Heaven, Regeneration, and the Meaning of Life on Earth

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?

Through regeneration:

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

Sun, Moon, and Stars surrounding the Earth

Sun, Moon, and Stars surrounding the Earth

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. There we will live a life of joyful, active, loving community and companionship beyond anything we can possibly experience here on earth. We will become fully human, and fully ourselves.

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:


Lee Woofenden is an ordained minister, writer, editor, translator, and teacher. He enjoys taking spiritual insights from the Bible and the writings of Emanuel Swedenborg and putting them into plain English as guides for everyday life.

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68 comments on “Heaven, Regeneration, and the Meaning of Life on Earth
  1. jambulee says:

    Excellent Lee, sounds like something I just wrote in my blog. However from a different perspective. I appreciate your theology very much.

  2. jahnosecret says:

    I very much agree with the assertion that we – all of us – can raise ourselves to meet the unique challenges set, sometimes with great bravery. I also agree that there is no place for guilt in this ‘spiritual school’ although personally I find that challenge a difficult one!

    Thank you very much for sharing your inner vision in this article. Peace and blessings.

  3. I particularly like how you describe the stages of spiritual growth. I do have a question, though. Where do babies that die within days of birth fit into all this? How could they go through all these stages? Certainly when we die at 50, 60, or older, we have had time to spiritually mature through our many life experiences. But what of those who die young?

  4. Walt Childs says:

    Lee, this article is really helpful. I feel I understand regeneration much better than before. Thanks.

  5. Lou says:

    Good article Lee. Regeneration is really the most important message that Swedenborg articulates so well because it saves us.

    When in my mid twenties I began to question my childhood Catholic faith and after several frustrating years of no answers I got involved in Eastern mysticism and mediation (really the occult). Although I did get supernatural experiences after about 6 years I was ready for the loony farm (due to loss of my entire ego — both the good and bad; this unnatural state opened my now passive mind for evil spirits along with their false teachings). At the time though I thought was brilliant and tapped into the secrets of the universe, but it got scary and I was really half crazy. LOL!

    God was looking out for me though and rescued me from this hell by an actual deliverance; while being prayed over by a nun and my wife; both went “unexpectedly” into a harsh deliverance tongue and I felt evil leaving the top of my head. Hard to believe I know but my wife said she could not touch the top of my head and sensed the evil leaving.

    Soon after I was “baptized in the Spirit” and had a spiritual experience for a few days — I knew I was different. (Swedenborg was right on this too; for the Lord could not enter me until I gave up “awareness” meditation and their false beliefs).Soon after the Holy Spirit began to show me some of my sins — easy ones first, like stopping profanity. Next to go was gossip — I previously enjoyed reading the Inquirer magazine but realized that I should stop. Now it took some effort and time on my part (as Swedenborg says) for me to stop each sin the Spirit pointed out after I committed one. I likened it to a peeling of an onion and the onion was my soul.

    I enjoyed the process and it was probably easier for me since I was raised a Catholic where we were taught in grade school to frequently examine ourselves. During those formative years I often said to myself: it’s amazing how the Spirit (Lord) remade me “to love what I once hated and hate what I once loved”. I knew for a fact that it was not me alone — some deeper more serious embedded sins required repeated repentance and asking God’s help — still do.

    Anyway after reading Swedenborg on regeneration I knew he was dead on.

    I also practice “works” when I can but for some strange reason find it harder than giving up sinful thoughts and desires (or maybe I do it more without realizing it). Except though to teach others the “truth” — I love doing that.

    Keep up the good work.

    • Lee says:

      Hi Lou,

      Thanks for telling your story. The Spirit does lead us through sometimes circuitous routes in order to get us onto the path toward heaven.

      Though Swedenborg is hard on Catholicism and Protestantism alike, one positive thing he has to say about Catholicism is that its practice of confession makes it easier for Catholics than Protestants to examine themselves, admit their sins, and repent from them.

      About practicing works, that doesn’t have to be a mechanical thing. Simply going about your daily work and daily tasks with the intention of following God’s commandments and serving your fellow human beings can transform the things you do anyway into good deeds that contribute to your spiritual character and development.

  6. Ashley says:

    Lee, did Swedenborg believe in gods mercy and forgiveness of sins. I try to be holy and obey god, but I still sometime fall and sin. I feel auful afterword and ask god for mercy and to heal my soul. I wish I didn’t sin anymore and hope god will keep healing me. Is it true he will forgive all sin.

    • Lee says:

      Hi Ashley,

      None of us is perfect. God doesn’t sit up there in heaven keeping a tally of every little sin we commit. Rather, God looks at our heart and what’s in it, and at the whole pattern of our life and what we do with it.

