In a comment here, a reader named “Seeking to understand” asked some questions about the change in God’s relationship with us from before to after the Incarnation: God “becoming flesh” as Jesus Christ. These questions boiled down to three basic questions:
- Was it really a change in how God relates to us?
- Does this mean God was less able to save us before the Incarnation?
- What part of God “changes” from our human perspective?
Even to understand these questions you might want to click on the first link above and read Seeking to understand’s original comment. This post is an edited and expanded version of the reply I wrote here. It doesn’t exactly answer all of these questions. But the answers should become clear enough as you read my response.
The Divine Humanity
To answer the last question first in good biblical fashion, the term Emanuel Swedenborg (1688–1772) uses for the part of God that comes to us humans and touches us directly, and that changes in the realm of time and space, is “the Divine Humanity.” This is the human expression of God, which we know most concretely as Jesus Christ.
Most often Swedenborg simply calls Jesus Christ “the Lord.” He doesn’t think of the Lord as a separate being from the Father or the Holy Spirit. Rather, he sees the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit as all being within, and part of, the Lord. There are not three persons or three gods, but one God, who is the Lord God Jesus Christ. For more on this, please see, “Who is God? Who is Jesus Christ? What about that Holy Spirit?”
In short, the Divine Humanity is God reaching out to us and relating to us as a divine, infinite human being relating to created, finite human beings.
In the lifetime of Jesus Christ, the Divine Humanity developed through time and space in a process that Swedenborg calls “the Glorification.” This was a process of Jesus making his human side, which originally came from Mary, fully divine, so that by the time of the resurrection there was nothing left of the finite humanity derived from Mary; it had all been replaced by an infinite, uncreated, self-existent divine humanity.
This is what Jesus was referring to in the Gospel of John when he said, “Just as the Father has life in himself, so he has granted the Son also to have life in himself” (John 5:26). This would be impossible unless the Son was fully divine, and not some secondary, derived “person” of God “born from eternity” (something the Bible never says).
I realize this is a brain-bender. But understanding it is the key to understanding the Incarnation and the Glorification. Some of the articles linked from this one go into it in a little more detail. The fundamental idea is that God, in a sense, “expanded” or flowed outward with the Divine Being to include in it a Divine Humanity that had not previously existed.
An imperfect analogy is to think of a human being developing from a single fertilized egg into a full-grown human being. The DNA is still the same. It is still essentially the same human being. But it has now developed from potential form in the complete set of human DNA in the fertilized egg into actual form in the adult human being that has grown according to the pattern contained in that DNA.
When God “develops” in a new form, there is no separation from the core being of God, because God is one and indivisible. Unlike human sons and daughters, who separate and distinguish themselves from their parents, the Son of God never separated from God, but remained one with God.
The Son of God is not a separate person distinct from God the Father, even though it may appear that way to our human eyes. Rather, the Son of God is an expanding of God into new territory that God did not previously occupy. (I am speaking metaphorically here.) It’s just that to describe the cosmically unique event that was happening, the Bible had to use terms and concepts that ordinary people could grasp in some way. The terms “father” and “son” come closest to a concrete, human-understandable way of expressing these highly philosophical and spiritual concepts.
I hope these few thoughts will give you some mental grasp of what was going on in the Incarnation and Glorification. Please read some of the linked articles for more.
An indirect relationship with God
The big change from before to after the Incarnation is that before the Incarnation, in reaching out to human beings on earth God worked primarily through angelic and human intermediaries, whereas afterwards God also works directly, without angelic and human intermediaries.
In the Old Testament, God spoke to people through angels, and also through human leaders such as Moses, Joshua, the High Priest, and the prophets. Ordinary people rarely heard God’s voice directly.
Even when someone “saw God face to face,” it was actually God filling an angel with the divine presence so that the angel represented God. That’s why in the very same chapter in Genesis it first says:
Thus the Lord used to speak to Moses face to face, as one speaks to a friend. (Genesis 33:11)
But then, just a few verses later, God says to Moses:
But you cannot see my face; for no one can see me and live. (Genesis 33:20)
Skeptics will jump all over this as a blatant contradiction in the Bible. And if we read the Bible literally, it is a blatant contradiction. But here’s what’s happening:
Before the Incarnation, human beings could not see God’s actual face, which was the infinite core Divine Being. That would indeed have been fatal. It would have been like having a direct, unfiltered encounter with the sun—which no human being could survive without being burnt to a crisp and then vaporized. However, people were able to speak to God “face to face” when God spoke through angels, and the angels were so filled with God’s presence that they thought and spoke as if they were God.
For a great example of this, read Genesis chapters 18–19. In these chapters, the beings who visited Abraham, and later his nephew Lot, are sometimes called “men,” sometimes “angels,” and sometimes “the Lord.” How could they be all three at once, if not by God filling angels (who were once people, or “men,” on earth—see: “What is the Biblical Basis for Humans becoming Angels after they Die?”) with God’s presence? Once we understand how God appeared to people before the Incarnation, this confusing story, and many others in the Old Testament, makes perfect sense.
Losing touch with God
Unfortunately, as the generations and ages passed, people paid less and less attention to God’s messengers, both angelic and human. There were also fewer and fewer people on earth whom God could call upon to deliver God’s messages because humanity was getting more and more materialistic, and listening less and less to anything that came from the spiritual world and from God.
The last prophetic books of the Old Testament speak of events that happened several centuries before the coming of Christ. There was a “dead zone” in there in which God rarely, if ever, spoke to the people because the people just weren’t listening. This is what Isaiah was speaking of poetically in this passage:
He saw that there was no man,
and wondered that there was no one to intercede;
then his own arm brought him salvation,
and his righteousness upheld him. (Isaiah 59:16)
In other words, there were no more people through whom God could appeal to humans on earth. “His own arm” refers prophetically to Jesus Christ, who is not some separate “person” of God, but God’s own powerful and loving arm reaching out to save humanity from spiritual destruction. See also the famous passage in Isaiah 63:1–9, which is another poetic and prophetic rendition of the same idea.
In other words, the connection between humanity and God through angels and through human leaders, priests, and prophets was becoming so weak and tenuous that humanity was in danger of being cut off altogether from God and the spiritual world. If that had happened, it would have resulted in our spiritual and eternal death as human beings. We would have become nothing but animals—but worse than any other animal because we were tearing each other to shreds.
A direct relationship with God
That was when God came personally as Jesus Christ to restore the connection between humanity and God. Unlike God’s former appearances through angelic and human intermediaries, this time it was God’s own human presence reaching out to humanity and speaking directly to us. That’s why, when Philip asked to see the Father, Jesus replied:
Have I been with you all this time, Philip, and you still do not know me? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, “Show us the Father”? Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own; but the Father who dwells in me does the works. (John 14:9–10)
Now that God has Incarnated, or become flesh, the Father (the infinite Divine Being) can speak to us directly as the Divine Humanity who is Jesus Christ.
This is why, although institutional Christianity quickly reverted back to the old Jewish model (see “Christianity is Dead. Long Live Christianity!”), in true Christianity there are no priests serving as intermediaries between humans and God. Instead God is his own “mediator” in Christ—and people now have a direct relationship with God in Jesus Christ. Here are two passages in which this is expressed:
For there is one God; there is also one mediator between God and humankind, Christ Jesus, himself human. (1 Timothy 2:5)
. . . and to God the judge of all . . . and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant. (Hebrews 12:23–24)
These passages make it sound like Christ is separate from God. But that is only the appearance, not the reality. Paul made this clear when he said:
Now a mediator involves more than one party; but God is one. (Galatians 3:19)
Paul also said:
All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us. (2 Corinthians 5:18–19)
What appears to us spatially-challenged humans as two is actually one God. Jesus Christ is “God’s own arm” serving as God’s own mediator, who is, simply, God personally reaching out to us. There is one and only one God. This is all explained in the “Who is God” article linked both above and below. For another somewhat more technical angle on this, please see: “What is the difference between the Swedenborgian and Oneness Pentecostal doctrines of God?”
The upshot of all this is that unlike before the Incarnation, God no longer has to work through angelic and human intermediaries to reach us and speak to us. Although God still does use angelic and human intermediaries for many things, God, as the Lord Jesus Christ, can now also have a direct relationship with us. Now we can see the face of God and live, because God has become the Divine Humanity, Jesus Christ, whose face we can see, and to whom we can talk person-to-person. See: “How does Jesus Appear to Us? Can We See God Face to Face?”
For further reading:
Hi again! Thank you so much for creating this post to answer my questions!
And, yes, I’m sorry you get all the hard questions, haha…but it’s because I try to find the answers to the easy ones myself 🙂
I just love all of the analogies you provide to help make these things more understandable – like the one about a single cell with DNA being extended, as it were, into a full, adult human, through development… That helps get my mind around the idea that the potential for this Divine Humanity was there inside of God all along, which fits in with what you said about God, at God’s core, not changing…
But let me see if I’m understanding correctly in gathering from everything you’ve said, that in the way that God interacts with us humans through the Divine Humanity, when entering into our time and space and so forth, to work directly with us…there can be some degree of growth and development, yes? Could this explain the observations that have led some to the idea of Open Theism? Could it seem, for all intents and purposes, as if the Divine Humanity with which we interact is growing in knowledge and experiencing events with us in a sequence rather than simultaneously in an eternal now (as you say is the case with God’s core)?
Also, if you don’t mind – this post raised another question, but I couldn’t find the answer in the other articles you linked… Before the incarnation, when God was able to speak directly to a few human intermediaries, but not to most people, what was it about those people that made them different and more able to receive those communications from God? (And do those kinds of differences affect God’s ability to communicate with us anymore now-a-days?)
Based on other things I’ve read, I would have thought it would have been because they were more open to God’s attempts to contact them, while others were more closed… (I would think God would want to communicate with anyone who would listen…?) But then – how did the incarnation make it so that God could have more direct contact with more people (aside from Jesus’s sacrifice making a lot of people who heard about it feel more open and trusting toward God)?
I mean, I know you said direct, unfiltered contact with God would be as fatal as direct, unfiltered contact with the sun, but you also said that somehow God was able to fill some angels with the Divine Presence, presumably without destroying them…right? And also, didn’t some people in the Old Testament sometimes hear or feel God speaking to them in their minds/hearts, without an angel intermediary standing visibly in front of them?
Or was that sort of contact not actually direct either? Is the answer perhaps that angel intermediaries were also involved in the contacting of people’s minds/hearts, and that once God was able to do so directly, without going through angels, the contact became more effective or required less initial openness in the person or something?
Thank you again for all of this great information!
Hi Seeking to understand,
No worries about the hard questions. I enjoy a good theological challenge! It keeps the ol’ mind limber and learning.
I use many metaphors and analogies because it helps us earth-bound humans to gain some concept and get some grasp of things that go above physical and earthly reality. This is also why the Bible is written largely in symbol and metaphor. Otherwise the spiritual and divine truths and realities God wishes to convey to us in its pages would go right over our heads.
