How does God Speak to Us, Before and After the Incarnation?

This is the first of a series of articles following up on the previous post, “How did the Incarnation Change God’s Relationship with Us?” In the comments on that article, several readers asked questions that led to some fairly detailed answers. These follow-up articles are revised and edited versions of those answers.

First, a reader named “Seeking to understand” asked about the difference in how God speaks to us before and after “becoming flesh” as Jesus Christ (John 1:14)—which is the plain meaning of the fancy theological term “the Incarnation.” You can read the original comment here, and my original response to the first of two main questions asked here. The next post will cover the other main question.

In the previous post I said:

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.

This article goes into a little more detail about how that works, and about how this changed when God came to us as Jesus Christ.

Before and after the Incarnation: the technical side

About God filling an angel with the divine presence to communicate with humans, if you want to read what Emanuel Swedenborg (1688–1772) said about this, the most detailed statement is in Secrets of Heaven (Arcana Coelestia) #1925. There are shorter statements in Divine Providence #96:6 (scroll down to subsection [6]) and Nine Questions #2 and #6.

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 Heavenly” (traditionally the “Divine Celestial”) and the “Divine Spiritual.” He says that before the Incarnation, God had a Divine Heavenly (God’s love) and a Divine Spiritual (God’s wisdom), but not a Divine Natural (God’s “body”). It is through and in this Divine Natural that God can now speak to us directly, without needing an angel intermediary. This is just a different way of saying the same thing: God has now come to us in person as Jesus Christ.

Before and after the Incarnation: the biblical side

As explained in the previous article, 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:

The revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave him to show his servants what must soon take place; he made it known by sending his angel to his servant John . . . . (Revelation 1:1)

This involves angels in delivering 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 the belief 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, Jesus Christ.

Many people have had visions of Christ, in which Jesus spoke to them. This is not an angel filled with God’s presence, but is God’s own Divine Human presence reaching out to us.

There is some basis in the Bible for believing that the first humans, before the Fall of Humankind, also had a more direct relationship with God:

They [Adam and Eve] heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden at the time of the evening breeze, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden. But the Lord God called to the man, and said to him, “Where are you?” (Genesis 3:8–9)

A longer conversation ensues in which God speaks to 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. However, as a result of their sin in eating from the tree of knowledge of good and evil against God’s direct commandment, 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 in this conversation with God, Adam and Eve “hid themselves from the presence of the Lord.” The separation between us and God is not because God has turned away from us, but because we have turned away 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 morality and basic human decency, we separate ourselves from God. God still wants to talk to us. We just aren’t listening anymore.

“Representative churches”

After this event in which we humans turned our back on God, the “churches,” or major religions of humankind, were “representative.” This means that instead of having a direct perception and experience of God and spirit, divine and heavenly things were represented and symbolized to people on earth by physical objects and images—such as the figurines and statues that people eventually started worshiping as idols when they no longer understood their spiritual symbolism—and also by human leaders such as prophets, priests, and kings, who served as representatives and intermediaries between God and humanity.

Because we had separated ourselves from God by doing things that are evil and sinful, ordinary people no longer had a direct relationship with God, but only an indirect one. This is why priests and prophets became necessary in these ancient pre-Christian churches.

Also, during the reign of these “representative churches” no human being on earth—not even the leaders who served as intermediaries between God and the people—had direct contact with God, but only indirect contact through angels. This is covered in Secrets of Heaven #1925, already linked above.

Human intermediaries

The particular humans who were chosen as intermediaries were either especially righteous and law-abiding people or they were leaders in their clan, community, or nation.

  • Prophets were called by God based on their willingness to listen to God’s word and convey it to the people, sometimes at great personal risk.
  • The Jewish High Priest communed with God once a year when he entered the Holy of Holies—the central shrine of the tabernacle, and later of the Temple, where the Ark of the Covenant resided—and God spoke to him from between the cherubim on the Mercy Seat of the Ark.
  • The regular priests offered the people’s sacrifices to God on the altar, and served as God’s representative in various rituals of purification and atonement.
  • Samuel, who became a universally recognized leader of Israel before Israel began anointing kings, also received and conveyed God’s messages to the people.
  • 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 particular family or clan.

In short, the people who were 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 nation. Yet even these people did not actually hear God’s voice directly, but through an angel.

