In the New Church, we are taught that God presents Himself to us in human form. It’s not that He is modeled after us, rather the reverse, that we are created in His image and likeness. One passage in Arcana Coelestia by Emanuel Swedenborg illustrates the relevance of this point. It states that the innermost part of a person’s mind is created to receive the Lord’s life (5947). A person’s soul receives life, emitted in human form by the Lord. We can picture that perfect human life flowing in and enlivening us and giving us peace because we are perfectly designed to receive that life.
A passage in the book True Christian Religion builds on the importance of the idea that God is human. To paraphrase, the passage teaches that the success of the New Church is dependant on our adherence to the notion that the Lord God Jesus Christ is both Divine and Human. When we look to a God that is visible and understanding, we can use the life that the Lord offers us to its fullest potential (787). The point here is that the Lord offers us His life – His power to grow and be useful, His peace, His Love and His Wisdom – through the idea that He is the essence of what is truly Human.We see Him this way in the New Testament as He walked on Earth. And the teachings of the New Church introduce God to us and explain how He relates to us in our daily lives.
One way of thinking about God is to ask what He does for you and, perhaps more importantly, what He can do for you. This question is displayed in a powerful story found in the Old Testament, in I Kings 18. A prophet named Elijah climbs to a mountaintop shrine of the pagan god Baal and issues a challenge to the prophets of Baal. The challenge was that they would each prepare an offering, and the prophets of Baal would try to get Baal to send fire down from heaven to consume the offering. Then Elijah would ask the Lord to send fire to his offering. The prophets of Baal spent hours pleading to Baal, praying, supplicating, gyrating, and even cutting themselves, yet no fire came to the altar of Baal. Then Elijah, after drenching his altar with water, prays: “Lord God…let it be known that you are God in Israel, and I am your servant….” Moments later, fire comes crashing down from the Lord and consumes the offering, wood, stones, dust and water.
This story isn’t really about sacrifices. It is an ancient allegory teaching that God can have a tremendous impact on your life, leading you, helping you, and freeing you from spiritual trial and imprisonment. That impact comes when we see God for who He really is.
In another Old Testament story, the Lord speaks to Moses and expresses the essence of His identity. After Moses is commanded by God to go down to Egypt and set His people free, Moses asks Him what His name is. God answers “I Am Who I AM,” and instructs Moses to say that “the I Am” has sent Moses. This is not an expression of irritation or shortness by the Lord. Rather it is the Lord teaching that ‘I am and always will be present with you.’ He is reminding us that as we look to Him as our Creator and Heavenly Father, He can be fully present with us all the time, sustaining us as we walk the path of life–wherever that path takes us.
by Rev. David Lindrooth