How to approach death?

There is a cliché which says that there are only two things of which we can be certain in this life, that we are born and that we will die. Yet death is an aspect of life with which it is perhaps difficult to feel at ease. There may be many reasons for that, and I should like to consider some of them here, and at the same time to see if we might have a way of looking at the subject positively.

Fear and Loss
For many people, death is linked with fear, although that fear may have many parts. For example, we may be afraid of illness which leads to death, perhaps loss of strength, mobility, even speech and the ability to communicate in some instances. Death may be connected with loss in various ways in our minds, perhaps because we know that there are many things which we value in this life which we cannot take with us. That may include physical objects, but it may just as easily be relationships with people, hobbies about which we are passionate, treasured pets, abilities which we feel we have and many things which generally make  life worth living. Sometimes it may not be our own death which we fear, but that of those around us, to whom we are close. That may bring up not just a sense of loss in the present, but we may find past memories returning too. It may even be that what we remember are things which we might have said but didn’t, help that we thought about offering but somehow failed to do.

The Final Countdown
All of this can bring us to what I believe to be one of the key features when we contemplate death: because it has such a sense of finality, death forces us to think about opportunities, including lost opportunities. If we believe that there is nothing beyond death, that sense will be sharpened, and it would be surprising not to think then of what might have been. If there is no feeling of what might be beyond death then the tendency will be to focus on what might have been. That may tend to drag us down if we feel that there were opportunities we have made not just to our own lives but the lives of others also.

There is something about death which involves a weighing up of things, and that is perhaps something else which causes fear in us. The threat of death, our own or that of someone close to us, may force us to look at some aspects of ourselves or our relationship with another person which are not necessarily comfortable. That can include our sense of finding it difficult to know how we will cope without someone close to us. Entering into these thoughts offers an opportunity in itself. Many people have no chance to prepare for their own death or someone else’s and it happens suddenly and without warning. Even today, when medical science has achieved great levels of sophistication and progress, this does still occur. Some people advocate living the whole of life aware of our own mortality for this reason. It sharpens our sense of what it is to be alive and we experience life more fully with this awareness.

A Bigger Picture
I have talked little so far about what difference a belief in life continuing after death may make. That may depend greatly on exactly what is believed, but it surely makes a difference not just to how we approach death but to how we live life as a whole. If we believe that something of us lives on after death, it may help to release us somewhat from the burden of finality which we sometimes carry when facing death. If someone close to us dies we may think about our need to release them and to help them in whatever way we can to make the transition between this life and the next. That may not take away the feeling of loss, nor indeed the physical suffering and pain which may be present, but it gives us a larger picture. It is so easy to see death as everything collapsing or shrinking down to a single point like the small dot gradually disappearing after a television set has been switched off. That is what our physical perception sees, especially if we are confronted with this process over a long period.

A spiritual view of death is very different. I have already talked about opportunities, and death is a gateway which leads to many new opportunities. It may be a very narrow gateway, so much so that while we are on this side we cannot see through and even seem to be looking at the proverbial brick wall.

Swedenborg, Death and Angels
Emanuel Swedenborg, an eighteenth-century scientist, wrote at length in the later part of his life about spiritual experiences and insights which he was given. One of these was to have an experience of what dying might be like. One of the things which he says is that when we die we are accompanied by angels. This is said to be true of the whole of our life, but the angels present around the time of death have the special function of easing this transition. For some people, as they near death they seem not only to drift in and out of another world, but they even seem to experience that world as populated by beings with whom they feel comfortable. For others there may not seem to be this unearthly beneficent presence, but it may instead be that they are not consciously aware of it. This may also act as a comfort to us if we experience the approaching death of someone; to focus on what the angels are doing to aid both the person dying and those of us who will be left behind.

Death is a powerful, mysterious and at times bewildering event to witness. It may not always seem to offer us an opportunity for spiritual insight or growth, but it is my belief that in one way or another it will always do.

Copyright 2012 David Lomax

 

The 3rd State of the Life After Death

The 3rd State of the Life After Death

A Sermon by the Rev. James P. Cooper

Toronto, Dec. 4, 2011

Lay up for yourselves treasure in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves do not break in and steal:  for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. (Matthew 6:20,21)

Heaven is our true home. Once we have completed our earthly life, our attachment to the world of nature ends. Our time on this earth, in relation to the time we will spend in the spiritual world, is a mere blink of an eye. Why then do we spend so much of our time laying up earthly treasure for ourselves? Would not our time be far better spent preparing for the eternity which is to follow in the spiritual world? This is the message that the Lord came on earth to bring to us:  that we must not set our hearts on the things of this world, but instead set our sights on the spiritual world, and use our time in this world to prepare wisely for the life to come.

Today’s sermon is the last in a series of three that describe the spiritual journey that takes place when the natural body dies and the spirit is set free. Today we will focus on how new spirits are given instruction and preparation for entering heaven, and how they find their eternal, spiritual home once their questions have been answered.

We know from the Lord’s many parables that the Lord wanted people to know that there was life after death where the good would be rewarded and the evil suffer. He used simple, comforting ideas for simple times and simple people.

We will briefly review the definitions of several important terms used in this series. The “spiritual world” means the whole spiritual universe, including heaven, hell, and the world of spirits. The “world of spirits” always refers to that part of the spiritual world which lies between heaven and hell and which is the place where all people go first when their natural bodies die. The word “spirit” means anyone living anywhere in the spiritual world, although it is most frequently used to refer to someone who is still living in the world of spirits. Finally, an “angel” is a particular kind of spirit, specifically a spirit who has been through all the states of introduction and has chosen heaven.

In the first sermon of this series, we learned that the first state, or state of exteriors, is one of introduction and welcome. It is provided so that each person who enters the spiritual world will have a chance to become accustomed to the fact of the death of the natural body and the eternal life of the spirit. Eventually every spirit feels a desire to find his true spiritual home, and when this happens, he is ready to enter into the second state, the state of his interiors. But since his true spiritual home will be a reflection of his true spiritual state, that internal state must be revealed. In the second sermon of this series we saw how all the external habits and defenses are removed layer by layer until nothing remains but the spirit’s true internal loves, the essential character. The spirit no longer cares what anyone thinks of him, and does exactly as he pleases. For an evil spirit, the second state is his last. Once evil has taken over the heart and mind, there can be no further instruction or preparation.

However, the good spirits rejoice because their good intentions now instantly become acts of kindness. As they find themselves able to do more and more, they become more and more interested in understanding what is happening to them. The evils that do not agree with their ruling love drop away after some effort and pain. As the falsities of life in the world are taken away, new truths are given to take their place, and the heaven-bound spirit enters into the state of preparation, the state where he is led from the world of spirits to his eternal, spiritual home. This final part of the journey is the topic of today’s sermon.

The 3rd state begins when those who are headed for heaven are taken to special places set aside for this use. We are told that the places of instruction are oriented east and west, with the best and the most innocent spirits in the east, for that is nearest to where the Lord dwells.

Children who die as infants are first placed with angel mothers who care tenderly for them.  Once they have grown enough to begin schooling, they are brought to these heavens of instruction near the Lord where they begin their formal education.  As they get older, they move westward and join others who entered the spiritual world as older children and youths, and receive instruction appropriate to their age – even including field trips to various parts of the world of spirits!  Behind them in the western parts are the places where those who died in adult age and who were in the affection of truth from the good of life are instructed.

Further to the west behind these are those who were obedient, moral Mohammedans in the world. These are in heaven because in their life they acknowledged one Divine and the Lord as the true prophet. When these eventually stop venerating the man Mohammed and begin to think of the principles of their Religion they are then able to approach the Lord and worship Him and acknowledge His Divinity. They are then introduced into the Christian religion.

