Category Archives: Death & the Spiritual World

Spirits And Men

By Rev. Brian W. Keith

“The Lord has provided that there should be angels and spirits with each individual, and that a person should be led by the Lord through them” (Heaven & Hell 247).

In today’s world many people are loath to admit the existence of spirits. While around Halloween, ghosts and goblins come out aplenty, and the supernatural is often used in fiction, most people do not take it seriously. Indeed, by relegating the possibility of spiritual associates to horror shows and childish events, we push the reality of the other world further away from US.

For the spiritual world is the great unknown for most. It is not seen. It is not heard from. It cannot be scientifically explored. All of our natural tools for seeing and understanding worldly phenomena reveal nothing at all about the existence of life after death and how people there might affect us.

What’s more, a spiritual reality has frequently been discredited. Spirits used to be blamed for virtually everything that could not be scientifically explained. From head colds to earthquakes, spirits were thought to cause it all. So now that we have learned more about the laws of this world and found that there are natural causes, the existence and influence of spirits has been brought into question.

And for money or fame, the supernatural has always been an instrument for the unscrupulous. There has been no end of frauds willing to dupe those who long to contact those who have passed away. Magic tricks which give the appearance of psychic ability are often employed, casting doubt upon everything not of this world.

The pity of these abuses is that they obscure the truth that life is eternal, that we will all live forever in the other world. For those who can look beyond the charlatans, for those who admit to the possibility of there being more to life than our bodies, there is ample evidence of the spirit world.

In the Old Testament there were strict laws against attempts to communicate with “the dead.” “There shall not be found among you … one who conjures spells, or a medium, or a spiritist, or one who calls up the dead. For all who do these things are an abomination to the Lord … ” (Deut. 18:10-12). Laws are not enacted unless there has been a problem. It was well known then that it was possible to call someone from the grave–and the consequences were not good.

In the New Testament the Lord often healed people who were possessed, whose bodies were in the power of evil spirits. The evil spirit whose name was Legion, because he was many, was spoken to by the Lord, and cast into a herd of swine (see Luke 8:26-39). Myth? Or miracle?

More recently, observers have noted the “near-death experience.” Amazingly similar stories are told by a wide array of people who were very close to death but then revived. They speak of being greeted by friends or relatives; of a brilliant light, and comforting warmth; of a certainty afterward that when their bodies die they will live–in happiness forever.

And if we will but think of ourselves, we can see how sensible it is to believe that life goes on. For we are not our bodies. Our minds -what we think about, what we care about–define who we are. This is why love grows even when bodies deteriorate, why getting older is meant to be getting better.

If we look within ourselves, we can see more evidence of a spiritual realm. Where do those ideas come from that just pop into our heads? Where do the changes in feelings come from? In our dreams, are we just hallucinating or is there something more there? A spiritual presence?

For those with open minds, for those willing to consider, the Lord has given a new vision of truth of the spiritual reality which awaits us all. By means of a revelation through Emanuel Swedenborg the Lord has described the nature of the life to come and its influence upon us now. For even as the Lord has blessed us with the opportunity to be of service to our neighbors on this earth, so in the next life He continues that source of joy. He allows the angels to participate in the wonderful process of leading people to experience the joys of heaven. Or, as the Heavenly Doctrines of the New Church state: “The Lord has provided that there should be angels and spirits with each individual, and that a person should be led by the Lord through them.”

When we die we do not evaporate or depart to a far distant realm. Our existence after we put away our bodies is more real than before. For then our inner loves come out, and our highest hopes are realized. And since our life then is but a continuation of our life here, the spiritual world is very closely connected with this world. No, people in the next life are no more aware of our presence than we are of theirs. But they are still with us, influencing us.

We can be aware of the presence of the hells. They are legion with us. We may joke about “the devil made me do it,” but there is some truth in the claim. For when we allow our selfish nature to take the lead, the hells are very close to us. Their presence promotes selfishness; they sway us to feel that horrible and insane actions are fine as long as they feel good. Those who have felt suicidal urges have sensed their power. Rages, the inability to keep our mouths shut even when we know that no good can come from getting in the last word, all point to the influence the hells can have. And we also can see them in depressions–in feelings of worthlessness and listlessness.

