For a video reading of this article on YouTube, click here.
The Lord God Jesus Christ
You’ve probably heard a lot about God, Jesus, the Holy Spirit—maybe just enough to make you say, “Forget it! I can’t understand this stuff!”
But the basics about God are easy to understand. We humans are created in the image of God (Genesis 1:26–27). If we look at how we are made, and we realize that the Bible uses symbolic language, we can understand what God is like.
- “The Father” mentioned in the Bible is like our soul.
- “The Son” is like our body.
- “The Holy Spirit” is like everything we say and do.
Here’s another way of looking at it:
- At our core is love. That’s because God is love (1 John 4:8, 16). When the Bible mentions “the Father,” it is talking about God’s love.
- We express our love through intellect or wisdom. In the Bible, the light of God’s wisdom is called “the Son” (see John 1:1–14).
- We express our love and understanding through the things we say and do. In the Bible, God’s words and actions are called “the Holy Spirit.”
One human being is made of many different parts. In exactly the same way, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are three different parts of one God.
The Creator God
If God created this vast and incredibly intricate universe, then God must be mind-blowing. God must go beyond the entire universe and everything in it. God must go beyond the ability of our small and limited human minds to grasp.
Yet there are things we can know about God. It’s like looking at a photograph. A flat picture doesn’t do full justice to the scene it portrays, but it does give us some idea of what it’s like. There are ways to express the infinite, omni-dimensional nature of God in “flat,” picture-like concepts.
God is One
Here’s the first: For the universe to be a unified whole, it must come from the mind of a single Creator. If there were multiple gods, each with different plans and ideas, the universe would be disjointed rather than unified. Creation by committee? I don’t think so!
The oneness of God is the very first topic that scientist, philosopher, and theologian Emanuel Swedenborg (1688–1772) takes up in True Christianity, his massive final work on theology. Swedenborg rejects the traditional, non-Biblical teaching that the Trinity of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are three distinct persons of God. (See the article, “Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.”) Instead, Swedenborg saw these as names the Bible uses for three different parts of one God.
This agrees with what the Old and New Testaments teach. To quote just two of many examples, Deuteronomy 6:4 says, “The Lord our God is one Lord”; and in John 10:30 Jesus says, “I and the Father are one.”
God is Love, Wisdom, and Action
There are many different elements to the oneness of God. Just as each of us is one person made of many parts, God is one divine being made of infinite parts. For now, let’s look at the three most basic parts of God.
- LOVE. It is the substance of God. Behind everything God says and does, there is love. When the Bible talks about “the Father,” it is talking about God’s love.
- WISDOM. It is the form of God. It gives shape and structure to the love that is the substance of God. When the Bible talks about “the Son,” it is talking about God’s wisdom.
- ACTION. It is everything God says and does, all of which comes from the substance of love through the form of wisdom. When the Bible talks about “the Holy Spirit,” it is talking about God’s words and actions.
Because the God that created the universe is love, wisdom, and action, everything in the universe also embodies love, wisdom, and action. So it’s easy to come up with examples to help us understand how these three parts of God work.
Name some object—say, a chair.
- What is the chair made of? Wood? Metal? That is the substance of the chair, which is the “love” part.
- What is its shape? It has four legs, a seat, and a back. That is the form of the chair, which is the “wisdom” part.
- What does the chair do? It provides seating. A chair is passive, so we talk about its “function” rather than its “action.” But providing seating is still what the chair does, so that’s the “action” part.
There you have it: love, wisdom, and action in a chair! Physical examples like this can help our earth-focused minds understand how the love, wisdom, and action in God work.
Jesus as God
Let’s move on to beliefs that are specifically Christian.
The Christianity contained in Swedenborg’s writings is very different from the traditional Christianity that existed in Swedenborg’s day—and from the popular, conservative Christianity that gets much of the press coverage today.
Popular Christianity says that God the Father is angry at all people because of the sin of Adam, and has sentenced us all to eternal death. It says that God the Son died instead of us to appease God’s wrath and satisfy God’s justice. (See the article, “Did Jesus Really Die to Pay the Penalty for our Sins?!?”) At its most conservative, this type of Christianity condemns everyone who doesn’t believe in Jesus—which is most of the world’s population—to spend an eternity being tortured in hell.
Jesus Christ: A Different Perspective
Swedenborg rejects every aspect of those traditionally “Christian” doctrines. He says they are pure fictions based on the fundamentally false belief in a Trinity made of three different persons in God—a belief that the Bible does not teach.
Swedenborg says that the Trinity is contained in one person of God, similar to the “trinity” in a human being of soul, body, and actions. The Father is like the soul of God, the Son is like the body of God, and the Holy Spirit is all the words and actions that go out from God. Another way of looking at it is that the Father is divine love, the Son is divine truth, and the Holy Spirit is divine action.
Then who is Jesus Christ?
Jesus was not some second divine Person born from eternity. Jesus was the one God born on earth in a human form.
How did this happen?
On this question, Swedenborg follows the two accounts of Jesus’ birth, given in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke. Jesus had a human mother (Mary), but his father was God. (See Matthew 1:18–25; Luke 1:26–38.) When Jesus was born, he had a dual nature: an infinite divine nature and a finite human nature.
During the course of Jesus’ life, he gradually set aside everything of the finite human nature he had received from Mary, and replaced it with the infinite divine nature of God.
