Who is God? Who is Jesus Christ? What about that Holy Spirit?

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.

How easy?

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:

About

Lee Woofenden is an ordained minister, writer, editor, translator, and teacher. He enjoys taking spiritual insights from the Bible and the writings of Emanuel Swedenborg and putting them into plain English as guides for everyday life.

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52 comments on “Who is God? Who is Jesus Christ? What about that Holy Spirit?
  1. Steven says:

    You have only identified one of four cardinal attributes of Jehovah. What about power, wisdom and justice?

    And how do three separate parts be equal to each other and yet not be equal?

    • leewoof says:

      Hi Steven,

      Thanks for your comment and questions.

      If you read the full article, you’ll see a heading that says “God is Love, Wisdom, and Action.” Action is God’s power expressing itself, so we could also say “God is Love, Wisdom, and Power.”

      Justice involves a balanced expression of love and wisdom in all of God’s actions, so it embodies all three of the other attributes: love, wisdom, and power.

      Just out of curiosity, where did the idea of four cardinal attributes of Jehovah come from?

      About “parts,” these parts are not separate. They aren’t so much literal parts, like head, torso, and limbs, as they are philosophical or spiritual parts. In other words, they are aspects or attributes of a single God.

      Please read the full article, and if it’s still not clear, feel free to try again on your question.

      Thank you!

      –Lee

  2. Doug Webber says:

    Well that’s interesting Lee, the trinity of the chair? Never thought of that one. The analogy I like is that of the physical Sun itself (substance, or love), the light of the Sun (wisdom or truth) and the heat we feel from the Sun (the activity of the spirit). We see that symbolic analogy in scripture when it references fire (love) and light (truth). In ancient times, they knew of the Sun in heaven, and the physical Sun was a symbol of that, and this later degenerated into Sun and star worship. I think Aquinas came close to the answer when he spoke of the trinity as the emanation of the Divine, which was his explanation for why Father, Son and Holy Spirit always appear in that order, as prior and posterior, or end, cause and effect.

    • Lee says:

      As long as our thinking doesn’t go over into modalism, these illustrations can work. I would say, though, that the Holy Spirit involves the activity and effect both of the love and of the truth. The love side tends to be obscured both in the Son and in the Holy Spirit because these are truth-based images. However, love is contained within the truth, and flows out as the Holy Spirit just as truth does. So in terms of the light that we see and the heat that we feel from the sun, I would include both of these in the Holy Spirit, even if the light is more immediately perceptible and obvious.

      Thinking of them as prior and posterior, and as end, cause, and effect does help to keep us away from thinking that Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are different “modes” of God as we perceive God. We never see the Father, only the Son–and gain some sense of the Father through the Son. The Holy Spirit is how the relationship with God flows into us and affects our lives.

  3. idiotwriter says:

    As I mentioned on a different article – finding interesting reading here.
    Questions springing to mind if I may ask.
    But before I ask I will say that a lot of what you write I am liking BUT – to be sure in my heart of a few things I ask these things from you –
    * Does it not say in the Bible – (and I am not going to try quote it exactly here) ‘No one can come to the father if not through the son'< And 'If you deny me before man I will deny you before my father' Could you put this into context with what you are conveying on your site? I have an idea – but I would rather hear it from your perspective.
    *Does it not speak of the coming of Christ BEFORE he arrives – many times LONG before it occurs – actually the idea I get is that God had preordained this to occur and not that he saw things kinda going squiff so decided to come down and sort it out himself because his prophets were messing up?
    Just some thoughts –
    Yet your concept of God revealing himself to different cultures in different ways is something that is becoming more and more relevant to my journey…yet something that has always weighed heavy on my mind yet I pushed it aside for a while till I believe God felt me ready to approach it in my 'understanding' – different levels of understanding perhaps?

    I get frustrated with the hatred and the ignorance and judgement that takes place – and as you mentioned to another person in – it is the conundrum of tolerating intolerance… the eternal rock and a hard place 😉

    • Lee says:

      Hi idiotwriter,

      Thanks for your good and thoughtful questions. These are issues that I hope to take up in full blog posts some time in the future. However, I’ll offer some briefer responses now just so that you don’t have to wait so long! 🙂

      About your first question, here are the relevant quotes:

      1. “Jesus said to him, ‘I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.'” (John 14:6)

      and:

      2. “Everyone therefore who acknowledges me before others, I also will acknowledge before my Father in heaven; but whoever denies me before others, I also will deny before my Father in heaven.” (Matthew 10:32-33)

      These sayings have multiple levels of meaning, as does everything in the Bible.

      If we read them simply, I think the best way to understand them is as instructions to Christians:

      1. Christians should pray to the Lord Jesus Christ, not bypass Jesus and pray directly to the Father. Jesus Christ is how the Father approaches us, and we approach the Father. We should not short-circuit that process.

      and:

      2. Christians should acknowledge, not deny, Jesus Christ to others. If we are ashamed of being a follower of Christ, and unwilling to give credit to Christ in front of others, are we truly Christian? (This does not, however, mean that we should bang people over the head with our beliefs!)

