In a comment on my recent article, “The Afterlife: It’s Not as Different as you Think!” a reader named Richard Neer responded to my statement that angels go through their daily life in much the same way we do here on earth. He said:
Does this statement not imply the afterlife is comprised of corporeal, physical matter attributes, having properties of a physical existence? And if so, how is it possible, where, on what plane of existence? After all, you can’t play tennis and hit a ball which does not exist with a racquet that does not physically exist either. These statements empirically define a physical world.
I’ll reproduce Richard’s full comment in a minute, and give a fuller response. Here’s the short version:
As described by scientist, philosopher, and theologian Emanuel Swedenborg (1688–1772) there are three overall levels of reality:
- divine reality (God)
- spiritual reality (the spiritual world and the human mind)
- material reality (the physical world, including the human body)
Each of these three levels of reality has its own type of substance:
- divine substance (which is God’s love)
- spiritual substance (the stuff the spiritual world is made of)
- physical matter (the stuff the physical universe is made of)
We’ll skip over divine reality for now. It’s beyond our human experience anyway.
This leaves spiritual and physical reality. Each of these has its own substance. And we humans have two sets of senses adapted to these two kinds of substance:
- our physical senses
- our spiritual senses
When our physical senses are active, we sense and feel physical objects.
When our spiritual senses are active, we sense and feel spiritual objects—which look, sound, smell, taste, and feel the same to our spiritual senses as physical objects do to our physical senses.
So even though the spiritual world is not made of physical matter, it is a real and solid world, in which we live very human lives.
Let’s look at all of this more closely.
Isn’t physical matter required for a tangible existence?
Here is Richard’s full comment:
I am puzzled about something. In this article, you state:
“Angels get up in the morning, eat, go to work, come back home and enjoy an afternoon or evening of recreation, eat dinner, and go to bed. They have their Sabbath days in which they attend services where they listen to preachers. They have other events and celebrations that they enjoy. And yes, they even play tennis and go to concerts.”
Does this statement not imply the afterlife is comprised of corporeal, physical matter attributes, having properties of a physical existence? And if so, how is it possible, where, on what plane of existence? After all, you can’t play tennis and hit a ball which does not exist with a racquet that does not physically exist either. These statements empirically define a physical world.
To continue with my inquiry, I am going to correlate our ‘soul’ with our energy, or spark of life as some may call it, or our ‘life force’, since this energy does exist within us in the physical sense until our death. Its origin is still unproven, and its departure from us still holds many mysteries. However, our physical existence is comprised of chemical reactions to, and creating, electrical impulses which further our existence, or life, as we call it. Therefore, in this context, I liken it to our ‘soul’, for definition.
If, when we die here on earth, our (energy) soul continues on with its existence and ‘life’ persists pretty much the same, then where is the new physical matter world that the soul must become part of to experience such continuation? To the best of any scientific position I know of, our energy would still exist in this plane, just as our lifeless physical body does. How could it not? Energy is a measurable attribute (though our ‘soul’ technically is not – a conundrum in itself here), and laws of physics do apply, specifically The Law of Conservation of Energy, in that, energy simply cannot just disappear (leave our plane of existence). So, where does it go to to become part of this afterlife you describe?
This descriptive ‘life’ above would require physical matter to exist, physical food sources (and the need for them, or many would be jobless!), engineering, mechanics, bio-energy sources and the utilization and consumption thereof, etc, and the whole gambit of material presence we refer to as life here on earth.
Yet no physical world or destination is ever presented as the afterlife, or that of which we are taught, or what we are given as any definition to Heaven, Hell, or Eternity for that matter. In fact, it appears to be just the opposite. If one is to believe in the dogmatic teachings of faith and religion, that is.
Another point or two that has been pestering me is what I ran across in others’ reviews regarding Swedenborg’s Heaven and Hell. His interpretation of Heaven, or presentation thereof, did not include animals (or pets) having the same attributes they have here on earth (animals do not have souls). Or that beautiful gardens may, in fact, be only mirages and not actually made up of all the flora that exists in creation, complete with its different textures, aromas and other attributes. How would this be possible in your scenario? Does this not conflict with your presentation? What is your interpretation of these points? How does this coincide with what you stated above?
About pets, please see the article, “Will We See our Pets Again in Heaven?”
There are animals and plants in heaven. And they have every bit as much structure, detail, and complex functionality as animals and plants on earth. It’s just that rather than existing independently of our thoughts and feelings, the plants and animals in heaven reflect the thoughts and feelings of the angels living in the area. This actually makes them more real, not less, than the plants and animals here on earth.
But let’s get to the overall question. Once we get some answers to that under our belt, what I just said about animals and plants in heaven might make a little more sense.
The spiritual world is a distinct level of reality
As I said above, according to Emanuel Swedenborg there are three general levels of reality:
- divine reality
- spiritual reality
- material reality
Each one of these exists in its own distinct realm.
Divine reality is God, who is the source of the other two levels of reality. God is not made of physical matter, nor is God made of spiritual substance. God is made of infinite divine substance, which is love (see 1 John 4:8, 16).
Now, love may seem like a wispy, ethereal thing. And yes, it is immaterial. But it is not wispy. Divine love is a real substance that is both infinitely tangible and infinitely energetic on its own (divine) level. In other words, divine love is both a substance and an energy. That substance and energy is the source of spiritual substance and energy, and it is also the source of physical matter and energy—which is created through and from spiritual substance and energy.
Now, if divine reality created spiritual and material reality, it must be more real than spiritual and material reality, not less.
However, as I also said above, divine reality is beyond our human experience. So let’s look at spiritual and material reality.
