In the article, “The Bible, Emanuel Swedenborg, and Reincarnation,” I wrote this:
In the spiritual world, it is not only possible for us to re-experience events in our own lives from the records of it in our spiritual memory, but for the angels and spirits around us to share in that experience.
For example, Swedenborg describes how angels are able to draw out of the memories of criminals who have died the exact circumstances of their crimes, and display every single detail of each crime, one after another from beginning to end, until they cannot possibly deny what they have done. See Heaven and Hell #462b (scroll down to 462b).
In response to this, here is a Spiritual Conundrum submitted to Spiritual Insights for Everyday Life by a reader named Heather:
I have read through your page about how angels can tease out your real thinking when you were on earth. (Heaven & Hell 462). I want to know if you have confessed to Jesus about your misbehaviour on earth, will the angels still show you, your wrong doings in the spiritual world.
Thanks for the great question, Heather!
The short answer is: No.
The still-pretty-short answer is: If you have confessed your misbehavior to Jesus (or for non-Christians, to God as you understand God), and you have stopped doing it because it is wrong and contrary to God’s will, then you will not have to answer for it in the spiritual world. The process of spiritual examination and prosecution that Emanuel Swedenborg (1688–1772) describes in Heaven and Hell #462b happens for people who deny and try to hide their wrongdoings. (It is common, however, for us to review the events of our lives when we die, accompanied by angels to guide us through the process.)
If that’s all you want to know, you can stop reading now!
If you want more, let’s take a closer look. As it turns out, Swedenborg took his cue from the Bible, which has a few things to say on this subject.
The spiritual statute of limitations
In our legal system here on earth, many crimes and misdemeanors have a statute of limitations. After a certain number of years, the offender can no longer be prosecuted for that particular incident. This means that if the offense is not too serious, and there are no repeat offenses, there is a time after which a lawbreaker no longer has to worry about being charged and convicted for it. It’s like having a fresh start.
Our spiritual statute of limitations comes into effect whenever we admit to what we have done wrong and commit ourselves to never doing it again. This is the meaning of repentance in the Bible. When we “cease to do evil, learn to do good” (Isaiah 1:16–17), we put our misbehavior behind us spiritually, even if we may continue to experience some of its repercussions socially, legally, and financially.
According to the Bible, once we have repented, the wrongs we did previously are no longer held against us. This is the message of Ezekiel 18:21–23:
But if the wicked turn away from all their sins that they have committed and keep all my statutes and do what is lawful and right, they will surely live; they will not die. None of the transgressions that they have committed will be remembered against them; for the righteousness that they have done they will live. Have I any pleasure in the death of the wicked, says the Lord God, and not rather that they should turn from their ways and live?
None of the transgressions that they have committed will be remembered against them. Spiritually speaking, once we repent and begin a new and better life, our previous sins are forgotten. They are in the past, and God is content to let sleeping dogs lie. (For more on the message of Ezekiel 18, see “If You Think You’re Going to Hell, Please Read This First”)
On this basis, Swedenborg says that in the spiritual world, “no one suffers any punishment for evil things done in the world, only for current evil deeds” (Heaven and Hell #509). He goes on to say, though, that for those with evil hearts, it amounts to the same thing as if they were punished for what they had done on earth. That’s because they keep right on doing the same evil and destructive things they had done in the world, bringing punishment down upon themselves for their continued misdeeds.
But for those who stop doing evil things—and not just for social and financial expediency or self-preservation, but because they realize that their behavior is wrong and against God’s will—there will be no spiritual prosecution or punishment for their former misdeeds.
Spiritual prosecution is for people who deny their crimes
In Luke 12:2–3, Jesus says:
Nothing is covered up that will not be uncovered, and nothing secret that will not become known. Therefore whatever you have said in the dark will be heard in the light, and what you have whispered behind closed doors will be proclaimed from the housetops.
Notice that Jesus is speaking about secret things we have done, and words we have whispered in the dark.
This is just what Swedenborg is talking about in Heaven and Hell 462b:
There have been people who denied the crimes and transgressions they had committed in the world. To prevent them from believing they were blameless, everything was disclosed and drawn out of their own memory in sequence from the beginning of their life to the end. (emphasis added)
The process of examination that these people go through is for the purpose of breaking up their denial and their lies, and making it plain both to themselves and to others exactly what they have done. For some examples of how this happens in the spiritual world, click on this link for Heaven and Hell #462, and scroll down to #462b.
It’s enough to make you think twice about engaging in secret crimes and affairs! Meanwhile, those who are inclined to indulge in gossip might want to think seriously about this saying of Jesus in Matthew 12:36:
I tell you, on the day of judgment you will have to give an account for every thoughtless word you speak.
(For more on gossip, see “Hugh Jackman Battles . . . Gossip?”)
For those who have changed their ways, it is different
People who have had near-death experiences often report that while they were out of their body they experienced a review of their whole life, accompanied by an angel (or “being of light”) as their guide. These life reviews are similar in one way to what Swedenborg describes in Heaven and Hell #462b: the angels draw out of people’s memories all of the experiences of their lives, and present it to them in sequence.
However, the purpose of these life reviews during near-death experiences is usually quite different from what Swedenborg describes in Heaven and Hell #462b. Instead of establishing the guilt of people who have committed secret crimes and denied them, the purpose of the life review is to learn from the events of our lives, both good and bad.
A life review is not a spiritual prosecution, but a summing up of our life, and a tying up of loose ends. Are there things you have said and done in the past that you still feel bad about? If you carry them to your grave, you will have an opportunity to resolve them in your mind and heart with the help and guidance of loving angels who are focused on the good in you, not on your past wrongs and your remaining character flaws.
Taking his cue from Ezekiel 18, Swedenborg is very clear about people who have confessed their misdeeds, repented from them, and now live good lives:
Good spirits are never punished, though, even though they have done bad things in the world. This is because their evils do not come back. I have also been granted a knowledge that their evils are of a different kind or nature. They do not stem from any deliberate resistance to what is true, and they are not from any evil heart except the one they acquired by heredity from their parents, which blind pleasure drove them into when they were involved in outward concerns separated from inner ones. (Heaven and Hell #509)
Do not fear, then, that you will be examined and judged harshly in the spiritual world for past misdeeds.
Yes, of course, if you are determined to keep doing evil and destructive things out of selfishness and greed, you will be called to account for your wrongful actions, and will suffer the consequences.
But if you have confessed your misdeeds in the presence of God, made amends where possible, and committed yourself to speaking and acting in a more honorable, thoughtful, and loving way in the future, even your occasional lapses and mistakes will be forgiven—along with the remaining flaws in your character. God knows that none of us is perfect, and continues to love us just the same.
If your heart is in the right place and you continue to work on improving your attitudes and your actions, all will be forgiven. And what’s even better, you will have the opportunity to continue learning and growing into a more thoughtful and loving person to eternity.
This article is a response to a spiritual conundrum submitted by a reader.
For further reading: