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 #328

Study this Passage

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328. These items need now to be presented in their sequence.

(a) Every religion eventually wanes and comes to completion. There have been several churches on our planet, one after the other, since wherever the human race exists there is a church. As already noted, heaven, which is the ultimate goal of creation, comes from the human race, and no one can get to heaven without the two universal principles of the church, belief in God and leading a good life (see 326 above). It follows that there have been churches on our planet from the earliest times all the way to the present day.

These churches are described in the Word, though only for the Israelite and Jewish church are we given historical accounts. There were several churches before them, but these are described only by the names of some people and nations and a few facts about them.

[2] The earliest church, the very first, is described by Adam and his wife Eve. The next church, called the early church, is described by Noah, his three sons, and their descendants. This was extensive, and spread through most of the nations of the Near East: the land of Canaan on both sides of the Jordan; Syria; Assyria and Chaldea; Mesopotamia; Egypt; Arabia; and Tyre and Sidon. They had an early Word that is discussed in Teachings for the New Jerusalem on Sacred Scripture 101-103. The existence of the church in these kingdoms is witnessed by various statements about them in the prophetical books of the Word.

This church changed significantly with Eber, though, who marks the beginning of the Hebrew church. This was the point at which sacrificial worship was established. From the Hebrew church, the Israelite and Jewish church was born, formally established for the sake of the Word that would be authored in it.

[3] These four churches are meant by the statue that Nebuchadnezzar saw in his dream, with its head of pure gold, its chest and arms of silver, its belly and thighs of brass, and its legs and feet of iron and clay (see Daniel 2:32-33). This is exactly what is meant by the Golden, Silver, Bronze, and Iron Ages mentioned by ancient authors. It is well known that the Christian church followed after the Jewish church.

We can also see from the Word that each of these churches declined to its close, called a "consummation," with the passage of time. The consummation of the earliest church, brought about by eating from the tree of knowledge (meaning pride in our own intelligence) is described by the Flood [Genesis 3:6; ].

[4] The consummation of the early church is described by the destruction of the nations mentioned in the historical and prophetic books of the Word, and especially by the Israelites' expulsion of the inhabitants of the land of Canaan. The consummation of the Israelite and Jewish church is meant by the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem, by the carrying off of the people of Israel into permanent captivity and of the nation of Judah into Babylon, and ultimately by the second destruction of the temple and Jerusalem and the scattering of the people. This consummation is foretold in many passages in the prophets, and in Daniel 9:24-27.

The Lord describes the eventual total destruction of the Christian church in Matthew 24 Mark 13 and Luke 21 but the consummation itself is found in the Book of Revelation.

This shows that with the passage of time the church wanes and reaches its consummation, as does its religion as well.

[5] (b) Every religion wanes and comes to completion by inverting the image of God within us. We know that we were created in the image of God and after the likeness of God (Genesis 1:26), but what is this image and what is this likeness of God? Only God is love and wisdom. We are created to be recipients of both, so that our volition may be a recipient of divine love and our discernment a recipient of divine wisdom.

I have already explained [324] that we have these two recipient vessels in us from birth, that they are what make us human, and that they are formed within us in the womb. Our being images of God is our being open to divine wisdom, and our being likenesses of God is our being open to divine love. This means that the vessel we call "discernment" is the image of God and the vessel we call "volition" is the likeness of God. This then means that since we have been created and formed to be vessels, it follows that we have been created and formed to have our volition accept love from God and our discernment accept wisdom from God. We do in fact accept them when we believe in God and live by his commandments. We do this to a lesser or greater extent, though, depending on what we know about God and his commandments from our religion. Specifically, our acceptance depends on what truths we know, since truths are what tell us what God is and how we are to acknowledge him, what his commandments are and how we are to live by them.

[6] God's image and likeness in us have not been actually destroyed, but they have been virtually destroyed. They are still there, innate within those two abilities called freedom and rationality that I have already said so much about. They become virtually destroyed when we make the vessel of divine love--our volition--a vessel for self-love and make the vessel of divine wisdom--our discernment--a vessel for our own intelligence. By so doing we invert the image and likeness of God. We turn the vessels away from God and toward ourselves. This is why they are closed on top and open on the bottom, or closed in front and open behind, even though they were created open in front and closed behind. Once they are opened and closed in this inverted fashion, then the vessel of love, our volition, is open to an inflow from hell or from our own sense of self-importance, as is the vessel of wisdom, our discernment. This has led to the birth in our churches of the worship of particular people in place of the worship of God, and a worship based on teachings of falsity rather than on teachings of truth, the latter from our own intelligence and the former from our love for ourselves.

We can see from this that in the course of time a religion will wane and come to its conclusion by inverting the image of God within us.

[7] (c) This happens because of the constant increase of hereditary evil from generation to generation. I have already stated and explained [277] that we do not inherit evil from Adam and his wife Eve because they ate from the tree of knowledge; instead evil is gradually handed down and transplanted from parents to children, and so by constant increase gets worse with each generation. When this cumulative evil becomes strong enough among the majority, it spreads evil to even more people by its own momentum, since in every evil there is a compulsion to mislead, in some cases blazing with a rage against everything good, and so there is a consequent infectious evil. When this gets control of the leaders, managers, and chief representatives in the church, its religion is corrupted. Its means of healing, its truths, become defiled by distortions. This leads to an ongoing destruction of what is good and an abandonment of truth in the church until finally it is brought to its close.

[8] (d) The Lord still provides that everyone can be saved. The Lord provides that there will be some religion everywhere, and that in every religion there will be the two elements essential to salvation: belief in God, and not doing evil because it is against God. The other matters of intellect and thought, what we call the elements of faith, are offered to different people according to the way they live, since they are optional elements as far as living is concerned. If they are put first, we still do not receive life until we live them.

The Lord also provides that everyone who has led a good life and has believed in God will be taught by angels after death. Then people who have been devoted to the two essential principles of religion in the world accept the truths of the church as they are presented in the Word and recognize the Lord as God of heaven and of the church. They accept this more readily than Christians who have brought with them from the world a concept of the Lord's human nature as separated from his divine nature. The Lord has also provided that all the people who die in early childhood are saved, no matter where they were born.

[9] We are all given the means of amending our lives after death, if we can. The Lord teaches and leads us through angels, and since by then we know that we are living after death and that heaven and hell are real, we accept truths at first. However, if we have not believed in God and abstained from evils as sins in the world, before long we develop a distaste for truths and back away. If we have professed these principles orally but not at heart, we are like the foolish young women who had lamps but no oil. They begged others for oil and went off to buy some, but still they were not admitted to the wedding [Matthew 25:1-13]. The lamps mean the truths that our faith discloses and the oil means the good effects of our caring.

This shows that under divine providence everyone can be saved, and that it is our own fault if we are not saved.

[10] (e) He also provides that a new church will take the place of the one that has been razed. This has been going on from the earliest times: once a church has been razed, a new one succeeds the former one. The early church followed the earliest church, the Israelite or Jewish church followed the early one, and after that came the Christian church. After it there is going to be still another new church, the one foretold in the Book of Revelation. That is the meaning of the New Jerusalem coming down from heaven [Revelation 21:2, 10].

For the reason the Lord provides a new church to take the place of an earlier one that has been razed, see Teachings for the New Jerusalem on Sacred Scripture 104-113.

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