There Is a Reporter
October 06, 2002
In the year that Uzziah died, I saw the Lord seated on a throne, high and exalted, and the train of his robe filled the temple. (Isaiah 6:1)
Where can I go from your Spirit?
Where can I flee from your presence?
If I go up to the heavens, you are there;
If I make my bed in hell, you are there.
If I rise on the wings of the dawn,
If I settle on the far side of the sea,
Even there your hand will guide me,
Your right hand will hold me fast.
If I say, "Surely the darkness will hide me
And the light become night around me,"
Even the darkness will not be dark to you;
The night will shine like the day,
For darkness is as light to you.
Reading from Swedenborg
Most people in the church at the present day have no real belief regarding life after death, and scarcely any regarding heaven or regarding the Lord--that he is God of heaven and earth. For this reason the interiors of my spirit have been opened by the Lord to enable me, while I am in the body, to be present at the same time with angels in heaven, and not only to talk to them but also to see the astonishing things there, and to describe them. This has happened to prevent people from saying from now on, "Has anyone come to us from heaven and told us of its existence, and about the things that are there?" (Arcana Coelestia #9439)
We have all heard the arguments--not proofs--for a life after death, or as Raymond Moody puts it, a "life after life." Emanuel Swedenborg is one who has made the claim to have brought back first-hand reports of the immortal world--reports that I will summarize for you today. But first let us look at the question of credibility.
Probably no period in history finds so many people in the so-called "advanced" countries unwilling or unable to take seriously the reality of anything not accessible to the five physical senses. For them, material reality is the only reality. This outlook cannot help but have its effect on those of us who want to believe in something more, but are no longer as sure as we once were that it is legitimate to do so. For the materialists, the supernatural or extra-natural simply does not exist; therefore obviously none can report on it. All such reports must be wishful imagining or psychotic productions, which can be dismissed without examination.
But if they are dismissed without examination, how much of the Bible must also be disregarded? How much religious experience must be discounted? Was there no spiritual reality present when in the temple Isaiah "saw the Lord, sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up"? Was it a natural light that surrounded St. Paul on the Damascus road? Were the visions of St. John recorded in the book of Revelation seen by the body's eyes? Was the risen Lord a natural or a spiritual reality?
If there is more to reality than meets the natural eye or ear or sense of touch, then it seems to make sense not to disregard all reports of spiritual reality offhand. If those who have been clinically dead and then revived bring reports of brilliant light and a loving presence, it seems reasonable at least to listen to them. And if someone reports of extensive experience of the abode of those who once lived among us and have passed from our physical sight, ought we not to hear him--particularly if what he has to say appeals both to the mind and to the heart? Such a reporter was Emanuel Swedenborg.
If you were to ask Swedenborg why he had his remarkable experiences of the realm of unending life, he would have had a ready answer. He might have said that the Lord had prepared him from early childhood, which is what he wrote in a letter to the Duke of Hesse-Darmstadt. In Arcana Coelestia #9439 [quoted above], he clearly explained the reason his spiritual eyes were opened. He wrote further in his Spiritual Diary #6101, referring to the book Heaven and Hell, "It is not my work, but the Lord's, who wished to reveal the nature of heaven and hell, and the nature of humans after death." Swedenborg had been prepared to be the right man at the right time in the right place to be an instrument of revelation of realities humanity badly needed to be reassured of.
The details of the afterlife that Swedenborg was permitted to observe take five hundred pages for the telling. But a few useful thoughts can be stated briefly.
First, the next world is not a place for evening up the score. Heaven is not a place for the rewarding of the good. Neither is hell for the punishing of the evil--though we may have wished it to be. Heaven is simply the best environment for the loving, caring type of person whose chief joy is to be useful. Hell is the best God can do for those who look out only for themselves. Heaven is a community of mutual love. Hell is everyone for himself.
Second, because the next world is not a place for evening up the score, there is no gatekeeper barring entrance to heaven, and no Satan dragging people to hell. We choose our ultimate destination because we are comfortable there in a way somewhat similar to the way in which we choose our friends here.
Third, the heaven Swedenborg saw was not a playboy's heaven. It was not a situation of unending banqueting and partying, where boredom could be the only end result. Such activities form a part of heaven's life; but the main activity for each of us will be some form of useful work in which we will find real delight. We will do useful work there not because we have to, but because we want to. No one will need logotherapy there because all will have found a meaning to their life.
Fourth, religious activity is no greater part of the life of heaven than it is here. Our time is not filled with prayer and hymn singing, nor the uninterrupted enjoyment of God. Even that would lose its flavor after a period of time. Rather, our time will be a balanced alternation of work, play, and worship, in all of which there will be the joy of community with others and with God.
Finally, the environment in which we will live in heaven will reflect or correspond to our inner environment, our character, our interests, our uniqueness. Our companions will be those whose beliefs and values are fundamentally like ours, though with the variety that results from the uniqueness of each individual. It will be home more than any place we have ever lived.
Read Heaven and Hell for yourself. You will find it more like a work on heavenly geography than like a travelogue. You may find you agree with one of the Brownings who said that only Swedenborg pictured a heaven to be desired and a hell to be feared.
O Lord our God, we thank you that in our era you have sent a new messenger--a reporter to tell us of the world that lies beyond the reach of our physical senses. Thank you for shedding new light on a vast region of human existence that had lain shrouded in darkness and ignorance. Open our minds and our hearts to the new truth that you have given us, so that we may live in its light even while we are sojourning here in this material world. Amen.
Rev. Edwin Capon