Behind these, tending toward the north, are places of instruction for various peoples from the world who have lived a good life according to their own religion and thereby formed some kind of conscience.

All these people who have tried their best to live a good life in the world, no matter what their civilization or culture, are easily led to acknowledge the Lord because they have lived according to the heartfelt belief that God is not invisible, but that He is in the Human form. We are told that the greater part of heaven is made up of such people who hold a simple, honest faith in God-Man. (HH 514:e).

The Lord is the perfect teacher, and He accommodates all lessons to the particular needs of each of the good spirits. Each spirit is taught by those who are best able to communicate with him.

Children who have grown up in heaven are instructed by angels from the interior heavens. Those who died as adults, and who are in a sphere of simple obedience, are instructed by angels of the lowest heaven. Those who belonged to various religious denominations in the world are instructed by angels who at one time belonged to those denominations. Even the heathen are taught by others of their own kind who have accepted Christianity in heaven.

During the state of preparation, the good spirits are instructed in all kinds of spiritual truths. The wonderful thing is that these truths no longer need to be couched in appearances as they are in the letter of the Word, no longer limited by natural comprehension. They are taught by the angels themselves in such a way as to be perfectly accommodated to the state of the good spirits, and the good spirits in turn learn them with delight and without any effort whatsoever. The truths that the spirits hear are no longer abstractions of limited interest to their life. They hear only things that speak directly to their particular loves and affections in such a way that they enter directly into their life.

Naturally, we are all curious as to what those truths may be. What wondrous secrets are being told! Do we have any hint at all as to the nature of this heavenly wisdom? We are told that all the knowledges about heaven are derived from and can be learned from the Word and from the doctrine of the Church that is drawn from the Word. However, while we are still in the world we cannot receive truth on this level unless the interiors of our mind are open to heaven. We are in heaven as to our interiors when we both acknowledge the Divine and act justly and honestly for the reason that we ought to act so because it is commanded in the Word by the Lord.

If a casual acquaintance comes up at a party and tries to initiate a discussion about the various schools of thought within the development of quantum mechanics, most of us would literally not know what to think. We do not have the tools, the knowledge, to hold up our end of the conversation. Without a knowledge of the principles of quantum mechanics, we cannot think about it or form valid opinions. Therefore it is not surprising that the Heavenly Doctrines should teach that, “without a knowledge of spiritual things, man cannot think spiritually” (HH 512:3). And since angels must think spiritually, it is essential that they be given the tools, the knowledges, to think about their new life in heaven, and to take a useful part in it.  That also means that we’re going to have to wait to get there before we have the tools and thus the ability to understand what the angels are teaching.  If we were allowed to listen to one of these angelic classes, we would hear words, but comprehend nothing because of the limitations imposed on our thinking by the natural body and the need to be connected to the natural world by means of the senses and the sensual degree of the mind.

As we age, most of us suffer from some degree of memory loss.  This may cause some concern when we hear about all the learning about high spiritual stuff that’s ahead of us.  But remember, the problem we have with our memory is related to the aging of the cells in the brain.  In the spiritual world, we’ll be in a spiritual body which will not suffer from these limitations.  We take our complete memory with us into the spiritual world, not the natural organ of memory.

All instruction in heaven is from doctrine drawn from the Word. Knowledges are not committed to memory, but to life. This is because the memory of spirits is in their life, for they receive and gather everything that is in accord with their life. And everything that is gathered into their living memory is taken for the sake of the use which it may perform.

Since the good spirits are no longer hampered by earthly restraints and they love what they are learning, the instruction goes very quickly. The students are interested in every subject because it relates directly to their future use in the spiritual world. The angel teachers have a perception of the states and needs of their students and so are able to adapt their teaching to the needs of the spirits perfectly. The students never tire or get bored, and because the truths are taken directly into the life, there is no need for them to study. We must also remember that they are not being taught in any language of the world, but in the angelic tongue, a language of pure ideas that connects one mind directly to another, and so yet another barrier to understanding is removed.

The subject of when married couples come together in this process is complex and lengthy, better suited to a separate study. But speaking generally we can say that husbands and wives are first reunited in the First State while in the world of spirits. If they find that they can continue together, they then go through the various states together. If they cannot continue together because of a difference in their internal states, they separate (the Writings are silent about how many separate and how many stay together). At some point (which will vary according to the spiritual state of each) as they proceed through the various states they discover a partner with whom they can live to eternity in heaven. They then complete their preparation through the third state together.

It is not long until they know enough to enter a heavenly society and begin their life of use. As a sign of their readiness, they are given angelic garments. These are described as being “glowing white as if made of fine linen” (HH 519). Thereafter they are taken to angelic guides who start them on their way to their own home society. The Heavenly Doctrines tell us that there are many paths in the spiritual world, but that the conjugial pair on way to their own society easily find their way, no matter how winding the path, or how many forks, because they are led by their own heart and guided by the Lord.

During journey, they may pass many beautiful societies, but they know in their heart that they are not their true home. Eventually, they come to a place which they recognize as their own, for every aspect the place corresponds with their own affections. The couple hears singing, a song that touches them deeply, and draws them near. As they approach, they begin to sing along and it feels right. They draw nearer, and the song becomes more familiar. Soon they find themselves in the midst of a heavenly choir, sharing in their song, in perfect harmony with their new society, singing a song of welcome, and they know that they have found their true home.

In summary, we can say that only good spirits enter the state of instruction to be prepared for heaven. All instruction in this state is provided by angels, and is perfectly accommodated to the states of the spirit. They are able to learn quickly because they is not limited by an earthly body or by an earthly language but are able to communicate in the spiritual language of ideas. Further, everything that is taught pertains to their own ruling love and the uses that they will perform, and therefore is received with delight.

The death of the natural body is something every one of us must face sooner or later. The purpose of the Lord’s first and second comings has been to give us the information we need to face death without fear. The Lord had tried to show, in many different ways, that everything that happens to a spirit after death is guided by concern and love for him. Everything possible is done to make him comfortable and lead him to a special place in heaven. The Lord Himself came on earth, suffered the temptation of the cross, raised Himself with His own power, and has come again in the spiritual sense of the Word to take away the fear of the grave and to give us ample warning of what we face and what we must do to prepare ourselves while we live in the natural world. The Lord has offered the gift of eternal life in heaven. Now it is up to us to receive His gift, and use it well.

Let not your heart be troubled; you believe in God, believe also in Me. In My Father’s house are many mansions; if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also. And where I go you know, and the way you know. (John 14:1-4) AMEN.

First Lesson:  MAT 6:19-24

Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal; {20} but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. {21} For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. {22} The lamp of the body is the eye. If therefore your eye is good, your whole body will be full of light. {23} But if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If therefore the light that is in you is darkness, how great is that darkness! {24} No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be loyal to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon. Amen.

Second Lesson: HH 512:2, 3

THE THIRD STATE OF MAN AFTER DEATH, WHICH IS A STATE OF INSTRUCTION FOR THOSE WHO ENTER HEAVEN.

[2] Good spirits … are led from the second state into the third, which is the state of their preparation for heaven by means of instruction. For one can be prepared for heaven only by means of knowledges of good and truth, that is, only by means of instruction, since one can know what spiritual good and truth are, and what evil and falsity are, which are their opposites, only by being taught. One can learn in the world what civil and moral good and truth are, which are called justice and honesty, because there are civil laws in the world that teach what is just, and there is intercourse with others whereby man learns to live in accordance with moral laws, all of which have relation to what is honest and right. But spiritual good and truth are learned from heaven, not from the world. They can be learned from the Word and from the doctrine of the church that is drawn from the Word and yet unless man in respect to his interiors which belong to his mind is in heaven spiritual good and truth cannot flow into his life; and man is in heaven when he both acknowledges the Divine and acts justly and honestly for the reason that he ought so to act because it is commanded in the Word, This is living justly and honestly for the sake of the Divine, and not for the sake of self and the world, as ends.

