Is it Right to Call Jesus “Father”?

"My Lord & My God": John 20:28

In a comment posted here, a reader named Duane asked (in an edited version):

Why is Jesus never referred to as “the Father,” aside from that Isaiah prophecy? Is it incorrect to call Jesus “Father” or “Abba”?

This article is an edited version of my response, originally posted as a comment here.

Isaiah 9:6 and similar prophecies make it clear that the one to be born would be not only the Son, but also the Father—and of course, God:

For to us a child is born,
to us a son is given,
and the government will be on his shoulders.
And he will be called
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.

Jesus was not born fully divine

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. During his lifetime on earth it would not have been correct to refer to him as “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 that he will be. And so it is good for us to think of him as Father and to call him “Father” as well. (“Abba” is an Aramaic word for “Father.”)

The Trinity is within God

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. 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. These are not separate “Persons” of God, but distinct parts of God. (See: “Who is God? Who is Jesus Christ? What about that Holy Spirit?”)

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 the false and unbiblical doctrine of the Trinity of Persons that invaded Christianity early in its history, and has held it captive ever since. (See: “Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.”)

We can and should call Jesus “Father”

All of the attributes of God are in that one God, and are that one God: Father, 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 Jesus all of these things because that is who and what he is: the one and only God of the universe.

Yes, now that the Lord Jesus has been glorified and is the one God, sovereign over heaven and earth (see Matthew 28:18), it is good and proper to call Jesus “God” and “Father,” just as he is called in the Old Testament prophecies of his coming, and just as he identifies himself to Philip in John 14:8–10:

Philip said, “Lord, show us the Father and that will be enough for us.”

Jesus answered: “Don’t you know me, Philip, even after I have been among you such a long time? Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? Don’t you believe that I am in the Father, and that the Father is in me? The words I say to you I do not speak from myself. It is the Father living in me who is doing the works.”

Jesus prepared us for his full union with the Father

Keep in mind that almost half of the Gospel of John, chapters 12–20, covers events and sayings that took place in the last week of Jesus’ earthly life. When he spoke these words to Philip in John 14, he had nearly completed the process of glorification: of becoming fully one with the Father.

Much of what he says in these last chapters before his 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 according to the exact meaning of the original Greek, and not bent in translation to conform to the false doctrine of the Trinity of Persons, 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.”)

For further reading:


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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58 comments on “Is it Right to Call Jesus “Father”?
  1. Adriaan Braam says:

    Dear Lee Thanks so much for sharing this conversation with so many details!! It is so amazing how high and detailed people may go to this aspect of life and history. One of the things that came to mind, some time ago, about explaining how and why Jesus came to earth with this idea. Please have a look at this link. This approach can be extended and be made more detailed but this is just the basic idea. Thanks so much for the conversation.


    • Lee says:

      Hi Adri,

      Thanks for stopping by, and for your kind words. FYI, I slightly edited the link in your comment. For those reading in, the link goes to a Google site where you can download a TXT file.

      I do like your “fish tank” analogy. Yes, our “fish tank” here on earth got dirty, as it inevitably would given our God-given freedom that makes it possible for us to choose evil over good. And yes, eventually God had to come personally and “clean up the mess.” Not that there would be no more mess (those fish keep right on doing their thing), but that the mess we are still making became more manageable.

      Though I know you’re not using technical language, my only caution would be about the statement, “So God created a human being with Mary . . .” As covered in some of the articles linked at the end of this one, though Jesus at birth did have a human side from Mary, which was indeed “created,” the divine side of Jesus was not created, but is an uncreated extension of God. However, that is a quibble for the theologically-minded. I do get what you’re saying.

      Thanks for a good and thoughtful piece!

  2. necron48 says:

    This was a great article Lee…..It helps others to see the mystery of the “Godhead” and to understand it better. My only concern is your statement where you said:

    “Further, if the Epistles were properly translated according to the exact meaning of the original Greek, and not bent in translation to conform to the false doctrine of the Trinity of Persons”

    Show me 1 instance where translations deliberately differed from the Greek to conform to a trinitarian concept of God

    • Lee says:

      Hi necron48,

      Thanks for stopping by, and for your comment. Glad you enjoyed the article!

      I do not mean to imply that the various Nicene Christian (Orthodox, Catholic, Protestant) Bible translators deliberately change the language of their translation to conform to a trinitarian concept of God. Though this sort of deliberate changing of the text occasionally does happen in translations—for example, Luther’s famous or infamous insertion “alone” after “faith” in Romans 3:28 in his German translation of the Scriptures—for the most part it is more subtle and nuanced than that. People of various doctrinal stances read and understand the Bible according to their own doctrinal stance. Their translations bend toward that doctrinal stance, not “deliberately,” but because that is the lens through which they read the text. They sincerely believe that they are accurately translating the text into the target language. Translation is an art, not a science. It depends heavily on the translator’s reading and understanding of the text.

      As for examples of the Epistles calling Jesus “God” and “Father” if they are translated more exactly according to the original Greek, I first encountered this in the wonderful book Great Truths on Great Subjects, by the Rev. Dr. Jonathan Bayley, originally published in England in 1850. In the discussion following the first lecture (on pp. 44–45 of the linked reprint edition on Amazon), this question and answer occurs:

      Q. If the Father and the Savior are one person, how is it that in the Epistles their names are so often separated by the conjunction “and,” such as “God and Christ,” “the Father and our Lord Jesus Christ”?

      A. Partly because the Father and the Savior are two characters, though not two persons. You admit that God and the Father are one person, and yet you will often find the conjunction, “and,” occurring between these two names. As, for instance: “Now God himself and our Father, and our Lord Jesus Christ, direct our way unto you” (1 Thessalonians 3:11). “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 1:3). It must be confessed, however, that this appearance of distinction would not be so strong in many instances if we had a translation of the New Testament more rigidly exact to the original than we at present have. Thus, in the new translation of the American Bible Society, there is a great improvement. For instance, in 2 Peter 1:1: “Through the righteousness of God and our Savior Jesus Christ” is corrected, and we read, “Through the righteousness of our God and Savior Jesus Christ.” Again: “Through the knowledge of God, and of Jesus our Lord” (2 Peter 1:2), is given more correctly, “Through the knowledge of Jesus, our God and Lord.” Again: “Looking for that blessed hope, and the glorious appearing of the great God and our Savior Jesus Christ” (Titus 2:13) is rendered, “Looking for that blessed hope, and the glorious appearing of Jesus Christ our great God and Savior.”

      Unfortunately, Amazon has not linked the print edition to the Kindle edition. If you want to purchase Great Truths on Great Subjects for Kindle, you can do so here. These are my own reprint editions of this fantastic and highly recommended book.

  3. Annie Howell says:

    Hi Lee

    Firstly I need to say a massive thank you for helping me out with some religious questions that have puzzled me in the past. If I hadn’t come across your blog I would be completely turned off by Christianity and you helped me feel I could still be a christian and not be part of a faith that judges people and feels superior. About a year ago I think, you told me that when Jesus was on earth, God was still in his heaven at the same time – something that confused me beforehand.

    I wanted to ask though seeing as Jesus and God are spoken about separately and for thirty three years Jesus had an earthly mother do you think they two different entities or the same. Are Jesus and God now in heaven one spirit or two. A lot of people say Jesus is God and I do believe that God came down in human form to spread his message of love and compassion to others as Jesus Christ but after death I question whether he is God as he was reconciled to him or a part of him sitting beside him, but then not actually him. I know from people who have had near death experiences that some of them have said they felt the love of god and some say they have felt the presence of Jesus but not always both. As there are 6 major world religions and many of smaller ones where they mostly believe in God, only one of them believes that Jesus is anything to do with God. Some people suggest that Jesus is a path to God for Christians and similarly Mohammad would be a path to God/Allah for Muslims as he is the one they worship. I was interested to hear your opinion as what you think about that. This is what Oprah Winfrey has said she believes while I believe that Jesus is for all of us with love and acceptance but seeing as other religions pray to other prophets I’m sure people of other faiths would seek out the prophet that means a lot to them but that Jesus draws all to himself as well. I believe that but I don’t like having the my religion is right, your religion is wrong mentality to others. I do believe Jesus is God but was wondering if God turned up as God to everyone firstly or as Jesus as people of other faiths probably wouldn’t reject God but could reject Jesus as to them he is a stranger in the way other prophets would be to me.

    Lastly I have always wondered as Jesus is the savior of all human beings from his life on earth and came to save us all what happened before to all our ancestors and other biblical characters in the old testament if he wasn’t on earth to save them. Any thoughts?

    It says Enoch and Elijah were taken to heaven directly by God and I like to think that seeing as our ancestors have been around for six million years and Jesus only came 2019 years ago that they went to Heaven. It does bring up the question of what was the purpose of Jesus if we were all saved beforehand but If good people were sent away from God after death thats a horrible thought. I have always heard people talk about Jesus saving us but never about what happened to everyone in the old testament before Jesus if they weren’t saved after death. Seeing as God is seen as love it makes God sound unloving and Jesus sound forgiving. If jesus is God then surely he is the same person and would want to save his children since the beginning of time. God coming to earth and sending out his message to the world through Jesus was an amazing thing to do and I love that when I went to a church in Africa God was seen as a black man and in my church he’s white as it shows he is for us and relates to us whatever we are and his message is for everyone.

    • Lee says:

      Hi Annie,

      Good to hear from you again! I’m glad our blog has been so helpful to you. That’s why we do it.

      About your first round of questions, please read these three articles, and see if they provide the answers you are looking for. The third one was a response to a similar question that you asked earlier.

      1. Who is God? Who is Jesus Christ? What about that Holy Spirit?
      2. If Jesus Christ is the One God, Why Did He Talk and Pray to the Father?
      3. If Jesus was God, How was God Still in Heaven?

      About your second round of questions, the salvation of people in the Old Testament is a problem only for “Christians” who believe in the false doctrine justification by faith alone. For such “Christians,” there is no salvation without intellectual belief in Jesus, so the salvation of people who lived before Jesus was born is a real problem. They have various work-arounds, none of which are really convincing unless you reject their basic doctrine of faith alone. (I put “Christians” in quotation marks because these people reject what Jesus Christ and his Apostles teach in the Bible, so they can’t really be called Christians.)

      For people who believe what the Bible actually teaches, which is that we are saved if we believe in God, love God, and live according to God’s commandments, there is not a problem about the salvation of people in Old Testament times. Those who believed in God and lived according to God’s commandments were saved. Those who did not were not saved.

