Here is a Spiritual Conundrum submitted to Spiritual Insights for Everyday Life by a reader named Patty:
I know this may seem silly but I struggle with my weight and I’m extremely self-conscious about it. Will my body be the right weight and appearance in the afterlife?
Thanks for the good question, Patty!
You are certainly not alone either in your struggle with your weight or in your self-consciousness about the appearance of your body. Many people have ongoing battles with their weight, whether with being overweight or underweight. And many people—even people whose bodies are a healthy weight—have major body image issues.
The anxiety people feel about their bodies is commonly attributed to the widespread use of idealized and sexualized male and especially female bodies in advertising and mass media. And that certainly does have a major effect.
But there’s more to it than that.
It is through our body that we communicate and interact with the world. Not only our words, but our facial expressions, our gestures, our actions, and the general appearance of our body communicates—or conceals—what is in our mind and heart. Our body is an integral part of who we are and how we relate to our family, friends, and everyone else we see each day. It is only natural to have some concern about the appearance of our body and the messages it sends to the people around us.
Unfortunately—or sometimes fortunately—while we are living here on earth our body doesn’t always reflect the reality of the person inside.
However, in the spiritual world our body will become a perfect reflection of the person we truly are. So the short answer to your question is: Yes, your body will be the right weight and appearance in the afterlife, in the sense that it will fully and accurately express your true self to everyone around you.
Do you find that idea reassuring? Or scary?
Either way, it is a call to action.
Our physical body
Here on earth, many things affect the appearance of our physical body. Our genetics, our upbringing, our environment, the values of our community, and yes, our own choices and our own emotional state. Some of these things are under our own control. Others are not.
This means that as long as we are living here in the material world, the appearance of our body only partially reflects our own thoughts, feelings, and values.
We can do things that will make our body more or less healthy. For example, we can eat good food and get regular exercise or we can eat junk food and be couch potatoes. And our choices and lifestyle will have a major effect on the health and appearance of our body.
On the other hand, we have no control over the genes we were born with, and there’s nothing we can do about the diet and lifestyle our parents or guardians raised us with. Both of these can cause health problems for us that we may not be able to fully overcome. We also may not have a choice about where we live—and if we happen to live in a polluted area, that can also have a major impact on our health.
Further, we can’t always control our emotional environment. Sometimes we are stuck in very painful and conflicted human situations that we can’t just walk away from. And our emotional state and environment, too, have a profound effect on our body and our physical health.
So yes, we do have some control over our physical health and the appearance of our body. And it is good for us to use the choice and control that we do have to take care of our body as best we can.
But there are also many things that affect our body that are beyond our choice and control. Understanding this can help us not to be too hard on ourselves if we don’t have the body we wish we had.
And finally, society can be very hard on people whose bodies don’t conform to ideals of physical beauty that are unrealistic and unattainable for the vast majority of people. Achieving peace with our physical appearance also requires us to pay less and less attention to the often superficial values and messages of society, and pay more and more attention to developing our own internal values for our own life and our place, purpose, and mission in the world.
As we gain a sense of our own value, integrity, and unique contribution to society, what society thinks of us and of the appearance of our body will matter less and less to us. And as we develop a healthier sense of self, we will tend to become more physically healthy too, and more comfortable with the particular body that we have.
Our spiritual body
What does this have to do with the weight and appearance of our body in the afterlife?
Quite simply, unlike in the physical world, in the afterlife our internal sense of self will be fully expressed in the appearance and actions of our spiritual body.
Yes, as the apostle Paul says:
If there is a physical body, there is also a spiritual body. (1 Corinthians 15:44)
In the afterlife, we are not wispy, ethereal beings. We have a body that is exactly like our body here on earth, only instead of being made of physical matter, it is made of spiritual substance. And because it’s made of spiritual substance, it is much more responsive to the ongoing state of our mind and heart.
