Death and Rebirth, Chapter 2: Our First Stage After Death

For Chapter 1, click here.

In his Forward to The Tibetan Book of the Dead John Woodroffe says:

Life immediately after death is, according to this view, as Spiritists assert, similar to, and a continuation of, the life preceding it. As in Swedenborg’s account, and in the recent play Outward Bound, the deceased does not at first know that he is dead. Swedenborg, who also speaks of an inter­mediate state, says that, except for those immediately translated to Heaven or Hell, the first state of man after death is like his state in the world, so that he knows no other, believing that he is still in the world notwithstanding his death.[1]

It may seem strange that after such a pow­erful experience we could possibly think that nothing had happened, and we had not died yet. But as Swedenborg and others have observed, this is a common phenome­non. Perhaps we will think the experience was just an especially vivid dream or hallu­cination, as many skeptics have claimed about NDEs in general. Or we may forget all about it in the press of the everyday life we have returned to. It requires a shift of consciousness to comprehend that our lives have changed completely and forever. This change of consciousness often takes time.

And so after our initial experience of death Swedenborg says we usually go back to a life that is very similar to the one we had left behind.

Living Still Behind Our Mask

From Heaven and Hell #491–98
by Emanuel Swedenborg


We go through three stages after death before we come into either heaven or hell. The first is living in our outer self, the second is living in our inner self, and the third is getting ready. We go through these stages in the world of spirits.

Some of us, though, do not go through these stages. As soon as we die we are either carried up into heaven or thrown down into hell. If we have already been prepared for heaven by being spiritually reborn in the world, we will be immediately carried up into heaven. If we are reborn and prepared in this way, as soon as we shed the crude physical aspects of ourselves along with our bodies we are immediately carried up to the angels in heaven. I have seen people carried up this way an hour after they died.

But if we have been inwardly malicious while outwardly appearing to be good, so that we filled our destructiveness with deceit and did good things for deceitful reasons, we are immediately thrown into hell. I have seen some people like this thrown into hell as soon as they died. One very deceitful person went head downwards and feet upwards. Others went in different ways.

There are also some people who are ban­ished to caves as soon as they die to separate them from people who are in the world of spir­its. They are let out and sent back in from time to time. This will happen to us if we have acted maliciously against the people around us while pretending to be good neighbors.

However, there are not very many of these kinds of people compared to those who stay for a while in the world of spirits. The world of spirits is where we are prepared either for heaven or for hell in God’s orderly way.

The first stage is one of living in our outer self; we begin it right after we die. Each of us has an inner and an outer part to our spirit. The outer part of our spirit is how we stay con­nected with our body in the world—especially our face, talking, and movements—so that we can be in community with other people. But the inner part of our spirit—which has to do with our intentions and the thoughts that come from them—is rarely expressed in our face, conversation, and gestures. From the time we are very young we get used to showing friendship, good conduct, and sincerity while hiding the thoughts of our own intentions. We get into the habit of living an outwardly ethical and community-oriented life no matter what we are like inside. Because of this we hardly know what we are like inside, and we do not pay any attention to it.

Our first stage after death is a lot like our life in the world, since we are then involved in outward things in a similar way. We have a similar face, way of talking, and mind, so we have a similar ethical and social life. This is why at that point we do not realize that we are not still in the world. That is, we do not realize it if we do not pay attention to what happened to us when we were being awakened, nor to what the angels said to us then: that we are now a spirit. So one life continues into the other, and death is only a transition.

Since our spirit is like this just after our life in the world ends, our friends and others who had known us in the world recognize us. They recognize us not only from our face and the way we talk, but also from the aura of our life that surrounds us, which they can feel when they come near us.

In the other life, whenever we think about other people we get a picture of their face in our thoughts, and also many things about their life. Then the person we were thinking of becomes present with us just as if we had sum­moned him or her. This happens in the spiri­tual world because we communicate our thoughts there, and there is no space of the kind that exists in the physical world.

So when we first come into the other life all our friends, relatives, and acquaintances recog­nize us. We talk with them and get together with them depending on the kind of friend­ship we had with them in the world. I have often heard how happy people were when they came from the world and saw their friends again, and how happy their friends were to see them.

Married partners usually get back together and greet each other joyfully. They stay together for a longer or shorter time depend­ing on how happy they had been together in the world. If they had not had a real marital love for each other—a love that united their minds from heavenly love—they separate after they have been together for a while.

If the minds of married partners had clashed and they were inwardly hostile to each other they break out into open antagonism and sometimes fight with each other. Still, they are not separated until they reach the next stage, which will be covered in the following chapter.

As I just mentioned, recently arrived spirits live almost the same way they had in the world. They do not know anything about what life after death is like or anything about heaven and hell, except some things from the literal meaning of the Bible and from Bible-based preaching. They are amazed that they still have a body and all the senses they had in the world, and that they see the same kinds of things. Soon they want to know what heaven and hell are like, and where they are.

Their friends tell them about what eternal life is like and bring them around to different places and introduce them to different people. They show them cities, gardens, and parks— often magnificent ones, since the newcomers enjoy these sights in the surface-level state of mind they are then in.

They are occasionally reminded of how they had thought while they were still living in the world about the condition of their soul, about heaven, and about hell. After a while they become angry that they had had absolutely no knowledge about these things, and that the church had been ignorant of them as well.

Almost all of them want to know whether they will go to heaven. Most of them think they will because they had lived in an ethical, law-abiding way in the world. They do not realize that both bad and good people act the same way outwardly; both do good things for other people, go to church, listen to sermons, and pray in the same way. They are completely unaware that it is not the outer actions and worship that count, but the inner spirit from which the outer actions come.

