from Robert H. Kirven, "A Concise Overview of  Swedenborg's Theology, (Appleseed & Co. MA 2003)

Table of  Contents


Chapter 9


Continuing Life; The Spiritual World

THIS IS ANOTHER CHAPTER IN WHICH THE VOCABULARY of my discussion requires some explanation. As in Chapter 1, I deliberately depart from the most direct translation of Swedenborg, and from common modern usage as well, when I write of "continuing life" instead of "life after death." The reason for the variation is that I feel more comfortable about explaining what I don't mean by "life after death." The necessity for making that latter explanation, if I use those terms, was first pointed out (as far as I know) by Paul Tillich.

"People who talk about 'life after death,"' I heard him say in a sermon in Harvard Chapel in the early 1960s, "either don't mean 'life' or they don't mean 'death.'" Now, Tillich's basic beliefs on this point evolved through several stages and are too complex and debatable to be detailed here, but his logic is formidable. For two or three years after that sermon, I tried to find a reasonable justification for using the familiar phrase, "life after death," but I finally surrendered and have not been able to use it comfortably for a long time. Death, by definition, is the end of life; so what I mean when I use the word now (as in Chapter 9), is not precisely what the words say. The human soul, which continues to live after the body dies, does not die; its continuing life is not life after its death. "Continuing life" is better, perhaps. Just as good, and maybe better still, is the title that Dr. Raymond Moody gave his bestselling book, Life After Life!

I am fond of word games like this but I'm not telling the tale of my struggle with Tillich's thought just for fun. I tell it here to illustrate that devoted belief is not a license for loose language or fuzzy thinking. The fact that a human being's spirit continues to live after it ceases to be clothed with its material body does not need defense by blind belief, nor is it threatened by hard questions or sharp inquiry. You don't have to believe in cancer to have your body suffer and die from it, and you do not have to believe in spiritual life to live it with or without a physical body. I'm sure Tillich understands that clearly now. Raymond Moody, Elizabeth Kubler-Ross, Carl G. Jung and many others have accepted the fact as part of a thoroughly informed and competent worldview. On Swedenborg's testimony, it can be taken as visible, tangible fact.

Of course, I do not expect to have to convince you of the idea of continuing life, since you have stayed with this course this far. But there may be a need to sharpen your conception of what that idea is. For example, what is it that continues to live? It cannot be the human being, because we began by defining that as a spirit clothed with a body. When the body dies, it is not living anymore (as Tillich correctly observed).

What does survive? A formless vapor? No. The body which clothes the spirit in human life is shaped from its organic conception to fit the form of its spirit, and that spirit (called a "soul" while it still is clothed with a body) develops and matures in closely correspondential symbiosis with its body. This spiritual substance, which continues to live, has so much in common with the appearance of its body that people who knew each other in physical life immediately recognize each other when they meet in spiritual life. The spirit's form, features, posture, and other distinguishing characteristics are just as individualized and recognizable as the comparable characteristics of the body that grew as a correspondential reflection of the spirit it clothed.

Does that suggest that the body's death is of little or no significance in the life of the spirit? It should not suggest that, because a spirit no longer clothed with a body is no longer a human being. So we are back where we started in this course, but needing now a sharper conception of the relationship between a human spirit and its body.

The body serves the soul much as tools serve the body. It is obvious that tools are lifeless and impotent on their own: hammers do not drive nails, saws do not cut wood, but a human being whose body holds tools can cut and fasten wood into a box or a house. It is just as obvious that a body can do things with tools that it could not do without them. Without tools, the most experienced carpenter, the most skilled cabinet-maker, couldn't even make a simple box out of a tree! For very similar reasons, a soul could not develop a character—most specifically, it could not develop a ruling love in its life—without a body. The soul uses the body to meet the temptations of the spiritual world and to actualize its intentions.

A person's chief, central, dominant, overriding life's love is developed in the tensions between the spirit and the body. Temptations, described in Chapter 3, are tensions between spiritual and physical desires and goals. Reformation, described in Chapter 4, involves completing faith in concrete actions that benefit the neighbor. Regeneration, and the consequent life of charity (Chapters 4 and 6), involve transforming spiritual intention into physical acts that are good for someone—acts of use. The life's love that is molded and built out of those tensions and opportunities develops strength and definition continuously throughout human life (that is, throughout a whole, physio-spiritual life). After death, the spirit no longer has a body to use in its character-building. Without the tensions and opportunities that the body provides, the life's love stops growing. Forever. The death of the body is of enormous significance to the soul. Spiritual development stops.

This fact is stated and explained in Heaven and Hell 480. Those who find it harshly rigid often are those who do not take seriously the essential role that the body plays in human life. A human being certainly is a spirit as to internals (Heaven and Hell 461 ff.), but as to the wholeness of human life, a human being is a single two-fold reality that cannot be reduced to less than a "spirit-clothed-with-a-body." (I have explored this physio-spiritual wholeness of life in a pamphlet, The Oneness of Things.)

The spiritual world, as described in Heaven and Hell, and elsewhere in Swedenborg's works, is distinctive in the history of Christian thought in at least two respects. The first is the difference between his factual reporting of what he heard and saw and touched in countless experiences, and all the metaphysical speculations and artistic imaginings of other people that have been formed by—and have helped to form—the Christian tradition. The second distinction is related to the first: Swedenborg's account is characterized by a vast wealth of detail. There is detail in the paintings and etchings of Hieronymous Bosch and William Blake and in the poetry of Milton and Dante (and still more in the art of Dante's illustrators!), but that is imaginative detail rather than factual. The Christian tradition before Swedenborg is notably vague about what the spiritual world is really like (some branches of that tradition have grown more and more vague since the eighteenth century). But even the sharpest critics of Swedenborg never accused him of being vague about the spiritual world!

Swedenborg's wealth of detail makes his conception of the spiritual world impossible to summarize because the substance of the concept is in the details. However, there are two points that are important as a general framework for assembling the details.

The first of these points is the idea of the three great divisions of the spiritual world: heaven, hell, and the world of spirits. "The world of spirits" is not a synonym for "the spiritual world" but is a technical term that Swedenborg uses to describe a particular condition or state of being (in the spiritual world, conditions or states are areas or regions). The world of spirits has no direct parallel in traditional Christian literature (though it has parallels in many personal visions of life after life, and may have some in works like the Egyptian and Tibetan books of the dead). Its superficial similarities to the idea of purgatory may be misleading: the world of spirits is between heaven and hell as purgatory is, but everyone passes through it, none are sentenced to it, and it is not a place of punishment.

In fact, no one in the spiritual world is sentenced to anything. As the full consciousness of spiritual life unfolds after the body's death, all the pretenses that enabled us to fool others (and even ourselves) fall away. A person's true character and the chief love that governs it become evident. Among companions of a seriously different character, a spirit finds it difficult to work or converse with them, even uncomfortable to be near them. If the difference is great enough, the discomfort is as frantic as that of a fish out of water. By such experiences, and with as much help and guidance as he or she seeks or accepts, the spirit moves through the world of spirits and eventually out of it into a community that feels "right," like home. In fact, it is the home that we made for ourselves during the character-building experiences of human life. This is where we feel best, not where we are assigned as a reward or as punishment, whether it is heaven or hell.

The heavens and the hells are made of many communities, each separated from others by the particular nature of the ruling loves of its inhabitants. Similar communities are close together, others are far away. In life as we know it, we feel close to some people in another city or another continent, and distant from some people in the same room with us. In the spiritual world, the physical distances do not exist and distance is simply difference. The differences are three-dimensional, so some communities are higher (more central) than others, and directions (like the points of our compass) are differences of good or evil, truth or falsity. The descriptions of distances, directions, and elevations are vivid and easily grasped; but don't try to make them fit one literal, global image. These are spiritual dimensions and directions and they change in different contexts. The changes that seem natural in dreams but incredible in waking life may be the best illustrations of the shifts in surroundings, companionship, and perspectives that characterize the spiritual world.

