Containers for God

This article is a sequel to the previous one, “Wavicles of Love.”

The infinity symbol

The infinity symbol

If God is infinite, how can there be room for anything else? Wouldn’t everything just be a part of God? If God is infinite and therefore is present everywhere, how can we humans exist and not be God?

Good questions! I’m sorry you asked! Because now we have to bend our brains some more.

But it will lead us to some practical thoughts that can be helpful to us personally. I promise!

First, let’s do some brain-bending. In True Christianity #33, Emanuel Swedenborg (1688–1772) writes:

Every created thing is finite. The Infinite is in finite objects the way something is present in a vessel that receives it; the Infinite is in people the way something is present in an image of itself. . . . [In creating the universe,] God first made his infinity finite in the form of substances put out from himself. The first sphere that surrounds him consists of those substances. . . . He then completed the remaining spheres even to the farthest one, which consists of inert elements. He increasingly limited the world, then, stage by stage. I lay this out here to appease human reason, which never rests until it knows how something was done.

Gotta love that final sentence!

What Swedenborg is really talking about, in abstract, philosophical terms, is why we human beings exist, and what our life is all about. In essence, we are God-shaped containers. And if we see and understand that we are God-shaped containers, we can come to know that everything we do—even the most menial task—is helping to bring God’s love and wisdom into this world, so that it can flow to the people around us.

That is what gives meaning to this life that sometimes seems so meaningless.

God is infinite; everything else is finite

To understand this container concept, we must first examine the concepts of infinite and finite.

If we look at ourselves or anything else in this created universe, we will notice that we and they all have limits. This is what distinguishes everything else from God.

Physically, we are limited by the border created by our skin. There is a place where my body ends. Then there’s some space. Then there’s a place where your body begins. As soon as there is physical space, and things extended in space, there are limits and boundaries. Space is big, but it’s not infinite. And it’s broken down into many smaller components, of which your body and mine are a couple of examples. Our bodies represent our physical limits.

Mentally we are limited in how much we know, and how deeply we know it. When we are born, we don’t know anything at all—at least, not consciously. As we grow out of infancy and through our stages of childhood, adolescence, and adulthood, we add more knowledge, and we begin to understand what we know, each in our own way. But no matter how much we learn, there is always a massive amount of information we don’t know, and many things we don’t understand. Our level and depth of knowledge represent our mental limits.

Emotionally, we are limited in how far our love extends, and also by how deeply it goes. Our love may only extend to the members of our own family, whom we may love more or less deeply. Our love may extend to some of our neighbors and co-workers. We may even manage to love everyone in our community—if we live in a very small community. Our breadth and depth of love represent our emotional limits.

God, by contrast, has no such limits. God is not limited by physical space or by physical time, but exists everywhere without the need for being extended in space and time.

God encompasses all knowledge, understanding, and wisdom. There is nothing God does not know and understand, and God’s wisdom orders and directs all things, in all times and places.

God also loves all that exists, including every sentient being. And God’s love, being infinite and undivided, is the same everywhere, and is infinite everywhere. This means that God’s love is not divided or diluted even by reaching to billions of human beings. God knows each of us fully and deeply, and feels a powerfully infinite love for each one of us personally.

These thoughts about our limits and God’s lack of limits should help us to understand how we and everything else in the created universe are different and distinct from God. God is infinite. Everything else is finite.

God created the universe by putting limits on God’s infinity

Here’s where it really starts to bend the ol’ brain. But let’s look at it. Because Douglas Adams to the contrary notwithstanding, this, and not the number 42, is what really offers us the answer to the questions of Life, the Universe, and Everything.

So consider God’s situation. God is infinite, encompassing infinite states of love and wisdom, with infinite power. But:

  • Infinite love needs something to love.
  • Infinite wisdom needs to express itself in some form.
  • Infinite power needs something to do with itself.

So what’s God to do? How can there be something else besides God, when God is infinite?

The answer is both simple and strange. God started drawing lines, making borders, placing limits on some of what was coming out from God’s infinity. And in the very act of making some of God’s infinity finite, something else besides God came into being. New levels of reality began to come into being. Now there was something other than God for God to love.

Can we fully understand how God did this?

Probably not.

But if we accept the idea that God is not only infinitely loving, but also infinitely wise and powerful, we can accept that God would be able to figure out how to accomplish what God’s love wanted to accomplish. And what God’s love wanted to accomplish was to create other beings, in a universe that was other than God, so that God would have others to love, to guide, and to provide with happiness and joy.

That would be us. And it would be everything else in the universe—each created thing at the level at which it can receive God’s love, wisdom, and power.

A single human being is a total miracle, both physically and mentally. Yet God created billions of ‘em, and seems intent upon creating billions more.

What does this mean for us?

It means that we humans, and the world around us, are not just some freaky chance thing that just happened to happen because so many quarks, electrons, and atoms bumped into each other so many times that something was bound to happen. No, we were purposely created by a loving God.

And why did God create us?

Because God wanted to love us. The very reason for our existence is so that we can be loved by God. After all, the purpose of creation is a heaven from the human race. (See “How does God Govern Humankind? Is God Actively Involved in our Lives?”)

Every created thing is a container for God

This follows from everything that leads up to it. Everything God creates is created to contain and express God in some way.

But let’s look at this one a little more closely. Because there is a big paradox in the universe, and this matter of being containers for God is precisely where we can meet and perhaps comprehend that paradox.

God is infinite, all-loving, all-knowing, all-powerful, all-encompassing. Everything that’s good and true, everything that truly exists in the fullest sense of that term, is God. And yet, there is this whole universe that is not God, and that seems to have a lesser level of existence. We ourselves are a part of that lesser order of reality. We just aren’t quite as real as God.

But we do exist. How?

In one way of looking at things, we created beings are composed of a very complex border. If we look at our body alone, with its 100 trillion or so cells, each one of those cells is has an incredibly intricate set of complex borders, or limits, or boundaries, all arranged in circles and spirals and vortexes nested one inside the other. These intricate, complex, nested boundaries create a container sufficiently complete and structured that God is able to flow into us with a fairly full measure of the divine infinites of love, wisdom, and power.

We are incredibly complex containers for God, and all of the stuff that gives us substance is the truly real substance of divine love flowing into us.

And to weave in one of the threads from the previous article, here’s what this means:

  • In terms of love, we are one with God (waves bind us all together as one)
  • In terms of wisdom, we are distinct from God (particles distinguish and separate us from one another)

We are, in fact, wavicles of love and wisdom. Love makes us one with God, while wisdom (which is expressed in limits and boundaries) makes us distinct from God. We live in the interplay between the two.

This means that even if we are not actually God—since we are finite limited beings, while God is an infinite, unlimited being—we are still filled with God. And the substance that makes us who and what we are actually is God.

We humans were not created for any small purpose. Nor was the universe around us created by random chance, without any purpose. Every single thing in this whole vast universe is filled with God, and has a specific purpose in the mind of God.

What does this mean for us personally?

There is no way in heaven or in hell that you or I or anyone else on this earth is here for no reason. God has a specific reason for creating you. God has a specific reason for creating me.

I don’t know about you, but to me, that makes life very exciting! It is also very reassuring. As tough and pointless a struggle as our life sometimes seems to be, if we can understand and accept that the real stuff in us is God stuff, and that God had something specific in mind in creating each one of us individually, then our life is not, in fact, pointless. Each one of us is here on earth to discover and begin to express the special purpose for which God created us.

Yes, I’m talking about you!

We humans are God-shaped containers

What is our purpose as individuals?

That’s for each one of us to discover for ourselves. Nobody else can tell us why in particular God created us—though we can help each other to see and understand our own purposes in life.

Vitruvian Man, by Leonardo da Vinci

Vitruvian Man, by Leonardo da Vinci

However, if the Bible is correct in saying that we are created in the image and likeness of God (Genesis 1:26–27), then our purpose as human beings must go far beyond the purpose of anything else in this created universe.

That’s because we humans are human. And being human means being the most like God of anything in the created universe.

Many people think that the only reason we think of God as human is because we’re human. The old anthropomorphizing of God thing.

But it’s actually the other way around. We think of ourselves as human because God is human.

God is the only fully human being. Being human does not mean having a human-shaped body. Our body is the result of our humanity, not its cause. We are human, not because we have a big brain, opposable thumbs, and walk upright. We are human because:

  • We have hearts with the capacity to love one another and love God on a spiritual level.
  • We have minds with the capacity to think about God and spirit, and understand our own deeper purpose in the universe.
  • We have mouths and hands capable of expressing and putting into action the spiritual love and understanding that we receive from God.

These things are what make us truly human. We are God-shaped containers because in the universe, only human beings are able to receive and express the higher levels of spiritual love and wisdom that flow out from God.

If we are God-shaped containers, capable of receiving the highest levels of love and wisdom from God, doesn’t that give our lives here on earth a whole new meaning?

Much of our life in the physical world is devoted just to getting by. These bodies of ours are high-maintenance machines. They require a constant supply of food and water. They require shelter from the elements of nature in the form of clothing and housing. They require many other things too, such as exercise, fresh air, and contact with other living beings, in order to function at their best.

All of these things take time to provide. Our entire life can all too easily be taken up just providing for our own physical, emotional, and intellectual needs, and the similar needs of those in our care—such as our children and our elderly parents.

And yet, there is more to life than these physical wants and needs. Even while we are struggling to make ends meet, and to keep body and soul together, the activities of our bodies are developing the strength of our souls.

At least, they are if we at least pay some attention to the fact that we are spiritual beings inhabiting physical bodies. It is not necessary to give up all of our material-world activities—our jobs, our families, our homes, our hobbies—in order to be spiritual. In fact, it is necessary for us to immerse ourselves in these things.

But here’s the difference: as we immerse ourselves in the daily work and the daily tasks required to support ourselves and those we love, those tasks become more and more spiritual as we do them, not just for our own benefit, but because we love and care for the people around us. And they become fully spiritual when we do them because we love and care about God and God’s presence in our own lives and in the lives of everyone who is served by the work we do.

We are especially designed to be filled with God

Everything we have considered so far points to the conclusion that even though we by ourselves are finite, limited creatures—and that we are perhaps nothing but a fancy boundary, or container, designed to be filled with God—there are deep and personal . . . no, interpersonal reasons for our existence.

Of all the God-containers in the universe, we humans are especially God-shaped containers, and these containers that are us are especially designed to be filled with God.

There is no small purpose for our existence here on earth. Even the lowest, most broken down human being on this earth was designed by God to be filled with divine love and wisdom, and to express that love and wisdom not only here on earth, but in the spiritual world to eternity.

There is nobody on this earth who is a waste of human flesh. The only way that can possibly happen is if we purposely and persistently resist and reject the love and wisdom that is continually flowing into us from God. Not to put too fine a point on it, but if we are headed to hell, it is for one and only one reason: we ourselves are dead set on going to hell rather than to heaven.

But once we open ourselves up to the love and wisdom that are continually flowing into these God-shaped containers that are us, many doorways of possibility open up before us.

What did God put you here on earth to be and to do?

I don’t know.

But you can discover that for yourself. In fact, if you’re alive and breathing, and paying at least some attention to your life, to your mind, to your heart, then you are discovering what God put you here on earth to do.

Wavically containers for God

Now let’s come full circle, and bring both articles together.

Like wavicles, we humans are both

  1. distinct from others as we are contained within our own skin and our own unique mind, and
  2. flowing into and through one another as our heart and mind reach out to others through our words and actions, and others’ words and actions reach out to us.

To use a geometrical example, we can think of ourselves both as points occupying a specific, unique position in space, distinct and separate from all other points, and as spheres of influence flowing out from that point like an ever expanding circle or spiral, which flow into and through one another.

The “point” that is us occupies a small volume of space physically and mentally.

  • We have a particular body that is in a particular physical place, in which no other body can be simultaneously.
  • We have a particular mind, shaped and influenced by our unique experiences, the unique set of materials we have read, teachers we have learned from, thoughts we have speculated upon.
  • We have a particular heart, or emotional self, shaped and influenced by the unique web of relationships we have been immersed in from the time of our conception and birth right up to the present moment.

Each one of us is a unique being, different from every other being that God has created on this earth. We are each distinct particulate containers who receive God in a different way than anyone else in this universe.

And yet, we are not self-contained units. Rather, we are beings immersed in a human community, who are also filled with and surrounded by God.

Sometimes we may feel like nobody truly sees us, nobody truly cares about us. We may feel that if we were not to exist, it would make no difference to anyone, and life would go on just as if we were never here.

But it’s not true.

Because every one of us is a part of every other one of us. Even if we don’t see it or realize it ourselves, God created each one of us with something definite and unique in mind. Without each one of us, the world would be missing something. We are here for a reason. We are here to occupy our own unique place in the human community, and to make our own unique contribution to the lives of others.

We are each a container especially designed by God to accept unique qualities of God’s love and wisdom—to overflow with the particular forms of God’s love and wisdom that we are created to receive, so that the love and wisdom flowing into us from God spills out into the lives of everyone around us, near and far.

If we come to understand and accept this, it can help us to push through the low points of our lives, and move on to a better place—a place that looks something like heaven.

God has something unique and wonderful in mind for you.

Yes, I’m talking about you.

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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9 comments on “Containers for God
  1. Doug Webber says:

    Jesus talked about us as a container when he said we must clean the inside of the cup before drinking from it, rather than the outside. Also, scripture refers to the body as a temple, and the Jewish temple design describes the psyche of our soul. I like to think of our soul as a crystal prism: we receive light from God, and we choose what color to reflect to the world. If we are selfish, we will be black and not reflect any light back. If we are open and transparent, we will reflect the light back. And something in between will be the color of a rainbow.

  2. Christopher Holm says:

    Nice to read your thoughtful and well reasoned words, Lee. I enjoyed the above very much!

    • Lee says:

      Hi Chris,

      Nice to see you stop by here, old friend! Glad you enjoyed the article. Definitely one of the more mind-bending ones I’ve posted here.

  3. Christopher Holm says:

    Lee, I wonder how you would describe the special case container for God that was Jesus? Did God, who was contained within Jesus, always know Himself to be God, or was that awareness something that came later? Could you say something about those people who claim to have achieved enlightenment? Is a state of enlightenment possible for human containers, and just how much enlightenment could the human body withstand without some sort of ineffable change occurring to that body/container? I wonder? Thank you in advance for your response to the above questions.

    • Lee says:

      Hi Chris,

      These are great questions! They could easily become a whole series of blog posts all on their own! For now, here are some quick responses.

      About Jesus as a “special case container for God,” you might find this article helpful:

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

      It helps to understand that Jesus went through a major transformation between the time of his conception and birth and the time of his resurrection and ascension to the Father.

      At birth, Jesus had an external finite human self from Mary and an internal infinite divine self that was God. This means that during his lifetime, God was “contained” in a finite human vessel. However, over the course of his life he gradually replaced that finite human side with a divine human side, so that by the time he “ascended to the Father” after his resurrection, he was fully divine.

      During his lifetime, Jesus sometimes was fully aware of his divine self, and sometimes he was only dimly aware of it. That is why he sometimes prays to the Father as if to a separate being, and other times says that he was one with the Father. This alternation of state lasted right up to his death on the cross, when he called out “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” as if to a separate being. (However, this is also a quote of the first line of Psalm 22, which metaphorically tells the story of Jesus’ struggle on the cross and his victory.)

      After his life on earth was complete, Jesus became a “container for God” in a different way than before. He was no longer a finite human being containing the infinite in a fuller way than most. Now he is God’s own divine human “container” and means of expression to us finite human beings. To use more abstract Bible- and Swedenborg-derived wording, Jesus is “the Word made flesh,” or the truth that expresses the divine love to us, and makes us free.

      Of course, this is a huge subject. I’ve only barely scratched the surface with this comment. I hope, though, that it does help at least a little!

      • Christopher Holm says:

        Thanks, Lee for the helping to make this clear for me. I love the way that you have distilled this in a way that is easy for me to understand. Thanks again!

    • Lee says:

      About people who claim to have achieved enlightenment:

      There are many possible levels of enlightenment that we humans are capable of achieving.

      Simply realizing that life isn’t all about us, but is about loving others, is a major achievement of enlightenment. Simply leaving behind any false and harmful ideas and moving on to truer and more helpful ideas is an achievement of enlightenment.

      I have no reason to doubt those who claim to have achieved enlightenment as long as their words and actions show them to be acting from enlightenment rather than from pride and self-promotion. Jesus said, “You will know them by their fruits” (Matthew 7:15-20). If someone claiming enlightenment focuses on self-promotion, and acts in immoral and unethical ways, then that person’s “enlightenment” is not genuine. However, if someone claims enlightenment and devotes his or her life to loving and serving others, then I think there is some genuine enlightenment there.

      This doesn’t necessarily mean they’re correct on everything they believe. Though “correct doctrine” is valuable and important, the fundamentals of enlightenment have to do, not with particular tenets of belief, but with seeing that our life here is about loving God and loving our fellow human beings. Since we are human and fallible, it’s inevitable that some amount of faulty thinking will get mixed in with the genuine light that we receive in our minds and hearts.

      It is also good to maintain some level of humility and awareness of our own limitations. Those who claim to have pure, infinite, divine knowledge are deceiving themselves, in my view. It is very possible for particular human beings to have far higher levels of spiritual enlightenment than others. If Swedenborg is correct, even in the spiritual world there are some angels whose light and wisdom rises whole orders of magnitude higher than that of others. However, even the highest angels are still finite, fallible beings, with limited light compared to the unlimited light that is God.

      There is no ratio between what is finite (human minds) and what is infinite (the mind of God). No matter how enlightened we humans may become in this world or the spiritual world, there will still be an infinity of things we do not know, and an infinite distance between our limited enlightenment and the pure light and love that is God.

      Does that help?

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