      Also, some sins are more serious than others. If you’re habitually breaking one or more of the Ten Commandments, that’s a serious matter, and something you need to seriously work on. But if you occasionally imbibe too much at a party and make a spectacle of yourself, or if you occasionally fly off the handle and cuss someone out, that’s not so serious, and probably just something to chalk up to experience and keep half an eye on so that it doesn’t become a regular habit.

      Here’s an article that might be helpful: “If You Think You’re Going to Hell, Please Read This First.”

  7. Mitch says:

    Regeneration is not reincarnation, correct? Is reincarnation real? I have heard yes but not as bugs or animals? How can every soul achieve the same level when exposed to such different situations? Extreme example is a soul born into a sick body does not achieve the same exposure and life lessons as one born into a rich healthy family.

    • Lee says:

      Hi Mitch,

      Thanks for stopping by, and for your comment and questions.

      Yes, regeneration and reincarnation are two different things. However, the current popular belief in reincarnation did come from ancient religious texts that were really talking about regeneration when they spoke of being born again and going through many lifetimes. Those religious texts were speaking metaphorically of our spiritual rebirth, not materialistically of supposed physical rebirths. For much more on this, see my extensive article on reincarnation: “The Bible, Emanuel Swedenborg, and Reincarnation.”

      About people being born into very different circumstances, that, too, is an excellent question. The basic answer is that our spiritual state and our spiritual growth do not depend upon our physical, financial, or social circumstances, but upon what we do within our particular physical, financial, and social circumstances. Many people born into rich, healthy families become lazy and self-indulgent, and as a result never gain any real maturity or depth of character as human beings. And many people born into very difficult circumstances of poverty, abuse, and ill-health develop into strong, compassionate people spiritually due to the many struggles they have had to face.

      In short, the circumstances of our birth do not determine our eternal state. Here are some articles that cover this theme from various angles:

      I hope these articles help as you sort out these issues in your own mind. If you have any further thoughts or questions as you read, please don’t hesitate to leave more comments.

  8. Denn says:

    Hi Lee.
    Interesting article, but surely this concept is more related to Buddhist Eight-fold path, where we are regenerated according to our success or otherwise, and can either return as a higher being or a lower one (such as an ant)? As a Christian of around fifty years now, my understanding of this is that it is pagan, rather than Christian.

    • Lee says:

      Hi Denn,

      Thanks for your comment.

      “Regeneration” is not Buddhist, but Christian and biblical in origin. It is simply the abstract, Latin-derived term for Jesus’ teaching about being born again. This is seen especially in his conversation with Nicodemus in John 3:1-10. Swedenborg sees this as a process rather than a one-time event. In traditional Christian theology it is often called “sanctification,” which is an ongoing process, rather than “salvation” or “justification,” which are commonly (and wrongly, I think) seen as one-time events.

      Of course, there are common themes in many religions around the world, and spiritual growth or rebirth is one of them. The eightfold path in Buddhism is a Buddhist version of the same theme that Jesus talked about in his teachings about being born again. However, in Christian and Swedenborgian thought, the process leads to our becoming angels living eternally in heaven, not to our being reincarnated.

      On reincarnation, please see my article, “The Bible, Emanuel Swedenborg, and Reincarnation.”

  9. William Akotiah says:

    very helpful and inspiring,DEEP.

    • Lee says:

      Hi William,

      Thanks for stopping by, and for your comment. I’m glad the article is helpful to you. Godspeed on your spiritual journey!

  10. Foster says:

    Swedenborg’s regeneration doctrine sounds similar the the Orthodox Christian doctrine of Theosis.


    • Lee says:

      Hi Foster,

      Yes, there are some strong parallels between Swedenborg’s teaching about regeneration and the Orthodox doctrine of theosis—and also some distinct differences.

      • Foster says:

        What are the differences?

        • Lee says:

          Hi Foster,

          I knew I wasn’t going to get away with that answer! 😀

          For one thing, Swedenborg would never call it “theosis” or “divinization.” It would be too easy to confuse it with actually becoming gods, even though technically that’s not what it means. Swedenborg is very careful to maintain the distinction between God and created beings such as humans, even though he does say that all of our life comes from God at every moment. Regeneration does involve letting God into our life, and God does actually do the work, and anything good and true in us is God’s in us, but we ourselves are none of those things. Rather, we are a container for them. See my article, “Containers for God.”

