Here is part of a Spiritual Conundrum submitted to Spiritual Insights for Everyday Life by a reader named Achilles:
Why would God wait to come down as Christ and not do that from the outset? It’s as if God woke up one day and said – you know – this isn’t working – I better go down there myself – if you want something done right – do it yourself – which is ludicrous…
Thanks again for the great question, Achilles!
For the full Spiritual Conundrum, see the previous article, “Can God Fail?” In that article, I took up this question: Can God—who is timeless, all-knowing, and omnipotent—fail to accomplish something that God sets out to do?
In this article, I’ll take up the remaining question in the Spiritual Conundrum that Achilles submitted: Why did God wait so many thousands of years to come down to earth as Jesus Christ instead of doing so right from the start?
Here is the basic answer:
There’s a right time (and a lot of wrong times) for everything. God waited until the right time to come to earth as Jesus Christ.
Why was two thousand years ago the right time?
Like many other topics covered here on Spiritual Insights for Everyday Life in response to readers’ questions, this is a huge topic! We can’t possibly cover every aspect of it in one article. But here are a few key points that we can cover:
- Humanity goes through spiritual stages.
- God comes to us when we are at a low ebb because:
- Before that we won’t listen to or accept God,
- Before that we are not ready to understand God’s message, and
- That’s when God can face and overcome all human evil.
- When God became human, it turned the tide of human history.
Let’s dig into it.
1. Humanity goes through spiritual stages
If you’re old enough to be able and willing to read this article, then you’re old enough to look back over your life and see that you’ve been through various stages. Here are some of the major stages we humans go through during our life cycle on earth:
- Conception and gestation in the womb
- Birth and infancy
- Toddler and preschool years
- Elementary school years
- Adolescence and secondary school years
- Young adulthood—which may include marriage and starting a family
- Middle age
- Retirement and elder years, ending in death
Obviously, your body has gone through major changes as these stages have progressed. But your mind and heart also go through major changes from one stage to the next. For one way of looking at these inner, spiritual changes, see the article, “Seasons of Life.”
Now consider the idea that humanity as a whole has also gone through stages.
This is not a new idea. For example:
- The ancient Greek poets Hesiod and Ovid spoke of four or five “Ages of Man”: the Golden Age, the Silver Age, the Bronze Age, the Age of Heroes (in Hesiod), and the Iron Age.
- Hindu philosophy includes a cycle of four Yugas, or epochs, in each cycle of the universe: Satya Yuga, Treta Yuga, Dwapar Yuga, and Kali Yuga.
- The early Christian theologian Augustine of Hippo wrote of “Six Ages of the World” based on earlier Jewish traditions.
These philosophical and spiritual concepts of the eras of humanity have in common the idea that humanity started on a high spiritual and moral level, and then fell lower and lower as the eras passed. Each of these systems also looks toward a renewal at the end of the cycle of ages, when the reigning love, wisdom, and purity of the earliest age will be restored.
Of course, present-day science does not recognize these spiritual ages. However, even archaeology has its own three-age system of early humanity: the Stone Age, the Bronze Age, and the Iron Age.
Whether we look at humankind from a spiritual perspective or from a scientific perspective, we can see that humanity as a whole has gone through various ages—and those ages are still unfolding.
From a scientific point of view, it may seem like a stretch to think that humanity began at a high spiritual level. Science sees humanity as gradually rising up through the process of evolution from primitive times when we were not much different from the lower animals to the present civilized, literate, and scientific era.
However, consider the ancient sacred and philosophical texts of the world. Many of them had their origins in even earlier oral traditions that were passed down through the generations before written language existed. If early humans were so backwards, where did all that ancient wisdom come from?
From the outside, those ancient human cultures may have looked primitive by today’s civilized standards. But inwardly, they enjoyed a level of connection with God, heaven, and spirit that few people achieve even in today’s “enlightened” times.
The scientist, philosopher, and theologian Emanuel Swedenborg (1688–1772) correlated Ovid’s Ages of Man with Christian views based on the narrative and history of the Bible to come up with five spiritual eras of humanity:
- The earliest or most ancient spiritual era, corresponding to Ovid’s Golden Age, reaches from Creation and the Garden of Eden to the Flood of Noah. At the peak of this era, love for God and for fellow human beings reigned.
- The early or ancient spiritual era, corresponding to Ovid’s Silver Age, reaches from the Flood to the Exodus from Egypt and the giving of the Ten Commandments. Intellect and philosophy reigned in this era.
- The Israelite or Jewish era, corresponding to Ovid’s Bronze and Iron ages, reaches from the Exodus through the rest narrative and prophetic books of the Old Testament. This was an era when raw physical power reigned, and religion was all about obedience to strict laws.
- The Christian era (which goes beyond Ovid’s four ages) reaches from the birth of Christ to the apocalyptic visions in the book of Revelation. This was like a new Silver Age, in which new enlightenment began to lift humanity back upward again.
- The New Jerusalem era starts with the descent of the New Jerusalem described in the last two chapters of the book of Revelation, and covers the rest of human history.
Swedenborg saw this fifth and final era as beginning in his own times. Secular authors call the time period in which Swedenborg lived, stretching from the late 17th century through the 18th century, The Age of Enlightenment.
In Swedenborg’s system, this dawning era would become a new Golden Age, in which mutual love would once again reign in human society. This is pictured by the gold that the New Jerusalem and its main thoroughfare are made of (see Revelation 21:18, 21, and also the article, “The Gold Standard”). For a few of Swedenborg’s descriptions of these five spiritual eras—or “churches,” as he calls them—see Divine Providence #328; True Christianity #760, 786, 790.
2. God comes to us when we are at a low ebb
These spiritual ages of humanity are a key concept in understanding why Jesus Christ was born two thousand years ago, and not at the very beginning of human life on earth, or at any other time.
The time of Christ’s birth was not arbitrary. It came when we humans had reached the low ebb of our spiritual cycle. We had passed from the mutual love of the earliest humans through the philosophical intellectualism of their descendants to the brute force of the age of empires. (No, I’m not talking about the video game!)
When humanity had moved so far from the love and wisdom of God that we were in danger of slaughtering ourselves and wiping ourselves out both spiritually and physically, God came to earth as Jesus Christ.
Another way of saying this is that God came to earth as Jesus Christ when it would have its greatest impact.
God came to earth as Jesus Christ when we were finally ready for it—and not a moment sooner.
Before we hit our low ebb, we won’t listen to or accept God
Instead of going into a lengthy historical treatise on the state of humanity at the time Christ was born, let’s take a look at us as individual human beings.
It is very common for us, as we enter adulthood, to think that we’re ready to conquer the world, and capable of gaining health, wealth, and fame for ourselves. And we may even achieve some of that health, wealth, and fame!
However, sooner or later, for most of us, our world comes tumbling down around our ears. Everything we thought we could accomplish falls apart, and we find ourselves at rock bottom.
- For some people this comes amid addiction to alcohol and drugs.
- For others it takes the form of financial disaster and ruin.
- For others it involves relationships coming to a painful end in conflict, separation, and divorce.
If you’ve experienced any of these, or some other kind of rock bottom, then you know what I’m talking about.
Now tell me: If you had been asked at any time up to the end how things were going in your life, what would you have said? Depending on where you were in the cycle, your answers might have sounded something like this:
- I’m ready to take on the world!
- Life is great! All my plans are working out! I’m a success!
- Life isn’t so great anymore, but it’s nothing I can’t handle.
- My life sucks, but I can deal with it. Things will get better.
The common denominator in all of these answers is that we don’t think we need any help. So even if people offer us help when our life is going off the rails, we usually reject it. Accepting help means admitting that we can’t handle what life is throwing at us. And we’re too proud and self-reliant for that.
It’s only when we’ve fought and struggled with all our might, tried our hardest, and still failed, that we are finally ready to admit that we can’t do it by ourselves. Then and only then are we ready to accept help from other people—and from God.
In the same way, it wasn’t until humanity hit its low point, when the law consisted of “might makes right,” and violence and oppression reigned in human society, that we humans were ready to accept help from God.
And that was precisely when God came to earth as Jesus Christ.
Before we hit our low ebb, we are not ready to understand God’s message
For the same reason, we humans were not ready to hear or understand a more spiritual understanding of life until we had tried the ways of the world—the ways of raw power and greed—and experienced for ourselves the fact that they end in pain and destruction.
When we first start out in life, we tend to think that wealth, power, and pleasure are the greatest gifts of God. If we get these things, and we happen to be religiously oriented, we think of ourselves as being blessed by God.
But when our life becomes focused on wealth, power, and pleasure, we eventually discover that instead of being blessings, they become chains and treadmills that tear down our humanity and reduce us to a level of ferocity and brutishness that is not found even in the fiercest predators in the world of nature. Or, if we don’t go the way of ferocity, we simply find that our life becomes totally meaningless.
Turning to human culture at the time of Christ, consider this: one of the most popular public entertainments in ancient Roman civilization consisted of crowds of people cramming huge stadiums in which humans slaughtered one another in gory battles, and engaged in bloody combat with all manner of fierce animals, while the crowds cheered and called for even more blood and gore.
Can humanity really sink any lower than that?
When the crowds are calling for blood and death, are they listening for messages of love and spiritual life from God?
Not so much.
But when we humans have experienced hatred, oppression, and death for ourselves, and suffered the horrors brought on by unrestrained greed and lust for power, maybe we will finally begin to realize that these things that we think of as so good lead only to misery and death.
In other words, when we have tried it our own way, and discovered that our way brings us the opposite of happiness, then we may finally be ready, willing, and able to hear and understand God’s message of mutual love and spiritual enlightenment.