[3] But no one can so act until he has been taught, for example, that there is a God, that there is a heaven and a hell, that there is a life after death, that God ought to be loved supremely, and the neighbor as oneself, and that what is taught in the Word, ought to be believed because the Word is Divine. Without a knowledge and acknowledgment of these things man is unable to think spiritually; and if he has no thought about them he does not will them; for what a man does not know he cannot think, and what he does not think he cannot will. So it is when man wills these things that heaven flows into his life, that is, the Lord through heaven, for the Lord flows into the will and through the will into the thought, and through both into the life, and the whole life of man is from these. All this makes clear that spiritual good and truth are learned not from the world but from heaven, and that one can be prepared for heaven only by means of instruction. Amen.

The 2nd State of Life After Death

The 2nd State of Life After Death

A Sermon by the Rev. James P. Cooper

Toronto, Nov. 27, 2011

Between us and you there is a great gulf fixed, so that those who want to pass from here to you cannot, nor can those from there pass to us. (Luke16:26)

With these words the Lord taught his disciples and followers about the difference between heaven and hell. The Lord wanted people to know that there was a life after death where the good would be rewarded and the evil suffer. While the Old Testament is essentially silent on the subject of the life to come, the New Testament has many parables about heaven. The Lord told stories using situations familiar to the farmers and shepherds of that time. Simple, comforting ideas for simple times and people. In so doing, He prepared the way to reveal more truths about the spiritual world through the experiences of Emanuel Swedenborg.

Today’s sermon is the second in a series of three where we learn from Swedenborg’s personal testimony how spirits from the world find their way to their eternal home in heaven or hell, and how their true spiritual qualities are revealed and finally allowed to express themselves freely.

We need to define several terms that will be used in this series of sermons.

  • The “spiritual world” means the whole spiritual universe, including heaven, hell, and the world of spirits.
  • The “world of spirits” is a much more specific term. It always refers to that part of the spiritual world which lies between heaven and hell and is the place where all people go first when their natural bodies die. In character and appearance, it is very much like this world.
  • The word “spirit” means anyone living anywhere in the spiritual world, although it is most frequently used to refer to someone who is still living in the world of spirits and has not yet found their home in heaven or hell.
  • Finally, an “angel” is a particular kind of spirit, specifically a spirit who has been through all the states of introduction and has chosen heaven. An angel is a person who, with their married partner, has been completely accepted into a heavenly society which will be their home to eternity.

Last week we learned that the first state, or state of exteriors, is one of introduction and welcome. It is provided so that each person who enters the spiritual world will have a chance to get their bearings, and become accustomed to the fact of the death of their natural body and the reality of eternal life. They are kept in surroundings that are as familiar as possible, and encouraged to explore and learn all that they desire for as long as they need to. But eventually every spirit becomes ready to move on, he feels a desire to find his true spiritual home. When this happens, he is ready to enter into the second state, the state of his interiors.

Since their spiritual home will be a reflection of their inmost spiritual character, that character must first be revealed in such a way that the spirits themselves see and acknowledge their own ruling love. When the external trappings of intelligence and honour are laid aside, each spirit passes through their own individual “last judgment” where they are weighed in the balance, and the true nature of their heart and mind are for the first time revealed.

While we are in the natural world, each of us is, to some degree, a hypocrite. We have to be. In order to live in civil harmony we sometimes have to hide our true feelings and try to treat all people with courtesy if not kindness. This difference between what we may feel like doing and what we actually do when we remember that others will be watching and judging us, is an illustration of the false front that we create to hide our true feelings.

While we are in the world, it’s not all a bad thing.  From birth, we are all inclined to evils of every kind, but we must not act on them.  So, we learn to create an external shell of orderliness while we deal with all the different desires and ideas that roil around in our minds like a boiling pot of soup.  Throughout our adult lives the rational mind gradually makes sense of all these thoughts and feelings as we make choices about the course of our life and how we treat other people.  If we are making the effort to prepare for the life of heaven, the Lord works in partnership with us to bring order to the mind and in the process of time less and less needs to be hidden. The external shell and the internal character gradually become one.

On the other hand, if one is being led by the loves and self of the world, those loves are not removed but fester within like a disease.  Over the course of time the external shell develops to effectively hide what lurks within from others.  The shell and the internal character gradually become more and more different.

An angel’s freedom comes from the fact that the things that he wants to do are all good.  He doesn’t need to hide any of his desires.  A devil’s frustration comes from the fact that nothing that he really wants to do is permitted so in order to get along he had to hide everything.  While in the world, we hover between these two conditions.  And where we end up is decided on the sum total of our choices.

The 2nd state begins when spirits are let into the state of their interiors, or into the state of their interior will and the thought that comes from it. These interior thoughts are really nothing more than the kinds of things we think about when left to ourselves, that is, they are really our daydreams, our fantasies, our secret desires which we hide behind that external shell mentioned above, our inhibitions.

Now here’s the scary part.  As we move into the 2nd state, the Lord gradually removes those inhibitions, the layers of that protective shell, so that spirits gradually stop caring what other people think about what they are doing and so begin to openly and proudly do exactly what they really want to do – thus revealing their true internal state, their ruling loves. After years of hiding these things there is a lot of habitual resistance at first.  The spirits are still guarded about what they say and do because they fear ridicule and punishment.  But, over time, all is revealed (See HH 502, 503).

Those people who, while in the world, actually make spiritual progress, who have come to love the Lord and act in a charitable way and now that they are in the spiritual world take delight because limitations of the body and the natural world have been removed and they begin to act rationally and wisely — even more wisely than in the world.

He who was evil in the world begins to act foolishly and insanely, and even more insanely than in the world, because he is free and under no longer cares at all what anyone thinks of him. For while he was in the world he made himself appear to be a rational man, but when the externals are removed, the insanities are revealed. (HH 505)

All people who have lived a good life in the world and have acted from conscience, who have acknowledged the Divine and loved Divine truths, and especially those who have applied those truths to life, seem to themselves, when let into the state of their interiors, like those aroused from sleep into full wakefulness.… Heaven flows into their thoughts and affections with an interior blessedness and delight which they had no knowledge of previously. They then acknowledge the Lord and worship Him from their very life.

When those who have not acknowledged the Lord come into the state of their interiors, they appear foolish; for from their evil lusts they burst forth into all sorts of abominations, into contempt of others, ridicule and blasphemy, hatred and revenge; they plot intrigues, some with a cunning and malice that can scarcely be believed to be possible in any man. All the wisdom that they seemed to have has been only in the exteriors of their mind, and while this allowed them to seem wise in the world, when the exteriors are left behind with the natural body, they also leave behind all their apparent wisdom and act from their inner insanity…. (HH 506)

Through this process, spirits become visibly just what they had been interiorly during their life in the world. Things that they had once done and said in secret or in their own imagination now become visibly obvious to all because external things no longer restrain them. They speak openly about whatever they think, and attempt to do whatever they wish, as they are no longer afraid of damaging their reputation. All inhibitions are lost, and angel guards are needed to restrain them from committing acts of actual violence against other spirits.  They can no longer restrain themselves from doing exactly what they want to do, when they want to do it, without any regard to the consequences.

Everyone can judge for themselves how they would act if they were left free to do whatever they wanted with no fear of the law and no fear in regard to life, and with no outward restraints, such as fear of injury to one’s reputation or of loss of honour and gain and consequent pleasures. This is how the Lord, in His infinite Wisdom, allows each of us to find our own home. From time to time it is useful, and sobering, to think of how we are going to react when our turn comes. Those things that we don’t want to be revealed to all in the world of spirits must be shed and left in this world by the process of self examination, repentance, reformation, and regeneration.

