We’ve posted many articles recently about what happens to us when we die. However, to fully comprehend what death entails we need to understand the meaning of life. Why are we here on this earth, anyway? Why do we go through the experiences life throws at us (or that we cause to be thrown at ourselves)? What’s the whole point of being here, living this life on earth? Why?
Like it or not, we are all spiritual beings. And we are all on a journey to grow into better people. It does not matter whether we are Christian, Hindu, Muslim, Buddhist, Jewish, Pagan, or a member of any other organized religion. For that matter, it does not even matter if we are atheist, agnostic, lapsed, lazy, or lethargic. In fact, even Republicans, Democrats, Libertarians, Modern Whigs, Communists, Socialists, and Green Party members are all spiritual beings.
There is a purpose to our time here in this earthly realm, and it matters not the labels by which we define our external selves. That’s because at our core we are all spiritual beings possessing the ability to grow into better people. With each step of progress, we are reborn again . . . and again . . . and yet again. In other words, to use a term commonly found in science and medicine, each time we grow and are reborn, we are in the process of regenerating. We are here on earth for the purpose of regenerating (or being spiritually re-grown) into the best person we can become.
Regeneration in (sorta) popular culture
The British science-fiction television series “Doctor Who” portrays the concept of human regeneration. The series began in 1963, and continues on TV today with the same lead character: the Doctor.
Or is it the same character?
There’s a practical problem with a long-running television series: actors don’t last forever. And if the actor in question is playing a lead character, the show’s producers have a decision to make when that actor moves on. Do they cancel the show? Write that character out of the show and bring in a new lead? Or . . .
The producers of “Doctor Who” had an ace in the hole. It is a science fiction series. That means they could play fancy tricks that other genres cannot. When the time came for William Hartnell, the actor who originally played the Doctor, to step aside, they simply brought in a new actor, Patrick Troughton, to play the role.
How did they get away with it?
Regeneration allows for a succession of actors to assume the role. When the actor playing the Doctor finishes his run with the show, as part of the plot of his last episode the character transforms into a new person with a new appearance and different psychological attributes. This has become such a regular feature of the show that every few years fans expect a new incarnation of the Doctor, with a new personality and character. It keeps the action fascinating and fresh even though the show is now nearly fifty years old.
Regeneration in reality
Not unlike the Doctor in “Doctor Who,” the longer our time on this earth, the more we will change and evolve. Older people are fond of saying how different they were when they were young. With each year of life that we live, with each struggle and each success, and with all that we see and experience in the world around us, we grow. We learn from our experiences and we evolve and grow in the way that we engage the world and our fellow human beings.
But why? What is the purpose of our life experiences?
Our ultimate destination: a heavenly (or hellish) community
To answer this question we must go back to the beginning. You know, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth” (Genesis 1:1). God created the heavens (note the plural). In the beginning, God created vast heavens for which God desired occupants. And so God created us as spiritual beings who would spend a preliminary fraction of our existence in the material world (on earth) before moving on to live our real life in one of the heavens.
Because God loves us, God gave us freedom to choose whom and what to love and how we would live our lives. God desires residents of the heavens to live there as the result of their free will and freely made choice. The article “What Happens To Us When We Die?” describes the three stages we pass through after death before finding our home in heaven. In heaven, we will find a community where we belong, and will make our home there. Our heavenly home is based upon the character we built for ourselves here on earth. In other words, the type of person we had become by the time of our death determines what community we will live in in heaven. Some communities of heaven are closer to God, others are farther away from God.
There are three heavens: the heavenly (sometimes called “celestial”), the spiritual, and the earthly (sometimes called “natural”). There are also three hells opposite to these three heavens. After death we will go to live in a community of people who match the character we developed while we were living on earth. In other words, we will live with like-minded people. If we have become loving, kind, and patient, and we desire to serve others, we will live in a community of other similarly minded people who dwell close to God. We will be in the company of people who love us, are kind to us and patient with us, and desire to serve us. Won’t that be a wonderful place to be?
If, however, we have become self-centered, selfish, hateful, mean, and impatient with others, we will live in a community far away from God in hell—not because God sends us away, but because we can’t stand being anywhere near the love and light of God. Imagine living in a community where your neighbors care only about themselves, so that they hate you and are cruel to you and impatient with you. It would be very hard to relax and find peace in such a community. The atmosphere of mutual hatred and endless infuriation that reigns in hellish communities is the real meaning of the torments of hell.
Here on earth we are all intermingled regardless of our character and level of spiritual development. On the other side, a spiritual sorting process occurs based on the inner character we had built up at the time of our death. Here on earth it is easy to mask our true inner self behind fake pleasantries, and pretend to love God and our neighbor. Only God knows what is in our heart because here on earth our true inner self may be hidden behind a false mask of good character that we show to the world. Upon entering the spiritual world, however, our masks are removed, thus exposing our true inner character for all to see.