      On another level of meaning, these verses have to do with how we are able to have a relationship with God:

      1. We cannot know the infinite being of God (which is “the Father”) directly. Our minds are finite, and too small to directly know or experience the Divine as it is in itself. However, through God’s human presence with us–which can come in the form of angels, of fellow human beings acting in godly ways, and most fully in Jesus Christ–we can in some way approach and have a relationship with the Divine Being of God.

      and:

      2. We must realize and acknowledge that anything good and true that we think, feel, say, or do is not our own, but is God’s in us. If we think that we can be good, loving, understanding, and kind on our own, then we are denying the presence of God within us, and taking credit ourselves for what really comes from God. If we deny that everything good and true in us comes from God, then we are rejecting God.

      I realize that these answers only scratch the surface, and in no way cover all the levels and depths of meaning in these two verses. However, I hope this gives you something to hang onto until, God willing, I am able to write and post something a little fuller.

      • idiotwriter says:

        Thanks very much. I look forward to your post ~ but in the meantime…I have all I need to hand onto 😉 The rest is merely intellectual debate and discussion. I thank you for this place to do as such and your well thought out answers.
        I believe we need to be open and honest – however also very cautious to be sure words are spirit led and not led by fear or pride.
        I would most enjoy if you would take a stroll through my site at some point – perhaps you will gain an understanding of where the questions come from 😀
        If it were the real world I would invite you and your wife over for a cup of tea and chocolate cake to speak of these ideologies you delve into here.
        Again – thank you for your response ( quick at that).

    • Lee says:

      About the Bible speaking of Christ’s coming before he arrives, here are two ways of thinking of it, one from a human perspective, and one from a divine perspective:

      1. From a human perspective, as we humans groaned under the weight of poverty, slavery, oppression, and mounting evil and brutality, we longed for a savior who would liberate us from all that pain and suffering. That longing was expressed in prophesies of a future Messiah as King or Savior who would come and set the world right.

      2. From a divine perspective, there is no limitation of time. God sees all things–past, present, and future–from the eternal present that is God. All things in all places and all times are laid out in front of God like a vast, incredibly detailed map. The Bible often speaks of future things as if they are in the present because God sees them in the present even in what to us was the past. God’s coming to earth as Jesus Christ has always been a present reality for God, even during the times that to us it was merely a hope and a longing for a future Savior.

      This divine perspective is difficult for us time-bound humans to grasp and accept. Our minds rebel against the idea that the future is just as present for God as the past is. However, to the extent that we can realize at least intellectually that, as modern physics tells us, time is a property of physical reality and of physical matter, and therefore does not apply to the higher spiritual and divine levels of reality, then we can begin to get some concept of how the Bible could talk about future realities as if they were in the present.

      In his multi-volume work Secrets of Heaven, Emanuel Swedenborg interprets much of the book of Genesis as a detailed spiritual account of what Jesus Christ went through internally during his lifetime on earth.

      This would make no sense at all if we think of the Bible through our human, time-bound lens. The material in Genesis was written hundreds and thousands of years before Jesus was born!

      However, if we raise our minds closer to the timelessness of God, we can see understand how God could tell the story of God’s life here on earth as Jesus Christ hundreds and thousands of years before those events actually took place. For God, it is all part of the timeless present.

      • idiotwriter says:

        Makes sense ~ Still ~ never stop asking and seeking the truth and understanding. I have ‘theories’ – I waver to extend them into the greater relams of the vastness of the internet – lest I cause someone to stumble. Its the conundrum of spiritual food before one is ready for solids? So it gets difficult to discuss deeper spiritual truths when one is in contact with infants still suckling at the teat for the milk of the spirit. AND YET – we are in an era where ‘revelation’ (NOT REVELATIONS the book) is on the tongue and those who are too blinded by the material realm that man has created will not comprehend nor concur.
        I can not explain how a current flows through a conduit to my four year old…yet my teenager …well SHE can explain it to me. An Age of great spiritual enlightenment is nearing and we are to reach out gently and carefully? To be sure not to be led astray by false ‘doctrine’ /’prophets’ ~
        These are not questions – just thoughts – concurring or not with your view perhaps …that is not up to me to decide but you 😉

        • Lee says:

          Just a bit of “shop talk”:

          I do choose fairly carefully what I will say here on this blog, since I am reaching toward a wider audience than this type of material usually reaches. There are some more technical and more theological topics I’d like to write about some time, but this is not the place for it. I’ve considered starting another blog for more advanced topics, but I’ve got enough to do to keep this one going. And this one is in line with my primary goal of reaching ordinary people with a helpful and practical spiritual message.

          About “putting it out there” in general, I would say that although the Internet does make material available to anyone who cares to read it, there is also an amazing self-sorting mechanism in place. People who are not interested in the material will rarely stumble upon it in the first place, because it doesn’t fit the profile of what they are looking for. People who might be interested in the material but are not in tune with it may find it and take a look, but when they find it is not harmonious with their views, or just makes no sense to them, they’ll simply click away and find something more to their liking.