It is very important to understand that no one is ever punished in the spiritual world for deeds done during life in the world. Death wipes the slate clean. Evils deeds done from a youthful lack of judgment and that have been seen and rejected by the adult will not come back to haunt them. Spirits are only punished on account of the evils done after they enter the world of spirits. Everyone after death returns to his own life and thus into like evils. Those who are evil at heart continue to express their hatreds and it is these things that are punished and restrained. Good spirits are never punished no matter what they may have done during their life in the world, because their evils do not return because they are not longer a part of their interior (or true) character.

By revealing genuine internals and shedding external appearances, a spirit is led home. Some evil spirits enter and leave hell several times until they are finally ready. By the end of the second state the good and the evil are separated from one another, for the evil at heart have fled from the presence of the angels, while the good at heart seek them out for guidance and instruction.

In summary, we can see that the first state, or the state of exteriors, is a time of familiarization, where people newly from the world can get used to the idea of their eternal life and become comfortable. The second state is where everyone’s true spiritual nature is revealed. Layer by layer all the external habits and defences are peeled away until nothing remains but the spirit’s ruling loves.

The evil spirit no longer cares what anyone thinks of him, and does exactly as he pleases, as if he were living in a dream. He rejoices as he finds his fantasy world becoming real. He is no longer anxious about the law. He no longer fears being found out. And in his freedom he strikes out at others. But when he is prevented from actually harming anyone, or stealing anything, he becomes enraged, insane, and eventually throws himself into hell to be with others of like loves. For the evil, the second state is the last. Once evil has taken over the heart and mind, there can be no further instruction or preparation.

However, the good rejoice in that they are no longer limited by worldly restraints. Their good intentions now instantly become acts of kindness. Money, busy schedules, household duties, and physical tiredness no longer stand in the way of doing the good and kind things they’ve always wanted to do. As they find themselves able to do more, they become more and more interested in understanding what is happening to them. The evils that do not agree with their ruling love drop away, sometimes with some effort and pain.

When loves that do not belong to the ruling love are removed, it is called a vastation, and it is a necessary preparation for entering heaven, for the angelic mind cannot contain what is evil or false, nor can the devil’s mind contain what is good and true. The conflict between good and evil, the true and the false would destroy the mind and thus eternal life, so such a mixture and confusion in not permitted in either heaven or hell.

As the falsities of life in the world are taken away, new truths are given to take their place, and the heaven-bound spirit enters into the state of preparation, the state where he is led from the world of spirits to his eternal, spiritual home.

This spiritual journey, or state of instruction, will be the topic of the sermon next week. AMEN.

First Lesson: LUK 16:19-31:  “There was a certain rich man who was clothed in purple and fine linen and fared sumptuously every day. {20} “But there was a certain beggar named Lazarus, full of sores, who was laid at his gate, {21} “desiring to be fed with the crumbs which fell from the rich man’s table. Moreover the dogs came and licked his sores. {22} “So it was that the beggar died, and was carried by the angels to Abraham’s bosom. The rich man also died and was buried. {23} “And being in torments in Hades, he lifted up his eyes and saw Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom. {24} “Then he cried and said, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus that he may dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue; for I am tormented in this flame.’ {25} “But Abraham said, ‘Son, remember that in your lifetime you received your good things, and likewise Lazarus evil things; but now he is comforted and you are tormented. {26} ‘And besides all this, between us and you there is a great gulf fixed, so that those who want to pass from here to you cannot, nor can those from there pass to us.’ {27} “Then he said, ‘I beg you therefore, father, that you would send him to my father’s house, {28} ‘for I have five brothers, that he may testify to them, lest they also come to this place of torment.’ {29} “Abraham said to him, ‘They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them.’ {30} “And he said, ‘No, father Abraham; but if one goes to them from the dead, they will repent.’ {31} “But he said to him, ‘If they do not hear Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded though one rise from the dead.'” Amen.

Second Lesson: HH 502, 503:  When the first state, … of the exteriors … has been passed through, the man-spirit is let into the state of his interiors, or into the state of his interior will and its thought, in which he had been in the world when left to himself to think freely and without restraint. Into this state he unconsciously glides, just as when in the world he withdraws the thought nearest to his speech, that is, from which he speaks, towards his interior thought and abides in the latter. Therefore in this state of his interiors the man-spirit is in himself and in his very life; for to think freely from his own affection is the very life of man, and is himself.

  1. In this state the spirit thinks from his very will, thus from his very affection, or from his very love; and thought and will then make one, and one in such a manner that he seems scarcely to think but only to will. It is nearly the same when he speaks, yet with the difference that he speaks with a kind of fear that the thoughts of the will may go forth naked, since by his social life in the world this has come to be a part of his will. Amen. Here end the lessons. Blessed are they who hear the Word of God and keep it. Amen.

HOW GREAT THESE SUFFERINGS WERE

How great these sufferings were, we can never know. They surpassed all human comprehension, and all finite power to endure. They did not consist in His humiliation, or in the indignities offered to His person, and the pain inflicted upon him by the Jews. Thousands of men have been treated with more physical cruelty than He was. They have been put upon the rack, and when every fibre had been stretched, every joint wrenched, every nerve tortured to the extreme limit of physical power to bear, medical science has been taxed to keep up the failing powers that the agony might be prolonged as much as possible. Multitudes have endured poverty and privation; have been deserted by every friend; have been mocked, scourged, and crucified, and yet their suffering bore no comparison to the Lord’s.

What the Jews did to his body typified and represented what the whole infernal host strove to do to the Divine itself. He was assaulted with the same fierceness and malignity by all the infernal powers, that the Jews heaped upon His innocent head, and with inconceivably greater strength and fury. Every avenue to the Divine within was thronged with evil forces; every evil desire in the assumed humanity was aroused and excited to the most intense activity, as the Divine flowed down into the infirm human, and sought to put it off and substitute itself in its place.

There is but little said in the gospels concerning our Lord from His infancy until His entrance upon His public ministry. Do you suppose He was idle all this time? That cannot be. Our doctrines teach us that He “was about His Father’s business.” He was subduing all things unto Himself; He was undergoing the most cruel temptations. Every false principle and every evil affection that ever existed in a fallen humanity was awakened and passed through all its stages of progress from its rise to its entire subjection and expulsion. As Jehovah, He was infinite, and He must, therefore, have experienced every state that is possible to all finite beings. He saw every evil and every false principle in all its naked and hideous deformity and fearful consequences, and every evil left its sting. His human nature was subject to all the illusions of a fallacious good; to all the weariness, the doubt, the darkness, the disappointment, the despair that the whole body of humanity has suffered. You never suffered a pang which He did not. All generations, past and future, never did, and never will taste a sorrow which was not concentrated in the bitter cup He drained to the dregs. “He tasted death, for every man.”

DEATH AND RESURRECTION

DEATH AND RESURRECTION
A Sermon by Rev Andrew M. T. Dibb
Preached in South Africa July 15, 1996

Our text this morning are those immortal words spoken by the Lord to Martha, sister of Lazarus:

“Jesus said to her, ‘I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live”‘ (John 11:25).

Death is a subject best confronted when it is not present, for then the mind is able to think about it with a quietude, and so examine it from many angles. It is a certainty that each one of us will die, and each one of us will be affected by the death of other people. Our belief in a life after death defines to a great degree how we respond to death.

