Does God Change?

In a recent comment, a reader named Rami brought up the issue of God’s unchanging nature vs. God—and God’s relationship to us—changing through time. This post is a slightly edited version of my reply.

This begins to push the limits of what we humans can comprehend.

While we are living here on earth in our physical body, our mind is largely engaged in time and space, and we think in temporal and spatial terms. Even when we are able to lift our mind above the physical into the spiritual, it is still engaged in the spiritual analogs of time and space, which involve progression and development in our thoughts and feelings. We are never capable, either as humans on earth or as angels in heaven, of raising our mind to the divine level, which is God.

We are physical and spiritual beings. God is a divine being. So although we can see reflections and gain an approximation in our minds of the nature of God, we can never directly or fully experience and grasp what it is like to be God. We can never fully understand how God experiences things. We can only see reflections of it in our own physical and spiritual experiences.

I add this preface because I’m going to say some things that honestly, I don’t fully understand, nor can any of us fully understand, because they go beyond our ability to understand. They are at best reflections and approximations of how God experiences these things.

There is no change at the core of God

At the core of God—what in biblical terms is called “the Father”—there is no change at all. There is only eternal, unchanging love. It is a love that always flows outward, never inward. It is the point from which all love, and everything that exists, flows. It is also the center of God’s awareness, which is God’s wisdom. God’s wisdom, also, never changes. It is always perfectly balanced with and at one with God’s love.

God’s love and wisdom feel and see everything that to us is temporal and spatial in a single, eternal view and experience. To “the Father,” all things exist in an eternal present. There is no past or future. There are no things that happened earlier, and no things that haven’t happened yet. All things are seen in an eternal now.

As an analogy, although we might be in the middle of a cross-country journey, God is seeing the whole journey—both the part we’ve already done and the part that is ahead of us—on a sort of divine Google Maps in which the entire journey is all laid out in a single view.

Google Maps cross-country road trip

Google Maps cross-country road trip

So from the perspective of God’s divine core, there is no change. There can’t possibly be change, because all that to us ever has been or ever will be, everywhere in the universe, is eternally present with God in a single view and experience.

And yet, God entered into time and space as Jesus Christ

And yet, the Bible tells us that God entered into time and space in the form of Jesus Christ, lived out a life that began with conception and progressed through birth, childhood, and adulthood, and ended in death (which, of course, was followed by the Resurrection and Ascension). So God lived out a human life here on earth, subject to and changing in time and space.

Contrary to traditional Christian trinitarian doctrine, Emanuel Swedenborg (1688-1772)  states that before the Incarnation (Jesus’ life on earth as a flesh and blood human being), there was not a trinity of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Yes, there were the divine attributes of love, wisdom, and action that are expressed in the trinity of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. But before Jesus’ birth, there was no Son, nor was there any Holy Spirit. There was the spirit of God flowing out, but this was not the same as the Holy Spirit of the New Testament, which flows from the Father through the Son.

So from our human, time-bound perspective, God changed because of the Incarnation. Whereas before God was only divine, now God is what Swedenborg calls the Divine Humanity. God added a human nature through living on earth as Jesus Christ. How this all worked would take far too long to explain here. For that, you’d need to read the first few chapters of Swedenborg’s True Christianity.

And yet . . . this “change” is eternally present for God

And yet, Swedenborg also says that Jesus’ entire “glorification” process, which was Jesus’ inner life while he was living on earth, is fully expressed in the deepest meaning of the Scriptures—including in the Old Testament, which was written before Jesus was born. A large swath of Secrets of Heaven, Swedenborg’s detailed, multi-volume spiritual commentary on the books of Genesis and Exodus, is devoted to telling the sequential story of Jesus’ inner glorification process via the inner meaning of the stories in Genesis from Abraham through Joseph.

How could Jesus’ inner life be told in texts that were written before he was born?

The answer, Swedenborg says, is that to God, all events that from our perspective are in the future, are in the present. God’s view is not limited to the past, as ours is. God sees all things, past, present, and future. So God was able to tell Jesus’ inner story in the books of the Old Testament because to God, that story was not a future, unknown thing, but rather was a present, known thing.

This means that even though God did enter into time and space in the form of Jesus Christ, and lived out a sequential life that involved changing through time, for “the Father,” or the core of God, that entire sequence, not to mention everything else before and after it in time, is a present reality. For God, there was never a “time” when the experience of living a life on earth as a flesh and blood human being was not a present reality. For God, that entire life as Jesus is part of God’s eternal experience in the eternal present in which God lives.