Many have experienced their influence at night. How common is it for a person to have trouble getting to sleep because he or she is worried about something? The person frets, tossing and turning, because of the severity of the problem and the impossibility of solving it. Then, after sleep finally comes, and the person awakes, the problem looks different. In fact, it does not look nearly as big or knotty in the light of day. Why such anxiety the night before? In part, because the evil spirits had stoked our fears, troubling us beyond all measure.

Evil spirits also distort our thinking whenever possible, confusing, obscuring, or misdirecting our thoughts. How often have we taken a position, defending it, only to realize later that what we said made little or no sense? How could we have been so stupid? How could we have been so blind? Easily, for hell twists our thinking whenever we permit it.

Fortunately, the Lord always counterbalances with heavenly influx any influence the hells might have. There are always angels with us, angels who care more for us than for themselves. When they are near they inspire us with healthy and uplifting feelings. From them we can feel optimistic about the future. From them we are stirred to go the extra mile for others. From them we have the ability to rise above selfishness to express love to our spouse, family, and friends.

Angels also provide us with insights and perception. Whenever we can say, “that is true, ” it is because they have shed heavenly light upon our minds. Enlightenment, our sight of ideals or principles which should govern our lives, is actually a Divine spark provided us by the angels. They inspire us to recognize what is true, even when we may feel that we are less than brilliant.

And angels are especially active when we are in spiritual pain. When we are tempted, or struggling, they strive to diminish the hellish influence we are feeling. They also call forth the truths we believe and the goods we have made our own that we overcome. They uphold us lest we “dash our feet against stones.”

These spiritual influences are so important that without them we would have no source for our thinking and imagination. We would have no ability to feel and live. For the Lord uses these people in the other world as His agents to lead and guide us. And without them we would be cut off from an essential source of spiritual nourishment.

But this does not mean that we are controlled by people or events in the other world. They are influences upon us, even as our culture and our friends are. Influences do not dominate over us. We have the freedom to respond to them–to follow suggestions or reject them. We can go along with the crowd or take a different path. As we can with natural friends, so we can with our spiritual friends. We determine which spirits are present with us. We determine whom we are listening to.

And to preserve our freedom, the Lord has protected us against any direct contact with people from the other world. Yes, there may be times when we sense their presence–dreams, near-death experiences, or when one feels the nearness of a departed spouse, for the veil between the two worlds is very thin and can be bridged easily. But these are not sought-after experiences, like seances or the use of Ouija boards.

We are not to seek contact with spirits. The ancient laws of the Old Testament still apply. The Lord has given us all that we need–the Word–that we might lead heavenly lives. We do not need anything more. As He said to the Pharisees when they asked that someone from the other world instruct them: “If they do not hear Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded though one rise from the dead” (Luke 16:31).

Even if we were certain of contacting an angelic spirit, there is nothing he or she could add to our lives. In fact, if we did begin to listen to one, like a spiritual “Dear Abby,” it would diminish our looking to the Lord in His Word for guidance. It would create a dependency upon spirits rather than on our own efforts to understand the truth and do what is right.

And there are tremendous dangers associated with spirit communication. It is only the evil spirits who long to return to this world where they can do harm without fear of certain punishment. So we are more likely to come into contact with them rather than angels. And evil spirits are so devious that we cannot tell who or what they are.

So what is the value in recognizing the place that spirits play in our lives if we are not to contact them or be conscious of their presence? Three reasons come to the fore.

The first is that they provide us with a sense of continuity. By recognizing that life goes on, and that the life that goes on is productive and happy, we gain a perspective on what we should do here. Our contributions, our usefulness, are never over but only beginning. This is especially important for marriages. To know that death does not destroy but temporarily separates strengthens love and a commitment to marriage. To think of being reunited is to rob death of its finality, and to see hope.

