Some people believe it is hard to live a life that leads to heaven, the kind of life that is called “spiritual,” because they have heard that they need to renounce the world, give up the desires associated with the body and the flesh, and “live spiritually.” Specifically, they think, this means they will have to reject worldly things, especially money and prestige, and go around in constant, pious meditation about God, salvation, and eternal life, devoting their lives to prayer, and reading the Word and religious literature. This is what they call renouncing the world and living for the spirit and not for the flesh.
However, the actual case is quite different, as I have learned from an abundance of experience and conversation with angels. In fact, people who renounce the world and live for the spirit in this fashion only get themselves a depressing life, a life that cannot experience the joy in heaven, since our life remains with us after death. No, if we are going to gain a life in heaven, we absolutely must live in the world and take part in its duties and its business. This is how we gain a spiritual life — by means of our moral and civic life. There is no other way a spiritual life can be formed within us, no other way our spirits can be prepared for heaven. This is because living an inner life and not an outer life at the same time is like living in a house that has no foundation: it gradually settles, develops gaping cracks, and sways until it collapses. Emanuel Swedenborg
Many people wonder why we must exist in such a harsh and cruel world before we can be raised into Heaven. Why did not God just create us as angels from the start? And, what about those humans who die as infants or children? Are they not in a better state for not having to face the cruel temptations of the physical world?
Angels are not robots that are compelled to love God. They all possess a self that is separate from God. It is by means of this separate self that they are able to love and obey God FREELY and WILLINGLY. And the only way they could obtain this separate self is by slowing and gradually evolving from the earth where they were able to freely choose between Truth and falsity, between Good (unselfishness) and Evil (selfishness). This is precisely why we must first exist and live in the world before we are raised into Heaven.
In fact, Swedenborg noticed that those who had lived by faith and mutual love in the world and resisted temptation as adults were in a far more stable state than those who died as infants because their natural self could no longer be tempted and they understood that all the Truth that they thought and the Good that they did was from the Lord.
We also need to live in the physical world in order to learn how to live with others and be useful to them as, in Heaven, this is how angels live in communities and are affiliated with each other and conjoined with the Lord by Love and usefulness.
Nonetheless, there still exist some people on Earth who foolishly choose to alienate themselves from society in order to meditate and practice their spirituality. Such individuals also tend to look down on others who are engaged in useful work and take part in social and enjoyable activities. But the truth is that there is nothing sinful in enjoying social interaction with others. In fact, Heaven is a spiritual society of Law, Love and Use. And, in order to reside in Heaven, we must be interconnected with others in a joyful community by Love and utility. As a consequence, those who choose to torture themselves and live a solitary and gloomy life on Earth hoping to overtake others to the gates of Heaven are sure to be disappointed when they enter the spiritual world. Their idea of Heaven is an illusion that emanates from their self-centeredness.
I have talked with angels about children, wondering whether they were free from evils because they did not have any realized evil the way adults do. I was told, though, that they are equally involved in evil, even to the point that they too are nothing but evil. However, they, like all angels, are withheld from their evils by the Lord and kept focused on what is good to the point that it seems to them as though they were focused on what is good of their own accord. So to prevent children from having a false notion about themselves after they have grown up in heaven-a belief that the good that surrounds them is from them and not from the Lord-they are let back into their hereditary evils from time to time and left in them until they know and recognize and believe the way things really are.
There was one individual who had died in infancy and grown up in heaven who had this kind of opinion. He was the son of a particular king; so he was let back into his own innate life of evil. I could tell then from the aura of his life that he had a drive to lord it over others and regarded adultery as of no concern whatever-evils that were part of his heredity from his parents. Once he recognized that he was like this, though, he was again accepted among the angels he had been with before.
In the other life, none of us suffers any punishment for inherited evil, because it is not ours. We are not at fault for our hereditary nature. We suffer punishment for any actualized evil that is ours-that is, for whatever hereditary evil we have claimed as our own by acting it out in our lives.
