Death and Rebirth, Chapter 4: Our Third Stage After Death

For Chapter 3, click here.

Near-death experiencers who meet the being of light say that this being emphasizes love and learning as the most important things in life. The love must come from within, but much of our learning comes from the outside. Even though we may have gone far along the spiritual path, we may still be working under some misconceptions about God and spirit. We may be mistaken about some of the ideas we cherish.

As we go along in this life, if our heart is in the right place God will not force us to give up mistaken notions that we love and see as guides. At some stages of our lives certain misconceptions may even prod us farther along than we otherwise would have gone.

For example, some people seem to need to believe that God is angry with them for the wrong things they do, or they would not be motivated to change their ways. But really, Swedenborg says, God is never angry with us. God only allows it to appear that way if we need to believe this in order to make changes in our lives.

Once we have overcome the bulk of our destructive side, though, we no longer have a need to hold onto faulty beliefs about God and spirit. At that point we have also left behind the ego that makes us cling to certain ideas because we think we under­stand things better than others. So we are ready to empty ourselves of everything remaining that does not correspond to our true love and motivation, and to learn what really does correspond to them. This is what the final stage is for.

Learning the Ways of Heaven

From Heaven and Hell #512–19
by Emanuel Swedenborg

Our third stage after death when we are a spirit is a learning stage. We go through this stage only if we are going to heaven and becoming an angel.

If we are headed toward hell we do not go through this stage because we cannot be taught anything. In this case our second stage is also our third. We are finished, since we have com­pletely turned ourselves toward our own love, and toward the hellish community that is involved in a similar love. When this has hap­pened we think and want things from what we love. Since our love is hellish we are motivated only by destructive things, and everything we think is false. This is what gives us pleasure since these are the things we love. Because of this we reject everything good and true that we had previously adopted because it had func­tioned as a means of getting what we love.

If we are good, though, we are led through the second stage into a third. In this stage we are prepared for heaven by being taught. The only way we can be prepared for heaven is by knowing what is good and true, which means we must be taught. We cannot know what is spiritually good and true, nor what is destruc­tive and false (their opposites) without being taught.

In the world we can know what is legally and ethically good and true, and is called right and honest, because there are civil laws that teach us what is right. We also live among other people so that we learn to live by ethical rules that involve acting honestly and rightly. However, we do not learn what is spiritually good and true from the world, but from heaven.

We could know these things from the Bible and from the church’s teaching based on the Bible. But these things cannot affect our life unless the deeper parts of our mind are in heaven. We are in heaven when we accept God and also act rightly and honestly because that is what the Bible tells us to do. This means liv­ing rightly and honestly with the Divine as our goal rather than being motivated by our own self and our worldly possessions.

We cannot act this way, though, until we have been taught to do so. For example, we have to be taught that there is a God, and that there is heaven and hell and a life after death; that we should love God above all else, and other people as much as we love ourselves; and that we should believe what the Bible teaches because the Bible is divine. Without knowing and accepting these things we cannot think spiritually. And without thinking about them we cannot be motivated by them, since we cannot think things we do not know about, and we cannot want things we do not think.

When we do want these things heaven flows into us, which means the Lord flows through heaven into our lives. This flowing goes into our motivation, through that into our think­ing, and through both of these into the way we live. This is where all our life comes from. We can see from this that we do not learn what is spiritually good and true from the world, but from heaven—and that we cannot possibly be prepared for heaven except by being taught.

As much as the Lord flows into our life, the Lord teaches us, since our motivation is fired by a love for learning the truth. This enlight­ens our thinking so that we can know the truth. And as much as this happens, our inner self is opened up and heaven is planted in us.

Further, God and heaven flow into the hon­esty of an ethical life and the right living of a law-abiding life, and make them spiritual. We then do what we do from God, since we are doing it for God’s sake. The honest and right things we do in our ethical and community life from that source are the real effects of spiritual life. Effects get their whole nature from what causes them. Whatever the cause is like, that is what the effect is like.

Angel teachers come from many different communities. They come especially from the northern and southern regions of heaven, since these angelic communities have a great deal of intelligence and wisdom from a knowledge of what is good and true.

The places of learning are located in the northern areas. They vary, and are arranged and distinguished by the various kinds of heav­enly good. We are all taught in a way that is appropriate to our personality, and at a level we can handle. These places of learning are spread out for a great distance all around.