About God filling an angel with the divine presence to communicate with humans, if you want to read about it straight from the horse’s mouth, the most detailed statement is in Arcana Coelestia #1925. There are shorter statements in Divine Providence #96:6 (scroll down to subsection ) and Nine Questions #2 and #6.
As you can see, though the basic idea is clear enough, there is not a large, well-developed body of material about this—so some of my response is necessarily a bit speculative.
The basic idea is that before the Incarnation, God communicated with humans on earth by filling angels with the divine presence, so that the angel spoke for God, as if the angel were God. After the Incarnation, while God may also speak to humans through angels, God’s primary means of speaking to humans is in “the Divine Human,” or in slightly more modern terms, “the Divine Humanity,” which Christians know as Jesus Christ.
Swedenborg also calls this aspect of God “the Divine Natural,” in contrast to “the Divine Celestial” (or, in more modern terms, “the Divine Heavenly”) and “the Divine Spiritual.” He says that before the Incarnation, God had a Divine Heavenly and a Divine Spiritual, but not a Divine Natural. It is through and in this Divine Natural that God can now speak directly to us, without needing an angel intermediary. Please understand, this is simply a different way of saying the same thing.
As Swedenborg says in Arcana Coelestia #1925 and elsewhere, when God spoke to Abraham, Lot, Moses, Gideon, the Prophets, and other Old Testament figures, it was through an angel filled with God’s presence. Even in the New Testament, the announcement of Jesus’ conception and birth was made through angel messengers (“angel” means “messenger” in both Hebrew and Greek), not directly by God. But then Jesus began to take over as God’s “mouthpiece” on earth. After the Resurrection, in the book of Revelation, although John first says:
Thus involving angels in the message. But very soon John is conversing directly with Jesus Christ, whom he saw in resplendent form in a vision, as you can see in Revelation 1:9–20. This confirms my statement that while God still can and does speak to humans through angel messengers, God can now also speak to us directly in his own Divine Humanity, whom, as I said, Christians know as Jesus Christ. Many people have had visions of Christ, in which Jesus spoke to them. This, I believe, is not an angel filled with God’s presence, but rather is God’s own Divine Human presence with us.
There is some hint that the first humans, before the Fall of Humankind, had a more direct relationship with God:
A longer conversation ensues of God with Adam, Eve, and the serpent. If this was God speaking directly to the early humans, rather than through angel intermediaries, that was because up until this point in the story they had not become tainted with evil, and therefore had a more direct relationship with God and heaven. But the result of their sin in eating from the tree of knowledge of good and evil against God’s direct commandment was that they were driven from the Garden of Eden and prohibited from having access to the tree of life, which represents God’s living presence with us.
Notice also that even in this conversation with God, Adam and Eve “hid themselves from the presence of the Lord.” This shows that the separation between us and God is not due to God withdrawing from us, but due to our withdrawing from God. When we focus primarily on physical and worldly things, and especially when we do things that we know are contrary to God’s commandments and contrary to common morality and decency, we separate ourselves from God, and we stop listening to what God is saying to us.
Ever after this event of humans moving themselves away from God’s presence, the “churches,” or religions of humankind were “representative,” meaning that instead of having a direct perception and knowledge of God and spirit, these things were represented and symbolized by earthly things, and also by human figures who served as representatives and intermediaries between God and humanity. Due to the separation between God and humanity that evil and sin had brought about, ordinary humans no longer had a direct relationship with God, but only an indirect relationship. This was why priests and prophets were necessary in those ancient pre-Christian churches.
My understanding is that during the reign of these “representative churches,” no human being on earth had direct contact with God, but only indirect contact through angels. This is covered in Secrets of Heaven #1925, already linked above.
The particular humans who were chosen were either particularly righteous and law-abiding humans or they were leaders in the Hebrew community and nation. Prophets were chosen due to their willingness to listen to God’s word and convey it to the people, sometimes at great personal risk. The High Priest communed with God once a year when he entered the Holy of Holies, where the Ark of the Covenant resided, and God spoke to him from between the cherubim on the Mercy Seat of the Ark. Samuel, who became a universally recognized leader of Israel before Israel began anointing kings, also received and conveyed God’s word to the people. And God commonly spoke to kings such as Saul, David, and Solomon, either directly or through prophets and holy men. God also occasionally spoke to the head of a household or clan to convey a message to that family or clan.
In short, the people chosen to hear and convey God’s message were either people who were righteous and fearless and willing to listen to God and deliver God’s messages or they were leaders of the people who held representative positions within their family, clan, culture, and society. Yet even these people did not actually hear God’s voice directly, but heard it through an angel.
It is said during the giving of the Ten Commandments that God spoke not only to Moses, but directly to the people from Mt. Sinai. (For references, see “How God Speaks in the Bible to Us Boneheads.”) But even this, I believe, was God speaking through angels, not God speaking directly.
As for how God speaks to angels, and fills angels with the divine presence, this involves some complex spiritual cosmology. But to boil it down to its basics, even angels cannot directly encounter the core divine Being of God. Rather, they normally experience God as the spiritual sun, which is always in front of them in their east because it is the center around which the entire spiritual world is arranged. This sun is not actually the being of God itself, but a “first emanation” within which God’s being is. And emanating from it there is a series of progressively attenuated spiritual atmospheres that form a medium of communication and connection with the angels of heaven in their various spheres, higher and lower. God flows into and through angels through this series of surrounding spiritual atmospheres in order not to destroy them, also, by a direct encounter with God.
And yet, at the same time, these atmospheres, like everything in the universe, are filled with God’s presence. So it is also true that God speaks directly to the angels. It’s just that God does it through “pipelines,” so to speak, that veil and thin out God’s infinite power to a level at which angels, and humans, can receive it. Think of a water tower containing a million gallons of water elevated over a hundred feet above the surrounding land. If all of that water were dumped on someone all at once, it would likely be fatal. But since it travels through a series of progressively smaller and smaller pipes that constrict the flow so that only a small amount of water comes out at the tap, it becomes adapted to our ability to receive just a little water at a time.
The angels then become part of that “pipeline” from the core being of God to humans on earth. By filling an angel with the divine presence and power, it is attenuated to our limited ability to receive a little bit of God at a time, and also translated into the language and culture that forms our mind and character. Angels are able to serve as this pipeline because, though not perfect, they have chosen good over evil, and have allowed the Lord to push their evil natures to the side, so that their lives are focused on good and truth, and therefore on God. This makes them capable of engaging in a relationship with God and of serving as conduits and messengers of God to other angels and to humans on earth.
After the Incarnation, although God still has this angelic pipeline available, God also has a “direct” delivery system, which is the Divine Humanity, or Jesus Christ. Now God has God’s own “natural” or “earthly” side, which is itself divine, such that God can interface directly with humans in a way that was not possible before. This direct Divine Human connection is also far more powerful than the old pipeline that used angel intermediaries. That’s because angels, too, are finite and limited in power, whereas the Divine Humanity is infinite, and infinitely powerful. It’s like the difference between a telegraph cable and a fiber optic cable. The data capacity has been increased exponentially—or in this case, infinitely.
To use yet another analogy, think of Elon Musk wanting to deliver his Tesla Model 3 electric cars to large numbers of customers very quickly. Unfortunately, the existing trucking infrastructure is not as quick and responsive as he wants. Its capacity is already tied up in contracts with other manufacturers. So instead of relying on contracts with third parties, he designs and builds his own Tesla electric trucks and forms his own trucking company that is entirely dedicated to delivering Tesla cars to waiting customers.
Ever since the Incarnation, though third party “trucking companies” still exist, and God still uses them, God also has God’s own “trucking company” to use in delivering God’s presence, truth, love, and power to anyone who wishes to “buy” it by repenting from their sins and living a good, truth-led, and loving life of kindness and service to their fellow human beings.
As I have just suggested, this new arrangement also required a change in human beings.
At the time of the Incarnation, humanity had reached its lowest spiritual ebb. Humans had all but stopped paying attention to God and spirit in any real way. We were almost entirely focused on physical and worldly things such as wealth and power. That is why God had to come at that particular point in history. Due to our increasingly exclusive focus on this world and on our own power and pleasure, we humans were in danger of completely separating ourselves from God and heaven. This would have resulted in our spiritual death—and in a whole lot more physical death as well, as empires ruthlessly crushed their subjects, and engaged in more and more deadly conflicts with one another.
Since that time, humanity has gradually been climbing up the ladder of spiritual interest and awareness—to be sure, with many setbacks and backtracks along the way. But in the main, people have far more spiritual interest and awareness than they did two thousand years ago. Therefore more humans are ready, willing, and able to accept messages from God, and to engage in the direct relationship with God that is now possible through Jesus Christ, the Divine Humanity.
Look in any major bookstore these days, and you’ll see a hefty religion and spirituality section. Even forty or fifty years ago, that wasn’t the case. You had to go into a specialty religious bookstore to get religious books. Thanks to the Incarnation, humans have made some spiritual progress in the past two thousand years, and I believe especially in the past couple centuries, due to the Second Coming having taken place in the 18th century. See: “Is the World Coming to an End? What about the Second Coming?”
In short, in addition to the new, direct conduit between God and humanity, humans have responded to God’s call in the First and Second Comings of Christ by becoming more spiritual and more willing to engage in a relationship with God, and in a personal relationship with the Lord God Jesus Christ.
This is getting long, so I’ll respond to your question related to Open Theism in a separate comment.
Hi Seeking to Understand,
Now to respond to this part of your comment and question:
It is correct to say that Jesus, during his lifetime on earth, experienced growth and development in knowledge, understanding, love, and power over time. It is not correct to say that God experienced that sort of growth and development over time.
Within the arrow of time as a whole God is able to express more and more of God’s love, wisdom, and power. Still, all of this is present simultaneously in the conscious awareness and experience of God, who is above and beyond time and space.
On the first point, Jesus, during his lifetime on earth, was not fully divine. Rather, Jesus consisted of a finite human part from his human mother Mary and an infinite divine part from his divine Father, God. This is why in the New Testament Jesus is never called “God” during his lifetime as recounted in the Gospels, but only after his resurrection, such as when Thomas called him “my Lord and my God” in John 20:28, when Jesus appeared to his disciples after his resurrection.
Over time during his lifetime on earth Jesus separated from and put out of himself the finite humanity from Mary, such that there was none of it left at the time of the Resurrection and Ascension. But Jesus never separated from the divinity that was his divine soul; rather, he became progressively filled with it and one with it, such that he became completely divine and one with the Father, or the Divine Core, which is the Divine Love, by the time of the Resurrection and especially at the time of the Ascension.
We can see in the story told in the four Gospels that Jesus didn’t always have full and infinite knowledge, but grew in knowledge as he grew up. This is stated explicitly in the Gospel of Luke:
In other words, Jesus went through a growth process, including a mental growth process, just as we humans do. That’s because at conception and birth Jesus was the Divine Humanity only in potential, not in full actuality. This means that Jesus’ own experience was one of continually growing knowledge, love, and power, as he progressively laid aside the finite humanity from Mary and replaced it with a divine humanity that was God being expressed in human form.
