The Lord – Is Human Divinity Credible?

The Lord is the phrase theologian, philosopher and mystic Emanuel Swedenborg uses for his concept of the Divine Human. Swedenborg wrote within a Christian framework but I believe his idea of the Lord, as an image of transcendence, is meaningful to Christians and non-Christians alike. For example, central to the message is the warmth of […]

The Lord – Is Human Divinity Credible?

The Lord is the phrase theologian, philosopher and mystic Emanuel Swedenborg uses for his concept of the Divine Human.

Swedenborg wrote within a Christian framework but I believe his idea of the Lord, as an image of transcendence, is meaningful to Christians and non-Christians alike. For example, central to the message is the warmth of love and light of wisdom: a healing power of illumination and warmth from beyond us. We can become deeply aware of these as enlivening our heart, and enlightening our mind.

Swedenborg’s Lord has heart, head and hands: unlike us however, this is a heart of selfless compassion, a head of perfect wisdom and hands of infinite power. Consequently, he wrote that each of us can only be a limited mirror image of this boundless creative force.

Apparent paradox

Likewise, many religious people believe the Divine is both within them and from beyond them. It seems like a paradox if the Divine were to be both experienced present inside each of us yet at the same time inflowing into us from a transcendent origin. A similar paradox has actually been accepted over the centuries in the teaching of the Hindu Upanishad Scriptures. They say that my true or higher Self (atman) is identical with the Creator of all forms (Brahman). The danger here is of taking this to mean that deep within oneself, essentially ‘I am God’. But Swedenborg is careful to point out that our internal part does not belong to us – it is the Lord’s alone. We can receive the divine without being identified with it.

Attitude to the Lord

It is perhaps worth mentioning that unless we could recognise what is divinely good present within our inner being, we couldn’t know of any universal goodness beyond our finite comprehension.

According to Swedenborg the Infinite itself stands above all the heavens and above our inmost: it can only be manifested by means of the Divine Human, which exists solely with the Lord: and communication of the Infinite with finite beings is not possible at all from any other source.

According to another of his teachings, we need to acknowledge this transpersonal source of our good intentions while at the same time acting as if they were part of ourselves.

“The Divine love consists in this, that it wishes what is its own to be man’s, and this could not be unless man felt and perceived what is from the Lord to be as if it were his own.” (Apocalypse Explained 1138:5 E. Swedenborg)

Need for an idea or image of transcendence to relate to

I would suggest that to better attune to the power of love and wisdom, we need a clear idea or image to relate to. For how could we have a relationship with a disembodied spirit?

Likewise, Swedenborgian Paul Vickers, in his book Living with God, has suggested that when one is in trying to communicate in prayer, there needs to be some idea about the Divine. As a result, many begin with a picture of what they have learnt as a child. This is an image associated with a sense of love and the wisdom that goes with it. This Vickers sees as a human characteristic. Little wonder that religious people should think of God as a person because love and wisdom are ideally human. At the same time, the thought of a spirit of love seems opposite to something natural. This seems to be a contradiction.

However, Vickers points out that a useful guide is the way we think about earthly loved ones. Many loving husbands cannot tell you the colour of their wife’s eyes or any other detail to provide a useful picture from which one can recognise her. Yet they are uniquely aware of that wife’s presence in the affection they know and the character of her life. Similarly, a child will describe a parent in terms of the things they do together and the love and care that is shown but cannot necessarily give a detailed visual description. So, Vickers is saying that the thought of the divine within us is of the same kind. Awareness of this presence and our dependence on it is similar to the trust of children in their parents to care for them.

The historical Christ

The Jesus of the Gospel is the basis of Swedenborg’s idea of Divine Human. The term he uses is the Lord.

Most scholars agree that Jesus Christ existed historically saying he was a Galilean, Jewish religious teacher who gave his message by word of mouth: and was crucified for probably political and religious reasons.