This means that in everything God does that to us is past, present, or future, Jesus Christ is a present reality on God’s side of the action. God’s experiences as Jesus Christ are present in everything God does, including what God did before coming to earth as Jesus Christ.

And if that makes perfect sense . . .

This, as I said at the beginning, pushes the limits of what we humans, with our time- and space-bound perspective, can comprehend. But put simply (?!), what appears to us to be changes in God is, from God’s perspective, not change, because God is present in and aware of all of it at once from an eternal awareness outside of time and space.

And if you can fully understand that, I’ll step aside and let you write this blog from now on!

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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14 comments on “Does God Change?
  1. Hoyle says:

    Your explanations about God are “time warped”. Man’s understanding of God has changed drastically since the dawn of man. Why would our understanding of God today be anymore accurate that it was 50,000 years ago or what it will be in the next 50,000 years? You often refer to the Bible when trying to explain what God “thinks” and what characteristics he possesses. However, your understanding of God would most likely be much different had you been born thousands of years ago and/or born into a different culture (same for Swedenborg). Try not to confuse your understanding of God with religious understanding.. I do believe that you are correct when you profess our inability to comprehend God’s true colors. No matter how “deep”, flowery, current and learned the attempts to explain God, no human will ever know and that’s a tough one to live with. After all, who knows? Who REALLY knows? Do keep up the good work. Your thoughts and beliefs give many Christians an anchor to throw into the deep unknown.

    • Lee says:

      Hi Hoyle,

      Thanks for your thoughts. Of course, as humanity has developed, our ability to understand things has developed also. Our current science is far more advanced than what we had even 100 years ago, let alone 50,000 years ago. It stands to reason that we’d be able to understand God better now, too.

      Having said that, there is much ancient wisdom that has been passed down to us, some of which probably still exceeds what we understand about God and spirit today. Some people thousands of years ago apparently had a more direct awareness and experience of God and spirit than we do today.

      Put in that context, what Swedenborg experienced may not be as unusual as people think. It’s just that he is “time-warped” out of the era in which humankind enjoyed open communication with the spiritual world. Because the other side of our greater knowledge is that as a society we’ve become more materialistic, more focused on the physical world, and less open to spiritual reality. But I think that’s changing now that we’ve gotten science and materialism pretty solidly under our belt conceptually—and are beginning to look for something more.

  2. Rami says:

    Hi Lee,

    I wanted to follow up with a couple of older exchanges here, and on this one, I was curious as to what the implications this view has for God’s being either in time or outside of time. You mentioned in an a separate comment on a separate post that God exists in a timeless, spaceless state from which time and space are spun out yet exist in a single view, but does that mean is God is *in* time once He created it? For if he is affected by things that happen in this temporal world, that would suggest that God is also temporal, and that tensed events apply to Him (God *did* so and so, or *will do* so and so). If God is outside of time, then tensed events would not seem to apply to God, for there no past, present, or future activity for a timeless being.

    This may just sound like a theoretical exercise, but it’s actually quite important, for n timeless God before the creation of time implies one who is alone and has no loving relationships with His creation until He created time (which only then would allow for the eternal present that you described), which would mean He is not perfectly loving.

    But just to throw a wrench into my own hypothetical argument, notice the words I’m using “before the creation of time,” which are words that imply a sense of time- an order of events- to a timeless state! So yeah, this definitely pushes the limits of what we can comprehend, but the theological implications for this issue are critically important

    • Alex says:

      This is a thing I thought about myself. How can God be loving if he had noone to share the love with before he created us?

      But this is exactly the point. We regard our creation as the starting point. But if God truly exists outside of time and sees everything as an eternal present, then there should be no time difference between now and our creation or the time before our creation is the same point in time (or outside time as the case may be) for God.
      In fact, every single moment is the same time for God so technically speaking He always loved up and there wasn’t a ‘time’ where God wasn’t loving us, because from Gods perspective there wasn’t a time where we did not exist.

      This is obviously highly theoretical and mathematical. That is the issue with trying to understand the timeless nature of God and probably where a lot of doubt is born (including mine). Understanding eternity is impossible.

      And here is another point: Time is actually a man-made creation when we come down to it. We invented the measurement of time to help us measure the finity around us. But in its purest form there is only change. The entire material universe is subject to change. Remember, no mass is ever lost, simply converted. So mass is in fact timeless (starting from its creating by God). It just changes its form. So we as humans can not create or destroy anything. We can just rearrange mass. God is the only one capable of producing more mass or removing mass. So discard time from the equation and look at the core of the issue. There is change. We change, our world changes. This change kicked it when we were created. However, God is unchanging. I think that makes the relationship slightly easier to grasp.

    • Lee says:

      Hi Rami,

      Looks like you’re not the only one tangling with issues of time and eternity! I second what Alex said.

      More specifically, yes, God is present in time. God is present in everything in the universe. But God is not bounded or limited by time as we are. God’s experience does not flow through time as ours does, but rather is present in all time “simultaneously” from an eternal state of awareness.

      Even being incarnated as a flesh-and-blood human being and living a sequential lifetime on earth required a human mother, so that God’s divine being was temporarily paired with a time-bound human nature. Strictly speaking, the divine nature was not bound by time even when it temporarily inhabited the humanity from Mary that was bound by time. It’s just that during his lifetime on earth Jesus’ consciousness was engaged in the finite human awareness much of the time, and he was not fully engaged in the divine consciousness or self that was “the Father” or divine soul within him. But when he rose from the dead, and especially when ascended to the Father (from our perspective) after the Resurrection, there was no longer anything of the finite human left; it was now an infinite divine humanity that was fully one with the Father, or divine soul, and part of the infinite, eternal divine being.

      So the divine being itself was never bounded by time, even when it temporarily inhabited a finite humanity that was bounded by time.

      If that makes any sense to you . . .

      • Rami says:

        Hi Lee (and Alex!),

        Yes, it makes about as much sense as finite human beings trying to describe something as beyond our temporal sense perception can understand it! I believe these are some of the most complex topics in philosophy precisely because any attempt to comprehend a sense of being ‘out of time’ still comes from the perspective and imaginations of beings who are in time. That said, the outside of time and in the ‘eternal present’ understanding of God’s relationship to time seems to be a long standing trend in Catholic philosophy ever since Augustine (I think it was Augustine), and it sounds like the view being expressed here is a kind of ‘omnitemporality,’ where God is not outside of time, but in time, all times, all the time. But I do have a couple of concerns about the notion of the ‘eternal present.’

        It sounds to me as though time, according to this view, time is just as eternal as God is- time has no beginning or end, but was, is, and will always exist. It sounds to me like the difference between watching a movie frame by frame, and having each individual frame laid out in front of you for you to see exactly what happened, is happening, and will happen all in a single view, and I don’t think I can get on board with an idea that something is just as eternal as God is. Also, it sounds, by extension, that creation never actually happens. Nothing ever comes into being, but was just always there in some kind of static time. Another disturbing implication that some philosophers have raised is that since events never really come to pass, the horrors of human history are still going on.

        Finally, as a related, side, but important point I want to bring up, both you and Alex have mentioned that there was never a time in which God was alone, and thus perfectly loving, but wouldn’t this make God- on a unitarian view- dependent upon His creation to be perfectly loving? If to be perfectly loving is to give of oneself to another, it sounds then as though God *needed* to create us and thus His essence would wind up depending on us, as opposed to His internal nature.

        • Lee says:

          Hi Rami,

          About the temporality issues: Relax! It doesn’t work that way.

          As I said, God is present in time, just as God is present in everything in the universe. But that is a presence by flowing in, not by God being temporal, or bounded by time.

          There are three general levels of reality:

          1. divine
          2. spiritual
          3. material

          Time exists only in the material level of reality. The spiritual level of reality has an analog of time, which is development in understanding, and involves the experience of a passage of events. Like time in the material level of reality, this analog of time is a one-way arrow. It travels from less to more experience and understanding.

          On the divine level, there is no time. Rather, there is infinite state. There is no development in understanding because God is omniscient. There is therefore no sequence of events, because God is present in and fully aware of all events that to us are sequential.

          The divine level is God. So God exists in an eternal state outside of and above time. From there, God flows into the spiritual realm, with its analog of time (and space), and into the material realm, with its time (and space).

          Neither the spiritual realm nor the material realm is as eternal as God is, though they both do have some analog of eternity.