Those of us who become good spirits are led there by the Lord after we have gone through our second stage in the world of spirits and are ready to be taught.

Yet not all of us go there. If we have already learned these things in the world, the Lord still prepares us for heaven, but leads us there by a different path. We may go immediately after we die. Or we may spend a short time with good spirits while we get rid of some of the rough edges of our thoughts and feelings, which we had gotten from status and money in the world, so that we become purified.

Some of us must first be purged. This hap­pens in a place called “the lower earth.” We may have to go through hard things there. This will happen if we have convinced our­selves of false things but have still lived a good life. False ideas that we have convinced our­selves of cling to us strongly. And before these false ideas are broken down we cannot see or accept the truth.

When we are in these places of learning we each live in our own home, since the inner self of each of us is connected to the community of heaven where we will be going. Since the com­munities in heaven are arranged in a heavenly pattern, the places of learning are arranged this way too.

We are not all taught in the same way or by people from the same heavenly community. If we have been brought up in heaven from childhood we are taught by angels of the deeper heavens, since we have not gotten wrong ideas from false religion, nor have we dirtied our spiritual life with the contamina­tion that comes from status and money in the world. If we died as adults we will usually be taught by angels from the lowest heaven, since these angels are closer to our level than angels of the deeper heavens.

Teaching in heaven is different from teach­ing on earth. There, we do not memorize information, but put it right into our life. As spirits, our memory is in our life. We accept and absorb everything that is in harmony with our life and do not accept, much less absorb, anything that is not in harmony with our life. Spirits are feelings; so as spirits we are in a pat­tern that reflects our feelings. Since we are like this we are always filled with a love for true ideas that we can use in our life. The Lord sees to it that each of us loves the kind of work that fits our personality. This love is also strength­ened by the hope that we will be angels.

Every useful activity in heaven relates to the good of the community. The community is the Lord’s realm, which is our country there. The more each individual activity looks to the common good, the better it is. This means that the countless types of activity there are all heavenly and good. Everyone loves both truth and useful activity, so that the two work together; our understanding of truth grows in our useful activities. The true ideas we learn are about how to be useful. This is how we are taught as angelic spirits, and prepared for heaven.

A love for the truth that suits our work is planted in us in different ways, most of which are unknown in the world. It happens espe­cially by visual images of useful activity. In the spiritual world these visual images are pre­sented in a thousand ways, all in such a pleas­ing and beautiful way that they pervade our being from the deeper parts of our mind to the outer parts of our body, touching our whole self. Through this experience we become our own occupation, so to speak. This means that when we reach the community we have been introduced to by what we have learned, we are involved in our real life because we are involved in our own work.

From all this we can see that knowledge, which is outward truth, does not bring us to heaven. We are brought into heaven by life itself: a life of useful activity that we enter through our knowledge.

It takes only a short time to prepare for heaven in the places of learning, since we are thinking in spiritual ideas, which can take in many things at once. When our time there is finished we put on heavenly clothes, which are usually shining white as if made of linen. Then we are shown a path that goes up toward heaven. We are put in the care of angel guard­ians there and then welcomed by other angels, and invited into different communities to take part in their many joys.

The Lord leads each of us into our own community. We go along various paths, and sometimes by a circuitous route. No angel knows the paths we are led by; only the Lord does. When we arrive at our own community our deeper parts are opened up. Since our deeper parts are in harmony with the angels in that community they recognize us immedi­ately, and welcome us with joy.

* * * * *

By the time we have reached this stage we are beyond memorization and rote learn­ing. As Dannion Brinkley puts it in his book Saved by the Light:

Now more than ever I knew that this was a place of learning. I would be steeped in knowledge, taught in a way that I had never been taught before. There would be no books and no memorization. In the presence of these Beings of Light, I would become knowledge and know everything that was important to know. . . . It was like being a drop of water bathed in the knowledge of the ocean, or a beam of light knowing what all light knows.[1]

In the spiritual world we learn by direct experience, and by putting the insights from our experience directly into our hearts and our lives. When we are consciously being taught, this experience may come from visual images presented by angels. Apparently what we know of as video and film has developed to a much higher level in the spiritual world! Brinkley gives an especially vivid description of the type of visual imagery the angels—or Beings of Light, as he calls them—can use:

The Beings came at me one at a time. As each one approached, a box the size of a videotape came from its chest and zoomed right at my face.

