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.
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: