Answers to Tough Questions on Life After Death
We have already learned something about the middle region of the spiritual world, called the "World of Spirits," where people first wake up after death, and where they are prepared for their final homes in Heaven or Hell. Let us see what this preparation involves in the case of children, old folk and those from non-Christian pagan lands.
Death in Infancy
"As soon as little children are resuscitated, which takes place immediately after death, they are taken into heaven and confided to angel women who in the life of the body tenderly loved little children and at the same time loved God." (Heaven and Hell 332)
When children die, they wake up as children in the spiritual world, since their spirits, like their bodies, are immature and unformed. They have to grow up and develop into adult men and women before they can become angels. This growth takes place in the middle region, very close to its frontiers with Heaven.
They are cared for by foster mothers: women angels who, when on earth, loved children dearly. (No one is their "father," except the Lord, the Father of us all.) These children have a very happy upbringing, as all their lessons are in the form of games and play.
Naturally, angel children are not always good, for they inherit evil tendencies from their earthly parents. But they are taught from the very beginning to struggle against selfishness and bad temper, and to look to their heavenly Father, doing nothing contrary to his will.
As they grow older, the boys go to male angels who instruct them further, while the girls are cared for and taught by married women (angels).
It appears that some of the "children" had been mentally defective adults in the world. Because they had had the mentality of babies, they quickly reverted to babyhood in the spiritual world and had to begin their growth and development there from the beginning, as if they had died in infancy. If a teenager on earth has a motorbike accident, which permanently damages his brain, so that for the rest of his life he is unable to be responsible for his own choices and decisions, then, even though he may grow to be a very old man, he will begin his life on the other side at the point he had reached when he had his accident, that is to say, as a teenager.
When the children have quite grown up in the World of Spirits and have learned all they need to know, they graduate as angels and enter one of the numerous societies of Heaven. It is a firm teaching of the New Church that no one who dies in childhood goes to Hell. All are saved; and this has nothing to do with whether or not they were baptized, as churches used to teach. All end up as angels in Heaven. Probably they are of a tender and sensitive character, as compared with those who bore the heat and burden of the day while on earth, and no doubt they have to be protected and helped in many ways by their tougher brethren. But there is work of a delicate nature that only they can perform. (Swedenborg compares them with the "eye" of the body.) We can be sure they are entirely and blissfully happy in their own way, just as other angels are in theirs. Thus, even the obvious evil of premature death is over-ruled by the Lord for good.
Death in Old Age
Those who die in old age, naturally wake up as "old folk" in the spiritual world. There is never any immediate change in one's appearance after death. However, once the physical body has been dropped, the effects of old age soon begin to wear off. If the old man is good at heart, he finds his health improving and his body growing more vigorous. He wants to run and dance and play strenuous games. Finally he reaches the state of virile early manhood and develops a radiant youthfulness of face, body and manner, combined with ripe experience and wisdom. He then moves forward into Heaven and becomes an angel in the usual way. So also with the female sex. "Women who have died worn out with age," writes Swedenborg, "if they have lived in faith in the Lord and charity towards their neighbor, come more and more into the flower of youth and early womanhood, and into a beauty which exceeds all idea of beauty perceivable by our sight. The angels in Heaven are continually advancing into the springtime of life; and the more thousands of years they live, the more delightful and happy is the spring to which they attain. "People in heaven are continually progressing toward the springtime of life. The more thousands of years they live, the more pleasant and happy is their springtime.... In a word, to grow old in Heaven is to grow young." (Heaven and Hell 414)
On the other hand, evil people, whether old or young, grow more and more ugly and ill-favored after death, as their ruling love comes to the surface, until they end up as devils or satans in Hell.
Non-Christians After Death
It used to be fashionable for Christians to condemn all non-Christians to Hell. But in the New Church we know that it is the ruling love that makes a person an angel or a devil, and the ruling love of a Hindu or Islamist or so-called heathen savage is just as likely to be good as that of a "civilized" Christian.
When Jesus was on earth, the Samaritans were regarded as heathen and were despised and cold-shouldered by the strict Jews. Yet Jesus obviously liked them, and spent so much of his time with them that the Pharisees complained: "Thou art a Samaritan and hast a devil!" (John 8:48.) In the parable of the Good Samaritan, Jesus actually compared a Samaritan favorably with a Jewish priest and a Levite and pointed to him as the "neighbor who is to be loved." And remember, it was a Samaritan woman who first recognized Jesus as the Christ. (John 4:29.)