      It’s the same for people of all religions. Even atheists who live according to a code of ethics that they believe is more important than their own self-interest are believing in God and living according to God’s commandments. They just reject the label “God,” mostly because traditional Christianity (and other religions, too), has made God look like a total jerk. See: “Do Atheists Go to Heaven?

      Here are some more articles that go into this in more detail:

      1. If there’s One God, Why All the Different Religions?
      2. Is Jesus Christ the Only Way to Heaven?
      3. Did Jesus ever actually say, “If you don’t believe in me you will go to hell”?
      4. Heaven, Regeneration, and the Meaning of Life on Earth

      I know that’s a lot of articles. But you’re asking a lot of big questions! If, after reading these articles, you still have questions, or don’t understand something, please feel free to leave further comments.

      • Rami says:

        Hi Lee,

        Do you think it’s too harsh to put ‘Christians’ in quotes when referring to Protestants and Catholics on account of their doctrines of justification, effectively calling them pseudo-Christians? I realize that, among many of the aforementioned, their indictment of Swedenborgians has historically been similarly uncharitable, but I once heard a podcast by William Lane Craig in which a student asked him about oneness Pentecostals and if they were truly ‘Christian’, and he remarked: ‘it seems to me that the only necessary condition to be a Christian is to accept the Divinity of Christ,’ and I would be inclined to agree with this.

        Now, I would draw a difference between qualifying conditions and disqualifying conditions. I would put ‘Christians’ in quotes when referring to, say, white supremacists, who believe Jesus is Lord but nevertheless hold to a set of deeply contrary and abhorrent beliefs. Conversely, I wouldn’t call the ethical atheists you referred to in your reply as ‘Christians,’ for even though they (unknowingly) live in accordance with the basic Christian teaching for salvation, they don’t consciously and in their hearts place that belief within a larger spiritual framework.

        But do you feel a doctrine of justification can be a disqualifying belief?

        • Lee says:

          Hi Rami,

          Doctrinally, Catholicism and its schism Protestantism are not Christian. This not a matter of being “uncharitable.” It’s a matter of being factual.

          Christians accept the teaching of Jesus Christ, and of the Christian Bible. But Catholicism and Protestantism have long since rejected the basic teachings of Jesus Christ and the Bible, especially on the critical matter of salvation, and have substituted non-biblical and anti-biblical teachings originated by such theologians as Anselm, Aquinas, Luther, and Calvin.

          Catholics are now doctrinally followers of Anselm and Aquinas, not followers of Jesus Christ and his Apostles. Protestants are doctrinally followers of Luther and Calvin, not followers of Jesus Christ and his Apostles. They therefore, in point of fact, are “Christian not in essence or in reality but in name only,” to use Swedenborg’s description (in True Christianity #668).

          Now, individual Catholics or Protestants may be Christians if they embody Jesus’ own definition of his followers:

          By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another. (John 13:35)

          More generally, if they follow Jesus’ two Great Commandments, to love the Lord our God with all our heart, mind, soul, and strength, and to love our neighbor as ourselves, then they are Christians in reality and essence, meaning in their lives, even if they are not Christians doctrinally because they belong to a non-Christian church.

        • Lee says:

          Hi Rami,

          As for accepting the divinity of Christ, Catholicism and Protestantism do this only in a limited fashion. They see Christ as the human side of one-third of the Godhead—of the “Second Person” of the Trinity. They do not see Christ as fully Divine, meaning that he is God. He is only part of God, or more accurately, part of part of God. So they do not accept the full divinity of Jesus Christ, but grant him only part of the divinity—one-sixth of it, to be precise. This is true of Orthodox Christianity as well.

  4. Duane Armitage says:

    This is fantastic. Thanks for mentioning my question!
    I have a follow up to this, which is sort of a clarification: Jesus had to have, as a human, a distinct personality, right — that is, as a finite human being? Was this personality God’s personality? Or is God’s personality precisely Jesus’?
    I hope this question makes sense in light of what you wrote above, and that it is clear I am not exactly asking the same question.

    • Lee says:

      Hi Duane,

      It’s a good, and interesting, question.

      Jesus, while he was on earth, was a first century Jew living in Palestine. He would have been a different personality if he had been a third century Chinese living in China, or a fifth century African living in Ethiopia. The particular personality he had due to his particular ethnic and temporal human background is not any more God’s personality than any of the other potential personalities he could have had if he’d been born in a different time and place. However, the divine aspects of his personality would have been the same no matter where and when he was born.

      It is similar to Swedenborg’s statements in Secrets of Heaven #10453 about how the Bible would have had a different literal sense if it had been written in a different culture, but its spiritual sense would have been the same.

      • Duane Armitage says:

        Whoa! Ok! That’s fascinating. I always assumed his personality was God’s! So does Jesus now retain that aspect of his personality, post-glorification???
        Also, I believe you have a link about Jesus’ earlier years and his coming to understand himself as God’s son. Do you have a link for this?

        • Lee says:

          Hi Duane,

          Post-glorification, Jesus is infinite and omniscient, and is God.

          God does come to different people in particular human forms, including as the common picture of Jesus among Christians here on earth. This is likely not what Jesus actually looked like; it is simply how Europeans, especially, have come to visualize Jesus. For a fascinating brief article on this, see:

          What did Jesus really look like? By Joan Taylor

          In other words, the Lord commonly appears to us in the guise that we expect. That doesn’t mean that’s what Jesus “actually looks like.” God, the Divine Humanity, encompasses all (good) human characteristics at a divine level. How the Lord appears to us depends greatly upon how we picture the Lord in our own minds, and in our prayer life. This is not wrong. It’s just human. For a related article, see:

          How does Jesus Appear to Us? Can We See God Face to Face?

          I don’t think I have an article here specifically on Jesus’ early years and his coming to understand himself as divine. However, there are sections in a couple of my recent comments-turned-to-posts:

          It comes up in various other articles here as well.

  5. Duane Armitage says:

    Hi Lee
    What do you make of the images in the Bible that picture God the Father on a throne and Jesus next time him, seemingly representing “two” persons or even beings rather than one? I am thinking mainly of revelation (to the one who sits on the throne and the lamb, etc.), but also even Jesus’ own proclamation that he will be seated “at the right hand” of the power.

    • Lee says:

      Hi Duane,

      Here’s the article you’re looking for:
      What Does It Mean to Sit at the Right Hand of God?

      • Duane Armitage says:

        Lee, I can’t seem to find your reply on here, but No no. I didn’t mean for traditional trinitarianism; I meant, for Swedenborg and yourself, are the distinctions in God real or merely apparent. It’s sort of a philosophical question that I’m interested in as to the “ontological status” of difference or distinction. In other words, does God’s wisdom and his love merely appear different to us, or are they real distinctions in God. Does that make sense now?

        • Lee says:

          Hi Duane,

          I accidentally hit “save” before I was finished with my reply, and deleted the incomplete answer. I have now posted the completed answer to your question below.

  6. Duane Armitage says:

    Hi Lee,
    Thinking about the Trinity again and rereading some of your posts as well as, at this moment, Thomas Aquinas. I already know what you think of the traditional Doctrine of the Trinity, as well as what Swedenborg thinks, of course. My question is: are the distinctions in God (Wisdom, e.g.) real? That is, is God different truly or distinct really from his wisdom and love even though they are of course him, in the one God who is one person, namely the Lord God Jesus Christ. does this question make sense?
    Thank you, Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

    • Lee says:

      Hi Duane,

      Good to hear from you again. Happy New Year!

      If I am reading your question correctly, it resolves into two distinct questions:

      1. Is God distinct from God’s “parts” (love, wisdom, and so on)?
      2. Are God’s “parts” really distinct from one another?

      In traditional Christianity, this might be answered by reference to the Shield of the Trinity, which seems to have originated at about the time of Aquinas:

      Shield of the Trinity

      Visually, if you ignore the labeling, this image presents a picture in which not only are Father, Son, and Holy Spirit distinct from one another, but each is distinct from the central figure of God. I realize this is not the intent of the creators of the diagram. But visuals often tell a truth that words do not. They present what is actually in the person’s mind, whereas it is easy to obscure the mental picture, which is the person’s real thoughts, through the use of words that express what one is supposed to believe, but not what one actually believes. On this, please see:

      Is the Doctrine of the Trinity Polytheistic?

      In reality, traditional trinitarians picture three gods in their minds, one of whom is the Father, another of whom is the Son, and yet another of whom is the Holy Spirit. These three gods, however, are conceived of as being “one” by means of an “essence” that is represented visually in the shield of the Trinity by the central “God” circle.

      As represented visually in the Shield of the Trinity, in traditional trinitarianism the answer to both of the questions I see embedded in your comment is “yes.” The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are distinct from God, who is an essence behind each one of them; and they are also distinct from each other. Once again, I realize that trinitarians themselves would disagree with this description of their beliefs. But as shown in the above-linked article, their words are at odds with the picture in their mind, which is their actual belief about the nature of God.

      In traditional trinitarian doctrine, though the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are each held to be God in and of themselves, in reality none of them is actually the one God, because it is the essence behind them that is God, and each of them is a manifestation of that underlying God. Despite trinitarians’ rejection of modalism as a heresy, their own conception of God is essentially modalist in conception. The central essence or being of God appears in three different manifestations. That’s modalism. In modalism, none of the “modes,” or appearances, or manifestations, of God is really God as God is in God’s self. They are each an appearance of God; none of them is the actual, full being of God.

      Once again, the picture tells the truth more clearly than the words.

      For a related article, please see:

      What is the difference between the Swedenborgian and Oneness Pentecostal doctrines of God?

      If Swedenborg’s concept of the Trinity were to be drawn as a diagram, in simplest form it would be three concentric circles, the inner circle being the Father, the middle one being the Son, and the outer one being the Holy Spirit.

      However, if, as Swedenborg says, God is One Person (not three), and if, as he says, God is Human, then the best way to “diagram” the Trinity is as a human being. After all, Genesis 1:26–27 says that God created human beings in the image and likeness of God. If we want to gain a real, concrete, and non-confusing idea of God, considering our own nature as human beings is better than any diagram.

      We could then ask about ourselves the two questions I have resolved yours into, and gain a much better and more accurate picture in our mind of their answers. So let’s ask:

      1. Are we humans distinct from our “parts” (love, wisdom, and so on)?
      2. Are our “parts” really distinct from one another?

