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Death is terrifying to most people. It’s this great big unknown that faces all of us, an event that is difficult to understand based on things that we’ve experienced here on earth. Why do we die? What does it feel like to die? What happens after death?
In this episode, Curtis Childs and Karin Childs look to eighteenth-century spiritual teacher Emanuel Swedenborg for answers to these questions, since he was able to witness the afterlife first-hand.
Swedenborg learned that death itself isn’t painful—it’s just a transition from one world to another. It’s devastating to those who we leave behind, but it’s guided by love, order (wisdom), and an overall sense of continuity.
What Swedenborg learned reflects the near-death experiences (NDEs) of many others, even those experiences that have been reported in modern times. Often, people talk about feeling a kind of “out-of-body” experience before they move toward the light.
I have heard from heaven that some people who die . . . before they have been revived, are still thinking in their cold bodies, and cannot help but feel that they are alive, but with the difference that they cannot move a single part of the matter that makes up their bodies. (Heaven and Hell §433)
One well-known record of an NDE is that of Dr. Mary C. Neal, who reported this feeling of incredible love and safety when she drowned in a kayaking accident.
As she was trapped in the kayak under a waterfall, she realized that she wasn’t breathing, but she felt no concern about it.
Swedenborg describes angels who greet us as we die and take great care to keep us peaceful during this transition.
Angels take the greatest care to shield the awakening person from any concept that does not taste of love. (Heaven and Hell §450)
Even in traumatic deaths like Dr. Neal’s, there’s this sensation of bliss and freedom.
While my body was being slowly sucked out of the boat, I felt as though my soul was slowly peeling itself away from my body. I felt my body release from the boat and begin to tumble with the current. . . . At the moment my body was released and began to tumble, I felt a “pop”. It felt as if I had finally shaken off my heavy outer layer, freeing my soul. (To Heaven and Back, p. 68)
According to Swedenborg:
As soon as the internal organs of the body grow cold, our living substances, wherever they are located, are separated out. This would happen even if they were lost in the thousand interlinking passages of a labyrinth. The Lord’s mercy, which I had already experienced as a living and powerful pull, is so strong that it could not leave any living element behind. (Secrets of Heaven §179)
When Dr. Neal reached the afterlife, she was greeted by a multitude of spiritual people who loved her, and she felt an intense joy. For more on this, check out our episode “5 Reunions in the Afterlife.”
There is a kind of field that constantly emanates from the Lord, which pulls all toward heaven. It fills the entire spiritual world and the entire physical world. It is like a strong current in the ocean that secretly carries ships along. (True Christianity §652:3)
When her friends on earth started reviving her body, Dr. Neal felt a bittersweet sadness coming from the joyful spirits. They were excited to all be together, but they also respected that it wasn’t her time yet. When she came back to life on earth, she was totally freed from her old fear of death.
This story clearly illustrates the love and order of the dying process. Chelsea Odhner joins to discuss the continuity of death, a topic that we also explored in our episode “What Happens Immediately After You Die.”
When we die and fully transition into the spiritual world, our new life feels familiar and comfortable. Whatever we’re used to in life is what we get when we’re on the other side. As Swedenborg says, “the reason this happens to all of us after death is so that death does not seem like death” (Five Memorable Occurrences §4).
Dr. Jonathan Rose joins to share that even though God and heaven conspire to help us grow, our own receptivity to service and compassion is a key component. Jonathan talks about the parable of the ten young women (Matthew 25) as an example of how important it is to have such a capacity.
If we’re trying to show love and help others, we can look forward to moving on a path that leads to heaven. If there are certain personal circumstances here on earth that compromise our rationality and impede our spiritual progress, those barriers will be lifted in the afterlife.
Death can be so seamless and painless that some people don’t even realize that they’re dead. Writer Karin Childs joins to discuss how people react to finding out that they’ve arrived in the afterlife. Some people continue denying the afterlife, and some just feel a little embarrassed to have been wrong about it, but the most common reaction is amazement and joy.
I have talked with some people on the third day after they died, and have told them that arrangements were being made for their burial and funeral, which prompted them to say that they had done well in casting off what had served them for a body and its functions in the world. They wanted me to tell [their loved ones] that they were not dead but alive, and were just as human now as ever. They said they had simply crossed over from one world into another and had no awareness of having lost anything, since they had a body and sensory faculties just as they had had before; they had understanding and will just as before; they had the same kinds of thoughts and feelings, the same kinds of sensations, even the same kinds of pleasures and desires as they had had in the world. Many who have just died, on seeing that they are still people and are still alive as they were before, and in similar circumstances . . ., are touched with a new joy at being alive and say they had not believed it would be like this. (Last Judgment §15:3–4)
It’s just exciting to know that life as we know it continues in an even more beautiful way. Sometimes, the angels even have a little fun with it.
Related Swedenborg & Life Videos
“How Angels Take Care of Us When We Die”
“What Happens Immediately After You Die”
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