Heaven and Hell

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Heaven and Hell

You must be joking! ‘Heaven and Hell,’ what images do they conjure up in today’s world. Heaven- cute little cherubs with wings, sitting on fluffy clouds, playing harps or feasting in paradise without ‘Weight watchers’; Hell- mediaeval tortures, spooky red devils with horns and tails, furnaces, fire and brimstone (whatever that is.) Either way count me out!

And yet do you, like me, have a sneaky suspicion that there must be something more to this life. Do you ever wonder whether life carries on in another dimension and if so what it could be like? Do you ever think that there just might be some grain of truth in these out dated concepts of heaven and hell?

We often use words like heaven and hell to describe our own inner feelings. If everything goes wrong at work and the things that we attempt are thwarted and leave us frustrated we might feel that we have had a ‘hell of a day.’  If things go right and we feel pleased and happy we talk about ‘being in heaven.’ We can see from this that there is a relationship between how we feel and heaven and hell. Heaven and hell essentially are states of our mind or inner being and not physical places of either bliss or torment. Our actions and reactions, our thoughts and deeds, our loves and desires build heaven or hell within us.

Emanuel Swedenborg tells us that when our physical body dies the essential person, the spirit or soul passes into the spiritual world. Although the spiritual world may appear insubstantial to us on earth it is ultimate reality.

In the spiritual world there are communities where groups of people live and work together as in this natural world. We ultimately find ourselves living with communities with whom we feel at ‘home’ and who have similar natures to our own. If, whilst on earth, we have tried to think of others before ourselves, have had a belief in an entity greater than ourselves and tried to live according to principles then we should find ourselves living in a heavenly society. We really should be ‘in heaven.’

If, on the other hand, we have spent our lives being awkward, miserable, intolerant, selfish and dare we say plain ‘evil,’ then it is easy to see that being in a community of ‘angelic’ people would be anathema to us. We would be happier being in a company of like- minded people where we could continue to ‘make life hell.’

The choice is ours.

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Life after death – What’s it like?

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Discovering inner health and transformation

life after death
Heaven & Hell by E. Swedenborg

In the post Is there an afterlife? I pointed to a similarity between Swedenborg’s reports of his mystical experiences of life after death and numerous accounts of the near death experience. There are also striking similarities between what various modern psychic mediums have said concerning a realm of spirits with Swedenborg’s writings. These similarities are as follows:

Similar account of life after death

A soul body exists; time means nothing; environment appears created by thought; we gravitate to the shared environment of like-minded spirits; there is a self-evaluation involving how we lived life on earth; one’s inner character does not change because of death; punishment is only part of a purification process; there is no procreation; there are useful occupational and similar interests, albeit at a higher level; there is an upper Astral akin to heaven; there is no pain or alarm during the dying process; and because of a similarity of experience to life, new arrivals do not at first notice they are dead.

One’s first experience of life after death

Swedenborg reports that after we awake in the spirit realm we may find ourselves in some kind of living environment – often one we have been familiar with on earth. This gradually changes, beginning more and more to reflect the quality of our own thoughts and feelings. It may be a room in a very beautiful house or an untidy shed. This very much sounds like a projection of our inner state so that what one sees in the spiritual world is a reflection of different aspects of one’s own actual character. As we are all different there are many kinds of living accommodation and environment.

Being oneself in one’s life after death

As I understand it, the spiritual world forces no one after bodily death to be something that he or she is not. When we are alive in the body on earth, our outer thoughts are busy when we are with other people or engaged in some action. However, our inner thoughts come from what we are really feeling when we are alone at home. The picture we are shown of the next life, is that the values that deep down rule our hearts come to the surface and unrelated feelings, pretences and difficulties become dormant. We each get more in touch with our true selves and all other spirits see the genuine nature of everyone’s character; whether this is selfish and destructive or caring and creative. In other words, our inner feelings and desires determine our destiny. You really are what you choose to be and pretending to be something other than what you really are becomes increasingly difficult to maintain.

I imagine the goodness or otherwise of your character would shine more clearly in the spirit realm than in our material world where people who do not know you well see only your outward persona and where your style of living is more apparent. This illumination is illustrated in near death experiences by the frequently mentioned encounter with a `being of light’ and of a life evaluation.

The ruling love emerges in the life after death

According to Swedenborg’s notion of a ‘ruling love’, we want one thing more than anything. It colours all our life. It could be for example a love of being useful, of the spiritual ideas we believe to be true, of having power over others, or of being popular and well liked. This is our underlying longing that is the essence of our true character. Many of our desires arise from this basic love. We are most likely to reveal our true selves by our actions when we do not think others are observing us.

“You are what your deep driving desire is. As your desire is, so is your will. As your will is, so is your deed. As your deed is, so is your destiny.” (The Upanishads – Hindu tradition)

Avoidance of thinking about life after death

Whether or not we believe in life after death, we can all be afraid of death and dying to some extent. Perhaps we fear a lack of control over the process of deterioration that precedes death – whether it will involve pain or loss of dignity. But just as there can be no spring without the cold of winter that comes before it  – so the pain of suffering can be seen to precede the triumph of new life.

