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

True Christianity #459

True Christianity (Rose translation)

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459. To these points I will add these memorable occurrences.

The first memorable occurrence. From far away I saw five halls. They were surrounded with different kinds of light. The first hall was surrounded with a fiery light, the second with a yellow light, the third with a bright white light, the fourth with a light halfway between daylight and twilight. The fifth hall was scarcely visible, because it was standing in the shadow of evening.

On the roads I saw some people on horseback, some in carriages, some walking, and some running and hurrying. The people in a hurry were headed for the first hall, the one surrounded in fiery light. Upon my seeing all this, a longing to go there and hear what they were discussing took hold of me and urged me in that direction. I quickly got ready and joined the people hurrying to the first hall. I went in with them.

Just picture the huge crowd inside. Some of them were heading to the right and some to the left to sit on seats arranged along the walls. Near the front I saw a low platform. The man who was the chairperson for the event was standing on it with a staff in his hand, a hat on his head, and a coat that was dyed the color of the hall's fiery light.

[2] After people had gathered, he lifted up his voice and said, "Friends, today we are discussing what goodwill is. As each of you may know, goodwill is spiritual in essence and earthly in practice. "

Immediately someone in the first row on the left side (the row where people with a reputation for being wise were seated) stood up and began to speak.

He said, "My opinion is this. Goodwill is morality inspired by faith. "

He supported his opinion in the following way: "Surely everyone knows that goodwill follows faith the way a female attendant follows her lady. Everyone knows that people who have faith are so spontaneously living the law, and therefore a life of goodwill, that they don't realize that the law and a life of goodwill are what they are living. If they realized this and then did it and were thinking they would be saved as a result, they would pollute the sacred faith with their selfishness and cripple its effectiveness. "

He said, "Doesn't this follow our dogma?" and looked at the people sitting at the sides, some of whom were clergy. They nodded.

[3] "But is spontaneous goodwill," he continued, "anything other than the morality into which everyone is initiated from early childhood? This morality is intrinsically earthly, but it becomes spiritual when faith is the inspiration for it. Who else but God can tell from people's moral life whether they have faith or not - given that everyone lives morally? God alone, who infuses faith into us and seals it there, is able to recognize and tell the difference. Therefore I submit that goodwill is morality inspired by faith. Morality that comes from our faith is intrinsically effective for our salvation. Every other type of morality does not bring us salvation, because we practice it in order to earn merit. Therefore people who mix goodwill and faith all find themselves without lamp oil - - that is, people who connect goodwill and faith inwardly rather than attaching them together outwardly. Mixing and connecting goodwill and faith would be like a servant standing by the back seat of a carriage in order to get in beside a church leader. It would be like bringing a doorkeeper into the dining room to sit at the table next to a powerful, influential person. "

[4] Then someone from the first row on the right stood up and said, "My opinion is that goodwill is religious devotion combined with compassion. I support this opinion as follows: Nothing can appease God more than religious devotion from a humble heart. Religious devotion constantly asks God to give us faith and goodwill. The Lord says, 'Ask and it will be given to you' (Matthew 7:7). Therefore what we are given has both faith and goodwill in it.

"I say that goodwill is religious devotion combined with compassion, because all true religious devotion feels compassion. Religious devotion moves our heart to the point of groaning; and what is that groaning but compassion? The feeling does indeed pass after we are done praying, but it nevertheless returns when we pray again. And when it returns there is a religious quality to it, showing that we have goodwill.

"ow, anything that advances our salvation our priests attribute solely to faith and not to goodwill. What is left for us then except to ask for both faith and goodwill with religious devotion and fervent prayer?

"When I read the Word, all I could see was that faith and goodwill are the two means of being saved; but when I consulted the ministers in the church, I heard that faith is the only means and goodwill is nothing. Then I saw myself as being at sea on a ship that was being tossed between two rocky outcroppings. Since I was afraid that the ship would be smashed, I climbed off into a rowboat and set forth. My rowboat is religious devotion - which, by the way, avails in every difficulty. "

[5] After that person, someone from the second row on the right stood up and said, "My opinion is that goodwill is doing good to everyone, whether honest or dishonest. I support this opinion as follows: Goodwill is goodness of heart. A good heart has good intentions toward all, both the honest and the dishonest. The Lord said that we are to do good even to our enemies. So if you withhold your goodwill from someone, doesn't that part of your goodwill become no goodwill? Aren't you then like a person hopping along on one leg because the other leg has been amputated? A dishonest person is just as much of a person as an honest one is. From the perspective of goodwill, people are people. If someone is dishonest, what difference does that make to me?