All of this, though, took place in the physical universe, which is subject to space and time.
It also took place in the spiritual universe, which, though it does not have space and time in the usual sense, does have a passage of events that happens due to the angels continually growing in knowledge, understanding, and wisdom, and also a spiritual analog of space, which is the closeness or distance of various angels and spirits from one another due to differences in their “ruling love,” which is the core element of their character.
Unlike created humans, though, in the case of Jesus, since his soul was not from God, but was God, his process of development had an entirely different result than ours. The result of our going through the process of regeneration, or spiritual rebirth, is our becoming angels living in heaven, which is part of the spiritual world. The result of Jesus’ process of glorification was that he became the Divine Humanity of God, which is itself infinite in love, wisdom, and power because it expresses in infinite human form the core divinity of God, which is the origin and pattern of humanity.
Open Theism sees, or at least senses, the progressive development of the divinity of Jesus within the arrow of time, and extrapolates this to the Godhead. But it errs in not seeing that God, including the fully glorified Divine Humanity, exists outside of and above time.
Yes, within time and space Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and humanity. But from the eternal and infinite perspective of God, who is above and beyond time and space, this is not a progressive development in the temporal sense, nor is it experienced as such. Rather, it is an “expanding outward” of the Divine into the realm of time and space through adding a Divine Humanity that expresses the Divine Love and Wisdom, and is itself also God.
From God’s perspective, there is no increase in love, wisdom, and power. Only an expression of the already existing divine love, wisdom, and power into the created spiritual and physical universe. From the perspective of angels and humans, this necessarily appears to be progressive in time or in sequence. That’s because angels live in a sequence of developing events, and humans live within the unfolding arrow of time. Humans and angels can experience God in no other way than as a progressive development.
But everything that is progressive and sequential to angels and humans is present simultaneously in the being of God. It is experienced in the eternal present in which God exists. This includes the Divine Humanity, which could only “develop” within the arrow of time and the particularities of space, but which is always present in the experience of God because God is present in all time and space simultaneously from a “position” outside of time and space.
I realize, once again, that this is a brain-bender. That’s because we humans simply don’t have the capability of raising our minds entirely outside of time and space, and their spiritual analogs. About the best we can do is to think of God expanding outward from the divine core into all time and space, rather than developing sequentially “sideways” within the particular layers of spiritual and material reality. It’s hard to hold onto mentally, but that’s because we do not inhabit the mind and consciousness of God, nor can we.
One helpful analogy that Swedenborg gives in a different context is that it is like a pillar that subsides down into a circular flat surface in which the top of the pillar becomes the center and the bottom of the pillar becomes the circumference. What is “sequential” vertically in the pillar now becomes vertically “simultaneous” in the concentric circles within the overall circle that the pillar has become.
We can also think of someone traveling across the country sequentially, but God seeing the entire trip laid out as if in a road map seen from above.
Open Theism is correct in seeing “development” of God from a human point of view. But that is a human point of view. God sees and experiences all of that “development” simultaneously as a single oneness from outside of time. This means that God also sees and knows everything that to us is the past, present, and future. We still make the choices that determine our own individual and collective future. We are still free. But God sees, from outside of time, the entire extent of time, from beginning to end—or, in a sense, from eternity to eternity—in a single view. (“Eternity” may or may not apply to the physical universe in the usual sense. Especially “from eternity.” There seems to have been a beginning to the physical universe. Some scientists think there will be an ending as well. But the “beginning” and “end” may just be particular points in a closed system of time and space.)
Open Theism errs in thinking that God does not know the future, and learns what happens as a result of our choices only as they unfold. That’s because its proponents are thinking of God as existing and developing within the arrow of time. But although God entered into the arrow of time specifically in the life of Jesus Christ, and universally in God’s unfolding Providence throughout human history and throughout the entire unfolding of the physical universe, God, as God is in God’s Divine Self, exists above and beyond the physical universe and its expansion in space and unfolding within the arrow of time. Therefore God’s knowledge is indeed infinite, encompassing everything that we experience as past, present, and future.
For a better resolution of the paradox that Open Theism attempts to resolve, and for more on some of the other points raised in these two responses to your questions, please see these articles:
These questions do push the limits of what we time- and space-bound humans can grasp and understand. I hope these responses, and the linked articles, help you to wrap your mind a little more clearly around some of the answers.
Fantastic stuff as always. I love Jesus’ response that often gets overlooked by those who see Jesus as other than the Father — “don’t you know me, Phillip”!
A minor question, why is it do you think Jesus is never referred to as the Father (aside from that Isaiah Prophecy)? Is it incorrect to call Jesus “Father” or “Abba”? What are your thoughts?
Isaiah 9:6 and similar prophecies make it clear that the one to be born would be not only the Son, but the Father, and of course, God:
However, during Jesus’ lifetime on earth he was not fully divine, because he still had the finite human element from his human mother in addition to the infinite divine element that was God, the Father. So during his lifetime on earth it would not have been correct to call him “God” or “Father,” but only after he became fully one with the Father. That is why it was after his resurrection that Thomas recognized him not only as “Lord,” but also as “God” (John 20:28).
Now that he is fully glorified and one with the Divine Father, he is also Father, just as Isaiah 9:6 prophesies he will be. And so angels call him “Father,” and it is good for us to think of him as Father and call him “Father” as well.
It helps to make a distinction between the internal dynamics of God and God’s relationship to us. Internally, God consists of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, which are the Divine Love, the Divine Wisdom, and the Divine Power. (See: “Who is God? Who is Jesus Christ? What about that Holy Spirit?”) This means that within God there is a metaphorical relationship of Father to Son and Son to Father, and of both with the Holy Spirit that proceeds from them.
However, that is within God. In relation to us humans, who are not God, all of God is our Father. There is only one God, who is the Creator, Sustainer, Redeemer, and Regenerator of all. That God is the Lord God Jesus Christ, who is one both in essence and in person, contrary to traditional false Christian trinitarian doctrine. All of the attributes of God are in that one God, and are that one God: Father, Son, Holy Spirit, Creator, Redeemer, Regenerator, and every other name that is applied to God. They are all names of the one God, seen in God’s various qualities, characteristics, components, and powers. We can and should call the Lord all of these things, because that is who and what he is: the one and only God of the universe.
So yes, now that the Lord has been glorified and is the one God sovereign over heaven and earth (see Matthew 28:18), it is good and proper to call the Lord “God” and “Father,” just as he is called in all of the Old Testament prophecies of his coming, and just as he identifies himself to Philip in John 14:8–10.
Keep in mind that almost half of the Gospel of John, chapters 12–20, cover events and sayings that took place in the last week of Jesus’ earthly life. When he said those words to Philip in John 14, he had nearly completed the process of glorification, or becoming one with the Father. Much of what he says in these last chapters before the Crucifixion is in anticipation of his full union with the Father. In his last days with his disciples, he was preparing them for the great change both in him and in their own lives when he would be not only their Lord, but their God, and when he would not only be the Son of God, but would be God their loving Father.
Further, if the Epistles were properly translated (not from a trinitarian perspective), readers would see many places where Jesus is called both “God” and “Father” by the Apostles after the resurrection. Whoever is God is also our Father. There are not three of them, but one of them.
(And yes, God is also our Divine Mother. See: “The Mother of All the Living.”)
That’s fascinating — I forgot that Jesus says to Philip “from now on …you see him,” as if, like you said, Jesus was “almost there” in full union. Was it the anticipation fo the crucifixion that led to this near union? That is, what do you mean by the “process of glorification.”
Btw thank you for recommending those NDE videos to me, me and the author have corresponded a bit online.
Glad to hear you enjoyed the videos—and made contact with Garret. Please give him my greetings and best wishes!
Yes, I think that the “from now on” spoken to Philip is in reference, not so much to the crucifixion itself, but to what the Lord accomplished through the crucifixion. The crucifixion was the Lord’s last and greatest trial or temptation, through which he completed the process of glorifying his humanity, and also the task of defeating the power of the Devil, or of all evil. Glorifying his humanity and defeating the Devil go hand in hand. Through the crucifixion the Lord also left behind the last of his finite human substance and heredity from his human mother Mary.
“Glorification” is a term Swedenborg adopts from the Gospel of John, in a meaning other than its common meaning of “to praise.” Consider this passage:
Clearly Jesus is not asking the Father to praise him, nor is he talking about praising the Father. “Glorify” here must mean something much greater.
If we go to the original meaning of “glory,” it involves something that is bright and resplendent. So Jesus is asking for the divine glory, or the brightness and resplendence of divine truth that comes from divine love, to be in him, just has he has expressed the glory and resplendence of the Father (the core Divine Being) through doing God’s work here on earth.
A simple way of saying this is that Jesus is asking to be filled with the glory of the Divine Being. Or really, in Jesus’ case, to become the Divine Being and its glory. The process of glorification is a process of Jesus’ humanity becoming fully divine and fully one with the Father, which is the divine soul.
By completing this process of glorification, Jesus also gained all power over everything in heaven and earth, as he says in Matthew 28:18. (I am linking to the KJV in this case because the common modern translation “authority” does not capture the full import of what Jesus is saying here.) With that power, he defeated, and continues to defeat, the power of evil, the Devil, and hell for all who are willing to accept that power into their lives.
That makes perfect sense. Ok. So one final clarification re: Jesus’ humanity and his not being fully divine until that “hour” of glorification and accomplishment:
Was the consciousness and/or personality of Jesus not divine? Was the “I” in Jesus not the “I” of the Father? At times he seems to distinguish these, at other times they are the same e.g. “before Abe was, I am.”
So my question is in what sense did his incomplete or whatever you would call it divinity be reflected in his “I” or “consciousness” or even personality?
That is a great question.
In fact, if we read the Gospels with this question in mind, we can see that Jesus’ “I” alternated between the finite human “I” and the infinite divine “I.” Sometimes he speaks and prays to the Father as if to a different being. This is when his consciousness is in the finite human “I.” Other times he speaks of himself and the Father being one, and in the greatest instance, he is transfigured into a resplendent divine being in the presence of his three closest disciples, Peter, James, and John. This is when his consciousness is in the infinite divine “I.”
For some discussion of this alternating consciousness, and the overall process of glorification, please see:
If Jesus Christ is the One God, Why Did He Talk and Pray to the Father?
During his entire lifetime on earth Jesus went through a continuing series of cycles between these two states of consciousness.
We can see this alternation of mental state as early as the one story we have of Jesus’ youth, in Luke 2:41–52, when Jesus says to his parents, who had been anxiously searching for him, “Didn’t you know that I must be about my Father’s business?”, but, it says, “then he went down to Nazareth with them and was obedient to them.” Even when he was twelve years old, Jesus was aware of his relationship to the Father, i.e., the Divine Being. And, it says, “Everyone who heard him was amazed at his understanding and his answers.” But then he subjected himself to his human parents once again. And that is where it says, “And Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and man,” showing that Jesus did indeed learn and grow, and was not merely a static “Son of God” popped out onto this earth from some pre-existing “second Person of the Trinity.”
The technical terms for these two alternating states in traditional translations of Swedenborg’s writings are “exinanition” (Latin: exinanitio) and “glorification” (Latin: glorificatio). “Exinanition” literally means “an emptying out.” It is reflected in many Biblical passages and prophecies, such as this well-known passage in Isaiah:
The “pouring out” or “emptying out” that Jesus did was the emptying out of his finite human substance and heredity from Mary. This emptying out was to create space so that he could be “glorified” by having that finite humanity replaced with an infinite Divine Humanity, step by step, until the process was completed at the time of the crucifixion, resurrection, and ascension. At that point, Jesus’ “I” fully merged with the divine “I,” and there was no longer any separation between the Son and the Father; they had become fully one.
Lest it seem that the finite human heredity from Mary was therefore useless, since Jesus progressively left it behind, this human heredity was absolutely necessary so that Jesus could face the Devil on his own playing field, and conquer the Devil there. The Devil (by which I mean hell seen as a whole), cannot endure the direct presence of God any more than any created angel or human can. If God had directly confronted the Devil, the Devil would have been obliterated. That would have meant the complete destruction and annihilation of every evil spirit in hell. And that is not something that the Lord is willing to do.
By temporarily taking on a finite human substance and heredity, God gave the Devil a field of battle on which the Devil could approach God and attack God, and God could engage in battle with the Devil and defeat the Devil’s power without annihilating the Devil and all of the human souls (albeit twisted human souls) that form the Devil. Once all of those battles were fought, and the war was won, the Lord had no further need of the finite human heredity from Mary, and left the last of it behind in the sepulcher.
This is also why the Catholic Church is wrong in considering the Lord still to be the Son of Mary. He was the son of Mary during his lifetime on earth, but he no longer is. And the divine part of him never was the son of Mary. That’s why he never recognizes her as his mother in the Gospels. The unbiblical Catholic term “mother of God” has no meaning and no reality behind it. (God has no father, either.)
We know from the Gospels that that this alternating process of emptying out the finite humanity and then being filled with the infinite divinity continued right to the end of Jesus’ life. Some of his last words on the cross were, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46; Mark 15:34). This was not, as some biblically illiterate skeptics imagine, a profoundly depressed admission of defeat on Jesus’ part, and it certainly was not Jesus cursing God before he died, as I’ve read in some atheist materials. Rather, Jesus was quoting the first line of Psalm 22, and thereby invoking that entire Psalm, which, in its highest meaning, tells the story of Jesus’ battle against, and victory over, evil, the Devil, and hell.
But he wasn’t just being a dispassionate Rabbi Jesus, quoting scripture from the Cross for the benefit of his followers. Jesus was 100% genuine and seamless, just like his tunic (John 19:23–25). He never said anything that didn’t reflect the reality of what he knew and experienced. At that moment of supreme trial and temptation, he felt a deep and painful separation from God, his own Divine Soul. He was reaching out to the power and comfort of the Scriptures, the Psalms, to give him help in enduring this last sense of separation from his own deepest divine self before his final full union with the Father. In reading Psalm 22, we can gain some sense of the terrible struggle in which Jesus was then engaged, and of his victory in that struggle.
It was through these struggles of temptation that Jesus put off everything finite from his human mother (“exinanition”), and put on the full divinity of his own divine soul (“glorification”), and thereby became the Divine Humanity.
Fantastic, very helpful. Ok so then a final clarification. What was then the “Status” of the I of Jesus when it was separate from God or experienced as separate? Was that “I” God too? In other words, in what sense does the I that is other than the Father have a real status other than the Father? Was it just experienced as such or was the distinction real and on the way ot union, and, if real, was that I of Jesus still God?
Consciousness is a tricky, multi-layered thing.
If a guy walks into a bar (no, this isn’t the setup for a joke!) and some half-drunk schmuck at one of the tables stands up and yells a colorful insult at him, his immediate thought might be, “I’m gonna hit him!” He might imagine walking over to the guy and doing just that. He might relish the pleasure and satisfaction it would give him to sink his fist into that guy’s ugly face. But then he might think, “Naw, I’m not gonna let that bozo get under my skin,” and just shrug his shoulders, walk over to the counter, and order a beer.
What is his “I”? Is it the “I” that’s going to get him into a barroom brawl? Or the “I” that thinks better of it, and just goes on his way? Both of them are part of him. But it’s the one that prevails that ultimately becomes his “I.”
It was the same with Jesus during his lifetime on earth, except although like us he had a finite human “I,” unlike us he also had an infinite divine “I” within it. And though, like the guy in the bar, his lower “I” was a part of him, and was at times the primary “I” of which he was aware, the inner divine “I” always prevailed. “He was tempted in every way just as we are, yet without sin” (Hebrews 4:15). And since, in the end, he always acted from the inner divine “I,” that became his entire “I,” and he left the last of his other “I” behind in the grave.
To put it somewhat more technically, during his lifetime on earth Jesus was in a fairly literal way “the Son of God.” God literally fathered him in Mary’s womb, and he had a DNA that was, in a sense, a combination of divine and human DNA. (I’m not making a literal, scientific statement here. I don’t know what Jesus’ physical DNA was.) So just as a human son is not only the son of his father, but the son of his mother, Jesus was, during his lifetime, both the Son of God and the son of Mary. God was his father.
But as I said earlier, unlike us, he never separated from his Father. The Father (God) is divine. The Divine is one, and cannot be divided. So instead of separating from his Father, Jesus became more and more one with his Father through the process of glorification that I spoke of earlier. Step by step he put off from himself the finite humanity that came from his human mother, and replaced it with a divine humanity that was the expression of his Divine Father.
To answer your question more specifically, the finite human “I” was not God. God is infinite, not finite. Mary could not pass on a divine heredity, because she herself was not divine. What is human cannot give birth to (in the sense of being the origin of) what is divine. What is created cannot create what is uncreated. Mary never was “the mother of God.” Even during his human lifetime, Jesus never recognized Mary as his mother. But he continually recognized God as his Father.
Also, false Catholic doctrine to the contrary notwithstanding, there was no Immaculate Conception of Mary (which is not the same as the Virgin Birth of Jesus). Mary had an ordinary human sin-prone heredity from her human parents just as every other human being does. If that were not so, the Incarnation would have been useless. God needed to take on a sin-prone human heredity precisely so that the Devil could attack him, and he could defeat the Devil on the Devil’s own turf. If the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception were true, it would destroy the entire purpose of the Incarnation, and render God unable to save humanity. That’s how absolutely false and destructive that doctrine is.
Jesus was tempted in every way just as we are. And that was part of his “I” while on earth. The temptations were real, and the desire to do what was wrong was real. It came from his lower, finite human nature. But even if he thought and felt those things—even if they were part of his conscious “I”—he never gave in to that lower sin-prone nature, and he never acted on it. He always acted from his inner divine “I,” whether or not he was fully conscious of it.
Of course, he became more and more conscious of it as his life went on, and acted more and more consciously from it. But just as we sometimes act from our better, inner impulses even when we’re not fully intellectually aware of why we’re doing what we’re doing, so Jesus always acted from the inner divine love rather than from the outer, lesser impulses that came from his finite human heredity. So even though he was at times almost entirely immersed consciously in his outer, finite human “I,” he always acted from his inner divine “I” on anything about which the two were in conflict.
Mind you, Mary wasn’t entirely bad, nor was what she passed on to Jesus entirely bad, in the sense that she had something of God in her too, just as we all do. She was a good, but finite human being, just as subject to error as the rest of us, even if she probably did a little better than many of us. Sometimes there was no conflict between Jesus’ higher and lower self, and the two acted together. But his heredity from Mary was still limited, and he still had to leave all of it behind in order to become fully divine. What he never acted upon was any of the evil, sin-prone parts of his finite human heredity. So although his “I” was to some extent blended during his lifetime on earth, any part of the lower “I” that was in opposition to the higher “I” never became part of his life as he lived it. This is another way of saying that he was tempted in every way just as we are, yet without sin.
Also, just as in our process of regeneration, or spiritual rebirth, his temptations did not get milder over time, but rather got progressively deeper and more difficult, so that the deepest, most painful, and most harrowing one was the last one, which occurred on the Cross. This was also when he felt his most harrowing and painful separation from God.
The physical pain was the least of that temptation. It was all about his love for saving all of humanity, and doubt that he would be able to accomplish it. That doubt was part and parcel of his sense of separation from the Father, from the Divine that was his own soul. His greatest temptation was that he would not be able to save us from the clutches of the Devil, and from eternal pain and suffering. That is what he was fighting for. That is what he wanted with all his heart to accomplish. He was fighting to express his infinite love for us. And the temptation of doubt that now, in his final hour, he may not have done enough, may not be able to accomplish this, was his greatest trial and torment. It was now or never.
Still, he continued to live and act from the infinite divine love for all of humanity that was his own inner “I.” That is why he did not fail, but succeeded. That is also why he fully completed the work of glorification, of becoming fully one with the Father, and of conquering the Devil and breaking the Devil’s power over us, and in this way saving us from eternal damnation—if only we are willing to be saved.
I should add that Jesus was never actually separated from the Father. He only, at times, had a sense of separation from the Father. He could not actually be separated from the Father any more than we can be separated from our own soul. The reality was that in his times of greatest temptation, that was when the Father was closest to him, even though he wasn’t consciously aware of it. It is the same for us. When we are in our deepest struggles of temptation, and feeling a sense of despair, that is when God is closest to us, even though it feels to us as if we are completely separated from God.
The finite human “I” that Jesus was engaged in during his times of “exinanition,” or emptying out, was real. He really felt those things. He wasn’t play-acting. He wasn’t just going through the motions according to a grand Shakespearean script that he had been handed at birth. The trials and temptations were real. When he was going through them, he did not always feel assurance of victory. The very fact that he continued to act from love for all people even when his own fate and the fate of humanity seemed in great doubt is the reason he was always victorious. Just so, when we humans are at our lowest ebb, and think and feel that all is lost, if we still act with integrity and with love, rather than giving in to bitterness, fear, and hate, that is when we are truly victorious in temptation—or rather, the Lord and the angels are victorious in us.
Even when Jesus was immersed in his lower, finite human “I,” he continued to act and live from the deeper “I” that was his true divine self. The lower “I” was real, it was not God, and it was temporary, but absolutely necessary as a means to face and defeat the power of evil, the Devil, and hell. The higher “I” was far more real, it was eternal, and once Jesus’ work on earth was finished, it became his one and only “I.”
That “I” is the Lord God Jesus Christ, the Divine Humanity, encompassing Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, who is the one and only God of the universe.
Ok wait wait. What I mean by “I” was what philosophers sometimes call the “unity of apperception” that is The “I” the must accompany all of my thoughts/representations. In other words, the thinker behind the thought, the unity of consciousness. So the examples you gave would be more thoughts, whereas, I am wonder what “I” was behind Jesus’ thoughts — was that I God or something other than God?