      On question 1, though philosophers could certainly argue and debate the point, I would say it’s fairly clear that we are not distinct from our parts, but rather are the sum of our parts. Without all of the parts that make us human, primarily spiritually but also physically, we are not ourselves. Yes, physically we can lose a limb or an eye. But our remaining parts are still distinctly human parts. And without any of our parts, we consider ourselves to be incomplete. And if we lose one of the parts that is essential to our life as a human being, such as our heart, our lungs, or our brain, we cease to be human because we cease to be alive.

      On question 2, when we consider ourselves as human beings, it is quite clear that our different parts, both physical and spiritual (or psychological) are indeed distinct from one another. Our feet are not our eyes. Our heart is not our lungs. Each part and organ is distinct from every other part and organ. Yet together, they make us the human being that we are—the spiritual parts and organs even more so than the physical ones.

      The same answers apply to God:

      1. God is not distinct from God’s parts, such as love and wisdom, but rather is the sum of God’s parts.
      2. God’s parts (love, wisdom, power, and infinite sub-parts within them) are each distinct from all the others, but are united into one so that they cannot be separated from each other, or from the whole.

      In tackling these rather tricky concepts in more abstract verbal form, Swedenborg uses the Latin expression distincte unum. This comes out in English as “distinctly one” in the older, more literal translations. The New Century Edition more helpfully translates it as “distinguishably one.” In other words, we can mentally distinguish them from one another, and they are, in fact, distinct from one another, but they are indivisibly one in forming the whole, and in their functions.

      For example, we can mentally distinguish the heart and the lungs from one another, and they are distinct from each other. But if you separate them from each other, and from the rest of the body, they cease to be heart and lungs, and become dead, functionless matter instead. Yes, in this day and age they can be separated temporarily, as in a heart or lung transplant. But unless they are fairly rapidly put together with their counterparts in a living body, they will soon decompose, and will no longer be a heart or a lung.

      This is the same way in which God’s “heart,” or divine love, is distinguishably one with God’s “lungs,” or divine wisdom. We can distinguish them in our mind, and they are in fact distinct from one another. But they cannot be separated, or neither one retains its own essence, being, reality, and function. They must be together, or they are nothing.

      For some passages in which Swedenborg discusses how the various parts of God are distinguishably one, please see Divine Love and Wisdom #14–22 and #34–39.

      • Duane Armitage says:

        Ah ok, so I would certainly resist the “parts/whole” language because that’s more of a physical analogy, right? Bc if God is spirit, it would be difficult to talk about parts. But the “distinction” language is interesting. So a follow up: (a) is God’s wisdom really “distinct” from his love, or are they the same thing, just (b) distinguishable in our mind? in other words, are these distinct in God or to us? It really makes the question arise for me re: the immanent vs. economic trinity in traditional lingo, where the traditional trinitarians have argued that the economic Trinity is the immanent Trinity, whereas, it always made more sense to me to think of God as “tri-une” to us, that is, in his dealings with us, but not in himself, which I find to be “basically” the same as what Swedenborg is saying (maybe? I’m sure you’ll response to this part). Another point of interest re: your human analogy, which reminds me of Augustine using the very same point, in particular mind and will (Aquinas later picks this up too), which seems to correspond to Swedenborg’s points.

        So I guess, in short: Is distinction real in God or just to us; that is, does difference have an ontological status of its own; Also, what appears to be important for Aquinas is that the “hypostases” are essential relations, which are related to each other; so the Father is in relation to the Son and to the Spirit. Would Swedenborg talk this way? Is the Father in relation to the Son? (Do you see how this is all basically the same question?)

        • Lee says:

          Hi Duane,

          I would very much recommend that you read the sections in Divine Love and Wisdom that I referenced in my previous reply. In fact, if you are interested in the nature of God from a philosophical and ontological perspective, I would highly recommend that you read Divine Love and Wisdom in its entirety. That is the book for you.

          About God having parts:

          Yes, of course God has parts. Traditional Christian philosophy is utterly confused on this point, attempting to make God “simple” while simultaneously saying that God is three Persons. It is a self-contradictory and meaningless doctrine, hatched and developed by darkened minds during a very dark and brutish period of human history.

          Among the sections from Divine Love and Wisdom that I referenced, there is this one, in which Swedenborg makes it quite explicit:

          Anyone can come to an inner assurance about the presence of infinite things in God—anyone, that is, who believes that God is a person; because if God is a person, he has a body and everything that having a body entails. So he has a face, torso, abdomen, upper legs, and lower legs, since without these he would not be a person. Since he has these components, he also has eyes, ears, nose, mouth, and tongue. He also has what we find within a person, such as a heart and lungs and the things that depend on them, all of which, taken together, make us human. We are created with these many components, and if we consider them in their interconnections, they are beyond counting. In the Divine-Human One, though, they are infinite. Nothing is lacking, so he has an infinite completeness.

          We can make this comparison of the uncreated Person, who is God, with us who are created, because that God is a person. It is because of him that we earthly beings are said to have been created in his image and in his likeness (Genesis 1:26–27). (Divine Love and Wisdom #18)

          The Bible is also very clear that God has all the parts and organs of a human being. Why else would it say that we humans are created in God’s image and likeness? See:

          Was Adam Anatomically in God’s Image?

          Of course, God’s parts are not made of physical matter, nor are they made of spiritual substance. They are made of divine substance. But the divine being of God has every part that we created human beings have. Otherwise, how could we be created in the image and likeness of God? Unless God has all of the parts we do, that statement in Genesis has no meaning whatsoever.

        • Duane Armitage says:

          Lee, I’ve never understood that passage to mean that God literally has organs or anything; but rather, humans being made in the image and likeness of God concerns our intellect and our will (freedom). While I’m open to what you are saying, I don’t think saying that God has no body (or at least, HAD no body prior to the incarnation?) makes the passage meaningless. Anthropomorphism is the term often employed; just as it is said that God gets angry by analogy and anthropomorphism, so too it COULD BE that God has hands and blows smoke out his nose and whatever else. Again, I’m not disagreeing just saying it need not ipso facto mean that without also having other meanings. But, ultimately, that question isn’t as important to me as figuring out the question of relation between the parts of God to one another. Recently I read a few articles by Catholic theologians who argue (and I know I’ve noted this before to you a while ago) that to say God is three person means not that God is three consciousnesses; that is, person is a subsisting relation (whatever that means!) not a consciousness. So God is one consciousness in three subsistences which are in relation according got traditional trinitarianism. So my point is not to of course try to argue they are saying the same thing, but simply ask you if you think that definition would be something closer (at least) or maybe even identical to what Swedenborg thought?

          Again, you dont have to worry about convincing me or the error or the history. I’m with you, I’m simply wondering if that might be closer to what youre saying?

          In other words, do the “parts” “relate” to each other?

        • Lee says:

          Hi Duane,

          Our intellect and our will also have parts. They are not “simple” entities. They are complex entities—and complex means “having many different parts, with many different functions.”

          In order to properly understand God, we must divest our mind of the idea that God is some wispy, insubstantial thing. God is not a ghost, made of inchoate vapor. God is a human being, made of all of the component parts that make us human beings.

          If God just has inchoate “will” and “understanding,” what is the content of that will and understanding? Does God have a specific love for you, and for me, and for every other individual human being on this earth? Or does God just have a wispy, generalized “love” that has no distinct shape, direction, or object?

          And if God is omniscient, doesn’t this mean that God’s mind contains every single detail of knowledge that can possibly exist? If so, then God’s intellect is not some generalized “simple” entity, but consists of infinite distinct elements or parts, all unified together as a single divine mind.

          I am aware that this is not really where you want to go. But I do not think you will be able to understand the answers to your questions if you reject the idea that God consists of infinite parts. If there are not parts in God, then the whole question of whether they are distinct, or distinguishable, has no meaning and no referent.

          Nicene trinitarians see this dimly due to their belief in three persons of God, which they insist are in relationship with one another. The actual picture in their head, as I’ve said before (echoing Swedenborg) is of three gods talking to each other. The rest is just fancy theological and philosophical language to make it sound like they’re not simpletons who believe in three gods. Unfortunately, they are simpletons who believe in three gods. The words they use to describe God have no real meaning. They don’t even understand it themselves. They’ve simply backed themselves into a corner with their irrational and unbiblical belief in three persons of God (really, three gods), and they are trying to philosophize their way out of it. That is why their teachings about God are so confusing to anyone who tries to figure out what they mean. In fact, they have no idea at all what God is like. They, including Aquinas, really do think that there are three gods talking to each other from eternity. This is the “relationship” that they have with each other.

          If you can read Aquinas, you can certainly read Swedenborg, learn what God is really like, and get the answers to all of the questions you are asking.

          Short version: Yes, the different parts of God, both the big general ones such as love and wisdom, and the small individual ones such as a particular love for Duane Armitage, and also a particular love for Lee Woofenden, really are distinct from one another within God. They are not just something that appears distinct to us.

        • Duane Armitage says:

          oh oh! I’m sorry, i didnt mean to give the impression that I am not or would not or have not read Swedenborg. I’ve read quite a lot of him since we met a few years ago on here. I just do not have the formal education and training to know where to go to find stuff (like I do with Catholic or Roman theology) so I appreciate the suggestions on where to go.

          Everything here makes sense. Thanks Lee. I agree that none of the Trinitarian stuff ever made sense, as well as the simplicity bit.

        • Lee says:

          Hi Duane,

          Understood. If you haven’t yet read Divine Love and Wisdom, do yourself a favor. It’s a deep well, but it’s where all of these philosophical questions about the nature of God are answered. The first three chapters of True Christianity cover some of the same ground, but from a less philosophical and more theological and biblical perspective.

          If I seem a bit irascible on these subjects, it’s because I find it both sad and frustrating that traditional “Christian” theology based on the human-invented doctrine of the Trinity of Persons has induced so much confusion and darkness on people’s minds that even the most basic and simple truths about God become obscure and hard to understand. That’s not because those truths are intrinsically difficult, but because the thick cobwebs of falsity that have taken over the human mind in the Christian world must be swept away before the light of truth can shine in unobstructed.

          In your questions there is much of the shadow of the old, dark, and corrupt theology that has been constructed for so many centuries on the false foundation of a polytheistic picture of God that was hatched by darkened minds only a few short centuries after the Light of the World walked this earth. Aquinas represents the final codification of that falsity within the Catholic Church. This then led to the monstrously false doctrines hatched by Luther, Calvin, and their theological followers, which now hold much of the “Christian” world in their grip.