          Based on this, my view is that if there’s something important to say, even if it may be of interest to only a few, go ahead and say it. Put it in an online location where it fits in with the surrounding material. Those who want and need it will find it, while those for whom it would not be helpful will either never find it or will be gone in a few seconds if they do.

        • idiotwriter says:

          Good thoughts to carry – thank you. One of the first people I can speak consistently honestly about such things – lets face it – not an easy topic to convey sometimes 😉 Yet so simple and beautiful inits essence. Thanks for the encouragement!

  4. Joshua says:

    I may have misread this article but it sounds to me like you are saying that no matter what name another culture calls God as long as they worship Him as God and do good then they will be saved? Is this what you are trying to say? If so how do you know this to be true? How do you know that the God of Islam is the same God of Christianity. I think that I would disagree whole-heartedly and so would they. Not only is the name different but so is the theology. I have taken a ten week class on Islam and it seems to be drastically different than Christianity.

    • Lee says:

      Hi Joshua,

      I’m aware that the more conservative and fundamentalist wings of every major religion, including Islam and Christianity, strongly disagree with this. Even the moderates in the various religions have trouble accepting it. But yes, that is what I am saying.

      There is only one God. No matter what names people use for God or what doctrines they believe in about God, there is still only one God who receives their faith and worship. I believe that that one God is the Lord God Jesus Christ. There is no other God. Others believe differently than I do. But God still stays the same, no matter what we believe about God.

      For more on this, I invite you to read the article:
      If there’s One God, Why All the Different Religions?

  5. Joshua says:

    I agree with you that the Bible does not specifically teach the doctrine of the Trinity but what you said about God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit seems to fit the doctrine of the Trinity to a T. Can you explain how you believe that God, Jesus, and Holy Spirit are one but not the same as the Trinity.

    • Lee says:

      Hi Joshua,

      The traditional Christian concept of the Trinity holds that Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are three distinct Persons, each with different characteristics and roles. This is something the Bible never teaches. It is a human interpretation. Even if it is a very old human interpretation, it still did not appear in any Christian doctrinal statement until several centuries after the last books of the Bible were written.

      What I am saying in this article is that there is only one Person of God, and that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are different parts of that one Person of God similar to our soul, body, and actions, or similar to love, wisdom, and action. This is very different from the traditional Christian doctrine of a Trinity of Persons in God.

      I do not think all Christians must believe in the Trinity as I do. The Bible never clearly spells out the exact relationship between Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The Bible is more concerned with how we live than with what doctrines we believe.

      However, I do think Christians should believe in one God.

      Unfortunately, no matter how many times their lips say “one God,” those who believe in a Trinity of Persons in God are thinking and picturing three gods in their heads. They are thinking of the Father as one being, the Son as another being, and the Holy Spirit as another being. Saying that they share the same essence just adds some vague abstract notion justifying their saying that there is one God when they’re really thinking three. They commonly picture:

      1. the Father as an old man on a throne in heaven, who is angry with humanity due to our sins and requires justice to be served upon us;
      2. the Son as a young man being crucified because he had mercy on humanity and wanted to save us from the Father’s wrath and justice;
      3. and the Holy Spirit usually in more vague terms–but often as a dove because of the way the Holy Spirit appeared at the time of Christ’s baptism–who carries to us the salvation that the Son earned for us through suffering instead of us the Father’s verdict of death for our sins.

      There is really no difference between this and thinking that there are three gods, except that, as the Athanasian Creed says, the Church does not allow us to say that there are three Gods or three Lords. At least the Athanasian Creed is fairly honest in admitting that the doctrine of the Trinity of Persons requires us to think one thing and say another.

      Though there may be other ways to think of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit as truly being one God, and not three gods, I have not found another one that is as satisfying and that harmonizes everything the Bible says about them as well as the one I have described in this article.

      • Derelict says:

        So rather than the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit being three persons of one God, they’re three aspects of him? That’s the way I’ve always understood it, anyway.

        • Lee says:

          Hi Derelict,

          Yes. The Bible says nothing about Father, Son, and Holy Spirit being “persons.” That was a human invention from several centuries after the Bible was written. See: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

        • Derelict says:

          Apparently what we’ve agreed on is considered the heresy of Sabellianism. Although the person who called it that was none other than Tertullian, who you reference in another article as one of the key proponents of the three-persons doctrine.

        • Lee says:

          Hi Derelict,

          Although the doctrine of God taught by Swedenborg is commonly charged with being Sabellian (or modalist) by traditional Christians, that charge is incorrect. For a detailed explanation of exactly why it is a false charge, please see the article: What is the difference between the Swedenborgian and Oneness Pentecostal doctrines of God?

          In fact, the traditional Christian doctrine of God as a Trinity of Persons is much closer to the heresy of modalism than Swedenborg’s doctrine is. The traditional doctrine of the Trinity posits a God who is one in substance, but three in Person. Each “Person” of God is, in essence, a different manifestation of the same underlying substance. That is the essence of modalism, even if it is expressed in a different way.

