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


Heaven and Hell #481

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481. We come into heaven if our love is heavenly and spiritual and into hell if our love is carnal and worldly without any heavenly and spiritual dimension. My evidence for this conclusion is all the people I have seen raised into heaven and cast into hell. The ones who were raised into heaven had lives of heavenly and spiritual love, while the ones who were cast into hell had lives of carnal and worldly love. Heavenly love is loving what is good, honest, and fair because it is good, honest, and fair, and doing it because of that love. This is why they have a life of goodness, honesty, and fairness, which is a heavenly life. If we love these things for their own sakes and do or live them, we are also loving the Lord above all because they come from him. We are also loving our neighbor, because these things are our neighbor who is to be loved. 1 Carnal love, though, is loving what is good and honest and fair not for their own sakes but for our own sake, because we can use them to gain prestige, position, and profit. In this case we are not focusing on the Lord and our neighbor within what is good and honest and fair but on ourselves and the world, and we enjoy deceit. When the motive is deceit, then whatever is good and honest and fair is actually evil and dishonest and unfair. This is what we love within [the outward appearance].

[2] Since these loves define our lives, we are all examined as to our quality immediately after death, when we arrive in the world of spirits, and we are put in touch with people of like love. If we are focused on heavenly love, we are put in touch with people in heaven; and if we are focused on carnal love, we are put in touch with people in hell. Further, once the first and second states have been completed the two kinds of people are separated so that they no longer see or recognize each other. We actually become our own love not only as to the deeper levels of our minds but outwardly as well, in face, body, and speech, since we become images of our love even in outward things. People who are carnal loves look coarse, dim, dark, and misshapen; while people who are heavenly loves look lively, clear, bright, and lovely. They are completely different in spirit and in thought as well. People who are heavenly loves are intelligent and wise, while people who are carnal loves are dense and rather silly.

[3] When leave is given to examine the inner and outer aspects of the thoughts and affections of people engaged in heavenly love, the inner reaches look as though they were made of light, in some cases like the light of a flame; and their outer manifestations are of various lovely colors, like a rainbow. In contrast, the inner reaches of people who are engaged in carnal love look gloomy because they are closed in, in some cases like a smoky fire for people who were inwardly maliciously deceptive. Their outer manifestations have an ugly color, depressing to look at (both the inner and outer aspects of the mind and spirit are presented visually in the spiritual world whenever it so pleases the Lord).

[4] People who are engaged in carnal love do not see anything in heaven's light. Heaven's light is darkness to them, while hell's light, which is like the light of glowing embers, is like daylight to them. In fact, in heaven's light their inner sight is deprived of light to the point that they become insane. As a result, they run away from it and hide in caves and caverns of a depth that corresponds to the false convictions that stem from their evil intentions. Exactly the reverse is true for people who are engaged in heavenly love, though. The deeper or higher they enter into heavenly light, the more clearly they see everything and the lovelier it all looks, and the more intelligently and wisely they grasp what is true.

[5] There is no way that people who are engaged in carnal love can live in heaven's warmth, because heaven's warmth is heavenly love. They can live in hell's warmth, though, which is a love of cruelty toward people who do not support them. The pleasures of this love are contempt for others, hostility, hatred, and vengefulness. When they are absorbed in these they are in their very life, with no knowledge whatever of what it means to do good for others out of sheer goodness and for the sake of the good itself. All they know is how to do good out of malice and for the sake of malice.

[6] People who are engaged in carnal love cannot breathe in heaven either. When evil spirits are taken there, they draw breath like someone who is struggling painfully. On the other hand, people who are engaged in heavenly love breathe more freely and feel more alive the deeper into heaven they come.

We may gather from this that a heavenly and spiritual love is heaven for us because everything heavenly is written on that love; and that carnal and worldly love apart from heavenly and spiritual love is hell for us because everything hellish is written on that love.

We can see, then, that people come into heaven who have a heavenly and spiritual love, and people come into hell who have a carnal and worldly love without a heavenly and spiritual one.


1. In the highest sense, the Lord is our neighbor because he is to be loved above all; however, loving the Lord is loving what comes from him because he is in everything that comes from him, so [our neighbor is] whatever is good and true: Arcana Coelestia 2425, 3419, 6706, 6711, 6819, 6823, 8123. Loving what is good and true, which come from him, is living by them, and this is loving the Lord: 10143, 10153, 10310, 10336, 10578, 10648. Every individual and community, our country and church, and in the broadest sense the Lord's kingdom, is our neighbor; and loving our neighbor is helping them from a love for their good in keeping with their state. This means that their welfare, which we are to value, is the neighbor: 6818-6824, 8123. Moral good, or what is honest, and civic good, or what is fair, are our neighbor as well; and acting honestly and fairly out of a love for what is honest and fair is loving the neighbor: 2915, 4730, 8120-8123. Consequently, thoughtfulness toward our neighbor includes all aspects of our lives, and doing what is good and fair, and acting honestly from the heart in every position we hold and in everything we do, is loving our neighbor: 2417, 8121, 8124. The doctrine of the early church was a doctrine of charity, and this was the source of their wisdom: 2417, 2385, 3419-3420, 4844, 6628.

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