          The actual description of what happens in theosis sounds quite similar to Swedenborg’s description, right down to it being a three-step process. But using the terms “theosis” or “divinization” is bound to misrepresent that and give the idea that we somehow become gods, which we don’t, despite a literal interpretation of some passages in the Bible that make it sound that way.

          But a more substantive difference is the means of achieving it. Theosis is achieved through prayer, asceticism, and monastic life. But Swedenborg rejected asceticism and monasticism, and considered prayer to be primarily an aid to living a good life. For Swedenborg, regeneration happens, not by withdrawing for the world and living a life of continual prayer and contemplation, but by engaging in useful services in the world, and growing spiritually through active love and service to the neighbor.

          Now as for the similarity I mentioned, the three steps of theosis, katharsis (purgation), theoria (illumination), and theosis (union) are a clear parallel (with some adjustment) for Swedenborg’s three-step process of repentance (shunning evils as sins), reformation (living a new life according to the truth), and regeneration (acting freely from love for God and the neighbor).

          The emphasis is a little different on the second and third, but the core idea is that of shunning evils, living by the truth (which still involves temptation battles), and finally reaching a stage of being moved primarily by love, which is also spiritual union with God and the neighbor, and which is a state of spiritual rest after the battles of repentance and reformation. Rest, not it the sense of doing nothing, but in the sense of no longer having any conflict, but acting freely out of love, through the wisdom we have acquired along the way. The rare person who actually reaches this third stage is even more productive than those in the first two stages, but it is effortless in the sense that there is no internal resistance, but everything flows freely from love through thought into action. That is what “eternal rest from labors” in the Bible means. Not an eternal vacation, but an eternity free of inner conflict and resistance to the good that our heart prompts us to do.

  11. annie howell says:

    my father is a great person who believes in working for humanity and providing understanding for people of different race and religion. However he unlike me is personally not religious and doesn’t believe in an afterlife. he loves a lot but doesn’t have god in his life. because he lives a life of gods love without having him personally in his life will he go to heaven. he is a good person and atheists in general who live out good lives can they go? I am a person of faith but couldn’t bear the thought of being without him in heaven as we are so close and he is the kindest person I know

    • Lee says:

      Hi Annie,

      Thanks for stopping by, and for your comment and question.

      Yes, your father, and other good-hearted atheists, do go to heaven based on the fact that they are living according to God’s love and God’s truth whether or not they intellectually believe in God and an afterlife. Those Christians who say that only people who believe in God, or in Jesus Christ, go to heaven simply haven’t read the Bible very carefully.

      For more on this, please see: “Do Atheists Go to Heaven?

  12. Dave Harvey says:

    I recently ran into a Jehovahs Witness at my gym and have had some interesting talks with her . She maintains that when we die we are all asleep until the second coming abd that we will all live again together , on Earth , and not in Heaven , which is just for angels . She says this is what the Bible says . I don’t get this at all – what does ES day in this ?

    • Lee says:

      Hi Dave,

      Thanks for stopping by, and for your comment and question.

      The belief of your Jehovah’s Witness friend is a form of “Christian mortalism,” also known as “soul sleep.” The idea is that when we die, our soul dies, or sleeps (the distinction between the two is often a bit fuzzy in the Bible), until a future date when we are resurrected.

      Jehovah’s Witnesses believe that only 144,000 people will be resurrected to live in heaven. All the rest of the (good) people will be resurrected to live once again in their physical body on earth.

      There are a number of other Christian groups who believe that our eternal life will not be in heaven, but that our soul will be reunited with our physical body in the future Last Judgment, and we will live forever here on earth. According to Swedenborg, this belief in a physical resurrection is an accommodation to people who are material-minded in their thinking, and can’t conceive of any life without the physical body.

      Even biblically, it’s not surprising that some Christians think this. The Bible doesn’t have a very well-developed concept of the afterlife, mainly because the ancient Jewish people for the most part didn’t believe in an afterlife. That idea seems to have seeped into their culture only during the time of their various later captivities and being occupied by foreign nations, especially including the Babylonian captivity that the southern kingdom of Judah experienced for a couple of generations fairly late in Old Testament Israelite history.

      In the New Testament, there is a little more about the afterlife, but it’s still rather sketchy. The idea of an afterlife was still controversial, and had not become a settled part of Jewish culture. In fact, much of Jewish culture today continues to reject the idea of an afterlife.

      However, there is enough in the New Testament that we can get a pretty good idea that there is an afterlife on a distinct, non-physical plane of reality if we are looking for it and are open to that idea. For example, Jesus’ statement to the thief on the cross, “Today you will be with me in Paradise” (Luke 23:43), and Paul’s statement in 2 Corinthians 12:2–4 that he knew a person who had been caught up to the third heaven.

