The Big Ideas

By New Christian Bible Study Staff

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


From Swedenborg's Works


Divine Providence #145

Study this Passage

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145. 5. Self-compulsion is not inconsistent with rationality and freedom. I have already explained [103-104] that we have inner and outer thought processes and that these are as distinct from each other as prologue and consequence, or as height and depth. I have explained that because they are so distinct, they can act separately as well as together. They act separately when we talk and act on the basis of our outer thought in ways that differ from our deeper thought and intent; and they act together when we say and do what we think and intend inwardly. This latter state is characteristic of honest people, while the former is characteristic of dishonest people.

[2] Since the inner and outer processes of our minds are distinct, then, the inner can even fight against the outer and forcibly make it consent. The struggle starts when we think of evils as sins and therefore try to refrain from them; since to the extent that we do refrain a door is opened for us. Once this door has been opened, the Lord expels the compulsions to evil that have kept our inner thought processes penned in. In their place, he plants desires for what is good, again in the inner levels of our thought. However, since the pleasures of our compulsions to evil that have been besieging our outer thought processes cannot be expelled at the same time, a fight starts between our inner and outer thinking. The inner thinking wants to expel those pleasures because they are pleasures in evil deeds and are incompatible with the desires for goodness that the inner thinking now enjoys. It wants to replace the pleasures of evil with pleasures in goodness because they are in harmony with it. The "pleasures in what is good" are what we refer to as the benefits that arise from our caring.

The struggle begins with this disagreement; and if it becomes more severe, it is called a temptation.

[3] Since we are human because of our inner thought, which is actually the human spirit, it follows that we are compelling ourselves when we force our outer thought processes to consent, or to accept the pleasures of our inner desires, the benefits that arise from our caring.

We can see that this is not inconsistent but in accord with our rationality and freedom, since it is our rationality that starts this struggle and our freedom that pursues it. Our essential freedom, together with our rationality, dwells in our inner self, and comes into our outer self from there.

[4] So when the inner conquers (which happens when the inner self has brought the outer self into agreement and compliance) then we are given true freedom and true rationality by the Lord. Then, that is, the Lord brings us out of that hellish freedom that is really slavery and into the heavenly freedom that is truly, inherently free.

The Lord teaches us in John that we are slaves when we are in our sins and that the Lord liberates us when we accept truth from him through the Word (John 8:31-36).

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Thanks to the Swedenborg Foundation for the permission to use this translation.