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The heaven we see in popular culture doesn’t necessarily seem like a fun place. Will we really be playing golden harps in clouds for all eternity? What if you don’t like harp music? What if you get bored?
What if that heaven isn’t the reality that’s waiting for us? In this episode, host Curtis Childs explores eighteenth-century scientist and mystic Emanuel Swedenborg’s spiritual writings about heaven—what it’s really like and why.
False ideas about heaven persist even in the afterlife, but spirits learn the truth pretty quickly after they arrive. Swedenborg learned that heaven is actually different for every individual.
The heaven in one individual is not the same as the heaven in another. It differs in each according to the affection for what is good and true. (Heaven and Hell §319:3)
Heaven is made up of love and faith in all its forms, so each of us experiences it according to our understanding of heavenly activities. There is a multitude of different ways of experiencing heaven—many different cultures, many different practices. It’s not just a monolithic place where everybody is exactly the same. In fact, the many different faiths and understandings of the Lord are part of what makes heaven perfect.
Not only are the people different, but the surroundings are different. Swedenborg describes how individual houses vary depending on the person’s spiritual state. That doesn’t mean that you need to think about your spiritual state now to avoid getting a piece of architecture you don’t like later—it means that heaven is always much bigger and more complex than we can possibly imagine.
It’s impossible to comprehend how vast heaven truly is—it’s even larger than our own infinite universe.
Is God Cool?
Even in an infinite heaven, you’ll always be close to the omnipresent Lord. But God is so huge that different people see as many different angles of the same infinite Lord. He, she, or they don’t change according to the viewer, but every viewer sees a different facet of the truth.
When the Lord renders himself present in any particular community, his appearance depends on the nature of the good activity that community is engaged in. It is therefore not exactly the same in one community as in another. It is not that this difference is in the Lord: it is in the individuals who are seeing him from their own goodness and therefore in keeping with it. They are affected by the sight of him according to the quality of their own love. (Heaven and Hell §55)
In other words, each of us has a particular relationship to the Divine that’s not like anybody else’s, and that’s the way that God appears to us. In heaven, that applies to communities, too.
Just as some people have a negative mental image of heaven, some may judge God by the way he’s portrayed by certain groups. The true God, Swedenborg says, is not vindictive, unjust, or prejudiced in any way—he is love itself, and his love is for all people of all backgrounds and experiences. Being with God is the best feeling anyone can have.
You can see how insane people are who think that God can condemn anyone, curse anyone, throw anyone into hell, predestine anyone’s soul to eternal death, avenge wrongs, or rage against or punish anyone. People are even more insane if they actually believe this, let alone teach it. In reality, God cannot turn away from us or even look at us with a frown. To do any such thing would be against his essence, and what is against his essence is against himself. (True Christianity §56)
The Kingdom is Within
Jesus said that the kingdom of heaven is within you, and Swedenborg’s experiences reflect that.
Heaven is not outside angels but within them. Their deeper levels, the levels of their minds, are arranged in the form of heaven and therefore are arranged to accept all the elements of heaven that are outside them. (Heaven and Hell §53)
In order to feel the heaven outside of us, we must embrace the heaven inside of us—the divine love that leads us to do good in this world and the next. It’s not a matter of being arbitrarily granted or denied access to heaven at the Pearly Gates; it’s a process we start building in this world.
There’s an important implication here: everything that we hear about the beauty of heaven, the descriptions from Swedenborg and from people who have had near-death experiences of a world of tremendous beauty and perfection—all of that is a reflection of the beauty that is inside us when we strive to be the best people we can be.
We don’t have to wait to get to the afterlife to start experiencing the beauty of heaven. Maintaining a heavenly perspective throughout our life helps to link us to angelic communities while we’re still on earth, bringing us closer to heaven every day.
Need a moment to absorb all of that? Here’s a meditation on heaven from many different traditions and perspectives.
In the wrap-up, Curtis reminds us of the fundamental thing to remember about heaven: it’s huge, and it’s different for everyone. We all have our own unique slice of heaven, and it changes as we continue to learn and grow. Heaven is a state of mind and heart, a commitment to mutual love that reflects the majesty and diversity that exists inside all of us.
- I wonder if we can change groups and communities in heaven when we find a way to advance.
- How do spiritual marriages get together if one passes many years before the other? If one is in an external state, first entering the spiritual world, and the other already in the internal state?
- Is it possible to be bored in the afterlife?
- Something that bothers me is the notion that we end up in little sections of heaven with “people just like us” or “on our wavelength.” Does this suggest that the people we love despite or because of their differences are therefore not worth being with in the end? Aren’t they intrinsically valuable? Why would heaven segregate?
- Why do those who went to hell not want or desire to go to heaven? Do they view hell as heaven for them and therefore cannot stand the heavenly atmosphere?
Related Swedenborg and Life Videos
“A Day in the Life of an Angel”
“The Heaven Project”
“How Different Religions Coexist in Heaven”
“How You End Up in Heaven or Hell”
“The Shape of Heaven”
“What Heaven Feels Like”
“Who was Swedenborg? What should I read?”
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About Swedenborg and Life
In a lighthearted and interactive live webcast format, host Curtis Childs from the Swedenborg Foundation and featured guests explore topics from Swedenborg’s eighteenth-century writings about his spiritual experiences and afterlife explorations and discuss how they relate to modern-day life and death.
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When we wake up in heaven, Swedenborg tells us, angels roll a covering from off of our left eye so that we can see everything in a spiritual light. The offTheLeftEye YouTube channel uses an array of educational and entertaining video formats to look at life and death through an uplifting spiritual lens.
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