Many people believe there is a higher spiritual energy they call God that transcends the mundane material world. This for them is not a personal God but rather a higher power that ensures there is order in nature the laws of which can be discovered by science.
Idea of a personal God
Another view is that God is the origin for all that is humanly good in the universe — the higher principles of ethical living, human virtue, creative inspiration, depth of the human soul and its capacity for wisdom and compassion and so on.
Those who favour a personal God suggest that any idea of God as as an infinite force or abstract law behind the facts of science, that is anything other than a Divine person, actually makes God something less than we ourselves.
It is argued that without our sense of God’s human dimension there would be no point to looking for the benefit of communication through prayer and no chance of sensing God’s personal presence.
But if God is to be thought of as a personal God ie divinely human, is God merely an image of us or are we an image of God?
Literal or symbolic understanding of God
David Wulff has pointed out that many religious people interpret images and rituals in a symbolic way. Many others, however, interpret such things in a literal manner. Most Evangelical Christians will say that the whole Bible should be taken as factually true, but even they will accept that ‘the mountains skipped like rams’ (Psalm 114:4) is not a factual description of a major earthquake; it’s a poetic metaphor.
But where do you draw the line? How much is factual? Did Jesus do miracles? Was his a virgin birth? And so we find different attitudes towards the Christ of history: either a view that the truth about the Divine needs to be metaphorically or figuratively expressed (if it is to be communicated at all) or an acceptance that Christ was literally ‘the Son of God’. Do we have to have to believe in the Chirst of history as divine in order to be able to relate to a personal God?
The interpretation of Christ by Carl Gustav Jung as a central archetype is an example of the symbolic orientation. This is because Christ’s quality is said to be intimately related and continuous with the figure of the Father. This is probably an easier position to accept because Jung was not talking about any God but rather our image of God: he was writing as a psychologist and not a theologian.
There are many mainstream Christians who although not requiring that all the events and sayings in the Bible are literally true, nevertheless,
“… just want so much to be told that at least this one really happened, that at least this one saying was really uttered by Jesus. They do not want to hear that stories are legends or that they emerged from the consciousness of the primitive church.” (James Barr)
Personal God of church dogma
Apparently a lot of Christians are still prepared to go along with church dogma about Jesus as part of a Divine Trinity of Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Others are searching for a more rational understanding. For example in their rejection of what they see as an illogical doctrine of the Trinity, Unitarians deny that Jesus is their personal God.
A different so-called Christian heresy, Monarchianism, which began before AD 200, also rejected the Trinity, holding that there is only one God, not three divine persons of the Godhead. It saw Trinitarian belief as polytheism. Instead it claimed that the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit are all one being, simply performing three different roles, like an actor playing several parts and thus implied that the Father suffered on the cross.
Swedenborg’s idea of a personal God
Something similar to this view of a personal God is found in Swedenborg’s books. Here we find a new concept that of Divine Humanity, a central feature of God, which became fulfilled in the life of Jesus Christ.
According to this view, in Jesus, God took on a human nature, which could bring the Divine into more direct contact with every individual member of his human family. Jesus was to grow up as a normal human being. He could grow weary, become angry and weep. But because his paternal heredity was divine, he never gave in to temptation but grew in love and wisdom. The tendencies towards being self-centered, that he had along with us, were gradually removed, until he fulfilled his divine potential.
And so the position is that before the days of Jesus there was no direct link or bridge between the infinite and the finite, between the perfect and the imperfect. But after his life he was fully human and fully divine and a more direct link was established so that people could approach the Lord Jesus in prayer as the one person of God in whom there is a heart of compassion (symbolised by Father), a head of wisdom (symbolised by Son) and hands of power (symbolised by Holy Spirit).
“Jesus is the God whom we can approach without pride and before whom we can humble ourselves without despair ” (Blaise Pascal)
Copyright 2011 Stephen Russell-Lacy
Author of Heart, Head & Hands Swedenborg’s perspective on emotional problems