      Swedenborg’s view is that once we leave our physical body behind at death, we never return to it, nor do we ever return to the physical world at all. Instead, we continue living in the spiritual world, in our spiritual body, forever. That body is just as real, touchable, and huggable there as our physical body is here in the material world.

      So Swedenborg rejects any “soul sleep” or physical resurrection. He says that the human soul cannot die, and continues to live for eternity in the spiritual world after our time on earth is over.

      For more on this, please see:
      What Happens To Us When We Die?

  13. Dave says:

    Hi Lee

    I have been to a JW church meeting and although it was very nice and full of warmth , I came away feeling troubled because they maintain that Jesus said , no one enters Heaven except the father ( or similar words ) and that we and our loved ones would not , but continue to live on Earth ( don’t know how ! ) . They point to the Bible saying this and seem to take everything from it as being irrefutable . I like Swedenborgs findings as I like to think of my wife Anne in Heaven now but they say I should be wary of listening to another human ( Swedenborg ) and take Gods word from the Bible only . Its all a bit upsetting tbh .


    • Lee says:

      Hi Dave,

      Sorry to hear about your struggles with the Jehovah’s Witness teachings. I can assure you that despite what the JWs might tell you, your wife Anne is indeed in heaven now.

      It is ironic that the JWs are telling you not to listen to another human (Swedenborg). Their own teachings were originated by human beings, and are still formulated and promulgated by human beings.

      In particular, their movement was originally spearheaded in the late 1800s by a man named Charles Taze Russell, and then turned into something close to its current form in the early 1900s by a man named Joseph Franklin Rutherford. Both of these men, but especially Rutherford, originated and promulgated teachings that every Jehovah’s Witness is now required to accept. And though the JW organization is no longer centered around a single strong leader as it was in the past, even today its Governing Body—which, of course, is made up of human beings—has the power to formulate doctrines that all JWs are required to accept. In addition to the links already given, you can read all about it at the main Jehovah’s Witnesses page at Wikipedia.

      So it is very ironic that these JWs are telling you not to listen to another human being. They themselves are required to accept doctrines formulated by human beings, or face expulsion from the JW organization. And being expelled generally means being shunned and having no contact allowed with any family members and friends who are still in the JW organization.

      Further, not only are their doctrines based on a largely literal reading of the Bible, but many of them are just plain wrong according to the Bible.

      In a previous reply to another comments of yours, I pointed out that even based on a literal interpretation of the book of Revelation, their belief that 144,000 people will be resurrected in heaven, and the rest on earth, is exactly backwards according to the Bible’s actual descriptions of the 144,000 and the great multitude that no one could count.

      Further, the JW organization and its Watch Tower organization has made multiple end-time predictions of things that were going to happen on specific dates or in specific years, none of which has ever taken place. See: Watch Tower Society unfulfilled predictions. Though the organization subsequently tried to explain each of these false predictions away in various ways, they also lost many members due to their false prophecies. These false prophecies that went unfulfilled demonstrate beyond a shadow of a doubt that the JW organization has wrongly interpreted the Bible, and has promulgated false doctrines.

      Further, their own New World Translation of the Bible regularly bends the original Hebrew and Greek of the Bible toward JW interpretations. It even uses the name “Jehovah” in the New Testament, where it never actually appears in the Greek. Their claim that it was originally present in the Greek manuscripts but was replaced by later copyists has absolutely no evidence to support it. Because they rely almost entirely on their own organization’s doctrinally-influenced translation, ordinary JWs think that the Bible supports their teachings much more than it actually does.

      I can sense that you are drawn to the JW organization because of the warmth that you experience at their meetings. But I would caution you to do your research about that organization and learn about its history, practices, and the origins of its beliefs before getting yourself entangled in it. There are many ex-JWs who have had their lives shattered by the JW organization, and who now view their former church as a cult.

      For an overall view, plus many details and much supporting evidence, please see this page on Wikipedia: Criticism of Jehovah’s Witnesses

      JWs themselves will likely tell you that all of these criticisms are Satan spreading falsity on the earth and attacking the one and only true church. However, they can’t deny their own history of false predictions. Further, their organization is very authoritarian. Members are not allowed to question or contradict the doctrines formulated and promulgated by the Governing Body in their Watch Tower publications.

      So please think carefully about whether you want to get involved in this type of organization in which a small group of human beings formulates and promulgates doctrine that every member must believe on pain of excommunication and shunning.