There is hardly one in a thousand who knows what our inner self is, and that heaven and the church are in our inner self. Even fewer know that our outer actions get their character from our intentions and thoughts, and from the love and faith within these that is their source. Even when taught, they cannot comprehend that our thoughts and motives are what count, not what we say and do. Most people from today’s Christian world are like this when they come into the other life.

Still, good spirits examine these newcomers in various ways to see what they are like. This must be done, since as I just said, in this first stage bad people say just as many true things and do just as many good things as good peo­ple. They do this because when they were in the world they had lived an outwardly ethical life, since they had lived in a country with a set of laws. Also, by being outwardly ethical they could gain a reputation for honesty and fair­ness, winning people over and in this way becoming rich and famous.

The main way to distinguish between good and bad spirits is to notice what they pay attention to. Bad spirits listen eagerly when people talk about superficial matters, but hardly listen at all when the conversation is about deeper things that have to do with spiri­tual and heavenly truth and goodness. They do listen to these things, but with very little atten­tion or enjoyment.

Another way to distinguish them is that spir­its often turn toward certain neighborhoods. When they are left alone they follow paths that lead to these neighborhoods. What neighbor­hoods they turn toward and what paths they take to get to them shows what kind of love leads them.

All spirits who arrive from the world are put into connection with a particular community in heaven or in hell, but only in their inner self. This inner self is not seen as long as they are living in their outer self, since their outer self covers and hides their inner self—espe­cially with those who are inwardly bad. Later on though, when they get to the second stage, their inner self shows clearly. Then their inner self is opened up and their outer self goes to sleep.

* * * * *

Back to our life on earth, we may think that once we have gone through a spiritual birth things will never be the same. And in a sense they won’t. But life goes on. We still have a job, and bills to be paid. If we were in a troubled relationship before, we will still be in a troubled relationship. We still have the same likes and dislikes.

Within days or weeks of the time we make our first spiritual step, things may go back to just about the way they were before. We may find the familiarity to be comforting, or we may find the lack of change to be disheartening. Either way, we soon realize that our spiritual journey has just begun—and that we still have a long way to go. Some Christian traditions hold that being “born again” is a one-time divid­ing line between being “saved” and “unsaved.” For Swedenborg, rebirth is a process that begins with the initial spiritual birth and continues through all the stages of human growth.

So here we are back in our everyday life. What has changed? Really, the only thing that has changed is the direction we are heading. Whereas before we were headed down a materially-oriented path, now we are heading up a path leading in a spiritual direction. Both paths start at the same place: in our ordinary, everyday life.

As with the first stage after death, ini­tially nothing much changes. We still live the way we did before, with the same rela­tionships and responsibilities. But our inner attitude toward them has begun to change. Though things look outwardly the same, inwardly we are in a “new world.” It is only a matter of time before there will be some changes in our outward life as well. But those come in the next stage.

Meanwhile, one of the main discoveries we make is that spiritual living involves many of the same outward actions as mate­rialistic living does. We do not need to renounce the world and live in a monastery in order to live spiritually. Our everyday life is the stage on which our spiritual life hap­pens. We grow spiritually within the matrix of our relationships and our life in the community. Outwardly these may look no different than before.

It is important to establish this for our­selves, since we may think that once we head in a spiritual direction everything will be taken care of automatically, and we will no longer have to work and struggle. But Swedenborg insists that the heavenly, spiri­tual life is not a lazy one but an active, use­ful one. This first stage after our initial experience is like God reminding us, “Yes, you still have work to do.”

Because our outward life is similar, we can resume our relationships with those around us on the same basis as before. Whereas when we were initially going through the rebirth experience we may have felt estranged, now in this stage of an outwardly similar life we can go back to much of how we were before, and re-estab­lish ourselves as a part of the community. We may not even notice a break—and oth­ers almost certainly won’t.

Still, even though our outward life looks similar, we know we have changed inside. And we wonder about exactly what the changes will be. We begin to talk to those who have gone before us on the spiritual path and ask questions about what spiritual living means. We explore, and begin to get a vision of how magnificent the spiritual life can be. But we are not yet aware of the deep inner struggles we will need to pass through before we realize that vision.

In this stage we also begin to take stock of ourselves. Unlike before, as we go about our daily business now we begin to observe the things we say and do, and the thoughts and feelings behind them. We notice what is good about ourselves, and also what needs improvement.

This is another reason we needed to return to our former outward life. That life in some way expressed our inner self—both the good parts and the bad parts. Before we can begin to change the bad parts, we need to recognize them clearly within ourselves. So this is a time of observation and learning about ourselves in preparation for the hard work of spiritual growth that lies ahead.

Before we go on, it might be useful to pause and consider the nature of good and evil. Some people find it off-putting to read of hell as well as heaven in Swedenborg’s books. Isn’t hell a cruel, old-fashioned idea? Who can believe in fire and brimstone?

For Swedenborg hell, like heaven, is not a literal location but a state of mind and life. Heaven is the atmosphere we create within and around ourselves when we love others and wish to make them happy. Hell is the atmosphere we create within and around ourselves when we love only our­selves, and consider others to be merely stepping-stones or obstacles on the way to fulfilling our own desires for dominance and material possessions.

Though Swedenborg does talk of people being “thrown into hell,” in other places he explains that this is only an appearance. In True Christian Religion #650 he says:

The Lord is never angry. The Lord never takes revenge, hates, condemns, punishes people, throws them into hell, or tempts them. He never does evil to anyone.

In fact, we throw ourselves into hell when we turn our backs on love and understand­ing—meaning we turn our backs on God and other people. God always wishes to lead us out of our personal hell, but will not force us if we steadily refuse, insisting on remaining in our hellish state of mind and life. This means that hell is not a cre­ation of God, but a creation of human beings. God allows us to turn our heaven into a hell because God values our freedom above anything else.