To my mind, death for me is eternity knocking at the door. Perhaps, an avoidance of thinking of life after death is due to realising that I am not living now, as I would want to live to eternity. The trouble is that often I am unwilling to allow what is bad in me to die. A reminder of the reality of death is a wake up call to discard the trivial and prioritise the significant. Now is the time to overcome estrangement and heal old wounds.

Copyright 2011 Stephen Russell-Lacy
Author of  Heart, Head & Hands  Swedenborg’s perspective on emotional problems

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Posted on21st April 2011CategoriesConsciousness, Mystical experienceTags,, , , , , , , , , , , ,, , , , , , Leave a comment

Conflict Resolution: Learning from Psychologists and Angels

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By Soni Soneson Werner, Associate Professor Emerita of Psychology at Bryn College of the New Church and trainer in Conflict Resolution Skills

Conflict can be good. It all depends on how we handle the people with whom we disagree. Both psychologists and theologians offer concepts that can shape our behavior, so that we can communicate in a mutually respectful manner. Let’s first consider some examples of people in conflict who are not admirable role models. I think I am not alone in disliking the social behavior of the Anglican clergyman named Rev. Collins, who was a character in Pride and Prejudice.[1] In this nineteenth-century British novel, Rev. Collins repeatedly ingratiates himself with the pompous Lady Catherine de Bourgh. No matter what she states, he bows and agrees in order to win her favor. Readers are left without any clue of what he really values, as his desire to continue keeping Lady Catherine as his benefactress takes precedence over any desire for mutual respect or understanding. She is verbally aggressive, and he is hopelessly passive. They resolve conflicts, but they do so at a price: she always wins.

conflict_resolution

Then, there is the example of the Baptist clergyman, Rev. Nathan Price, who is a character in The Poisonwood Bible.[2] In this twentieth-century American novel, Rev. Price is an evangelist who becomes a missionary worker in Africa, bringing his family along with him. He is intensely devoted to converting to Christianity natives in the Congo, and he refuses to admit any doubts or weaknesses in his manner of handling conflicts. Rev. Price is certain that he can do no wrong because God is on his side. He assumes that he should never negotiate with the natives. While he and the natives resolve conflicts, they, too, do so at a price: the reverend always wins.

Even though these two literary characters are both illustrations of members of the clergy handling conflicts, they differ in their behavioral styles. According to an analysis made by some organizational psychologists, Rev. Collins illustrates the pattern of SUB-PAR, or passive behavior, while Rev. Price is an example of some aspects of the pattern that I call DESTRUCTIVE, or aggressive behavior.

As a psychologist, I recommend that my clients learn nine specific skills that are designed to show mutual respect to all parties involved. “There are five basic confronting skills and four advanced confronting skills included which could be used individually or sequentially to resolve interpersonal conflicts and prevent future aggression.”[3] Each of the skills is described at four levels of behavioral style. For example, one of these nine conflict resolution skills is called Remaining firm, fair, and friendly when resolving conflicts, and the spectrum of skills associated with the different levels of behavior looks like this:

EXCELLENT

  • Protects the basic corporate values but is open to creative methods
  • Respectfully explores value of improving levels of performance
  • Uses “partner-to-partner” tone; assertively pushes for progress

GOOD

  • Keeps sense of balance while re-iterating key issues & impact
  • Clarifies standards of behavior & addresses need for change
  • Uses “adult-to-adult” tone; stays professional with use of words

SUB-PAR

  • Gives in to the slightest pressure; is gutless & wimpy
  • Is passive; fails to represent those affected-but-not-present
  • Uses “child-to-adult” tone; becomes overly deferential to power

DESTRUCTIVE

  • Goes ballistic all at once; blows up at the slightest provocation
  • Treats other person like the enemy; is overly hostile & suspicious
  • Uses “parent-to-child” tone; is over-controlling & disrespectful

Originally, these skills were designed just for professionals in the corporate environment, but they have been adapted recently for a broader audience. The principles work in human relations, generally. For example, these skills can be used when other efforts to coach someone have failed, when people’s behavior falls short of what has been promised, when a chronic problem has continued for too long, or when someone’s behavior is contrary to the values of a group. Ideally, people can learn to use each skill assertively at the EXCELLENT or GOOD levels, and avoid using them at the SUB-PAR (passive) and DESTRUCTIVE (aggressive) levels.

How Do Angels Do It?

In addition to learning how to handle conflicts from the perspective of organizational psychologists, we can also derive inspiring concepts from the theological writings of Emanuel Swedenborg. According to the Swedenborgian philosophy scholar Dan Goodenough:

Angels turned the conversation away from a self-pitying concern for one’s own problems, to the true ideas which could remove the problem. They respect freedom and listen well . . . Angels delight in teaching, discussion, debating, even confrontation, because these are the arenas in which they can accommodate the truth they love to human states. . . . The angels meet negative attitudes . . . by calm, patient instruction in the truth. . . . Sometimes the angels question, sometimes the learners question, but one purpose always seems to be to arouse and maintain interest.[4]

Angels also pause in the middle of conflicts to allow everyone the chance to quietly reflect on what has been heard and then incorporate the ideas into their individual minds.[5]