    • Lee says:

      Hi Dave,

      About the JWs telling you that no one enters heaven, etc., the verse they’re referring to is:

      No one has ascended into heaven except the one who descended from heaven, the Son of Man. (John 3:13)

      However, when Jesus said this he couldn’t possibly have meant literally that no human being has ever gone up to heaven because the Bible itself states several times that various human beings went up to heaven. For example:

      As they continued walking and talking, a chariot of fire and horses of fire separated the two of them, and Elijah ascended in a whirlwind into heaven. (2 Kings 2:11)

      I know a person in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven—whether in the body or out of the body I do not know; God knows. And I know that such a person—whether in the body or out of the body I do not know; God knows—was caught up into Paradise and heard things that are not to be told, that no mortal is permitted to repeat. (2 Corinthians 12:2–4)

      And Jesus himself said to one of the thieves who was crucified with him:

      Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise. (Luke 23:43)

      So once again, the JWs are simply wrong to interpret John 3:13 as meaning that no human being has ever gone to heaven.

      On the literal level, based on the context of Jesus’ conversation with Nicodemus about being born again, and on Jesus’ just having said that he “testifies to what he has seen” (John 3:11), what he probably meant is that no one has gone to heaven and come back with the authority to tell people about spiritual things, but that Jesus himself has such authority because he himself came down from heaven. Otherwise he is flatly contradicting what not only the Bible but he himself says elsewhere about people going up to heaven and to Paradise, which is the same thing.

      On a spiritual level, Jesus is telling us that it is only through Jesus’ power that we can ascend to heaven. We cannot do it by ourselves. It is only the Son of Man who gives us that ability. But explaining that fully would take an entire article.

      The bottom line is, once again, that JWs are simply wrong to read John 3:13 as meaning that no human being to this day has ever gone to heaven. The Bible itself contradicts this many times in very plain words.

      So please don’t allow the JWs to sow seeds of doubt in your mind about where your wife is now, and where you will be going to rejoin her once your time on this earth is over.

  14. Griffin says:

    This reminds me of what the Eleventh Doctor said before he regenerated: “We all change, when you think about it. We’re all different people all through our lives. And that’s okay, that’s good, you’ve got to keep moving, so long as you remember all the people that you used to be.” It’s interesting how closely certain aspects of Doctor Who relate to spiritual concepts, intentionally or not.

  15. Claude says:

    I love your articles on Heaven. However, I have a problem with the regeneration process as on earth, good people like me are mixed in with the bad people who show hatred towards mankind. I do good for others on a regular basis but cannot do good to a bad person. Please enlighten me as to how I can deal with this massive issue. Thank you.

    • Lee says:

      Hi Claude,

      Thanks for stopping by, and for your comment. I’m glad you’re enjoying the articles here!

      About your question, give this post a whirl:
      How Do I Love My Neighbor?

      Short version: We are not required to love the bad parts of other people; only the good parts. And sometimes when we’re dealing with recalcitrant people we have to practice “tough love.”

      If that post doesn’t fully answer your question, or if you have further thoughts or questions, please feel free to leave another comment. Meanwhile, Godspeed on your spiritual journey!

      • Claude says:

        I read your article about loving the good in bad people and this article asks why do we think that we are surrounded by “bad” people and my answer is: Bad people achieve one thing for certainty, they bring good people together, people who share their thoughts and actions reflecting that they would never be a bad person because they love good. So, in fact, bad people help us to be good and to always want to be better at good than we are because we never want to be “bad”.

        • Lee says:

          Hi Claude,

          Yes, evil, and evil people, do have some good effects, one of which is to serve as object lessons and warnings. For example, here on earth people are warned to obey the law by seeing lawbreakers punished.

  16. Claude says:

    Thank you for your comments. In the spiritual world, how do people of different languages communicate?

    • Lee says:

      Hi Claude,

      In the spiritual world there is a single universal language that everyone speaks. It is not necessary to learn it; it just comes automatically because it is directly expressive of the things we are talking about.

  17. Claude says:

    Is it true that some people get reincarnated on earth? If yes, why? Thank you.

  18. Claude says:

    My father is now reading your articles and referring to the movies “Heaven is for Real” and “Miracles from Heaven”. He loves what you wrote. He will be 82 years old in a few days. There is one thing that we both fail to understand and that is that if you are in a spiritual body, how is it that you can eat food in heaven? Thank you.