During the giving of the Ten Commandments it says that God spoke not only to Moses, but directly to the people from Mt. Sinai. (For references, see the article, “How God Speaks in the Bible to Us Boneheads.”) But even this was God speaking through angels—probably a whole legion of angels—not God speaking directly to the people gathered around the mountain. If the people had directly encountered God, it would have destroyed them. Once again, please see the previous article.

The spiritual mechanics of angel intermediaries

As for how God speaks to angels, and fills angels with the divine presence, this involves some complex spiritual cosmology.

To boil it down to the 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 the east of heaven. That is the center around which the entire spiritual world is arranged.

The spiritual sun is not the being of God itself, but a “first emanation” within which God’s being is. Then, emanating from the spiritual sun, there is a series of progressively attenuated (thinned out) 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.

A physical analogy is the great distance and the various atmospheres between the sun and the people living on the surface of the earth. This makes it possible for the sun to shine on us with its life-sustaining warmth and light without destroying us.

The God pipeline

Water TowerThe spiritual atmospheres, like everything in the universe, are filled with God’s presence. So in a sense God does speak directly to the angels. It’s just that God does it through “pipelines,” so to speak, that attenuate God’s infinite power to a level at which angels 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 prove 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 a little bit of water at a time.

Some of the angels at the receiving end of this divine pipeline then become pipelines from God to humans on earth. By filling an angel with the divine presence and power, the infinite being of God is attenuated to our limited ability to receive a little bit of God at a time. It is also translated into the language and culture that shapes our mind and character.

Angels are able to serve as part of this “God pipeline” because, though they are not perfect (see Job 4:18; 15:15), 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 people on earth.

God’s own pipeline

After the Incarnation, though God still has this angelic pipeline available, God also has a direct “delivery system”: the Divine Humanity, or Jesus Christ.

Through the Incarnation, God developed God’s own “natural” or “earthly” side (the “Divine Natural,” in Swedenborg’s terminology), which is itself divine. This makes it possible for God to have a direct relationship with both people on earth and angels in heaven in a way that was not previously possible.

This direct Divine Human connection is also far more powerful than the old pipeline that used angel intermediaries. Angels are finite. They have a limited in “carrying capacity.” Meanwhile the human, on-earth portion of the God pipeline had gotten rusty and clogged.

The Divine Humanity is infinite, and clean as a whistle. It is capable of carrying and expressing infinite power. God now has the means to deliver as much power as humans and angels, both individually and collectively, are willing and able to receive. It is the power of divine love and wisdom acting in our lives and in our world.

Think of the difference between an old copper telegraph cable and a modern fiber optic cable. The data capacity has increased exponentially—or in the case of God’s new communications system, 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 transportation infrastructure is not quick and responsive enough to get the job done. And it’s already tied up in contracts with other manufacturers. So instead of relying on contracts with third parties, Musk designs and builds a Tesla Semi and forms his own trucking company, which is entirely dedicated to delivering Tesla cars to eagerly waiting customers. (I know, that’s not quite how it happened. But you get the idea!)

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 love, truth, and power to all people who want to “buy” it by repenting from their sins (bad behavior) and living a life of love and service to their fellow human beings.

Turning the human tide

As I just suggested, this new arrangement also required a change in human beings.

At the time God came to earth as Jesus Christ, humanity had reached its lowest spiritual ebb. Despite going through the motions of all the required religious rituals, people had all but stopped paying attention to God and spirit in any real way. Humanity was almost entirely focused on physical and worldly things such as wealth, power, and getting enough food for tonight’s supper.

That’s 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, pleasure, and physical needs, we 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 too, as empires ruthlessly crushed their subjects, and engaged in more and more deadly conflicts with other empires and nations.

Since the Incarnation, humanity has gradually been climbing back up the ladder of spiritual interest and awareness. Yes, there have been many setbacks and backtracks along the way. But in the main, people have far more spiritual interest and awareness now than they did two thousand years ago. Despite the secularism of much of today’s society, more people than ever are ready, willing, and able to engage in a direct relationship with God, which is now possible through the Divine Humanity, Jesus Christ.