Material reality is easy enough. We see, hear, smell, taste, and touch it every day. It seems like the realest of reality because we can stub our toe on it.
And yet, what really drives us and defines us as human beings? Is the particular configuration of our physical body what defines us? Or are we, rather, defined by what is in our heart, mind, and character?
The things that make us truly human are all non-physical. They are our loves, our motives, our ideas, our aspirations, our emotions, our skills and capabilities, our relationships, and so on.
Take all of these inner, spiritual things away from us, and what’s left?
Not much. Just a complex lump of animated flesh.
It is, in fact, our mind and heart—meaning our spirit—that drives our physical body. Our physical body is merely a tool in the hands of our spirit. Yes, it’s an incredibly complex and amazing tool. But it’s still just a tool. It does what our mind tells it to do.
So when we think of physical reality as being the realest of reality, we’re not paying attention to what actually is most real and most important in our own life and our own experience.
Is matter really solid?
It would be more accurate to say that physical reality is more solid and stable than spiritual reality.
Or is it?
To our ordinary, unenhanced senses, physical objects look very solid and real. If we bang our head against a brick wall, it hurts! If a rock crushes our head, we die.
And yet, modern physics tells us that matter is mostly empty space. When we bang our head against a brick wall, it is not really two lumps of stuff bumping up against each other. Rather, it is electromagnetic and atomic forces encountering each other and resisting—or giving in to—the electromagnetic and atomic forces of the other object.
The most “solid” part of an atom is the nucleus, where the protons and neutrons are. However, in the ordinary matter that we encounter every day—walls, tables, swimming pools, and so on—the atomic nuclei never get anywhere near each other. Instead, the interactions between atoms primarily consist of electromagnetic and other interactions among the tiny little electrons that whiz around at high speed and at great distances (atomically speaking) from the nucleus.
So in ordinary matter, nothing really touches anything else. The structure consists of atomic and subatomic forces interacting with one another in very complex ways that either lock the atoms and molecules together into a solid structure (in solid matter) or allow the atoms and molecules to slide past one another (in liquid and gaseous matter).
Though it’s not really an accurate picture, you could think of an atom as an incredibly tiny version of our solar system. There’s a nucleus, represented by the sun, around which a number of electrons orbit, represented by the planets.
How solid is our solar system?
In terms of ordinary matter, our solar system is mostly empty space. It has only a few little chunks of matter (the sun, planets, asteroids, and so on) spinning through a vast space. Most of the time, none of them actually touch each other. They are all held together by gravitational forces that act over large distances. Whole chunks of matter can go flying right through the solar system without ever hitting anything.
On their own tiny scale, that’s how it is with the atoms and molecules that make up the “solid” objects we encounter every day. Their “solidity” is something of an illusion. When we grab something or bump into something, what feels solid to us is really a complex interaction of forces repelling and attracting one another.
Even this is a vast simplification of the incredible complexity of continually forming and decaying subatomic particles and forces that all go together to make objects that to us just look like a brick or a hammer.
So how real is this material world that we live in?
The closer we look, the more we discover that this planet we live on is nothing like the solid, stable, almost inert chunk of stuff that it appears to be. The real miracle of the material universe is that anything manages to exist at all given the maelstrom of forces, waves, particles, and other odd stuff continually being created and destroyed and constantly whizzing around inside of everything we see.
Physical reality is very different than it seems. It’s much more complex and elusive than most ordinary mortals can possibly imagine.
Spiritual substance operates at a different level of reality
Given the complexities of the material universe, which scientists are only just beginning to understand, is it really so strange to consider the possibility that there are whole other orders of reality that aren’t visible to our physical senses?
Most of what we consider solid, material reality consists of forces and tiny structures that push the limits of what our physical senses can perceive even with massive scientific instruments costing billions of dollars to construct. What greater complexities and wonders await us as we look deeper and deeper into the nature of the universe?
Think, in particular, about the incredible complexities of the human mind and human consciousness. Some materialistic scientists confidently state that these can all be explained as electromagnetic impulses and fields operating within the physical brain and body. But we’re so far from being able to explain human thoughts and emotions through science that such statements are really just expressions of pure faith on the part of those scientists that the system they believe in—science—will ultimately be able to explain even the mysteries of human consciousness.
In reality, our experience of those things is on a whole different level than our experience of kicking a ball or eating a sandwich. Is love really the same sort of thing as a banana? Is an idea really the same sort of thing as a rock?
Love, ideas, motives, desires, emotions, intelligence . . . these things all operate in a sphere of reality that is quite distinct from the various material objects and forces that form the physical universe. Yes, the two interact with one another, such as when we give someone a bear hug because we love them so much. But a hug is a very different thing from love. One is physical. The other is spiritual. Love is not made of physical matter. Neither is thought. These exist on an entirely different level of reality.
Our human experience tells us that we operate on two distinct levels. One is our physical body, and all its physical interactions with the physical objects around us. The other is our mind, or spirit, and all of its interactions both within our own mind and with other minds and spirits around us.
As long as we are here on earth, our mental and spiritual interactions with other people take place through our physical body—through our words and actions.
But what about after we die? What about when we leave our physical body behind? Do we then become wispy clouds of ethereal energy wafting through interstellar space?
No, we don’t. Because even though our physical senses can’t detect it, our spirit operates within a very real and solid world of its own.
That world is the spiritual world—a world that is made, not of physical matter, but of spiritual substance. And when our spiritual senses are activated, we can touch and feel spiritual substance just as easily as we can touch and feel physical matter with our bodily senses.
That’s because we are then conscious in a level of reality that is entirely distinct from physical reality, and yet is very real—in fact, more real than physical reality.
