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Before his near-death experience (NDE) in 1985, Howard Storm was a passionate atheist. His visit to hell, encounter with Jesus, and visions of heaven transformed him so completely that he became a pastor and authored two books: My Descent into Death and Lessons Learned.
In this episode, host Curtis Childs speaks with him about his experiences and where they overlap with those of Emanuel Swedenborg. What can these encounters with death teach us about life?
Swedenborg and Death
Howard shares that an NDE can be a very isolating experience. It’s common to feel alone and even crazy, but those familiar with Swedenborg aren’t so quick to judgment. After a friend introduced him to works like Heaven and Hell, Howard was struck by the parallels between his experiences and those of Swedenborg.
Curtis has not had a near-death experience, but he feels that the intersections in these descriptions of the afterlife help to reveal an objective reality. Howard agrees: “If I were able to talk to [Swedenborg] today, he and I would hit it off big. We’d be brothers.”
A Life in Review
Life reviews are a common subject in the NDE community, and Howard’s review almost exclusively emphasized his relationships with other people. Whether it’s family or friends, “all that God cares about is how we interact with other people.”
When Jesus pulled him back from death, Howard asked, “What do you want me to do?” The answer was simple: “Love the person that you’re with.”
“All that matters is that you try,” Howard says. Success is kindness—not money, cars, or clothes. “If you focus on love, the other stuff falls into place.”
Curtis asks what it was like to meet Jesus, and Howard emphasizes how truly overwhelming is his love for us. If he could make up a new word for it, he would—it’s like when you first fall head-over-heels in love, but it is magnified a million times. It’s like nothing else in life.
Christ also likes us. He made us and put us in the life situations we face, and he thinks we’re “the most adorable things in the world.” Howard is a grandparent, and he just wants his grandchildren to live well, be good people, and fill whatever potential they have in life. That’s also what Jesus wants for us.
Unlike many near-death experiences, Howard’s journey included a visit to hell—it’s one of the many ways in which his experience aligned with Swedenborg’s writings:
Heaven is differentiated into communities, and so is hell. Every spirit is a member of some community, is sustained by an inflow from it, and therefore acts in harmony with it. This is why we are united with heaven or hell just as we are united with spirits. We are actually united to some community there, the community we belong to in respect to our affection or our love; for all heaven’s communities are differentiated according to their affections for what is good and true and all hell’s communities according to their affections for what is evil and false. (Heaven and Hell §294)
Howard encountered horrible beings that tortured him, but he wrote that he recognized them as “his people.” Before his experience, Howard was manipulative and self-absorbed, but he thought he was a good person. “[The people I encountered] were just like me—people who thought they were good, thought they were great, thought they were wonderful, totally self-absorbed. . . . They didn’t understand the consequences of what they were getting into, although everybody’s warned, but nobody believes it.”
Once Howard recognized himself in these evil creatures, he was able to turn his path toward good. Only then could he open his eyes toward the spiritual battle waged around us.
Spiritual War on Earth
Curtis reads Howard a quote from Swedenborg that related to this experience:
Spiritual struggle is a battle inside us between the evil spirits and angels present with us, and . . . we sense this conflict indistinctly in our conscience. Further vital information about this combat is that angels constantly defend us and deflect the evil that the evil spirits intend against us. (Secrets of Heaven §761)
After his near-death experience, Howard continued to witness the spiritual battle, even in everyday life. “There was way more information than I could handle,” he confesses. It was about more than him; he could see the struggle going on inside everyone around him, although it took him a while to figure out how to approach people without them thinking he was crazy.
What did that experience teach him? “[Just] because we are so hopelessly ignorant of the nature of the spiritual world, [that] doesn’t deny its reality,” Howard says. “Therefore, what we have to do is to protect ourselves and those we love with prayer and with faith. And we have to avoid opportunities for evil to have an influence on us.”
These demonic forces lie: they promise you the fulfillment of all your desires. Howard draws a parallel between evil and heroin addiction. It looks like a good deal, but it’s fundamentally destructive to the spirit.
Winning the War
Howard shares his technique for combating evil influences and says that one of the most important things he does is stay focused on the loving presence of Jesus.
“[Jesus] knows the human nature better than we know our own nature.” He knows our darkest thoughts, but he has forgiven them. He just wants us not to be self-destructive.
Howard shares that Christ has given us gifts that allow us to be amazing and wonderful in this world. Curtis asks if hell is a refusal of those gifts. “Absolutely . . . The greatest refusal of the gift is [to not believe] that what God represents is a benevolent world. . . . It could be a loving and nurturing world, [but] instead that is not the way the world is.”
Questions from Viewers
In the second half of the show, Howard answers questions from online viewers:
Did you experience any of the things in hell described in Swedenborg’s writings, or meet or speak with any people?
A committee of evil people took him into darkness until he refused to go any farther. They turned on him and did unspeakable harm before he was rescued by Jesus.
Can I ask about Howard’s vision of the future? What do people do all day? What kinds of houses do people live in? What did they wear?
During his NDE in 1985, Howard saw what the world would look like in two hundred years. He didn’t see dwellings, but people were connected telepathically and could control the weather. People dedicated their time to the nurturing of children.
Everything we do is a result of enlightened self-interest: “If I do something that’s good for you, I know that it’s good for me.” Besides, Howard doesn’t believe that we can get to heaven through our deeds. It’s about the intent more than the results.
How would Howard suggest that Christians function within a church if their perspective of Jesus’s message is more “liberal” than traditional doctrine?
Every church has its own personality, and you can’t force people to be open-minded. You just have to take them from where they are. You love them and help them take baby steps towards loving everyone. It all starts with love.
Do you still have contact with the spiritual world? Do you have enhanced psychic capabilities since the NDE?
The short answer: Yes. “I feel like I’m the most fortunate human being on the whole planet, because Jesus and I are buddies.” Howard’s voice catches. “We’re close. He tells me stuff and I tell him stuff and we hang together tight.”
What kind of spiritual practice do you recommend? Can you describe more in depth how you meditate? What does Jesus think of our spiritual practices?
Howard’s answer is simple: “It’s all good!” There are many ancient practices, like centering prayer, that are coming back into vogue in different forms. You can do anything in the context of your Christian practice—it’s just a matter of taste.
How particular was Jesus regarding right conduct? If one has goodwill and kindness, would it be proper to be quiet and mild mannered without jokes, smiling, laughter, and excessive chatter?
Howard thinks jokes, smiles, and chatter are signs of friendliness. Don’t monopolize people’s time, but don’t hesitate to acknowledge people and make them feel better. “We need to lighten up and be joyful people!”
I am a recovering addict, but very spiritual now—will I be judged on my past?
Howard doesn’t hesitate: “No.” Howard calls the twelve-step program “more Christian than most Christians are Christian.” When you go through it, Howard says, your past is all gone—we have a fresh start and God doesn’t even keep a record any more. He edits The Book of Life every day.
I don’t understand how we don’t miss the people we leave behind [when we cross over].
When we go to heaven, we can still see people on earth. By heaven’s clock, it’s a matter of minutes before everyone joins you at home—“I call heaven ‘home,’ because that’s where we belong.”
Are there more people in hell or heaven?
If Howard knew the answer to that, he’d be in heaven himself. “That’s above my pay grade.”
Are our loved ones allowed to visit us from time to time, even if in our dreams?
Howard believes so. He knows people who have been visited by their departed loved ones. It’s a gift and should be celebrated as such!
More from Howard Storm
For a little bit of everything, go to howardstorm.com.
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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 in a lighthearted and interactive live webcast format.
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