Late one evening in a trash filled alley in the remote city of Latur, India, a young orphan who had been subsisting on the scraps of food he could retrieve from the local dump, passed away from the effects of a burst appendix. The event went largely unnoticed in the neighborhood. He was one of a seemingly endless number of orphans who inhabited the city. His body would be found the next morning by the sweepers and disposed of—not even meriting a death notice in the local paper.
While variations of this sad tale are repeated far too many times in our modern world, this boy’s life is only beginning. According to the book Heaven and Hell by Emanuel Swedenborg, the child, upon awakening in the next life, is given to angel parents and raised and instructed in heaven in an atmosphere of love that defies the imagination.
Strangely, there are many Christian theologians who claim that such a child is condemned to hell because he was not exposed to Christianity. It is almost as if they are saying that the boy was beyond the reach of Christ and somehow hidden from His love because he never declared that Christ died for his sins and was baptized.
A different perspective about Christ's saving power
New Church teachings present a different view, one in which Jesus Christ’s saving power is not limited.
In the New Testament, Jesus says directly that “without Me you can do nothing” (John 15:5) and that “all authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth” (Matthew 28:18). Encompassed in these statements is the idea that He is the origin of all life, both in heaven and on earth. This is true whether one ‘knows’ Him or not. The transformational events of Jesus’ birth, life, and death continue to impact all individuals regardless of their awareness of those events. By extension, it is not hard to imagine that anyone who lives in heaven comes in contact with Jesus Christ and experiences the all encompassing power of His love.
Considering this in regard to children in heaven, I’m uplifted by New Church teachings on this topic. In the book Heaven and Hell it goes on to describe how a child who is raised in heaven has a unique opportunity to witness the Lord’s love and mercy in operation. With other angels as mentors, the child is able to see the Lord’s operation with a level of clarity not possible on earth. Like all human beings, that child (though in heaven) still is given the opportunity to choose between a life of good or evil, a life aligned with heaven or with hell. But having had a clear vision of how Divine life works presented to him in the wisest of ways, it is hard to imagine that such a child would ever choose evil over good.
One purpose of the church on earth is to attempt to create a supportive environment that mirrors the educational environment in heaven and make it as easy as possible to “choose life” (Deuteronomy 30). When we show the accepting love of Jesus, for all people, we are doing just that.
Religious affiliation is NOT what is important
Divine Love itself, in the human form of Jesus Christ, has the power to affect people’s lives any time they act in harmony with His principles—regardless of religious affiliation.
Jesus said simply “give and it will be given to you” (Luke 6:38), meaning when our actions are in harmony with divine life, we receive that life. It is that simple. But there are more or less powerful ways of making this connection, depending on one’s understanding of who God is and how He operates with people.
Religion, to the degree that it shows how to harmonize with the Lord, is a useful tool in helping people discover heaven and understand how God reaches and touches human beings, even in circumstances that seem beyond hope. Religion that leads people away from that contact can actually be detrimental to one’s ability to receive spiritual life. So it is important to find a religion that sensibly connects people to the life of heaven. The New Church shows how the isolated orphan who dies knowing nothing of Christianity will be raised in heaven and still will be given the opportunity to choose a life that aligns with heaven.
Although in our world the orphaned state continues to be a reality with which we must cope, on a spiritual level we are never orphaned. No matter our outward circumstances, the Lord is always present within us, ready to lead us when we turn our lives to Him and begin to walk in His ways. As He said: “I will not leave you orphans. I will come to you” (John 14:18).
David Lindrooth is director of General Church Outreach, supporting the international growth of the New Church.