          Week after week people come here, most from a Protestant background, but some, such as you, from a Catholic background, and show the sad effects that these terribly false doctrines have had on their minds, and on the world. If my anger and frustration at these doctrines sometimes flashes out in my responses, it is not at the person, but at the errant falsity that has pervaded “Christianity,” darkening people’s minds and leading to great confusion, and in many people, to fearful despair about their life and their eternal salvation. This is the bitter fruit of false doctrine.

          I urge you to drop Aquinas. His writings will only keep your mind mired in confusion. Because his teachings rest on an utterly false foundation, they are themselves utterly false. Falsity does have an element of truth within it, because falsity has no existence of its own, but rather is the twisting of truth into deceptive forms. Perhaps there are a few nuggets of truth in Aquinas. But they have been so twisted and falsified in his polytheistic and pagan theology that instead of making those few nuggets of truth perceptible to the mind, his writings bury and suffocate them under heaps and heaps of obscurity and foolishness. In traditional “Christianity,” truth lies enshrouded in the grave.

          Instead, read and re-read Swedenborg, starting, in your case, with either Divine Love and Wisdom or True Christianity. Let the old doctrine, built upon the false foundation of a pagan belief in three gods, be washed out of your mind by the clear waters of true Christian doctrine as found in Swedenborg’s writings, and founded upon the Bible understood from a spiritual perspective rather than from the materialistic perspective of Nicene Christianity.

          Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.

        • Lee says:

          Hi Duane,

          I would also recommend that you read and re-read the simplified versions of Swedenborg’s teachings about God found in the articles here, starting with the articles linked for further reading at the end of the above article, and including “Is the Doctrine of the Trinity Polytheistic?

          Once you clear the old, false theology from your mind, the truth will be easy to see and understand. I have explained many of these things in basic language to five- and ten-year-olds in Sunday School classes, and they can understand them perfectly well. Yes, there are some more challenging doctrines that can take time to grasp and master. But the basic nature of God is easy to understand precisely because God has created us in God’s own image. By looking at how we are made, we can understand what God is like.

        • Lee says:

          Hi Duane,

          Another follow-up:

          In many places Swedenborg emphasizes that it is critical to believe that God is human; that God is a person. He says that simple-minded, uneducated people who see God as a human being understand God better than highly educated theologians who resist the idea of God as a human being, chalking it up to humans anthropomorphizing God.

          The reality is the reverse. God has anthropomorphized us. God is, in fact, the only truly human being in the universe. We created humans are finite copies of the infinite humanity of God.

          Making us human in the image of God’s humanity is not only about form. It is also about the substance of humanity, which is divine love. However, the human form is an essential part of what it is to be human. Even our physical shape is not random chance brought about by the fortuitous concourse of atoms.

          Secular scientists have long resisted the idea that there is any inherent design or direction in nature. They have considered the human form to be largely a fluke of nature, believing that we could have turned out in any number of other potential forms. However, when we actually study the human form—meaning here specifically the human body and human physiology—we can see that it is perfectly adapted to express the mind of a rational, self-aware being motivated by love and endowed with freedom.

          Consider the human lungs, windpipe, and mouth, and how they are able to produce spoken language. I have trouble watching the new computer-animated films in which animals talk like humans. In reality, the form of their mouths, nasal passages, and windpipes would be incapable of producing human speech even if they had the intelligence to frame it in their minds. Such movies look fake to me, no matter how realistic the CGI. It is not arbitrary that our windpipe, mouth, and nasal passages are structured the way they are. That specific structure allows us to engage in spoken language with one another, which is an essential for human life as we know it.

          Consider that unlike almost any other animal that has arms and hands, we walk upright, without any need for assistance from our arms, so that we can devote our hands entirely to accomplishing useful work. Doesn’t this reflect our human focus on engaging in good and useful service to others, and not merely satisfying our own physical needs and those of our offspring and our pack, as in lower animals?

          Consider the arrangement of our reproductive organs and our overall bodily form, which enables men and women to have face-to-face sexual intercourse in a way that few other animals are capable of doing due to the form of their bodies. We can have sexual relations in the ways that other animals do if we wish, but they cannot have sexual intercourse in the most intimate ways that we humans can. Does this not express right in our physiology the reality that human love is capable of a mutuality and tenderness that sets us apart from lower animals?

          The human form is not arbitrary or adventitious. It is perfectly suited to express the human soul. And the human soul is perfectly suited to express the nature of God. This is because these layers of reality correspond to one another, to use Swedenborg’s term. We humans express the human nature of God. And our bodies express the human nature of our spirit.

          This is true not just in general outline, but right down to the tiniest details of our human mind (which has a complex human form of its own) and our human physiology. We are made not only in the image, but also in the likeness of God. We are not merely an external image, but also an internal likeness of the nature of God. Physiologically, this means that every part, organ, and cell of our body expresses and corresponds to something specific in the nature of God.

          This is why Swedenborg, in Divine Love and Wisdom #18, says that God has every single part and organ that we human have in our body. Once again, God’s parts and organs are not made of physical matter as our physical bodies are, nor are they made of spiritual substance, as our spirit and our spiritual body are. God’s parts are made entirely of divine substance, which is the self-existing substance of divine love. And yet, God is indeed differentiated into infinite parts, because while love unites, wisdom distinguishes. And God is a perfect union of love and wisdom, so that “in the Divine-Human One, infinite things are distinguishably one” (Divine Love and Wisdom #17).

          All of this understanding of the nature of God, and much more, becomes accessible to our minds once we understand, accept, and believe that God is a human being—a person. Not a finite, created human being as we are, but an infinite, uncreated human being.

          People who think they’re highly educated, intelligent, and wise have trouble accepting this. They want God to be some inchoate force without form or structure. This seems “wise” and “philosophical” to them. As a result, they cannot understand or accept the simplest truths about God, but write huge long treatises full of empty speculations about a God that they neither know nor understand.

          I would urge you not to succumb to the pride of intelligence that causes so many smart people to reject a human God as a childish notion that is beneath their dignity. It is precisely by humbling ourselves in the presence of the Divine Humanity of God that we begin to gain real knowledge, understanding, and wisdom in the nature and ways of God.

        • Rami says:

          Hi Lee, Hi Duane,

          Very much interested in seeing where this discussion is headed (if it is to continue), because the question of Divine Simplicity is one that I’ve occasionally wrestled with in my own conception of God, and also one that you (Lee) would surprisingly share a a patch of common ground with Protestant philosophers and theologians, as most seem to outright reject the notion that God has no parts, and have sought to argue against the doctrine.

          As a somewhat minor point, I would disagree with Lee that such a notion is merely the product of overly educated people who fall prey to the limitations of human rationally and accept it because it has it sounds wise or enlightened to them.

          For people- myself included- God is seen as completely, utterly ‘other’- totally transcendent, and for the trans theistic person, ultimate reality, and the ground of all being. In either case many people just come to conceive of God as something that is just so profoundly separate and distinct from themselves, and you find this in certain strands of religious mysticism, and in the belief of the common person who just believes that God- as an infinite being- simply cannot have the crudeness of ‘parts’. ‘Parts’ are for finite beings. God is pure essence, whatever that may be.

          This is a belief that I had held in the past and am trying to move away from, but seeing as I my conception of God had evolved to be something infinite, loving, transcendent, and just…something ‘ease,’ the idea of God having parts is still something I’m growing comfortable with.

          But the point is, this more abstract conception isn’t simply the product of haughty minds who think they’re crafting something lofty. It’s just the way many people think when they hear the word ‘God.’

        • Lee says:

          Hi Rami,

          If you’re using terms such as “divine simplicity,” “transtheistic,” “ultimate reality,” and “pure essence,” then you’re far beyond the common person intellectually. The very fact that these concepts are in your head, and that you struggle with them, shows that you come at God from an educated perspective.

          In my experience, common people not only don’t use these terms, but they don’t consider or wrestle with such issues. They see God described in the Bible or in their religion’s sacred texts as having human parts, emotions, and qualities, and they therefore think of God as an old man in heaven who watches over us. Ordinary Christians who haven’t been confused by the doctrine of the Trinity of Persons think of God as the very human and approachable Jesus. In fact, one of the greatest beauties of Christianity is that we can think of God not just as transcendent—as far beyond us—but also as immanent—as right here with us in a person-to-person relationship.

          Because common people commonly think of God as a an infinitely powerful man (and occasionally as a woman), they have a more accurate idea of God than educated people who struggle with fancy concepts such as “divine simplicity” and “pure essence.”

          Swedenborg is unusual among highly educated people in that he never lost his childlike humility before God. He therefore retained the simple concept of God as a human being. (He always uses the Latin word homo, “person,” never the word vir, “man,” when referring to the Lord.) Though Swedenborg was perfectly capable of high flights of abstract reasoning, he kept his idea of God grounded in the basic idea of God as an infinitely loving, wise, and powerful human being, in whose image we are created as finite human beings.

          This is precisely how the Bible presents God. And it is better than all of human philosophy put together.

        • Rami says:

          Hi Lee,

          To start, I certainly don’t ‘want’ who I’m asking to answer in one way or the other. I have no personally invested interest in whether the respondent replies yes or no, or whether they would personally hold a mental image that involves ‘parts,’ as I might say, or ‘body parts,’ as they might envision. I wouldn’t attempt to stack the deck with deliberate language so as to elicit a certain reply, so I hope you believe that

          What I’m saying is that the ordinary person might very well react negatively to the idea that God has body parts. It might simply be at odds with what the basic idea of ‘supernatural’ might be to them. What does God need with hands? Why would God have a face? To them it may sound like a created being. WE are the created beings. God is the creator. So whereas one person might hold the mental image of the Man Upstairs, others might see God as, I don’t know, a glowing orb of light. In either case, these are mental images that exist for our benefit so as to comprehend something beyond us. Because we, as humans, need to.

        • Lee says:

          Hi Rami,

          Whether or not the person creating an interview or survey intends to ask leading questions, it’s been shown time and time again that the precise way that a question is worded does influence how people will answer. Ask the same people the same basic question, but worded differently, and the responses will be different.

          In particular, “body parts,” and “parts” when applied to living beings, have somewhat negative connotations. “Body parts” sounds like severed limbs and dissected organs. Yech! God doesn’t have those! And “parts” sounds mechanical and impersonal. Not like something God would have.