The reason grown-up children are let back into the state of their hereditary evil is not to punish them. It is to make sure they know that on their own they are nothing but evil and that they are borne from hell into heaven by the Lord’s mercy, that they are in heaven not because they deserve it but as a gift from the Lord. This prevents them from inflating themselves over others because of the good that attends them, for this is in opposition to the blessing of mutual love just as it is against the truth of faith. Emanuel Swedenborg [HH342]
We need also to describe the difference between people who die as children and people who die as adults. People who die as adults have a plane acquired from the earthly, material world, and they take it with them. This plane is their memory and its natural, physical sensitivity. This stays fixed and then goes dormant; but it still serves their thought after death as an outmost plane because their thinking flows into it. This is why the nature of this plane and the way their rational activity answers to its contents determines the nature of the individual after death.
People who have died in childhood and have been raised in heaven, though, do not have this kind of plane. They have a natural-spiritual plane because they bring with them nothing from the material world or their earthly bodies. This means that they cannot be engrossed in such crude affections and consequent thoughts. They actually derive everything from heaven.
Not only that, little children are unaware that they were born on earth, so they think they were born in heaven. This means they do not know what any birth is other than the spiritual birth that is accomplished through familiarity with what is good and true and through the intelligence and wisdom that make people truly human. Since these come from the Lord, they believe that they belong to the Lord himself, and love to have it so.
However, the state of people who have grown up on earth can become just as perfect as the state of children who have grown up in heaven if they move away from the physical and earthly loves, love for themselves and love for the world, and accept spiritual loves in their stead. Emanuel Swedenborg [HH345]
I have been allowed to talk with some people in the other life who had distanced themselves from the affairs of the world in order to live in devotions and sanctity, and also with some who had mortified themselves in various ways because they thought this was renouncing the world and taming the desires of the flesh. However, most of them had wound up with a gloomy kind of life from this and had distanced themselves from that life of active thoughtfulness that can be led only in the world, so they could not associate with angels. The life of angels is cheerful and blessed. It consists of worthwhile activities that are deeds of thoughtfulness.
Particularly, people who have led a life withdrawn from worldly concerns are aflame with a sense of their own worth and constantly crave heaven. They think of heavenly joy as their reward, with no knowledge whatever of what heavenly joy actually is. When they are with angels and are let into that joy-which has no sense of merit and consists of activities and public duties and in bliss at the good that is accomplished through them-they are as bewildered as though they were seeing something totally alien to their faith. Since they are not open to these joys, they move off and associate with people who have led the same kind of life in the world.
There are other people who have lived outwardly devotional lives, constantly in churches and at prayer there. They have mortified their souls while constantly thinking about themselves, how they are worthier and more estimable than others and will be regarded as saints after their death. They are not in heaven in the other life because they have done all this with themselves first in mind. Since they have polluted divine truths by the self-love they immersed them in, some of them are so deranged that they think they are gods. So they are with similar people in hell. Some of them are ingenious and crafty and are in hells for the crafty people who used their skills and wiles to construct outward appearances that would lead the masses to believe them possessed of a divine sanctity.
This includes many of the Catholic saints. I have been allowed to talk with some of them and have had their lives clearly described, both the lives they had led in the world and what they were like afterward.
I have mentioned all this to let it be known that the life that leads to heaven is not one of withdrawal from the world but a life in the world, and that a life of piety apart from a life of thoughtfulness (which is possible only in the world) does not lead to heaven at all. Rather, it is a life of thoughtfulness, a life of behaving honestly and fairly in every duty, every affair, every task, from our deeper nature and therefore from a heavenly source. The source of this life is within us when we act honestly and fairly because doing so is in accord with divine laws. This life is not hard, but a life of piety apart from a life of thoughtfulness is hard. Still, this latter life leads away from heaven as surely as people believe it leads to heaven. Emanuel Swedenborg [HH 535]
….the Writings reveal that it is by his life in the body that man’s eternal character, or the ruling love of his spirit, is formed and confirmed. For spiritual substance – the substance of man’s soul and spirit and mind – is such that by itself it has no permanence of form, or constancy, for it does not possess the quality of space or of time. This is the reason why no angels could be created directly into the spiritual world, but must first be born on an earth.
We must here briefly summarize what was shown in greater detail in our second chapter: The human soul, in order to become an immortal and permanent individual being, must be adjoined to a body of natural substances and thus find a beginning in time and become associated with a world of space, and thus become limited, or individualized, as a form of potential use different from any other. Each human soul, already before birth, is differentiated by being an offshoot of the paternal soul and spirit, as well as by a distinct heredity from the mother. Yet the soul does not become individualized, permanent and immortal, except by the act of birth and the experience of sensation as a free being.