Our inner world controls our outer world
In our ordinary, everyday experience, which has more power, matter or spirit?
Yes, physical matter does have a certain amount of force. A strong wind can knock us over. A fire can scorch and burn us. A flood can drown us.
But look at what the human mind has done with the material world around us!
Through the power of our mind, we have harnessed many of the forces of nature, and put them to work to serve our needs. We have built skyscrapers, roads, automobiles, airplanes, and any number of other things to make our lives easier, to extend our power within our material surroundings, and to make it possible for us to have many more complex relationships with one another than we could otherwise have.
So which is really more powerful? Physical matter or the human spirit?
Perhaps the physical universe will win out in the end. But the end of that story is not yet written. Our daily experience tells us that the human spirit controls the material world in which we live much more than the other way around.
If Swedenborg is correct, then the spiritual world is the very real and very powerful universe in which the human mind and heart exist. In fact, that world operates at so much higher and more powerful a level than the physical universe that the spiritual world is the source of the physical world. (And of course, the source of both worlds is the ultimate reality of God.)
Experience says that the spiritual world is real and tangible
Most of us have at least some experience of how solid and real the spiritual world can be. That experience is in our dreams.
When we are dreaming, none of what we are experiencing is happening physically. And yet, the dream often feels just as real to us as our waking experience. In fact, sometimes it is much more vivid than our waking experience.
In our dreams, we eat, we travel, we make things, we make love. We talk to other people and share experiences with them. We see vast vistas or go through dark and scary tunnels. Sometimes we wake up from nightmares with our heart pounding and sweat dripping off our body. Or we may wake from a beautiful dream with a sense that there really is meaning to our often dark and dreary days.
Dreams are like a visit to a spiritual movie theater. They’re not exactly like the everyday experience of angels and spirits in the afterlife. But they do show us that we can have very real and tangible experiences that are entirely non-material. They take place only in the world of the mind.
A more direct experience of the spiritual world comes to us through the growing torrent of reports of near-death experiences. When people who almost die come back and tell us about another realm that they visited, they do not describe a vague, wispy, and shadowy world. In fact, near-death experiencers commonly report that compared to what they experienced in the other world, this material world seems vague, dim, and unreal.
And finally, Emanuel Swedenborg provided us with an extensive eyewitness account of the spiritual world in his most popular book, Heaven and Hell. There he describes a complete and very real spiritual world that has everything we have here: rocks, fields, trees, mountains, valleys, rivers, sun, moon, stars, buildings, and human communities. Here is what Swedenborg says about our passage into the spiritual world:
Repeated experience has shown me that when we move from the physical world into the spiritual world, which happens when we die, we take with us everything that pertains to our character except our earthly body. In fact, when we enter the spiritual world or our life after death, we are in a body just as we were in this world. There seems to be no difference, since we do not feel or see any difference. That body is spiritual, though, so it has been separated or purified from earthly matter. Further, when anything spiritual touches and sees something spiritual, it is just like something physical touching and seeing something physical. (Heaven and Hell #461)
This solid and real spiritual world is the world we inhabit after our physical body dies and our spirit moves on to the next world.
Spiritual reality is complex and highly structured
We know that material reality consists of many very complex interactions that form highly structured objects and relationships between objects.
This is even more true of spiritual reality.
Consider our body as an example. An adult human body consists of about 100 trillion cells, forming a very complex and varied set of bones, muscles, ligaments, organs, and other structures, all put together in a very exact order to form something that we think of as one body. Every one of those incredibly intricate and complex structures is necessary for the body to exist and function as it does.
The same thing is true of our spiritual body.
Our spiritual body is not some wispy, smoky, cloudy thing, nor is it a ball of unorganized energy. Rather, our spiritual body is just as intricate, organic, and complex on the spiritual level of reality as our physical body is on the material level of reality.
Our spiritual body looks exactly like our physical body. It has a head, torso, arms, legs, hands, feet, genitalia, and every other visible structure of the body. And it contains within it every part and organ that our physical body contains: brain, heart, lungs, liver, kidneys, spleen, pancreas, muscles, bones, and so on.
Spiritual reality doesn’t just magically function. It functions through specific, organized structures just as physical reality does.
In fact, spiritual structures are the source and pattern of the physical structures that we see here in the material universe. That’s why when we enter the spiritual world, we will see everything that we see here: animals, plants, rivers, mountains, stars, and of course, other people. As we go deeper into the spiritual world, we will see even more things that can’t or don’t exist in the material world. That’s because spiritual substance is far more subtle, pliable, and responsive to God’s creative energy than physical matter is.
So if you’ve held to some idea of the spiritual world as a vague and shadowy place consisting of pure energy zipping around, put that idea out of your mind.
Or perhaps think more deeply about it.
Spiritual substance is responsive to the minds and hearts of angels and spirits
Remember how this physical world is very different than it seems to our senses? Much of what we think of as solid consists mostly of electromagnetic and atomic forces attracting and repelling one another in very complex ways.
The same is true of spiritual reality. Yes, there is actual substance in the spiritual world, just as there is actual matter in the physical world. But at least as far back as Einstein we have been aware that matter and energy are interchangeable: one can be converted into the other.
The same is true of spiritual reality. Spiritual substance and spiritual energy can flow and convert seamlessly into one another even more easily than physical matter and energy can. That’s because spiritual substance and energy operate at a higher and more subtle level than physical matter and energy.
What this means is that spiritual substance can reorganize itself very quickly and completely to reflect the spiritual states of the angels and spirits who live in various areas and levels of the spiritual world. (Though really, it’s God doing the reorganizing.)
You see, since spiritual substance is . . . well . . . spiritual, it does not respond to physical forces and physical stimuli as matter does. Instead, it responds to spiritual forces and spiritual stimuli.
This means, practically speaking, that spiritual substance is very responsive and adaptable to the thoughts and feelings of the angels and spirits nearby. That’s why all the objects we see in the spiritual world are reflections of the mental and emotional states of the spirits and angels there.
For example, if angels are having tender and gentle feelings toward one another, beautiful and gentle animals such as sheep and deer will appear nearby. But if evil spirits are having fierce and combative feelings toward one another, fierce, predatory animals such as tigers and alligators will appear nearby.
The spiritual world is both stable and varied
Does this mean that the scenes angels and spirits live in are constantly changing?
Yes and no.
Some things in the environment of angels and spirits remain very stable day in and day out. That’s because they reflect the settled personality and character of the angels and spirits.
For example, Swedenborg describes angels living in particular types of houses, from tents to wooden structures to vast ornate palaces, depending on whether their minds are simple and loving or more practical in orientation or highly intellectual and complex. Though there may be some changes here and there over time, the dwellings of particular angels and spirits remain stable for thousands of years because they reflect the basic, settled character of those angels.
Other things in the environment of angels change and vary from day to day, and even from minute to minute. For example, birds, Swedenborg says, reflect the thoughts and ideas that flit through our heads from moment to moment. So the birds we see around us in the spiritual world will be just as varied and changeable as our varied and changing thoughts throughout the day.
Come to think of it, different varieties birds are constantly coming and going here on earth, too . . . . So you see, the spiritual world is really not all that different from the material world!
It’s just that the scenery of the spiritual world corresponds to the mental and emotional states of the angels and spirits who live there. So the environment we live in there is just as stable—and just as varied and changing—as is our character and our daily flow of thoughts, feelings, and activities. There is a certain stability due to the basic stability of our underlying character. There is also continual change and variation that reflects our changing moods and changing subjects of thought throughout the day.
In this way, the animals, plants, and scenery of heaven are much more real than those of the physical universe.
Because in heaven, everything we see, hear, smell, taste, and touch immediately and perfectly reflects the realities of heart and mind, of love and wisdom, that are the deeper substance and form of the universe, and the greatest realities of our own human existence.
How about that tennis?
Okay, I have a confession to make. Swedenborg didn’t actually say that angels play tennis. That’s based on a mistranslation. Here’s what he did say, from a story he tells in Marriage Love #17, and again in True Christianity #745:
On the outskirts of the city there are various sporting events for teens and young adults. There are running games and ball games, including a game with a rebounding ball, called rackets. There are also contests in the arena for teenagers in order to see who is quicker or slower in speech, action, and perception. Those who are quicker are awarded a laurel wreath as their prize. There are also many other activities designed to bring out the young people’s hidden talents.
Swedenborg wasn’t talking about tennis. He was talking about the game of rackets—which had recently become all the rage in eighteenth century Europe! And it wouldn’t surprise me if the angels in those communities of people who lived in eighteenth century Europe are still playing rackets.
As for me, I’ll take tennis! Or maybe volleyball. Or soccer . . . that’s a good game.
Or I’ll hop onto my brand new Cervélo RCA road bike and power smoothly through the beautiful hills and valleys of heaven on those celestial streets of gold.
One can always dream . . . .
For further reading:
First, let me say that your perspective is an amazing breath of fresh air and has helped me grow closer to God. I grew up in a traditional christian background, and soon things started to not add up. When I read your article on the different religions it made so much sense to me. My current question is, although I’m not trans gender myself, what gender are teams gender people when they go to heaven? Are they their biological gender or their authentic gender? I’m honestly just curious.
Thanks for everything,
Thanks for stopping by, and for your kind words. I’m glad the articles here are helping you in your spiritual walk.
About your question, I really don’t know the answer. Gender and transgender issues are complex. For example, some people are born hermaphroditic. The parents and doctors must then choose a gender for the infant. It’s quite possible that the choice they make will not match the person’s unfolding identity. There are many other situations as well. What gender will the person be in heaven? I honestly don’t know.
However, two factors do bear on the question:
1. We carry our settled personality and character with us into the other life. The only thing we leave behind is our physical body. Any gender issues that are a result of physical issues will be resolved in favor of the person’s genuine psychological character.
2. Since God is love, I have full faith that God will provide a happy state in the afterlife for everyone who has lived a good life–meaning a life of love and service to their fellow human beings–regardless of gender identity issues. God looks at the quality of a person’s character.
I think this is a good place to ask the question…if the spiritual world does in fact have substance, does that mean there are also resources in the sense that people need to engage in some degree of resource management? (If so, I’m sure it wouldn’t need to be nearly as strict as here, since there would surely be an abundance, but is it completely unlimited or just practically unlimited or not even that?)
I’ve been wondering this for years, because I keep thinking, if resources are literally completely unlimited in heaven, why is it so important for us to learn resource management skills here on earth? (Earth as a training ground is an idea I’ve embraced for years, long before I even heard about Swedenborg…)
Thanks in advance for your reply, but no rush on this one, I don’t mean to take up too much of your time…
Hi Seeking to understand,
If by “resource management” you mean issues of managing nature, agriculture, raw materials for manufacturing and supporting the population, and so on, then that per se is not an issue in the spiritual world. There, our natural surroundings, including all the flora and fauna, do not have an independent existence. Rather, they appear, persist, and disappear as an expression of the thoughts and feelings of the communities of angels (or in hell, of devils) there. If you see fields of wheat or stands of timber or herds of elk in the spiritual world, it is because they are expressing the way of thinking and feeling of the communities of people in the vicinity. This is not exactly “creating our own reality,” since God is the one actually doing the creating through the prism of the minds of the angels and spirits living there. But the effect is the same either way: in the spiritual world, everything around us expresses what is within us.