Swedenborg described what he saw during his mystical experiences of the spiritual world. He saw vivid images that represented spiritual struggles (Heaven and Hell §105). When he saw scenes involving fires, these corresponded to people who were willfully cruel, revengeful, and aggressively hateful to others. In hell, “each has the wish for supremacy and wants to take from the other the things he [or she] has by hidden or open devices” (Secrets of Heaven §6832:9). Fire and flame signify evil desires arising from the love of self and the love of the world, respectively (Apocalypse Explained §504). Swedenborg saw how fire from the will breaks forth into a person’s understanding and kindles a flame there, which is called anger. Then the person becomes heated and commits evil actions against others. When Swedenborg saw smoke, this corresponded to false ideas, often near the flames of anger and evil desires (Secrets of Heaven §§1861, 7575, 9143, 9144). The worst kind of fire was the love of self, involving dominion over others for selfish reasons, such as to gain wealth or higher positions in a community (Secrets of Heaven §10038; Heaven and Hell §571).[6]

Swedenborg described another image:

When any small division of opinion occurs among those spirits they see a thin bright flash like a streak of lightning, or else they see a belt of sparkling stars. These are signs indicating division; but the division among them is quickly healed. Sparkling stars which wander are not a good sign, whereas stars sparkling but motionless are a good sign. (Secrets of Heaven §8112)

Both the psychological perspective and the theological perspective offer compelling reasons why people should learn how to resolve their conflicts, and certain organizational psychologists give specific suggestions on how to do it in mutually respectful ways. Although vivid fictional characters (e.g., Rev. Collins and Rev. Price) may be fun to read about, they may not always engage in the most effective styles of conflict management. So we should aspire to be more like the angels or to adopt the kind of exchange of opinions that is represented by the motionless stars.

Werner’s eBook entitled Conscience: Forensic Psychology is available for download at https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/590834. To see all nine conflict resolution skills, read Chapter 1.B. For a summary of a Swedenborgian perspective on preventing, intervening, and rehabilitating people who have been in serious conflicts, read Chapters 1.C., 2.C., and 3.C.

 

[1] Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice (London: T. Egerton, 1813).

[2] Barbara Kingsolver, The Poisonwood Bible (NYC: Harper, 1998).

[3] See Soni Werner, Conscience: Forensic Psychology (2015), especially Chapter 1.C.

[4] Dan Goodenough, “Angelic Methods of Instruction – A Survey of Memorabilia,” New Church Life (1977): 80, 81, 85, 86.

[5] See Secrets of Heaven §§4172, 7812; True Christianity §§335, 503, 661; Conjugial Love §§267, 355, 356; Divine Providence §§150–3.

[6] Soni Werner, Conscience: Forensic Psychology (2015): Chapter 2.C.

 

Suggested Readings

Austen, Jane. Pride and Prejudice. London: T. Egerton, 1813.

Goodenough, Dan. “Angelic Methods of Instruction – A Survey of Memorabilia,”New Church Life (1977), 68–86.

Kingsolver, Barbara. The Poisonwood Bible. New York: Harper, 1998.

Swedenborg, Emanuel. Apocalypse ExplainedWest Chester, PA: Swedenborg Foundation, 1997.

_____. Arcana CoelestiaWest Chester, PA: Swedenborg Foundation, 1997.

_____. Conjugial LoveWest Chester, PA: Swedenborg Foundation, 1998.

_____. Divine ProvidenceWest Chester, PA: Swedenborg Foundation, 2010.

_____. Heaven and Hell. West Chester, PA: Swedenborg Foundation, 2010.

_____. Secrets of HeavenWest Chester, PA: Swedenborg Foundation, 2010.

_____. True Christianity. West Chester, PA: Swedenborg Foundation, 2010.

Werner, S.S. Conscience: Forensic Psychology. 2015.

Visit our Swedenborg Studies bookstore page to explore our series of scholarly titles >

Read more posts from the Scholars on Swedenborg series >

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Heaven and Hell

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Heaven And Hell

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People seem a bit unclear about heaven’s landscape – is it a tropical garden with fruit for the picking, or is it a place of fluffy white clouds and harp music?

They are also divided on how to get there. Is it by accepting the forgiveness brought to mankind by Jesus on the cross (the Protestant version)? Or is it by doing the things God has told us to do through holy books and churches (the version for Catholics and most other monotheists)?

But this much seems to be agreed: It is a paradise and a reward, and anyone who gains entry will be happy.

Hell, meanwhile, is quite the opposite: It is a fearsome place where people are tortured. Some see is cold and snowy; most think of it as hot and fiery, but either way it is torment for anyone who goes there. And who is that ends up there? Anyone who doesn’t believe the right things, which will vary depending on which version of the “right things” actually turns out to be right.

But does that all make sense? It seems someone could be a thoroughly nasty person, full of hatred for others and love of himself, and still go to heaven for saying or doing specific, sanctioned things. Someone else could be the nicest guy in the world, always ready to help and with a genuine delight in the good fortune of others, but trot off to hell’s torturers for believing in the wrong version of God.