In two other of our Lord's parables, he seems to have been referring to the gentiles or non-churchgoers of his day.
(1) The story of the rich man at his dinner table, and the beggar
Lazarus lying at his gate, full or sores. (Luke 16:19-31.) Here the
beggar stands for the gentiles, while the rich man represents the
complacent members of the dying church.
Evidently Jesus had a great deal of sympathy with the gentiles of his day; and in fact the Christian church took root among the gentiles more readily than among the Jews. Swedenborg gave grounds for believing that the New Church also would develop most freely among the gentiles, especially the Africans; and it is a fact that the New Church organizations in South and West Africa have far more members today than all the branches in the rest of the world put together.
This raises a very interesting question. If the heathen or gentiles have just as good a chance of getting to Heaven as Christians, why try to convert them to Christianity? Why have missions? This is a deep matter, which cannot be dealt with briefly. Suffice it to say that Jesus commissioned his disciples to "Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature." (Mark 16:15.) Indeed, it is only natural for us to want to share with others what means a lot to us, to give them the wonderful and exciting information that they don't know about. Then there is the important consideration that, by spreading the New Church doctrines, we are helping to make this world a better place to live in. This world will always be a hell, so long as falsities reign in it. If it is to become more like Heaven, then people on earth must learn the heavenly doctrines and try to live according to them.
Nevertheless, the teaching still holds good that in individual cases, however false a person's beliefs may be, however his religion may violate our sense of right or wrong, he will surely get to Heaven in the end, if his ruling love is good.
It is probable that when some of the heathen first wake up in the spiritual world they will appear full of sores, or maimed, crippled and blind, like the guests at the feast in our Lord's parable. This will be because their spirits are diseased and their beliefs twisted and corrupt. If their religion involved cruel rites and ceremonies, they will unthinkingly begin to practice them, as far as they are able, in the spirit. But angels will come and stop them, and explain to them about the true God, our Lord, who is love itself and mercy itself, and who came into the world to redeem and save humankind. If they are good at heart, they will listen eagerly and be deeply touched; they will receive the good news gladly and cease altogether from their base practices. At the same time, they will freely submit to the pain of having their twisted bodies straightened out; and eventually, when they have accepted the Lord as their God, and learned something of his Word, they will become angels and enter Heaven. Some will no doubt go even to the Celestial Heaven, the Heaven of love to the Lord, which is the highest Heaven of all.
The same principle applies to members of the great world religions, such as Hinduism, Buddhism and Islam. Or the smaller cults, some of which have quite beautiful features although they do not acknowledge Christ as God. And what of the gentiles in our own culture, those outside the Christian church—agnostics, freethinkers, atheists? Are we to cold-shoulder them, as the Jews did the Samaritans? And how about the present-day Jews? Are we to cold-shoulder them? The answer is the same in every case. We must do all we can to encourage Christian ways of life in this world; but one of the outstanding characteristics of true Christianity is toleration. We should not condemn anyone who believes differently from us. They may, in fact, be nearer to the kingdom of Heaven than we are!
There will be plenty of opportunity to learn the heavenly doctrines after death, even for those who never heard of them on earth. But in the spiritual world no one can absorb wisdom unless their heart is good. The evil turn away in disgust from their would-be angelic instructors; they deny any truth presented to them; or, if they accept it, they profane it by turning it to evil uses. Perhaps the worst of such profaners are those who actually belonged to the Christian church on earth but did not live according to its teachings. The good news brought to them by the angels makes not the slightest impression on them, because they are already familiar with it. "That's old hat!" they jeer, "as stale as moldy bread!"— and they make off towards Hell. Such are the lepers of the other world—who blend truth with evil, mixing their knowledge of holy things with base desires.
We who belong to the Christian church on earth should take warning
from this and realize that with special privileges comes special
responsibility. More is expected of us than of others. As Jesus said:
"That servant which knew his Lord's will, and prepared not himself,
neither did according to his will, shall be beaten with many stripes.
But he that knew not, and did commit things worthy of stripes, shall be
smitten with a few stripes. For unto whomsoever much is given, of him
shall much be required." (Luke 12:47-8.)