          However, a face and hands are something people—at least Christians—commonly think of God as having, if only because they read it everywhere in the Bible, and because they think of Jesus as God. A face and hands are warm and human—something that it sounds like a loving and wise God would have.

          I am aware that there are many people who think of God as a disembodied force or an orb of light. But I would say that such people have a very wispy and sketchy idea of God. Often, such people really think of God as being simply a spirit that animates nature, and do not really believe in God at all as Jews, Christians, Muslims, and adherents of many of the other major religions would define or conceive of God.

        • Rami says:

          Hi Lee,

          With regard to Islam, while God- like in Christianity- is described as having parts and attributes, none of those parts are distinct from each other. In Islam, as in classical Christianity, and as with classical monotheism, God’s love is His justice which is His mercy which is His wisdom and so on; God is undifferentiated unity. I’m not in the business of dropping links, but this amounts to a good summary of divine simplicity in Islam:

          Your objection that God, in Islam, must be complex on account of His attributes sounds more like an objection to the idea of divine simplicity in general, though it doesn’t appear as though you’ve given much credence to the objection to the idea that God has parts, which are formidable.

          This is one formulated by the eminent Christian philosopher Richard Swineburne

          Richard Swinburne:
          No, indeed not. It would be a feature of simplicity that there are no parts. And parts make for complexity. And God, since God is omnipotent, he can do anything anywhere. But a being which has parts, their ability to do things will depend on the operation of those parts. And therefore will be dependent on different things which are separate from themselves. So, no, God does not have parts.

          I realize you’re skeptical if not outright suspicious of these high minded philosophers and theologians, but I’d regret to think that you’re outright dismissive of them, as what is the human ability to intellectually apprehend God (to the extent that we can) if not a God-given gift?

        • Lee says:

          Hi Rami,

          Thanks for the link. However, it’s not just a matter of being arbitrarily “outright dismissive” of the statements of Muslim and Christian theologians. It’s that those theologians are engaging both in specific errors of thought and in philosophical verbiage that has no real meaning.

          To start with your quote from Richard Swinburne:

          Swinburne thinks that because God, being omnipotent, can do anything anywhere, this means that God cannot have parts, which would limit God’s operation. This only shows that Swinburne is thinking of “parts” in a materialistic fashion, as being characterized by time and space, and therefore limited to particular times and places.

          This is a fundamental error. Time and space are properties of physical matter. God is not made of physical matter, but of divine substance, which is beyond and above time and space. God is present in all time apart from time, and in all space apart from space. This means that every one of God’s divine parts is also present and active in all time apart from time, and in all space apart from space. God’s having parts in no way limits God’s ability to act everywhere, in all times, with every one of God’s “parts” or attributes.

          Further, he erroneously assumes that “parts” implies things that are “separate from themselves.” But our face, arms, legs, hands, heart, lungs, kidneys, and so on are not “separate from themselves,” nor are they separate from ourselves as human beings. Rather, they are each distinct parts of ourselves. When one acts, they all act together as one. If they do not, then that body is a diseased and unhealthy body. And it should be obvious that God is not diseased and unhealthy.

          It’s not that I’m “outright dismissive” of Swinburne’s statements. It’s that he makes very basic errors that render his analysis false.

          The Muslim piece on Divine Simplicity that you linked suffers from similar errors of thought.

          It also starts out with an appeal to authority by referencing “the infallible Imams.” Catholicism makes similar claims of infallibility for its Pope and magisterium. But there is only one who is infallible, and that is God. We humans are not capable of infallibility. To ascribe infallibility to a human religious leader is to bind one’s mind to a falsity right from the start.

          My general impression of the piece is that it is just a lot of words trying to make a point, but they are words without any real meaning. It employs philosophical jargon to make its argument sound intelligent and plausible, but that jargon and those words don’t mean much when you break them down and put them into ordinary terms. It says, in essence, that God has many attributes, but they are really all just one attribute. That is nonsensical. It’s like saying that there are many colors, but they are all the same color. For example, the article says:

          God’s eternity is His power, which is His goodness, which is His intellect, which is His will, and so on.

          This makes no sense whatsoever. God’s eternity is not God’s power, and God’s power is not God’s goodness, and God’s goodness is not God’s intellect, nor is God’s intellect God’s will. That’s like saying our arm is our leg, and our eye is our ear, and our foot is our brain. It’s just a bunch of words strung together with no real meaning, demonstrating that the author of the article has no real idea, picture, or understanding of what s/he is talking about. Will, intellect, eternity, power, goodness, and so on are all distinct things. They are not the same as one another. But they do all operate together in God to form the fullness of God’s being.

          Love and wisdom are one in God. But they are not one attribute. They are distinct attributes that form one in God. All of the 99 names or attributes of God are distinct from one another. They are not all the same thing. But they make a one in God because they all operate together in everything God does. It is precisely like the human body, in which trillions of individual cells, hundreds of organs, and dozens of parts all work together as one, while being distinct from one another.

          Human beings are made in the image and likeness of God. The human body, therefore, shows in most outward form what God is like. However, unlike the human body, God’s cells, organs, and parts are not delimited by time and space.

          It is because these theologians are unable to think beyond time and space that they get confused about God’s parts. They reject the idea that God has parts because they are thinking materialistically, not spiritually, about the parts of God.

          They are also apparently incapable of thinking of God as an “organic” being, meaning one who has specific, organized functions within God’s being. They reduce God down to a mathematical point because otherwise they can’t avoid thinking of God as being extended in space and time. This, once again, is a result of their thinking of God in terms of time and space, and not in terms of divine “state”—which is the word Swedenborg uses in this connection.

          The author of this piece does indeed use the analogy of the human body, but gets it all wrong:

          To explain these concepts further, one can contrast this with the example of human beings. A human being can have the attribute of sight but this does not necessitate that they must possess the ability to hear. Similarly, an individual can be knowledgeable but this does not mean that the individual possesses any power. Thus, when we observe the human being, we realise that part of the human is hearing, another part is for seeing and another part is for power, etc. The attributes are distinct from each other and the presence of one does not affect the presence of another attribute. Thus the human essence is a composite made up of many parts.

          Physiologically, it simply isn’t true that all of the different attributes of a human being can be separated out from one another, and that the presence of one doesn’t affect the presence of another. To use two of the author’s examples, sight and hearing are not radically distinct capabilities that can be separated out from one another. In fact, they are heavily dependent upon one another. We see and hear simultaneously, and it builds up the overall perception of our surroundings. For example, we may hear a bird’s song, then turn to see the bird. Without hearing, our sight would not look for the bird. Or we may see a lighting bolt, and our ears will prepare themselves to hear the thunder.

          The idea that we can separate out the different parts and functions of a human body from one another, and they will still be themselves, is a fundamental error. Every part of the human body and mind is closely intertwined with every other part, such that they cannot be separated from one another, nor can they be taken away from a person, without ceasing to be what they are, and without our ceasing to be a human being. We are able to survive without some of our functions, but only at the cost of diminishing our fullness as human beings. And when it comes to our essential functions, if even one of them is taken away, all of the rest cease to function as well. Take away the heart or the brain or the lungs, and every organ in the body dies and ceases to exist as a human organ.

          It is true that some people lack hearing or sight. But this limits their ability to fully function as a human being. And they commonly have sight and hearing within their own mind, even if they cannot see or hear physical things around them. Their physical body may lack some of its capabilities, but their spiritual body is whole and complete.

          Once again, the human body provides a perfect material image of the divine nature of God. It is very true that God’s attributes all form one, and cannot be separated from one another. Precisely as the various attributes and parts of the body all form one, and cannot be separated from one another without destroying the body, and the person.

          Even saying that “the attributes are the essence” is not really saying much, as it is framed in the linked piece. Would we be essentially human if we could not see, hear, taste, touch, smell, think, love, and so on? No we would not. Each of these is a distinct attribute, and all together they form our essence as human beings. But as the author of this piece uses “attributes” and “essence,” s/he reduces them down to abstract constructs that have no actual meaning in reality.

          I could go on critiquing the piece, but I hope this is enough to show that I am not just “outright dismissive” of the piece. I reject its conclusions because it contains many fundamental errors of understanding and thought. It asks us to believe mistaken, fallacious, and irrational things based on the “infallible” authority of human beings. That is not something I am willing to do.

        • Rami says:

          Hi Lee,

          Few points to hit on here.

          First, and again, it seems as though your objections to this article has less to do with one particular conception of divine simplicity (which I’ll just refer to as DS from now on), and more to do with the very idea of DS in general. The idea that God’s providence is His love which is His wisdom which is His mercy and so on is the most basic idea behind DS, and if that seems utterly nonsensical to you, then, yeah, this doctrine ain’t for you. But my purpose behind linking you to this article was to demonstrate that DS isn’t merely the product of a few overeducated theologians who are just projecting their own ideas into the their religion’s belief system from armchairs in their ivory towers. On the contrary, a simple search of the subject makes it clear that DS has and continues to be a traditional part of Jewish theology and Christian theology, though Islam *may* have ultimately rejected it. In fact a great deal of Jewish thought involves negative theology, where God is spoken of in terms of what God is not, where even existence cannot be said as a property that God possesses.

          And if DS is something you ultimately reject, then, again, you will surprisingly find yourself in the company of several Protestant philosophers and theologians who have also vocally rejected DS, including two who are considered by many to be among the greatest living: Alvin Plantinga and William Lane Craig (but more on your feelings toward scholarly authors in my next post).

          Outside of a doctrine that posits a God with no parts, I do believe the conception of a God *with* parts can easily present intellectual and emotional difficulties for the average, ordinary believer. To say that God has ‘parts’ (however you wish to understand that) makes it sound as though God is comprised of something, that He is assembled out of something, which makes God sound both limited and dependent. Assembly and composition is a feature of created beings, like us. We need our hands in order to grasp things and perform tasks. We need our eyes in order to see the physical world around us. We need our mouths in order to communicate with other beings. What need does God have for these ‘parts’ if God’s immaterial will is sufficient to bring anything to fruition?

          This doesn’t sound like a God who’s image we were created in, but rather, a God we created in *our* image, not unlike the Ancient Greek deities who would walk, eat, speak, and sleep- beings who appear suspiciously human, at least in light of the way we understand ancient humans to have crafted their mythological beings.

          While the average believer may envision a God with hands and a face- both on account of Biblical passages and the human need to envision a being so as to make their thoughts of the being comprehensible them- I don’t believe that same believer accepts the idea of a God with a literal hands and face, and sees it as ultimately metaphorical despite not necessarily pausing in order to ask themselves that question. I believe it’s reasonable to say the average believer thinks of God as, in the most basic way, a kind of immaterial spirit, who is, in the most basic sense, ‘beyond.’ Beyond the world, beyond space, beyond all physicality, and the idea of a God with parts- like us- undermines that sense of transcendence, grounds God in the physical universe, and makes Him sound like the same kind of implausible myths that we’ve evolved out of creating and have long since stop believing.

          But those are just the push factors. The idea of DS also has some appealing, pull factors, in that it carries a certain (and I fully expect you to put this in scare quotes, so I’ll just go ahead and do it myself 😉 ) “metaphysical elegance” to it. I know it certainly did for me, as someone who emphasized God’s utter transcendence as much as he emphasized His infinite love. And I believe it also resonates with a lot of average people who simply, passive conceive of God in some profoundly ‘beyond’ kind of way. At the same time, that person will also not shy away from talking about things like God’s love and justice, even if they’re drawn to the idea of all those seemingly different things ultimately being just one thing, and there we may find an instance of people intellectually professing to believe one thing, but inwardly accepting another.

          Just as your argument against the Trinity involves indicting its believers as professing to believe in one God, but really believing in three, likewise, the person who professes to believe that God is simple, and with no parts, may inwardly, unavoidably believe in a God who has them on account of the way they think about a God who has different attributes (in the case of Swedenborg, love and wisdom).

          In any case, and I just want to make it clear that I am not arguing in favor of DS, but all of this boils down my point that the idea of a God with parts/body parts/limbs/organs however you want to describe can understandably be more instinctively unacceptable to the average believer than you are willing to accept. It’s not hard to imagine being put off by the idea of a God with legs.

        • Lee says:

          Hi Rami,

          Divine simplicity is based on the lack or rejection of two very basic ideas about the nature of God and of God’s creation of the universe:

          1. God created the universe as a finite expression of God’s own infinite nature.
          2. God created the universe out of God’s own substance, but made it distinct from his being by the very act of making it finite rather than infinite.

          Further, within Nicene Christianity any emphasis on God’s “otherness” among church academics ignores the central feature of Christianity that distinguishes it from the two other major Abrahamic religions, Judaism and Islam, which is God’s incarnation as a flesh-and-blood human being. (Hinduism does have a belief in divine incarnation, but in multiple divine incarnations rather than in a single unique divine incarnation as in Christianity.)

          Swedenborg explains and expands upon these ideas extensively in his theological writings, especially in Divine Love and Wisdom and in the first three chapters of True Christianity.

          To briefly take up the two numbered points above:

          1. Divine simplicity requires that God’s nature be entirely alien to human nature. But the Bible says that God created humans in God’s image and likeness.
          2. Nicene Christian arguments for divine simplicity are based on the unbiblical idea that God created the universe out of nothing, and that the universe therefore, once again, does not express the nature of God, so that nothing in the created universe provides any valid representation of the nature of God.

          Once “Christian” philosophy is divorced from basic principles contained in the Bible about the relationship between God and the created universe, it can say whatever it wants and make it sound plausible, because its defenders reject any analogy with anything that God has created, and reject the most basic ideas in the Bible about their subject.

          Therefore, for example, defenders of divine simplicity can say, “God’s will is God’s intellect is God’s grace is God’s power is God’s mercy,” because there is no need to defend this by reference to anything whose nature we know. As I already pointed out in my previous response on this subject, if we were to say this of a human being, as in, “Our head is our hands is our feet is our heart is our liver,” the statement would be obviously false. But since no analogy between God and created things is admitted in the arguments of Nicene Christians in defense of divine simplicity, all sense and reason goes out the window. We are expected to simply accept utterly nonsensical statements simply because those statements are made about God.

          The reality is that God did indeed create humans in God’s image, just as the Bible says. This means that analogies between human substance, form, structure, and function and God’s substance, form, structure, and function are indeed valid. Otherwise, the Bible’s statement that God created man and woman in the image and likeness of God would have no meaning whatsoever.

          As I have already pointed out, another missing element in Nicene Christian arguments for divine simplicity is the willingness and ability to think outside of time and space, which are properties of the physical universe. Because these theologians are not lifting their thinking above time and space, and thinking of the timeless and spaceless divine version of what among human beings and human bodies does partake of time and space, they are coming to all kinds of false conclusions that involve, as I said before, reducing God down to a mathematical point in order to avoid having God be extended in time and space.

          Once again, the arguments of the proponents of divine simplicity are false because they are based upon multiple false premises and upon materialistic thinking. (Arguments about God that are based on time and space are materialistic precisely because time and space are properties of the material universe.)

          If you really want to understand how these things work, once again I recommend that you read Divine Love and Wisdom and the first three chapters of True Christianity. That is where the concepts required to rightly understand the nature of God, and of God’s relationship to Creation, are presented and explained. Without these concepts, it is not possible to think and reason rightly about God and Creation.

        • Rami says:

          Hi Lee,

          I wouldn’t be comfortable saying that you are ‘outright dismissive’ of scholarly figures in the world of theology and religious philosophy, but, and let’s be be honest, you are routinely disdainful of them. And I understand and am sympathetic as to why, especially so in light of how I, myself, have come to regard the destructive influence that follows from the allowing human intellect to (mis)guide human thought. I sense that you see them as a collective institutional complex that has needlessly complicated that which was meant to be made simple, innovated horrifying doctrines from the purity of their source material, and stunted the spiritual growth of countless millions through their influence and authority.

          But I also believe that theology, like everything else, can and should be treated as an academic subject like (most) anything else, giving ‘the scholar’ their rightful place, but your readings of their work is an invariably cynical one. And it’s evident in the language you use. You don’t see them as attempting a deep analysis of a complex subject, they’re just ‘trying to sound smart.’ You don’t see them as using a necessary set of sophisticated terminology in order to describe a difficult topic; they’re just using ‘fancy words.’ The theologian just seems to be an agent of obfuscation to you, rather than a learned person who is laboring to advance our objective understanding of religion and scripture.

          At least Protestant and Catholic theologians. It doesn’t appear often, but when it does, I don’t see you expressing the same contempt of Swedenborgian theologians or at least theologians of a sufficiently similar persuasion, who also use those same ‘fancy words’ and who seem to be trying just as hard to ‘sound smart.’ Again, I’m deeply sympathetic to the mistrust that can easily flow considering the many destructive precedents that academia has set, and to be fair, it’s not as though you’re simply brushing them off the moment you see an article authored by “comma Ph.D”, as you always make a detailed effort and interacting with the presented viewpoint to the fullest extent possible. But it’s plain to see that a basic skepticism pervades your dealings with them.

        • Lee says:

          Hi Rami,

          “Outright dismissive” was your wording, at the end of your comment here.

          As for my disdain for the thinking of Nicene Christian theologians and academics, I see them in the same light as flat-earthers, who exercise their brains mightily in an attempt to show that all of cosmology supports their belief in a flat earth, but whose fundamental premise is simply incorrect, vitiating their entire thinking process and all of their conclusions. We have pictures of the earth from all angles in space. It is not flat. This is a known fact.

          If you took a whole academy of trained cosmologists, hypnotized them into believing that the fundamental fact of their profession is that the earth is flat, and then set them loose explaining the cosmos, no matter how smart and well-trained they were, every significant conclusion they came to about the nature of the solar system and of the universe would be false, because they would be starting from a false premise that they are not able to question. The false premise would falsify all of their arguments.

          This is precisely the situation among Nicene Christian academics. Their entire theology is based on the false premise that God is a Trinity of Persons. Therefore every significant conclusion that they come to about the nature of God and Creation is false.

          “Disdain” is an emotional term. And yes, the falsities of Nicene Christianity, and the pain and destruction its institutions have visited upon billions of people based on those falsities, do indeed make me angry. But aside from any emotions I may feel, intellectually this is a simple case of rejecting an entire theology and philosophy, and all of the arguments of all of its defenders, because it is founded upon a false premise.

          You cannot come to correct conclusions when the basic, unquestionable assumptions upon which you rest your arguments are false.

          Yes, it is possible to individually refute all of their arguments. I have done so here as requested. My arguments against their beliefs are not simply general disdain, but analyze and reject those arguments individually due to specific intellectual errors in both their assumptions and their arguments.

          However, it is also possible simply to dismiss their position generally, and largely ignore their writings and their arguments. This is similar to rejecting flat earth theory without bothering to descend into the details of its defenders’ arguments. Knowing that Nicene Christian academics base all their arguments upon the false foundation of the Trinity of Persons is sufficient to know that all of their major conclusions will be false.

          Personally, I would recommend the general path. Why waste all of that intellectual energy on the arguments of people whose entire system is based on a false premise? But if you must argue detail by detail to satisfy your intellect, bring it on. I’ll continue to refute their wrong understandings and wrong reasoning point-by-point as long as my patience holds out.

          For an article that makes a similar link between faith alone / penal substitution and flat earth theory, see:
          The Extreme Weakness of Faith Alone and Penal Substitution

        • Rami says:

          PS: Sorry the site migration hasn’t worked out. I took a gander at it when it was up, and definitely appreciated the more vibrant layout, but I guess we’d all rather just have something that just plain ‘works.’

        • Lee says:

          Hi Rami,

          The importation process missed about a quarter of the posts, and about an eighth of the comments, and none of the comments were linked to their posts, making the entire body of comments inaccessible to every visitor to the site. The techs proposed some work-arounds, but it just wasn’t worth spending many hours on a process that would likely result in much lost content no matter how much I banged my head against it.

          As for the more vibrant layout, I would have gotten rid of all that pink first thing! I want this site to be relaxing and calming in aspect, even if making it “exciting” might draw more oohs and ahs. 🙂

      • Rami says:

        Hi Lee,

        The fact that *I* am theological terminology to describe a specific conception of God doesn’t mean it can’t be held by someone who is unfamiliar with it. There are plenty of ‘common people’ who are ‘pragmatists’ or who may be very ‘utilitarian’ in their attitude toward life without understanding what any of those words mean. Likewise, I’m using ‘divine simplicity’ to describe a (previous) personal understanding of God that long pre-dates my knowledge of that term. All these words and terms are doing is to put a label on the workings of human thought, and many of these thoughts work in much the same way from the uneducated to the educated person. And if I am to use those terms, or to describe myself using them, it’s not the end result of some kind of education. It’s more reading over different ideas in theology and philosophy, and concluding ‘ah, that’s what I’ve been all along.’

