The human being by natural birth must necessarily live in a world of time and space. From daily experience on earth we quickly learn that everything has a beginning and an ending. For us, therefore, there is necessarily, A time to be born, and a time to die [Ecclesiastes 3:2 ESV]. But this is not the whole story, for in many places Scripture teaches us that God cannot be confined or limited by time and space: –
From everlasting to everlasting you are God.
[Psalm 90:2 ESV]
Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am.”
[John 8:58 ESV]
With the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day.
[2 Peter 3:8 ESV]
God has neither beginning nor ending. He remains untouched by the passage of time, living in a state of eternal being. Much is revealed by his chosen name, I AM [see also Exodus 3:14]; it is the name of one who is always alive and whom death can never touch. Our own search for immortality will be in vain unless it begins with the God who is, I AM. This God is the same Lord of whom the psalmist writes: –
The Lord has commanded the blessing, life for evermore.
[Psalm 133:3 ESV]
Because the Lord is ever the I AM, he can do no other than look to what is eternal in all things. As a consequence, his view of the human race and its potential is far wider and bigger than our own. It is this bigger picture that Emanuel Swedenborg glimpses when he writes, We are created so that our inner self cannot die [Heavenly Doctrine 223]. God has put within each one of us the spark of eternal life. This promise of eternity is not written into our physical body which, like everything of the natural world, must inevitably die and decay, but rather into our soul or inner self.
If anatomical studies have never found the soul it is because the soul does not reside in the physical body. Nevertheless this body is closely connected to the soul, drawing life from it in much the same way as a physical book takes its life from the ideas and affections in the author’s mind. The human body draws its existence and form from the human soul. We might think of the soul as the life source and the body as an effect which comes into being from that source. Furthermore Jesus Christ teaches us that the soul has an enduring life beyond the death of the physical body, Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul [Matthew 10:28 ESV].
Just as the burning of a book cannot destroy the ideas and affections that gave it life, so the soul remains unaffected by the death of the physical body. In order fully to understand this we need to know that, Human beings have been so created as to be at once in the spiritual world and the natural world [Swedenborg Heavenly Doctrine 36]. Even while the physical body is alive and conscious in the natural world, the soul or inner self dwells in the spiritual world. There it receives life from the Lord. We are not human, nor do we have existence, from the physical body but from the soul which, Is the prior or primary form from which anyone becomes and is a human being … these inward aspects possess no life in themselves but are recipient forms of the Lord’s life [Swedenborg Arcana Caelestia 1999].
The human soul, residing as it does in the spiritual world, not only survives physical death but also afterwards remains complete in all respects. It is sustained by God, from whom it receives an unbroken stream of life. Does this perhaps go some way to explaining why even as people grow physically older they still feel young inside? Despite the ageing and weakening of the physical body, a person’s inner love and faith can, and often does, grow stronger. The inner soul is not dependent on the body for its life but on God, in whom we live and move and have our being.
Even as we live on earth we are already, in our inward parts at least, in the spiritual world. The deepest experiences of the human soul are first and foremost experiences of the spiritual world. And when the physical body finally dies we are released from this natural world of time and space to enjoy the fullness of the soul’s life in the heavens. Many have imagined that this will be a rather ghostly kind of life, for what else can there be if our physical body has been cast off and returned to the dust of the earth?
The apostle Paul, however, suggests something rather different. He writes, So it is with the resurrection of the dead. What is sown is perishable; what is raised is imperishable … It is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body [1 Corinthians 15:42,44 ESV]. Paul seems to be saying that after death we are gifted with a new spiritual body within which our soul remains the essential human life. Emanuel Swedenborg writes at some length about this new spiritual body, reassuring us that it is both human and substantial:
After the death of the body a person’s spirit appears in the spiritual world in human shape, exactly as in the world. He also enjoys the faculties of sight, hearing, speech and feeling as in the world. He has to the full his faculties of thinking, willing and doing, as in the world. In short, he is a human being in every detail.
[The New Jerusalem and its Heavenly Doctrine 225]
The spiritual body has all the same organs, limbs, and senses as does the physical body, but is different in that it neither grows old nor sick. This body enables the human being to live a full and active life in the spiritual world, where we continue to enjoy marriage, friendships, work, worship, and play. All this is possible because the Lord, the eternal I AM, continually bestows life upon all human souls. His whole being finds its meaning and joy in creating, loving, and bringing to eternal life, souls other than himself. In him we shall always have life and have it in great abundance.
Jesus said, “I am the resurrection and the life”.
[John 11:25 ESV]
Jesus said, “That the dead are raised, even Moses showed, in the passage about the bush, where he calls the Lord, the God of Abraham and the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob. Now he is not God of the dead, but of the living, for all live to him”.
[Luke 20:37,38 ESV]