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 ) 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.
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.
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
The 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: