Commentary

The Big Ideas

A girl gazes into a lighted globe, showing the solar system.

Here we are in the 21st century. We know that the universe is an enormous place. We're just bursting with scientific knowledge. But how are we doing with the even-bigger ideas? Our human societies seem to be erasing them, or ignoring them - maybe we think we're too busy for them.

Here on the New Christian Bible Study site, we'll buck the trend. We want to explore the big ideas that give us a framework for living better lives. Here's a start on a list of big ideas from a New Christian perspective. For each idea, there is a footnote that lists some references in Swedenborg's theological works:

1. God exists. Just one God, who created and sustains the entire universe in all its dimensions, spiritual and physical.1

2. God's essence is love itself. It's the force that drives everything.2

3. God's essence comes into being, that is, it exists, in and through creation.3

4. There are levels, or degrees, of creation - ranging from spiritual ones that we can't detect with our physical senses or sensors, to the level of the physical universe where most of our awareness is when we're alive here.4

5. The created universe emanates from God, and it's sustained by God, but in an important way it is separate from God. He wants it to be separate, so that freedom can exist.5

6. God operates from love through wisdom - willing good things, and understanding how to bring them about.6

7. The physical level of creation exists to provide human beings with an opportunity to choose in freedom, with rationality, whether or not to acknowledge and cooperate with God.7

8. God provides all people everywhere, regardless of their religion, the freedom to choose to live a life of love to God and to the neighbor.8

9. God loves everyone. He knows that true happiness only comes when we're unselfish; when we're truly motivated by a love of the Lord which is grounded out in a love of the neighbor. He seeks to lead everyone, but will not force us to follow against our will.9

10. God doesn't judge us. He tells us what's good, and what's evil, and flows into our minds to lead us towards good. However, we're free to reject his leading, and instead opt to love ourselves most. Day by day, we create habits of generosity or of selfishness, and live out a life in accordance with those habits. Those habits become the real "us", our ruling love.10

11. Our physical bodies die eventually, but the spiritual part of our minds keeps going. It's been operating on a spiritual plane already, but our awareness shifts - so that we become fully aware of spiritual reality.11

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Footnotes:

1. Divine Love and Wisdom 4, 15, 16, 23, 301, Divine Providence 46, True Christian Religion 11, 19.

2. Divine Love and Wisdom 4, 29, 30,Apocalypse Explained 297, Heaven and Hell 13, 545.

3. Divine Love and Wisdom 31, 32, 57, 59, 84, 169-171, 329, 330, Divine Providence 3, 27.

4. Divine Love and Wisdom 65, 179, 180, 213, 230, 363.

5. Divine Love and Wisdom 44, 45, 55.

6. Divine Love and Wisdom 42, 43, 52, 154, Divine Providence 3, 5.

7. Divine Providence 27, 71, 72, 75, 129, True Christian Religion 459, 490.

8. Divine Providence 145, 322, 324, 325, 328, Apocalypse Explained 986, Heaven and Hell 522, True Christian Religion 457.

9. Divine Providence 67, 322, 333, 334, Heaven and Hell 312, 319, 324.

10. Apocalypse Explained 986, Heaven and Hell 479, 481, 525, 598. The True Christian Religion 795.

11. Arcana Coelestia 168, 1854, 3016, 5078, 6008, 8939, Heaven and Hell 445, 461, 493, 498, Divine Love and Wisdom 90, Last Judgment 25.

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From Swedenborg's Works

Divine Providence #322

Divine Providence (Dole translation)

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322. Everyone Can Be Reformed, and There Is No Such Thing as Predestination

Sound reason tells us that everyone is predestined to heaven and no one to hell. We are all born human, which means that we have the image of God within us. The image of God within us is our ability to discern what is true and to do what is good. Our ability to discern what is true comes from divine wisdom and our ability to do what is good comes from divine love. This ability is the image of God; it is enduring with everyone who is whole and is never erased. It is why we can become civic, moral individuals; and if we can become civic and moral individuals, we can become spiritual individuals, since civic and moral life is receptive of spiritual life. We are called civic individuals if we know and abide by the laws of the country we are living in. We are called moral individuals if we make habits and virtues of these laws and live by them for rational reasons.

[2] Next I need to say how civic and moral living is receptive of spiritual living. Live by these laws not only as civic and moral laws but also as divine laws and you will be a spiritual person.

There is hardly a nation so barbaric that it does not have laws forbidding murder, promiscuity with other people's spouses, theft, perjury, and violation of others' rights. Civic and moral individuals keep these laws in order to be or to seem to be good citizens; but if they do not regard them as divine laws as well, they are civic and moral individuals only on the earthly level. On the other hand, if they do regard them as divine laws, they become civic and moral spiritual individuals.

The difference is that in the latter instance they are not just good citizens of their earthly kingdom, they are good citizens of the kingdom of heaven as well; in the former instance they are good citizens of their earthly kingdom but not of the kingdom of heaven. It is the good they do that makes the difference. The good that worldly civic and moral individuals do is not intrinsically good because they themselves and the world are at its heart. The good that civic and moral spiritual individuals do is intrinsically good because the Lord and heaven are at its heart.

[3] This shows that since we are all born capable of becoming civic and moral individuals on the earthly level, we are also born capable of becoming civic and moral individuals on the spiritual level. All we have to do is acknowledge God and not do evils because they are against God, and do what is good because that is for God. Doing this enables the spirit to enter into our civic and moral acts, and they come to life. Otherwise there is no spirit in our acts, and they are not alive. This is why worldly people are called "dead" no matter how civic and moral their behavior is, while spiritual people are called "living."

[4] Under the Lord's divine providence, every nation has a religion, and the first principle of every religion is a recognition of the existence of God. Otherwise we cannot call it a religion. Every nation that lives by its religion--that is, that does not do evil because it is against its God--is given a spiritual element within its worldly life.

Imagine hearing non-Christians say that they do not want to do some evil thing because it is against their God. Is there anyone who would not say inwardly that these people are saved? Nothing else seems possible; that is what sound reason tells us. Conversely, suppose some Christian says, "One evil or another does not matter to me. What is this business about saying that it's against God?" Is there anyone who would not say inwardly that this person is not saved? It seems impossible; that is what sound reason tells us.

[5] If this individual says, "I was born Christian, I was baptized, I have confessed the Lord, read the Word, and taken the Holy Supper," does all this matter if this individual has a craving for murder and revenge, for adultery, surreptitious theft, perjury, lies, and all kinds of violence, and does not regard them as sins? Are people like this thinking about God or about some eternal life? Do they think that they exist? Surely sound reason tells us that people like this cannot be saved.

I make these statements about Christians because non-Christians pay more attention to God than Christians do, because their religion is in their life.

I need now to say more about this, though, in the following sequence.

1. The ultimate purpose of creation is a heaven from the human race.

2. Consequently, under divine providence everyone can be saved; and everyone is saved who believes in God and lives a good life.

3. It is our own fault if we are not saved.

4. This means that everyone is predestined to heaven and no one to hell.

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