Why is our freedom so important? Because without it none of our relation­ships—either with God or with the people around us—could be real. It would have been easy for God, like a computer pro­grammer, to hard-wire us only to love and never to hate. But as with a marriage rela­tionship, if we do not choose the love, how real is it?

Since all love and all understanding come from God and are God, the only way we could have a choice about our relation­ship with God is for there to be an alterna­tive to love and understanding. Evil and falsity come when we turn away from God’s love and understanding, twisting them into something they were never intended to be.

Ironically, evil and falsity exist because God loves and respects us enough to want us to make our own free choice about whether we will have a relationship with God or not. Choosing a spiritual path is choosing to build a closer and closer rela­tionship with God. In the process, we build closer and closer relationships with each other.

What about those who choose the path of selfishness and materialism? Will they ever turn back again toward a spiritual path? Or will they continue forever in the negative and destructive direction they have chosen? This is a vexing question that has caused great controversy both within Christianity and among the various faiths around the world. Swedenborg stated that hell is eternal for those who ultimately choose it. But it is important to understand that if there is an eternal hell, it is because we want it that way, not because God does.

In reading Swedenborg’s statements on hell, then, we have to make the conceptual adjustment outlined above. We have to see it, not as a place God sends those who break divine law, but as a place we ourselves create and inhabit if we decide to go in a destructive direction rather than a con­structive one.

This places a lot of responsibility on our shoulders, whether we look at it in terms of going to heaven versus going to hell or in terms of our life’s course here on earth. Nobody else is going to determine the direction we eventually head in. Even if we choose to blindly follow someone else’s lead, that is still our choice—and we can change it at any time. If God is not going to decide where we are going, and no Devil is going to decide where we are going, that puts responsibility for the direction of our life squarely on our own shoulders.

This can be scary. But it can also give us tremendous power. Once we throw off the idea that our fate is in someone else’s hands, we can begin the job of determining our own fate. We can’t change the laws that govern the universe. But we can decide whether we will live in harmony with those laws or at odds with them. Trying to thwart the laws of the universe will lead to our own destruction, while aligning ourselves with those laws will put great power in our hands. We may still be bound by external circumstances, but we can change our inner attitude toward those circumstances— which might help to change the circum­stances themselves.

When we go through a spiritual birth we are making a choice to align ourselves more closely with the spiritual laws of the uni­verse—which are the same as God’s laws. However, we still have ahead of us the work of sorting out what in ourselves is and isn’t heading in a spiritual direction, and jetti­soning those parts of ourselves that are going the wrong way. That is the subject of the next chapter.


[1]The Tibetan Book of the Dead. W. Y. Evans-Wentz, ed. (London: Oxford University Press, 1960) p. lxxiv– lxxv.

(Note: This is Chapter 2 of my book Death and Rebirth, first published in 2005 and currently out of print. This text and associated artwork are copyright 2005 by Lee Woofenden.)

For Chapter 3, click here.


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
31 comments on “Death and Rebirth, Chapter 2: Our First Stage After Death
  1. Tom Easley says:

    Is this material in print in book form? Thnx

    On Tue, Apr 3, 2018, 1:25 PM Spiritual Insights for Everyday Life wrote:

    > Lee posted: “For Chapter 1, click here. In his Forward to The Tibetan Book > of the Dead John Woodroffe says: Life immediately after death is, according > to this view, as Spiritists assert, similar to, and a continuation of, the > life preceding it. As in Swedenborg’s ” >

    • Lee says:

      Hi Tom,

      Thanks for your interest. That brings up an interesting story . . .

      I originally wrote Death and Rebirth over twenty years ago in 1995, when I was in seminary. I was hoping that the Swedenborg Foundation would publish it. But they already had another NDE book in the pipeline, and didn’t bite. So ten years later, in 2005, I finally commissioned original artwork for it from an artist I knew and published it myself via a POD publisher, with a slight update in 2009.

      Unfortunately, the POD publisher went out of business several years ago and the book went out of print. At this point I don’t have any plans to bring it back into print. And since print copies are now available only at ridiculous scalper prices online, I decided to publish the entire book serially here on Spiritual Insights for Everyday Life to make it more widely available.

      However, I do have eight or ten print (paperback) copies left that I purchased before the POD publisher went belly-up. I could sell you one at non-scalper prices—let’s say, $15 including S&H. The cover price was $9.95. The book is 120 pages. If you or anyone else reading this really want a print copy, please send me a message via the spiritual conundrum submission form, and include your correct current email address so that we can make direct contact.

      I’m no longer set up to regularly sell and ship books (for over a decade I did a brisk business in used Swedenborg books via several online sites), so at this point it will have to be very informal. No online payments, no credit/debit cards, one copy per customer, first come, first served, no fancy bells and whistles. You’ll actually have to put an envelope in the mail to get a copy. How old-fashioned! 😀

  2. K says:

    If someone is mentally younger than physical age due to mental disability, will their outer appearance change to match their inner age? For example, if someone is severely disabled and has the mind of an infant in the body of an adult, will they become a baby after death and be able to grow up in Heaven?

    • Lee says:

      Hi K,

      That’s a complicated question, since here on earth that person has the body of an adult even if he or she has the mind of an infant. So I’m not sure his or her body will revert back to infancy and then grow up again. Maybe yes, maybe no. But that person will be freed from the mental disability, and will grow to fully functional adulthood in the spiritual world.

      • K says:

        Personally, I think it’s possible. Swedenborg said our appearance changes after the first state after death to reflect our inner nature, and appearing as young as one is inside would allow one to grow and develop as God intended, free from disability, and not missing crucial developmental milestones.

  3. Ray says:

    Hi Lee. I feel like nowadays our world has changed so much that it will be easy to tell when we died because we won’t have the same things in there that we have now.