These are the main generalizations that I want to make about the spiritual world. There is one more point that is not central to me, but it is for many. The issue usually is called "the eternity of the hells," but generally refers to the eternity of one's abode there. In Heaven and Hell 480 (and Secrets of Heaven 10749, True Christianity 399, and several other passages), Swedenborg says that the hells are eternal and everyone who joins them stays there eternally.


Read the following passages from Swedenborg. For further reading in other published versions, see the passages listed just below:

Heaven and Hell 1-77, 421-422, 426, 453, 461, 462, 480, 512, 515, 528, 530, 545-550


Continuing Life; The Spiritual World

HH 2

First of all, we need to know who is the God of heaven, because everything depends on this. Throughout the entire heaven, only the Lord is recognized as God, no one else.[12. Notes]  Angels say what the Lord taught: namely, that he is one with the Father, that the Father is in him and he in the Father, that anyone who sees him sees the Father, and that everything holy comes from him (John 10:30, 38; 14:9-11; 16:13-15)....

People in heaven speak directly from their thinking—a kind of thought-filled speech, or vocal thinking—so that if people have divided the Divine into three in the world (and conceived each in a separate image without gathering and focusing these three into one) they cannot be accepted into heaven. The way all thoughts are communicated in heaven, people who arrive thinking "three" and saying "one" are identified immediately and expelled.[13. Notes]....

HH 3

People in the church who have ignored the Lord, recognized only the Father and closed their minds to other thoughts, are outside heaven. Since they do not receive anything flowing in from heaven (where the Lord alone is worshipped), they gradually lose their ability to consider true ideas and eventually become either speechless or inarticulate.... People who have denied the Lord's divine nature and focused only on his human nature (like the Socinians[14. Notes]) also are excluded from heaven.... [as are] people who claim to believe in an invisible divine being they call Universal Being, and therefore reject any faith in the Lord[15. Notes].... It is different for people who are born outside the church, people we call non-Christians.[16. Notes]

It is the Lord's Divine Nature that makes Heaven

HH 7

The whole assembly of angels is called heaven because heaven is made up of angels; but heaven is heaven—as a whole, and in every detail—because of the divine nature that emanates from the Lord. The divine nature emanating from the Lord is the good intrinsic to love and the truth intrinsic to faith. The extent to which angels accept from the Lord what is good and what is true determines the extent to which they are angels and the extent to which, together, they are heaven....This is why in heaven the Word is called the Lord's dwelling and his throne, and why people who live there are described as being in the Lord."...

The Lord's Divine Nature in Heaven is Everyone's Love for Him and Care for the Neighbor

HH 13

In heaven, divine nature emanating from the Lord is called divine truth....and it flows into heaven from the Lord, out of his divine love. Divine love and divine truth derived from it are like the sun's fire and the light that comes from it in our world....

HH 14

The divine in heaven (which, in fact, makes heaven) is love because that love is spiritual union. It unites angels to the Lord and unites them with each other so deeply that in the Lord's sight they are a single being. Beyond this, love is the essential reality of every individual life—so it is the source of life of angels as well as of each of us. We are warmed by its presence and chilled by its absence, we die when it is completely gone...and its quality determines the quality of our life.

HH 15

There are two distinctly different loves in heaven, love to the Lord and love for the neighbor. Love to the Lord characterizes the third or central heaven, and love for the neighbor characterizes the second or intermediate heaven....In heaven's light, it is easy to see how these loves differ and how they unite; in our world it can be seen only dimly. In heaven, "loving the Lord" does not mean loving our idea of who he is, but loving what is good—what comes from him ("loving what is good" means doing good because we love it. "Loving the neighbor" does not mean loving what we like about the neighbor; it means loving what is true—what comes from the Word ("loving what is true" means doing it)....This will not fit into the thinking of anyone who does not know what constitutes "love," "what is good," or "the neighbor."

HH 16

... We demonstrate our love for someone by intending and doing what they want.... Also, "good" from the Lord is his own likeness (for he is within it). When we do what is good and true intentionally, we make goodness and truth part of our lives—"intending" to do something is loving to do it. In this way we become likenesses of him and become united to him... [as] the Lord teaches in the Word when he says, If you have my commandments and do them, you are one who loves me, and I will love you and make my home with you (John 14:21, 23); and again, If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love (John 15:10, 12).

HH 17

All my experience in heaven testifies that divine qualities emanating from the Lord influence the angels and make heaven what it is. All the angels are forms of loving and caring—indescribably beautiful, with love radiating from their faces, their speech and from every aspect of their behavior....  Every angel and every spirit is enveloped in an aura of spiritual life. By means of these auras, their affections and loves can be identified even from a distance.

Heaven is Divided Into Two Kingdoms

HH 20

There are infinite varieties in it is divided overall into two kingdoms. More specifically, it is divided into three heavens. In detail, it is divided into countless communities.... Angels who accept divine emanations from the Lord ... on a deeper level are called heavenly angels, and those who accept them less deeply are called spiritual angels. Therefore, heaven is divided into two kingdoms, one called the heavenly kingdom and another called the spiritual kingdom....

HH 27

There is such a difference between angels of the heavenly kingdom and the spiritual kingdom that they do not live together or associate with one another. They are able to communicate only through intermediate communities (called "heavenly-spiritual" communities), and the heavenly kingdom flows into the spiritual kingdom through them. Consequently, while heaven is divided into two kingdoms, it is a single whole.

There Are Three Heavens

HH 29

...There is a central or third heaven, an intermediate or second one, and an external or first heaven....

HH 30

....The deeper levels of the human mind and sensory consciousness are in a similar pattern: we have a central, intermediate and external nature. This is because humanity was created with the entire divine design gathered into it—so much so that the structure of a human being is the divine design, a miniature image of heaven. That is why our interior minds are able to communicate with heaven and why we come into the company of angels after we die—angels of the central, intermediate, or external heaven according to our acceptance of divine "goods" and divine "truths" while we lived in the world.

HH 32

There is an inside and an outside to each heaven. Angels in the inner part are called "inner angels," while those in the outer part are called "outer angels." The inside and the outside of the heavens—or of each specific heaven—are like the parts of us that intend and think. Every intention includes a thought: neither occurs without the other. The intending is like a flame, and the thinking is like the light it sheds.

HH 33

It should be clear that what is inside angels determines what heaven they are in. The more their deeper levels have been opened, the more inward the heaven they are in. Every angel—like each of us—has three levels. Those whose third level has been opened are in the central heaven, while those whose intermediate level (or only their first) has been opened are in the intermediate or outside heaven.

Deeper levels are opened by our acceptance of God's gifts of what is good and true. Those who let themselves be changed by divine true gifts and let those gifts directly into their lives—into their intentions and, therefore, into what they do—are in the central [inmost ("highest")] or third heaven, where they are situated according to their acceptance of what is good in their feelings about what is true. Others, who let such gifts into their memory and then into their thinking, intending and doing them as a result of this process (instead of accepting them directly into their intentions), are in the intermediate or second heaven. People who lead good and moral lives, believing in the Divine without caring much about theology, are in the outside, or first, heaven....

HH 37

Even though the heavens are so distinct from each other that angels of one heaven cannot have regular dealings with another, the Lord does join all the heavens together by means of direct and indirect influence. His direct influence affects all the heavens, but his indirect influence affects one heaven through another. By this combined influence, the Lord effects a unity of the three heavens, linking them all together, from the first to the last, so that there is nothing that is not connected. Anything not connected with the First [as in "First Cause"] by some intermediate stream of influence, does not endure: it dissipates and becomes nothing.

The Heavens Consist of Countless Communities

HH 41

In each heaven, angels are not all together in one place. They are separated into larger and smaller communities on the basis of different kinds of good that they love and their faith leads them to practice. Angels doing similar good work make up one community. Good activities in heaven are infinitely various and each individual angel is, as it were, his own good work.