Does this make sense?
If you’re talking about some “I” that is beyond all of our thoughts, feelings, and awareness, then the only “I” that exists is God. But we humans don’t exist beyond all of our thoughts, feelings, and awareness. And Jesus, while divine in his soul, was also a human being who had thoughts, feelings, awareness, consciousness. That was the life he was aware of, and lived here on earth, along with a growing awareness of the divine “I” that was within him.
If you’re talking about what is the essential thing that makes us who we are, so that we have an “I” in any sense, that would be our will, or more specifically, what Swedenborg calls our “ruling love” or “dominant love.” That is what determines who and what we are. Everything else in us is arranged around it, and serves it.
That ruling love is not entirely settled here on earth, because we have not necessarily made our complete decision as to who we want to be. In the throes of temptation—by which I mean the inner struggles that test us to our core—we are on the cusp of going one way or another, and ultimately, up or down. The “I” that defines who we are, and will be, then also hangs in the balance. Once the decision is made, we become what we have decided to be.
Jesus went through all of this as well, but at a much higher and deeper level than we do. We struggle as created human beings between good and evil. Jesus struggled as a divine human being between all good and all evil. An he chose all good, and defeated all evil, thus becoming the “I” that is the only ultimately real, underived “I” that exists in the universe, which is God.
Now, it is true that we humans have an inmost soul that goes beyond our awareness, and that cannot be corrupted because we don’t have access to it. That is where God flows into us from within. In a sense, that inmost soul could be called our “I,” our “true self.” But it is what that life from God flowing through that innermost soul becomes as it flows into our will, then into our understanding, then into our actions, that determines the nature of our life and who we are. So if you want to talk about some theoretical “I” that exists beyond all our thoughts/representations, then yes, it exists, but it is not the “I” that we experience and become.
Meanwhile, once again, Jesus’ ultimate “I” is the Father, which is the Divine Love. That is the same as the Divine Will. In God, as in us, it is the will, or the love, that determines the nature and character of God. That is the “I” from which Jesus ultimately acted, whether or not he was fully and consciously aware of it at any given point in his earthly life.
Does that come any closer to answering your question?
Ok i think so. What I was thinking as: We don’t exist beyond our thoughts, but we are not simply our thoughts, since We Think, there is the We and the thought. This is in Descartes. I think, and because I think I exist, because I cannot doubt my own existence without bringing the Doubter (the I) into it. I’m talking about a center of awareness that subsequently thinks, feels, acts, etc.
So then, Jesus “I” (awareness) was God, but with the thoughts, feelings, etc. of a human being, i.e. human experience, which, as you said, had to conquer evil and death hear in order to reassume the original I that is the Father; is that right?????
This is really a cool conversation we are having, and I’m learning a lot here by your answers. Thank you.
Glad you’re enjoying the conversation. I am as well. And I plan to turn some of my more substantial replies into posts. The next volume of reprinted articles from the website will be volume 1, on God and Creation. This conversation covers some key points that will find their way into that volume as well.
To be clear, it was not Jesus’ finite human side that did the fighting against evil and the conquering of death and hell. It was his divine side that did that. Specifically, it was the Divine Truth, which is “the Son,” fighting from the Divine Love, which is “the Father.” Jesus’ finite human, though part of his overall self and consciousness while on earth, was primarily a field on which that battle took place.
Similarly, if we can believe it, it is actually the Lord alone who does the fighting for us when we are in the throes of temptation. But at the time it is happening, we must feel that we ourselves are doing the fighting, or we will not make the resulting victory and the turn toward good a part of our “I,” or proprium, as Swedenborg calls it in Latin.
It occurs to me that if you’re interested in the question of the “I,” you might want to order a copy of this book, which I recently published in POD and Kindle formats. The link is to the Kindle edition on Amazon:
Outlines of the Religion and Philosophy of Swedenborg, by Theophilus Parsons
One of the chapters is an extended essay on “ownhood,” a somewhat idiosyncratic (to Parsons) term for Swedenborg’s proprium, or sense of self.
About Descartes’ famous, “I think, therefore I am,” he was right as far as it goes. Since we do think, we must exist. However, it is not our intellectual, or thinking ability that causes us to be, but our will, or ability to love and desire things, that is the real center and locus of our being. Intellect is simply the form, or expression, of the will, or love. It’s just that it’s easier to think about our thinking than it is to think about our love and emotion. So philosophers tend to focus on thought, truth, and knowledge, often to the exclusion of love, will, emotion, and feeling, which are much harder to get a handle on.
Swedenborg bucked that trend by making will, or love, primary, and intellect, or thought, secondary—though both, he said, are essential for a human being to be a human being. In Swedenborg’s cosmology, everything must have both love and wisdom, or their analogs at lower levels, to have real existence. The love, or will, is the substance, and the truth, or intellect, is the form. And these, of course, flow into action, which is the life we live day to day.
I should also add that the inmost soul I mentioned, which is above our consciousness, does serve as a type of spiritual DNA for us. It is, in a sense, a single thought of God, expressing some particular aspect of the love of God. It is what makes us uniquely different from any other created human being. When we regenerate, we don’t so much create who we are in existentialist fashion (though I don’t think the existentialists are entirely wrong) as discover and express who we are. And the higher and deeper we go, the closer we get both to our own truest inmost self and to God, who touches us directly at that inmost soul. Even the highest angels never quite make it there to all eternity. But that is the direction we are all traveling, if we choose the good rather than the evil.
You won’t believe this, but I already am reading that very book — so ownhood is a concept recently familiar to me.
Also not to quibble about Descartes, but I don’t see him saying that thinking causes us to be, but rather that in thinking my ownness is revealed to me in that it’s impossible to down such I-hood. But I agree with you and of course your point about philosophers!
Also, ok, I THINK I’m getting it now. So, in sum, It is the WILL, and Jesus’ WILL was God , right? Even when Jesus was experiencing a separating, it was still the Father, his will, as his soul, his love ,etc. ?
Really, really helpful stuff, Lee. Many thanks.
What a coincidence! It’s a great book. In fact, the reason I originally prepared a new edition of it was to respond to a request from the dean of our theological seminary, who wanted it to be available for the use of our seminarians.
Yes, I agree about about Descartes. That’s why I said he was right as far as it goes. I don’t think he was saying that our thinking is the cause of our existence, but that it demonstrates our existence. I make reference to Descartes’ Cogito, ergo sum in this article:
Where is the Proof of the Afterlife?
It is certainly a useful concept for considering the nature of our reality.
The will, which is love, is the essential “I.” It is the substance of our being, and of God’s. Or, better, it is the substance of God’s being, and therefore of our being as well, since we are made in the image and likeness of God.
However, that “I” does not exist without the understanding, or truth, as well. The Divine Love, without the Divine Wisdom, would be an amorphous non-entity. Divine Wisdom, which is Divine Truth united with Divine Love, is what gives the Divine Will, or Divine Love, its form, and also its expression. In classical philosophical terms, the will is the esse, and the intellect is the existere of our being, and at a higher level, of God’s being.
So the essential “I” of Jesus was the Divine Love, but it was the Divine Love as expressed through the Divine Wisdom. The two are never separated in God.
Jesus’ sense of separation occurred when his conscious awareness was more in his finite human side than in his infinite divine side. It was never a distancing of God from God. That would be impossible. It was a distancing of the merely finite human from God, and it was brought about by the finite humanity, not by God or by the growing Divine Humanity. And that sense of separation resulted in an emptying of the finite humanity out of Jesus, so that the empty space created could then be filled with Divine Humanity.
I hope all of this is making some sense to you.
Yes, ok! It makes sense now. I wanted to just double and triple “check” to make sure I was getting it; but strangely, this is the intuition I’ve always had as to how Jesus and his relationship to the Father “works.”
Good! And I just noticed that you have now put a face to your name. 🙂
Yes I was trying to figure the whole staying signed in thing and it put an older google photo of me up.
Hey btw, if you dont mind, I had an insight/slash question again that I wanted to “check” and run by you (I tend to do this re: you, I hope you don’t mind, but you really do seem to have “all the answers”!).
Re: prayer and mysticism and “connecting with God.” I think Swedenborg and yours (and countless others who have had NDEs) opinion on prayer seems to run something like this: prayer is asking and a trusting relationship, but the way you “connect” with God need not necessarily be by getting “blissed out” in prayer all day, but rather by loving others and kindness, etc. This certainly is my experience (and I’ve had many emotional experiences in prayer), but for some reason, if I’m not “making love my aim” and focusing on that, namely love of others, my prayer life quickly runs dry.
Yes, my profile photo is a bit old also. My beard is just a little bit grayer now. 😛 And I don’t have all the answers. But I do have access to some superlative sources, which I’ve studied for many years, and put to the test in my own life as well.
And yes, everything you say about prayer here matches my understanding and experience.
I hope you don’t mind if I pause my other line of inquiry and come back to it later, in order to ask a couple of higher priority questions related to your dialogue with Duane… Well, not so much structured questions as – points of cognitive dissonance I suppose… I hope I can express them clearly enough so you can understand my concerns (although they are nothing compared to the concerns and dissonance I had with my *old* ideas about the Trinity and Jesus’s death…but I would still like to clear them up)…
One is that, I can’t help but feel a twinge of sadness when you say that the human parts of Jesus’s being were… basically discarded, it sounds like… I mean, I’m not concerned about the physical parts, we all discard those eventually, but it sounds like Jesus had a separate, human, center of consciousness that somehow went away, and… I’m sure I’m just misunderstanding something, but it feels like I need some reassurance that this wasn’t a case of – well – God sacrificing that human center of consciousness in order to accomplish what needed to be accomplished.
I know the answer must have to do with what you said about how the will/dominant love is what really defines a person, and that Jesus never had a will separate from the Divine Will (you did say that, right?), but I guess it’s hard to understand how Jesus could have had his own separate thoughts, coming from a separate center of consciousness, without having his own separate will to go with them…especially since it sounded like you were saying that the will and the understanding go together such that there can’t be one without the other…and considering Jesus said “not my will but Yours be done”…
But suppose we say that in this case at least, without Jesus realizing it, there was just one Divine Will and it was connected to the two centers of consciousness – would it be accurate to say that the two centers of consciousness merged together without anything of the human side being truly lost? (Well, aside from the sorts of things that any human might lose or discard in the course of their character development and/or death…)
I guess what I’m getting at is – there could have been some sort of, shall we say, continuity, right? Between Jesus’s human center of consciousness before, and the remaining merged Divine consciousness after, the glorification? Like a line that continues on and merges with another line? As opposed to Jesus’s human mind/consciousness just kind of…ending or going away? (I think it will help me if I can visualize it that way, but I want to see if it sounds right to you…)
The second question I had was about Jesus “conquering the Devil and breaking the Devil’s power over us” – or the way you phrased it elsewhere – “Through a lifetime of victories in all of his temptations, Jesus completely overcame the Devil, or the power of evil, subjecting it to his personal control, and reducing it to a state in which it could no longer overwhelm humanity.”