    • Lee says:

      Hi Ray,

      To anyone who is not resistant to the idea that there is a spiritual world, it will be easy to tell that they have died, because the angels who usher them over to the spiritual world will tell them that they have died. However, those who are resistant to any belief in God and spirit will likely chalk up that experience as a strange dream, and go on living as if they were still in this world. The human mind has an amazing ability to convince itself of what it wants to believe regardless of all evidence to the contrary. Consider all the people walking around on this spherical earth while believing fervently that it is a flat disk.

      About all the change in the world, the world of spirits keeps pace with the changes in the world because the people entering it are from the current earth, in its current state, not from some time and state in the past. Swedenborg described the scenery and culture of the spiritual world as being very much like the scenery and culture of 18th century Europe, in which he lived. That doesn’t mean it will still look like 18th century Europe. Nor, of course, does it mean that people who came from other parts of the world even in Swedenborg’s day would suddenly find themselves in European culture and scenery rather than in their own culture and scenery.

      • Ray says:

        So, if they are already aware they are dead and in the world of spirits, wouldn’t it make it hard to live any type of life in the spirit world and they just move onto Heaven and or Hell?

        • Lee says:

          Hi Ray,

          Life in the world of spirits is a lot like life on earth, so it isn’t hard at all. It’s very familiar.

          The length of our stay in the world of spirits, before we go to our final home in either heaven or hell, depends on how much of a difference there is between our true inner self and the way we present ourselves outwardly.

          People whose outer thoughts, words, and actions are already very close to expressing their true inner self don’t need much time in the world of spirits. They move on to their permanent home in either heaven or hell very quickly.

          People who have presented themselves outwardly as a very different person than they really are inwardly will take longer, perhaps as much as the equivalent of a few decades of our earthly time. Often they themselves don’t realize that their outward persona is not their real self. They’ve fooled both themselves and others about their true character. It takes time for the outward layers of their false persona to be peeled away to reveal the actual person within.

          Once a person’s outward thoughts, feelings, words, and actions fully match and express that person’s true inner character, she or he moves on from the world of spirits into some particular community in heaven or hell that perfectly matches that person’s true inner character.

        • Ray says:

          I wonder if our experiences in Heaven and Hell also differ depending on the time period you were born in. Also, do you think it is possible someone who believes in the world of spirits, Heaven, and Hell may still act in a hellish and sinful nature?

        • Lee says:

          Hi Ray,

          Yes, I believe the time and culture in which we are born and live does affect our experiences in heaven or hell in the afterlife.

          After we die, we are the very same person we were before we died, except that any external masks that don’t reflect our true inner nature are gradually removed. This means that we are still the product of our times and culture even in the afterlife, because our character is shaped by our times and culture.

          This is not a bad or limiting thing. It is a good thing, in that the inflow of people from all different times and cultures into heaven provides for the wide variety of human experience, skill, and outlook that is required to make heaven work together harmoniously as the body of Christ. Consider how many different types of cells, tissues, parts, and organs are required to make the human body function. The collective body of good-hearted people that forms heaven is the very same, only on a spiritual level instead of on a physical level.

          And yes, it is quite possible for someone to believe in the world of spirits, heaven, and hell and still act in a hellish and sinful way, from a hellish and sinful nature.

          Knowledge by itself does not make us who we are. It is the way we act toward our fellow human beings that makes us who we are. Many people have tremendous intellectual knowledge of all sorts of things, including spiritual matters, but they fail to apply it to their lives and their actions toward other people. As Jesus says, it is what comes out of the heart that matters. Intellect is meant as a guide to the heart as it seeks to do good. But if the heart does not seek to do good, all the knowledge and intellect in the world will not save a person from the hell of self-centeredness.

        • Ray says:

          Hi Lee. So, I was looking for a place to comment this, and something i didn’t realize because I still have this idea of being forced against our will was that it seems that us becoming one with our inner self will also be our choice.

          This was made clear during Swedenborg’s book on marriage. He has a section where he describes some men being tempted by harlots, and makes it almost seem like a test where if they can resist it, they’ll choose to go to Heaven and if they don’t, they’ll cast themselves into Hell.

          Another thing i noticed is it seems Swedenborg is saying that those that enter Heaven will have to face up to their temptations and outright reject them (he says withdrawn from them). Am I understanding that correct?

        • Lee says:

          Hi Ray,

          These are complicated issues and questions, because they deal with the complexity and imperfection of human character. Though there are general principles of how things work both here on earth and in the spiritual world, things don’t always happen in a neat, linear, and predictable fashion because we humans are not neat, linear, and predictable. Even more so than here on earth, in the spiritual world everything reflects the complexity and imperfections of the character and drives (what Swedenborg calls “loves”) of the people there. Even heaven is not one unending, unbroken blissful state, because it is made of limited and imperfect human beings who are still learning and growing.

          There is a sense in which we are not forced to do anything against our will in the spiritual world. That sense is that our primary motive, or ruling love, determines what our life in the spiritual world will be, and that ruling love is something we have freely chosen during our lifetime on earth. No one, not even God, will take away our freedom to be and live as the person we want to be based on the ruling love that we have chosen. This remains true to all eternity.

          However, this does not necessarily mean that every single thing we do or experience is something we want to happen. Criminals “choose” jail time by engaging in crime, because crimes result in jail time, and they could choose not to engage in crime, which would be choosing not to do jail time. However, doing time in jail is not something criminals want. It’s an undesirable side-effect (from their perspective) of their choices. Evil spirits in hell “choose” to be tortured by engaging in evil actions that will result in punishment. But that’s not something they want. It’s an unintended but inevitable consequence of what they do choose, which is to engage in their own favorite evil and criminal activities.