The obvious question there is “what kind of God would torture people just for believing the wrong thing?” That’s caused a lot of people to question whether hell exists.

A more intriguing question, though, involves that nasty, selfish, horrible person going to heaven. His whole life his delight has been fleecing people out of their money and laughing at them for their stupidity, and now he’s supposed to hang out eating grapes with these same pathetic losers? Worse, he’s not allowed to run any scams, trick them, laugh at them, nothing! This goody-two-shoes “love and harmony” garbage makes him gag. What kind of heaven is that?

Swedenborg’s take on heaven and hell is quite different. It stems from the idea that we are what we love: that our deepest affections and feelings determine our true character, not what we’ve done or even the thoughts we have. After we die, his works say, our affections come to the surface so that everyone can see them, and then we are in a sense free to associate with anyone we want to. So naturally we find people with similar affections so we can live together and share the things we love.

Heaven, then becomes a state where good people can share their lives with other good people. Even better, they share their lives with others who love the same specific good things, and can work on those good things together. This flows out as uses, work that’s important, and that is a delight to everyone involved.

Hell, on the flip side, is simply a place where nasty, selfish people congregate and filter into groups based on the specific lusts and desires they have. Since they’re all evil, they all want to hurt and dominate each other, so it’s a rather endless struggle. And since the Lord prevents them from really hurting each other – and prevents them from attacking the good people – it’s rather frustrating. But that torture from within is the only torture there is; the Lord has no desire to and no reason to punish them. In fact, He still loves them and wishes for them to be as happy as they can be, considering what they have chosen to become.

There is much, much more that could be said; Swedenborg wrote an entire book on the subject. Here are a few key points:

1. People are married in heaven; in fact, the pure love of marriage is the central love of heaven. Those marriages are of husbands and wives who are perfectly matched, suited to each other uniquely because of what they love and how they think. In some cases those are marriages continued from this life; in other cases couples part mutually and are led to the right partners. Swedenborg calls the love of heavenly couples “conjugial,” and says a husband and wife actually become one soul. And yes, those marriages are “complete,” with the addendum that the merging of external bodies we can experience in this life is but a faint reflection of the merging of spiritual bodies that an angel couple experiences.

2. There is no separate race of angels: Angels are people who accepted the Lord’s love in this life and went to heaven after they died.

3. Children who die go to heaven to be raised by angel parents. They are still human and still have free will, but growing up in heaven all but guarantees they will become angels as well.

4. People’s surroundings – and even their outward appearance – are projections of what they are internally, so that both are of surpassing beauty and pleasantness, all perfectly suited to the people who are there.

5. Between heaven and hell is an area Swedenborg calls the World of Spirits. People go there when they first die, and while there learn the truth about the Lord and heaven. People’s inner loves also slowly emerge while they are in the World of Spirits, so they recognize others with the same loves and begin their journeys toward heaven or hell.

6. Heaven itself is in three layers. The lowest is the natural heaven, where people are on a love of being obedient and doing the right things. The middle is the spiritual heaven, where people are in the love of other people, and from that in a love of what is true. The highest is the celestial heaven, where people are in love to the Lord, and express their ideas as wisdom. These layers are mirrored in hell, with those in pure love of self and hatred of the Lord in the deepest hells.

The Swedenborg Foundation recently published a new translation of Swedenborg’s “Heaven and Hell,” with modernized language for greater accessibility. You can order that here: http://swedenborg.com/book_detail.asp-pkproductid=82

You can also download a free version of an older translation here: http://swedenborg.com/page.asp-page_name=complete_works

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Is There Life After Death?

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By Rev. Ian Arnold

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The Bible on Life After Death

I’ve written about the findings of Drs. Elisabeth Kubler-Ross and Raymond Moody, both of whom have worked for years with patients who, after being revived from clinical death, have recounted what happened to them during the experience. I’ve also studied and written about “Heaven and Hell”, written by Emanuel Swedenborg in 1758, which contains so much that bears out the reality of what these people described.

Inevitably, in thinking about the afterlife, questions arise about what is said on the subject in the Bible. People tend to think that the Bible says practically nothing about the life after death, and the churches on the whole, tend to teach a ‘wait and see’ attitude. Even Dr. Moody, in the second part of his book, “Life after Life”, where he looks at the Bible for possible parallels to the experiences his patients described, fails to mention what, at least as I see them, are some of the most significant of all things said there.

I want you, if you will, to quietly consider the following:

Jesus said: “Let not your hearts be troubled; believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And when I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also.” (John 14 :1-3).

As you think about these words ask yourself, what could Jesus have meant by His Father’s house but some kind of higher life? These are very beautiful words. Full of promise and wonderfully reassuring. Where Christ is, there we shall be.

In another Gospel, Matthew, chapter 22, the Sadducees (who, by the way, did not believe in the resurrection or in survival after death) had been trying to trap the Lord, using a ridiculous example to try to make fun of the whole idea. At the end of this particular encounter with them, the Lord said these words: “And as for the resurrection of the dead, have you not read what was said to you by God, ‘I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’? He is not the God of the dead, but of the living.” (Matthew 22: 31-33). It’s so easy for us to miss the point here. Here was a group of people who stoutly denied the resurrection. As far as they were concerned, and though they revered the patriarchs, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, they were dead. Not so, said Jesus. God is not the God of the dead, but of the living. They are not dead. They are alive today, though in the spiritual world.