          We don’t yet know exactly the large-scale temporal nature of the material universe—whether it is a “closed” or “open” universe: whether time and space form a vast “sphere” that curves back in on itself so that there is no “end” of it, or whether time and space continue to expand forever in an “open” fashion, implying eternity in one direction of time (forward) but not in the other (backward). Either way, the sheer vastness of time and space gives some sense of eternity, even if it may not technically be eternal.

          The spiritual realm is at least eternal in the forward direction of the spiritual analog of time, since we are assured that we continue in the afterlife forever, meaning we will continue to grow in experience, understanding, and love forever. But I suspect that as with our discoveries of the mind-bogglingly non-intuitive nature of the material universe that we are progressively unearthing through science, the reality of the nature of the spiritual realm is probably whole orders of magnitude more complex and non-intuitive than we now suspect.

          At any rate, there is no problem of God being limited by time or space, because God does not exist in time or space. Rather, God flows into time and space, keeping everything in the material realm in existence every nanosecond.

          And there is no problem of God not being any more eternal than physical (or spiritual) reality because God exists on a level of reality distinctly higher than that of either the spiritual or the material realm.

          Related to all of this, I recommend reading this two-article sequence:

          1. Wavicles of Love
          2. Containers for God
        • Lee says:

          Hi Rami,

          About your final point, I would say, not that God needed to create us, but that God wanted to create us.

    • Hoyle says:

      If we believe in our own existence, we must believe in a “creating life force”. Beyond that, no one really knows.

  3. Alex says:

    Hi Lee,

    Another question came to mind. This article is about how God is eternally the same. However, what is God in the first place? God is love, I know, but how do I imagine this? Does God have a personality? If so, how can pure love have a personality? How does one comprehend that Divine level?
    And if God is love, does that mean God incapable of hate and doing evil out of spits or just for the sake of it? If not, wouldn’t that mean God is not allpowerful?

    I realised while thinking on the topic of time and change that I have no real idea about who or what God even is. I have those small bits of knowledge I got from your articles, but that doesn’t really give me an image. Jesus is as close as it gets, because he had a relatable form.

    • Lee says:

      Hi Alex,

      Your final statement is the real, practical answer for us. Jesus said:

      No one comes to the Father except through me. If you know me, you will know my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him. (John 14:6-7)

      The Father is the core being of God, which is unknowable (directly) to human minds. Though we can posit some philosophical ideas about the being of God, such as that God is love, our finite minds simply aren’t capable of grasping the reality of the core being of God as it is in itself. God is infinite; our minds are finite.

      However, in Jesus Christ God has expressed the being of God in a way that we humans can comprehend. And that comprehensible divine human expression of God shows us that God is indeed human in every good and meaningful way.

      After Pilate’s conversation with Jesus, the Gospel of John says (in the King James Version):

      Then came Jesus forth, wearing the crown of thorns, and the purple robe. And Pilate saith unto them, Behold the man! (John 19:5)

      “Pilate” is italicized because the name Pilate does not occur in the original Greek. The antecedent is not “Pilate,” but “Jesus.” It should read, as it does in Young’s Literal Translation:

      Jesus, therefore, came forth without, bearing the thorny crown and the purple garment; and he saith to them, “Lo, the man!”

      In other words, in the most straightforward reading of the original Greek it was not Pilate, but Jesus who said, “Behold the man.” Translators just haven’t been able to make sense of why Jesus would say such a thing. They have assumed that what’s going on is that Pilate is saying, “Look, here is the man you were shouting about.” But what’s really going on (I believe) is that Jesus is saying, “Look, this is the truly human being.” And Swedenborg expands upon this by saying that God, as expressed in Jesus, is the only truly and fully human being. All the rest of us are only partially human beings to the extent that we are in the image and likeness of God (see Genesis 1:26-27).

      To the extent that we are not in the image and likeness of God, we are not truly human. And when we are acting in what could be called a sub-human manner, such as from prejudice, hate, selfishness, greed, and so on, then we lack humanity, and we are being inhuman in a very literal sense.

      So yes, God does have personality. Pure love is not an amorphous thing. It is formed by pure wisdom, which gives it an infinitely complex, yet completely unified, nature. That nature involves an infinite state of being, or in a sense, infinite personality—which, as I said, is beyond the ability of our finite minds to grasp. And yet we can gain some sense of it especially through God’s human presence in Jesus Christ.

      We can also gain some sense of God’s personality through the Scriptures generally, though that becomes tricky because many parts of scripture are thickly “veiled” reality as accommodated to our fallen and finite minds. (See, “How God Speaks in the Bible to Us Boneheads.”)