His miracles, whether factual or merely symbolic, are viewed as showing healing power. And he has been seen by many religious people as revealing divine transcendence.

According to the biblical account, the historical Jesus showed loving kindness to those his society had condemned – tax collectors, prostitutes and criminals. He healed the sick, went out of his way to teach those who wished to learn, and was a good friend to his followers.

It is easier to bring to mind someone when we think of his character. The New Testament portrays Jesus as a very good person, having wisdom, humility, selflessness, and wanting to help all. These are humane qualities. Like us, at times he endured difficulty. In his case, it was surviving emotionally in the desert, and even torture on the cross. Just as we can lose hope, so Christ went through a time of lost hope which sorely tested what Christians see as his Divine spirit.

The Lord and the inmost part of Jesus

In referring to him as the Son of God, Christians see Jesus as the embodiment of the divine. However you may be wondering what’s so special about Christ? Is the divine not also present with us?

According to Swedenborg, yes, we can have transcendent goodness within us. But unlike Christ, it does not originate in us. In other words we are only imperfect vessels that can receive divine life from its universal source. In contrast he says the essence of the Lord is the infinite origin of all that is good. So, Swedenborg saw the inmost of Jesus Christ as love and light itself.

According to the Gospel record, what Jesus said reveals the light of the world which shines in the darkness and enlightens all who open their eyes. The Lord’s “face shone like the sun, and his clothes became as white as the light.” (Matt 17:2)

Those who accept this view see in his life a picture of human loving wisdom that has existed from eternity. “The Word made flesh.”

“When we see Jesus, we see God; yet Jesus was human as we are, so picturing his face can tell us something of what it is for a human to have his/her life fully aligned with the Divine.” (Rev Nicki Caines, Anglican clergyman)

The eternal human aspect of the Divine

Swedenborg’s idea is that the Divine Itself has always been human: not from the physical body, but from the humane qualities of love and wisdom the Divine possesses in an infinite degree.

He is saying we are created in the image of divine humanity.

“God is supremely human; and every person is therefore human in the measure of his reception of love and wisdom.” (E.Swedenborg Divine Love and Wisdom 289)

Communicating with the Lord person to person

Going through a personal crisis, most of us feel a need for emotional support. Don’t we like to have a friendly face to give us encouragement? Ideally this would be someone who is always on tap. No matter how much they might want to help us, they may not be available at just the time we need them. They may be busy rather than be immediately available to us.

Many people of deep faith see such a friend in a compassionate face of God. The idea of the humanity of the Divine is a great source of comfort and strength to them. In their darkest hours many of them are sustained by their belief that they are loved by the source of all that is good who has their timeless interests at heart.

As the Christian mystic Julian of Norwich wrote ‘All shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well.’

In the private conversation of prayer, people of faith find a better understanding of themselves and of life. Who doesn’t require food for the spirit such as encouragement, acceptance, confidence, hope, or even a personal challenge. Sometimes we can get preoccupied with worry over what feels as something tremendously important. Yet what we want may not be what we need. A wise friend can remind us what is really important.

Humility of heart

People often appreciate they need to make an effort to change. I think this is good. But for me this means not relying solely on my own efforts alone. I feel I can only hope to conquer the lower forces of my mind by co-operating with divine power. Through a humility of heart we can perhaps learn to turn to the Lord for lifting our spirits. We might do this, rather than relying on the illusion of self-sufficiency.

As I see it, if we struggle with our troubles in the Lord’s power, then a state of hope can replace our state of despair. For example if lonely, finding strength and courage to move towards finding friends and community: in addition if life lacks meaning, finding a sense of purpose: also when one feels guilty, sensing a spirit of forgiveness and acceptance.

If we want acceptance and comfort, we might find it helps to ask help from the human aspect of the Divine, person to person. On the face of it, this humble attitude may seem childish. However, the Bible teaches that belief and trust in the Lord comes to no one except through the lens of childlike innocence. This is the attitude needed for prayer.

“Unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” (Matt 18:3)

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