"Goodwill is like the warmth of the sun. It gives life to animals both wild and tame. It treats wolves and sheep alike. It makes trees grow whether they are harmful or beneficial. It treats thorn bushes the same as grapevines. "

At that point the speaker picked up a grape and said, "Goodwill is like this grape. Split it and what's inside will fall out. " He split the grape and its contents fell out.

[6] After that statement someone from the second row on the left stood up and said, "My opinion is that goodwill is doing all you can for your relatives and friends. I support this opinion as follows: Surely everyone knows that goodwill begins from ourselves. We are each neighbor to ourselves. Our goodwill then moves outward from ourselves to the people closest to us - first our brothers and sisters, and then our other family members and relatives. Goodwill's progression has built-in limits then. People who are more remote than this are foreign to us. Deep inside ourselves, we don't recognize foreigners. They are alien to our inner selves. Siblings and blood relatives, however, are connected to us by nature. Friends are connected to us by familiarity, which is a second nature; therefore these too become our neighbor. Goodwill connects us to people on the inside and then on the outside. People who are not connected to us on the inside should be called only acquaintances of ours.

"All birds recognize their family members. They use sound rather than plumage to tell. At close range they also tell by the living aura emanating from the bodies of their family members. In birds this innate love and sense of connection is called an instinct. But we have the same thing. In relation to our loved ones this is truly an instinct of human nature.

"Does anything make for compatibility except blood? The human mind or spirit senses a blood relationship as if it could smell it. In this compatibility, and the harmonious feeling it generates, lies the essence of goodwill. On the other hand, incompatibility that causes antipathy is like having no blood relationship and therefore no goodwill.

"And because familiarity is a second nature and it too produces compatibility, it follows that goodwill is also doing good to our friends.

"If we have been at sea and then we dock at some port and hear that we have arrived in a foreign land whose language and customs we do not know, we feel out of tune with ourselves and have no enjoyable feeling of love for the local people. But if we hear that it is our own country, with a language and customs we know, we feel in tune with ourselves and have an enjoyable feeling of love, which is also the enjoyable feeling of goodwill. "

[7] Then someone from the third row on the right stood up and said in a loud voice, "My opinion is that goodwill is giving donations to the poor and helping the needy. This is definitely goodwill, because the divine Word teaches that it is. What the Word declares allows for no contradiction.

"It is a pointless display to make donations to the rich and wealthy. There is no goodwill in it; instead the purpose is to be paid back. In it no genuine feeling of love for our neighbor is possible; it is an illegitimate feeling that may work on earth but does not work in heaven. Therefore poverty and need are to be the focus of our donations, because then the idea of a personal payback does not arise.

"In the city where I live, I know who the honorable and the dishonorable people are. I have observed that all the honorable people, when they notice a poor person in the street, stop and make a donation. All the dishonorable people, on the other hand, when they see a poor person off to the side, keep walking as if they were blind to the poor person and deaf to his or her voice. Everyone knows that the honorable have goodwill but the dishonorable do not.

"Someone who gives to the poor and helps the needy is like a shepherd who leads starving, thirsty sheep to something they can eat and drink. Someone who gives only to the rich and well-off is like someone who entertains the elite and presses food and wine on those who have had far too much already. "

[8] After that, someone from the third row on the left stood up and said, "In my opinion, goodwill is building hospices, hospitals, orphanages, and hostels, and maintaining them with donations. I support my opinion as follows: These forms of benefit and aid are public. They are leagues beyond private giving. In this case, goodwill becomes richer and more packed with an abundance of good things, and the reward we hope for on the basis of promises in the Word becomes enlarged - as we prepare and sow the field, so we reap. Isn't this a way of giving to the poor and helping the needy on a large scale? Who would not want glory from the world as a result, and also praises in the humble voices of the grateful people we have helped? Doesn't this lift our heart to its peak, and with it our feeling called goodwill?

