Part II: The Divine Operation and Spiritual Realms
God the Creator
We are now to begin our look at the doctrines of the New Church—the
"Heavenly Doctrines," as revealed by the Lord through the writings of
his servant, Emanuel Swedenborg. We shall start with some thoughts about
God, because a person's deep-down idea of God is the source from which
all his other ideas flow. To judge the quality of a person, or a church,
all you need to know is what that person or church thinks inwardly about
God. After death, the "place" we shall occupy in the spiritual world
will be precisely determined by our idea of God. This chapter, on God
the Creator, is merely introductory; the grand theme will be continued
in later chapters.
The Uncreated Creator
God is infinite; God is love itself, wisdom itself, and power itself; God is always "there." We are advised not to try to think how God came into existence; such speculations might drive us crazy! God is simply the uncreated Creator of everything. He created the entire universe, and many other worlds and universes we know nothing of; and he continues to hold them in being, through every moment of time. Scientists tell us of the enormous energy continually operating in every atom of matter; this comes direct from God. Also the life-force in every plant, insect and animal, and in every man, woman and child. He is the Creator and Preserver of all things.
Because God is loving and wise, we must think of God as a person. That is to say, God is not a blind force, like wind or gravitation; he is a Person, albeit a divine person. He is, in fact, the only self-existing or real person. We human beings are persons because we are made in the image and likeness of God; we are finite replicas of the One Infinite God. I do not mean we are in God's "shape," because God, being infinite, can have no "shape." (You cannot say he is "here" but not "there," because he is everywhere.) We are like him because we can love and think, albeit only in a finite way since he is love and wisdom itself. We are persons because God is personal. He knows us and loves us—every one of us. In fact, he is fully present with us. And if you find it difficult to understand how he can be fully present with me and with you and with every one of the billions of people alive on earth, and the billions of billions of people still alive in the spiritual world... well, we are only finite and obviously cannot conceive of the nature of the infinite.
As God is all-powerful, he must be ONE. It is self-contradictory to say there is more than one being who is all powerful! If there was more than one God, each would have to give way to some other, or one would destroy the other. (In a polytheistic system, all the "gods" are strictly limited in power and responsibility.) God has many attributes. He has several planes of being and works on several levels; this has led people to think of him as consisting of several different "persons." But the splitting-up of God, even to make him Father, Son and Holy Spirit, produces a multi-headed monster which would, in the end, destroy itself. (In later chapters, we shall see how the trinity of Father, Son and Holy Spirit are all one person, who is the glorified Lord Jesus Christ.)
Basically, all creation—the creative act itself—is motivated by love. The power within the universe that makes it operate is love. The Lord himself is the divine powerhouse: he is the source of the power that is love. Hence we say God is Love. This does not mean merely that God is loving and kind. It means he is love itself.
Our love is only finite, but it derives from his infinite source, and so it resembles his love, though on a finite plane. Think of a happy family among ourselves. The parents love their children. (It was their love which conceived the children in the first place.) This gives them a strong desire to make the children happy. The parent wants to give himself or herself out to them, and as it were, "unite them with himself." If they love the parent in return, the parent's happiness is complete; they ask for nothing more. The parent wants their family to grow in numbers: first one child, then another, then another. Each new child is someone else for the parents to love and make happy; so they grow with their family.
This brings out two important principles about love:
(2) Love grows by giving itself out to others. If you love twenty people, your love is twenty times as great as if you love yourself only. (More than twenty times, as there is a bonus added!) The more love you give away, the more you have. This strange arithmetic is illustrated by our Lord's feeding of the five thousand. (Matthew 14:13-22.) Spiritual commodities, such as love and wisdom, increase equally whether you multiply or divide them. (That is spiritual arithmetic!) They only decrease if you ignore them or have nothing to do with them: then they wither, dry up and fade away. Or they are "taken away," like the talent buried in the ground. (Matthew 25:28.)
God is love itself. The two principles we have mentioned apply infinitely to him.