The first time this happened I flinched, thinking I was going to be hit. But a moment before impact, the box opened to reveal what appeared to be a tiny tele­vision picture of a world event that was yet to happen. As I watched, I felt myself drawn right into the picture, where I was able to live the event.[2]

In the same chapter, called “The Boxes of Knowledge,” Brinkley goes on to describe the images he was shown. As both he and Swedenborg say, it is not the type of learn­ing that requires memorization, but the type that we experience—and remember because of the compelling nature of the experience.

It is also the type of learning that goes to the heart of our own concerns. This means that it will be different for each one of us. Both the method and content of the teach­ing will vary, depending on who we are.

We may or may not need this final learn­ing phase in our own spiritual growth. If we have already learned what we need to know along the way, and are not clinging to mistaken ideas, we will pass directly to our spiritual home. But most of us will still have things we need to learn before we are fully prepared for the spiritual work we will be doing in our future life. Perhaps one of the reasons we slow down physically at the end of our life on earth is so that we will take the time to observe life around us and contemplate its meaning.

Of course, even after we have completed this final learning phase there will still be many more things for us to learn. Knowl­edge is infinite. The purpose of this learn­ing phase is to make sure our minds are pointed in the right direction: a direction that is in harmony with our heart’s direc­tion.

At last we are received with joy into the community that is our spiritual home. It is the place where our heart has carried us—a place where we will find rest for our souls. Yet this is not the rest of idleness. It is a rest in which we are doing the things we do because we love to do them. Though in one sense we may be working very hard, in another sense everything is an effortless, unhindered flow from God through our soul and into our outward actions.


[1]Saved by the Light, by Dannion Brinkley. (New York: Harper Collins, 1994) p. 36.

[2]    Saved by the Light, p. 37.

(Note: This is Chapter 4 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 the Conclusion and bibliography, 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
4 comments on “Death and Rebirth, Chapter 4: Our Third Stage After Death
  1. Rob says:

    I’m still scared to death of all this. There is so much bitterness and hate in me, that I know I’m going to hell. I don’t trust life, I don’t trust people and I don’t trust goodness. I’ve tried to change in the past, but it only goes for about a few hours before I revert to my norm.

    • Lee says:

      Hi Rob,

      When it becomes clear that a particular approach isn’t working, it’s best to try another approach.

      Trying to change your character and outlook clearly isn’t working, and probably won’t work for you. Whatever the reasons you think and feel the way you do about life, about people, and about yourself, they are deep-seated, and not something you’re going to be able to take apart with a crowbar.

      Perhaps some day that will be possible. But not today, and not tomorrow.

      My suggestion, then, is not to keep banging your head against a brick wall trying to change yourself into someone that you’re not, and that you’re not going to be any time soon.

      Instead, focus on what you do. Even if you’re sure you’re going to hell, you can still make sure you’re treating other people with basic human respect, and engaging daily—at least, on most days—in some form of activity that is useful and helpful to others, whether paid or volunteer. Even if there is bitterness in your heart, you can stop yourself from saying and doing bitter things. Right words and actions count, even—no, especially—if they come from an inner self that is in turmoil and conflict.

  2. K says:

    In Love and Marriage, Swedenborg describes a boy who appears as a dove from a distance, and Swedenborg learns that the boy is from a new heaven of the New Church. What else does Swedenborg say about this new heaven, and how does it relate to the 3 “normal” levels and 2 “normal” kingdoms of Heaven?

    • Lee says:

      Hi K,

      The geography of the spiritual world is complex. It’s not always easy to figure out how everything relates to each other. Swedenborg says that this new heaven, which was formed from Christians since the time of the Lord’s first coming, is below the ancient heavens. However, he also says that within it there is a highest, middle, and lowest heaven. Presumably it also has its own two kingdoms as well.

      At any rate, here are some links to key passages in Swedenborg’s writings about the new heaven, if you would like to read them for yourself:

      The New Jerusalem #1–4 (click the right arrow toward the top or bottom left to read the rest of the sections)

      Apocalypse Revealed, Preface

      Apocalypse Revealed #612

      There are many more. If you really want to dig into it, you could go to and type “new heaven” (including the quotes) into the search box toward the top of the page. You could also read the entry on “New Heaven” in The Swedenborg Concordance, starting here.

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