"Rich people who ride instead of walking through the streets have no opportunity to turn their eyes toward the people sitting against the walls at the curbs and to hand them coins. Instead they make donations to places like these, which help many at once. Lesser people, however, who walk the streets and don't have these kinds of resources, do something else. "

[9] Upon hearing this, someone from the same row suddenly drowned out this person's voice with an even louder tone and said, "Nevertheless, rich people shouldn't value the generosity and excellence of their goodwill more than a pittance that one poor person gives another, because we know that all who perform any action do so according to their role in society. A monarch does something worthy of a monarch, a commander something worthy of a commander, an officer something worthy of an officer, and an attendant something worthy of an attendant. Goodwill is not essentially measured by the excellence of one's role or of the gift itself, but by the fullness of feeling that led to it. Therefore a manual laborer who gives a single coin can be making a donation with more abundant goodwill than a ranking official who gives or wills an extensive collection of valuables. This fits the following statement: 'Jesus saw rich people placing their donations in the treasury. He also saw a poor widow throwing in two mites. He said, "Truly I tell you, this poor widow threw in more than all the others"' (Luke 21:1-3). "

[10] Then someone from the fourth row to the left stood up and said, "My opinion is that goodwill is providing church buildings with an endowment and benefiting its ministers. I support this opinion as follows: People who do this have something holy in mind and act on that holiness. They make their donations holy as well. Goodwill demands this because it is intrinsically holy. All the worship that takes place in church buildings is holy, for the Lord says, 'Where two or three are gathered together in my name, I am there in the midst of them' [Matthew 18:20]. As his servants, the priests minister for him. Therefore I conclude that donations to priests and to church buildings count for more than donations to other people and other things. Furthermore, part of the work of the ministry is blessing, which means that the donations are sanctified.

"Afterward nothing makes the mind more elated and cheerful than seeing one's donations in the form of as many sanctuaries. "

[11] Then someone from the fourth row to the right stood up and said this: "My opinion is that goodwill is the ancient Christian family feeling. I support my opinion as follows: Every church that worships the true God begins with goodwill. So did the early Christian church. Because goodwill unifies people's minds and makes one mind out of many, early Christians called each other family, but family in Jesus Christ their God. Since they were surrounded at that point by barbarous nations that they feared, they made a communal life with what they had, which brought them a great and like-minded happiness. They met together every day and talked about the Lord God their Savior Jesus Christ, and over lunch and dinner they talked about goodwill. This led to a family feeling among them.

"After those times, however, schisms began to occur, and then came the unspeakable Arian heresy, which robbed many of the idea that the Lord's human manifestation was divine. That caused goodwill to break down and the family feeling to fade away.

"The truth is that all who worship the Lord in truth and do what he commands are family (Matthew 23:8)family in spirit. Since nowadays people don't recognize what others are like in spirit, there is no reason for them to refer to themselves as a family.

"A family feeling based on faith alone is not real; still less real is a family feeling based on faith in another god besides the Lord God the Savior. The goodwill that causes a family feeling is not part of that faith. Therefore I have concluded that the ancient Christian family feeling was goodwill. It was, but it is no more. Nevertheless, I predict that it is going to return. "

When this last point was made, a fiery light appeared from outside the east window and tinged the speakers cheeks - something the gathering was astounded to see.

[12] Lastly, someone from the fifth row on the left stood up and asked permission to add something to the last speaker's remarks. The group gave permission. The statement was this: "My opinion is that goodwill is forgiving anyone's wrongs. I base my opinion on the usual conversation among people as they approach the Holy Supper. At that moment some people say to their friends, 'Forgive the wrongs I have done,' figuring that this will satisfy goodwill's requirements. But I have thought to myself that this is only the semblance of goodwill, not a real form of its essence. Some who say this are themselves unforgiving people, and some put no effort into the pursuit of goodwill. People like this are not the people mentioned in the prayer the Lord himself taught us: 'Father, forgive us our wrongs, just as we forgive people who wrong us. '

"Wrongs are like wounds. Unless they are opened up and cleansed, pus gathers in them and infects neighboring tissues, creeping outward like a serpent and corrupting the blood on all sides. It is the same with wrongs against our neighbor. If they are not removed by repentance and by living as the Lord commands, they remain and become more deeply entrenched.

"People who merely pray to God to remove their sins but don't do any repentance are like people who live in some city and are infected with a contagious disease. They go to the mayor and say, Master, cure us. Surely the mayor is going to tell them, 'Why do you ask me to cure you? Go to a doctor, find out what medicine to take, get some from the apothecary, and take it. Then you'll be cured. ' If people beg for their sins to be forgiven without doing any actual repentance, the Lord will tell them, 'Open the Word and read what I said in Isaiah: "Woe to a sinful nation, heavy with injustice. As a result, when you stretch out your hands I hide my eyes from you. Even if you increase your praying, I do not hear it. Wash yourselves. Remove the evil of your doings from before my eyes. Stop doing evil. Learn to do good, and then your sins will be removed and forgiven (Isaiah 1:4, ). '"