This means that in heaven, what we need to manage is not the world of nature and its resources, but the world of our thoughts, feelings, and interactions and relationships with other people. Assuming we do a good job of this, then the environment around us, as an expression of these inner things, will take care of itself.
Of course, in hell people are very bad at managing their thoughts, emotions, and relationships because they are focused only on their own pleasure, possessions, and power. So they tend to live in rather barren places and experience a scarcity of food, clothing, and so on.
The way things work in the spiritual world does have its parallel here on earth. When we as a society are focused on wealth, power, and personal pleasure above all else, we tend to not just use but to abuse the natural resources available to us, and blight the planet, causing scarcity, famine, and hunger. But when we put our mind to loving our neighbor as ourselves, including providing for other people’s needs as well as our own, and being content with a generally simpler and less consumptive lifestyle ourselves, then we focus more on taking care of nature and the environment, as well as our human communities and their impact on available natural resources, in a much healthier and more sustainable way.
This means that ultimately, even here on earth learning resource management skills is all about having concern for other people and for the rest of God’s creation. That’s why engaging in it is good practice for heaven.
If you mean something different by “resource management,” please let me know.
That pretty well answers it… I had in mind all kinds of resources, natural and otherwise…in this life, money management and time management are some of the big ones, but I even think of things like calorie management as being related (except in sort of an opposite way, since one takes in calories rather than handing them out, but since the quota is limited, one still has to manage them and make sure they are spent on high-quality nutritious food rather than junk food, just like one has to make sure they spend their money and time wisely).
But from what I’ve read so far, it sounds like in heaven, we will never run out of “time” to finish whatever we want to get done before a given point, because of how we will function in states instead of limited stretches of time…and it doesn’t sound like there will be money or trade (will there?), and surely there won’t be any junk food, haha… So is the reason we need to deal with those limitations now, basically to develop self-discipline in general? And empathy and so forth?
The one thing I still don’t see anything to contradict, is the idea that God and angels do have to work with limited “human resources”, in the sense that there are apparently some things that can only be accomplished (in an acceptable manner) by earthly humans, and sometimes only those that are tuned in and listening to God’s instructions, and those people, unlike angels, do have limited amounts of time they can spend on whatever God wants them to do… (When I say “acceptable manner”, I mean in a way that won’t mess with anyone’s freedom by making them feel like they have to believe or do something out of fear, because they saw what looked like a miracle or obvious, undeniable divine intervention.) Getting new and improved laws on the books in the various countries seems like a good example. So maybe there is at least one kind of resource management that doesn’t go away. 🙂
Hi Seeking to understand,
Yes, I would agree that developing self-discipline, empathy, and so on, and doing practical, useful work for the benefit of others as we do so, is the reason for all of the work in general we do here, including resource management. The purpose of our lifetime on earth is to develop into loving, thoughtful, and capable human beings. We do that, not by retreating to a monastery and praying all day, but by engaging in various kinds of useful service for our fellow human beings.
Even as angels, however, we are still finite beings, not infinite beings. There will always be limits on what we can accomplish. Still, with eternity ahead of us, there is always another day to continue the work.
And yes, working on people who are still on this earth is, I’m sure, a challenge for angels assigned to that task. And it is a time-limited one, because we only have so much time on this earth. Angels don’t get directly involved in passing laws and making sure people stop at stop signs. However, they do work on our inner desires and attitudes, influencing us toward good ones and restraining us from bad ones to the extent that we are willing to be influenced. That inner influence then has an effect on what we do with regard to laws and stop signs because what we do flows from what we love and want and care about.
Can people in the physical use out of body experiences to explore the universe?
Can angels explore or look into the physical universe?
Good questions. Theoretically, both of these are possible. But in practice they will be rare.
About people using OBEs to explore the physical universe, this seems to be possible based on numerous stories of people traveling to nearby or even distant locations on this earth during a NDE, when their physical body is immobile and unconscious.
However, it is questionable that their perception of physical objects is entirely objective. In this case, they would be seeing physical objects with their spiritual eyes. And the primary function of spiritual eyes is to see spiritual objects, not physical objects. This opens up the possibility that during an OBE, the person’s perception is a mixture of perception of physical objects and perception of spiritual objects, so that some of the things the person sees may not actually be physically present, or may be different than the actual physical objects. Exploring the physical world by means of out of body experiences would therefore not necessarily provide the objective physical information that traveling there physically, either in person or through robotic instruments, would provide.
About angels exploring or looking into the physical universe, most commonly Swedenborg says that this happens only when an angel or spirit is allowed to look through the eyes of a person still living in the physical universe. However, this tantalizing statement in The Last Judgment #24 suggests that it is not so simple, and also provides for the phenomenon of OBEs, in which a person is seeing physical things, but not with the physical eye:
So the answer to your question appears to be that yes, angels can explore or look into the physical universe.
However, the principle I outlined in answer to your first question would likely also apply. What an angel saw when peering into the physical universe might not be the objective view of the physical universe that physical eyes or scientific instruments would see there, since there could be some admixture of spiritual reality. Also, our spiritual eyes perceive things according to our mental state, so that our view of things is not always objective even in the spiritual world. Angels’ vision would normally be fairly objective, since they are engaged in truth. Evil spirits’ vision, however, will commonly be quite distorted, since they are engaged in falsity.