To believe in the Lord is also to believe in a life after death. These two beliefs go hand in hand. In one sense we can say that by believing in a life after death we are also believing in the power and omnipotence of the Lord – His power because He can undo that which no one else can undo: death; His omnipotence, because the Lord releases each and every person from the bonds of death.

There is an old saying that no one can get out of this world alive! We must all die, and, sad as that eventuality may seem at the time, the only way we can make sense of it is by believing the Lord’s words that those who believe in Him can never die. In the Word the Lord shows His power over death. He raised Lazarus from the tomb even though he had been dead for four days.

Reflect for a moment on that miracle: Jesus was summoned to Bethany because Lazarus was ill. When Jesus heard that, He said, “This sickness is not unto death, but for the glory of God, that the Son of God may be glorified through it.”

These words are significant. Instead of going there immediately, He waited, until it was too late – Lazarus had died and been buried. But the Lord said that the sickness was for the sake of the “xxx glory of God, that the Son of God may be glorified through it.” Thus the Lord allowed Lazarus to die in order to demonstrate His power over death. He raised Lazarus back to natural life to illustrate how people are raised into spiritual life. He is, as He said later to the Sadducees, the God of the living, not the God of the dead. Later in the gospel of John the Lord said to Pilate: “My kingdom is not of this world. If My kingdom were of this world, My servants would fight, so that I should not be delivered to the Jews; but now My kingdom is not from here” (John 18:36).

At another time He said, “The kingdom of God is within you.” These Biblical passages show clearly that the Lord’s kingdom cannot be found on the physical plane; it is a kingdom of spirit, existing within us. In the doctrines of the New Church we are taught that the Lord created each one of us to become citizens of His kingdom; each of us is destined to heaven or, should we so choose it, to hell.

Death, then, is a natural conclusion to our life in this world, and it introduces us into spiritual life. The only reason it seems that our bodies live is because the spirit lives within them. Our spirit is what thinks and feels, the part of us that moves us to act. This spirit draws its life from the Lord, and because it does that it can never die. Only the body which houses the spirit in this world dies, for our bodies are made of matter, with no life of their own. At death the body is left behind, and the spirit is resurrected into a new life.

Many theories have evolved over the thousands of years that people have contemplated death. In ancient times the after-life was believed to be a sort of gray underworld; the Greeks called it Hades, the Jews Sheol. Very little was known about it. In Christian times the theorizing has continued: some believe that people stay in the grave until the last judgment when they will be raised again, physically on this earth. Few believe in any sort of spiritual resurrection. Yet this is what the Lord teaches in the Word.

in Hosea we read: “Come and let us return to the Lord; for He has torn, but He will heal us; He has stricken, but He will bind us up” (Hosea 6: 1). “After two days He will revive us; on the third day He will raise us up, that we may live in His sight” (Hosea 6:2).

The Lord Himself, when asked for a sign of His power, referred to the sign of Jonah, “For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth” (Matt. 12:40). This sign came true when the Lord, crucified on Good Friday, was resurrected on Easter Sunday. It was not, however, until the Lord called His servant Emanuel Swedenborg to experience the spiritual world and write his experiences down that the Lord fully revealed the spiritual world to the human race. Swedenborg’s experience sets aside the theories of the past. What we are shown in the doctrines is a marvelous view of the life to come.

Death, we are told, is a continuation of life, not physical but spiritual. The process of dying can be compared to leaving one room and entering into another. At times it has been compared to a worm’s wrapping itself into a cocoon. When it emerges it is no longer a worm but a butterfly, beautiful and free.

For many people, in spite of the assurances given about death, the subject still contains things that bring about fear: fear of the unknown, fear of separation from loved ones, fear of punishment. The doctrines show us that these fears are unfounded. The spiritual world is the Lord’s kingdom; it is like moving to another country. Because the Lord is merciful, He cushions the transition as much as possible.

Swedenborg was allowed to experience the process of waking up in the spiritual world, and shows us that it is both a gentle and a pleasant experience. A person who has recently died is put into the care of angels, who gradually awaken him or her. By about the third day after dying the person is fully awake and ready to begin a new life.

People in the other life are often amazed by what they see: firstly people are struck by the similarity between the spiritual world and the natural, this to such a degree that the spirit “… imagines that he is still in the world, indeed that he is still within his physical body, insomuch that when he is told he is a spirit he is absolutely dumbfounded. He is dumbfounded because, for one thing, he is still in every way a person as regards sensations, desires, and thoughts, and for another, he did not during his lifetime believe in the existence of the spirit, or …that the spirit could possibly be such as his experience now proves” (AC 320).

The second amazing thing about the next world is that people are still people – newcomers there discover that they still have a body; they still have sensations similar to those in this world. The only difference between their spiritual and natural bodies is that the spiritual body is more alive, more in tune with them than before.

So the spirit begins life in the next world conscious of the external similarities of the two worlds. But there are some major differences as well: the spiritual world is a world of the mind, thus it is affected by the mind of the spirit. One sees the reality of this in the impact of thought on the people there: think of a person and that person appears before one. In this way the new spirit comes into contact with those who have died before him or her.

But the impact of the mind goes far beyond simply contact with friends and relatives; it actually determines what the spirit’s immediate environment will be like. In this world our external environment is only slightly affected by our moods, loves and hates. For example, a person who loves wide outdoor spaces may feel claustrophobic in a forest. The environment then elicits a response from a person. But in the next world it is the other way around: the person’s feelings and thoughts elicit a response from the environment. Thus a person who loves wide-open spaces will find him- or herself in such places.

Mostly, however, our thoughts and feelings determine whether our spiritual environment is good or evil. An evil person, one who chooses selfishly and whose only concern is self, will find his or her environment reflects this selfishness: it may be hard, dry, barren, cruel, hostile; in other words, it will have all the qualities of selfishness depicted in the landscape. Interestingly, such a person will find those kinds of surroundings attractive, will enjoy them. This is the major difference between heaven and hell: heaven is a reflection of the love for good with a person, while hell reflects the opposite.

The reason spirits feel so at home in their spiritual environment is that that environment is the result of our life in this world. Our natural life is a preparation for spiritual life – the thoughts, feelings, attitudes and habits we form and foster are all part of the mental world in which we live. A gloomy person may see life as depressing, sad or dull. In time that outlook becomes so habitual that the person can’t see life from any other vantage. In the next life, those thoughts and feelings become real, and the person no longer wishes to even begin to change-

The message given to us, therefore, is to really consider death – our deaths. Picture ourselves moving into another world where our innermost thoughts and feelings become the reality of our lives. What would that be like to eternity? Fortunately, while we are in this world we are given the opportunity to readjust ourselves, to repent and reform, so that our inner reality becomes more heavenly, more balanced, and happier.

The spiritual world, when we are not immediately affected by death, seems a long way off. In the hustle and bustle of daily life, our final home in heaven or hell hardly seems to be very important. But it is important. The spiritual world is not something “out there.” It is within us. When we die, we will effectively cross from one room into another. Our consciousness will be interrupted for a mere three days – less time than sleep therapy!

If we believe in the Lord, then we must also believe in the life after death, and that belief must have more of an impact on our lives than simply feeling comforted at a funeral. The Lord has given us this information for a greater reason than mere curiosity – He has given it to us for use so that we may learn to put aside selfish and hellish things, and instead turn to Him as the source of life for a spiritual resurrection – even while we are still alive in this world.

If we turn to Him, then we can take to heart His words to Martha: “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live.” Amen.