(1) There must be someone "outside of" God, or "other than" God, whom He can love and make happy, and who can reciprocate His love in freedom. Hence the need for a finite universe, with finite people in it. (Only what is finite can be "outside" or "other than" the infinite.) You can think of the created universe as consisting of a number of "vessels" capable of receiving and holding God's outpouring life. A person's innermost soul is like a wine glass which God fills with the choicest wine. The glass is never dissolved into the wine—if it were, the wine would be lost. Always the infinite and the finite exist side by side within us, the finite giving shape to the infinite, but never merging with it. (Swedenborg says the two are "conjoined" but never "united," except in the case of Jesus Christ, as we shall see in a later chapter.) Any religion or philosophy that teaches that human beings are divine, that they can be merged with God or grow into God, is, in that matter, based on falsehood. The truth is that God is the infinite creator, and the human being is the finite creature: the finite can never become infinite, the creature can never become its own creator. The three main world religions that correctly emphasize this distinction between God and the universe are Judaism, Islam and Christianity.
( 2) Love grows by giving itself out to others. God, since he is love itself, actually "needs" to have finite beings whom he can love and make happy. He never stops creating. New babies are always being born. And he likes as much variety as possible, within human limits: white, yellow, brown and black; clever and dull, distinguished and commonplace. Each individual is unique, yet he loves them all equally, no one more than another. (Good parents have no favorites among their children!) God never grows weary as a creator, because love actually increases with its own out-pouring. On the human analogy, one might say that God is far "stronger" now than he was at the beginning of the creation, because he now has so many human beings to love!
How was the Universe Created?
God created the universe by pouring out divine substance from himself, and then, in some mysterious way we cannot understand, withdrawing himself from it, until it became dead matter, therefore finite. This might be explained in mathematical terms by saying "Infinity divided by infinity equals any finite number, or all finite numbers."
If this proposition is correct, then this symbol could represent the "big bang" which exploded into stars, planets, oceans, forests, fertile lands, the whole tremendous universe!
We are on firm ground when we assert that creation started with dead matter, of the lowest and most inert degree—gases, water, rocks, minerals, etc. God then fashioned these into forms capable of receiving life on a higher level: first the vegetable kingdom, then the animal kingdom, which is sustained by the vegetable kingdom; then, from the animal kingdom, humanity. Somehow at this stage a "soul" must have been implanted, but when exactly this was done, and how (perhaps by a virgin birth?) we cannot tell, because we are part of the process. We know that love was the driving force, and that wisdom was the controlling factor. Divine love set the process going, and divine wisdom planned the action. And, when you have love and wisdom working together, then you have power.
Why were We Created?
Many different answers have been given to the question, "Why did God make us?"—such as, "So that we can serve him" (just as if he needed our assistance!) or, "So that we can worship and praise him." The true answer would be, "So that he might love us, and make us happy from himself." However, he does want us to serve and worship him, because he knows we are happiest when we are doing so. To be happy we must cooperate from our side, and reciprocate his love, thus completing the circle. If we misuse our freedom and turn away from him (which he lets us do if we really want to), then our creation has been a failure. Can God fail? Yes, when dealing with his children; because he has given us freedom to love him or not. Only because we have this freedom will our love be worth anything to him. Does God still love us if we are evil? Of course, he does! Parents still love their children, even when the children go wrong. They yearn after the children, and suffer on account of them, but still they love them. That is their nature.
Human Beings are Immortal
It is not God's will that any of his children should perish or cease to exist. Their physical bodies will die in due course, but their souls will go on living to eternity. The good ones will become "angels," and where they are will be Heaven. The bad ones will become "satans," or "devils," or just "evil spirits," and where they are will be Hell. We are all potential angels. Life on earth is provided for the development of the angel-nature within us. The whole purpose of the world and everything in it, the whole purpose of Creation itself, is: To form a heaven of angels from the human race.
N.B.—Although human beings are finite, even as to spirit (the angels are still finite), yet our souls are immortal. We do not call ourselves "eternal" because we are not self-sustaining; yet, we go on living forever, because the eternal God perpetually sustains us. By way of analogy, think of an electric light bulb. It goes on giving light for as long as electricity from the powerhouse is fed into it: but in itself it is quite dead.