Look in any major bookstore, and you’ll see a hefty religion and spirituality section. Even a few decades ago, that wasn’t the case. You had to go into a specialty religious bookshop to get religious books. Thanks to the Incarnation, humans have made considerable spiritual progress in the past two thousand years—and especially in the past couple centuries, due to the Second Coming having taken place in the 18th century. Yes, you read that right! See: “Is the World Coming to an End? What about the Second Coming?

Yes, due to the new, direct, and much more powerful conduit between God and humanity, people on earth 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 direct and personal relationship with God.

For further reading:

About

Lee Woofenden is an ordained minister, writer, editor, translator, and teacher. He enjoys taking spiritual insights from the Bible and the writings of Emanuel Swedenborg and putting them into plain English as guides for everyday life.

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13 comments on “How does God Speak to Us, Before and After the Incarnation?
  1. Fiona-Amber Bennett says:

    I really like the way you explain it all I’ve always been confused & had trouble understanding definitions pastors at church would use about the bible, etc. I had a heart attack a few years ago & was declared dead for 2 & a half minute. I saw heaven for real, it was amazing: God showed me 5 things that had always meant the very most to me (proved he knew my heart, it blew my mind/very wow!) & I didn’t want to come back but I got told it wasn’t my time yet. Can I tell you what I saw? Please email me & I’ll reply! Thanks

    • Lee says:

      Hi Fiona-Amber,

      Thanks for stopping by, and for your comment. Not to put too fine a point on it, but much of what today’s “Christian” pastors say just plain isn’t in the Bible. That’s why it’s confusing. If you’re interested, there are plenty of articles here that say what actually is in the Bible. Hera are a couple to start with:

      1. “Christian Beliefs” that the Bible Doesn’t Teach
      2. Christian Beliefs that the Bible Does Teach

      There are also a lot of articles here about near-death experiences, which you can find using the search box. Twenty years ago I wrote a small book about near-death experiences and spiritual growth titled Death and Rebirth.

      If your experience isn’t too personal to share publicly, you’re welcome to post about it in the comment section of one of the NDE posts here. If it’s very personal and you haven’t shared it with anyone, please let me know. It’s a true blessing that you had that experience. God is amazing!

  2. Griffin says:

    And on growing spirituality in spite of secularism, today’s atheists and agnostics often reject religion precisely because they see it as conflicting with values like love, wisdom, and rationality, which are spiritual in nature. I find it encouraging that so many people are able to find paths to God even if they don’t know them by that name.

  3. AJ749 says:

    Hi Lee , this may sound like a weird question but how do we know Jesus was divine ?

    I ask only because i know different theologies see jesus differently as some spiritualists think the divine spirit entered an ordinary man, some new age think he was an ascended master and so on so on. Reading swedenborgs account of jesus actually being God makes alot of sense and could clear up alot of well know issues with Christianity.

    However some say that jesus wasnt divine and was just some ordinary guy or that he never existed .

    • Lee says:

      Hi AJ749,

      It’s a good question.

      How do we really know anything? Ultimately, based on our experience, our reading and study, what we’ve learned from teachers, ministers, and others, and based on the choices and desires of our own heart, we consider the different possibilities, and decide what we want to know and believe. Then we find confirmation for it. And if it is a reasonably good belief, it helps us to live a better and more thoughtful life.

      This is not to say that there’s no actual truth. There is. But whether we see that truth is another question. And the best way to dispose our mind to see the truth as it really is, is to turn our heart toward good, which means toward loving and serving God and our fellow human beings. This orients our mind toward seeing genuine truth, because that is what helps and guides us to be truly helpful and useful to our fellow human beings. Good loves truth.

      This is why only people who follow Jesus’ teachings to love the Lord our God with all our heart, mind, soul, and strength, and love our neighbor as ourselves will, in the end, come to know that Jesus is divine. However, that may not come until after the confusion of this world is over for us, and we have moved on to the spiritual world. On this earth, there are many good-hearted, loving people who do not know or see that Jesus is divine, because the darkness and confusion of this world has prevented them from seeing it. In the afterlife, it will all become crystal clear.

      Meanwhile, here on earth we can see and know this if we want to. For me, it is “the logic of love,” as I like to call it, that gives me assurance that Jesus was indeed the God of the universe come to earth to save us. See:

      The Logic of Love: Why God became Jesus

      If God truly loves us, as the Bible says, then God wouldn’t just stand by and let us be destroyed by the mounting tide of evil that was engulfing the world and grinding us down. God would come to us, fight for us, and save us from that evil—if we want to be saved from it. And the Lord God Jesus Christ is still with us, waiting for us to open the door. And when we do, the Lord will come into us, and eat the spiritual bread of life with us.