I don’t understand by what mechanism the victories over temptation would actually subject evil spirits to his “personal control”. I can see how that would keep *him* free from *their* control, but how does it help him control them on behalf of *other* people?
And I find it particularly confusing that, after a lifetime of *resisting* evil, and not doing what they wanted, his final victory came by…basically going along with just exactly what they wanted. He didn’t resist at the trial, which I understand was because he actually wanted to go through with the crucifixion, just as much as the evil spirits (thought they) wanted him to get crucified (since they didn’t know it was their downfall, apparently). But I don’t think the lesson we’re supposed to take away from this is to let evil people do whatever they want to us! There must be some reason it was the right thing to do in this case – and I’m hoping it’s something independent of needing to go through a physical death in order to be glorified and become fully one with God…although if you say that’s really the only reason, I’ll take your word for it, but I wanted to ask, to see if there’s a more satisfying answer…
I mean, I’m aware that God was self-restricted from controlling the evil spirits directly because it would kill them, and I guess they didn’t respect/fear Jesus enough to obey him until he became glorified and unified with God… but it kind of seems circular to say that:
1. Jesus had to overcome every temptation in order to become glorified/unified with God, including the temptation of self-preservation in the face of death, when sacrificing oneself to death is the right thing to do, and
2. What made dying the right thing to was that such a sacrifice was needed in order for Jesus to become glorified/unified with God.
So it seems like there must have been something else, you know what I mean? Something I’m missing, that independently made it the right thing to do – independently beneficial for humanity…?
(I know it was *NOT* that somebody needed to take on the punishment for our sins, but I wonder if this kind of question might be the reason why people ever went in that direction, theologically, in the first place! But I’m not going back there…!)
In summary – was Jesus’s dreadful death really necessary primarily because he couldn’t be fully united to God without it? Without a death that he would be tempted to try to avoid? Was it primarily a test he had to pass in order to form the Divine Humanity that would have the power to non-fatally control evil spirits? And that benefit to humanity was what made the sacrifice worth it?
Seeking to Understand: awesome questions — before Lee responds, I just wanted to add that I think you said something powerful and very insightful, namely it could be these conundrums that made people take recourse to things like the “trinity” of hypostases in the ousia of God and/or substitutionary atonement or various permutations of that.
You do like to give people the benefit of the doubt! That is an admirable character trait, which you share with the angels.
Personally, I think the various doctrinal struggles in the church have mostly been proxies for power struggles. If we win the doctrinal debate, we can dethrone you from your positions of power in the church, excommunicate you, and damn you to hell. Just look at all of the “anathemas” on anyone who believes anything different in so many of those creedal statements. That tells the story. Besides the fact that those creedal statements are mostly unbiblical and false.
Or . . . perhaps I’m just not quite as angelic as you are. 🙂
Then again, Jesus had some choice words for the religious leaders of his day . . .
Hi Seeking to understand,
These are good questions. And difficult ones. I’ll respond to them one at a time. And probably won’t be able to cover everything that should be covered.
First, I should mention that Swedenborg subscribed to the Aristotelian idea, which used to be accepted as “science,” that our soul comes from our father and our body from our mother. He connected this idea explicitly with the Incarnation, saying that Jesus derived his soul from his divine Father, and his body from his human mother. He even says that it would be silly (not his exact term) to think that the soul comes from the mother. So technically, in Swedenborg’s view, it was just a physical body that Jesus left behind, because that’s all he got from his mother.
However, there are indications here and there, including a statement or two late in his writings, that he thought perhaps we get more from our mother than just a body. He apparently wasn’t completely satisfied with the old Aristotelian view on this.
On the one hand, he seems early on to have thought that some of our thinking and consciousness resides in our physical brain, such that our physical body does have its own “center of consciousness.” On the other hand, there are places where he states decisively that all of our consciousness is in our spirit, and none of it in our body.
If the latter is the case, and all Jesus got from Mary was a body, then that merely physical derivation from her would not have provided the spiritual plane on which the battle against the Devil could have taken place. That battle was not a physical battle, but a spiritual battle. It had to take place on a spiritual battlefield. This means, to me anyway, that Jesus had to derive a full human heredity, including spiritual tendencies toward evil, from Mary. All-in-all, even aside from the inherent sexism of it, and the lack of any correspondential relationship with what we now know about the nearly equal physical heredity that we receive from both parents, I just don’t think the idea that Jesus received only a body from his human mother works, based on Swedenborg’s own theology of the Incarnation.
Given all of these considerations, I don’t believe that we get only a body from our mother. That does not ring true to me. Nor do I believe that Jesus got only a body from his mother. I think he received a full human heredity from her, both physical and spiritual. Otherwise I just don’t see how the whole schema of the incarnation, ongoing battles against the devil, and ultimate victory over the Devil could work.
Still, Jesus did receive a divine “soul” from the Father. That’s something no human being receives. And relative to that inner divine reality, both the human spiritual level and the human physical level are relatively unreal things that must be left behind at death, just as relative to our spirit, our physical body is a relatively unreal thing that must be left behind at death. Unless we leave our physical body behind, we cannot go to our eternal, spiritual home in heaven. Unless Jesus left his full finite human side, both physical and spiritual, behind, he could not go on to full divinity and full union with the Father. So at least by analogy, in leaving behind his finite human heredity, Jesus did the same thing that we do when we leave our physical body behind.
All of that would be true whether Jesus had a human mother and a divine father or whether he had a human father and a divine mother (if that were anatomically possible—and don’t start telling be about Arnold!). Mary was, first of all, a human being. But since women are the ones who have babies, the human side sort of had to come from a woman, not from a man, even if either one would have worked just about the same in terms of providing a human heredity as a field of battle on which the Devil could attack the Divine.
Did Jesus’ finite humanity constitute a distinct “center of consciousness”? In one sense, yes. Even we ordinary human beings consist of multiple, often conflicting “centers of consciousness,” or multiple, often conflicting “centers of will.” One part of us thinks and wants one thing, another part of us thinks and wants another thing. Sometimes there are whole crowds of voices shouting conflicting messages in our head. This is the spiritual meaning of the stories in the Bible of wars and conflicts among whole nations of people, and sometimes multiple allied nations warring against one another. All of those things happen within our own mind and spirit.
And yet, we are still one person, schizophrenia to the contrary notwithstanding. None of those conflicting thoughts and feelings constitutes an actual integral person. They are all simply elements of our own not entirely settled and unified character. Sooner or later one voice, or one chorus of harmonious voices, will win out over contrary voices, or in some cases a consensus will emerge after much debate, and that will become the “center of consciousness” that we actually are as a person.
Should we mourn the loss of all those other potential personalities that we could have been? Well . . . if we pick a bad one, maybe we should! 😛 But presuming we’re going in a positive direction, upward rather than downward spiritually, leaving behind old, lesser selves is something that we just have to do to move forward.
Is there a sense in which this is “a line merging with another line”? Yes. Those old parts of ourselves do still remain a part of us. They had an important role to play in our development, and they are subsumed into the total experience that makes us who we are. In that sense, nothing is “lost,” even though we do leave some aspects of our old self behind—or really, as I’ve said and you mentioned, we push them farther and farther to the side.
Jesus, on the other hand, didn’t just push evil to the side. He uniquely in all history completely expelled the evil from himself. This was possible both because he never actually sinned and thereby made evil a part of his life and character and because unlike us, he had a divine soul, not a merely human, limited, created, spiritual soul.
Further, though I say Jesus received a full human heredity, both physical and spiritual, from his mother, that’s probably not entirely true. A normal human heredity comes from two human parents, not one. Though there’s some scientific possibility that humans could be born by parthenogenesis, as some other species can, without the benefit of a paternal heredity, so far it hasn’t happened. It is therefore unclear whether it would be possible to have a full human being come from a mother only, with no father. So at least as far as our current knowledge goes, it doesn’t look like what came from Mary was “a human being” that Jesus then unceremoniously got rid of in order to accomplish his glorification.
We humans are a complex mixture of both our maternal and our paternal heredity. We would not be who we are without both, nor would only one of those heredities be “us.” Similarly, Jesus was a complex mix of his maternal physical/spiritual (as I believe) heredity and his paternal divine heredity. Without both of those, he wouldn’t have been the being he was, nor would either one of them independently be a “person” of its own. One of them would be an unfertilized half-set of DNA. The other would simply be God, without the Divine Humanity that Jesus became.
So did Jesus leave behind a “center of consciousness,” or put more plainly, a human being, in order to become glorified? I don’t think so. I think, rather, that just as our physical body is an integral part of us that we inevitably leave behind when we die, while we ourselves continue to live, Jesus’ human physical/spiritual heredity was like a “body” to Jesus, which he left behind when he became fully glorified and “ascended to the Father,” meaning became fully one with the Father. Like our physical body, it was a temporary part of him, not a being by itself, that he left behind when it was no longer of use to him.
Of course, even all of this is from our limited, human, time-and-space-bound perspective. In God’s mind, all of what he went through as Jesus Christ is eternally present. None of it is lost. Not the human side. Not the divine side. Everything that was ever “us” during our physical lifetime also is present in the mind of God eternally. In the mind and being of God, nothing is ever lost.
That was beautiful…moved me to tears…!
So…let me see… It does make sense that Jesus had to expel all evil tendencies from himself, and I have no concern with that… And you did say that the various aspects of our human consciousness can be visualized as lines merging… But I’m still not clear on whether it would be more-or-less accurate to visualize Jesus’s center of consciousness that he had while on earth as merging – just the good and pure parts, of course – with the Divine consciousness, with some continuity there… Does my question make sense?
Hi Seeking to understand,
Glad you found those thoughts so meaningful. This is the beauty of true Christianity.
On to your question:
The basic teaching is that by the time Jesus was fully glorified at the time of his resurrection, there was nothing of the human nature from Mary left. It had all been put off, and a humanity that was fully divine put on in its place.
As I said before, a created human being cannot give birth to anything that is divine. This means that none of Jesus’ divinity came from Mary. And God, being divine, is made of divine substance, not of spiritual substance or of physical matter. Created human beings, however, do not have any divine substance in them; only spiritual substance and physical matter. So if Jesus kept anything that came from his human mother, he would not be fully divine, which means he would not be fully one with the Father, and fully God.
The conclusion is inescapable that by the time Jesus rose from death and ascended to the Father, there was nothing that came from Mary left in him. If you want to read Swedenborg’s own statements on this (and there are many!) here are a few of the key ones: Arcana Coelestia #2159; The Lord #35; True Christianity #94 & #102.
It is true that in a few places, such as Arcana Coelestia #2159, it says that of the Lord’s human side that he “put it off and made it divine,” which makes it sound like he both got rid of it and transformed it. However, he seems to be speaking somewhat loosely in those places, since other passages, such as The Lord #35 make it clear that the finite humanity from Mary was not changed into a divine humanity, but rather was replaced by a divine humanity.