          The very word “person” used in that doctrine comes from the Latin word persona, whose basic meaning is “a mask.” It refers to the masks that actors used on stage to distinguish one character from another in ancient plays and theatrical productions. Since the essence of Sabellianism, or modalism, is the idea that there is one God who appears in three different ways to us, you can see that using the word “Persons” to define Father, Son, and Holy Spirit is thoroughly modalist in origin and concept.

          In short, the charge that Swedenborg’s doctrine of God is Sabellian is the pot calling the kettle black. (And in this instance, the kettle just happens to be white.)

          God as a Trinity of Persons was first proposed by Tertullian, whose doctrine was ultimately rejected in its original form by the church. However, the church modified Tertullian’s doctrine to come up with the current doctrine of the Trinity of Persons, as first presented in the Nicene Creed, and later defined more clearly in the Athanasian Creed. This Trinitarian doctrine is not stated anywhere in the Bible, and is itself a non-Biblical heresy invented by human beings. That heresy has vitiated and falsified the doctrines of traditional Christianity for nearly 1,700 years now.

          For more on these topics, please see these articles:

          The final article gets at the true force of the nature of God as presented in Scripture, and especially God as manifested in the New Testament as Jesus Christ.

  6. don'twantmynameonline says:

    Hello, I think you give excellent explanations. They are logical. Why would God give us minds and then just want us to accept someone (a pastor, priest, etc) else’s words if they do not make any sense? I believe God does want us to understand and not be confused. Thank you for what you are doing.

  7. Adam says:

    I face ridicule everyday because I believe that there is a single God, and he reigns over all religions. My supervisor at work is baptist and thinks and says that all baptist beliefs are the only way. Which causes a huge lack of communication. If I may ask though, I, myself also believe in tolerance for homosexuals. I understand that it is a sin. But is a single sin greater than any other? I guess the question would be what is your stance.

    • Lee says:

      Hi Adam,

      Thanks for stopping by, and for your thoughts.

      I agree with you that there is one and only one God, who reigns over all religions. For more on this, see my article:
      If there’s One God, Why All the Different Religions?

      About homosexuality, it all depends on how you define sin. Many people seem to think that sin is anything against their own religious beliefs. And for them it is! Those who violate their own religious beliefs are guilty of sin because they are doing something that they believe is wrong.

      Sin is not just doing something wrong. If it were, we’d all be doomed, because we all unknowingly do things that are wrong every day. But we are not condemned for those. We are only condemned for doing things we know and believe are wrong–especially if we make no effort at all to change our ways.

      So when it comes to homosexuality, spiritually speaking it doesn’t really matter what you or your boss or I or anyone else thinks of it. What matters is what the homosexual person him- or herself thinks of it. And most gays and lesbians these days–at least, in the liberal West–believe that homosexuality is not wrong, but good and beautiful. Therefore, for them it cannot possibly be a sin, and they will not go to hell for it. That is true regardless of what homosexuality may be all about objectively. (And I don’t claim to understand it myself.)

      For more about evil vs. sin, see the article:
      World Series Obstruction: Intent or Not Intent, That is the Question?
      (Yes, it’s about a controversial baseball play, but read on! You’ll get to the evil vs. sin part.)

      And about the Bible story most commonly used by Christian fundamentalists to condemn homosexuality, see the article:
      What is the Sin of Sodom?

      Edit: I have now written and posted a major article about homosexuality that gives a better answer to your question about my stance on that issue:
      Homosexuality, the Bible, and Christianity

  8. jazeril says:

    wait, wait wait….the God of Islam is the same God that Christians believe?

    • Lee says:

      Hi jazeril,

      If you and I look at a tree, and you say, “That’s a tall tree,” but I say, “That’s a short tree,” how many trees are there? Two or one?

  9. havau22 says:

    In the New Church we whole-heartedly believe in the Holy Trinity. In fact, we are very interested in the “trinity” concept. But to us, a trinity does not consist of three similar things on the same level (which might be regarded as a “trio”), but a trinity consists of one thing on three different levels. For example, three houses in a terrace do not form a trinity, but one house with three stories is a trinity. (Noah’s Ark was like that; it had “lower, second and third stories.” [Genesis 6:16]) Three oranges do not make a trinity; but one orange does, if you consider its skin, its flesh, and its pips or seeds. Three people do not make a trinity; but one
    person does, if you consider his soul, his body, and his influence or outflowing life.

    The Trinity in God

    There is not the least shadow of a doubt that there is a trinity in God. That is not the point. The point is: Is God a trinity of Persons, or is God one Person in whom dwelleth a trinity of attributes? The New Church believes that He is not a trinity of persons. A belief in a trinity of persons must lead inevitably, although perhaps not explicitly, to a belief in three separate Divine Beings, which amounts to a belief in three Gods, because to each Person in the Trinity is assigned a different office or function to perform, as that the Father is the Creator, the Son is the Redeemer, and the Holy Spirit is the Sanctifier. The New Church believes in a trinity, but it believes that it is a trinity of functions that cluster about one Personality who is the Lord Jesus Christ.

