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 #324

Study this Passage

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324. Since this also shows us that divine providence is a predestination only to heaven and that it cannot be changed into anything else, I need to show at this point that the ultimate purpose of creation is a heaven from the human race, and I need to do so in the order just proposed.

(a) Everyone is created to live forever. In parts 3 and 4 of Divine Love and Wisdom, I explained that we have three levels of life called earthly, spiritual, and heavenly, and that these levels are active in each one of us. I also noted that there is only one level of life in animals, a level like the lowest level in us, the one called earthly. It then follows that unlike animals, we can have our life so lifted toward the Lord that we enter a state in which we can discern things that come from divine wisdom and intend things that come from divine love, and in this way can accept something divine. If we can accept what is divine to the extent that we see and sense it within ourselves, then we must necessarily be able to be united to the Lord and to live forever because of this union.

[2] What would the Lord have been doing with all this creating of a universe if he had not made images and likenesses of himself with whom he could share his divine nature? Otherwise, it would only have been making something so that it existed and did not exist, or so that it happened and did not happen, and doing this only so that he could simply watch its permutations from far away, watch its ceaseless changes like something happening on a stage. What divine purpose would there be in all these changes unless they were serving subjects who would accept something divine more intimately, who would see and sense it? Since Divinity has inexhaustible splendor, would it simply keep it all to itself? Could it keep it all to itself? Love wants to share what it has with others, to give to others all that it can. What about divine love, then, which is infinite? Can it first give and then take back? Would this not be giving something that was bound to perish--that was intrinsically nothing, since it would become nothing when it perished? There is no real "is" involved in that. Divinity, though, gives what truly is, or what does not cease to be. This is what is eternal.

[3] To enable us to live forever, what is mortal is taken from us. That mortal part is our material body, which is taken from us by death. This lays bare what is immortal about us, which is our mind, and we then become spirits in human form. Our mind is that kind of spirit.

The sages and wise ones of old saw that our mind could not die. They asked how a spirit or a mind could die when it could be wise. Hardly anyone nowadays knows the ancients' deeper concept of the matter, but it was a concept from heaven that resulted in their general sense that God is wisdom itself, that we share in that wisdom, and that God is immortal or eternal.

[4] There is also something I can say from experience, because I have been allowed to talk with angels. I have talked with some who lived many centuries ago, with some from before the Flood and some from after it, with some from the time of the Lord, with one of his apostles, and with many who lived in subsequent centuries. They all looked like people in the prime of life and told me that the only thing they knew about death was that it was damnation.

When people who have lived good lives get to heaven, they all enter the young adulthood of their earthly lives and keep it forever, even though they had been old and debilitated in the world. Women, even women who had become old and frail in the world, return to the flower of youth and beauty.

[5] We can see from the Word that we live forever after death, in passages where life in heaven is called eternal life. See, for example, Matthew 19:29; Matthew 25:46; Mark 10:17; Luke 10:25; Luke 18:30; John 3:15-16, 36; John 5:24-25, 39; John 6:27, 40, 68; John 12:50. Or it is simply called "life," as in Matthew 18:8-9; John 5:40; John 20:31. The Lord told the disciples, "Because I am alive, you will also live" (John 14:19), and he said of the resurrection that God is God of the living and not God of the dead, and that they could no longer die (Luke 20:36, 38).

[6] (b) Everyone is created to live forever in a blessed state. This is a corollary, since the One who wants us to live forever wants us to live in a blessed state as well. Otherwise, what would eternal life be? Love always wants what is good for others. Parents' love wants what is good for their children; a groom's or husband's love wants what is good for his bride or wife; our love in friendship wants what is good for our friends; so why not divine love? Further, what is goodness if it is not pleasing, and as for divine good, what is it if it is not eternal bliss? We call things good because of the pleasure or blessedness they provide. We do refer to things that we are given or own as "good," but unless they give us pleasure, it is a barren kind of goodness that is not really good at all. We can see, then, that eternal life is eternal blessedness as well.

This state of humanity is the ultimate goal of creation, and the Lord is not to blame if only the people who get to heaven enjoy it. That is our own fault, as we shall shortly see.

[7] (c) This means that everyone is created to go to heaven. This is the ultimate goal of creation. The reason not everyone gets to heaven, though, is that people immerse themselves in pleasures of hell that are contrary to the blessedness of heaven. People who do not enjoy heaven's bliss cannot enter heaven because they cannot stand the place.

When we arrive in the spiritual world, no one is forbidden to come up to heaven, but if we enjoy the pleasures of hell, then as soon as we get to heaven our hearts pound, we struggle for breath, our life starts to ebb away, we are in pain, tortured, and we writhe like snakes next to a flame. This happens because opposites actively oppose each other.

[8] Even so, since we were born human, which provides us with the ability to think and intend and therefore to talk and act, we cannot actually die. Since we are unable to live with others unless their life pleasures are like ours, we are remanded to the company of such people. This means that if we have enjoyed the pleasures of evil, we are sent off to our own kind, as we are if we have enjoyed the pleasures of what is good. In fact, we are all allowed to enjoy the pleasure of our own evil, provided only that we do not make trouble for people who enjoy the pleasure of what is good. However, since evil cannot help but make trouble for the good because of its inherent hatred for everything good, we are sent away to keep us from doing actual harm and sent down to our places in hell, where our pleasure turns into displeasure.

[9] All this does not cancel the fact that by creation and therefore by birth we have the inherent possibility of getting to heaven. All the people who die in early childhood go to heaven. They are raised and taught there the way we are in this world. They absorb wisdom because of their desire for what is good and true, and they become angels. People who are raised and taught in this world could do the same, since what is in little children is also in them. On little children in the spiritual world, see Heaven and Hell 329-345 (published in London in 1758).

[10] The reason it is different for so many people in the world is that they love that first level of life called "earthly." They do not want to let go of it and become spiritual--left to itself, this earthly level of life has no love for anything but ourselves and the world. It stays glued to our physical senses, which take center stage in this world. In contrast, the spiritual level of life has an inherent love for the Lord and heaven and also for ourselves and the world. God and heaven come first, though, as primary and definitive, while our selves and the world come second, as tools or servants.

[11] (d) Divine love cannot do otherwise than intend this and divine wisdom cannot do otherwise than provide for this. In Divine Love and Wisdom, there is ample evidence that the divine essence is divine love and wisdom. I also explained in Divine Love and Wisdom 358-370 of that work that the Lord forms two vessels in every human embryo, one for divine love and one for divine wisdom. The vessel for divine love is for what will be our volition, and the vessel for divine wisdom is for what will be our discernment. This means that each of us has been given the inner ability to intend what is good and to discern what is true.

[12] Since the Lord has put these two human abilities in us at birth, and since the Lord is therefore within us in those abilities as his gifts, we can see that his divine love can intend only that we come into heaven and enjoy eternal blessedness there. We can also see that divine wisdom can provide only that this happen.

However, since the Lord's divine love wants us to feel that heaven's blessedness within us is our own, and since this cannot happen unless we feel absolutely as though we are doing our own thinking and intending, talking and acting, we can be led only in ways that follow the laws of the Lord's divine providence.

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