If you are hoping the finite humanity from Mary merged into the Divine Humanity that is the fully glorified Jesus Christ, then . . . that’s just not how it worked. Once again, God certainly has the awareness and “memory” of the finite humanity from Mary that was part of the character of Jesus Christ while he was on earth. But none of that is any part of the Divine Being who is the Lord God Jesus Christ. That would be impossible. What is created cannot be changed into what is uncreated.
In my article, “Who is God? Who is Jesus Christ? What about that Holy Spirit?” in the section titled, “Jesus Christ: A Different Perspective,” I use the analogy of the petrifaction of wood to give some mental image of how this process of glorification took place. In that process, all of the original woody substance is replaced with minerals, so that it is no longer wood, but stone. However, the imprint of the original wood remains, just as God still encompasses the experience of having lived in a human body (and, I think, a human spirit) temporarily here on earth.
Bottom line: none of the substance, or even (contrary to the petrifaction of wood analogy) the form or structure that came from Mary is any part of the risen and glorified Lord. But what the Lord accomplished within and through that finite humanity still remains. Through that finite humanity the Lord allowed evil, the Devil, and hell to attack him with all its fury, and emerged victorious over it. Through taking on that finite humanity, the Lord also put on a Divine Humanity that had not existed before, and that now makes possible for us a far closer and more powerful relationship with the Lord than was possible before the Incarnation.
Hi Seeking to understand,
Now to delve into your second question, about the Lord’s battles against the Devil, and the purpose and necessity of his death. This is such a vast and complex subject that I probably won’t do it justice in my response. But I’ll attempt to cover at least some of the major points.
About Jesus’ battles with the Devil, we have several examples of them in the Bible, the clearest being Jesus’ temptation by Satan in the desert after his forty day fast, and Jesus’ agony in Gethsemane just before his crucifixion. The first of these seems to be largely an intellectual battle, in which Satan quotes scripture to Jesus, and Jesus quotes scripture to Satan in return, refuting his intellectual attacks. The agony in Gethsemane seems much more aimed at the heart and spirit of Jesus. His heart and his will were being tested to a very deep level, so much so that he was sweating blood.
Based on these examples in the Gospels, we can at minimum say that these were not physical battles, such as armies engage in with swords, shields, and spears, but spiritual battles of truth against falsity, and of love against hatred and against despair. They were the kind of battles we fight within ourselves when we are trying to keep ourselves on a good path, or when everything has fallen to pieces in our life, and we’re trying to hold onto some hope and some purpose in moving forward rather than just giving up and giving in to blackness and despair.
However, whereas we fight our individual life and soul battles against our own particular evil inclinations and false ideas, Jesus was fighting a universal battle against all evil and falsity, which marshaled and arrayed itself against him in a desperate attempt to bring him down. We fight our own little piece of the Devil. Jesus fought the entire Devil, which, once again, is a personification of all of human evil, otherwise known as “hell.”
Since, as you and I both understand, the Divine Love cannot come directly into the presence of hell without destroying it, before God had a Divine Humanity, God kept evil and hell in check through angelic and human intermediaries. But eventually the power of hell mounted up so much that neither humans nor angels could channel enough power to resist it. That’s why God had to take on a Divine Humanity, in order to have a “mediator” of sufficient power to directly take on and defeat the power of evil. This he did in the person of Jesus Christ.
It’s somewhat difficult for us to think of his battles with Satan or the Devil as real battles. We tend to think in physical-minded ways. Swords, guns, blood, and guts are real battles. Battles of truth against falsity, and of love against hate, don’t seem so real to us.
But consider, for example, the battle against racism.
This is, primarily, an ideological and attitudinal battle. Yes, racism results in ugly and destructive physical actions. But racism is a thing of the mind and heart. To put an end to the horrendous physical crimes, it is necessary to change people’s minds and hearts, both individually and collectively as a society. And so the battle rages on the level of the human mind and heart. Those defending racism argue that certain races are inherently inferior to other races, and that therefore they should be mere servants, laborers, and slaves subject to the will of the “superior” races. The worst of the racists deny the very humanity of certain races, considering them to be mere animals. Meanwhile, those seeking to eradicate racism argue that every race has equal human potentials and abilities, even if they may be expressed differently in different races, and that human society is stronger when the contributions of people of all races are valued and celebrated.
It’s a “theoretical” battle in the sense that it is a battle of conflicting theories against one another. But it is a very real battle in that when racism wins, people are oppressed, maimed, and killed, whereas when valuing the humanity and dignity of all races wins, people are lifted out of that oppression, and humanity as a whole becomes better and stronger.
This may give some idea, through a contemporary example, of the types of spiritual battles that Jesus was fighting against Satan or the Devil. The three temptations in the desert give us a summary of the types of temptations that Jesus fought, and the means by which he emerged victorious. But that would be an entire article—or book!—of its own.
Though it’s somewhat hard for us to fathom exactly how it happened, Jesus won that cosmic spiritual battle against the powers of evil and falsity. Through that victory he took to himself the power to keep them under control, and to defend us from their power if we are willing to accept the power of the Lord into our lives.
To use another earthly analogy, consider a nation that has been enslaved by another nation. It’s people are living under the boot of a despotic foreign regime, forced to labor long hours, beaten, raped, and robbed at will by their occupiers, their children taken away from them and relocated to camps where they will be indoctrinated in the ideology of their oppressors.
Now consider a friendly neighboring country whose people see the misery of their friends next door, raise an army, invade that country, and defeat the oppressive nation that conquered them and had been oppressing and exploiting them. In order to defeat the oppressors, they must break their military power, which may mean invading that country also, and destroying its military infrastructure. But their purpose is not to enslave anyone, but rather, to free oppressed people. Now that they have defeated the oppressors, they maintain the military power to defeat them and drive them back if they ever again try to invade and oppress their international neighbors.
This, on a spiritual level, is what Jesus Christ did for us when he defeated the oppressive power and control that evil, the Devil, and hell had gained over us. And having taken on a Divine Humanity that has “all power in heaven and on earth” (Matthew 28:18), he can now keep the power of evil under control, and conquer it within the lives of any people who call upon God and ask God for help in defeating the enemy within their own lives.
Of course, God will not force salvation upon anyone, any more than a decent nation on earth would invade another country to “liberate” it when its people are not asking to be liberated. If we don’t call upon the Lord and ask for the Lord’s help power, the Lord will not barge in and “save” us against our will. That’s why he says:
I’ll take up the issue of Jesus’ death in a separate response.
Hi Seeking to understand,
Now about Jesus’ death. My response on this subject may be the least satisfactory, since it is such a huge, complex, and deep reality. But once again, I’ll attempt to hit some of the high points.
First, it is important to understand and accept that everyone dies. From an earthly perspective, death looks like the ultimate calamity: the end of our life, our consciousness, our relationships, and so on. ER Doctors and nurses are in a constant battle against the death of their patients. We spend ridiculous amounts of money trying to keep people alive for one more week, or even one more hour.
But that is an earthly view. From a spiritual perspective, death is simply a transition from one phase of life to the next. It is like walking through a doorway from a dark, windowless room lined with heavy tapestries into a beautiful flowering garden bathed in sunshine. From a spiritual perspective, death is not our enemy, but our friend. It is our birth into the world where we were designed from the beginning to live. See:
When Death is a Celebration
Certainly Jesus died a particularly gruesome death—though really, no worse a death than millions of other human beings have died at the hands of brutal and depraved monsters masquerading as people. But death was not his enemy. Rather, it was the door through which he walked to enter into full union with the Divinity from which he had come. Just as for us, death, for him, was not the end, but the beginning.
But in Jesus’ case, it was even more than that. In going through and ultimately defeating death itself, he gained final victory over the power of evil, hell, and death. By rising from death, he showed that even death has no power over the love, the truth, and the power of God. There is no other way he could have demonstrated so fully and completely to us humans that our fear of death is misplaced; that with God, death is nothing to fear, but something to look forward to, when our time here on earth is done, as our greatest friend and benefactor, ushering us into a new life that far exceeds anything we have ever experienced here on this physical earth.
In short, because we know from the Gospels that death had no power over Jesus, we can know and be assured that death has no power over us, either. The same God who had the power to raise Jesus from death has the power to raise us from death.
So the first thing is to understand that death is not evil, but good. Certainly it is sad to see people leave this earth before their time. But even for people who die in infancy, childhood, and youth, what comes next is far beyond anything they had experienced so far in their young lives here on earth. Yes, it would probably have been better for them to have had a full lifespan here on earth. But while we are mourning an untimely death, the angels are welcoming a new soul into their world and into their arms.
Jesus had no fear of death. That was not the “cup” that he prayed for the Father to take way, if possible. Rather, it was the agony of that final struggle against the ultimate, all-out assault of the combined power of all evil, falsity, rage, and destructive fury that the merely human side of him wished he did not have to go through. And yet, the final victory that he gained through that final struggle was what he “steadfastly set His face to go to Jerusalem” (Luke 9:51) to accomplish (see also Luke 9:31). For him, everything that he went through on the Cross was a matter of set purpose, and of accomplishment, not of defeat.
As for “giving in to evil,” it is true that in some of the Gospel accounts he did not say a word against his accusers. But in the Gospel of John, he has a lively debate with Pilate, who had ultimate life-or-death authority over him, such that as a result of what Jesus said to him, Pilate sought unsuccessfully (unsuccessfully for political reasons) to spare Jesus’ life, believing him to be an innocent man. Jesus did not go quietly to the Cross. He made it clear that this was a grave injustice perpetrated by unjust men.
In fact, he willingly, albeit with much agony and trepidation, faced what he was about to go through at Golgotha, the Place of the Skull, not because he was giving in to evil, but because he was on a mission to defeat evil.
When soldiers willingly charge into an enemy stronghold in order to defeat the enemy, are they “giving in to evil”? I don’t think so! They may die in the attempt, but they willingly face death because that is what’s necessary in order to defeat evil and oppression.
Jesus himself said, “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends” (John 15:13). And he willingly laid down his life for his friends, which are all of humanity, only to take it up again, and rise victorious.
Wow! This information is so helpful!
I think I understand now, that what made dying (at that time in that way) the right thing to do was that…death was an “enemy stronghold” of sorts, that he needed to charge into and defeat…not only because then he would complete the glorification process and gain the power to non-fatally control the evil spirits, but also because by dying and being resurrected, he could prove to humanity that we don’t need to fear death, and that way it would lose its power over us…and he demonstrated his love for us by going through all of that for our sake, and still maintaining constant love for *all* of us, even the ones that were killing him, with no resentment… (Is that a fairly accurate summary?)
But now, that makes me feel even more interested to understand the mechanism by which trials and temptations helped him to gain power over the evil spirits… I feel like I have some ideas, but I’d like to run them by you for feedback…
Based on what I’ve learned so far, I can see two possible mechanisms – and maybe both are true – by which non-physical battles like these could have helped Jesus gain personal control over “the Devil”…
One – perhaps the more obvious route – would be that, from what I understand, overcoming each temptation furthered the process of purification (if you can call it that) – the putting off of the human-side evil tendencies, I mean – leading up to the glorification, which then allowed him to channel just the right amount of God’s power – enough to be effective but not so much as to be destructive – to literally push the evil spirits back, into a retreated position, with more spiritual distance between them and the humans on earth, or at least less permission to exert influence or something…right?
