Self-Judgment Rather than Divine Judgment
The First State after Death
When we die, we wake up in the intermediate region of the spiritual world, neither in Heaven nor Hell, but in the neutral "no man's land" which Swedenborg calls the World of Spirits. There is no immediate change in our situation; we are the same as we were before we went to sleep. In fact, we may not even realize that we have passed over. As to our characters, we shall probably be a mixture of good and evil. Those whose ruling love is overlaid and hidden (as it is with most of us) will continue to disguise their motives. This is the first state after death—one of continuity. But it doesn't last for long!
After a short or longer period in the World of Spirits, a person's ruling love begins to reveal itself, and he no longer cares whether it is seen or not. All the thoughts, affections and beliefs which he brought with him but which are not in harmony with his ruling love, begin to fall away; they are not really his own, and so he discards them, becoming completely integrated—"himself." He can no longer play a role or "put on an act" or pretend to be what he isn't.
This stripping of one's self bare, even to one's most secret thoughts and intentions, is the judgment. "There is nothing covered that shall not be revealed, nor hid that shall not be known." (Matthew 10:26.) No need for a great white throne and a recording angel; one's innocence or guilt is there for all to see!
The Second State after Death
The second state can produce some surprises. Many who, while on earth, appeared to be good and wise and were respected by everybody are now seen to have been motivated by self-love or love of the world. All their respectability now falls away, and they plunge into unrestrained selfishness or acquisitiveness. Another person may have been a drunk or wastrel on earth, scorned by "good" people; or perhaps even a criminal—who knows? Yet in their heart they may have longed for better things: in which case, their good ruling love will now take over, and their disreputable exterior will fall away, leaving them sweet and angelic, as they always wanted to be.
At this stage the person is a spirit and begins to forget what they had been in the world, nor will they cling to their former opinions and beliefs unless they have confirmed them and made them a part of themselves. In some cases, attachment to a particular situation on earth, in which they were intimately involved, may hold them back, and they will need to be released from it. Or they may have died in a state of extreme confusion and emotional stress (as, for example, in a case of suicide). Such people will need "straightening out" before they can progress further. Others of a hypocritical nature will be so convinced of their own self-righteousness that they will need to be reminded of their selfish motivation, in which case they may have to be presented with a play-back of incidents in their earth lives, drawn from their own inner memories. Always the principle is the same. Every single individual has to "come to himself'” after death, before he can pass on to his final home in Heaven or Hell.
It is impossible to determine how long people remain in the intermediate region before passing on, because time is not fixed and measurable in the spiritual world. During some eras in ancient times, they remained there for hundreds of years. But in this New Age it is probable that very few, if any, who died, say, thirty years ago, are still in the intermediate region.
Preparation for Heaven
If the newly-awakened spirit is good at heart, then he rejoices to find he is free from the restrictions and bad habits that perhaps drove him to sin while in the world. He can now express his love to the Lord and the neighbor much more freely than before, and he finds an increasing happiness in doing so. His face and expression become more relaxed and attractive. Many questions will be stirring in his mind. He may have regarded himself as an atheist in reaction to the false and even absurd ideas of God put out by some of the churches in the past. He now sees how mistaken he was in his negative attitude and feels an urgent need for enlightenment. People from a pagan culture will need to be released from their former religious convictions and be led to a clearer understanding of divine truth. In every case, the emerging soul finds his old false misconceptions falling away and begins to feel a "hunger and thirst after righteousness."
Instruction is given in various ways, adapted to the needs of each individual. Fictitious "heavens" are provided, so that people can experiment with what they have believed Heaven to be like, to see whether it really satisfies their needs. Others are made to face mind-expanding situations, or to take part in guided discussion groups. The glorified Lord Jesus Christ is presented to them in all his divine beauty, and they are encouraged to open themselves to the inflow of his love and wisdom. Only when they have become Christians in the purest sense are they ready to enter Heaven, for in Heaven Christ alone is king.
How different is the progress of newly-awakened spirits whose ruling love is evil! As inhibitions fall away, they find themselves doing and saying blasphemies that they would never have dared to utter on earth, and not caring what anyone thinks! When angels come to help these spirits, they curse them and run away. They soon become bored with the companionship of decent people and seek out associates of a more spicy flavor. Their faces begin to take on cunning and repulsive expressions. They laugh with derision at his former religious beliefs and think up a lot of false ideas to justify their new attitudes.
Finding One's Eternal Home
Eventually, everyone in the intermediate region begins to feel the "pull" of their ruling love. They cannot resist it; they must move in the direction it draws them, like water finding its own level.
The evil go first. They are repeatedly warned that they are heading for Hell, but what do they care? It seems a pretty good place to them, the best they have ever been in! All the other inhabitants there are like themselves: they quarrel and lust and spit invectives at one another to their hearts' content.
Who sent them to Hell? Nobody but themselves. There is no inquiry as to their faith or former church affiliations, or whether they were baptized, or even what kind of life they lived on earth. They migrate toward a hellish state because they are drawn to its way of life, and for no other reason. What makes an insect buzz around a pile of manure? Catch it and put it on a rose or sweet pea, and it will get back to the filth as quickly as it can! Presumably at any time evil spirits could go into reverse and become angels in Heaven. What a rejoicing there would be if they did! But no. At this point it is too late. They prefer to live among their own kind in Hell.
Good spirits also leave the intermediate region, but in the opposite direction, towards Heaven. Their ruling love takes them to precisely that point in Heaven where they feel at home and are at rest. All the other inhabitants there are of the same nature; they even resemble one another, like members of the same family, and they welcome them as new-found brothers or sisters.
In our material world, a person can settle down and live almost anywhere; but in the spiritual world there is only one place where any individual can feel at home, and this is determined by his or her deep-down attitude towards God and the neighbor. Those are near together who are alike in character. Love attracts, and hate repels. "Birds of a feather flock together."
It is possible, of course, to leave one's home for short periods at a time; but, if one does so, there is always a feeling of strain and anxiety, a "home sickness" until one returns.
Ruling Love Fixed after Death
Theoretically it might be possible to change one's ruling love at any time, even after death; but in practice nobody ever wants to do so because, especially after settling down in Heaven or Hell, one is totally committed either to good or to evil. Spirits can change in a hundred different ways in the course of their development to eternity, but it is always within the framework of their ruling love.
This could be illustrated in terms of one's vocation or field of employment in this world. We choose our profession, more or less, while still at school: minister, doctor, lawyer, engineer, electrician, etc. This leads to specialized training at college which confirms us in our choice; and eventually we embark upon our life's work. After that, we are not likely to switch to another line of employment; but our development does not cease, it goes on and on as we become more and more advanced and expert within our chosen sphere of activity. Far more so does this apply after death. The angels take up their varied "uses" in Heaven, according to the characters they have formed on earth. Their ruling love remains essentially the same thereafter, but they go on developing along the lines it indicates.
No angel ever wants to become a devil, and no devil ever wants to become an angel. Between them there is a "great gulf fixed." (Luke 16:19-31) This great gulf is not fixed by God, but by the total incompatibility of the characters on the two sides. Only in the equilibrium or balance between Heaven and Hell that exists in this earth life does anyone change his ruling love, which is what makes this earth life so important!