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From our perspective on earth, death is a terrifying mystery. All we can see is finality. But eighteenth-century spiritual teacher Emanuel Swedenborg had the opportunity to see what happens after we die, and he learned something new and beautiful. In this episode, host Curtis Childs will take us through what makes the afterlife different.
Everything we know in the physical world exists in the spiritual world, but in a much more perfect way.
In the spiritual world there are landmasses and bodies of water, mountains and hills, plains and valleys, springs and streams, gardens and woods. Just as in the physical world, there are also mansions and homes there, and cities and villages. There are also written documents and books; jobs and businesses; precious stones, gold, and silver. To put it briefly, every single thing that exists on earth exists in an infinitely more perfect form in the heavens. The only difference between the two is that everything in the spiritual world is spiritual because it has a spiritual origin. It all comes from the sun of that world, which is pure love. (True Christianity §693:3)
So will life be different when you die? Well, let’s take a look at the differences between the physical world and the spiritual world by breaking them down into some major areas.
Surroundings and Clothing
Our experience of the world around us depends on our state of mind. But in the spiritual world, the world itself depends on our state of mind.
Those matters of love and wisdom that we call thoughts, perceptions, and feelings are substances and forms. . . . We find in [the spiritual] world all the things that occur in the three kingdoms of our physical world, and they reflect the feelings and thoughts of the people who are there. . . . Both their feelings and their thoughts are visible around them looking much like the things we see in the created universe, though we see them in less perfect representations. (Divine Love and Wisdom §§42, 52)
So everything we see and wear will reflect who we truly are and how we truly feel.
Time and Space
In the spiritual world, there are no physical units of space or corresponding units of time. Yet there appear to be. Apparent space and time follow the different states of mind that spirits and angels go through there. The units of spiritual time and space match the desires of their will and the resulting thoughts in their intellect. Apparent space and time, then, are real—they are predictably determined by one’s state of mind. (True Christianity §29:1)
In the afterlife, we’re not limited by time at all. We can do what we want for as long as we want to do it, and we can stop when we want to stop. The timing feels just right, and everything happens at exactly the right time.
Spiritual distance works in a similar way. While things in the afterlife do take up space, the relationship between them is not fixed. Since love dictates proximity, everything stretches or shrinks to meet our needs.
So much can be lost in translation, even when everyone’s speaking the same language. And, of course, here on earth, we’re not all speaking the same language. In the afterlife, these communication issues are taken care of.
All people in heaven have the same language. They all understand each other, no matter what community they come from, whether nearby or remote. This language is not learned but is innate; it flows from their very affection and thought. The sound of the language corresponds to their affection and the articulations of the sound—the words, that is—correspond to the mental constructs that arise from their affections. Since their language corresponds to these [inner events], it too is spiritual, for it is audible affection and vocal thinking. (Heaven and Hell §236)
Swedenborg describes all sorts of methods we use to communicate in the afterlife.
To find out more about how spirits communicate, check out our episode “How Spirits Talk.”
In the afterlife, everyone’s thoughts and feelings will be clearly expressed and understood.
Does our particular religion cross over into the afterlife? No. Swedenborg found out that it doesn’t matter which organized religion, if any, we followed here on earth.
Religion Is All about How We Live, and the Religious Way to Live Is to Do Good. (Life §1)
Religion can be helpful when it exists as a vehicle for benefiting our neighbor, but when that’s not what it does, it doesn’t really mean much.
In the spiritual world where we all arrive after death, no one asks what our faith has been or what our beliefs have been, only what our life has been, whether we are one kind of person or another. (Divine Providence §101)
So in heaven, there is really only one religion: goodwill.
On earth, there are all sorts of things that can complicate our relationships with others. In the afterlife, though, we’ll always be a part of a community of kindred spirits. When we have things in common with others, we’ll be drawn together.
To the extent that we act and talk in keeping with someone else’s love, that individual looks whole, with a face that is whole, cheerful, and lively. To the extent that we act and talk against someone else’s dominant love, though, that individual’s face begins to change, to dim, and to be hard to see. Eventually it disappears as though it were not even there. I have often been amazed at this because this kind of thing cannot happen in the world. However, I have been told that the same thing happens to the spirit within us, in that when we turn our attention away from someone, that individual is no longer in our sight. (Heaven and Hell §479)
In the end, we won’t be lonely, and we’ll be with the people we want to be with.
Jobs and Activities
After death we live on as human beings, just as we had lived in the physical world before. As we used to in the world, we see, hear, and speak. As we used to in the world, we wear clothes and accessories. As we used to in the world, we feel hunger and thirst and we eat and drink. As we used to in the world, we enjoy making love to our spouse. As we used to in the world, we go to sleep and wake up. (True Christianity §693:3)
So, there will still be opportunities to be useful in the afterlife. You won’t need to earn money, but you’ll still want to help people. For more on this, check out our episode “A Day in the Life of an Angel.”
In heaven, we’ll have every opportunity to better ourselves and the world around us, and it will be beautiful. We’ll all be part of one great big perfect system.
All in all, the afterlife sounds like a pretty neat place. Everything we love from our lives will be there, but all the friction will be gone.
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About Swedenborg & Life
In a lighthearted and interactive 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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