    It is impossible to maintain the trinity of persons from Scripture. In the first place, there is no mention of a trinity of three persons. The Father is mentioned, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit, but they are never called separate persons. They represent real relationships. If we were inclined to specious reasonings, we might even note that every man has many aspects. For example: to my father I was a son, to my son I am father. Thus I am both father and son according to the relationship in which I find myself, but I am never two persons. In respect to the Divine from eternity, the Divine born in time as Jesus was certainly its Son, but not a separate person, because the Divine dwelt in Him and was His soul; thus it is easy to see the Oneness of God when we think of Christ’s soul as the Father, His body as the Son, and His influence among men as the Holy Spirit, but how can one who believes in three Divine persons explain such passages as “I and My Father are one”, (John 10:30) “He that hath seen Me hath seen the Father”, (John 14:9) “Before Abraham was, I am”, (John 8:58) “Believe Me that I am in the Father, and the Father in Me.” (John 14:11) A true religion will be able to understand and explain all of these passages.

    if Philip had really seen the Lord, he would have seen the Father in the Divine and mighty acts which the Lord did.in the Old Testament there is a solidarity of teaching to the effect that there is one God in one Person, and that when His advent into the world was foretold by Isaiah he leaves no shadow of a doubt but that the Son and the Father were one in the Lord Jesus Christ.

    Amen

    Emanuel Swedenborg

  10. Zack says:

    Thanks for all the effort you put into this site. Very interesting – cleared up some confusion for me on the one hand, and created more confusion on another. But that is all besides the point of my question. A question I have asked some Christians but have never gotten an answer to. So…

    Christians believe that Jesus was God. If Jesus was indeed “God in the physical” why did he need to pray / meditate – and who did he pray to? How could God, even if in physical form, be tempted? I find that beyond comprehension. It would mean that Jesus, if he was indeed God, forgot that he was God just because he was in physical form. That sounds ludicrous to me. How could God forget who / what He is?

    Maybe I have a problem with this because if you think that the very Creator of All can be tempted by what is here in the physical, then I have to ask, what hope is there for us not to succumb to the temptations of the physical?

    Then again, there are a lot of people that do live, or try to live, an egoless life – but that doesn’t make them Jesus Christ does it? The evils of ego can be understood whether you believe in God or not – its just common sense.

    • Doug Webber says:

      What happened was once the Divine “lowered” himself into a finite human form, he then had to progress back to his Divine state – while in the human form, he had limited knowledge, moreover, he could be tempted to commit sin as he had inherited this in his body from his human mother. The Divine was in him as the soul which could not commit sin, but hell could attack by tempting him through the body. In these states of temptation, he prays to the Father. It was through this inner conflict, which he overcame, is the means by which he saved and continues to save all humanity.

      Catholics miss the point entirely as they tend to state Mary was born perfect, and so was Jesus.

      So its not two beings here, but rather two different states of being – one a human finite state, the other at one with the Divine. How the Lord progressed back to a glorified Divine nature is described in detail in “Heavenly Arcana” (or Arcana Coelestia) by resisting temptation, and the two different states of Jesus are described in more detail in “Doctrine of the Lord.”

      • Zack says:

        Thanks Doug – I understand what you are saying and understood Lee in his post. What i cannot get my head around is that God “forgot” who He was just because He was in a physical form. I can understand how WE forget who we are when we are in physical form, but God? Not saying I’m right tho – just hard to swallow.

    • Lee says:

      Hi Zack,

      Thanks for stopping by, and for your good comment and great questions!

      You certainly are not alone in wondering about these things. And unfortunately there is a great deal of confusion and misunderstanding on these points in traditional Christian beliefs and teachings. This has caused many people to reject Christianity altogether.

      And yet, there are good answers to these questions–answers that require shifting our thinking about who Jesus Christ was (and is) in relation to God. I’ll assume you’ve already read what I said about these things in the article, and we’ll go on from there.

      Of course, this will be the short version!

      As I say in the article, in accordance with the Gospels of Matthew and Luke, Mary was Jesus’ mother, but his father was God. It says that the Holy Spirit came upon Mary, so that the one who was born of her would be called Son of God.

      What this means is that Jesus was born with an ordinary, limited (finite) human side that he got from his ordinary human mother, and an infinite divine side that he got from his father, who was God.

      As Doug said in his response (Darn! He beat me to it! 😉 ), one of the reasons God did this is that it was the only way he could meet hell, the Devil, and all of human evil on its own turf, fight against it, and overcome it without totally destroying it (and all evil people along with it) in the process–because evil cannot stand God’s direct presence.

      So it was through the finite human part of himself that he got from Mary that he could be tempted. The divine itself could never be tempted, nor could evil even approach it.

      The part of Jesus that was God never forgot that he was God. But because Jesus had a dual nature while he was living on earth–a finite human nature from his mother, and an infinite divine nature from his Father–his conscious awareness also alternated back and forth between the finite human side and the infinite divine side.