Beyond that, angels generally have little interest in looking into the physical world. They have a full and happy life in the spiritual world, and they do not long for any return to the physical world. Also, spiritual reality is luminous and alive in comparison to physical reality, which is relatively dark and dead. For angels to experience the sight of physical things in the physical universe would be an experience of looking from light into darkness. It would feel like wandering around in the darkness of night instead of traveling in the brilliant light of the sun.
For these reasons, exploring the physical universe would be a distasteful experience for an angel. There would have to be some compelling reason to do so, and there would rarely be such a reason. The only compelling reason I can think of is in order to provide some service to someone still living in the physical world, which might occasionally require looking into that person’s physical surroundings. However, this would be an unusual requirement. Usually angels gain everything they need to know to help a person on earth from connecting with the person’s thoughts and emotions from within.
Evil spirits, on the other hand, being materialistic and unspiritual, commonly do have a desire to return to the physical world, where they feel more comfortable. These are the spirits who are interested in possessing people who are still alive on earth, so that they can “live” in the physical world again. However, this is generally not allowed these days. And even if it were, the evil spirit’s vision of the physical world would be distorted by their engagement in falsity.
The upshot of all this is that although it is theoretically possible for humans on earth to explore the physical universe via OBEs, and for angels to explore the physical world from heaven, this sort of thing is very rare, and when it does occur, it does not necessarily yield the same results as exploring the physical universe with physical eyes and scientific instruments.
Hi Lee. I was wondering if angels are capable of feeling pain. For example, if an angel punches a wall, would he experience pain the way we do here (or in a similar way)? Does everything that hurts here also hurts in heaven?
Angels’ spiritual bodies have all of the same organs and parts as our physical bodies do here on earth, and they work in the same way in the spiritual realm of heaven as our physical bodies do in the material realm of earth. Therefore if they punched a wall, yes, they would feel pain, just as we feel pain here on earth.
Pain is sometimes seen as a “bad” thing, and the dulling of pain through pain-killers is generally seen as a “good” thing. However, pain is vitally necessary to our physical and mental well-being. If we did not feel pain, we would not be aware when we are doing things that are damaging to our body and to our mind. Pain is a signal that we are doing something harmful, or that there are problems that need fixing. (There are, however, some instances in which pain killers are good and necessary, such as when we are undergoing surgical procedures.)
Angels are more advanced than people on earth, but they are not perfect. They still sometimes think, feel, and do things that are not right, or that are not the best that they could think, feel, and do. And they still sometimes have to learn by painful experience that their thoughts, feelings, and actions are faulty and need correcting.
For example, Swedenborg describes angels occasionally feeling sadness and temporarily falling out of their place in heaven because they start thinking they are good by themselves, and that they don’t need God. They feel emotional pain and distress until they come to their senses, and recognize that everything good and true in them is not their own or from themselves, but is from God, and is God’s in them.
As for punching walls, most angels would normally not do such a silly thing, just as most people here on earth don’t go around punching walls. But angels are, after all, still human beings. And they might occasionally get mad, so that they are not thinking straight, and punch a wall just like a person here on earth might do—especially angels of the lower heavens. In that case, the pain in their hand would help to bring them to their senses, just as the pain of punching a wall here on earth tends to be a wake-up call to someone who is getting carried away and blinded by anger and other negative emotions.
The punching on the wall thing was just an example, of course. I was gonna say “kick a wall” but it would sound even more silly.
Either way, not exactly a good idea to do any of those things, huh?
Anyway, good to know. I was just curious wondering if pain was real even in heaven, so I thought “if an angels kicks a wall (take it easy, psycho) would he feel pain or nothing at all?” because I used to think that pain did not exist in heaven. Well, now I know. Thanks, Lee!
The major pain that we feel here on earth, especially ongoing emotional pain, doesn’t affect angels in heaven. That’s what the Bible is talking about when it says there will be no more pain and sorrow, and the tears will be wiped away from all faces. We have rest from our inner “labors” of spiritual struggle and the agony of making the big decision of whether we will follow a good path or an evil path. At the time of our death, that decision is already made. We don’t have to face that kind of ultimate inner battle anymore.
But as for small daily bumps and bruises, those are still quite possible in the spiritual world. If you’re playing tennis in heaven, and the ball hits you in the face, it’s still going to smart!
Personally, I wouldn’t want to live an utterly painless existence. Where would be the triumph of scaling a mountain, or of hiking or cycling through challenging terrain, if it were all easy and painless? When I’m toward the end of a 100 mile bike ride, and totally exhausted, I sometimes wonder why I put myself through it. But the challenge of doing something hard, and the physical strength and endurance it develops, not to mention the mental stamina, is worth the effort. I don’t think I’d be happy at all in a “heaven” where everything was effortless. How do you grow and develop if not by facing real challenges?
Yes, that makes sense. Thanks!
Hello. Are angels vegetarian? I’m not vegetarian myself, but I do think that reducing meat consumption is good for the planet. Thinking about this I realised that I can’t imagine angels killing animals or having slaugtherhouses.
Also, in the beginning of Conjugial Love, Swedenborg talks about angels drinking wine. I assume that angels don’t get drunk and that this wine doesn’t have the bad effects for an angel’s health as alcohol does here on Earth, since as I understand it angels don’t get sick. So, is that just a drink that tastes like wine? At least until now I haven’t completely understood where food and drink come from in heaven.
