Must We Answer in Heaven for Misbehavior we have Confessed To on Earth?

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:


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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Posted in Spiritual Growth, The Afterlife
10 comments on “Must We Answer in Heaven for Misbehavior we have Confessed To on Earth?
  1. Ben Williams says:

    I’m not sure I’m looking forward to the life review…I think I will be cringing much of the time, especially as you supposedly get to experience what other people felt when you “sinned” against them.

    • Lee says:

      Hi Ben,

      Fortunately, for those who are good-hearted and conscientious, the being of light who serves as a guide for the life review is very loving and merciful, and focuses our attention on what we can learn from those experiences rather than on how evil and sinful we are for the things we have done.

  2. Lucas says:

    Hi, I’ve been watching videos and reading about Swedenborg’s works. I must say that I’ve been liking what he has claimed but the skeptic in me has wondered if he was suffering from some delusion or insanity- albeit good delusion and insanity, if you can say that.

    I’ve asked myself is there anything in Swedenborg’s writings that can be falsified and therefore bring everything into question. I was hoping I wouldn’t find anything. Unfortunately I did.

    It seems to me that Swedenborg’s authority lies in his experiences in the Afterlife. If he is shown that he has had false experiences, then nothing he says can be accepted.

    Well, I came across a reference to his book Life on Other Worlds. Here he talks about his conversations ohumans and their spirits living on the Moon and the five known planets in his time. We know that no humans are on Mercury , Venus or Jupiter. These worlds are just too inhospitable for life let alone human beings.

    Therefore, his whole excursion into the Afterlife is a delusion and cannot be accepted.

    Now, I’m hoping that you can rebut this refutation.

    • Lee says:

      Hi Lucas,

      Thanks for stopping by, and for your comment. Of course, you’ll have to make up your own mind about Swedenborg. However, I do have a couple of articles here that may help.

      But first, I would encourage you not to believe anything on mere authority. Beliefs accepted in that way are shallow, brittle, and easily broken when something contrary comes up. It’s better to entertain doubts by looking into ideas and evidence that is contrary to the belief or concept you’re considering, and thoroughly work it out in your own mind in the presence of such opposition and doubts. Then, if after that process you come to think that a particular belief or concept is true, your belief will be much more deeply rooted, flexible, and able to weather the storms of opposition and doubt that will surely come.

      So to my mind, your looking for and finding something that could falsify the teachings in Swedenborg’s writings is a good thing. Here is what Swedenborg himself says on this general subject:

      It is in accordance with the laws of order that no one should become convinced of the truth instantaneously, that is, should instantaneously be made so sure of the truth that he is left in no doubt at all about it. The reason for this is that when truth is impressed on a person in that kind of way, he becomes so fully convinced of it that it cannot be broadened in any way or qualified in any way. Truth like this is represented in the next life as that which is hard, not allowing good into itself to make it pliable. This goes to explain why in the next life as soon as some truth is presented through plain experience to good spirits, some opposing idea giving rise to doubt is presented. In this way they are led to think and ponder over whether it is indeed a truth, gather reasons in support of it, and so introduce that truth into their minds by the use of reason. This enables their spiritual vision in respect of that truth to be broadened, seeing even into the ideas that are opposed to it. They therefore see and perceive with their understanding every characteristic of the truth, and from this are able to let in the influences coming from heaven as the situation demands; for truths take varying forms as dictated by circumstances. (Arcana Coelestia #7298)

      So I’m not at all concerned that you’ve found some things in Swedenborg’s writings that cause you to doubt his teachings. In fact, I’m glad you’re finding them right away, so that you can turn it all over in your mind and come to your own conclusions based on a deeper investigation.

      In particular, Swedenborg’s Earths in the Universe (aka Life on Other Worlds) is great for discouraging people who are bound to reject Swedenborg’s teachings because they are stuck on issues of authority, and have a fairly materialistic focus to their minds. I have come to believe that God, being quite well aware that none of the other planets in our solar system are inhabited, quite intentionally prompted Swedenborg to write that book in order to weed out people who would believe Swedenborg’s writings on mere authority, and for superficial reasons.

      Also, Swedenborg himself never claimed authority due to his spiritual world experiences. First, he regularly asked people to evaluate and rationally consider his doctrines in their own minds, and not to accept them on mere authority. Second, although he does refer to and describe his spiritual world experiences heavily throughout his works, here is what he said about the source of the teachings in his writings:

      The Lord cannot manifest himself to everyone in person, as has been shown just above, and yet he foretold that he would come and build a new church, which is the New Jerusalem. Therefore it follows that he is going to accomplish this through the agency of a human being who can not only accept these teachings intellectually but also publish them in printed form.

      I testify in truth that the Lord manifested himself to me, his servant, and assigned me to this task; after doing so, he opened the sight of my spirit and brought me into the spiritual world; and he has allowed me to see the heavens and the hells and to have conversations with angels and spirits on a continual basis for many years now. I also testify that ever since the first day of this calling, I have accepted nothing regarding the teachings of this church from any angel; what I have received has come from the Lord alone while I was reading the Word. (True Christianity #779, italics added)

      With that as a general answer to your questioning, I’ll recommend these two articles here for more specific responses and information, from my perspective on Swedenborg and his writings:

      1. Do the Teachings of Emanuel Swedenborg take Precedence over the Bible?
      2. Aliens vs. Advent: Swedenborg’s 1758 Book on Extraterrestrial Life

      I hope these articles will be helpful to you in coming to your own conclusions about Swedenborg’s writings and the teachings in them. If, after reading them, you have more questions, please don’t hesitate to ask.

  3. Tony says:

    hi lee

    Here’s a thought does jesus himself get judged? I mean even though he lived a sinless live he still lived among us and we all are supposed to judged once we die.

    • Lee says:

      Hi Tony,

      No. From a Christian perspective, Jesus was not a mere human being, but was God come to earth in physical form. Instead of being judged, he “ascended to the Father,” meaning that he became fully one with God.

  4. Tony says:

    so does that mean god wants us to be fully one with him like in the beginning with adam and eve?

    • Lee says:

      Hi Tony,

      Of course, the kind of oneness we can have with God is not the same as the oneness of Jesus Christ as God. But yes, God wants us to to be one with God, and the state of Adam and Eve before the fall, when God walked with them in the garden and spoke to them face to face, is a metaphor for the kind of oneness we could have with God.

      Unfortunately, humanity did fall far from the pristine state in which God created us. And now we’re climbing slowly back upwards toward harmony and oneness with God in the sense of more and more fully accepting God’s love, wisdom, and power into our lives. It’s a two steps forward, one step back sort of process. But I do believe we’re gradually moving toward the spiritual state of closeness to God and to one another that’s symbolized by the Holy City, New Jerusalem, descending out of heaven from God, as described in the last two chapters of the Bible. For more on this, see: Is the World Coming to an End? What about the Second Coming?

  5. silverpen123 says:

    Everyone leaves out the crimes committed against another person unjustly, one that ruined a person’s life because of it. When the person who committed the crime (maybe) repents to God, they leave out the part of asking for forgiveness and repairing to the one who’s life they damaged. “Love thy neighbor” is forgotten. Makes no sense and leaves out justice, reparation, and healing for the one who was hurt. Can you expand on this?

    • Lee says:

      Hi silverpen123,

      I did mention, toward the end of the article, “making amends where possible.” If it is possible for a person who has repented to undo some of the damage done previously, and he or she neglects to do that, then I would question the sincerity of the repentance.

      However, the reality is that we can never undo all of the damage we did before we woke up spiritually. And in some cases the people we hurt want nothing to do with us, so that attempting to make amends would just be rubbing salt into their wounds and making things worse. The fact of the matter is that evil and selfish actions hurt people—and that’s why they’re evil.

      In the end, fixing all of that damage and bringing healing to people is God’s job—and probably the job of a lot of other people besides us. It is hubris to think that we can fix everything we’ve broken. The main thing is not to engage in even more evil and destructive words and actions, so that we don’t keep on breaking things and wrecking people’s lives.

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