And then we come to Luke’s Gospel, to the description there of the crucifixion. One of the criminals crucified alongside Jesus railed at Him, it is said. The other defended Him and turned to Jesus asking him to remember him when He came to His Kingdom. And (Jesus) said to him, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise”. They are startling words, aren’t they? “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise.”

It by no means ends here. I want to refer you to a parable. Now I know that some people dismiss the parables as illustrations, the accuracy and teaching of which can be questioned. Is it, though, likely that Jesus would have used something, inaccurate and fanciful, even though it only be in a parable? For myself I can’t believe He would. In any case, listen to what He said. It is the parable of the rich man and Lazarus, Luke 16:19-31.

“There was a rich man who was clothed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day. And at his gate lay a poor man named Lazarus, full of sores, who desired to be fed with what fell from the rich man’s table. Moreover the dogs came and licked his sores. The poor man died and was carried by the angels to Abraham’s bosom. The rich man also died and was buried; and in Hades, being in torment, he lifted up his eyes, he saw Abraham afar off and Lazarus in his bosom. And he called out, Father Abraham, have mercy upon me, and send Lazarus to dip the end of his finger in water and cool my tongue; for I am in anguish in this flame. But Abraham said, Son, remember that you in your lifetime received your good things, and Lazarus in like manner evil things; but now he is comforted here and you are in anguish. And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been fixed, in order that those who would pass from here to you may not be able, and none may cross from there to us’. And he said, ‘Then I beg you, father, to send him to my father’s house, for I have five brothers, so that he may warn them, lest they also come into this place of torment’. But Abraham said, ‘They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them.’ And he said, ‘No, father Abraham; but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent’. He said to him, “If they do not hear Moses and the prophets, neither will they be convinced if some one should rise from the dead.” (Luke 16: 19-31).

Let me say again that though a parable, yet I believe – and a strong case can be made out to this effect – that the Lord was here drawing on essentially real life experiences as He did of course in His other parables. The sad thing, is that it has been neglected for the wealth of information it contains about life after death. Here, in fact, are just some of the points made. The parable takes for granted that resurrection and awakening in the spiritual world follows on after death. Lazarus died and he was taken up into Abraham’s bosom. The rich man also died and found himself in hell. There is no suggestion of an interval of years. No mention of a last judgment with which many have associated resurrection from the dead. The person goes on living though now in another realm. It’s interesting also that the character people form for themselves in this world goes with them into the next. Death doesn’t change people….it doesn’t change us as to the person we really are inside.

And this raises the whole question of the purpose of our life in this world. Swedenborg explains that whilst the Lord wishes to ultimately bring us all into heaven and to bless our lives with heavenly happiness, yet we must choose this life ourselves. And that, in a very real sense, is why we are here. The kind of person we freely choose to be in this world, selfish or unselfish, greedy for ourselves or more considerate for the well-being of others, is the person we will remain. As the tree falls so it lies. And after death we shall take ourselves to people like-minded to ourselves and with whom we are happiest and most at ease. It is sometimes fondly thought and hoped that when we die we will change. We will be different people. We will get about doing the things and being the person we never got around to being here. But we won’t. Once the surprise and novelty wears off, we will be our old selves once again. It’s always the way. It’s worth dwelling on this for a moment. Another popular idea is that after death we will be called to give account of ourselves and will be judged and sent one way or the other whether we like it or not. But nothing whatever is said to this effect in the parable. Lazarus died and went to heaven. The rich man died and went to hell. They took themselves there, to all intents and purposes. Their lives or the type of person they on earth had chosen to be, determined where they would go.

I remember an older friend of mine saying some years ago… indeed, pointing out the obvious… that in a hundred years from now everyone alive today, adults and children (with a few exceptions, of course) will be dead. And that wasn’t said as some kind of doomsday forecast or in any morbid way. It is a fact. We are all going to die. And it’s useful and healthy to talk calmly about the fact. But while the body dies and is discarded the mind or spirit within, which is the essential person we are, goes on living, just as the parable describes. And that doesn’t mean some disembodied existence. Lazarus and the rich man were just as much people after death as they had been before. The rich man remembered his brothers. “After the death of the body” wrote Swedenborg, “the spirit of a person appears in the spiritual world in a human form, altogether as it appeared in the natural world.”

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Equilibrium

THE SCIENCE OF CORRESPONDENCE

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EQUILIBRIUM >> Good and Evil >> Truth and Falsity >> Heat and Cold >> Light and Darkness

equilibriump_500_333 THE EQUILIBRIUM BETWEEN HEAVEN AND HELL.