      And we can gain some sense of God’s personality through the nature of the created universe—though that, too becomes tricky because the created universe, too, is accommodated to human states, which, unlike God, include evil. (See, “How can we have Faith when So Many Bad Things happen to So Many Good People? Part 2.”)

      God is “incapable of hate and doing evil” in the sense that there is no hate or evil in God. It is not part of God’s nature. Another way of looking at it is that God has no desire to hate or do evil.

      I am aware that there are passages in the Bible that say otherwise. But that is due to the need to accommodate the Bible’s literal meaning to the fallen state of a fallen humanity. And it is necessary for precisely the reason you raise: If fallen humans, who delight in evil and think that evil is great and powerful (see: “Why is Evil Sexier than Good?”), did not think that God did evil as well as good, they would consider God to be a weak God, would have no respect for God, and would not listen to God or obey God’s commandments—which would lead to their eternal ruin. So God speaks in human terms in order to command respect from fallen human beings for their own eternal welfare.

      The thing is, for fallen humans, evil is good, and good is evil. In other words, fallen humans think that evil things such as self-centeredness and greed are good whereas good things such as unselfish love for others and a desire to share what we have with others are bad. So from the perspective of fallen humans, God does do evil because God does things diametrically opposed to what fallen humans call good. So it’s not that the statements in the Bible that God does evil are “false,” but rather that they are spoken in terms of fallen human beings’ concepts of good and evil.

      But the reality is that God does not do anything that is actually evil. And that does not in any way limit God’s power because in fact, evil has no power of its own; it exists entirely on power borrowed from good. And evil cannot accomplish anything constructive on its own; it only accomplishes destructive things. So its power is a borrowed and negative kind of power, whereas God’s power is a primary and positive kind of power.

      That’s a bit of a mind-bender, I know. But the basic idea is that God is all-powerful because God has the ability to do everything God wants to do, which is everything that is actually good and constructive. Destroying something good (as evil does), is not “power” in any real sense. It is only the “power” to negate the existence of something. Evil cannot create or originate anything at all.

      Once again, this is mind-bending stuff. And of course, what I’ve said above is only my own imperfect stab at understanding things that, in their full infinite and divine reality go beyond our ability to understand.

      I’ll stop for now and let that much soak in. Feel free to continue the conversation if you have further thoughts or questions.

  4. Alex says:

    Thanks for taking the time, Lee.

    There are three things that come to mind. Firstly, what precisely does it mean that God created us in his image? Does it mean that God is a happy old man sitting on cloud after all? Having learned the approach of spiritual interpretation from reading your articles I would assume that he did not literally make us look like him (two eyes, nose, legs and all the other parts of our human body) but rather this is meant to demonstrate the creation of our souls. Much like a human would create smaller replica, God created our souls in his image. Though God is of Divine substance, our souls are also immaterial and made out of spiritual substance. Just as God is Love, we have the capacity to love.

    Though if that is correct, how come NDAs and Swedenborg reported a life in the spirtual world that is pretty much how we live here. How come we would still have the shape and form of a material human body? How come we would stiill communicate through speech as opposed to some higher form of communication?
    And if that is the shape of our souls, could it be that God also has a shape? One we have never seen because direct contact would kill us. However, I have a hard time imagening God having a natural shape. I would assume God would assume a guise, like walking the earth as Jesus. But in His natural state? Seems to me it would be far more reminiscent of energy that is constantly flowing through everyone and everything.

    The second thing is… Well, how to put it? What is the purpose of God? Everything has a purpose, a functionality. So what about God? I suppose I can answer that one myself. Just as with time and change, God created all things to have a purpose and as such God is above the definition of purpose. But that answer is somewhat unsatisfying, because it sounds like God exists just for the sake of existing.

    However, all of this becomes whole ton easier to understand if one would change perspective, at least for me. We tend to see things from our point of view, be it from us in particular, humanity as a whole or our universe. So we try to understand how God fits into this universe and its laws and how God can be like us.
    But the thing is, we weren’t the first. God was the first. We are made in His image. We serve the purpose God gave us as opposed to us finding a purpose for God. In the beginning, there wasn’t a universe, there was only God (though ‘beginning’ is very relative to begin with), and not that the universe came to existance and at some point we discovered a God.
    I like to see it from a perspective of a videogame programmer. The game has its own story, its own characters and lore. But as the creator, you stand above all that. You occupy a completely different dimension and you can not even begin to describe the differences. Turn this concept to infinity and you have pretty much God.

    And this leads me to the third issue. This is a little abstract. Just as a programmer creating a world is himself living in a world and having a creator of his own, how do we know that the chain ends with God? How do we know that God does not have a ‘deity’ or creator Himself? Sure, it is said in the Bible, but you said it yourself that sometimes God speaks differently so that we would listen. Just as God appears angry so that people respect him, maybe God makes himself out to be the all-powerful creator, because we wouldn’t listen otherwise or turn our minds into places we shouldn’t. In fact, if God is indeed all-powerful, he would very well have the capacity to lie to us or play us and we would be none the wiser.

    This final thought makes me feel a bit uncomfortable, becaue it goes against the very principle of everything we define as ‘divine’ but it is nonetheless a question that should be asked, so here it is.

    • Lee says:

      Hi Alex,

      These are big questions! I’ll take them one at a time.

      Your first question is quite complex, and has many facets, which I really can’t do full justice to in a comment.

      First, as I said earlier, God is human in the truest sense. And that truest sense is not about having a physically human shape, but about having the character attributes that make a being human. In general, this means having outgoing love for beings outside oneself, having wisdom guiding that love, and expressing both of these in powerful action to accomplish good and constructive goals. Beyond that, it gets just as complex as—and in fact, infinitely more complex than—all the complexities of our human character and life. Joy, sorrow, laughter, tears, insight, inspiration, and all of the particular character traits that make us distinctly human in the best sense of that word are all reflections of infinite traits of the character of God.

      Further, our particular human physical form is not arbitrary, according to Swedenborg. Rather, it is a “correspondential” reflection of those inner human characteristics. Correspondence, in Swedenborg’s theology and philosophy, is how higher realities express themselves in lower realities in such a way that the lower realities reflect and express the nature of the higher realities on their own level. For example, our ability to “see” things mentally through the use of our intellect expresses itself in the physical eye and its ability to see physical objects. And the force of character that allows us to actually carry out our plans rather than just dreaming about them expresses itself in our arms and hands, which carry out physically the desires and intentions of our heart and mind.

      So the human body is an image and likeness of the human spirit, which (when we have been spiritually reborn), is an image and likeness of the love, wisdom, and power that is God.

      What is the form of God at God’s own divine level? That is something we humans, with our finite minds, cannot comprehend. But as I also said earlier, we can see that form expressed in Jesus Christ, in the Scriptures generally, and in the world of nature. And especially as expressed in Jesus Christ, we can think of God as a human being. And since our concrete minds need concrete imagery, we can picture God as the old white-bearded man sitting on a throne in heaven if that helps us to have a relationship with God.

      That picture is not wrong. It is simply a reflection of some of God’s divine attributes as they express themselves in concrete imagery in our mind. The Bible does describe God as having eyes, ears, nostrils, arms, hands, legs, heart, and so on. All of these things correspond to divine realities in God, whose intrinsic divine nature is beyond our ability to directly comprehend. We therefore must comprehend them in terms of spiritual and physical realities that correspond to them, and that we can perceive and comprehend.

      More specifically on our being created in the image and likeness of God, the general answer is:

      • We are in the image of God when our thinking mind, intellect, and faith are in line with divine principles, and we live by them because we know and understand that this is the right way to live.
      • We are in the likeness of God when our heart is filled with love for God and for our fellow human beings, and we focus our life on serving others, not just because we know it’s the right thing to do, but because it is what we love to do.

      Being in the “image” of God is therefore a lesser state, since it is more intellect-based, whereas being in the “likeness” of God is a greater state, since it is love-based.

      However, we must first pass through being an image of God before we can become a likeness of God. That is why in Genesis 1:27 it says that God created us “in his image,” but then in Genesis 5:1 it says that God created us “in his likeness.” In a person who is being spiritually reborn, there is a progression from the intellect-based image of God (when we do what’s right because we know it’s the right thing to do) to the love-based likeness of God (when we do what’s good and loving because it is what we love to do, and it flows right from our heart).

      This is based on Swedenborg’s dominant interpretation of “image” and “likeness” as used in Genesis 1:26-27; 5:1. However, occasionally the meanings of “image” and “likeness” are reversed when the subject is people who have fallen away from the pattern in which we were originally created.