          In heaven, there isn’t so much of this sort of thing. But even there, people aren’t perfect, and they sometimes do things that aren’t, let’s just say, the best thing they could have done in those circumstances, and they may have to learn things the hard way as a result. They “choose” those consequences of their actions, but enduring a period of sadness and isolation from their community and their friends is not something they want. It’s just part of human life and learning.

          About the “prostitute test,” the basic idea is that if a guy (or gal) finds prostitutes attractive and alluring, he doesn’t value love and marriage, but values cheap physical pleasure instead. This means he is a hellish person, not a heavenly one.

          If he actually does have a good heart, but is tempted by prostitutes, as can still happen in the world of spirits during the time period right after his death, then he will have to go through some hard experiences with prostitutes in order to give up his attraction for them and begin living in a more healthy, faithful, and loving way romantically.

          However, if a man has no interest in prostitutes whatsoever because he knows what real love and marriage are all about, that’s what he wants in his heart, and prostitutes are a sad joke by comparison, this means he is a heavenly person, not a hellish one. Real marriage is about loving the other person, not about getting pleasure for oneself—although pleasure is a pleasant side-effect of real marriage love, and that pleasure is much greater than the pleasures of sleeping with prostitutes.

          In other words, it’s not so much that if a man can resist a prostitute he’ll go to heaven, but if he can’t he’ll go to hell, as if this were a pass/fail exam. Rather, his attitude toward prostitutes and attraction or lack of attraction toward them shows what’s in his heart. And our heart is what makes the choice of what sort of person we want to be.

          For people going to heaven, my sense is that it is necessary to leave behind what might be called “gross evils” before heading to heaven. Basically, you can’t break the Ten Commandments in heaven. If you’re a decent fellow, but you do get a little thrill out of shoplifting here and there, you’re going to have to give that up before you head to heaven. If push comes to shove and you’re unwilling to stop stealing, then your heart is not good after all, and you will be heading toward hell. So yes, in the world of spirits, people who are heading to heaven will have to give up any clearly evil and sinful bad habits they have developed on earth.

          However, this doesn’t mean we’re perfect once we head to heaven. Said fellow won’t be shoplifting anymore, but that doesn’t mean he won’t occasionally think, “Wow, I’d really like to have that shiny thing that belongs to someone else.” He’ll have to confront that desire in himself and tamp it down. He will tamp it down, but that doesn’t mean he won’t be tempted from time to time.

          This is the case for angels of the lower two levels of heaven. Angels of the highest heaven are no longer even tempted to do anything wrong. They act from a heart of love, such that doing anything that would hurt anyone else feels terrible and repugnant to them, and holds no attraction for them at all.

          Once again, these are complicated issues and questions. Delving into all the possibilities and permutations would take a whole book, or a whole encyclopedia. I hope this much helps to answer your good questions.

        • Ray says:

          I think what I actually wanted was clarification on the idea of choice and people being able to make the choices and cleanse themselves on their own time. Because Swedenborg said people are in the spirit world for no more than the equivalent of 30 years, I had it in my head that there was an element of people being forced or pushed if they were running out of time for lack of a better word.

          Like i said, I still have it in my head that people will be forced against their will, but they won’t be. The only forcing that will happen is a consequence of their own actions and in Heaven, it will be for their benefit and the benefit of their community. In Hell, it will be for the benefit of the community to stop unending suffering. In Hell, your suffering comes from what you dish out as a way to deter it. Basically, the more “fun” you have in Hell, the more you snd up suffering, which is fair. People have fleeting pleasures in Hell, but because they like to make others suffer, they then suffer as well.

          You basically answered my question that yes, people will face the temptations that they faced on Earth and the quality of their afterlife depends on whether or not they can resist their temptations. The problem is sometimes I have a hard time understanding what Swedenborg is saying cause it is written in that old style language that I am illiterate it to.

        • Lee says:

          Hi Ray,

          There is no getting around the fact that these books were written two and a half centuries ago by a European intellectual. They are different from the average output of European intellectuals of that time period in that they were based on first-hand experience in the spiritual world, not to mention a direct relationship with the Lord. But still, Swedenborg wrote in the language and idioms of his time and culture. He also wrote in Latin, and even though he wrote in a very easy and flowing Latin style, many of the translations into English and other languages are stilted, archaic, and heavily Latinate in style. The New Century Edition translations are an improvement, but it is difficult to put these books into really contemporary English because they were written in a different time and culture.

          Having said that, the basics are certainly clear enough. And rather than simply resisting or failing to resist temptation, as significant as that is, the real issue is what people choose as their ruling love. In general, people who choose an evil ruling love aren’t tempted spiritually at all because they would immediately give in, and it would only make their situation worse.

          Of course, we all face struggles and difficulties in this world, but that’s not the same as spiritual temptation. Spiritual temptation is about whether we will live for God and the neighbor, or only for self and the world. Choosing the latter is choosing evil and hell. Such people yield immediately to any “temptation” that comes their way. The only thing that slows them down at all is fear of the repercussions of their actions. But if they think they can get away with it, and even sometimes if they are aware that they can’t, they will go ahead and do it.

          People who choose to live for God and the neighbor do face spiritual temptations because our natural tendency towards selfishness and materialism opposes living for love of God and our fellow human beings, and puts up a lot of resistance. We have to fight against that resistance and overcome it. Our primary battles take place during our lifetime here on earth. But even in heaven, there are still “mop-up operations.”

          About the length of time people spend in the world of spirits before going to their permanent home either in heaven or in hell, there doesn’t seem to be a hard-and-fast rule about this. Before the Last Judgment that took place in the spiritual world during Swedenborg’s lifetime, many people remained in the world of spirits for centuries on end. There, the evil ones built false heavens for themselves, and kept many of the good people under their sway by still pretending to be good and wise religious and political leaders, when really they were acting only for their own self-interest—similar to many politician and religious leaders in the world today.

          As Swedenborg describes it, all of these false heavens were dispersed during the Last Judgment, and their residents sent to their final homes either in heaven or in hell. It is since then, Swedenborg says, that no one stays in the world of spirits for more than about thirty years. But even this number is not consistent. Sometimes he says twenty years. I think in one or two places he may even say ten years. In other words, it’s not a fixed number, but has some variation in it. My understanding is that in the atmosphere of the world of spirits, no one takes longer than about three decades to have his or her true inner character come to light, so that the outward words and actions consistently match the person’s inner character.

          It’s not a matter of being forced. Some people spend a very short time, perhaps only a few minutes or hours, in the world of spirits before going directly to heaven or hell. Others may be there for a few months or years. But some take considerably longer. Thirty years is a long time, especially in the atmosphere of the spiritual world, in which things can happen much more rapidly and fluidly than they do here in the material world.

          Basically, everyone gets as long as they need to sort themselves out. However, since the Last Judgment, they are no longer allowed to drag their feet and stay in the world of spirits indefinitely.

          I hope this helps.

        • Ray says:

          This is sort of what I was referring to. This is from Swedenborg’s book of conjugal love. “After passing a certain period of time in their externals, in which they converse rationally and act civilly, they are let into their internals, and in this case into a similar lust and its delights, in the same degree as in the world: for every one after death is let into the same state of life which he had appropriated to himself, to the intent that he may be withdrawn from it; for no one can be withdrawn from this evil, unless he has first been led into it”. This implies it will happen before Heaven.

          Regarding the last judgment, that make sense as to why the last judgment would have some kind of meaning, but why did it specifically happen during Swedenborg’s time? Also, I read on Swedenborg’s That the Hells were brought to order and subjugation in the last judgement.

        • Lee says:

          Hi Ray,

          Yes, in that quote from Conjugial Love #510, the action is taking place in the world of spirits. In this case, it is about people who are heading to hell rather than to heaven.

          The simplest explanation of why the Last Judgment happened during Swedenborg’s lifetime is that the Lord called Swedenborg “in the fullness of time” specifically to fit into God’s plan to provide for the transition from the old church to the new church. An integral part of that transition is the Last Judgment itself. The Lord made sure that the person he called, who ended out being Swedenborg, could be present at the time of the Last Judgment to witness it and report on the big event to people on earth.

          And yes, a major part of the Last Judgment was to bring the entire spiritual world back into order, and under the Lord’s direct control. This applies primarily to hell and the world of spirits. However, even the lower levels of heaven were being compromised, and this was affecting the higher heavens as well, since they rest on the heavens below them.

          As part of the Last Judgment, the Lord not only cleared out all the foot-draggers in the world of spirits and streamlined the process there, but also brought the entire spiritual world back into balance and under the Lord’s direct control, so that it would never again get unbalanced, threaten heaven, enslave the good spirits in the world of spirits, and imperil the spiritual freedom of people on earth as they go through their process of regeneration.

        • Ray says:

          But, if it is referring to people who are going to Help, why does it talk about people being withdrawn from their evils “for every one after death is let into the same state of life which he had appropriated to himself, to the intent that he may be withdrawn from it; for no one can be withdrawn from this evil, unless he has first been led into it”. It starts off talking about people who are bound for Hell, but then seems to be refer to the spiritual purification that those Heaven bound go through.

          Do you think some people reject Swedenborg’s theology because they perceive a sort of arrogance about his claim that he witnessed God’s final judgement. I would argue it is no more arrogant than the repute doctrine, or the believe that there spit in Heaven is secured already, or even that they are privileged (cause that’s how they see it) enough to witness the end times and the second coming.

        • Lee says:

          Hi Ray,

          The Lord’s effort is always to withdraw all people from their evil desires and actions. Everyone in the afterlife is given the opportunity to withdraw from these if they wish. Even people who are headed to hell are given this opportunity. However, such people do not want to give up their evil desires and actions. When the opportunity is given them, they refuse it, and continue on the same evil course they had set for themselves through their lifetime on earth.

          For the most part, people reject Swedenborg’s theology either because they already have their own beliefs that they think are correct or they simply aren’t interested in a spiritual understanding of life. Such people will, of course, reject and ridicule the idea that Swedenborg witnessed the Last Judgment in heaven, and they will consider such a claim on his part to be arrogance or insanity or both.

          However, this says more about those people’s state of mind than about Swedenborg’s state of mind. From an outside perspective, perhaps Swedenborg did see the Last Judgment in the spiritual world, or perhaps he didn’t. But if there is a Last Judgment at all, and if it does take place in the spiritual world rather than in the physical world as is commonly believed, then there is no logical or rational reason why it would be impossible for Swedenborg to witness it.

          In short, people’s view of this will depend upon their own beliefs and attitudes. Those who will reject the idea that he could have seen the Last Judgment will do so because they reject his theology as a whole. The one is simply a symptom and result of the other.

  4. Jason says:

    I was reading through Ray’s comment thread, and it addresses a couple of questions/thoughts I have.

    In principle, I love the idea of a chaste marriage. However in the real world I do things that would be frowned upon because that’s the way I have learned to live my life in this world. I have a neurodevelopmental disorder, and I am very awkward with women. I tend to stay away from women I find attractive because I don’t want to hurt them with my social awkwardness. As much as I want to change to honor Jesus, I don’t understand how to cope with my emotions without having a panic attack. Sometimes Jesus uses supernatural magic on me, but it feels unnatural. I somehow keep for a few days or a week in a row. I’m afraid that I am in too deep. Only Jesus can change my heart.