Lesson: John 11:1-44

THE RESURRECTION

THE RESURRECTION

The Process of Resuscitation

Paul, in his famous but somewhat vague description of the resurrection, given in the First Epistle to the Corinthians (ch. xv) , imagined that the quick and the dead, on the sounding of the judgment trumpet, would all be changed and put on immortality “in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye.” For Paul, in his youth, sat at the feet of Gamaliel, the celebrated Jewish rabbi, and he reflects much of the doctrine of the Pharisees, who believed in a last judgment day common to the living and the dead.28

In the Writings, however, it is revealed that the resurrection of man is individual, and that it occurs not in the twinkling of an eye but as a process, a gradual change of state. Death is indeed sudden, in the sense that there is a moment when the spirit’s departure is unavoidable. But the resurrection is a process—a gradual adjustment of the spirit to conscious, free life in the eternal world.

Death occurs when the two vital motions, the respiration of the lungs and the beating of the heart, cease, and the body, deprived of the life of the spirit, grows cold and begins to decay. But until the heart’s motion is entirely stopped the spirit continues in the body “for a short time.”29 And even after the body is apparently cold, life may with some persist as conscious thinking. The spirit can of course not have any sensation of its natural environment— since respiration has stopped—nor can it move even a particle of the gross matter of the body.30 The spirit, though definitely severed from the body, may still abide in it, by virtue of the “finest substances of nature” which are not affected by death but are retained by the spirit as a “limbus” which eventually “recedes” as a cutis-like covering.31 These substances would not leave the body until the “interior corporeals” grow cold. The thought here described would be tranquil and unaffected by the state of the body.32

Death is, in a manner, like sleep; for in sleep celestial agencies are at work to relax and restore man’s body and mind. But the celestial angels who attend man’s resuscitation are concerned with preserving the sense of the continuity of life. They are drawn to man on the faintest notion of the approach of death, or whenever the proprium of man is awe-struck with fear or paralyzed by uncertainty. Their presence is felt in the spiritual world as an aromatic odor, which causes evil spirits to flee.33 And it is due to their wise ministrations that the spirit of a dying man is held in the last thought which he entertains as he is expiring—a thought which is commonly about eternal life. The celestial angels have the effect of quieting all man’s own affections—all his anxiety, impatience, revenge, lust, and ambition. This the Lord accomplishes by temporarily cutting off any communication with the attendant spirits which man had himself invited while on earth, or with any societies in the world of spirits or in hell. Man thus becomes passive, as if in sleep. Indeed, these spirits then suppose that man is dead. For as the poets have noted, Death is but the somber sister of Sleep.34 And the angels breathe no accusation, no reproach, whatever man’s quality had been. For “they love every one,” seeing not his proprium, but the “remains” of celestial good with which the Lord has endowed every man from childhood.35

Thus man’s mind becomes docile as a babe’s. His thought, guided by angelic affections, is drawn out—vaguely but persistently—while a blissful feeling of security enwraps him. This single thought, sensed as a soothing monotone, is like a narrow bridge whereon the spirit is borne up without sense of time or self-consciousness, and is carried across the abyss which we call Death, into the land of Resurrection.

The Three Stages of Resuscitation

All those who die, whether good or evil, are received in the spiritual world as welcome guests.36 But their introduction is gradual, by orderly stages.

That he might learn something of these successive stages, Swedenborg was reduced into a state resembling that of a dying person.37 This occurred on the morning of March 1, 1748. His spirits then withdrew, thinking that he was dead, because his proprial affection was taken away. His heart beat was normal while his respiration became tacit; he became insensible of the world and yet remained conscious so that he remembered what occurred.

By means of this experience he was instructed how a spirit is prepared for his resurrection—how he is received first by celestial angels, later by spiritual angels, and finally by good spirits more akin to his own life; and how, “on the third day,” he awakens into the world of spirits, to take up his own life where he left it off.38

These three states of resuscitation precede his final awakening in the world of spirits which takes place “on the third day.”39There is need for such an introductory period and for a brief recapitulation of the spiritual history of his life. The Lord needs to reorient the spirit around the celestial and spiritual remains and surviving moral states which evil has not destroyed and which were the Lord’s own creations in his mind. Soon enough the spirit will resume control of his own life, follow the biddings of his proprial affections, and begin the journey towards the goal of his ruling love. But first the Lord needs to revive and integrate what is of the Lord’s own with man, and thus marshal the saving elements in the rising spirit. And this—the gathering and organizing of all “remains” and the removal and quieting of the trivial worries of natural life, must be done for the evil as well as for the good.

It is the Lord who is the Resurrection and the Life. (John 11:25) The resuscitation of man’s spirit is effected by the living and mighty attraction of the Lord’s mercy, who said, “And I, if I be lifted up, shall draw all men unto Me.”40

The inmost “soul” of man is the abode of the Lord and the medium of His unimpeded influx by which He, by Himself, organizes and builds both spirit and body. He needs no angelic assistance in that work, or in the gathering of such “human internals” to Himself.41 Neither angel nor man is aware of His secret labors.

But the “spirit,” or mind, is formed in the sphere of angels and spirits. And in the order of its building, the celestial angels came first to assist. It is through them that the interiors of the minds of every man are furnished in infancy with those celestial “remains” which made a beginning for all that is orderly and rational and human in man. It is these same angels “of the province of the heart”42—who are now the first to assist in the reconstruction of the mind of the spirit from within, from the innocent states of infancy, for its adaptation to a purely spiritual environment.

With every one who dies, two celestial angels also generally appear seated near his head.43 These seem to be in meditation-communicating their thoughts without words or images, and by as it were “inducing their faces” upon the spirit; and when their thoughts are recognized as theirs, and not the spirit’s own, they know that the spirit can be withdrawn from the body.44 They maintain man’s final thought, however, lest man’s identity be lost in the transition. For in all change there must be an inner connective. And for all their own desire to hold the spirit in their sphere the celestials will nothing more than the freedom of man. And after a time the spirit begins to gravitate towards externals-unable to sustain the profound peace of innocence and selfless love.45

The celestial angels do not leave the resuscitating spirit, but act more remotely.46 But the spirit now requires something they cannot give. His first need was one of spiritual warmth, for a revival of that inmost motivation of innocence from which his infant heart had begun to beat. His new need is one for spiritual sight. And even as in each child and youth, the spiritual heavens superintend the storing up of spiritual “remains” of truth and intellectual sight, which intimately correspond to the societies of the second heaven,47 so now these remains must be revived for use in the new spiritual environment.

So far, in the background of the spirit’s thought, there was a dim idea that he was still living in the body.48 But when spiritual angels approach from the province in the Grand Man which answers to the tunics of the eyes, they seek to communicate by visual representations and thereby to give spiritual light—the light which reveals the spiritual world.49 The appearance to the spirit is as if they gently rolled off a tunic from his eyes, until dim light begins to show through — like the light of the newly awakened before the eyelids are opened; or like what took place with the blind man whom the Lord cured and who at first saw only “men, as trees, walking.”50 Various types of imagery present themselves as their vision clears—presaging a new sight which sees in concrete fashion that which man before had perceived only as abstractions. This is effected by a removal or sinking back of corporeal ideas.51Something seems to be unveiled from the spirit’s face — which represents his passing from natural thought into the type of thinking that is common to all in the after-life. And with this a new sense-perception is given by degrees. In some cases the spirit is enveloped by a golden light and he is given a feeling of happiness and gladness—a feeling of the commencement of a new life. And he is then told that he is a spirit!52 He can look about him and see spiritual things in the customary symbolism of his thought — as if they were natural.53 But the spiritual angels delight to inform him about eternal life and, if he had been in faith or at least in some external belief in heaven, they will show him the wonders of the heavenly mansions—as if in a prophetic preview.54

The Arcana Coelestia reveals concerning the dying, that “scarcely a day intervenes after the death of the body before they are in the other life.”55 And on the cross the Lord said to the penitent robber, “Verily I say unto thee, Today shalt thou be with Me in paradise.”56 Perhaps this refers to the paradises which the spiritual angels show to the rising spirits! In one case Swedenborg may have been present with other angels at this stage of the resurrection process. For he tells that he spoke to Eric Brahe twelve hours after the latter had been executed.57

When a spirit is informed by the spiritual angels that he is a spirit, this does not seem to cause him any surprise. His state seemingly is still passive—as man is in a dream. But with the consciousness of life there usually comes also “self-consciousness”— with a revival of old desires. Even instruction about heaven wearies him eventually, and so he withdraws himself from the spiritual angels.