      Turn your heart, mind, and life toward loving and serving your fellow human beings. Then you will find all the assurance you need that Jesus is indeed God With Us.

  4. AJ749 says:

    Hi lee this may sound like a weird question but how do we know that what the prophets / creators of the bible saw was actually divine revelation and that they were not actually tricked by evil spirts / satan ?

    I ask this because ive been looking in to evil spirts/devils and a researches has said that evil spirts have obviously been the creators of false channeled religeons and said that maybe some of the other major religions were as well

    • Lee says:

      Hi AJ749,

      Jesus had plenty to say about this. For example:

      Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will know them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thorns, or figs from thistles? In the same way, every good tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus you will know them by their fruits. (Matthew 7:15–20)

      When we look at the Bible then, and seek to know whether it is from God or from evil spirits, we can ask the question, “Does it bear good fruit, or bad fruit?” In other words, does it lead people to live a good life, or to live a bad life? Our answer to this question will be our answer to whether the Bible is a good book, inspired by God, or a bad book, inspired by the Devil.

      Also:

      Then they brought him a demon-possessed man who was blind and mute, and Jesus healed him, so that he could both talk and see. All the people were astonished and said, “Could this be the Son of David?”

      But when the Pharisees heard this, they said, “It is only by Beelzebul, the prince of demons, that this fellow drives out demons.”

      Jesus knew their thoughts and said to them, “Every kingdom divided against itself will be ruined, and every city or household divided against itself will not stand. If Satan drives out Satan, he is divided against himself. How then can his kingdom stand?” (Matthew 12:22–26)

      If the Bible tells us how to drive evil spirits and Satan out of our life, and strongly urges us to do so, would that book really have been inspired by evil spirits and Satan?

      • AJ749 says:

        Hi lee that makes sense, especially about why would a book inspired by hell tell us not to follow anything occult/from hell.

        Although a few channeled messages (obviously from hell or low order spirits) do say dont follow other channels cuz there unsafe and lie.

        • Lee says:

          Hi AJ749,

          As you know, my view is that no kind of spirit contact or communication is a reliable source of information. It may serve an inspirational purpose, but it should not be relied upon for doctrine or belief.

      • AJ749 says:

        Hi lee, i hope you didnt take offense at that last comment it was never intentionally meant, i didnt mean to question your beliefs as i do share a great deal of them, i meant for it to show that these channeled entitys(demons) only want you to listen to them becasuse if you channeled another entity then it would tell you something completely different.

        • Lee says:

          Hi AJ749,

          No offense taken. I just figured that the conversation was winding down. I agree with you about all of this.

  5. AJ749 says:

    Hi lee sorry to disturb you but i wanted to run something by you.

    As your probabaly aware alot of new age spiritualty types as well as edgar cayce and even christians who take the bible literally claim the knowledge they recieve to be authoritative as they have received it from the akashic records or universal knowledge when they were in trance or OBE’s and not from a spirit or entity.

    Looking in to it has led me to ideas from new age type people who think that anything from the akashic records such as past lives, atlantis, future prophecies , information regarding the spiritual world is actually symbollic and not literal which they say explains why there isnt remains of said atlantis and why past lives overlap and so on.

    Another one actually mirrored nearly exactly what you have said on this website and what swedenborg said in the sense of the biblical prophets visions happened in their spirit body and so the prophecies that they saw were to happen in spirit and not literally.

    Do you think if all of these people who think Edgar cayce, theosophy, biblical literalism as well as other religious literalism were to find that actually they are not literal truths but symbollic truths would lead them to swedenborg?

    • Lee says:

      Hi AJ749,

      In general, I do think that these visions are usually symbolic, and not meant to be taken literally.

      As for whether this realization will lead people to Swedenborg, that depends upon the person. Some people are mostly into being “in the know” and having “secret knowledge,” and thinking of themselves as more enlightened than other people. These people will likely be turned off by Swedenborg’s insistence that on our own we are evil, that we must repent from our sins and live a good life instead, that Jesus Christ is God, and that we must humble ourselves in the Lord’s presence, and so on.

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Lee & Annette Woofenden

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