    I find your discussion of how changes in the next world follow changes with our world. As I type this, Stranger Things season 4 part 2 will be released tonight. I wonder, if I die before it’s released, would I still be able to watch Season 5 of Stranger Things or the next Avenger’s movie?

    • Lee says:

      Hi Jason,

      These are very tough issues, for sure. Life can be hard. We each have our struggles to face. Many of them are very crushing and disheartening. That’s just the unfortunate reality of living in a broken world. There is hope for you in the other life. See:

      Will Sick or Disabled People Return to Good Health in the Spiritual World?

      And yet, here we are, still living in this world, still fighting the uphill battle. Having hope for the future helps. But it doesn’t push the rock up the hill for us. We still have to do the hard work every day.

      I wish I could give you a cheerier answer, but it’s best to be realistic about these things. Perhaps there will be a woman for you here on earth, perhaps not. All you can do is fight the good fight to keep yourself moving forward emotionally and spiritually, and leave the rest in God’s hands.

      • Jason says:

        Hi Lee,

        I downloaded Love in Marriage. It’s a tremendous eye opener for me. Perhaps even more than Heaven and Hell.

        Particularly the chapters on Chastity, Illicit Love, and Fornication have completely changed the way I understand the world. I’m beginning to figure out how to deal with these things. It’s easier to do when the mechanism is explained.

        The parts where people in Hell get their facts backwards is astonishing. I used to wonder if God was like a terrorist or mobster: “Do exactly what I tell you, or I will kill you.” That’s not Jesus or God at all! I can connect the dots as to where those things came from.

        People on the left don’t understand God, and people on the right hate compassion but say they have exclusive rights to speak for God. Each side is convinced the other is evil because they start with different facts. Just like J. Jonah Jameson always uses his newspaper to make Spider-Man look like the villain. It looks like “someone” is trying to give everyone opposing facts to create reinforcing mutual hate. Something that even Stan Lee observed and wrote into Spider-Man.

        • Lee says:

          Hi Jason,

          Love in Marriage has always been Swedenborg’s most controversial book. See:

          How does Marriage Fit In with a Spiritual Life? Is There Marriage in Heaven?

          When it was first published, it was controversial because of its frank discussion of the pragmatic and negative aspects of sexual relations. Today it’s controversial because its treatment of gender roles reflects the 18th century culture in which it was written.

          However, for people who can look past these issues and read it for the light it throws on marriage as a spiritual (or anti-spiritual) relationship, it still goes far beyond almost everything written about love, sex, and marriage today. I don’t necessarily agree with everything Swedenborg says in the book, but I do think it is a tremendously valuable and insightful look at sex, marriage, and their questionable and negative sides.

          And yes, in hell everything is inverted. In fact, hell itself looks like a grossly disfigured upside-down human being, whereas heaven as a whole looks like a resplendent, upright human being. Everything in hell is the opposite of what’s in heaven. Evil is considered good. Falsity is considered true.

          Understanding this really does help in understanding the crazy motives and ideas of so many people who are driven only by money and power. For such people, the light of truth is an obstacle to be avoided, because it shines a spotlight on the true ugliness of their character.

    • Lee says:

      Hi Jason,

      Movies didn’t exist in Swedenborg’s day, so of course he didn’t say anything about them. But he did say that all the books ever written in the world still exist in libraries in heaven, including ones that have been lost. In one place he tells a story about Christians reading letters of Paul that we no longer have here on earth.

      It would make sense that the same principle would apply to other media, such as movies. My guess would be that every movie ever produced on this earth exists in heaven as well. Who knows? They might even get pre-release screenings up there!

      But . . . you’re still relatively young. I expect you’ll be around to see the upcoming movie releases here on this earth.

      • Ray says:

        Hi Lee. To add to what Jason said. Isn’t watching anything in Heaven that’s violent sinful? See, movies highlight the good and the bad of humanity, but in Heaven and Hell, you’re either all good and all bad.

        Like, say you really enjoyed a particular tv show or movie. It made you laugh and made you cry. Do you still feel those same emotions in Hell or do you just view it with a type of stoicism?

        We cheer for the good guys to win, but in Hell, wouldn’t those same people cheer for the villain to win.

        It’s this weird in between that makes it hard to believe we eventually lean to just good or evil particular if fiction brings out both positive and negative emotions whether we are in Heaven or Hell.

        • Lee says:

          Hi Ray,

          Good questions!

          Keep in mind that when we first arrive in the spiritual world after we die, we do not (in most cases) go directly to heaven, but spend a shorter or longer time in the world of spirits before moving on to our final home in heaven or in hell. The world of spirits is much like earth in that it has a mixture of good people and evil people, and therefore is a mixture of good and evil. Everything that exists on earth also exists in the world of spirits. This would include both good and bad books, movies, and so on, as well as books and movies that have both good and evil in them.

          Further, it’s not quite accurate to say that “in Heaven and Hell, you’re either all good and all bad.” The only being who is all good is God. And there is no being that is all bad. Anything that was all bad, with nothing good or useful about it at all, would cease to exist. Rather, in heaven people are motivated by a good ruling love, whereas in hell people are motivated by an evil ruling love.

          This good or evil ruling love doesn’t instantly turn an angel all good, nor does it turn an evil spirit all bad. Angels still have elements of evil and falsity in them that they continue to overcome. It’s just that for angels, the evil never gains the upper hand. Evil spirits also have some remaining good in them. On the practical side, they are required to do some useful work in return for food, clothing, and other necessities of life. They do contribute some good to the human community, even if they do so under duress. In God’s economy, everything, even evil, serves some good use.

          (This, incidentally, is one of the virtues of so-called “capitalism” here on earth. It is able to harness people’s common self-interest, and use it to motivate them to do good and useful things for their fellow human beings. Once they get into the habit of being useful to others, God can work internally within them to exchange their self-interested motives for better ones, if they are willing—as commonly happens with wealthy capitalists who become philanthropists in their old age. For a related article, see: Spiritual Growth 101 with Mike Tyson: “The Virtue of Selfishness”)

          And yes! We still feel all the same emotions in the spiritual world, and even in heaven, as we do here. We laugh, we cry, we cheer, we boo. In heaven we’re a little nicer about it, and in hell we’re a little meaner about it, but we’re still human beings, with all the thoughts, feelings, and emotions of a human being. When we go to heaven, we don’t become dry, passive stoics. We’re the very same person we’ve always been, only with some of the more egregious of our problematic parts worn off through the experiences and changes we go through in the world of spirits.

          Further, if we check a juicy novel out of a library in heaven, it will not be a bowdlerized version. It will be the full novel. Angels will generally not enjoy really dark and negative books and movies. Horror flicks probably don’t do very well in heavenly cinemas. Nevertheless, angels do have their “shadow side,” to use modern psychological language, and they must still face it from time to time. Literature and movies are one of the ways we do this internally, in our own mind and heart. This can help us to cut off any remaining wrong thoughts and inclinations before we actually act upon them. See:

          How Imagination and Fantasy Help our Spiritual Growth

          The reason our society allows many evil words and actions to appear in fiction and the movies that we don’t allow in real life is that literature and movies are a forum for us to deal with our “dark side,” and to engage in the battle between good and evil in our mind and heart. If we can’t do this internally, in our fiction and fantasy, then we will have to act all these things out (which we often do anyway) in order to see their evil nature, and make the decision not to think, desire, and do those thing anymore—which is what the Bible calls “repentance.”

          Keep in mind also that not all angels reside in the highest “heavenly” heaven, where love reigns supreme, and all the residents feel bone-chilling horror at anything evil and false. The bulk of the angels from our earth live in the lower heavens, which are either more intellectual in character, or are just ordinary joes and janes trying to live a decent life that day. All of these people will still thrill to movies and novels that pit good against evil, and depict the battle between the two. Only the highest angels have moved beyond this battle, and no longer need to have it dramatized for them. But they have far deeper joys and satisfactions that people like you and me probably can’t fully appreciate.

          And yes, the people who live in hell would cheer on the bad guys, and enjoy the murder, theft, rape, and other crime for their own sake, while booing the good guys who butt in and ruin all the fun. But even in the drama of their own lives, every evil action they do always receives its just “reward.” So as frustrating as it may be for them, I suspect that even in the movies in hell, the bad guy never wins. Or perhaps more accurately, whenever the bad guy wins, some other bad guy comes along and wrecks it for him.

          The main point is that we don’t become passive, colorless, robotic creatures in heaven. We are still human beings, with all the joys, passions, struggles, and emotions that human beings have. It’s just that in heaven, the good does always win in the end.

        • Lee says:

          Hi Ray,

          About “positive and negative emotions,” it’s not a simple case of “love is good, but anger is bad,” as some people who don’t think very deeply about things may suppose. If anger is at evil, it is not a negative emotion, but a necessary emotion in driving us to overcome the evil. For more on this, see the sections starting with “What is anger?” in this article:

          What is the Wrath of God? Why was the Old Testament God so Angry, yet Jesus was so Peaceful?

        • Ray says:

          Hi Lee. Wow and I thought I had Heaven all figured out. Since we are always growing in Heaven, is it possible to grow out of love of fictional violence and ascend to a higher plane?

          While there seems to be nuance to the way people behave in Heaven, there seems to be no nuance to the way people live their lives in Hell.

          Like you said, if you enjoyed seeing the good guy win, but then go to Hell, you’ll want the bad guy to win and hate when the good guy wins.

        • Lee says:

          Hi Ray,

          The plane we will live on in heaven (or hell) is set here on earth. Once we die and move on to the spiritual world, that does not change. What does change is that in heaven, we continually grow within the plane we have chosen here on earth. As an analogy, someone who studies to become a nurse can continue to become a better and better nurse, but will never “graduate” to being a doctor.

          More specifically to your question, I don’t think angels at any level “love” fictional violence. Even here on earth, many people watch movies that have violence in them without loving the violence. But it is a portrayal of human realities, and also of inner spiritual battles. We humans must deal with the negatives as well as the positives of human life. We cannot overcome evil unless we face it and do battle against it.

          About nuance in hell, most people there do still live in community with other people just as they do on earth. They still have to negotiate the politics of interpersonal relations and deal with the negative culture in which they have chosen to live. They still have to use their cunning as well as brute force to deal with the people around them. Consider the politics within an organized crime family, and among rival organized crime syndicates, and you’ll get some sense of the nuances of the lives of people in hell.

        • Jason says:

          Hi Ray,

          You said, “Since we are always growing in Heaven, is it possible to grow out of love of fictional violence and ascend to a higher plane?”

          This is purely a guess, but from what I’ve read on Swedenborg, we should all have freedom of choice in Heaven. I have Christian friends who love fantasy and super heroes, aren’t interested in “Game of Thrones” or “The Boys” because of the sex and violence. I admit both have moments where I really don’t want to look at the screen, however I still want (or wanted) to see the ending of the story. Since reading Swedenborg, I’m convinced that just about everyone on The Boys (except Hughie and Starlight) are going to Hell. However even with all the bad stuff it gives me an opportunity to reflect on the human condition. And if you find the wrong (or possibly right?) parts of The Bible, you can find things nearly as bad as either TV show.

          But back to your question, in Heaven we are free to follow our delights. If you don’t delight in something, I’m pretty sure you will be able to find something else that you do enjoy. As for ascending to a higher plane, I will leave that for others (maybe God Himself?).

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Lee & Annette Woofenden

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