      Also, Swedenborg sometimes speaks of the “image” of God as representing the love and wisdom of God working in and through us, and the “likeness” of God being our sense that we think, feel, and act on our own as autonomous beings, even while (ideally) recognizing that everything we have and are is really from God. This sense of being our own person is “godlike” in the sense that God actually is God’s own person; and when we feel that we are our own person, we have a sense of being “like God” in that we feel we can direct our own life and be the person we want to be.

      Beyond that, a sense of autonomy is necessary so that we can have a mutual relationship with God. If we did not have a sense of ourselves as distinct, autonomous beings, we could not be in relationship with God because we would either be simply an extension of, and therefore part of, God, or we would not be self-aware, which would prevent us from having any conscious, mutual, freely chosen relationship with God or with anyone else. So God gives us the ability to feel as if we are our own person, while ideally recognizing that in fact, everything we have and are is from God, and is God’s in us. So Swedenborg says that we must do everything “as if by ourselves,” while recognizing that it all comes from God.

      Having this sense of being a “godlike” being, as in being able to decide and control our own destiny, is another way that we are made in the “likeness” of God. And yet this “likeness” of God in us should be balanced with the “image” of God, which comes with an awareness that we are, in fact, only reflections, or images, of God’s love, wisdom, and power, and none of what we have or are is actually our own.

      So in general, being in the image and likeness of God is not so much about being physically human, with head, torso, limbs, eyes, ears, and so on, but rather about being spiritually (psychologically and emotionally) in the image and likeness of God in having the ability to think, love, desire, feel emotion, make plans and carry them out, and so on. But those spiritually human characteristics express themselves in our physical body in very precise ways through correspondences. Every single part of the body, not only organ by organ, but right down to the cellular level, corresponds to and expresses some specific part of our psyche or spirit.

      Angels are therefore fully human, complete with human bodies, and live in human communities, because in the spiritual world, too, the inner self of each angel is expressed outwardly in a tangible human form that corresponds to and reflects the precise inner character of that angel. So angels can fully see and sense one another’s character simply by looking at their face and body, because each angel’s inner self is fully expressed in his or her outmost self, which is his or her spiritual body.

      Further, an angelic community taken together reflects the nature and character of the collective mind of the community, so that from a distance, an entire angelic community commonly looks like a single angel.

      Does this help?

    • Lee says:

      Hi Alex,

      In the interest of time, I’ll respond more briefly to your second and third questions, which are related to one another.

      God doesn’t so much have a purpose as be a purpose. In other words, God is purpose, because God’s “purpose” is that from which everything else that exists flows. And at the core of that divine purpose is the divine love, whose nature is to love others outside of itself. So this purpose of loving flows out into the creation of a universe whose purpose is to provide a matrix and environment for beings who are able to love God in return, and mutually love one another as well.

      On our earth, those beings are the human race. And if any other planets are populated by intelligent, self-aware beings, they are included in the broad definition of “humanity” as well.

      Lower animal life, plants, and inanimate objects of all sorts also have their purpose in providing that environment in which self-aware beings created in the fullest image and likeness of God possible can originate, grow, live, and develop into angelic beings who will live forever in the spiritual world—and more specifically, in the eternally growing community of heaven.

      God therefore wasn’t created for a purpose, because God wasn’t created. The debate about “who created God” is an ancient one, as you’ll see if you peruse the Wikipedia page on the “Unmoved mover.” Basically, if you trace the links of causality and creation all the way back, eventually you will come to a being that was not itself created, but that created everything else. From a theological perspective, that “unmoved mover” is God.

      Some religions do think of the God of the Bible, or of our world, as a created god, and not as the ultimate God. Some versions of Essene religion, for example, considered the God of the Old Testament to be a created, non-ultimate god, behind whom was the ultimate God. And yet, even this view posits that there is, ultimately, a God who is the origin of everything else, including any lesser gods that may have purview over particular races, cultures, or parts of nature.

      I don’t know how satisfying this reply is. These are more abstract and philosophical questions. And though they’re fun to ponder and play with, my own tendency is to move from the abstract to the concrete, where we can see how things actually work out and express themselves. That is where the nature of God falls within the ability of our finite and rather concrete minds to grasp. And that is where some understanding of these things results in actual, practical improvement in our own life and in the life of the human community.

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Lee & Annette Woofenden

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