        So no, I would disagree with the idea that you would need to be educated in order to view God in this way. After all, divine simplicity- whether you want to use that term or not- very much has a foothold in Jewish thought and in Kabbalah, as well as in Islamic thought, and I don’t see that as the end result of the way a few high minded theologians have shaped their traditions- that just simply IS the tradition (though I think they may be contested within those traditions, but am not sure). Nevertheless, the average believer most likely sees God in the very human way you described.

        To that point, and this is something I realized after I posted by first reply to you, I would be inclined to agree that our first, childlike impressions of God are probably much closer to a correct understanding than that which can often replace it as our minds develop. That is, the ‘big man in the sky,’ who is more akin to a super super human who loves and watches over us. But he is also, in this child’s mind, many of things that Swedenborg (and yourself) would seek to dispel as falsities about God. So, clearly, our conception of God is something that *does* need to grow and evolve as we, as people, grow and evolve, and in my case- as is the case with many others- it just grew and evolved into something more ‘other’. I don’t chalk this up to being educated- on the contrary, I hold no degrees, never finished college, and never finished so much as a book on theology cover to cover. I just read, here and there, and try to learn what I can from the snippets I find. In my case, my previous childhood conception of God just felt too anthropomorphic to be real, but by more abstract conception just felt too distant to be relatable. I’m currently seeking out the middle ground that exists between the too. I feel compelled to believe that other people-educated or not- are on or have shared a similar journey.

        You’re not wrong that people can arrive to some horrendously bad ideas about God because they put they’re finite brains in the driver seat. But these errors can be every bit as personal as they can be intellectual.

        • Lee says:

          Hi Rami,

          Formal education is not essential to be an educated person. There have been and still are many highly intelligent and knowledgeable people who were self-educated. However, the vast bulk of ordinary people do not read books, articles, or even snippets about theology, or about any other intellectual subject. If they read at all, it’s harlequin romances or murder mysteries. But mostly, they don’t read unless they have to. Instead, they watch cat videos and football games. You are in the 1% simply by having read any material at all that uses all of that theological terminology. As you say, your mind was already running along those tracks before you learned the terminology. The other side of that coin is that if you hadn’t been thinking along those lines (as most people don’t), you wouldn’t have sought out material that would give you the words to properly label and analyze your thoughts on these subjects.

          So yes, theoretically it would be possible for common people to think about these things without knowing the proper terminology. But in my decades of experience in talking to people about God and religion, I simply haven’t found ordinary, non-intellectual people thinking about these things but not knowing how to express them. Their concerns are much less abstract, and much more practical. They are worried that God is going to send them to hell for something they’ve done, or not done. They want to know whether they can still be married to their beloved husband or wife in heaven. They want to know if their mother or father or sibling or friend whom they love, but who doesn’t believe in Jesus, is going to hell. These are the sorts of issues I encounter over and over again among ordinary, non-intellectual people. I just don’t hear them asking whether God is a person or an undifferentiated wisp of spirit. To them, God is a big and very powerful Man in the Sky, and He’s going to decide their eternal fate.

          Having said that, it is perfectly possible to have a highly developed theology that is also realistic and pragmatic. Swedenborg’s theology is based on some very simple principles. But it can get as complicated as you want it to be. There are satisfying answers to the hard philosophical questions about God that are in the minds of people such as you who think about the more tricky and intricate aspects of reality. However, those answers are still anchored in concrete reality, because concrete reality is the direct expression of divine and spiritual reality. Swedenborg’s concept of correspondence ties them all together, and makes it possible for us to anchor abstract concepts in external, physical, understandable things.

          In the case of God, we can anchor our idea of the nature of God in its most physical and outward expression: the human body. Doing so does not require us to make God purely physical, any more than our having a physical body makes us purely physical beings. We have rational minds and human loves that transcend our physical body—but once again, are also anchored in it. However, keeping it straight in our mind that even the most transcendent aspects of God are expressed in outward, embodied forms helps us to avoid the castles in the air that fancy theologians have built for many centuries.

          And incidentally, Christians don’t have a corner on the market of intellectualism. Judaism prides itself in its intellectualism, and has produced many well-known philosophers. For several centuries in the Middle Ages, the Islamic world was far in advance of Christianity in scientific and intellectual pursuits. Hinduism has also had its intellectuals for thousands of years. The intellectuals of these other religions are perfectly capable of contemplating the abstractions that Christian theologians commonly think are unique to Christianity.

        • Rami says:

          Hi Lee,

          I can find very little in your reply that I might take issue with, though, again, I do believe that contemplating and ultimately having some kind of opinion on some of the trickier, complex issues in theology is more prevalent amongst the average person than it might appear, if only even by accident.

          The ordinary believer may concern themselves with ordinary things, but if you were to ask them, say, what they believe about the afterlife, and they reply ‘everyone goes to the heaven,’ you could reply ‘ah, so you’re a universalist,’ whether they know that term or not. Conversely, if they reply only Christians get into heaven, then they’re unknowingly ‘exclusivists.’ You can essentially run the same thought experiment with virtually every major issue in theology for which there exists in an otherwise fancy term. Like in philosophy, most people *do* have theological beliefs that correspond to the multisyllabic jargon and dense body of literature without even knowing it.

          When it comes to divine simplicity, if you were to ask the average person if God has parts, it might just not…*feel* right to them. Like it doesn’t simply line up with the basic way in which they conceive this supreme being. Whereas the theologian might say ‘divine simplicity,’ the ordinary person might say ‘God has no parts. God is just…God.’

          And that’s kind of how my own increasingly abstract, trans-theistic ideas about God evolved. Its possible that the narrow, limiting forces you described were influencing me more subconsciously, but near as I can tell, It had nothing to do with education and theology per se, but rather just a feeling of unrest with my previous beliefs, beliefs that I sought to replace with something else.

          And again, the average Muslim would balk at the notion that God has parts, whether they were educated or not. For them, the oneness of God is absolutely paramount- God is undifferentiated unity. To suggest that God has parts, to the Muslim, is to compromise that unity, and that is completely unacceptable. Divine Simplicity is uncompromisingly essential to the Islamic faith, the faith of the educated and uneducated alike.

          I would add, though, that just as people can have the beliefs of a complex philosophy without knowing it, it’s also possible for one to profess a belief in simplicity, but ultimately believe God has parts without knowing it. That is, the way in which one talks about their experience of God- even if they claim God to have no parts- simply can’t be accounted for by a God that lacks parts.

        • Lee says:

          Hi Rami,

          As is often the case in taking surveys, much of it depends upon how you ask the question. If you were to ask the average person on the street, “Does God have parts?” that would sound strange to them, so they might say “no” just to be safe. But if you were to ask, “Does God have a face and hands?” then, if they answered according to their mental picture of God, and not according to what they think you, an obviously educated person, want them to say, they would say, “Yes, God has a face and hands.”

          A face and hands are body parts. In short, they are parts. So the average (religious) person, at least in Christian circles, does believe that God has parts. They just wouldn’t use that word to express it, because they haven’t heard people saying, “God has parts.” But they have heard people referring to God’s face and hands.

          Whether this is true in the Muslim world, I don’t have the experience to say. Does the Qur’an not ascribe a face and hands to God, as the Bible does? And isn’t the Bible, in which human body parts certainly are ascribed to God, considered a holy book in Islam, albeit considerably less so than the Qur’an?

          I do know that according to one of its hadiths, Islam traditionally ascribes 99 names, or attributes, to God. Looking down the list at the linked Wikipedia article, these names are superlative versions of human qualities that are ascribed to God. Yes, they are mental and emotional qualities, and qualities of power, rather than physical attributes, qualities, or parts. Still, the result is the same: God has many different qualities, all of which are encompassed in one God. That is a belief in many divine “parts” that make one God, just as Swedenborg teaches.

          Swedenborg also is a strict monotheist. That is why he rejects the doctrine of the Trinity of Persons: because in reality, it is a polytheistic belief.

          However, it is impossible to ascribe any qualities to God at all and still be describing a “simple” God. Or perhaps we could ascribe one and only one quality to God, and retain God’s “simplicity.” But if God has at least 99 attributes, as Islam says, then that is a complex God, not a simple God. I would therefore question your statement that “Divine Simplicity is uncompromisingly essential to the Islamic faith.”

  7. Duane Armitage says:

    I think you have misunderstood me and where I am coming from. I am not polluted with old false theology; I am, by profession, a scholar and an academic; it is my job to study the history of ideas; I often read those whom I disagree with most, in order to better understand my own positions, otherwise I, like most academics, would wind up in an echo chamber (now I do not recommend that the average person to do this). But, e.g. I often read Nietzsche in order to better understand my own faith. Moreover, JS Mill has a great argument in “On Liberty” as to why we need to constantly engage with those who disagree with us (whether living or dead) in order to keep our minds sharp and clear on the truth. So no, I’m not going to stop reading Thomas; I am reading Thomas because I am interested in how exactly and where exactly he disagrees with Swedenborg.

    I know you said you don’t believe in faith alone saves, but from what you have been saying, it sure sounds like you practically think that? Help me out here? That is, if believing false things is indeed as damaging as you are saying (and I dont disagree), it sounds like you might be saying something like: “while technically faith alone doesnt save” it is impossible or nearly impossible to be saved without orthodox faith (in the etymological sense of orthodox), unless perhaps one is a simpleton or a rube from some remote part of the world?

    • Lee says:

      Hi Duane,

      Of course, what you read is at your own discretion and choice. I simply think it is hard not to get infected with faulty ideas. But I do agree, to some extent at least, that it is good to know the positions of those who disagree with one’s own. For me, the main purpose of knowing those ideas is to be able to competently refute them when people confused by them come to me seeking clarity and understanding. But I find them exceedingly dreary and depressing to read. It is like wandering in swamps in dark valleys when I have seen beautiful light at the mountain top.

      And no, in no sense to I believe that we are saved, or damned, by faith alone, or in more ordinary terms, merely by what we believe. However, false beliefs, though they don’t by themselves damn a person to hell, do cause tremendous damage to people’s spiritual and emotional life. For more on this, please see:

      Does Doctrine Matter? Why is it Important to Believe the Right Thing?