HH 42

Distances between communities also vary according to the difference between their activities, generally and specifically, because the only cause of distance in the spiritual world is difference between inner conditions. In the heavens, that means differences between kinds of love. When communities are very different, the distance between them is great; when the difference is slight, the distance is short. To be similar is to be close.

HH 43

All individuals in each community are separated from each other according to the same principle. The more perfect ones—those who stand out as good (and therefore as loving, wise, and understanding)—are in the center. Those who are less outstanding surround them at distances proportionate to their lesser perfection....

HH 44

It is as if kindred souls gravitate toward each other spontaneously. When they are together they feel as though they are with their own family at home; while with others they feel like foreigners, as if they were abroad. When they are with others like themselves, they are most free, enjoying life to the fullest.

Each Community is Heaven in a Smaller Form and Each Angel is Heaven in the Smallest Form

HH 51

Each community is a smaller form of heaven and each angel is the smallest form of heaven. Each embodies the activities of love and faith that constitute heaven. This good activity occurs in every community of heaven and every angel of heaven participates. It is irrelevant that this activity is different and distinctive everywhere: it is the activity of heaven nevertheless. The only difference is that heaven is organized so that there is one activity here and another there....It is similar to officials, functionaries and servants in a royal palace or court: they live individually in the palace or court, but each performs a particular function in the service of the king. This shows the meaning of the Lord's saying that "in my Father's house there are many dwellings" (John 14:2), and by the "stories of heaven" and the "heaven of heavens" in the Prophets [e.g., Amos 9:6, Nehemiah 9:6]....

HH 53

Just as a whole community is heaven in a lesser form, an angel is heaven in the least form. Heaven is not outside angels but within them: their deepest levels—the levels of their minds—are arranged in the form of heaven. That means they are arranged to accept all the elements of heaven that are outside themselves. They accept these elements according to the quality of goodness that is in them from the Lord. This is why an angel is also a heaven.

HH 54

It never can be said that heaven is outside anyone: it is within because, in keeping with the heaven that is within them, all angels accept the heaven that is outside them into themselves. So we can see the error of people who believe that getting into heaven is simply a matter of being taken up among the angels without regard for the quality of their inner life—those who believe that heaven is granted on the basis of the Lord's unmitigated mercy. Unless heaven is within you, nothing of the heaven outside you flows in or is accepted.

Many spirits holding this opinion have been taken up into heaven because of their faith; but once they arrived, they began to be blinded in their discernment (since their inner life was contrary to that of angels). They began to act like idiots and their intentionality became so tortured that they behaved like lunatics. In short, people who have lived evil lives and arrive in heaven bring their souls with them; they are as tormented as fish out of water, breathing air....

HH 56

Heaven is where the Lord is recognized, trusted and loved. The various forms by which he is worshipped—a variety stemming from the variety of good activities from one community to another—result in an advantage rather than a loss, because they are a source of heaven's perfection.

Every perfect whole arises from a variety of elements, for a whole that does not embody a variety has no quality, has no form, is not anything. However, a whole arising from a variety of elements—if the various elements are in perfect form, as when each associates with the next in the series like a familiar friend—has a perfect quality. Heaven, therefore, is a whole composed of a variety of elements arranged in perfect form; heaven is the most perfect form of all forms....

HH 57

We can say the same of the church as we have of heaven, since the church is the Lord's heaven on earth. It, too, has many components, yet each is called a church. Each is a church to the extent that love's actions and faith's understanding rule there. The Lord forms a single church out of many churches. What we said about the church in general, we can say of an individual member of a church: the church is within and not outside, and that anyone in whom the Lord is present in good actions from love, and good understanding from faith, is a church....

Heaven, Considered as a Whole, Reflects a Single Individual

HH 59

There is a secret, well known in heaven but not yet known in this world: heaven—contemplated in a single, all-inclusive concept—reflects a single individual....Angels, knowing that all the heavens, like their communities, reflect a single individual, refer to heaven as The Universal and Divine Human—"divine" because the Lord's divine nature constitutes heaven. [See HH 7 in the text above.][17. Notes]

Each Community in Heaven Reflects a Single Individual

HH 69

I have been allowed to see on several occasions that each community of heaven reflects a single individual and also is in the likeness of a single human being...and a single entity in human form when the Lord makes himself present.

....You need to realize that even though all the individuals in a single community of heaven look like a single human being when they all are together, still one community is not the same person as any other. They can be differentiated from each other as members of a family are distinguishable... because they differ according to the various good activities they participate in, activities which give them their form. Communities in the central or highest heaven—especially those at its very center—appear in the most perfect and beautiful human form.

HH 71

It is worth noting that the more members there are in a single community of heaven, the more united they are in action and the more perfect their human form is....The number of members in every community in heaven is growing daily; the more it grows, the more perfect it becomes. In this way, the community is perfected. Not only that, heaven in general is perfected since the communities constitute heaven.

Since heaven is perfected by numerical growth, we can see how mistaken people are who believe that heaven will be closed to prevent overcrowding. Actually, it is just the reverse. It never will be closed and its ever-increasing fullness makes it more perfect. So angels long for nothing more than to have new angel novices arrive there.

Therefore Every Angel is in Perfect Human Form

HH 73

In the two preceding chapters, I have explained that heaven as a whole reflects a single individual. This applies to each individual in heaven. It follows from the sequence of reasons presented there, that every single angel reflects the same. Just as heaven is a person in greatest form, and a community of heaven is a person in lesser form, so an angel is a person in least form. The most perfect form—such as the form of heaven—is a likeness of the whole in each part and a likeness of each part in the whole. The reason for this is that heaven is a commonwealth: in fact, it shares everything it has with each individual, and individuals receive everything they have from the commonwealth....To the extent that they accept heaven, people here and now are receptacles; they are heavens and they are angels.[18. Notes]

What the World of Spirits Is

HH 421

The world of spirits is not heaven, nor is it hell, but a place or condition between the two. It is where we first arrive after death and from which (in due time) we either are raised into heaven or cast into hell, depending on our life in this world.[19. Notes]

HH 422

The world of spirits is a place halfway between heaven and hell and it is also our own halfway condition after death. The hells are beneath it and heaven is above it, so it appeared to me to be halfway between them. As long as we are in it, we are not in heaven or in hell, so it is a halfway condition.

A condition of heaven for us is the union of what is good and what is true within us; a condition of hell is a union of what is evil and what is false. When the good in a spirit-person is united with the true, then that individual arrives in heaven because—as already stated—that union is heaven within us. On the other hand, when our evil is united to the false within us, we arrive in hell, for that union is hell within us. The process of uniting occurs in the world of spirits, because there we are in a halfway condition....

HH 426

There is an immense number of spirits in the world of spirits, because everyone is first gathered there to be examined and prepared. There is no fixed limit to our stay there. Some people barely enter it and promptly are taken up into heaven or cast down into hell. Some stay there for a few weeks and some for several years, but not more than thirty years. The variations in length of stay occur because of the correspondence (or lack of correspondence) between our deeper and more superficial selves....

After Death, We Are in Complete Human Form

HH 453

A spiritual person has a human form, or a spirit is human as far as form is concerned.

[2] This may be clearer from the fact that we are human because of our spirit, not because of our body; our physical form is added to our spirit, fitting the spirit's form. It is not the other way around, since a spirit is clothed with a body that suits its form. Therefore, the spirit acts on our body's individual parts—even the smallest ones—to the point that any part not being activated by our spirit—or with which our spirit is not involved—is not alive.

[3] We cannot see the human form of spirits after they have left their bodies, nor see them in other living persons, because our organs of vision (our eyes) are material. They see in this world; what is material sees only matter and what is spiritual sees only spirit. When the physical eye is covered over and loses connection with spirit, then the spiritual world becomes visible [through spiritual eyes] in its own form, which is a human form—not only for spirits who are in the spiritual world, but also for spirits in people we meet while they are still in their bodies....