How do we develop a good and spiritual character?
This brings us back to regeneration, or rebirth.
In order to develop the spiritual character that will land us in prime heavenly real estate close to God, we must regenerate, or be spiritually renewed, during our time here on earth. By regenerating we awaken spiritually as we grow to each higher level of existence. We are reborn again and again. Another way of framing it is that we gain enlightenment with each new level of spiritual growth.
What are the levels of spiritual growth? Where can we find out about them?
Let’s go back to the beginning. The first chapter of Genesis provides a wonderful summary of the whole process. Emanuel Swedenborg explains that the seven days of creation correspond to seven successive stages of our spiritual growth.
The first three days of the Creation story talk especially about the growth of our mind: about our thinking, our understanding, and our faith. We start first by understanding. That’s why the first thing God says is, “Let there be light” (Genesis 1:3).
Once we have developed the ability to think spiritually through the first three days or stages of our regeneration process, the remaining days of creation talk especially about the growth of our heart: about our ability to love our fellow human beings and love God. These are the days when the warmth of the sun starts to reign, and when the warm-blooded animals appear.
Ground zero: Spiritual void and darkness
However, before we have the light of spiritual understanding, before the first day, there is spiritual void and darkness. This first state starts from our earliest childhood and continues until we consciously decide to turn our life around and move toward God and spirit. Our initial state of zero spiritual life can last well into adulthood. There are people who reach thirty, forty, fifty, sixty years old before deciding to turn their lives around. Our period of spiritual void and darkness can last a long time.
This is the ground zero from which our process of regeneration arises.
Day 1: Glimmers of spiritual understanding
On the first day, when God says, “Let there be light,” it does not mean a sun to light up our solar system. “Let there be light” is our first realization that there is something higher than this material, earthly realm. It is the first realization that there is more to life than eating, sleeping, working, playing, and having sex. The very first glimmer of our spiritual growth is when the light dawns in our mind that there is a higher purpose to life—that there is something more than this material existence on earth.
This is our first stage of our spiritual growth, or regeneration.
Day 2: Spiritual understanding vs. material understanding
On the second day things start to become clearer for us. The Bible tells us that God created an expanse, or a dome of the sky, to divide the waters from the waters. There would be the waters above the dome, which in our day we think of as the clouds, and the waters below the dome, which are the rivers, lakes, and oceans on the earth. On this day we begin to realize that there is a spiritual truth (symbolized by the waters above the dome) that is distinctly higher than all of our earthly knowledge (symbolized by the waters below the dome).
The second day is when we realize that there are higher truths that we need to learn and follow in our life. This is when we begin to perceive the higher spiritual realities that exist above and beyond the rudimentary material-level knowledge that we need to navigate our physical and social life on earth. This is when our mind begins to open up spiritually.
This is our second stage of regeneration.
Day 3: Developing our thinking spiritual mind
On the third day God separates the waters (the ones below the dome of the sky) from the land so that the dry land appears. This is when plants can begin to grow. Plants represent the growing spiritual concepts in our mind. First to grow is the tender grass (sometimes translated simply “plants” or “vegetation”): at first we have only a tentative and sketchy idea of what this spiritual life is all about. But as our thinking spiritual mind develops, soon there are seed-bearing shrubs, and finally there are trees—which represent well-developed, solid principles of spiritual life. At this stage we develop the principles of spiritual living that will guide us through the confusing forests of life.
On the third day our spiritual trees also begin to produce fruit. These fruits represent the good deeds we do for others. The third stage of our spiritual growth is one in which we start devoting our life to doing good for others . . . but it is a struggle. We often have to force ourselves to live by the spiritual principles we have learned, even though we really don’t want to. That’s because we’re still fairly well wrapped up in ourselves and our own experience. We also still think that we are doing all of this from our own strength and intelligence: that we’re the ones who understand, we’re the ones who love, we’re the ones who are producing these fruits from our own self. And so our fruits of service to others are not yet truly alive. The reason they are not fully alive is that while we think they come from our own goodness and our own understanding, the reality is that everything good and true comes from God.
This is our third stage of regeneration.
Day 4: Putting God, faith, and spiritual insights first
God said “Let there be light” on the first day, but it is not until the fourth day that God creates the sun, moon, and stars. The fourth stage of regeneration is when we first start to be truly motivated by love and faith. Prior to this stage we did talk about spiritual things and we did do good deeds, but the external self we presented to the world may not have matched our real inner motives. The inner motivation for our good actions may not have been love and compassion for our neighbor. For example, we may have been motivated by a desire for attention and accolades, or simply by a desire not to have our life suck so bad.