    • Lee says:

      Hi Claude,

      I’m glad your father is enjoying the articles here. He is probably thinking about what comes next with a little more immediacy than you and I! 🙂

      Since we have a spiritual body in heaven, made of spiritual substance, not of physical matter, the food we eat in heaven is also made of spiritual substance, not physical matter. And since we are seeing, smelling, touching, and tasting it with our spiritual senses, not our physical senses, it looks, smells, and tastes just as good to us as our physical food here on earth does—if not better.

      For more on the “physics” of the spiritual world, please see:
      Is Heaven Physical? Can Angels Play Tennis?

  19. K says:

    Swedenborg said: “To this heaven [the innermost] those born at this day on our earth cannot be admitted, because of hereditary evils and a change of genius. Some from this earth, whose celestial degree has been opened by regeneration, can be elevated into the third heaven.”

    Has that changed now since the Second Coming? If someone — despite struggling with the evils of this world and possessing this “change of genius” — lives the 5 “articles of faith” of the New Church, can they make it to the innermost heaven and be very close to God?

    And what is this “change of genius” Swedenborg mentions?

    • Lee says:

      Hi K,

      It took me a while to figure out where that quote came from. It’s not actually from Swedenborg, but from Hugo Lj. Odhner’s book The Spiritual World, Chapter 13. The words are Odhner’s, not Swedenborg’s. In support of it, he refers to two passages, which you can read for yourself:

      • Spiritual Experiences #1200
      • Spiritual Experiences Minor #4711

      One caution is that Spiritual Experiences is more like “raw data” than Swedenborg’s considered teachings about the spiritual world and the other topics covered there. The various segments of it are from personal journals of his spiritual experiences that Swedenborg kept along the way. Also, in the earlier parts of it he had not yet settled on a definite terminology for the various regions of heaven and the spiritual world. So it’s easy to get confused when reading and attempting to draw conclusions from statements in Spiritual Experiences.

      In these particular passages, Swedenborg makes the key statement Odhner is referring to rather tentatively. And it sounds more like a generalization than a universal rule.

      “Genius” as Odhner uses it is just a bad, archaic translation (really more of a transliteration) of the Latin word genius, which means “character, nature (of a person)” So a “change of genius,” in ordinary language, is a change in human character.

      The change referred to here is from a “heavenly” (traditionally “celestial”) character to a “spiritual” character. When Swedenborg uses these two words in contrast to each other, “heavenly” means based on love, or heart-centered, whereas “spiritual” means based on intellect, or head-centered. So the change of character he’s referring to is from the nature or character of the earliest spiritually aware humans on earth, which was very innocent, spontaneous, and from the heart, to the character of later human beings, which was more head-centered, such that motives, desires, and impulses are filtered through the thinking mind and evaluated there before being expressed in action, rather than coming spontaneously from the heart.

      What came naturally to the earliest humans on earth (and still does to human infants) can, as Swedenborg says, be regained through regeneration, which is a lifelong process of spiritual rebirth. To attain that level, a person would have to pass beyond doing what is good out of obedience or obligation, and beyond even doing good because he or she knows it is the right thing to do, to doing good spontaneously out of heartfelt love and concern for other people. And though there probably still aren’t very many people who reach that level of spiritual life (this does not refer to people who are just naturally “nice” and “good”), I do believe it is quite possible, and probably more common today than it was in Swedenborg’s day.

      • K says:

        Thanks for the reply.

        Can someone in the second heaven eventually progress to the third?

        • Lee says:

          Hi K,

          No. Whatever level of heaven, or of spiritual development, we reach here on earth, that’s the level on which we live to eternity.

          But have no fear. Even the angels of the lowest “natural” heavens have a level of fulfillment, happiness, and joy that goes far beyond what most people ever experience here on earth. And the angels of the second, spiritual heavens have a level of happiness that is an order of magnitude higher. No one in heaven is pining away for a higher heaven. They are all very happy to be who they are, where they are. David put it very nicely in Psalm 84:10:

          For a day in your courts is better
          than a thousand elsewhere.
          I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God
          than live in the tents of wickedness.

          Also, people do continue to grow in knowledge, understanding, and love to eternity. It’s just that they do so on their own level, based on their own settled character.

        • K says:

          So if I understand right, the outermost Heaven is for people who do good out of “obligation to rules,” the second heaven is for people who do good from an obligation of doing the right thing, and the third is for people who do good from love for God and others?

          It’s good to know there’s still progress in all levels of Heaven.

        • Lee says:

          Hi K,

          I would put it more like this:

          The outermost heaven is for people who enjoy doing good because that’s what you’re supposed to do. The second heaven is for people who enjoy doing good because they know and understand that it’s the right thing to do. The third heaven is for people who enjoy doing good because they love God and their fellow human beings and they love doing everything that makes them happy and gives them joy.

        • K says:

          Thanks for explaining it. That makes it much clearer.

          Is it possible for some to advance to the different levels of motivation sooner than later?

        • Lee says:

          Hi K,

          I would suggest not worrying about that. It will just get you wrapped up in yourself, which will prevent you from “advancing any levels” at all. Just walk the walk that’s in front of you, and let God take care of the rest.

        • K says:

          Makes sense.

          I had another question. Swedenborg describes angels wearing certain clothes (or lack of them) in the different heavens. I’m guessing this is overall, and angels can wear (or not wear) different clothes in different situations just like we do in the world, right?

          Thanks again for the replies.

        • Lee says:

          Hi K,

          Yes, that’s how I understand it. Angels are traditionally seen as wearing robes, but that’s likely because in Bible times robes were the clothing of the upper class, and were considered to be the finest clothing. I doubt that angels who come from our post-robe era wear robes. Most likely they wear the finest clothing of our era. Or, in casual times, very nice casual clothes.

        • K says:

          I figured angels aren’t like cartoon characters (like cartoon angels) who always wear the same clothes all the time.

        • Lee says:

          Hi K,

          Right. Angels are pretty much . . . people, only living in heaven instead of on earth. Consider the people you know, and think about whether they would walk around wearing white robes all the time. Probably not.

  20. Claude says:

    Hello again Lee,

    About 15 months ago, I was diagnosed with light paranoïa (3 of 8 traits) and my relatives found out that I had a light mental illness. In response to this, my relatives decided not to invite me for Christmas and New Years. I really think that their behaviour is ignorant. Besides, most people if not all have a couple of paranoïa traits. Even my social worker admits to having paranoïa traits. He told me that people are generally afraid of people who have mental illnesses … such as bi-polar disorder.

    How am I suppose to love these relatives who have ignored me and treated me like absolute trash for the past 15 months? I am talking about an uncle, two aunts, a cousin, his wife, and their child.

    How can I love people who obviously hate me? I have given up all hope of ever seeing them again.

    Thank you,


    • Lee says:

      Hi Claude,

      Sorry to hear about your diagnosis, and especially about family members cutting you out of their circle. Unfortunately, as your social worker says, many people just don’t know how to deal with people who have mental illnesses, or even severe physical illnesses, so it’s not uncommon for them to just cut off relations. If nothing else, it tells you who your real friends and family are.

      As for loving them, if they clearly don’t want to have contact with you, then loving them means respecting their wishes, as hard as that may be. At the same time, it means keeping your door open to them if they ever change their mind, and not treating them badly or talking negatively about them behind their back. Even if they’ve decided to cut you off, that doesn’t mean you have to poison your own atmosphere by engaging in harsh feelings and words toward them. Meanwhile, you can look for other friends, and stay connected with other family members who still want to have a relationship with you. Here are a couple of related articles that might help:

      Feel free to continue the conversation if you have further thoughts or questions.

      • Claude says:

        Hi Lee,

        Unfortunately, keeping the door open may not be a good option because one of my aunts is an instigator who constantly plays mind games and blames me for all the bad things that have happened in my life. For my sanity, it may be better to keep the door shot as my social worker believes that she has multiple personality disorder, with one personality being a good person and another being evil. My parents had told me to stay away from her and from what I can tell, she has possibly influenced other family members to keep their distances from me.

        Thank you,


        • Lee says:

          Hi Claude,

          Understood. You are the only one in your shoes, so you are the one who needs to make these decisions based on the realities of the situation.

          Having heard a little more about the situation, the main thing I want to convey to you now is that there is no problem spiritually with not having active relationships with people who happen to be our blood relatives.

          In the spiritual world, blood relationships from here on earth don’t mean anything in themselves. What counts there is closeness of mind and heart.

          If we are close to some of our blood relations because we share common thoughts, beliefs, loves, experiences, and this feeds our soul, then we will be close to them in the spiritual world as well. However, the fact that we were blood relations here on earth will gradually fade away in favor of the spiritual and interpersonal quality of our relationship. In heaven, people all think of one another as spiritual brothers and sisters, who all have God as their common parent.

          This also means that if we are not close to others of our blood relations because we think and feel very differently than they do, those relationships will fade away altogether in the spiritual world. With the passage of time (not literal time) there, we will no longer even recognize them as having any connection to us whatsoever. They will become strangers to us because they are strangers in heart and mind.

          My belief is that even here on earth, in our adult life it is best to associate with people with whom we can have a good, thoughtful, positive, and loving relationship, while distancing ourselves as much as possible from relationships that are full of discord and conflict, regardless of blood relationships. Blood may be thicker than water, but spirit is thicker than blood.

