Life After Death

Despite all the talk at the time of a person's death about "going to be with the Lord," traditional Christian doctrine generally looks to the resurrection at some undetermined future time at the Last Judgment or the Second Coming of the Lord. In contrast the New Church teaches an immediate resurrection of the dead into eternal life. We will all be changed, as Paul said, "in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye" (I Cor. 15:52), and yes, it will be "at the last trumpet," but at the last trumpet for each one. When Martha expressed belief in a resurrection to come in the future, Jesus replied, "I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me, though He may die, he shall live. And whoever lives and believes in Me shall never die." He corrected her understanding - resurrection begins now with belief in the Lord.

In Heaven and Hell, as indeed throughout his books, Swedenborg revealed more details about the life after death than any Christian writer in the history of the world. Much of what he wrote comes directly from the Scriptures, especially as the spiritual meaning shines through the symbolism there. But he also testifies from his own direct experience, which in many ways interestingly parallels that documented by those in modern times who have had so called "near death experiences."

The simple fact is that the mind of a person - his will and understanding - is his spirit, and this spirit, once developed and confirmed in a life of natural experience, continues to function in every normal way after the death of the natural body. We can see, hear, touch and so on just as before, only now the senses function, as Paul also said, in "a spiritual body." The thing is, we are no longer surrounded by objects and people that hold no interest for us. Instead all our experience is drawn from and supports our loves. There can be no hypocrisy in the spiritual world. Everything is laid bare. The true, inner character of every person is revealed and the Divine judgment on that character is not so much one of reward or punishment as it is the proper assignment of every person to the kind of society reflected in his - or her - loves. Thus "good people" do not go to heaven because of all the good they have done in the world, but because they are "good people" and love to do what is good. Likewise "evil people" do not go to hell because of all the evil that they have done in the world, but because they are "evil" and love to do what is evil. If we have done evil in the world but sincerely regret it the Lord does not hold it against us; if we have done good deeds in the world but only for our own gain or glory, since the inner quality of those deeds is really selfish we cannot live in heaven. In other words, the Lord does not judge by the appearance, but justly, according to the real inner quality of the person.

On this topic we strongly recommend Swedenborg's book, Heaven and Hell, selections from which can be seen at the website, www.theheavenlydoctrines.org. Various editions of the book as well as anthologies and digests containing excerpts from it are also available from www.swedenborg.ca in the book catalog section.