For any thing to have existence there must be an equilibrium of all things. Without equilibrium is no action and reaction; for equilibrium is between two forces, one acting and  the other reacting, and the state of rest resulting from like action and reaction is called equilibrium. In the natural world there is an equilibrium in all things and in each thing. It exists in a general way even in the atmosphere, wherein the lower parts react and resist in proportion as the higher parts act and press down. Again, in the natural world there is an equilibrium between heat and cold, between light and shade, and between dryness and moisture, the middle condition being the equilibrium. There is also an equilibrium in all the subjects of the three kingdoms of nature, the mineral, the vegetable, and the animal; for without equilibrium in them nothing can come forth and have permanent existence. Everywhere there is a sort of effort acting on the one side and reacting on the other.

[2] All existence or all effect is produced in equilibrium, that is, by one force acting and another suffering itself to be acted upon, or when one force by acting flows in, the other receives and harmoniously submits. In the natural world that which acts and reacts is called force, and also endeavor [or effort]; but in the spiritual world that which acts and reacts is called life and will. Life in that world is living force, and will is living effort; and the equilibrium itself is called freedom. Thus spiritual equilibrium or freedom has its outcome and permanence in the balance between good acting on the one side and evil reacting on the other side; or between evil acting on the one side and good reacting on the other side. [3] With the good the equilibrium is between good acting and evil reacting; but with the evil the equilibrium is between evil acting and good reacting.  Spiritual equilibrium is between good and evil, because the whole life of man has reference to good and to evil, and the will is the receptacle. There is also an equilibrium between truth and falsity, but this depends on the equilibrium between good and evil. The equilibrium between truth and falsity is like that between light and shade, in that light and shade affect the objects of the vegetable kingdom only so far as heat and cold are in them. That light and shade themselves have no effect, but only the heat that acts through them, is evident from the fact that light and shade are the same in winter time and in spring time. This comparison of truth and falsity with light and shade is from correspondence, for truth corresponds to light, falsity to shade, and heat to the good of love; in fact, spiritual light is truth, spiritual shade is falsity, and spiritual heat is good of love (see the chapter where light and heat in heaven are treated of, n. 126-140). [HH589]

There is a perpetual equilibrium between heaven and hell. From hell there continually breathes forth and ascends an endeavor to do evil, and from heaven there continually breathes forth and descends an endeavor to do good. In this equilibrium is the world of spirits; which world is intermediate between heaven and hell (see above, n. 421-431). The world of spirits is in this equilibrium because every man after death enters first the world of spirits, and is kept there in a state like that which he was in while in the world, and this would be impossible if there were not a perfect equilibrium there; for by means of this the character of everyone is explored, since they then remain in the same freedom as they had in the world.  Spiritual equilibrium is freedom in man and spirit (as has been said just above, n. 589). What each one’s freedom is the angels recognize by a communication of affections and thoughts therefrom; and it becomes visible to the sight of angelic spirits by the ways in which the spirits go. Good spirits there travel in the ways that go towards heaven, but evil spirits in the ways that go towards hell. Ways actually appear in that world; and that is the reason why ways in the Word signify the truths that lead to good, or in the opposite sense the falsities that lead to evil; and for the same reason going, walking, and journeying in the Word signify progressions of life.{1} Such ways I have often been permitted to see, also spirits going and walking in them freely, in accord with their affections and thoughts. [HH590]

0017 Evil continually breathes forth and ascends out of hell, and good continually breathes forth and descends out of heaven, because everyone is encompassed by a spiritual sphere; and that sphere flows forth and pours out from the life of the affections and the thoughts therefrom.{1} And as such a sphere flows forth from every individual, it flows forth also from every heavenly society and from every infernal society, consequently from all together, that is, from the entire heaven and from the entire hell. Good flows forth from heaven because all there are in good; and evil flows forth from hell because all there are in evil. The good that is from heaven is all from the Lord; for the angels in the heavens are all withheld from what is their own, and are kept in what is the Lord’s own, which is good itself. But the spirits in the hells are all in what is their own, and everyone’s own is nothing but evil; and because it is nothing but evil it is hell.{2} Evidently, then, the equilibrium in which angels are kept in the heavens and spirits in the hells is not like the equilibrium in the world of spirits. The equilibrium of angels in the heavens exists in the degree in which they have been willing to be in good, or in the degree in which they have lived in good in the world, and thus also in the degree in which they have held evil in aversion; but the equilibrium of spirits in hell exists in the degree in which they have been willing to be in evil, or have lived in evil in the world, and thus in heart and spirit have been opposed to good. [HH591]

Unless the Lord ruled both the heavens and the hells there would be no equilibrium; and if there were no equilibrium there would be no heaven or hell; for all things and each thing in the universe, that is, both in the natural world and in the spiritual world, endure by means of equilibrium. Every rational man can see that this is true.  If there were a preponderance on one part and no resistance on the other would not both perish? So would it be in the spiritual world if good did not react against evil and continually restrain its uprising; and unless this were done by the Divine Itself both heaven and hell would perish, and with them the whole human race. It is said unless the Divine Itself did this, because the self of everyone, whether angel, spirit, or man, is nothing but evil (see above, n. 591); consequently neither angels nor spirits are able in the least to resist the evils continually exhaling from the hells, since from self they all tend towards hell. It is evident, then, that unless the Lord alone ruled both the heavens and the hells no one could ever be saved. Moreover, all the hells act as one; for evils in the hells are connected as goods are in the heavens; and the Divine alone, which goes forth solely from the Lord, is able to resist all the hells, which are innumerable, and which act together against heaven and against all who are in heaven. [HH592]