People who arrive in the spiritual world are often surprised to find out that they still have a body. In his most popular book, Heaven and Hell, Emanuel Swedenborg (1688–1772) wrote:
People in the Christian world are in such blind ignorance about angels and spirits that they think of them as minds without form, as mere thoughts, and can conceive of them only as something airy with something alive within it. Further, since they attribute to them nothing human except a capacity for thought, they believe angels cannot see because they have no eyes, cannot hear because they have no ears, and cannot talk because they have no mouths or tongues. (Heaven and Hell #74)
But based on his own extensive experience in the spiritual world, he reported that it is quite the contrary:
Angels are completely human. They have faces, eyes, ears, chests, arms, hands, and feet. They see each other, hear each other, and talk to each other. In short, they lack nothing that belongs to humans except that they are not clothed with a material body. I have seen them in their own light, which is far, far greater than noonday on our earth, and in that light I have seen all the details of their faces more crisply and clearly than I have seen the faces of people here in the world.
In other words, Swedenborg reported exactly what everyone who encountered angels in the Bible reported: that they are people in every way, who look, sound, and feel just like people here on earth. (And no, they don’t really have wings.) Here is just one example, from the scene of the empty tomb after Jesus’ resurrection:
When they looked up, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had already been rolled back. As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man, dressed in a white robe, sitting on the right side; and they were alarmed. (Mark 16:4–5, italics added)
If you read through the Bible, you will find that every time angels are described, they are described as people, with hands, feet, chests, mouths, eyes, ears, hair, and every other part of the human body.
Men are still men, and women are still women
And according to Swedenborg, this includes our specifically male and female body parts. Here is part of a story he tells about some newcomers to the spiritual world:
Once I saw three spirits fresh from the world wandering around, exploring, and asking questions. They were surprised that they were living people just as before and that the things they saw were the same. They knew that they had left the former or natural world, where they had thought that they would not live as people again until the day of the Last Judgment, when they would be clothed with the flesh and bones that had been laid in their graves.
To remove all doubt that they really were people, they kept examining and touching themselves and others and feeling objects, and by a thousand ways assured themselves that they were still people the same as in the world before, except that they saw each other in a brighter light and objects in more brilliance and therefore much more perfectly.
At this point they were joined by some regular inhabitants of the spiritual world. And since two of the three newcomers were young men, the conversation naturally turned to sexual subjects. In the course of their explorations of this new world they had seen some rather beautiful women—which for some reason had gotten the ol’ libido going. But being in the presence of angels, they beat around the bush:
“Are human figures in heaven exactly like the ones in the natural world?”
The answer was: “Exactly the same. Nothing is taken away from a man and nothing from a woman. In a word, a man is a man and a woman is a woman in total perfection of the form that they were created in. Step aside and look at yourself if you want, and see if anything is missing—whether you are just as male as you were before.” (from Marriage Love #44)
The message is clear: If you are a woman, in the afterlife you will still be a woman, and your body will be fully female. If you are a man, in the afterlife you will still be a man, and your body will be fully male.
In heaven, old people grow young and beautiful
Further, in heaven, Swedenborg says, however old we may have been when we died, our spiritual body will progress back to the peak of young adulthood:
People in heaven are continually progressing toward the springtime of life. The more thousands of years they live, the more pleasant and happy is their springtime. This continues forever, increasing according to the growth and level of their love, thoughtfulness, and faith.
As the years pass, elderly women who have died of old age—women who have lived in faith in the Lord, thoughtfulness toward their neighbor, and in contented marriage love with their husbands—come more and more into the flower of youth and into a beauty that surpasses any notion of beauty accessible to our sight. Their goodness and thoughtfulness is what gives them their form and gives them its own likeness, making the pleasure and beauty of thoughtfulness radiate from every least corner of their faces so that they become actual forms of thoughtfulness. Some people have seen them and have been stunned.
The form of thoughtfulness that is open to view in heaven is like this because it is thoughtfulness itself that both gives and is given visible form. In fact, it does this in such a way that the whole angel, especially her face, is virtually thoughtfulness itself appearing to open perception. When people look at this form, its beauty is unutterable, affecting the very inmost life of the mind with thoughtfulness.
In a word, to grow old in heaven is to grow young. People who have lived in love for the Lord and in thoughtfulness toward their neighbor are forms like this, or beauties like this, in the other life. All angels are forms like this, in infinite variety. This is what makes heaven. (Heaven and Hell #414)
Similarly, those who die as children or teenagers will grow up to young adulthood:
Many people think that children remain children in heaven and are like children among the angels. People who do not know what an angel is can corroborate this opinion because of the images here and there in churches, where angels are represented as children.
However, things are actually very different. Intelligence and wisdom make an angel, qualities that they do not have as long as they are children. Children are with the angels, but they themselves are not angels yet. Once they are intelligent and wise they are angels for the first time. In fact—something that has surprised me—then they no longer look like children but like adults, because they no longer have a childlike nature but a more grown-up angelic nature. This goes with intelligence and wisdom. . . .
It does need to be known that children in heaven do not grow up beyond the prime of youth, but remain at that age forever. To assure me of this, I have been allowed to talk with some who had been raised as children in heaven and had grown up there, with some while they were still children, and then later with the same ones when they had become youths; and I have heard from them about the course of their life from one age level to another. (Heaven and Hell #340)
By “the prime of youth” here Swedenborg means young adulthood.
No matter what age you may be now, and no matter what age you may be when you die, you can imagine yourself as an angel being a young man or woman at the peak of your physical power and health.
That is why, in the Bible, angels are commonly described as powerful young men, and even as radiant in their appearance. Here are two examples:
Then the Lord opened Balaam’s eyes, and he saw the angel of the Lord standing in the road with his sword drawn. So he bowed low and fell facedown.
The angel of the Lord asked him, “Why have you beaten your donkey these three times? I have come here to oppose you because your path is a reckless one before me. The donkey saw me and turned away from me these three times. If it had not turned away, I would certainly have killed you by now, but I would have spared it.” (Numbers 22:31–33)
And again at the time of Jesus’ resurrection:
And suddenly there was a great earthquake; for an angel of the Lord, descending from heaven, came and rolled back the stone and sat on it. His appearance was like lightning, and his clothing white as snow. (Matthew 28:2–3)
Because of these and other descriptions of angels in the Bible, they are commonly pictured in Christian art as young, powerful, and beautiful.
The take-away is that in heaven your body will be young and beautiful.
A call to action
That is, if you choose to go to heaven, and not to hell.
Without going into the gory details, just as angels are young, powerful, and beautiful in body, so the evil spirits in hell are ugly, misshapen, and repulsive in body—especially when seen from a distance.
That’s because as I said at the beginning of the article, in the afterlife our spiritual body will perfectly reflect and express our true self to everyone around us.
- If our true, inner self is beautiful, loving, thoughtful, and wise, then in the afterlife we will be beautiful angels in heaven.
- If our true, inner self is ugly, selfish, thoughtless, greedy, and foolish, then in the afterlife we will be ugly demons in hell.
The choice is 100% ours. And it is a choice that we make during our lifetime on earth.
The appearance of our physical body here in the material world is only partially under our control. Though we can live healthfully in body and mind, that may or may not be enough to overcome genetic and environmental factors that can take their toll on our physical body and health.
But the appearance of our spiritual body is well within our control. That’s because our spiritual body will be beautiful or ugly depending on whether we choose to turn our mind and heart toward love and kindness for others or toward self-centeredness and greed.
In the afterlife, we don’t have to worry about genetic diseases and environmental pollution that can damage and destroy our physical health and wellbeing. All of those external influences on the appearance of our body will be taken away.
What’s left will be the inner influences of our own choices, in our own mind and heart, about what kind of person we want to be.
Do you want to have a body that is young, powerful, and beautiful in the afterlife?
Then choose every day to be powerful in loving and serving the people around you, and beautiful in expressing compassion and care for your fellow human beings in need.
If in your everyday life you choose to love God and love your fellow human beings, as Jesus commanded us to do, then in the afterlife you will soon find yourself living in a body more beautiful than you could have imagined during your lifetime here on earth.
But even better, you will lose any self-consciousness about your body. In fact, you won’t spend a lot of time thinking about your body. You’ll be too busy sharing a happy life of love, learning, and kindness with your spiritual family and friends in heaven.
This article is a response to a spiritual conundrum submitted by a reader.
For further reading:
- Will Sick or Disabled People Return to Good Health in the Spiritual World?
- It’s not fair that God made some people incredibly beautiful, and others just average!
- Dani Mathers, Body-Shaming, and How to Develop Beauty
- What Happens To Us When We Die?
- How does Marriage Fit In with a Spiritual Life? Is There Marriage in Heaven?
- Money Can’t Buy Happiness . . . But Service Can