God came to us as Jesus Christ precisely when we had reached the bitter end of trying it our own way, and when at least some of us could finally understand and appreciate what God had in mind for us from the beginning.
When Jesus Christ came, the people who had felt the oppression of empires were ready for his message of a new way of living based not on wealth and power, but on love and understanding.
At humanity’s low ebb, God can face and overcome all human evil
There is another reason God waited so long to come down to earth as Jesus Christ.
Just as humanity’s life here on earth was descending gradually into a world dominated by greed and grasping for power, so evil and destructive forces were mounting in the spiritual world, and threatening to cut off the flow of life from God and heaven to people on earth.
God came as Jesus Christ when that buildup of evil had reached its highest point so that God could overcome all human evil, and keep it under control for eternity.
By the time we humans had gone through the cycle of ages from highest to lowest, we had originated and practiced every form and variety of evil. If God had come to earth before that “cup of evil” was full, some forms of evil would not yet be in existence—which would not have given God the opportunity to overcome them and keep them in subjection forever.
This theme of evil reaching its highest point before God intervenes is found throughout the Bible. For example, the book of Daniel speaks of “the abomination that desolates,” which comes just before the end. Jesus also refers these prophecies in Daniel when he predicts the end times (see Daniel 9:25–27; 11:31–35; 12:9–13; Matthew 24:15–21; Mark 13:14–19).
If the Bible doesn’t do it for you, consider the plot of nearly every action movie ever made:
- When is the bomb defused? When it is only seconds away from exploding.
- When does the hero arrive? When the villain has triumphed, and all hope is lost.
- When does the liberating army appear? When the evil emperor has ground the people down to abject slavery and utter misery.
And if action movies don’t do it for you, look at crime and punishment in today’s world. Sometimes we are able to stop crimes before they happen. But more often, it’s only after the terrible deeds are done that we catch the criminals and mete out their punishments.
There’s a practical reason for this: Until the dirty deed is done, we don’t see the evil, and there is nothing to punish. But when the crime has been committed, evil has reached its full expression in action, and the law can step in and put a stop to it. This is especially clear when it comes to serial crimes, in which each individual crime leads the police closer and closer to the perpetrator.
In the same way, God came to earth as Jesus Christ when human evil had reached its peak. That way, God could face and overcome all evil in one massive spiritual battle, and bring the forces of hell and human malevolence back into order. For more on this, see the section on “The Long and Winding Fall” in the article, “Who is God? Who is Jesus Christ? What about that Holy Spirit?”
3. When God became human, it turned the tide of human history
Perhaps, looking back on your own life, you can see a time when you hit rock bottom. At that point, the issues were stark: either your life turned around or it would end in destruction and death.
God came to earth as Jesus Christ precisely when humanity faced that ultimate dividing line. If we humans had continued any farther on our downward course, we would have torn one another apart through greed, war, and oppression until there was nothing of humanity left.
But God had other plans for us.
Despite our wickedness and oppression, God still loved us. And God saw that the time was ripe to step in and save humanity from destruction.
No, it didn’t happen in some great cataclysmic physical battle of good against evil. As Jesus said to Pilate just before he was crucified:
My kingdom is not from this world. If my kingdom were from this world, my followers would be fighting to keep me from being handed over to the Jews. But as it is, my kingdom is not from here. (John 18:36)
Jesus did not fight with a physical sword. Instead, he fought with “the sword of his mouth” (Revelation 1:16; 2:16). In other words, he fought by bringing the power of truth to bear on the evils of humanity.
The powerful truth that Jesus spoke and embodied for the world is what turned the tide of human history.
- It was the truth that God’s ways, not human ways, rule heaven and earth.
- It was the truth that genuine life comes, not through gaining the world for ourselves, but through loving others as we love ourselves.
- It was the truth that if we are willing to recognize our wrongs, turn away from them, and start a new life of understanding and kindness for our fellow human beings, both we and our world will be transformed into something far better.
Yes, there has been much evil, and there have been many battles, since Christ came. We humans must still fight the good fight against the pain and misery that we have brought upon ourselves through our greed and our grasping for power.
But now the tide has been turned due to the light that shone into the world in the person of Jesus Christ—who was and is God with us (Matthew 1:23).
That light is gradually dawning over the world. In that light, and with the power that God gives us from within, we humans are gradually facing and overcoming the ancient evils that have harmed and destroyed us for thousands of years.
If God had not come as Jesus Christ at the low point of human spiritual history, none of this would have been possible.
But since God did come at exactly the right time, in exactly the right place, humanity ceased its downward plunge, and began the long, slow, and often painful climb back upward toward a new Golden Age in which “nation will not lift up sword against nation, neither will they learn war anymore” (Isaiah 2:4).
This article is a response to a spiritual conundrum submitted by a reader.
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