The equilibrium between the heavens and the hells is diminished or increased in accordance with the number of those who enter heaven and who enter hell; and this amounts to several thousands daily. The Lord alone, and no angel, can know and perceive this, and regulate and equalize it with precision; for the Divine that goes forth from the Lord is omnipresent, and sees everywhere whether there is any wavering, while an angel sees only what is near himself, and has no perception in himself of what is taking place even in his own society. [HH593]

How all things are so arranged in the heavens and in the hells that each and all of those who are there may be in their equilibrium, can in some measure be seen from what has been said and shown above respecting the heavens and the hells, namely, that all the societies of heaven are distinctly arranged in accordance with goods and their kinds and varieties, and all the societies of hell in accordance with evils, and their kinds and varieties; and that beneath each society of heaven there is a society of hell corresponding to it from opposition, and from this opposing correspondence equilibrium results; and in consequence of this the Lord unceasingly provides that no infernal society beneath a heavenly society shall gain any preponderance, and as soon as it begins to do so it is restrained by various means, and is reduced to an exact measure of equilibrium.  These means are many, only a few of which I will mention. Some of these means have reference to the stronger presence of the Lord; some to the closer communication and conjunction of one or more societies with others; some to the casting out of superabundant infernal spirits into deserts; some to the transference of certain spirits from one hell to another; some to the reducing of those in the hells to order, and this also is effected in various ways; some to the screening of certain hells under denser and thicker coverings, also letting them down to greater depths; besides other means; and still others that are employed in the heavens above the hells. All this has been said that it may in some measure be perceived that the Lord alone provides that there shall be an equilibrium everywhere between good and evil, thus between heaven and hell; for on such equilibrium the safety of all in the heavens and of all on the earth rests.[HH594]

Author: EMANUEL. SWEDENBORG (1688-1772)

http://www.scienceofcorrespondences.com/spiritual-angels.htm

http://blog.beginningtheisticscience.com/

Copyright © 2007-2013 A. J. Coriat All rights reserved.

Enlightenment, Swedenborg-Style

Swedenborg Foundation

by Morgan Beard

When you hear the word enlightenment, you might picture exotic scenes of monks meditating on a mountaintop or a wise spiritual teacher offering gems of insight. Enlightenment isn’t something that we often associate with Christian spirituality, but Emanuel Swedenborg uses that very term throughout his writings to refer to receiving insight from God.

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When Swedenborg talks about being enlightened, in a sense he’s being very literal: he describes a spiritual world that exists in parallel to our own, where God is the sun that radiates love and wisdom the way that the sun in nature radiates heat and light. In the spiritual world, God’s light is pure wisdom, and anyone who receives it can “see” in a whole new way:

I have often been allowed to perceive that the light that illumines the mind is a true light, quite different from the light that we call natural light. I have also been allowed to see it. I have been gradually elevated into that light inwardly, and as I was raised up, my discernment was enlightened to the extent that I could grasp what I had been unable to grasp before, ultimately things that could in no way be comprehended by thought from a natural light. At times I have resented the fact that they were incomprehensible [in natural light] when they were so clearly and plainly perceived in the heavenly light. (Heaven and Hell #130)

As the above passage suggests, Swedenborg sees enlightenment not as an event (as some other traditions portray it) but rather as a state of perception that can come or go. For example, in the stories of his experiences in the spiritual world, he sometimes describes people who are confronted with a mystery praying for insight and being enlightened—sometimes actually having light sent to them from above—so they could understand the answer.

But he also describes enlightenment as something that people can experience here on earth, especially while reading scripture:

There is a spiritual perspective, of which few people know anything at all, a perspective that inflows in the case of people who have a longing for truth and tells them inwardly whether what they are hearing or reading is true or not. When we are reading the Word with enlightenment from the Lord, we have this perspective. Having enlightenment is nothing more nor less than having a perception and therefore an inner acknowledgement that this or that statement is true. Isaiah calls such people “taught by Jehovah” (Isaiah 54:13; see also John 6:45) . . .  (Faith #5)

In the above passage, Swedenborg gives the first prerequisite for enlightenment: The person has to have a “longing for truth.” They have to really want to understand the nature of spiritual reality. If God chooses to grant this, then a new perspective will flow into them, and they can use that perspective to gain a new understanding of what they’re reading—and ultimately, of life itself. Swedenborg adds that people who approach this process with genuine faith may not even realize that they’ve been enlightened.

Once a person gains this spiritual perspective, Swedenborg continues, it starts to snowball:

The first task [of those who seek enlightenment when they read the Word] is to put together a body of teaching for themselves from the literal meaning of the Word. That is how they light a lamp in order to go further. Once they have put together a body of teaching and lit the lamp, they see the Word in the light of that lamp.

However, people who have not put together a body of teaching for themselves first look to see whether the theological perspective offered by others and generally accepted does in fact agree with the Word; and they accept what agrees and dissent from what does not. That is how they form their body of teaching, and through their body of teaching, their faith.