Next, he finds himself in a society of good spirits—presumably angels of the natural or lowest heaven, where truths are taught by representations. The spirit man seems to himself to be in the flower of his youth and riding a horse which, strangely enough, cannot move a step although he is directing it towards hell!58 He then dismounts and walks—being instructed that his reasonings would lead him astray unless he was guided by knowledge which distinguishes between right and wrong. The good spirits among whom he now is, do not at first know his quality.59 But they delight to show him every kindness—evoking so far as possible the states of moral good and the virtues which he had made his own.60

But actually the spirit is sinking back towards the state of life in which he was when death overtook him. The process of resuscitation is not complete until he has returned into his customary sphere of thought, and “associates himself with those who are in full agreement with his former life in the world, among whom he finds as it were his own life… .” “. .. After sinking back into such a life, he makes a new beginning of life. . . .”61

Resurrection on the Third Day

The Lord’s death and resurrection are often taken as a model of man’s transition. The Lord suffered a violent death on the cross at about three o’clock on a Friday afternoon, and rose from the sepulchre in His glorified Human at dawn on the following Sunday; thus after about thirty-eight hours had elapsed. This period is referred to in the expressions “on the third day” and “after two days.”62 The Hebrews sometimes used the phrase “three days” counting each part of a day as one day; and, in a hyperbole, the Lord once predicted His abode in the tomb as lasting “for three days and three nights”—the significant number “three” being emphasized to indicate completeness.63

It might be observed that the apostle Peter states that the Lord, being put to death in the flesh, was “quickened by the Spirit; by which also He went and preached unto the spirits in prison.”64The implication is that “when He rose again” He descended “into the lower regions” of the world of spirits and liberated these captive souls.65 The Lord may have been present spiritually and indeed visibly with them even during His sojourn in the tomb. No such activity is shown by the spirit of man during the process of his resuscitation. For man is then in a state of passivity.

The consistent doctrine of the Writings is that man rises into the world of spirits on the third day. All that befalls before this is a preparation. And of this preparation, described above, we read in the work Heaven and Hell:

“This opening (exordium) of man’s life after death does not last more than some days. . . .” “I have talked with some on the third day after their death, and then those things which were described above (nos. 449, 450) had been accomplished.” The spirit’s entrance into the world of spirits “takes place shortly after his resuscitation, as described above.”66

The separation of the spirit from the body is said to be completed mostly “on the second (altero) day after the last agony,” and thus most are introduced into the spiritual world “after a period of two days,”67 or “on the third day after he has expired.”68The spirit, on the third day, thus awakes into the state of his corporeal memory, and it appears to him as if he was still in the body and “that the time elapsed since death has been only as a sleep,” with lingering memories of dreams beyond recapture.69

He now begins to attract to himself such spirits, good or evil, as agree with his own affections or cupidities. He has forgotten the premonitory instructions of the angels.70 His corporeal memory of earthly events becomes again active in a brief revival. This is necessary in order that death may be shown to be a continuation of normal life and thus assure the continuity of his personality. He begins his own life de novo by taking up the pattern of his memory as it existed at the moment of his death.71 Thus “every one, in the first days after death, knows no otherwise than that he lives in the same world in which he was before. For the time since passed is as a sleep, from which, when he is awakened, he does not perceive otherwise than that he is where he was.”72

CAN THERE REALLY BE A LIFE AFTER DEATH?

CAN THERE REALLY BE A LIFE AFTER DEATH?

by Rev. Donald K. Rogers


“Because I live, you will live also” (John 14:19).


When the Lord came on earth nearly two thousand years ago, most of the Jewish people had no idea that they would live after death. To them this world was all there was. There were some who believed in a kind of life after death, but their ideas were similar to the concept of reincarnation, where a person would come back in a new body. And some thought that they would return to their same physical body when the Messiah came. For example, some thought John the Baptist was Elijah come back to life, either reincarnated or back in his old body. That’s why John flatly denied that he was Elijah when questioned.

But the Lord Jesus Christ brought them the good news that life continues soon after the death of the body because He raises everyone up after death. He told them, ‘I am the resurrection and the life; he that believes in Me, though he were dead, yet shall he live” (John 11:25). And to prove it to their physical eyes, because they would not believe it otherwise, He raised Lazarus from a seemingly irreversible death. Lazarus, you may recall, had been dead in the grave for four days.

Shortly after this amazing miracle took place, the Lord entered Jerusalem and began teaching daily in the temple. The people who were there would gather around Him and listen with excitement and joy as He spoke of a life immediately after this one. However, the Sadducees were not at all happy with His teachings. Instead of receiving the good news of immortality with joy, they looked on both the Lord and His teachings with murderous hatred and ridicule. This is because they were so engrossed in the pleasures of the material world that they were completely unwilling to even consider that there might be something beyond this world.

Therefore it is said that they “denied that there is a resurrection.” Because they were also so violently opposed to the idea of an eternal life, they tried to make the Lord look foolish in front of His followers. They sought to tangle Him in His own words by posing a seemingly unanswerable question concerning marriage. They were quite sure this would convince His followers that it is a ridiculous waste of time to believe in a life after death.

There are also times in our own life when we are tempted to think eternal life is a vain hope. This is because the Lord’s teachings concerning it are constantly being called into question. Indeed the ‘You only have one life to live” attitude of the world around us challenges that belief daily. Advertisements, movies, and TV all seem to tell us in one way or another to “grab all the gusto you can get before you die.” We often see other people who seem quite happy to live as if there were no life after death.

So we may begin to ask ourselves, “No one else worries about eternal life; why should I? What if there is no life after death and I have wasted my whole life struggling to be good. What is wrong with just living in this world, doing what we want, indulging in self-gratification, dying and letting that be the end of it? Why does there even have to be a life after death?”

Only the Lord’s Word can answer these questions for us. Thus only the Lord’s Word can silence the utter denial of eternal life that comes from the world in which we live. This is in fact exactly how the Lord silenced the Sadducees and at the very same time reassured His followers. Referring to a well known passage from the Old Testament the Lord said, “Now even Moses showed at the bush that the dead are raised when He called the Lord ‘the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.’ For He is not the God of the dead, but of the living, for all live unto Him.” His reasoning was quite plain to see. This passage clearly showed that Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob were still alive! Therefore there had to be resurrection soon after death. The truth of this became so clear that even some of the learned Scribes that heard His answer said, “Master you have well said.”

There are many other places in the gospels where He even more powerfully affirms the reality of life soon after the death of the body. For example, when the Lord was preparing to lay down His own life, He lovingly reassured His disciples saying, “Let not your heart be troubled; you believe in God, believe also in Me. In My Father’s house there are many mansions; if it were not so I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you unto Myself, that where I am there you may be also” (John 14:1-3). Then later, when He was crucified, He promised the repentant thief who hung dying on the cross beside Him, “Today you shall be with Me in paradise” (Luke 23:43).

Now that thief had no way of knowing just what a paradise heaven really is. But we do. For the Lord allowed a man to visit the spiritual world, the world where we will all go some day, and to write down those experiences so everyone can know. In his books heaven and all its wonders are described in great detail. So we can now not only know that there is a life after death, but we can also know what it is like.

