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

True Christianity #11

True Christianity (Rose translation)

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11. 4. For various reasons, different nations and peoples have had and still have a diversity of opinions on the nature of that one God. The first reason for this is that knowledge about God and therefore acknowledgment of God is not possible without revelation; and knowledge of the Lord and therefore acknowledgment that all the fullness of divinity dwells physically in him is not possible without the Word, which is a garland of revelations. From the revelation they have been given, people are able to meet God, receive an inflow, and thus be made spiritual instead of earthly.

Early revelation spread throughout the whole world, and the earthly self distorted it in many different ways, giving rise to divergences, disagreements, heresies, and schisms among religions.

The second reason [for the diversity of opinions on God] is that the earthly self cannot comprehend anything about God; it can comprehend only the world, and conform it to itself. This is why it is among the axioms of the Christian church that the earthly self is against the spiritual self, and that they battle each other. People then have come to acknowledge from the Word [or] from some other revelation that there is a God, and yet in both the past and the present they have had a diversity of opinions on the nature and the oneness of God.

[2] Therefore people whose mental sight was dependent on their physical senses and who nevertheless wished to see God made idols for themselves out of gold, silver, stone, and wood. They intended to adore God in those forms as objects of sight. Others with the same desires but with religious principles that forbade idols pictured the sun and moon, the stars, and various things on earth as images of God. Those who believed themselves to be wiser than most but who remained earthly were led by the immensity and omnipresence God displayed in creating the world to acknowledge nature as God, in some cases in its innermost, in others in its outermost aspects. And some who wished to see God as separate from nature thought up some thing that was as all-encompassing as possible and that they called the Entity of All; but because they know nothing more of God than this, this "Entity of All" turns out to be an entity of their minds alone, utterly without any real meaning.

[3] As anyone can see, concepts of God are mirrors of God, and people who know nothing about God do not see God in a mirror facing their eyes, but in a mirror that is facing the wrong way, the back of which is covered with quicksilver or some black, sticky substance that absorbs rather than reflects the light.

Faith in God enters us on a pathway that comes down from above, from the soul into the higher reaches of the intellect. Concepts of God enter us on a pathway that comes up from below, because the intellect takes them in from the revealed Word through our bodily senses. In mid-intellect the different inflows come together. There an earthly faith, which is mere belief, becomes a spiritual faith, which is actual acknowledgment. The human intellect, then, is a kind of trading floor on which exchanges occur.

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