[Swedenborg tells the story of six groups of people in heaven who are sharing their ideas of what life in heaven is like. Each group is then allowed to experience what it would be like if their preconceptions were true.]
After this speech, the second group from the north gave the following interpretation based on their wisdom. “Heavenly joy and eternal happiness are nothing more nor less than the utterly delightful company of angels and the absolutely charming conversations with them. As a result, people’s faces are always open and cheerful, and there is infectious laughter on everyone’s lips in response to charming phrases and pleasantries. What else is heavenly joy but variations on this theme to eternity?” . . .
The angel brought them to a gathering, in the northern district, of people whose concept of heavenly joys in the former world had been precisely that.
There was a spacious house there where these people met. The house had more than fifty rooms, distinguished by different topics of conversation. In some rooms they were talking about what they had seen and heard in public gatherings and in the streets; in some they were talking about love and the opposite sex, with so many witticisms that every face in the group wore a broad grin; in some rooms they were sharing the latest from the court, departments of state, the administration, and various leaks from confidential councils, along with calculations and conjectures about what the outcome would be; in some they talked about business, in some about scholarly subjects, in some about matters of civic strategy and moral living, in some about issues in the church and its sects; and so on. I was enabled to look into the house, and I saw people scurrying from room to room, looking for the groups that shared their own taste and therefore their own delight. In the groups themselves I saw three kinds of people. Some were panting to speak, some were bursting with questions, and some were eager to listen.
The house had four doors, one in each direction, and I noticed that quite a few people were leaving the groups, hurrying to get out. I followed some to the eastern door and found people sitting next to the door with downcast faces, so I went up to them and asked why they were sitting there so sadly. They answered, “The doors of this house are kept closed against those who are trying to leave. This is the third day since we came in, and we have spent the time living the life of our dreams, in discussion groups. We are so tired of the constant talk that we can scarcely stand to hear the faintest murmur of it, so out of total boredom we found our way to this door and knocked. The response, though, has been that the doors of this house do not open to people who want to leave, only to people who want to come in. ‘Stay here and enjoy the delights of heaven!’ We gather from this that we will be staying here forever, and that is a profoundly depressing thought. Now our chests are beginning to feel constricted, and we are becoming more and more dismayed.”
The angel then addressed them. “This state is the death of your joys, the joys you thought were the only heavenly ones. In fact, though, they are nothing but fringe benefits of heaven.” They asked the angel, “What is heavenly joy, then?” and the angel answered simply, “It is the pleasure of doing something that benefits both yourselves and others. The pleasure of this kind of service gets its essential substance from love and its visible form from wisdom. The pleasure of a service that arises from love through wisdom is the soul and life of all heavenly joys.
“There are the most delightful gatherings in the heavens, gatherings that bring joy to angels’ minds, lift their spirits, warm their hearts, and refresh their bodies. They enjoy these gatherings, though, after they’ve been doing useful things in their various posts and in their jobs. This usefulness is the source of the soul and life within all their happiness and pleasure; but if you take away that soul or life, these extra joys gradually cease to be joys at all. First they become matters of indifference, then they seem worthless, and finally they become depressing and worrisome.”
On this, the door opened and the people who had been sitting by it leapt up and fled the house. Each went to her or his post or job, and they were revitalized.