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

The Last Judgment #25

Last Judgment (Chadwick translation)

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25. After his life in the world everyone lives for ever. This is evident from the fact that he is then no longer natural but spiritual; and a spiritual person once separated from the natural stays in the same state for ever, since a person's state cannot change after death. Moreover every person's spiritual side is linked with the Divine, since it can think about and also love the Divine, and be acted upon by all the influences coming from the Divine, much as the church teaches. The spiritual side can as a result be linked to the Divine by willing and thinking, the two faculties of the spiritual man which make up his life. Thus a link can be made with the Divine which can never die, for the Divine is present with him and links him to Itself.

(References: Heaven and Hell 7-12, 57, 59-66, 73-77, 78-86)


[2] Man has also been created so as mentally to be a model of heaven. The form of heaven derives from the Divine itself, as was shown in HEAVEN AND HELL (The Lord's Divine makes and forms heaven, 7-12, 78-86); man was created so as to be a model of heaven on the smallest scale (57); heaven taken all together resembles a single human being (59-66). Hence an angel has a perfect human form (73-77). An angel is a human being in his spiritual aspect.

[3] I have had a number of conversations with angels on this subject. They were extremely surprised that there are very many among those reputed intelligent in the Christian world, and believed to be intelligent by other people, who have totally rejected any idea that their life is not subject to death, but believe that the soul of a human being is dispersed after death like that of an animal. They fail to perceive the difference in the way human beings and animals live. Human beings have thoughts that can rise above themselves, and they can think about God, heaven, love, faith, spiritual and moral good, truths and such matters, thus rising to the Divine itself, and being linked to Him by all these means. Animals, however, cannot rise above their natural level so as to entertain such thoughts. As a result their spiritual side cannot be separated from their natural after death,fff1 and live on by itself as a human being's can. That too is the reason why an animal's life 2 is dispersed together with its natural life.

[4] The angels said that the reason why many so-called intelligent people in the Christian world do not believe their life is immortal is that at heart they deny the existence of the Divine and acknowledge Nature in His place. Those who think from such premises cannot imagine how they can live for ever by being linked with the Divine, and consequently that the condition of human beings is any different from that of animals; for when they banish the idea of the Divine from their thoughts, they also banish that of eternity.

[5] They went on to say that every individual has a highest or most inward degree of life, something highest and inmost on which the Lord's Divinity primarily and most closely acts, and from which He controls the remaining interiors belonging to the spiritual and natural man and arranged in ordered sequence in them. They called this highest or most inward part the Lord's entrance into man and His truest abode with man. It is this highest or most inward part which gives man his humanity and sets him apart from dumb animals, which lack it. This is why men can, unlike animals, have their interiors, which belong to their minds and characters, raised by the Lord to Himself. Thus they can believe in Him, feel love for Him, and receive intelligence and wisdom and speak rationally.

[6] When asked whether those who deny the existence of the Divine and the Divine truths which link a person's life with the Divine Himself none the less live on for ever, they said that these had the ability to think and will, and thus to believe and love what proceeds from the Divine equally with those who acknowledge Him; and that this ability to think and will enables them equally to live for ever. They added that this ability results from that highest or most inward part everyone possesses which was mentioned just above. I have demonstrated at length that even those in hell have this ability, which enables them to reason and speak against Divine truths. This is why every person, irrespective of what sort of person he is, lives for ever.

[7] Because after death everyone lives for ever, no angel or spirit can think about death; in fact, they do not know what it is to die. Whenever therefore death is mentioned in the Word, the angels understand it as damnation, which is death in the spiritual sense, or the continuation of life and resurrection. 3 These remarks are intended as confirmation that all people who have ever been born from the beginning of creation, and have died, are alive, some in heaven and some in hell.

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Footnotes:

1. The spiritual world exercises an influence on the life of animals too, but this is generalised, not a specific one as in the case of human beings ( 1633, 3646). The difference between human beings and animals is that human beings can be raised above their own level to the Lord, so as to think about and love the Divine, and thus be linked with the Lord, which confers everlasting life. Animals differ in not being able to be so raised up (4525, 6323, 9231).

2. [Perhaps we should read 'soul' for 'life' here.]

3. When death is mentioned in the Word, it is understood in heaven as meaning the damnation of the wicked; this is spiritual death and also hell ( 5407, 6119, 9008). Those who possess different kinds of good and truth are called alive, those who possess different kinds of evil and falsity are called dead (81, 290, 7494). When good people are dying, death is understood in heaven as resurrection and the continuation of life, since a person then rises again, continues his life and enters upon everlasting life (3498, 3505, 4618, 4621, 6036, 6222).

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