But then the other idea I had, in thinking about spiritual distance and how that is related to what people are focused on, what they are valuing, etc., I was thinking that some – or maybe a lot – of humans could not necessarily be protected that way, since their attitudes and desires could keep them in the same spiritual territory as those evil spirits, no matter “where” they are pushed (as it were)…
So I was contemplating another possible mechanism by which Jesus might have gained more power to help *pull* people *away* from the evil spiritual territory, because I suppose that each victory over temptation was a case of him trailblazing the spiritual road of resistance against that particular sort of temptation, leaving him with the actual, first-hand experience of having walked those paths, *as a human*, and thus more able, I would expect, to lead regular humans down those same paths, if they are willing to walk alongside him… Would it be accurate to say that blazing those paths out of evil spiritual territory *from a human perspective* would be helpful in that way?
Like – in less metaphorical terms – I guess this would consist of learning/practicing the kinds of things a human could say to oneself, to effectively resist a given temptation, and then Jesus could kind of “whisper” those things to a human’s inner self or inner heart/conscience, when they are feeling tempted…yes?
And then the suggestion of those higher truths (about the consequences and harm caused by that type of evil, for example) could lead to better desires/loves/values, and thus put some spiritual distance between the human and the evil spirits trying to harass them, as long as the human is open to those suggestions, and then the human would be more protected from those spirits, right?
Hi Seeking to understand,
Yes, your opening summary is a nice encapsulation of several of the themes we’ve been covering in this conversation. And the rest of your comment does touch on some different aspects of what Jesus did during his lifetime on earth.
Yes, by purifying himself of his finite, maternal human with its tendencies toward evil (not actual evil), Jesus opened up new channels for divine power to flow out in a way that can precisely control and balance the evil influences of hell with the good influences from God and heaven without destroying hell in the process.
I say “balance” because in order for us to be spiritually free here on earth, we must have equal influences of good from God and heaven and of evil from hell, so that we can make our own choice without being pushed irresistably one way or another. I liken it to a tug of war in which there are ten or twenty people on each side, equally matched. You couldn’t beat either side by yourself. But since they’re pulling with equal force in opposite directions, whichever side you pull on, that’s the direction the rope will go.
This is another reason the Lord does not want to destroy hell. Destroying hell would take away that balance between good and evil, so that we would be irresistibly pulled toward heaven, which is not what God wants. Even in the Garden of Eden God planted the tree of knowledge of good and evil so that the first spiritually aware humans would have a choice between good and evil, and thus have spiritual freedom.
Jesus created a divine human channel so that God could precisely control and balance the power of hell with the power of heaven, not overwhelm and destroy the power of hell.
Your second surmise is related to the traditional Christian “moral influence theory of atonement,” which goes very far back in Christian history—probably right to the beginning. Though it is only part of what the Lord did, and does, via the Incarnation, it certainly is an important part of it.
In order to save us from evil, the Lord must rout the evil out of us—when we freely choose to have the Lord do so, of course. This process involves, among other things, the Lord working both from inside and from outside to lead, guide, and influence us away from what is evil, false, and destructive, and toward what is good, true, and constructive.
From the outside, the Lord leads us through our reading the Bible, hearing sermons, reading religious books and articles, taking classes, and so on. This is a critical part of the moral influence that the Lord has on us. If we don’t learn anything at all about repentance, reformation, and regeneration, or in ordinary language, regretting our bad habits and bad character traits, working to overcome them, and becoming a new person, then the Lord doesn’t have anything to work with in influencing us from within. That’s why it’s so important to keep reading the Bible, and to keep learning more about God, spirit, and the life that leads to heaven.
From the inside, the Lord does whisper to our mind and heart, both directly and through the angels, seeking to open our mind and heart to new love, new light, and new power in leaving behind our old self and becoming our new self. In fact, though it’s hard for us to believe, it is really the Lord doing that work within us, even though it feels—and must feel—as if we are doing it ourselves.
So yes, I think you’re on the right track. You’re wrapping your head around some of the key issues and “mechanisms” by which the Lord redeemed us and saves us.
Here’s a question in the same vein as what you both have been chatting about: I love God. I love Jesus. I’ve made my choice. Why do I have to keep making it again and again!? That is, why do I have to keep being challenged and risk making stupid choices against God? Can’t one give one’s freedom “back” to God, so to speak, so one does not risk losing God ever again?
That’s one of the blessings of death. At that point, our choice is made, and we don’t have to worry about it changing anymore. We can simply live our love. We can move forward on our journey in the direction, and at the level, that we’ve chosen.
But here on earth, the possibility of change in direction must be open both to preserve our freedom of choice between good and evil (which is for our earthly life) and to make it possible for us to go deeper into our spiritual life.
While it may seem as if we’re making the choice “again and again,” what’s actually happening is that we’re making it on a deeper and deeper level. As we move on in life, we face deeper and deeper evils within ourselves, and by overcoming them, open up higher and higher levels of our heart, mind, and spirit. Each time we do this, it must be a choice to do so, not just an “automatic upgrade.” Otherwise it doesn’t become our own, and part of our settled character.
While it may seem like we’re just moving around in circles, we’re actually moving in a spiral whose overall direction is forward and upward (assuming we’re headed toward heaven). We do move around and around, and up and down, but never in the same place as before. It’s like the orbit of the earth around the sun. We may seem to be repeating the same cycle over and over again, but the sun itself is moving, so the earth is actually traveling in a progressing spiral (technically a helix) through space.
Just wanted to follow up on this:
“If you are hoping the finite humanity from Mary merged into the Divine Humanity that is the fully glorified Jesus Christ, then . . . that’s just not how it worked.”
That wasn’t really what I was hoping, no…
I know what I’m about to say sounds weird, but I can’t figure out any better way to express it, than this… What I was kind of hoping was that Jesus maybe sort of “woke up” after the resurrection, still knowing he was himself, and also knowing that he was God and had been all along…
That’s kind of what I meant by continuity of consciousness. And I know it’s not the right terms, because God is outside of time, and that’s just not how he would experience it, but again, I just don’t know how else to express what I’m hoping was the case and trying to find out whether it’s true, or bears any resemblance or relationship to the truth at least…?
If not, I won’t be completely crushed or anything, but I would feel better if I can get a handle on what you meant when you said, higher up in the comments, “At that point, Jesus’ “I” fully merged with the divine “I,”…” That comment gave me hope that some sort of merging happened in some sense…just trying to understand the nature of it better…
Hi Seeking to understand,
If you are asking whether there was a continuity of consciousness in Jesus, then yes, there was.
Consider our consciousness from the time we are born to the time we die. When we are infants, we barely “think” in the usual sense. Mostly we just feel things. But as we move from infancy into our toddler years, we do begin to think about things, and to have self-awareness, albeit in a simple and childish way at first. Then we become grade-schoolers, and begin to apply our minds to learning things. In our teenage years, we start taking more responsibility for our own lives, in preparation for self-responsible adulthood. And in adulthood we go through phases of young adulthood, middle age, and old age.
Now, if you look at an eighty-year-old woman, she’s quite different from that little newborn baby girl. She’s different from her own self at every stage along the way. And yet, she’s still the same person, only now she’s grown and developed physically, mentally, emotionally, and we hope, spiritually from the infant who mas more a potential human being than a fully developed human being. There is continuity of consciousness. But that consciousness grows and develops in ways that make it almost like a whole new person at every stage, even while incorporating what it was in the previous stages.
Jesus never lost anything that was truly his, at the core of his being. The core of his being was divine. But that divinity had to develop into a divine humanity through the course of a lifetime—although a considerably shorter lifetime than the biblical “threescore years and ten” (Psalm 90:10). In his consciousness there was the same continuity, although at a much higher level, as the continuity our consciousness has during our lifetime. It was a developing continuity, which reached its full development at the time of the Resurrection and Ascension.
Of course, just as with ordinary humans, during his lifetime on earth his consciousness was intermittent, in that he slept at night and woke up in the morning like everyone else. This was while he was still a mixture of finite human and infinite divine. At death, he may have temporarily lost consciousness, though there are traditions of “the harrowing of hell” that says that he went down into the underworld during that time and freed souls that were held in undeserved oppression there.
Once he rose from death, though, there was no more interruption in his consciousness. He appeared and he disappeared at various times, but there is no record of him sleeping. Only of his appearing to various followers, speaking with them, eating with them, and so on. And once he rose up into heaven, traditionally called “the Ascension,” he was fully united with the Father, which was his divine soul, such that there was no longer any separation or distinction of consciousness at all between Jesus and God, or between “Son” and “Father.” Now he inhabits the infinite, eternal, timeless, spaceless consciousness of God that perceives everything that takes place in time and space from above and beyond time and space.
Was there a continuity of consciousness? Yes. First somewhat intermittent, like ours, but then constant, and finally eternal. It’s just that none of the consciousness that continued was the consciousness that came from Mary. The consciousness that continued was the consciousness of God, who has now become also the Divine Humanity.
Does this come any closer to answering your question?
Yes! Definitely! Thank you so much for sticking with me, sometimes I feel like I’m pestering you with too many questions! But this answer was so reassuring, thank you so much! Now I’ll read your other new comments with the answers to my second question – thank you for that too! 🙂
Wait, Ok, now I have a question! So Jesus’s death is more a revelation of the powerlessness of death than anything else? I get that, and I love it. But as far as dying for us or laying down his life for us — do you mean that Evil tried to get him to sin in those last hours by inflicting on him all the horror they could think of? and he passed the test so to speak by forgiving them?
I wouldn’t say “more than anything else.” Jesus’ death accomplished many things, one of which was to reveal to us the powerlessness of death. Another was to serve as the battleground for the final battle between the Lord and the powers of evil, and the final victory. Another was to complete the process of glorifying his humanity, so that he became the Divine Humanity.
Another was to show us the extent of God’s love for us in being willing to undergo death for us, so that Jesus also said:
Anyone who sees this kind of love will be drawn to it. Christians of all churches and denominations know and acknowledge that Jesus died for them, and this gives them great love and affection for their Savior in return.
And yes, Jesus “passed the test” by forgiving his killers instead of cursing them. But more than a “test,” it was the final trial of the steadfastness of his love for all humanity, in never abandoning his love and desire to save all people, everywhere, even his enemies, who are willing to be saved. Forgiving his murderers from the cross demonstrated that whatever internal agony he might have been in, he never abandoned his love for friends and enemies alike. That is how he defeated the power of hatred and evil.
Wow! That’s beautifully put. I see now. So was then THAT the “test” so to speak, his never abandoning his love for us, no matter what “Hell” or “Satan” threw at him???
So he literally loved hate to death???
Haha! Yes! That’s one way of putting it. 🙂