Exactly how the “physical” mechanics of life in heaven work is not entirely clear even from Swedenborg’s extensive reporting on the spiritual world. The focus there is not on bodily things, and Swedenborg’s own mind was very much on spiritual things, so it probably just didn’t seem all that important to Swedenborg to report on such things. He had far more important things to convey to people on earth—things that have to do with God and salvation. Even when he describes banquets in heaven, he spends much more time talking about the utensils and table arrangements than he does about the food and drink themselves.
The general sense, though, is that God provides food, clothing, and housing to everyone directly, without the need to grow food, slaughter animals, and so on. I tend to think that people could grow food if they wanted to, but most people probably have other things they’d prefer to do with their time.
Swedenborg does describe some meals in heaven, and though I don’t recall him speaking of meat being on the menu, I wouldn’t swear that he never said such a thing, either. He does say in Secrets of Heaven #1002 that the people of earliest times didn’t slaughter animals and eat their flesh. But he says in the same section that no one today is condemned for eating meat, because they are doing it in good conscience.
Though I tend to think there are a lot more vegetarians in heaven than there are here on earth, I wouldn’t want to make any hard-and-fast statement that all angels are vegetarians. Consider, for example, people who come from hunter-gatherer societies, and who follow earth-based religions. Such cultures commonly have a sense of the sacred about the process of hunting animals, eating their flesh, and using their bones, horns, and so on for various purposes. I doubt this aspect of their culture will be taken away from them in the spiritual world.
As for wine, I tend to think that drinking alcohol will not be a “thing” in heaven. I doubt that angels need to get buzzed in order to feel good. I suspect, rather, that their sense of well-being will be so far beyond anything any of us experience here on earth that the effects of alcohol would be a downer for them. But once again, I wouldn’t want to make any hard-and-fast statement about it. In earlier eras, the words for “wine” were commonly also used for the unfermented beverages from which fermented wine was made. But this is a hotly debated subject, and I don’t particularly want to enter the fray. I figure we’ll find out when we get there.
Hi Lee. Thank you for your answer. Since we are talking about the “physical” aspect of heaven, when Swedenborg says that angels don’t get pregnant but instead they have “spiritual offspring” I don’t really understand exactly what he is talking about (In Heaven and Hell he mentions it in kind of a vague way). Is it that whenever they have sex they grow in holiness (love and wisdom)? For example, in Judaism, when a married couple has sex that is considered a mitzvah, that is, a good action, and they believe that all mitzvot have a very positive effect on your soul and even in the whole world. Would It be something like that?
Also, since angels don’t get pregnant or sick, would I be correct in saying that their physiology is not 100% the same as ours, but almost the same?
About “spiritual offspring” please see the section titled “Spiritual children” in this article:
Marriage in the Resurrection: The Deeper Meaning
About angels not getting sick, I suspect that some of the lower angels do get a cold or flu from time to time when they start thinking thoughts that aren’t entirely good. Remember, angels are not perfect. They’re still learning and growing, to eternity.
And as for the physiology, the human body is designed to work perfectly even here on earth. (I am aware that this is not what medical science currently believes.) If it doesn’t, it’s not because of the body itself, but because of internal and external factors that have deleterious effects upon the body. For more on this, please see:
What is the Source of Human Fragility, Sickness, and Disease?
The physiology of angels’ bodies is the same spiritually as our earthly body’s physiology is materially. However, since most (but not all) external and internal sources of sickness have been removed in heaven, angels’ bodies are simply healthier than most people’s bodies here on earth.
How was God made?
God was not made. God has always existed. God is self-existing, and is the source of everything else that exists.
How could he have always existed if he is made out of love? Where did live come from then? God can’t just create himself because something that doesn’t exist can’t just make itself exist.
For there to be anything at all, something must have always existed. If there was ever nothing at all, then nothing would have ever come into existence. Nothing comes from nothing.
The something that always existed is God. God didn’t create himself. God was not created. God was, and is, and always will be, as the Bible says (Revelation 1:8; 4:8–9).
Hi Lee. I’m curious about some of the finer points of how our surroundings in Heaven reflect our thoughts and feelings. When you speak of flora and fauna appearing that correspond to an angel’s thoughts and feelings, is this a random process, or more specific according to the angel’s thought processes at the moment? For example, if I were to think of a red maple tree as part of my immediate surroundings in Heaven, would some random beautiful tree appear, or a red maple specifically? On that note, does Swedenborg say anything about how the weather and seasons work in Heaven, or how they correspond to angels’ thoughts and feelings? Is it possible that some angels will end up living in environments that are pretty much always the weather pattern and/or season they feel most comfortable and happy with? I’ve always thought of autumn and winter as the most beautiful times on earth, and if the area I lived in in Heaven just cycled between those two, with their vibrantly colored trees, quiet snow, and crisp air, that would make me really happy. Failing that, I hope the summers there aren’t as scorching as they are nowadays!
These questions of how climate and surroundings work in the spiritual world are tricky for us to wrap our head around as long as we’re still living here on earth. In the spiritual world, although there is still a passage of events, there is no time as we know it.
In particular as relates to seasons and climates, according to Swedenborg the sun of heaven, in whose center is the Lord, always remains at a fixed location in the sky. This location does have some variation from one part of heaven to another. However, within the same area of heaven the sun is always seen, in the most common example, in the east, at a 45 degree angle from the horizon. And what’s even stranger to us here on earth, angels are always facing in that direction, no matter which way they turn their bodies.
As a result of the lack of cyclical orbital and rotational motion that we are used to here on earth, Swedenborg says that heaven is in a perpetual springtime, and there is never any true night there, though there does seem to be some sort of twilight. I doubt I’ll really understand how this all works until I get there. It’s just too different from what we’re used to here in the material world.
