Most of us have ideas about heaven. Whether it is a group of angel babies with big wings and harps, a singing choir of gorgeous voices, a delicious feast, or angels jumping on huge clouds in the sky, many of us find some way to imagine what “heaven” looks like and feels like.
Swedenborg’s descriptions of heaven and hell have fascinated people of all sorts for ages: he presents us with stories of a warm, peaceful heaven and a stricken, foul hell. Swedenborg describes heaven as a place where each angel finds a home according to the things they love the most, a home where they can find a useful purpose and work with other angels who love the same things. Swedenborg describes hell as an option that people choose by living a hellish existence on earth—if people consistently engage in hurtful, selfish, or hate-driven behavior while alive, they will not choose heaven after they die even if they have it right in front of their nose. They will instead choose to love themselves over what is good, and make an eternal life working toward getting more stuff and doing a better job of loving themselves.
Swedenborg has a lot of helpful hints for living a heavenly life on earth in his many books. However, wading through theology is no small task. If you’re just looking for a quick taste, here are three ways to get a little slice of heaven on earth today:
(Note: Below, we’re using pie as a metaphor for the delicious goodness we want to create within ourselves. To read about it in Swedenborg’s words, look into the resources at the end of this post.)
1. Find a Problem to Fix (AKA: Notice the Bad Stuff in the Batter)
If there is a bit of fluff in the batter, we must notice it and recognize it before it can be removed. This fluff stands for all the bad habits and the negative things in life. When we look at the batter and think to themselves, “That looks like a nasty bit of fluff. Maybe I should take it out . . .” and then consider ways to fix the problem, we’ve already started that process of change on a mental level. In life, this happens whenever we notice a bad habit and get ready to change it. Maybe one person notices that every time their friend has a good story to tell, they find themselves unconsciously racking their brain to think of a slightly better story to tell. When they notice that bad habit, they’re making the first step toward a little bit more happiness (Divine Providence #39). Stare at that fluff, and go on to step two.
2. Start to Fix the Problem (AKA: Remove the Fluff)
Staring at the bit of fluff in the batter won’t solve the problem. The problem will only be solved when we make a change, pick up the spoon, and take the fluff out of the batter. When we take bad things out of our lives, we leave room for good things to flow in and cover that space (Divine Providence #33). This step is a huge part of Swedenborg’s idea of repentance, which is the first step toward regeneration, or becoming a new, better person (True Christianity #510). To become better, people have to stop doing things they know are bad for them. Say goodbye to the fluff—on to step three.
3. Ask for Help (AKA: Fill in the Pie Crust)
In this step, Swedenborg writes that people should turn to the Lord for help. He says that God is able to fill in the cracks and let new good things flow into people’s lives as bad things leave, just as the pie filling flows into the pie crust. The happiness of eternal life begins with this step, and the next secret one, as we are able to love more easily and more wholly in life because we are less filled with bad things, and looking outside of ourselves for help (True Christianity #539).
Secret step #4: Repetition (AKA: Practice Making Pie Again and Again and Again and Agai . . .)
Actually, this process never ends. It starts over at the beginning every time we notice bad things about our lives. It continues as long as people are changing and growing and loving and making mistakes. As long as people continue to repeat this cycle, the bad things get removed and the good things flow in. It’s the never-ending process of life.
Go forth and eat a bite of that heavenly slice.
To read more about regeneration, Swedenborg’s description of the process of spiritual growth, take a look at his work True Christianity (especially chapters 9 and 10) or Secrets of Heaven volume 1 (the first chapter). You can also find a compilation of Swedenborg’s writings on the topic in Regeneration: Spiritual Growth and How It Works. All of these are available as free e-books in our bookstore.
References from this post:
Divine Providence #39: “Words cannot describe the varieties of heaven’s bliss, rapture, pleasure, and delight—the joys of heaven. . . . However, these joys enter into us only as we distance ourselves from compulsions to love what is evil and false, which distancing we do apparently with our own strength, but in fact from the Lord’s strength. These joys are actually joys of loving desires for what is good and true, and they are directly opposed to the compulsions to love what is evil and false.” back
Divine Providence #33: “Since the Lord flows into everyone’s life and flows through our life’s desires into our perceptions and thoughts (and not the reverse), as already noted, it follows that the closeness of our union with the Lord depends on the extent to which our love for evil and its desires—its compulsions—is dismissed. Further, since these compulsions have their home in the level of our being that deals with this world, and since anything we do that is rooted in that level feels as though it belongs to us, we need to dismiss the evils of this love with what seems to be our own strength. To the extent that we do this, the Lord draws near and unites us to himself.” back
True Christianity #510: “Before repentance, we stand outside regeneration [or spiritual rebirth]. In that condition, if any thought of eternal salvation somehow makes its way into us, we at first turn toward it but soon turn away. That thought does not penetrate us any farther than the outer areas where we have ideas; it then goes out into our spoken words and perhaps into a few gestures that go along with those words. When the thought of eternal salvation penetrates our will, however, then it is truly inside us. The will is the real self, because it is where our love dwells; our thoughts are outside us, unless they come from our will, in which case our will and our thought act as one, and together make us who we are. From these points it follows that in order for repentance to be genuine and effective within us, it has to be done both by our will and by our thinking that comes from our will. It cannot be done by thought alone. Therefore it has to be a matter of actions, and not of words alone.” back
True Christianity #539: “There are two duties that we are obliged to perform after we have examined ourselves: prayer and confession. The prayer is to be a request that [the Lord] have mercy on us, give us the power to resist the evils that we have repented of, and provide us an inclination and desire to do what is good, since ‘without him we cannot do anything’ (John 15:5). The confession is to be that we see, recognize, and admit to our evils and that we are discovering that we are miserable sinners.
There is no need to list our sins before the Lord and no need to beg that he forgive them. The reason we do not need to list our sins before the Lord is that we have searched them out within ourselves and saw them, and therefore they are present before the Lord because they are present before us. The Lord was leading us in our self-examination; he disclosed our sins; he inspired our grief and, along with it, the motivation to stop doing them and to begin a new life.
There are two reasons why we should not beg the Lord to forgive our sins. The first is that sins are not abolished, they are just relocated within us. They are laid aside when after repentance we stop doing them and start a new life. This is because there are countless yearnings that stick to each evil in a kind of cluster; these cannot be set aside in a moment, but they can be dealt with in stages as we allow ourselves to be reformed and regenerated.