After Death, We Enjoy Every Sense, Memory, Thought, and Affection We Had in the World: We Leave Nothing Behind Except Our Earthly Body

HH 461

When we move from the natural world into the spiritual, which happens when we die, we take with us everything related to our character except our earthly body. Repeated experience has shown me this. In fact, when we enter the spiritual world (our life after death), we are in a body as we were in this world. There appears to be no difference, since we do not feel or see any difference. However, this body is spiritual, separated and purified from earthly matter. Further, when something spiritual touches and sees something spiritual, it is just like something natural touching and seeing something natural. So when we have become a spirit, we have no sense that we are not in the body we inhabited in the world and may be unaware we have died....

HH 462

However, there is considerable difference between our life in the spiritual world and our life in the natural world, regarding both our outer senses and the way they affect us, and our inner senses and the way they affect us. Those in heaven have far more exquisite senses, that is, they see and hear more precisely and also think more wisely than they could in this world....The difference between their outer sense there and here is like the difference between something clear and something hidden by a cloud, or like noonday light and the dimness of evening....Their hearing is similarly responsive to their perception (which is a function of both discernment and volition), so they detect the slightest shadings of speakers' affections and thoughts in their tone and words, shadings of affection in their tone and shadings of thought in their words....

HH 480

A great deal of experience has convinced me that after death we remain the same forever in regard to our volition, our dominant love. I have been allowed to talk with some people who lived more than two thousand years ago (people whose lives are described in history books and are, therefore, familiar). They are still the same, just as described, including the love that was the source and determinant of their lives.... Angels have told me that the dominant love of our life never changes for anyone to all eternity because we are our love. To change it in any spirit would be to take away—snuff out—that spirit's life.

They have told me that this is because after death we can no longer be reformed by being taught as we can in this world, since our outmost level is then dormant (along with the natural insights and affections which constitute it), and it cannot be opened because it is not spiritual.... The deeper functions of our mind or spirit rest on this level the way a house rests on its foundation, which is why we maintain forever the life of our love in this world. Angels are utterly amazed that people do not realize that our nature is determined by the nature of our dominant love. Many people actually believe they can be saved by instantaneous mercy (simply on the basis of their faith alone), regardless of the kind of life they had lived, not realizing that divine mercy operates through means....

HH 512

Our third state after death,[20. Notes] or the third state of our spirits, is one of instruction. This state is for those who are entering heaven and becoming angels. It is not, however, for those who are entering hell: they cannot be taught....

[2] But the good are brought from their second state into a third (one of instruction). Indeed, no one can be prepared for heaven without really knowing what is good and true—that is, only by instruction. Without being taught, no one is able to know what is good and true spiritually, or what is bad and wrong opposing them. In the world, we can know what is good civilly and morally—what is fair and honest—because there are civil laws that teach what is fair, and community standards by which we learn what is moral—all dealing with what is honest and equitable.

What is good and true spiritually, however, is not learned from the world, but from heaven. It is possible to learn from the Word (or from the church's teachings which are drawn from the Word), but such learning cannot flow into our living unless the deeper levels of our minds are in heaven... as when we recognize the Divine, and at the same time act fairly and honestly because of the Divine (that is, not primarily for the sake of ourselves or the world).
[3] However, no one is able to behave like this without first being taught things like the fact that God is, that there is a heaven and a hell and a life after death, that we are to love God above everything else and love our neighbor as ourselves, and that we are to believe what is said in the Word because the Word is divine.... So we can see that what is good and true spiritually cannot be learned from the world but from heaven, and that no one can be prepared for heaven except by instruction....

HH 515

Not everyone is taught in the same way or by the same heavenly communities. Those who have been raised in heaven from infancy—and have not absorbed wrong ideas from distortions of religion or befouled their spiritual life with impurities drawn from rank and wealth in the world—are taught by angels of the inner heavens. Most people, after dying in adulthood, are taught by angels of the outmost heaven because these are better adapted to them than angels of inner heavens (who focus on deeper wisdom than neophyte spirits can accept so soon after their worldly life). Muslims, however, are taught by angels who once followed that religion but had converted to Christianity. Other non-Christians, too, are taught by their own angels.

