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:

1Divine Love and Wisdom 4, 15, 16, 23, 301, Divine Providence 46, True Christian Religion 11, 19.

2Divine Love and Wisdom 4, 29, 30,Apocalypse Explained 297, Heaven and Hell 13, 545.

3Divine Love and Wisdom 31, 32, 57, 59, 84, 169-171, 329, 330, Divine Providence 3, 27.

4Divine Love and Wisdom 65, 179, 180, 213, 230, 363.

5Divine Love and Wisdom 44, 45, 55.

6Divine Love and Wisdom 42, 43, 52, 154, Divine Providence 3, 5.

7Divine Providence 27, 71, 72, 75, 129, True Christian Religion 459, 490.

8Divine Providence 145, 322, 324, 325, 328, Apocalypse Explained 986, Heaven and Hell 522, True Christian Religion 457.

9Divine Providence 67, 322, 333, 334, Heaven and Hell 312, 319, 324.

10Apocalypse Explained 986, Heaven and Hell 479, 481, 525, 598. The True Christian Religion 795.

11Arcana 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

True Christian Religion #11

True Christian Religion (Chadwick translation)

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11. (iv) THERE ARE MANY REASONS WHY NATIONS AND PEOPLES HAVE FORMED VARYING IDEAS OF THE NATURE OF THAT ONE GOD, AND CONTINUE TO DO SO.

The first reason is that knowledge about God, and consequently acknowledgment of God, is impossible without revelation, and that knowledge about the Lord and consequently the acknowledgment that 'in Him all the fulness of the Godhead dwells bodily' can only come from the Word, which is the crown of revelations. Because revelation has been granted, a person is able to go to meet God and be acted upon by Him, and so from being natural become spiritual. The revelation of early ages spread throughout the world, and was perverted by natural men in many ways. This is the origin of the divisions, dissensions, heresies and schisms which have affected religions.

The second reason is that a natural man cannot form and apply to himself any perception of God, but only of the world. This is why it is one of the principles of the Christian Church that the natural man is opposed to the spiritual and they fight each other. This too is why those who have learned the existence of God from the Word [or] another revelation have differed and still do concerning the nature of God and His oneness.

[2] For this reason those whose mental vision has been dependent upon the bodily senses, and have none the less wished to see God, have made for themselves images of gold, silver, stone and wood, so that in these forms as visible objects they could worship God. This is why also others whose religion led them to reject such images, made themselves images of God out of the sun, the moon and the stars and various terrestrial objects. But those who thought their intelligence above the common herd, yet remained natural men, were led by the immensity of God and His omnipresence in creating the world to acknowledge nature as God, in some cases in its inmost, in others in its outermost forms. Some, in order to maintain a distinction between God and nature, thought up some extremely universal principle, which they called 'the Being of the Universe'; and because they know nothing more about God, this Being becomes for them a mere concept, which is meaningless.

[3] Is there anyone who cannot grasp that things known about God are mirrors held up to God? Those who know nothing of God see Him not in a mirror held up to their eyes, but in a mirror turned back to front, which is covered with quicksilver or a black composition that does not reflect an image but blots it out. Belief in God comes into man by the front door, that is, from the soul into the higher regions of the understanding. But knowledge about God comes in by the back door, because it is absorbed by the understanding from the revelation of the Word by means of the bodily senses. The two paths leading in meet in the midst of the understanding; there, natural belief, which is merely a strongly held opinion, becomes spiritual, that is to say, a real acknowledgment. So the human understanding is like an exchange where currencies are changed.

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


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