In hell, the sun of heaven is behind the evil spirits’ backs, largely obscured due to their subterranean location. They are also in perpetual night time and winter from the angels’ perspective, though they themselves perceive it differently. The lighting, in particular, seems normal to them. Swedenborg does describe a few scenes of churches deeply buried in snow, presumably reminiscent of winter scenes he was familiar with in his native Sweden. More often, though, he describes evil spirits living in desert areas and in underground caverns.
Counterbalancing this somewhat is the teaching that in heaven, people have everything that they most love. For people who love winter sports and go to heaven after death, I can hardly believe God says, “Sorry, no snow for you to all eternity!” Also, having grown up in New England from the time I was ten, I share your love for beautiful fall foliage.
I suspect there is more variation in heaven than what Swedenborg described. What about people whose whole lives, and the lives of all their ancestors, have been in the arctic regions? Will they suddenly be living in a tropical island paradise because they’re now in heaven? I doubt most of them would be happy with that. In general, I believe that people will live in the surroundings and climate that they most love.
About the flora and fauna, it’s not so much that people think of a maple tree and a maple tree appears. Rather, they have thoughts that correspond spiritually to a maple tree, and a maple tree appears. My sense, though, is that trees and forests have more fixity than that because they correspond to more settled and developed aspects of people’s thinking, whereas animals tend to be more variable because they correspond to people’s changing feelings, emotions, and desires. In other words, I suspect it is similar to how trees and forests here on earth are fixed in place and rather enduring, whereas animals come and go.
In general, the parts of angels’ surroundings that are enduring, and change only slowly if at all, correspond to fixed aspects of their character, both individually and as a community, whereas the changing aspects reflect the parts of them that change from day to day and moment to moment. It’s not a random kaleidoscope of ever-shifting sands. Rather, it’s a perfect reflection of the minds and hearts of the people who live there. As such, wherever angels do live, they feel perfectly at home there in a way that they would not feel anywhere else.
Thanks for your response, Lee! I agree with you that there is likely far more variation in the scenery in Heaven than Swedenborg described. After all, why would God create the four seasons to be so beautiful and unique in their own ways if He didn’t intend for that to also reflect and correspond to the next life? I would also imagine there’s quite a difference between the winters experienced by angels and evil spirits; one pleasantly chilly, beautiful and serene (and hopefully full of hot cocoa, fuzzy sweaters and sledding!), the other, unfortunately, bone-chillingly cold, dark and reminiscent of the Siberian gulags (which makes sense to me, given how far away spirits in hell are from the light and warmth of God’s love), and similarly for the other seasons. There is such beauty in diversity, both among the human race, cultures, and in the natural world, I think that God would continue to celebrate that diversity which He created in Heaven as well. As you said in a previous article, God created us all different and unique, as individuals and societies, for a very good reason, and I think the same holds true for our surroundings and environments as well.
You’re welcome. Your thoughts on this also sound good and sensible to me.
Hello Lee. I couldn’t help but wonder, given what we know of heaven and how the Bible describes the New Jerusalem, whether combat sports and games will still exist in heaven alongside tennis, bike riding and the like. I’ve wondered about this given the popularity of sports on Earth that range from rough-and-tumble, like American football, to downright brutal, like MMA. Such sports, while they can get bloody, are more often than not conducted in a spirit of fun, good-natured competitiveness, and a desire to test the athlete’s limits (at least for athletes who care about their fellow players and sportsmanship).
I know Swedenborg describes “competitions” along the lines of intellectual discussions and debates testing individual angels’ knowledge, as well as rackets, but what about more contact-oriented sports like football and martial arts, or even warlike games such as paintball and airsoft? Is it possible that angels and demons will both experience “combat” in their parts of the spiritual world, only experienced differently due to their different characters and natures? For example, demons in hell will experience conflict and battle as violent revolution, torture and backstabbing, while angels will experience it as games of football and paintball?
Will angels still be able to enjoy sports and activities that are physically as well as mentally competitive, even if they are contact or combat sports? I have no doubt God recognizes the difference between a bloody war of two groups wanting to conquer and dominate the other, and people having a snowball fight or game of airsoft, and I also doubt, steadfastly respecting our free will, that God would insist on putting even His most beloved angels in bubble wrap suits, if they wanted to live life more adventurously and in a more “rough and tumble” way! Thanks for your thoughts!
This theory of yours sounds good to me as well:
Swedenborg does mention physical fighting occurring in hell. I’m not aware that he describes contact sports in heaven, but I could have missed something. Still, I don’t see any reason why angels couldn’t enjoy contact sports.
In particular, angels in the spiritual level of heaven continue to engage in intellectual discussion and debate with one another, which is a form of mental combat. I could easily see this corresponding to sports that involve physical combat—as you say, all in good fun and sportsmanship. “May the best man win” is the physical analog of “may the best idea win.”
Hi Lee, hope you and Annette are doing well! I was wondering, if there is no true “night” in Heaven, will we still be able to enjoy things like stargazing? When John was describing his vision of the new Heaven and Earth, how literal was he being in his descriptions?
Swedenborg does say that in heaven there is no true night, but only a twilight. On the other hand, he also says that in the spiritual kingdom of heaven, instead of seeing the sun in the sky, the angels there see the moon in the sky. But the moon there seems to be as bright as the sun is here. And Swedenborg mentions higher heavens being visible as stars in the sky.
Exactly how all this works is hard to grasp as long as we’re living on this earth, where stars are not generally visible in the daytime, the moon gives only a feeble light, and so on. All of which is to say, I don’t really know. But I presume that if we want to gaze at the stars on a starry, starry night in heaven, God will provide for us to be able to do that.