Is the divine deep within us or higher than
us? A personal spiritual dimension or a transcendent power?
Perhaps the divine is what is humane in humanity - the spark of goodness
inherent in many people who love their family and make personal sacrifices for
the sake of those in need. Should we see the divine potentiality within
ourselves or think of the divine as a supernatural force greater than the human
The first view tends to be emphasised by those who are spiritually aware.
These are alive to private experiences which go beyond ordinary consciousness
and normal functioning. Indeed without an inner light of divine Spirit to guide
our conscience, how could we work out a proper individual response to the widely
varied circumstances of life with which we have to deal?
It is thought that a belief in a God - who is above and apart from the
vulnerability of the human condition - results in an intolerant religion; such a
believer judging and condemning all who do not conform to the sense of the
letter of sacred scripture and being blind to any humanity within it.
On the other hand those who do favour the objective view of the divine, think
of the wonders of the material universe e.g. the laws of gravity that keep the
planets predictably in their orbits and the incredible structure of the human
body; the order within nature they believe that could not have come about by
mere chance but rather through a higher creative power, independent of time and
It is also asked, without a transcendent deity, how could there be any Word
of God revealed through sacred scripture? Without
revelation of spiritual and
moral principles, perhaps we would have to rely only on subjective feelings
guiding us about what paths to follow in life.
Without recognising a deity independent of human kind, how could we pray to a
power greater than ourselves? How could we rely on God, rather than relying on
self, for our deliverance from lifeís problems?
Emanuel Swedenborg expressed the view that the transcendent and the personal nature of the
divine are not mutually incompatible but both real and necessary. The direct
personal experience of the inner spirit working within each of us is available
to all. However we also need knowledge and understanding of the divine from a
perspective that goes beyond the personal. The meaning of individual experience
is affected by this knowledge. The notion we have of God is the deepest of all
our ideas. What we learn from religion has an effect on how we are inwardly
enlightened. Religious knowledge and understanding affects the individual way we
each develop an acceptance of what is right and good, as well as the growing
individual quality of our spiritual intelligence.
In Swedenborg's teachings, there are three essential dimensions or aspects to
- The source of pure love outside of space and time and above full human
- which is partly known to us through the revealed Word of God e.g. in
Jesus Christís life and teachings
- and which radiates spiritual heat and light into the human mind
These three aspects of God can be compared with the three aspects of every
individual human being i.e. motivation, ideas and action. Godís motivation has an
end in view - the true happiness of all. Godís ideas are the humane principles
revealed to us to bring about this end and Godís action is the effect of these
principles in the hearts and minds of people when they allow this.
We can only have an obscure idea of God but we have a better understanding by
relating to Godís human side. We can learn about and relate person to person to
divine humanity. This is God with whom we can get on a personal footing whilst
realising we are not divine as of ourselves. But as we do so we can also feel
the spirit of God actively present within our souls inspiring and guiding our
"Everyone is joined through thought and
affection to one of whom he can have some idea but not to one of whom he cannot
have any idea"
Emanuel Swedenborg in
Arcana Caelestia 4211
"The Being of God, or the Divine Being,
is indescribable, since it transcends all ideas of human thought. This cannot
grasp anything except what is created and finite. What is uncreated and
infinite, such as the Divine Being, is incomprehensible. The Divine Being is
Being Itself, the source of all things and which must be in all things for them
Emanuel Swedenborg in
True Christian Religion 18