      When his conscious mind was engaged in and aware of his human side primarily, he prayed to the Father as if praying to a separate being, and spoke as if God were a separate being from him. That’s because his finite, human side from Mary was not God.

      But when his conscious mind was engaged in and aware of his divine side primarily, he spoke of himself and the Father being one, and said that anyone who sees him sees the Father. This was also the state he was in when he was transfigured in the presence of his closest disciples, Peter, James, and John.

      We humans can get some notion of what these changes and alternations in the consciousness and awareness of Jesus were like by considering our own spiritual and emotional ups and downs in life. Sometimes we have a sense of the goodness of life, of the presence of God and spirit, and we feel connected to God and spirit, and one with our fellow human beings. Other times we feel dejected, depressed, and cut off from God and spirit, and from our friends and family, and feel that life is empty, meaningless, and nothing but a continual dark struggle.

      Jesus went through all of those same changes, but at a far deeper and more profound (at the high end) and harrowing (at the low end) level than any of us ever does.

      These changes and alternations of mental, emotional, and spiritual state went on in Jesus throughout his life on earth, culminating in his greatest temptation, traditionally called the passion of the Cross. When he cried out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” he was feeling cut off and alone, and very human. And yet, he was also quoting the opening line of Psalm 22, which speaks of the struggle to find God, spirit, and peace of the soul in our darkest times, and ends on a triumphant note.

      As I said in the above article, through all of these struggles, temptations, and trials, which got access to him through his finite human side from his human mother, Jesus gradually set aside everything of that limited and finite humanity, and replaced it with an infinite divine humanity that was God in human form. So after his resurrection and ascension up to heaven and God, he no longer had that dual finite / infinite human nature, but was fully divine and human at the same time.

      This means that the state of dual consciousness lasted only during his lifetime here on earth. Once we understand the nature of this temporary dual consciousness in Jesus Christ, we can understand many things in the Gospels that otherwise seem contradictory, confusing, and inexplicable.

      This is a vast subject! What I’ve said here only scratches the surface. But I hope it opens your thoughts to a new way of understanding the descriptions of Jesus’ life in the Gospels that makes better sense than what you’ve encountered before.

      As for our facing our own ego and physical temptations, it is precisely because Jesus Christ overcame all evil that he can give us the power to overcome our own ego and all of our temptations if we turn to him, pray to him, and humbly ask for help, with a willingness to follow him and replace our selfishness, greed, and ego with love for God and love for our fellow human beings.

      Does this help you in answering your questions?

      • Zack says:

        Yes Lee – your explanation does help, so thanks for the reply. However your last paragraph opens up another can of worms, because for me that kind of goes with the question as to our purpose here on earth. But that is another subject entirely.

        But staying on point. Is God Jesus / is Jesus God – I have to wonder if God even cares. I don’t think He does – not in my experience anyway (which BTW, contradicts my opinion that Jesus wasn’t God). Isn’t life interesting. 🙂

        • Lee says:

          Hi Zack,

          Glad that answer helped.

          And if we ran out of questions, what fun would life be?!?

          About our purpose here on earth, try this article on for size:
          Heaven, Regeneration, and the Meaning of Life on Earth
          I think it offers a better answer about the meaning of life, the universe, and everything than “42.” 😛

          About whether Jesus is God, you’ll have to make up your own mind on that. Just keep in mind that there’s a much better way to think about it than the non-Biblical and outdated stuff taught in most Christian churches.

  11. Richard Neer says:

    Hi Lee,

    You can blame the Golgafrinchans for the fact that “42” just doesn’t work as the ultimate answer, but don’t worry. And, whatever you do, DON’T PANIC!

  12. Zack says:

    Yep – that article pretty much covers the general way I think on that subject. Thank for that Lee

  13. David Gray says:

    Hi Lee,

    As an evangelical, I never even knew there were different views of atonement until a couple years ago. I can understand the objections to penal substitution. I have a much harder time with the concept of humans not being under God’s judgement. Even if hell is not eternal conscious torment, doesn’t the Bible teach that we are all guilty and deserving of punishment? The God of the OT clearly punishes people. As for the New Testament, this web site lists many, many verses where God’s judgement is apparent. Is it reasonable to conclude that ALL of these we adherents to more traditional Christianity misunderstand? Perhaps some can be interpreted as us creating hell for ourselves with our own sin, but I do not believe that they all can.

    http://www.cedricstudio.com/personal/judgment.html

  14. S says:

    Hi, I just discovered your website through becoming aware of Swedenborg and googling some questions in respect of what he has to say about various matters that interest me. Now I have a number of your articles up that I’m very interested in and see myself visiting your site often.

    For now, I can readily accept that there is one God but the issue of whether Jesus is God has me a little confused, maybe a lot. If Jesus knew He is God, then why does he refer to the Father as if He were someone else in various parts of the Bible? Why doesn’t He just say outright that He is God incarnate? And why when He is on the cross does He cry out ” Eli, Eli Lama Sabachthani ? Who is He talking to?

    • Lee says:

      Hi S,

      Thanks for stopping by, and welcome to the wonderful world of Swedenborg! Your questions are very good ones. And there are good answers. Here’s where to start: If Jesus Christ is the One God, Why Did He Talk and Pray to the Father?

      As to why he didn’t just come right out and plainly say that he was God, I think the main reason is that he wants people to be able to freely come to that conclusion on their own rather than taking it on mere authority.

      Authority tends to create a shallow and brittle type of belief that is clung to tightly precisely because it is not deep-rooted. When that brittle type of belief breaks, it is very difficult to return to any belief at all—as attested by the millions of atheists who were once fundamentalist Christians.

      It is better to seek out the truth, face doubts and contrary beliefs, and work out in our own mind what makes sense to us and what our heart is telling us is true. When we explore an issue from a position of “positive doubt,” in which we are willing to believe, but are also willing to consider and compare it to ideas and evidence that go contrary to it in our mind, then if and when we do come to believe that it is true, our understanding of it will be deeper and more flexible, and our belief in it deeper and more well-rooted.

      Think of faith as a tree. It takes a long time to grow, but due to that long and slow process of growth it becomes much sturdier and more reliable than the grass of the field, which springs up quickly, and fades away just as quickly when the dry season hits.

      For my own reasons for believing that Jesus Christ is God—and is a God of pure love—please see: The Logic of Love: Why God became Jesus.

      I hope these articles are helpful to you as you sort out in your own mind the core, distinctive belief of Christianity: that Jesus Christ is “God with us” (Matthew 1:23). If you have any further questions as you read, please don’t hesitate to ask.

  15. Eugene says:

    Hi Mr Lee, my question is plain.. I just need to understand the main purpose of the elect of God and are there still some alive to this day?

    • Lee says:

      Hi Eugene,

      Thanks for stopping by, and for your question.

      “The elect” is, in my view, an overly technical term, which doesn’t really convey the meaning of the text in the original language. The original Hebrew and Greek words simply mean “chosen,” with the idea that these are the people whom God has chosen. The ancient Israelites viewed themselves as God’s chosen people. And the New Testament uses the same idea to speak of those who would be part of Christ’s spiritual church—who in time came to be known as “Christians.”

      Looked at from a more spiritual perspective, the “chosen” of God are those who live good lives according to the spiritual truth that they have been taught. And by “good lives” I mean lives of devotion to God through loving service to the neighbor—meaning to our fellow human beings.

      God “chooses” these people not because God plays favorites, but because it is God’s choice that we should live lives of love and service according to spiritual truth rather than that we should live evil and selfish lives. God loves all of us, and would choose all of us if we would allow it. So whether or not we are “chosen” by God is ultimately in our own hands. If we love God and love our neighbor as Jesus taught, then we are God’s chosen ones because we are living the life God has chosen for us.

      So when you read about “the elect” in the Bible, it does not refer to some special, select group of people that God has “chosen” and set aside in some secret fashion. Rather, it refers to all people, everywhere, who listen to the teachings of their religion—and for Christians, who listen to the teachings of Christ—take those teachings to heart, and live good, honorable, loving, and useful lives as their faith and their beliefs tell them to do.

  16. Denn says:

    Interesting subject
    Have you considered Leviticus 1?
    The symbolism of the three sacrifices appears to represent the trinity; the heifer as the Father; the lamb as the son; and the dove as the holy spirit. Incidentally, the dove is always a feminist symbol.
    Now John 1: 1 – 4 speaks of of the logos as God and also being with God; Proverbs 8: 12 speaks of wisdom standing next to God as he creates the heavens and the earth [not the universe]; but the whole of the chapter has a feminine emphasis; lastly, God the Father appears as one in Genesis 1: 1; yet later in the chapter, God is heard to say “let us create humankind”
    Hence, in my humble opinion, God is a trinity of both male and female [father, son and holy spirit], as independent persons, and he made humans as both male and female in his image.
    Now consider a cup of coffee; it is made from the beans [seeds], water and possibly milk [in the UK], or even some kind of sweetener. Coffee therefore consists of three items [persons] in one.
    Denn

    • Lee says:

      Hi Denn,

      Thanks for your comment.

      Themes of three appear throughout the Bible. My problem isn’t as much with the “three” as it is with calling them “persons.” God is not three different people, but God does have three main “parts”—or perhaps “ingredients,” to use your coffee metaphor—as described in the above article.

      The Bible makes heavy use of metaphorical language. We humans are pretty thick-headed, and the people to whom the Bible was originally addressed were not philosophers and academics. So God had to speak in ordinary language that average, uneducated people of 2,000 years ago could understand. But really, “Father,” “Son,” and “Holy Spirit” are metaphors drawn from human experience and language to express far greater divine realities. The big error of traditional Christianity was to try to interpret them literally rather than metaphorically. Thus the confusion of “three Persons of God.”

      And clearly both male and female exist in God:

      So God created humankind in his image,
      in the image of God he created them;
      male and female he created them. (Genesis 1:27)

      Here both male and female are created in the image of God. This would not be possible if the essence and source of both maleness and femaleness did not exist in God. Along these lines, you might be interested in this article: The Mother of All the Living

  17. Denn says:

    Thanx for the prompt reply, it was more than I expected, although the differences in time probably help.
    I agree that the images in the Bible serve as metaphors because of our finite limitations; but in that case, how do you understand what Adam means when he says that a man should leave his father and mother and cleave to his wife?
    By the way, I read your blog as you suggested so I don’t think that I am moving off subject.
    Denn

    • Lee says:

      Hi Denn,

      You’re welcome.

      There’s far more to the story of Adam and Eve in Genesis 2 than could be conveyed in a brief comment. Of course, there is the obvious meaning that people leave their parents and make a new life with their married partner, with whom they (ideally) become one in heart and spirit.

      However, in its context, it is a story of leaving behind an inward focus on God and spirit—which was the focus of the earliest humans on earth once we had first developed an awareness of God and spirit, and had thus become truly human—and turning toward a sense of self and independence that is connected more with our outward self and outward life.

      “Leaving our parents” in this sense means developing our own identity separate from that of our parents. As children, we’re almost extensions of our parents, who are responsible for us and take care of our needs (if they are good parents). But as we head into our teenage and early adult years, we “declare independence” from our parents and begin to build our own life for ourselves.

      At a deeper level, this is a process of “declaring independence” from God, in a sense. Instead of being fully aware that our entire life from moment to moment is a gift from God and comes from God, we prefer to have a sense that we live on our own, and that our life is our own. We are no longer content to be “alone” with God (Genesis 2:18), but want to focus our life more outwardly on our relationships with other people and with the material world and the human society in which we live. That’s when God creates a companion for Adam by (metaphorically, of course) “building” the woman out of the man’s rib (Genesis 2:21-22).

      Not that it’s bad for us to have relationships with one another and with human society. But when we “declare independence” from God by no longer focusing on God’s will and God’s presence, life, and power in us, but focus our life more on our relationships with other human beings as if those are more important than our relationship with God, it is a step downward. Not a step down into evil, but rather a step down from our highest spiritual state, in which God’s love is central, to our next lower spiritual state, in which our positive relationships with other people are central.

      So when the man “leaves his father and mother,” this is metaphorically speaking of leaving our primary relationship with God and spirit.

      And when a man “cleaves to his wife,” this is metaphorically speaking of having our primary relationship with other people instead, and specifically with our married partner. And that relationship with others is based on the idea that we are self-responsible, autonomous human beings—when in fact we are utterly dependent on God and spirit for our very life, and for every thought and feeling we have, every single moment.

      As I said above, there is far more to this than can be put into a brief comment. But I hope this gives you some sense of the meaning of that verse (Genesis 2:24) in its wider context in the first few chapters of Genesis.

  18. KP says:

    Hi,

    I have been reading some of your articles like this one and they are share a very interesting perspective of God and what Bible says. From this article I think that you beilive in Christ and Bible. Doesn’t Bible say don’t have any other god in front me ? In that case how did you conclude that people from all religions will be saved?

    • Lee says:

      Hi KP,

      Thanks for stopping by, and for your comments.

      Yes, I believe in Christ and the Bible. In fact, I believe that Jesus Christ is God, not some supposed “second Person” of God. So I believe that anyone who worships God is worshiping Jesus Christ, whether they realize it or not. For more on this, please see: Is Jesus Christ the Only Way to Heaven?

      • fredsbend says:

        What about those who don’t worship any God? For example, atheists. Yet we know atheists can be good people too.

        • Lee says:

          Hi fredsbend,

          Thanks for stopping by, and for your comment and question. Yes, atheists can be good people too, and in my view, can even go to heaven. For more on this, please see: Do Atheists Go to Heaven?

          Short version: Atheists who believe in an analog of God such as morality or the good of humanity go to heaven (or not) based on their living (or not) by that higher principle of life. Higher, that is, than thinking that life is about getting all the pleasure, possessions, and power for myself that I can, regardless of how it affects anyone else.

  19. Frankly Frank says:

    Perhaps a bad joke…..

    Two Swedenborgian pastors are locked in a prison cell together for many years and all they do is argue with one another on who is right and who is wrong, and who is going to get into heaven, and who is going to hell.

    Finally they both pass away and they meet again in the afterlife. It’s a very nice setting, fluffy clouds with golden glows, a spattering of pleasant melodies floating through the air. People are milling about with big smiles.

    The second pastor to pass away says, “Hah! I knew it! We argued all those years for nothing! We’re BOTH in heaven!”

    The first pastor to pass away looks him square in the eye and says…..

    “Well I have my doubts about THAT! I think we GOTTA be in the DEEPEST PITS OF HELL!”

    The second pastor to pass away says, “Why in heaven’s name do you think that? It’s absolutely wonderful here!”

    The first pastor to pass away then says…..

    “Well, about a year ago here I bumped into Lee Woofenden, Jimmy Swaggert, Pat Robertson, Tammy Faye Baker, and Billy Graham all holding hands!”

    Frankly Frank 🙂

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