(References: Isaiah 1:15-18)


[13] After these speeches I raised my hand and asked whether I could offer an opinion even though I was a stranger. The chairperson put it to the group. After they agreed I said, "My opinion is that goodwill is to act in all our work, and in every role we have, with judgment based on a love for justice - but only if that love comes solely from the Lord God the Savior. All the definitions I heard from the people in the seats to the right and the left are well-known examples of goodwill. Nevertheless, as the chair of this gathering said at the outset, goodwill is originally spiritual. It is earthly only by derivation. When earthly goodwill is inwardly spiritual, to the angels it looks as clear as a diamond. When earthly goodwill is not inwardly spiritual, however, and is therefore merely earthly, to the angels it looks opalescent, like the eye of a cooked fish.

[14] "It is not up to me to say whether the well-known examples of goodwill that you have just presented one after the other are actions motivated by spiritual goodwill or not. There is one thing I can do, however. These examples of goodwill should contain something spiritual. I can state what that spiritual something must be like if they are to be earthly forms of spiritual goodwill.

"Those actions are spiritual if they are done with judgment based on a love for justice. That is, as we practice goodwill we check to see whether we are acting on the basis of justice. We use our judgment to tell.

"It is possible for us to do harm through our good deeds. It is also possible for us to do good through apparently evil deeds. For example, we do harm through a good deed if we give a needy robber money to buy a sword, even if the robber while begging doesn't say that that is what the money is for; or if we bail the robber out of prison and point the way to the forest, saying to ourselves, 'It is not my fault if the robber steals. I have helped another human being. '

"For another example, if we feed some lazy person and protect him or her from being forced to labor for work, and we say, 'Stay in a room at my house. Lie in bed. Why wear yourself out?' we are encouraging laziness. Likewise if we give dishonest friends and relatives of ours jobs in high places from which they can practice all kinds of malice. Surely anyone can see that these acts of goodwill are not done with any love for justice or with any judgment.

[15] "On the other hand, we can also do good through actions that look bad. Take for example a judge who lets a criminal go because the criminal is crying and pouring out devout words, praying for the judge to grant a pardon because the criminal is the judge's neighbor. The judge would be performing an act of goodwill by imposing the penalty established in the law, because this would stop the criminal from doing any further harm and being a threat to the community; and the community takes precedence as a form of the neighbor. It would also prevent the scandal that might arise if the judge decided to let the criminal go.

"Surely everyone knows that servants benefit if their masters punish them for doing something evil, and children benefit as well when their parents punish them for the same reason.

"Something similar is also good for the people in hell, all of whom love doing evil. It is good for them to be kept locked in prisons and to be punished when they do something evil. The Lord allows this for the sake of their correction. This happens because the Lord is perfect justice and does what he does with perfect judgment.

[16] "From these points you can clearly see why I made the statement I did: we act with spiritual goodwill when we base our actions on a love for justice, and use our judgment.

"The love has to come solely from the Lord God the Savior, because all goodness related to goodwill comes from the Lord. He says, 'Those who live in me and I in them bear much fruit, because without me you cannot do anything' (John 15:5); and that he has all power in heaven and on earth (Matthew 28:18). All love for justice and use of judgment comes from the God of heaven alone, who is justice itself, and who is the source of all our ability to judge (Jeremiah 23:5; 33:15).

[17] "In conclusion, let's review all the definitions of goodwill from the chairs to the left and right - that it is morality combined with faith; religious devotion combined with compassion; doing good to everyone whether honest or dishonest; doing all you can for your relatives and friends; giving donations to the poor and helping the needy; building hospitals and maintaining them with donations; providing church buildings with an endowment and benefiting their ministers; the ancient Christian family feeling; and forgiving anyone's wrongs. These are all outstanding examples of goodwill as long as they are done with a love for justice and with judgment. Otherwise they are not goodwill: they are only streams that have been cut off from a river or branches that have been pulled off a tree, since real goodwill is believing in the Lord and behaving justly and uprightly in all our work and in every role we have. People who receive a love for justice from the Lord and who practice justice with judgment are goodwill in its image and likeness. "

[18] After I said that there was silence, like the silence of people who see something in their inner self and acknowledge the truth of it to some extent, but do not see it yet in their outer self. I noticed this in their faces.

Suddenly, however, I was taken out of their sight because I went back out of the spirit into my physical body. Because our earthly self wears a physical body, it is not visible to any spiritual person, meaning a spirit or an angel, and neither are they visible to it.

(References: Matthew 6:12)

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