It Is Not as Hard to Lead a Heaven-bound Life as People Think It Is

HH 528

Some people believe that leading a heaven-bound life (which is called a spiritual life) is difficult. That is because they have heard that they should renounce the world, surrender all the desires attributed to the body, and "live spiritually." They think this can only mean spurning worldly interests (especially about money and prestige), going around in constant meditation on God, salvation and eternal life, and devoting their lives to prayer and to reading the Word and religious literature. They think this is renouncing the world and living for the spirit and not for the flesh.

However, I have learned from an abundance of experience and conversation with angels that the situation is entirely different. People who renounce the world and live for the spirit in this way set up a mournful life for themselves—a life not open to heavenly joy (since our life remains with us). But if we would accept heaven's life, we must by all means live in the world and participate in its duties and affairs. This is how we accept a spiritual life by means of our moral and civic life—and 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 without a simultaneous outer life is like living in a house that has no foundation: it either settles, developing gaping cracks, or totters until it collapses.

HH 530

Who cannot lead a civil and moral life?... We do in fact lead this kind of life whether we are bad or good, since no one wants to be called dishonest or unfair. Almost everyone practices honesty and fairness outwardly, even to the point of seeming to be genuinely honest and fair, seeming to act from genuine honesty and fairness. Spiritual people have to live in much the same way and can do so just as easily as natural people; with the difference that spiritual people believe in the Divine Being and act honestly and fairly because it follows divine laws (not only because it follows civil and moral laws). Spiritual people are able to communicate with heaven's angels when they are thinking about divine principles in all their actions. To the extent that they do so, they are united with those angels. This allows their internal selves to be opened [even while still on earth].... This enables us to begin understanding that spiritual people can behave much the same as natural people do in their civil and moral life, provided they are united to the Deity in their inner person, that is, in their intending and thinking.

The Lord Does Not Cast Anyone Into Hell: Spirits Cast Themselves In

HH 545

Some people hold a strong opinion that God turns his face away from [certain] people, rejects them from his presence, casts them into hell, and is angry against them because of their evil. Some even go so far as to think that God punishes people and does them harm. They support this idea from the literal meaning of the Word where things like this are said, not realizing that the spiritual meaning of the Word (which opens up the literal meaning) is entirely different. The real doctrine of the church, drawn from the spiritual meaning of the Word, teaches otherwise. It teaches that the Lord never turns his face away from anyone, never rejects anyone, never casts anyone into hell, never is angry.

HH 547

... We do evil from hell and good from the Lord, but we believe that whatever we do comes from ourselves, so the evil we do clings to us as though it were our own. This is why we are at fault for our evil, never the Lord. The evil within us is hell within us (it makes no difference whether you say "evil" or "hell"). Since we are at fault for our evil, it is we—not the Lord—who leads us into hell. Far from leading us into hell, the Lord frees us from hell to the extent that we do not intend evil nor love being absorbed by our evil. (See Heaven and Hell 480 above.) People who intend and love evil in the world intend and love evil in the other life: they no longer allow themselves to be led away from it. This is why people who are absorbed in evil are connected to hell and actually are there in spirit; after death they crave above all to be where their evil is. Therefore, it is we—not the Lord—who cast ourselves into hell after death.


HEAVEN AND HELL 1-77, 421-422, 426, 453, 4624, 480, 512, 515, 528, 545-550.


How do you see the relationship between Heaven and Hell 8, where angels know what is true only from the Lord, and the reading in Chapter 7 (near the end of the "Preface" to Revelation Unveiled (Apocalypse Revealed in older translations), where Swedenborg makes a point of having received certain doctrines from the Lord and not from any angel?

From these readings, and the other quotations in the lesson, what do you think Swedenborg teaches about "the eternity of the hells?" How does that teaching compare with what you believe (or want to believe)?

Discuss the relationship between instruction in the World of Spirits and the concept of universal salvation in Chapter 8.

Comment on the converted Muslims in Heaven and Hell 515.

What questions or issues does the lesson raise for you?

To Chapter 10