This [enlightenment] happens, though, only for people who are able to contemplate things without being distracted by professional responsibilities in this world. If they love truths  because they are true and put them to use in their lives, they have enlightenment from the Lord, and other people whose lives are to any degree guided by truths can learn from them. (Sacred Scripture #59)

Behind this growing enlightenment are spiritual processes that Swedenborg describes at length in his writings.  All human beings, he says, have an inner self and an outer self. The outer self is the part of our mind that controls our everyday life: it thinks, it talks, it acts. The inner self is the part of us that connects to the spiritual world, and it is also the part that receives the light of wisdom. The more light flows into us, the more we can understand spiritual mysteries. (For a more technical explanation of how this works in Swedenborg’s own words, see this footnote.)

So while Swedenborg depicts enlightenment as something that can happen temporarily, as described above, he also describes a state that we can achieve permanently when we grow as spiritual people, a process he calls regeneration.

To sum up, Swedenborg describes three important elements in achieving spiritual growth and, ultimately, enlightenment:

First, enlightenment begins with the desire to understand spiritual truth and the faith that God can and will provide that understanding.

Second, enlightenment is most likely to happen when we not only love truth, but put it to work in our life. For example, if your inner enlightenment tells you that you should be more forgiving, and you make a conscious effort to let go of a grudge you’ve held for a long time, then you make that wisdom part of yourself, and open yourself up to greater light.

Third, our intentions are important. If we only want to achieve understanding to improve our social status, impress others, or make money, then ultimately, Swedenborg says, we will fail.

Remarkably, the kind of enlightenment we individually enjoy depends on the desire we have for truth, and the desire we have for truth depends on how good a life we live. That is why people who have no desire for truth on its own account, only as a means to achieve success, receive no light at all when they read the Word. They only confirm themselves in their theology, whatever its teachings are like, whether they merely distort the truth . . . or go so far as to oppose it. . . . Such people seek not the kingdom of God but the world, not faith but fame, not heavenly but only earthly riches [Matthew 6:33; Matthew 6:19–20]. If they happen to be struck with a lust for learning truth from the Word, they keep discovering falsity rather than truth, and eventually, grounds for denying all truth. (Secrets of Heaven #7012; see also Secrets of Heaven #10330:2-3).

But for those who do succeed in cultivating inner wisdom, Swedenborg describes the end result as a state of “quiet” when all struggle ceases—remarkably similar to the way that Buddhists, for example, describe achieving enlightenment (Secrets of Heaven #5221; see also Secrets of Heaven #87 on the final stage of regeneration). Could there be more common ground than we think between different traditions of enlightenment? You decide!

Other Resources

For more on how light works in the spiritual world, check out the “Spiritual Light” episode of our weekly webcast Swedenborg and Life.

If you’d like to read more about Swedenborg’s concept of spiritual levels and how we interact with them, see his book Divine Love and Wisdom, especially part three (#173–281). For more on the Bible and how to access its inner meaning, read his short work Sacred Scripture.


Footnote: The Process of Enlightenment

Divine Love and Wisdom #256: While earthly-minded people cannot think about this wisdom the way angels do, they can still grasp it mentally if their minds are raised into the level of light that angels enjoy. Our minds can actually be raised that far and enlightened accordingly. However, this enlightenment of our earthly minds does not happen by distinct levels. There is instead a gradual increase, and in keeping with that increase, our minds are enlightened from within, with the light of the two higher levels.

We can understand how this happens by perceiving that for vertical levels, one is above the others, with the earthly level, the terminal one, acting like an inclusive membrane for the two higher levels. As the earthly level is raised toward a higher level, then, the higher activates that outer earthly level from within and enlightens it. The enlightenment is actually happening because of the light of the higher levels from within, but it is received gradually by the earthly level that envelops and surrounds them, with greater clarity and purity as it ascends. That is, the earthly level is enlightened from within, from the light of the higher, distinct levels; but on the earthly level itself, it happens gradually.

We can see from this that as long as we are in this world and are therefore focused on the earthly level, we cannot be raised into wisdom itself, the way it is for angels. We can be raised only into a higher light at the boundary of angels and receive enlightenment from their light, which flows into us from within and illumines us.

I cannot describe this any more clearly. It is better understood through its effects [described in the following section, #257].

Secrets of Heaven #5208:1–2 (commentary on a Bible passage that refers to someone awakening from sleep; Swedenborg says this refers to a person becoming enlightened): Enlightenment here means general enlightenment coming from spiritual heavenliness and therefore from inside. Enlightenment that originates or flows from inside is vague and general when shed on a lower level [of our inner self]. Yet it gradually becomes less general and eventually specific as truth based on goodness is instilled on the lower level. Every bit of truth based on goodness shines and illuminates. . . .

Our spiritual and natural levels, or our inner depths and outer surface, are brought into correspondence in just this way. First we acquire truth. Then that truth is apparently banished, so to speak, although it is not really banished but only hidden. Next our lower levels are enlightened in a general way by our higher levels, or our outer surface by our inner depths. Under that illumination, truth is restored in its proper pattern. As a result, all individual truths on that level become an image of their general truth and correspond to it.

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