In this fourth stage, however, we start to put our own desires and our own pleasures to the side, and focus more and more on God (symbolized by the sun) as the real center of our life. We feel God’s love as we feel the warmth of the sun. And in our times of spiritual struggle and darkness, when we don’t feel God’s presence, we can fall back on our developing faith (symbolized by the moon) to carry us through until the daytime dawns for us again. We also gain a clear view of the fixed and eternal spiritual principles that can guide us through our difficult times, much the way sailors used to guide their ships at night by looking up to the stars.
This is our fourth stage of regeneration.
Day 5: Coming alive spiritually
On the fifth day God creates the birds, which represent more living and active ways of thinking spiritually, and the fish, which similarly represent more living and active ways of thinking about our place on this earth and in human society. This is when we start serving others, not just because we tell ourselves that we ought to, but because we are starting to feel that giving others help, comfort, and happiness is truly the best way to live. We start to genuinely care about the well-being of others. We want to do good to our neighbor out of a sense that serving others is the most important thing in life.
In this fifth stage of spiritual growth, our life on this earth starts to come alive spiritually. Everything we had learned before about how to run our business, care for our home, and raise our children begins to take on a new and more spiritual dimension in our mind.
This is our fifth stage of regeneration.
Day 6: Developing the warmth of true humanity
On the sixth day God creates warm-blooded land animals and finally, human beings. As you might guess, the day on which human beings are created pictures the stage of our life when we first begin to become truly, fully human. At this stage, the good and honorable outer self that we present to the world starts to be a match for our true inner motivations. The beauty others see in us truly reflects the living, warm-blooded beauty of the human love for others and for God that is growing stronger and stronger in our heart. We do the things we do because we sincerely care about other people and because we love God. When we begin feel our greatest joy in serving others, this is when we become truly human.
This is our sixth stage of regeneration.
Day 7: Achieving inner peace in an active spiritual life
On the seventh day God rested. The seventh day of creation is the state in which angels live. It is a state that we, too, can live in during our final years on earth if we have struggled through all six of the previous days of creation. We also get a foretaste of this heavenly state from time to time throughout our lives when we experience intervals of peace and contentment.
When it says “rest” in the Bible, it doesn’t mean sitting around doing nothing. It means a state in which we have no conflict within ourselves about the things we are doing. It means doing everything we do effortlessly and effectively because we love to do it and we know how to do it. In effect, it is living permanently in what psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi identified as a state of “flow.”
When we have achieved this stage of spiritual life we can be very busy outwardly, working hard with our mind and body and accomplishing all sorts of things, and yet feel the restfulness of peace inside of ourselves because we have achieved the life we love. Angels live useful, busy, happy lives of active service because they truly love one another. They no longer have to endure internal struggles. They can simply do what they love to do with nothing standing in the way within or around them.
This is our seventh stage of regeneration. This is when we finally achieve a fully living and spiritual humanity.
The meaning of life on earth . . . and in heaven
This seventh day of inner rest from our spiritual labors is the promise God gives to each one of us if we are willing to go through the struggles of the other days or stages of regeneration.
And it is a struggle. Change is rarely easy. As we regenerate, we are spiritually reborn again and again in each new stage through experiences that can be difficult and painful. Most likely we will not travel a linear path to the seventh stage. Rather, our path of spiritual growth will be a cyclical one. We will travel forward, drop back, and press forward as we grow. So there is no need to beat ourselves up when we fail to act perfectly in each situation. While there are general guidelines for regeneration, each person’s spiritual path will be unique, and each person’s challenges and struggles will also be unique.
This is God’s promise to us:
If we work our way through all six stages of regeneration and into the seventh, we will become people who love one another, who enjoy living a kind and thoughtful life, and who have all the knowledge, insight, and wisdom we need to serve God and our neighbor in our own unique way. Then, upon our death and rebirth into the spiritual world, we will find our way to the heavenly community that best matches the character we have developed here on earth.
This is the meaning and purpose of our life on earth:
We spend a brief time here in this mixed up material world of struggle and labor to learn from our life experiences, to change and grow step by step into people who genuinely love God and our fellow human beings, to become deeply and fully human so that we can experience the highest, most joyful, most wise, and most loving humanity for which God created us, in community with others who have also traveled the regenerative path toward heaven.
For further reading:
- What does Jesus Mean when He Says we Must be Born Again?
- What does it Mean to be Baptized with Water, the Holy Spirit, and Fire?
- If You Think You’re Going to Hell, Please Read This First
- Ezekiel 18: God’s Message of Hope . . . If You Think there’s No Hope for You
- If there’s One God, Why All the Different Religions?