          We can’t always avoid such negative relationships altogether. Sometimes circumstances require us to interact with people whose atmosphere is not good for us. But we can mentally and emotionally “shake the dust off our feet” (Matthew 10:14) when we finish interacting with them. In other words, we can shake off the negativity and lies that came our way from them, and re-enter our own positive sphere of life. It helps to form a mental picture of throwing all of than negativity, hostility, and falsehood back into the chasm of hell where it originally came from. This cleanses our own mind and heart, while helping us not to cling to negativity, hostility, and falsehood ourselves toward those who have not treated us well and with whom we clash.

          So yes, sometimes we do need to close our door against people who would harm us physically, emotionally, or spiritually in order to protect ourselves from being dragged down by them. For example, people who have been with an abusive partner, when they are able to get out of that relationship, should feel free and even encouraged to go “no contact” with their ex if that is possible (i.e., there aren’t any minor children from the relationship or any ongoing financial ties.)

          In short, if you feel that you must cut off relations with certain relatives because they have a harmful and damaging effect upon your life, there is nothing wrong with that from a spiritual perspective. In many situations it is the best thing to do for our own physical, mental, and spiritual health.

        • Claude says:

          Thank you very much Lee.

  21. AJ749 says:

    Hi Lee

    Hope you and Annette are all well,

    I have a question regarding past lives and i think this is posting to the wrong article but

    What is your take on people who say they past life memories of atlantis??

    I know swedenborg said that past life memory is all deception by spirits and that the life was lived but not as the person having these memories .

    but i suppose the main point of the question is ….. Can spirits create memories of false things so people will believe them such as atlantis ?

    • Lee says:

      Hi AJ749,

      Thanks for your well-wishes. Here is the article you want:

      The Bible, Emanuel Swedenborg, and Reincarnation

      Once you’ve had a chance to read it, feel free to re-ask your question there. The possibility of spirits creating false memories is not dealt with specifically in the article.

      • AJ749 says:

        Hi lee many thnks for the quick reply , i intend to read the article you linked,i have seen on various blogs about people who used to do channeling , occults stuff etc who now know the downsides of it all,

        Alot of them say to gain trust or to mess with them nearby spirits would imprint false memories e.g atlantis to make it seem as if they were real.

        Does sweedenborg ever mention spirits doing this ?

        • Lee says:

          Hi AJ749,

          Let’s talk about that over at the Reincarnation article, just to keep things from getting too off-topic here.

  22. Luna says:

    Does the majority of the population go to heaven or hell?

    If so, is their a percentage ever mentioned in Heaven and Hell or anywhere else?

    • Lee says:

      Hi Luna,

      Swedenborg never gives a percentage of people who are in heaven vs. those who are in hell. The closest he comes is saying that at the end of a church or spiritual era, when evil has become strong on the earth, there are many evil people on the earth, and that swells the number of people going to hell. But then God executes a Last Judgment, overcomes and clears out the evil choking the spiritual world, and gives new light to people on earth, so that the pathway to heaven is clear and open again.

      I have always figured that there are more people in heaven than in hell for the simple reason that all babies and children, including teens, I believe, who die go to heaven, not to hell. Put that together with people’s free choice as adults whether to go to heaven or to hell, and my belief that at least half of them will choose heaven, and that means that heaven will outnumber hell. But that’s just my optimistic worst-case scenario. Really, I don’t know, and I’m not sure Swedenborg knew either, the relative number of people in heaven vs. people in hell.

  23. K says:

    I think Swedenborg said that disease is somehow a physical manifestation of evil. That sounds dubious, but what makes it sound even more dubious is that there was likely disease on Earth long before Homo sapiens even appeared.

    • Lee says:

      Hi K,

      Yes, Swedenborg’s understanding of cosmology and paleontology were quite rudimentary by today’s standards. He thought, for example, that predatory animals came into being only after the Fall. Of course, he interpreted that story metaphorically rather than literally. Even so, it doesn’t work. We now know that that there were predators on earth long before humans came into existence.

      But these natural sciences were still in their infancy in Swedenborg’s day. He could only draw on the knowledge he had. Much of that knowledge has been superseded by subsequent scientific discovery.

      Rather than take up these thorny issues here, I’ll refer you to an article that does wrestle with them. We can continue the conversation there if you like.

      How can we have Faith when So Many Bad Things happen to So Many Good People? Part 2

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Lee & Annette Woofenden

Lee & Annette Woofenden

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