If you, like me, have ever pondered the ‘big’ questions, you will almost certainly have asked yourself the question “Why am I here?” I’m always dumbfounded when I recall that humans are sentient beings with a body specially evolved to survive for a short time in this world. Is it not amazing that we are in the image of God? [Genesis 1:26,27]
So why are we here? In True Christian Religion paragraph 773, Emanuel Swedenborg writes:
… the creation of the universe had as its purpose a heaven of angels formed from the human race, and at the same time a church on earth, as the means by which a person may pass into heaven, and because the salvation of people, which depends upon people being born in the world, is thus a continuation of creation.
In other words, human beings are destined to become angels. The implication of this is that angels are not a separate race of celestial beings with wings and haloes. Instead, an angel is a man or woman who has lived and died in this world and whose spiritual self has awakened in the next world. When a male and a female angel share identical beliefs and motivation they are joined together as one mind, and the love that they share together is called marriage love. They are so close that in heaven a married pair is spoken of, not as two, but as one angel.
How do you feel about this idea? Is it new to you? Are you comfortable with it, or shocked by it?
Swedenborg calls the process of journeying along the path to heaven regeneration. This simply means learning to follow God’s rules for living a kind, generous and selfless life while recognising and putting aside our faults. It can be compared with the process of regeneration of urban areas, where the renewal process takes place in successive steps over a significant period of time, and old buildings and infrastructure are replaced by new. For us humans, regeneration involves making spiritual progress throughout our lives. It is hard work that never ends. It starts when we are born again. Remember that Jesus said to Nicodemus no-one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again [John 3:3].
The first stage of being born again is called reformation, a process affecting what we think; the second stage is called regeneration, a process affecting what we do, and thus what we think. The whole process is triggered when we recognise a fault, that is, a sin within ourselves, and repent this fault. This changes the way we think about the fault (the reformation step), and God will encourage us to try to put into practice a procedure that will enable us to avoid the sin in future (the regeneration step). This process is repeated until we have successfully marginalized the sin, and then started again for the next sin. Notice that each sin is not removed. It will always be part of us, hence the reason that it is marginalized.
Some people feel that they are ‘born again’ every time they identify one of their many flaws or faults and ask God to forgive them.
However, not everybody becomes an angel. We all experience a personal last judgment when we pass from this world to the next. The process is described in the following passage from Matthew’s gospel, chapter 25, verses 31-33:
When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his glorious throne. Â All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left. [NIV]
The sheep represent people who are destined to become good spirits, that is, angels in heaven, while the goats represent people who are destined to become evil spirits in hell. The decision is made based on God’s laws about how we behave in our lives in this world. But it’s not a decision based on reward or punishment. Instead, God does his best to find a place for us in the spiritual world where we would be happiest. It follows that people who have been good citizens in this world would be happiest in heaven, while people who have been self-centred and nasty would be miserable in all the peace and joy of heaven, so God finds a place for them in hell amongst other evil spirits who are similarly self-centred and nasty.
So the answer to the question “Why am I here?” is, – to become an angel. The natural world that we live in is the training ground for the spiritual world in which we will spend the rest of eternity, hopefully as angels. All we have to do is become good citizens. How?
In the two great commandments Jesus said:
Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. Â Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength. The second is this: Love your neighbour as yourself.
[Mark 12:29-31 NIV]
Swedenborg sums this up beautifully in Heaven and Hell 558:
Moreover, the extent to which people are in a state of heavenly love, which means loving useful services and acts of goodness, and feeling joy in their hearts when they perform them for church, for country, the community at large and their fellow citizen, dictates the extent to which they are led by the Lord, because that is the love in which He exists, and has Him as its source.
But what about people who do not get to heaven because of the way they behaved in this world? Swedenborg goes on to explain that they do not take guidance from God but are led by their inner self, and the inner self is altogether evil, because people have inherited from their ancestors the fault of loving themselves more than they love God, and loving the world more than they love heaven. They perform services and acts of goodness for personal benefit and gain instead of for the good of the community.
So we are all on a spiritual journey that takes us to the next world, hopefully to heaven. It’s not a short journey, nor is it instant salvation. It takes the rest of our lives in this world to complete. Performing useful services and acts of goodness is not a one-off event but a lifetime of preparation for an eternity of continuing to perform useful services and acts of goodness as an angel in heaven.