      • Duane Armitage says:

        I hear you. I feel the same about the opponents. Strangely, I know I’ve told you this before, but I came to many of the ideas of Swedenborg on my own, before reading him, particularly regarding the Trinity. Aquinas doctrine makes absolutely no sense, and from the moment I became a Christian in faith I just understood the Swedenborgian way. My sense is that such is revealed to one who is earnest in prayer? In other words, genuine seekers sort of get that the idea of three persons makes no sense and devolves into three gods

        • Lee says:

          Hi Duane,

          I do think that people who seek the truth in earnest prayer can find it, with the proviso that the reason they are seeking the truth is that they want to use it in love and service to God and to their fellow human beings. However, it is complicated, because the more a person has been instructed in “essential” Christian truths by their traditional Christian priest or pastor, the harder it is for them to break through those false ides imposed upon their mind, and arrive at the truth. So it’s not just a simple matter of, “Pray, and the truth will be revealed to you.” This is more likely to be true if a person’s mind hasn’t been strongly impressed and ingrained with existing false doctrine.

          When Swedenborg was well into his theological period, he stated that the Lord had not allowed him to read theology, but that he had studied the works of scientists and philosophers instead, because he was being protected from having false doctrine ingrained in his mind. This, he said, would have prevented him from seeing and accepting the truth that God had in mind to show him later in his life.

          We can’t take this statement too literally. We know from Swedenborg’s notebooks that he did read the works of some Christian theologians during his pre-theological period, including Aquinas, and (quite extensively) Augustine. However, he was in no sense a trained theologian. And he considered that to be a positive, not a negative, when God called him to reveal spiritual truths to people on earth. It was precisely because he was not a trained theologian, he said, that his mind was clear enough to be able to understand and accept the genuine Christian truth that God wanted him to pass on to humanity.

          In my own experience, I have found it hardest for people heavily trained and inculcated with traditional Christian doctrine to accept the things I teach here on Spiritual Insights for Everyday Life. They will argue and argue, and can only with great difficulty expunge their old, false beliefs from their minds. I have seen it happen a few times. But not easily. Most often, people who come to accept Swedenborg’s teachings were not strongly inculcated with traditional Christian doctrine, but were more generalized Christians (and a few from other religions as well).

          However, one thing I have heard many times is, “This is what I always believed. I just didn’t know there was a church that taught it!” In that regard, your experience is not unusual.

          For my part, I think what Swedenborg taught is simply a distilled and exalted view of what the Bible teaches in its characteristic pragmatic and life-centered way. I believe that any sincere person looking to live a good life, and not too badly blinded by false doctrines, could find the basics of Swedenborg’s teachings, and even some of his more advanced concepts, simply by prayerfully and studiously reading the Bible—as you did.

          Swedenborg himself said that he did not get any of the teachings of the church from any spirit or angel, but from the Lord alone while he was reading the Bible (see True Christianity #779).

  8. Duane Armitage says:

    Oh good! we are back up — Yes, I see your point. It’s next to impossible for the Trinity not to almost immediately devolve into three gods, which divides the consciousness.

    Btw, re: reading Swedenborg. As I said, it’s tough to know where exactly to go. My experience reading him (really reading him carefully!) is it can be a bit daunting because he will go on and on about a vision or an enigmatic conversation he had with some people in Heaven and I get sort of lost in where he was going with all of it. So what i usually do if I have a question I can’t quite get Swedenborg to answer, is simply ask you, knowing that you’ll point me to the text(s).

    What I’ve always notiiced btw is the equivocation most people use when speaking of Jesus as God. They will say “God came down and died for us,” or “Jesus was God in the flesh” . — They mean the Father! but when you press them on it they say “God’s essence in the Son” or something that makes no sense.It was always so clear to me that whenever the New Testament used the term God (ha theos) that it meant the Father; so , e.g. when it says Jesus is “the image of the invisible God” or that he was “in the form of God” etc. It’s clear that that is synonymous with the Father.

    Also: when you say God has a body, do you mean, God now, as Jesus, or prior to the incarnation God has a body? How does the pre- and post- incarnation “soma” of the Lord work?

    • Lee says:

      Hi Duane,

      The attempt to move the blog to new hosting turned out to be a quagmire. So it’s back to business as usual here.

      I understand about the daunting nature of Swedenborg’s writings. It is a vast and complex collection. Here is a short, readable book that will help you wrap your head around it:

      Swedenborg’s Garden of Theology: An Introduction to Emanuel Swedenborg’s Published Theological Works, by Jonathan S. Rose

      And of course, I am always happy to field your questions as you read.

      About Swedenborg’s stories of the afterlife, though some of this type of material appears in almost all of his theological works, in his later works, notably True Christianity and Marriage Love, he includes one or more of these stories at the end of each chapter. Sometimes they relate directly to the subject of the chapter; sometimes they don’t. It is therefore best to read them as a distinct collection of material. They often do throw light on the subject of a chapter, but sometimes they go off on an unrelated tangent.

      Though Swedenborgians have commonly read these stories as “doctrine,” I would suggest reading them as illustration. In True Christianity #779 Swedenborg says that he did not accept any teaching on the doctrine for the new church from any angel, but from the Lord alone, while he was reading the Bible. And yet, his stories from the spiritual world are full of discourse with angels and spirits on doctrinal matters. This is why I view the statements of the angels and spirits in those stories as the views of those angels and spirits, which are certainly subject to error, and not as Christian doctrine that Swedenborg is presenting for our consideration and acceptance. The latter is what’s contained in the expository sections of the chapters.

      There is much fascinating and enlightening material in the stories. But they must be read for what they are: discourses with angels and spirits in which they express their views on various subjects.

    • Lee says:

      Hi Duane,

      About the Trinity and the Incarnation, it’s important to understand that in Nicene Christianity, Jesus is not God in the flesh, if by “God” is meant the Father, or God as a whole. Rather, in Nicene Christianity Jesus is the Son of God in the flesh—the Son of God being one of the thee Persons of the Trinity, each of which is believed to have coexisted with the others from eternity. So at best, Jesus is one-third of God in the flesh.

      But even that is not an entirely accurate understanding of Jesus in Nicene Christianity. Because only the divine element of Jesus is the Son of God. The human element of Jesus is a fleshly vessel from Mary that the Son of God took on in order to live on this earth and suffer the Cross. Its disposition after the resurrection is rather uncertain—to me, at least. The idea that God was crucified and died on the cross is specifically rejected as “patripassianism,” which is another name for modalism or Sabellianism.

      On this basis, Swedenborg commonly says that the Christian church of today “divides God into three, and the Lord [meaning Jesus Christ] into two.”

      This puts Nicene Christians (Catholic, Protestant, and Orthodox) in a bind. They read in the Bible statements that certainly make it sound like God came to earth in the flesh to save us. But their official theology says that this is wrong; that it was the Son of God who came to earth in the flesh to save us, and further, that Jesus’ human side was not really the Son of God, but the son of Mary. Hence the equivocation you have noticed in how traditional Christians speak about Jesus.

    • Lee says:

      Hi Duane,

      In response to this:

      Also: when you say God has a body, do you mean, God now, as Jesus, or prior to the incarnation God has a body? How does the pre- and post- incarnation “soma” of the Lord work?

      As it turns out, I have recently been working on some annotations to Swedenborg’s Secrets of Heaven (Arcana Coelestia) that deal with just this issue.

      Short version: Before the Incarnation, God’s “body” was the angelic heaven. When God spoke to people on earth, it was not directly, but rather through angels filled with God’s divine presence, who spoke as proxies for God. However, being finite, not infinite, the angelic heaven ultimately proved inadequate to reach out to and save humanity. Therefore when humanity reached its lowest ebb spiritually, and God could not exercise sufficient power through the “body” of the angelic heaven to save us in our fully fallen state. God came personally to earth and took on a divine body through which and in which God would henceforth operate in reaching out to and saving humans, both collectively and individually.

      For more on this, please see:
      How does God Speak to Us, Before and After the Incarnation?

  9. Duane Armitage says:

    Just a question: How much of Thomas, Augustine, et al have you read? Have you studied these guys on the Trinity?

    • Lee says:

      Hi Duane,

      I have not done much sustained reading in the works of Nicene Christian theologians. I find it depressing to do so. It is hard for me to separate their wrong thinking from the human damage it has done through the ages, and continues to do to this day.

      The last time I read an entire book by a famous (contemporary) theologian, as recommended by an online Protestant debate partner, it turned my teeth on edge. I tried to get through the second recommended book on the same topic by a different contemporary Protestant theologian, and had to stop halfway through. It was too grating and too painful to wade through it.

      The truth matters to me in a very real and personal way. In my ministerial work, I encounter far too many people who have been maimed and broken by traditional “Christian” falsity for me to be able to read the works of its developers and defenders dispassionately as an academic subject. People are getting hurt, and even killing themselves, over the things their “Christian” preachers and teachers have told them, originating in these very same Nicene theologians from a few centuries after Christ right down to the present.

      Mostly, I read briefer sections of various theologians’ works when I am researching a particular topic, and it requires dipping into what famous and influential theologians have said on the subject.

      • Duane Armitage says:

        But how do you really know what the Nicene Fathers think if you haven’t read it? Certainly you could argue against how what they wrote has been perceived and represented; it seems to me though that those (what that actually wrote/said vs. what they were said to have said) are two different things.

        • Lee says:

          Hi Duane,

          I make no claim to being an expert on the Nicene Fathers. But I know that the theologians of that period developed and solidified the doctrine of the Trinity of Persons, which progressively vitiated all orthodox Christian doctrine from then on.

        • Duane Armitage says:

          Well a Trinity of “hypostases” — which didn’t mean person the way we understand it today. When I talk to the majority of Christians, they honestly think of God the way Swedenborg does — they often say Jesus and the Father are “one and the same” and say “Father Jesus” (which prompted my asking the question on this thread). But, I see your point.

        • Lee says:

          Hi Duane,

          False doctrine starts from a seed before growing into a full-blown false doctrine. The seeds of the doctrine of the Trinity of Persons were sown before the Council of Nicaea, and didn’t develop into the full doctrine until well afterwards.

        • Lee says:

          Hi Duane,

          I do believe that Christianity is gradually moving away from the Trinity of Persons toward Swedenborg’s doctrine. However, the official doctrine of the vast bulk of Christian denominations remains firmly trinitarian. This tends to confuse the minds of average lay Christians who naturally lean toward thinking of the Christian God as Swedenborg does—because it’s really the only sensible and biblical way to think of God from a Christian perspective.

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Lee & Annette Woofenden

Lee & Annette Woofenden

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