An image that helps to grasp this is the process of petrifaction of wood. When wood is petrified, the imprint of the wood’s original structure remains, but there is no wood left; it is all stone. God retained the experience of living out a human life on this earth. But by the time Jesus rose from death and ascended to heaven, his human side had become fully divine. He no longer had the dual nature of a finite human side and an infinite divine side. God was one, with a divine soul (“the Father”), a divine body (“the Son”), and a divine influence (“the Holy Spirit”) that went out to everything in the universe.
Swedenborg uses the phrase “divine humanity” to describe this God who is both divine and human at the same time. Because of this divine humanity we can see God not only as far above us, but also as right here beside us. In other words, we can now have a personal relationship with God in Jesus Christ.
Jesus Christ is God coming to us personally to save us and bridge the gap between us and God (see John 14:6). God did this out of infinite divine love for every human being, past, present, and future. “God so loved the world . . .” (John 3:16).
What is Redemption?
Much of traditional Christianity says that Jesus Christ redeemed us by dying on the cross, which satisfied God’s honor, or justice, or wrath against humans for our sin. In Protestantism, this is believed to happen by Christ taking on himself the penalty of death that we each deserve because of Adam’s sin. We gain salvation by accepting what Jesus Christ did for us as our Savior.
Swedenborg offers a very different view of redemption and salvation based on Jesus Christ’s complete victory over the power of evil. This view of redemption takes in the whole sweep of human spiritual history. The salvation Jesus Christ provided through his life, death, and resurrection extends to all people on earth, not just to Christians.
The Long and Winding Fall
To understand this view of salvation, we must move beyond the usual literal interpretation of the Bible. Seen from a deeper perspective, the Bible narrative uses earthly events to tell the spiritual story of humankind. When we were first created, God pronounced us “very good” (Genesis 1:31), and symbolically placed us in a primeval garden where we lived together with God in spirit.
Yet we soon turned away from God, trusting our own senses and our own ideas instead of listening to God. This rejection of God started a long spiritual decline. By the time the Old Testament story reached its final chapters, humanity had become almost entirely corrupted by a lust for wealth, power, and pleasure. There was very little of God and spirit left among us.
Meanwhile, the vast number of selfish, greedy, and just plain unspiritual people entering the spiritual world from earth was choking off the flow of love and wisdom from God through heaven to people on earth. This threatened to permanently snuff out our spiritual life.
God had sent many priests and prophets in an attempt to turn us around. Each time, it helped temporarily. But more and more, we just ignored God’s messengers.
When human history hit its all-time low, God saw that there was only one way to reverse the spiritual decline and save the human race from spiritual destruction and death. God had to come to earth in person, conquer the forces of evil that were engulfing the world, bring the spiritual world back into order, and reopen the channels for love and truth to reach people on earth.
This is precisely what Jesus was doing during his thirty-three years on earth.
The Inner Life of Jesus
The Gospels focus on Jesus’ words and actions. However, we do get a few brief glimpses of his inner struggles (traditionally called “temptations”). After he was baptized, Jesus spent forty days and nights in the desert, where he was tempted by the devil (Matthew 4:1–11). And Jesus went through an agony of temptation as he approached his death (Luke 22:39–46).
Swedenborg tells us that these inner struggles were going on throughout Jesus’ life. In fact, according to Swedenborg, the Devil (which is really just another name for hell—not some cosmic monster) brought to bear on Jesus the entire force of all the combined evil of the universe. Through the course of his life Jesus faced and overcame that massive force of evil, bringing it under his personal control. This is why he said to his disciples just before he was crucified, “Take courage! I have conquered the world” (John 16:33), and after his resurrection, “All power is given to me in heaven and on earth” (Matthew 28:18).
By coming to earth as Jesus Christ, God overcame the evil that was overwhelming all people on earth, and brought the spiritual world back into proper order and balance. Now, no matter how much we humans may try to thwart God’s plans, God keeps us in a balance between good and evil. This gives us spiritual freedom of choice, whatever our physical circumstances may be.
The redemption that Jesus accomplished was not just for Christians. It was universal. It saved everyone on earth who is willing to make choices for good rather than evil. From this perspective, Jesus Christ is the God and Savior of everyone on earth, no matter what name we may use in addressing God. By becoming human and bringing the forces of spiritual evil under control, God made this kind of personal salvation possible for everyone, everywhere.
Every person on earth who believes in God and lives a life of love and service to others is believing in Jesus Christ by believing in what he taught. And God has a place in heaven, not for people who merely say his name, but for people who live according to his teachings (Matthew 7:21–27).
Putting it All Together
There is one God. God came to earth as Jesus Christ. Therefore God is both divine and human, and is both the Creator of the universe and the Savior of all people who choose to accept what is good and true from God and express it in their lives.
God is pure love, represented in the Bible as the Father, formed by pure wisdom, represented in the Bible as the Son, going out in pure creative and saving action, represented in the Bible as the Holy Spirit.
This article is © 2012 by Lee Woofenden
For a video reading of this article on YouTube, click here.
For further reading:
- The Logic of Love: Why God became Jesus
- Father, Son, and Holy Spirit
- What is the Biblical basis for disbelief in the doctrine of the Trinity?
- If Jesus was God, How was God Still in Heaven?
- Did Jesus Really Die to Pay the Penalty for our Sins?!?
- How does Jesus Appear to Us? Can We See God Face to Face?
- If there’s One God, Why All the Different Religions?
- If God is Love, Why all the Pain and Suffering?