One of the first things we are told is that we will continue to live as men and women after death. The only difference is that we will no longer be in a gross material body, but will be in an indestructible spiritual body. Moreover this spiritual body enjoys the same senses it did in the physical world, except that ‘every sense is more exquisite and more perfect there because it is the sense of the internal man freed from the external’ (AC 5078). In other words, our senses are incredibly limited by our material bodies. But in the next world we will be able to see, hear, and feel things thousands of times better than we ever could in this world. Also our spiritual body will never grow old; in fact, it grows younger. ‘All who have lived well, when they enter heaven, come into the state of early manhood … and they continue in it to eternity, even those who had been old and decrepit in the world” (DP 324:4). “Women who have died old and were worn out with age … after a succession of years come more and more into the flower of youth and early womanhood, and into a beauty which exceeds all idea of beauty ever perceivable by our sight … In a word, to grow old in heaven is to grow young. . . ” (HH 414). It is for this reason that we often say that a person who is good, kind, and loving is beautiful on the inside, no matter how he or she may appear before the world.

In heaven we will be able to do things which would be physically impossible in this world. There we can visit anyone we want: friends, relatives, famous people or even people on other planets, just by desiring to be with them. This is because distances are only states of mind in heaven. Therefore we will be able to travel to any place we want at the immeasurable speed of our thoughts. And if that is too fast, we can even fly to where we want to go like we do in our dreams.

Another nice thing about heaven is that people do not have to worry about such things as food, drink, clothing and a place to live, the lack of which often frustrates our efforts to love one another in this world. These things are all given to the angels as free gifts from the Lord without their asking for them (see DP 334). That is why the Lord tells us in the gospels, “Take no thought, saying, What shall we eat? or, What shall we drink? or, With what shall we be clothed? … for your heavenly Father knows that you have need of all these things’ (Matt. 6:31,32).

Indeed, in heaven there are fountains of delicious wine, and foods of every kind. There people wear garments which “blaze as with fire or glisten as if with light’ (HH 177). Everyone has his own dwelling place. Some even have palaces made of gold, precious jewels and decorated with the most magnificent art work. “In My Father’s house there are many mansions; if it were not so I would have told you.’ There are also gardens, fields, orchards, parks, woods, and paradises of indescribable beauty. And in them there are animals, birds, and fishes of every kind imaginable (see DLW 321, 322). There are even some animals there which have never existed in this world, such as unicorns. This is why the books of Ezekiel and Revelation are full of such fantastic scenes. For the things recorded in these books are in fact scenes from the spiritual world. It is a real and amazing place that awaits us all after death.

Of course all these wonderful things would lose their appeal if we were not also happy in heaven. So “the delights of heaven are both ineffable and innumerable’ (HH398). “One can see how great the delight of heaven must be from the fact that it is the delight of everyone in heaven to share his delights and blessings with others” (HH 399).

From the Word we also know that the Lord desires nothing more than to give us all the things which make heaven. He can do no otherwise. For the Lord loves us. In fact, He is love itself And ‘It is the essence of love to love others outside of oneself, to desire to be one with them, and to render them blessed” (TCR 43). Furthermore, the Lord is eternal and infinite. Therefore His love for us is also eternal and neverending. Since we are the objects of His eternal and never-ending love, He had to create us in such a way that we would live forever and thus could be loved by Him forever. Otherwise, if we simply ceased to exist at the end of our incredibly short lives, the Lord would have to cease loving us. And this He can never do, even if we choose to reject His love and go to hell. For as David said in the Psalms, “If I ascend up into heaven, Thou art there; if I make my bed in hell, behold Thou art there” (Psalm 139). In short, the Lord can never stop loving us and we can never stop living, even after the physical body dies. As He says in the gospels, “Because I live, you will live also” (John 14:19). “He is not the God of the dead but of the living, for all live unto Him.”

The Lord’s Word leaves us with little doubt that there is a life after death. And because it is so full of reassuring passages and common-sense reasons for there being a life after death, it can silence even the most persistent Sadducean spirit. There are many other passages in the Word which are not mentioned in this sermon because of the lack of space. So if we find ourselves doubting that there is a life after death, all we have to do is to search the Lord’s Word for reassurance. And in this way He can uplift us out of the spirit of denial, which attacks us from within and from the world around us. Then we too will be able to say to the Lord as the Scribes did, “Teacher, you have spoken well” (Luke 20:39). Amen.

Lessons: Luke 20:27-40; Heaven and Hell 1
Preached in Baltimore, Maryland September, 1984


Heaven and Hell 1

The Lord, speaking in the presence of His disciples of the consummation of the age, which is the final period of the church, says, near the end of what He foretells about its successive states in respect to love and faith: ‘Immediately after the tribulation of those days the sun shall be darkened and the moon shall not give her light, and the stars shall fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens shall be shaken. And then shall appear the sign of the Son of man in heaven; and then shall all the tribes of the earth mourn; and they shall see the Son of man coming in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. And He shall send forth His angels with a trumpet and a great sound; and they shall gather together His elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other” (Matt. 24:29-31).

Those who understood these words according to the sense of the letter have no other belief than that during that latest period, which is called the final judgment, all these things are to come to pass just as they are described in the literal sense, that is, that the sun and moon will be darkened and the stars will fall from the sky, that the sign of the Lord will appear in the sky, and He Himself will be seen in the clouds, attended by angels with trumpets; and furthermore, as is foretold elsewhere, that the whole visible universe will be destroyed, and afterwards a new heaven with a new earth will come into being. Such is the opinion of most men in the church at the present day. But those who so believe are ignorant of the arcana that lie hidden in every particular of the Word.

For in every particular of the Word there is an internal sense which treats of things spiritual and heavenly, not of things natural and worldly, such as are treated of in the sense of the letter. And this is true not only of the meaning of groups of words; it is true of each particular word. For the Word is written solely by correspondences, to the end that there may be an internal sense in every least particular of it. What that sense is can be seen from all that has been said and shown about it in the Arcana Coelestia; also from quotations gathered from that work in the explanation of the white horse spoken of in the Apocalypse.

It is according to that sense that what the Lord says in the passage quoted above respecting His coming in the clouds of heaven is to be understood. The “sun” there that is to be darkened signifies the Lord in respect to love; the “moon’ the Lord in respect to faith; ‘stars’ knowledges of good and truth, or of love and faith; “the sign of the Son of man in heaven” the manifestation of Divine truth; ‘the tribes of the earth” that shall mourm, all things relating to truth and good or to faith and love; “the coming of the Lord in the clouds of heaven with power and glory” His presence in the Word, and revelation, “clouds” signifying the sense of the letter of the Word, and “glory” the internal sense of the Word; “the angels with a trumpet and great voice” signify heaven as a source of Divine truth. All this makes clear that these words of the Lord mean that at the end of the church, when there is no longer any love, and consequently no faith, the Lord will open the internal meaning of the Word and reveal arcana of heaven.

The arcana revealed in the following pages relate to heaven and hell, and also to the life of man after death. The man of the church at this date knows scarcely anything about heaven and hell or about his life after death, although an these matters are set forth and described in the Word; and yet many of those born within the church refuse to believe in them, saying in their hearts, “Who has come from that world and told us?” Lest, therefore, such a spirit of denial, which especially prevails with those who have much worldly wisdom, should also infect and corrupt the simple in heart and the simple in faith, it has been granted me to associate with angels and to talk with them as man with man, also to see what is in the heavens and what is in the hells, and this for thirteen years; so now from what I have seen and heard it has been granted me to describe these, in the hope that ignorance may thus be enlightened and unbelief dissipated. Such immediate revelation is granted at this day because this is what is meant by the Coming of the Lord.