From the time of birth – the opening of the lungs and the beginning of conscious sensation – the soul commences to mold its own substance into the forms which we call the mind, and begins to arrange all sensations and experiences into harmony with its own various preferences. And when rational freedom is attained, it is man’s free spiritual choice that determines the internal form of the mind or spirit, and decides its ruling love. And it is to be specially noted that the spirit forms itself always by reference to the sensations of the body, and confirms that form by efforts and actions in the body. It is the world of sensations, which the body and brain present before the mind, that allows the spirit to exert its free choice, its valuations of delights, its selection of good and truth or of evil and falsity. The soul thus assumes a ruling love according to the choice and free decision of its rational mind; or – what is the same – the ruling love is formed, and once formed, is fixed by life in the material body.
Thus evil – and hell – cannot arise except in human minds living in earthly bodies. Man’s mind from birth is of three degrees. The two highest-the “celestial” and the “spiritual” -are always in the order of heaven. But the lowest of the three mental degrees is the “ultimate spiritual” or “spiritual-natural,” and is called the natural mind. The natural mind operates among the inmost organics of the physical body, and there only “can the ultimate spiritual separate itself from the superior degrees” and become perverted into evil. It is in the rational of the natural mind that man’s eternal choice is made.. DLW 257, 260, 345
The further explanation is given, that “no man’s life can be changed after death, because it has been organized according to his love and the works therefrom; that if it were changed, the organization would be torn apart, which can never be done; also that a change in organization is possible only in the material body, and is entirely impossible in the spiritual body after the former has been cast off.. CL 524, BE 110e
It might be thought that a change could still occur after death, since the spirit of man retains from its abode in the material body a “limbus” or fringe of the inmost substances of nature as a perennial medium by which he is provided with something relative to the things which are in nature, and something which -by remaining in the world of space and time – shall preserve and limit his existence as an immortal individual. But this “limbus,” although it must contain a record of all man’s natural experiences, cannot any more change its form, for there are no longer any natural sense-organs to induce changes upon it. Instead, it guarantees that the corporeal memory, which recorded man’s external experiences in the world, shall become quiescent and inactive and unchanged forever. Wis. viii. 4, 5; DP 220, TCR 103, DLW 257, 388. See The Doctrine of the Limbus, earlier in this work.
Attention is called by the Writings to this “corporeal memory” as the plane in which all the interior things of a man’s mind are terminated while on earth. For every man orders his memory according to his affections and preferences, so that the association of each idea (or field of ideas) with every other is a perfect picture of his whole character and ruling love. The agreement or harmony of his internal, rational, or spiritual man with this memory, remains after death as it was on earth. Man’s interiors can indeed grow and be perfected – as with the angels and with infants who grow up in heaven. But the external – or the corporeal or sensual memory – cannot grow or change. And there can be no growth of internals except so far as the order which man has imposed upon his external memory will allow it!
If a man has ordered his corporeal memory into a form corresponding to an infernal love, his interiors can never alter and put on a heavenly quality. And this, Swedenborg notes in his Diary, is illustrated by the Biblical proverb (in Ecclesiastes 11:3) that “if the tree fall toward the south or toward the north, in the place where the tree falleth, there it shall be.” SD min. 4645f, SD 5552, AC 4588
The mind that we form while on earth is the spirit which is immortal. And it cannot change its essential character after death, because it is organized even more intricately than our body. The human mind is organized, we are taught, “inwardly of spiritual substances and outwardly of natural substances and lastly of material substances.” At death, the material substances are rejected. The inmost natural substances go to constitute what we have referred to as the “limbus,” and these natural substances “recede” or withdraw from the spirit itself which enters the spiritual world and is seen there under the form of a spiritual body. But note that “the mind, the delights of whose love are good, consists inwardly of spiritual substances such as are in heaven; but the mind, the delights of whose love are evil, consists inwardly of spiritual substances such as are in hell; and the evils of the latter are bound into fascicles by falsities.” The very body of an evil spirit is organized into disorderly forms, wherein the fibres act in an order or gyre or flux which is opposite to that of heaven. TCR 38 DLW 257 TCR 38 DP 315: Hugo Lj. Odhner