The second value in recognizing the role spirits play is the tremendous support which the Lord provides us. We are never alone. We are never in a hopeless situation. The Lord and His angels are always near, lending a silent hand, quietly guiding and helping, as much as we will allow them. No matter how depressed or sad we may be, the Lord provides uncounted angelic support to see us through.

And the final value is in recognizing how much freedom we have. Because we are influenced by both heaven and hell, we have absolute spiritual freedom to place ourselves in one camp or the other. What is more, we do not have to take responsibility for what is not ours. As the Lord said, “not what goes into the mouth defiles a man, but what comes out of the mouth, this defiles a man” (Matthew 15: 11). What evil spirits inspire is what comes in. The fact that we have urges to be selfish or break the commandments does not mean we are evil. All people experience such influences, so we do not have to judge ourselves based upon what comes in. Our freedom is in determining what comes out.

By the same token, by recognizing that good stems from angelic influence, we can avoid taking undue credit for the good that is done. Conceit can be diminished when we acknowledge that it is the Lord’s doing and not our own.

Of the Lord’s Providence we are surrounded by spiritual influences. We are placed in the center that we may turn this way or that. With angelic inspiration we can learn what the Word teaches. With heavenly guidance we can take small steps on the Lord’s way. And eventually, we can join with them and share with others the spiritual bounty we have received.


How We Look To Angels

By Rev. Donald L. Rose

In the book of Revelation it is written, “Blessed is he who watches and keeps his garments, lest he walk naked and they see his shame” (Rev. 16:15). In a red-letter Bible this verse stands out because it is the only one in the chapter that is in red.

In our lesson we read the words, “Do not provoke him” (Exodus 23:20). This is said about the angel sent before the Children of Israel. They guarded their behavior because of the presence of an angel, and they knew that if they obeyed, the angel would keep them and bring them safely to their destination. The angel, then, knew the way in which they walked, and in some manner saw them.

There is a teaching in Heaven and Hell about how we look to angels. It is number 131. It says that when we are in good we are regarded by angels as beautiful, and when evil we appear ugly. The chapter is the chapter on light in heaven. We are told that when that light shines on you, you appear as you really are.

Do you know what you look like? You may have a mirror in the bathroom and one in the hall and one in the living room. We are accustomed to seeing our face in a mirror. But do we feel we know what we look like? We might look with real curiosity at a photograph in which we appear. It is sometimes surprising to see a film or a videotape in which we participate. “Do I look like that?” We might ask someone else to tell us. “Do I move and act like that?”

It is particularly interesting to see something we are familiar with from an entirely different angle. If there is an aerial photograph of our neighborhood, we might search in it for our house or office, and perhaps look with fascination at the route we regularly walk. That reference to the path we walk is of interest, because when we are viewed in the light of heaven, it is as if we are taking certain paths or ways (see HH 534). Sometimes, although we are not moving physically, we walk in the valley of the shadow, and sometimes although there may be confusion and turmoil around us, we walk beside the still waters.

Take some familiar thing and look at it through a microscope. It is surprising. The Writings invite us to look at an object such as a leaf or a flower or a bee and to examine it with some wisdom. Look at it first naturally, afterwards rationally, and at length spiritually. Use a microscope and you will see “wonderful things, while the interiors that you do not see are still more wonderful” (DP 3).

There is a statement in the Arcana Coelestia which reads as follows:

“If a person should see the quality of a single thing as it appears before the angels, he would be amazed, and would confess that he would never have believed it, and that in comparison he had known scarcely anything” (AC 4930). The passage says that the quality contains many, many things “which cannot be seen in the light of the world, but only in the light of heaven, thus before angels.” Look at the world or contemplate the universe and everything in it. What is it? Is it not a theater representing the Lord’s kingdom? (see AC 3000, 3483)

But the Writings emphasize something else much more than material objects. They emphasize the mental world of affections and ideas. We think the affections we experience and the ideas in our minds are simple. But they are wonderfully complex. Once in the spiritual world some doubted the wonders within a single idea, and the idea was then opened up for them so far that they seemed to see “a universe leading to the Lord” (AC 4946).

