time we have gone through this third stage after death, we have the fundamental understanding we need to move into our homes in heaven.
Heading Toward Heaven
Once we are prepared in this way, we see a path open up before us. We eagerly follow it for a longer or shorter distance until we arrive at our own community and our own home in heaven. There, we are greeted with warmth and enthusiasm by those already living there. We instantly feel that we have known them all our lives, and that this is our true home.
And of course, by this time we will have found our true spiritual partner, if we hadn’t already on earth. We will continue living with him or her in a full and rich marriage relationship that becomes closer and deeper to all eternity.
Do we stop learning and growing? Not at all! Are there no more difficult tasks to accomplish? Certainly not! We will still use all of our human capabilities to the fullest, and we will always be challenged to do greater things. But we will do them willingly and with great energy, because these will be the things we love to do, and we will be doing them with the people we love most.
This article is © 2013 by Lee Woofenden
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