Each idea an individual has is in a way a picture of that individual. We read,

“The quality of a spirit can be known in the other life from one single idea of his thought. Indeed angels have from the Lord the power of knowing at once when they but look upon anyone, what his character is … It is therefore evident that every single idea and every single affection of a person … is an image of him and a likeness of him” (AC 803).

What a different feeling we get about our own thoughts and about reading the Word when we have some awareness of how wondrous are the contents of our minds. We are told that angels are in particular delight when children read the Word. Indeed the Word, not on a book shelf but in a human mind, is a resting place for angelic wisdom.

In the sight of the angels, how are we dressed? If someone is going to look at us, we want to be becomingly dressed, and when our minds are engaged with truths from the Word we are so dressed. This brings us to the verse in Revelation 16. It is said that someone is blessed who is awake and keeps his garments lest he walk naked and they see his shame. Who sees his shame? It is the angels. We will mention this verse again. Let it be noted that the garments mean truths, and that to live without truths is to walk naked. As it is said in Apocalypse Revealed:

“A person may indeed live like a Christian without truths, but this before men, but not before angels” (AR 706).

Is there such a thing as a beautiful deed? Yes, there is, and the real beauty is in the intention and love behind the deed. There is a saying in the Doctrine of Charity that everything a person does is an image of that person. “Before the angels he himself appears in his image … which I have seen a thousand times” (Charity 6).

As we make our choices from day to day, how much difference it can make to realize how unpleasant in the sight of heaven are some of the things in which we might be inclined to indulge. What a difference when we realize how beautiful to behold is life in which we do not harm others but wish them well.

Paint a picture, if you can, of some of the feelings that can motivate us, such as revenge or pride. What do they look like?

Listen to this from the Arcana Coelestia:

“In order to obtain a clear idea of the nature of the life of the love of self and of the world (or what is the same, of a life of pride, avarice, envy, hatred, revenge, unmercifulness, adultery), let any person of talent make for himself an impersonation of it … and he will then see, in proportion to the energy of his description or picture, how horrible these evils are, and that they are devilish forms, in which there is nothing human. Forms such as these all those become after death who perceive the delight of their life in such evils … On the other hand, let the same person delineate for himself an impersonation of love and charity, or let him express it before his eyes under some form, and then in proportion to his power of description or portrayal he will see that the form is angelic, full of bliss and beauty, and pervaded within with what is heavenly and Divine” (AC 2363).

People who make it part of their lives to shun evils as sins against God “appear in heaven before the angels as beautiful human beings, and partners and companions of the angels” (DP 121).

The angels see things so differently. They see in the clearest light. Take all the doubts that can trouble you. Take all the arguments against the beautiful truth about the Lord’s loving Providence. Write a whole book about them and put that book in the hand of any angel, ” … and I know,” says the seer, “that the angel will write underneath these few words, They are all appearances and fallacies” (DP 213). Our lesson this morning from the Sermon on the Mount was about worries. What shall we eat or what shall we drink? We do find ourselves sometimes filled with worries, and perhaps we feel that we could fill a book with them. But if an angel looked upon that book, would he not see that those worries are based on the appearances of self-life and the fallacies that cloud our trust in the Lord’s Providence?

Happy is he that is awake and keeps his garments. The Writings seem to say that this is a wake-up call to people who are associated with the New Church. “Happy is he that is awake and keeps his garments lest he walk naked and they see his shame.” Here is what the Writings say on this:

“These things are said for those who will be of the Lord’s New Church, that they may learn truths and remain in them, for without truths their connate evils, which are infernal loves, cannot be removed. A man may indeed live like a Christian without truths, but this only before people, not before angels” (AR 706).

Do you know something about the New Church? Then this is a message to you. Learn truths. Remain in them. Yes, remain in them. Do not lose those beautiful garments. What a shame that would be. Stay awake. Think of things the way they really are. Think of your life in this world and in the world to come as it really is. You can call this a warning, but remember that it is a happy warning. Happy is he that is awake and keeps his garments.


Death And Resurrection

By Rev. Andrew M. T. Dibb

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 “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.”