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Where is Thy God?
An Address on the Person and Essence of God

by Rev. Willard D. Pendleton

It is the faith of the New Church that there is a God and that He is Divine Man. Yet because the existence of God is not demonstrable in terms of sense experience, some question His existence and others deny it. To deny God, however, is to assume that the universe is but a blind flux of physical energy which, although devoid of purpose and intelligence, has somehow fallen into an ordered pattern capable of producing and sustaining life. One would think, therefore, that reason would incline to faith; for where there is order it is reasonable to assume that there is intelligence, and that where there is intelligence there is a purpose. But because many at this day are not willing to admit to a purpose in creation, they seek to discredit faith; and like those of whom the Psalmist speaks, they support their denial by casting doubt upon the credibility of any evidence save that of the five senses. Hence they say, in disbelief: "Where is thy God?" (Psalm 42: 3)

In a deeply troubled world which seems to have lost all contact with any definitive source of moral and spiritual values, this question is pertinent. Indeed, it would seem that if there were ever a time when man stood in need of faith it is at the present day. But by faith we do not refer to a blind trust in some invisible deity whose ways transcend all human understanding, but to a God who is visible to the sight of the mind. Yet to see God, man must first form some idea of Him, and this idea must be determined to some object of thought. Thus the Writings insist that "no one can think of the Divine itself unless he first presents to himself the idea of a Divine Man"; (AC 8705) for to think of God apart from the idea of a Divine Man is to think indeterminately, "and an indeterminate idea is no idea." (Ibid.)

The primary or primitive idea of God, therefore, is the child's concept of the Lord; that is, of a Divine Man in human figure. How else can the little child think of the Lord? The idea of figure is basic to all advanced concepts, and apart from figure, man cannot form an idea of anything. Thus it was that before the Lord came into the world He revealed Himself through the human of an angel who appeared to the prophets as a Divine Man in human figure. It was this basic idea of God that enabled men to think of Him as a person, although their idea of Him as a person was derived through those prophets and kings who in turn represented Him to the people.

It was, then, in terms of those who represented Him that the ancients thought of Jehovah as a person. In this also the faith of the pre-Christian churches did not differ from the faith of the child, for the child thinks of the Lord even as he thinks of those who temporarily stand in His place. Herein is to be found the representative function of parents, for it is from the idea that he forms of his parents that the child derives his first idea of God. The reason for this is that the child thinks of God as of one who, like his parents, possesses human attributes such as love, wisdom, judgment and authority. We can understand, therefore, why it was that the Israelites thought of Jehovah as one who was like those who were authorized to speak and act for Him, and why it is that the child's first idea of the Lord is centered in the concept of a Heavenly Father. But in this, as in all human representations, the idea is limited and qualified by the person or personality of him through whom it is represented.

While a representative idea of God is sufficient to the faith of first states, the time comes when the mind can no longer be held in the acknowledgment of a God who is known only through the, instrumentality of others. Thus it was that in process of time the Lord put on a human from the mother, and He who was formerly known through the person of others came into the world and revealed Himself as Divine Man in His own Divine person. It is this that accounts for the striking difference between the Old and New Testaments. Whereas to the ancient Israelites, Jehovah was a remote deity who was to be feared and therefore obeyed, to the Christian, the Lord became a personal God who was intimately concerned with the individual. Here was a new concept of God - a concept that was so different that many have found difficulty in reconciling the Scriptures. Whereas Jehovah's concern seems to have been for Israel as a nation rather than for the Israelite as an individual, the Lord taught men, saying: "A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; [even] as I have loved you, that ye also love one another." (John 13: 34) How, it is asked, can you reconcile the idea of a jealous God, who was relentless in the government of the nation of His choice, with the doctrine and person of Jesus Christ, who taught forgiveness and mercy?

It was this apparent discrepancy between the two Testaments which in time led to the doctrine of a plurality of persons in God. In identifying Jehovah with the person of the Father, and the Son with the person of Jesus Christ, the Christian Church sought to establish the unity of the Word. In brief, the explanation was that an angry Father, having sent His Son into the world, and having perceived His Son's suffering upon the cross, was moved to compassion, and because of His Son forgave all who had faith in Jesus Christ. Further, it is held that this salvation is continually effected through a third person, who is identified as the Holy Spirit. Thus it is believed that although God is one as to essence, He is at the same time three persons; yet the Writings state that "no one can comprehend how the Divine, which is one, can be divided into three persons, each one of whom is God, for the Divine is not divisible. And to make . . . three one through . . . essence or substance does not take away the idea of three Gods." (Lord 57)

But if, as the Writings insist, God is one, not only as to essence but also as to person, why is it that the appearance of three persons is found in the New Testament? The reason is that in this, as in all the appearances in which the letter is written, there is a truth involved. The truth is that in all unity there is a trinity, and apart from the trinity, the unity of a thing cannot be seen. In God, as in the man whom He created after His image, there is a trinity - a trinity of soul, body and mind. Were this not so, God would not be Divine Man; neither would the man whom He created be man. But whereas in God these three discrete degrees of life are infinite and uncreate, in man they are finite degrees receptive of life. In God, as in man, therefore, there is a trinity of being. Hence the Writings say: "Take the idea that there is one person, with a trinity in that person." (Ath. 110) When understood in this way, the truth will be seen. But we are told that in thinking of the Lord as a person, we are not to think of His essence from His person, but of His person from His essence. (AR 611: 7)

II

While it is true that every man is a person, there is a deeper reality to whom the Writings refer as the essential or real man. It is this man who in essence is man. If, like the Psalmist, therefore, we ask, "What is man?" we must abstract our thought from the idea of man as a person and think of him in terms of the use he was created to perform. For man is a form of use; that is, a living form endowed with the capacity to see truth, and from truth to do what is good. It is in this that man differs from the beast; for although the animal experiences all those sensations which come to consciousness by way of the five senses, it cannot abstract knowledges from experience and order them in such a way that truth may be seen. But because man can perceive what is true, he can, if he wills, do what is good. That is what is meant when it is said in the Writings, "Who does not know that a man is not a man because of his having a human face and a human body, but because of the wisdom of his understanding and the goodness of his will?" (TCR 417) This also is what is meant by the statement that "to love the neighbor, viewed in itself, is not to love the person, but the good that is in the person." (Ibid.)

As it is with man, so it is with the Lord, who is Divine Man. If we would know Him we must know Him not only as He who came into the world in His own Divine person, but we must see and acknowledge that in essence He is good itself, and that all good with angels and men is from Him. But as God, or good, cannot be presented to the sight of the understanding except in the form of truth, the Lord gave the Word; and it is in the Word, and not apart from it, that the Lord may be known among men. Thus the Writings teach that the Word is the medium of conjunction between God and man. Yet how many at this day believe this? For the most part, men think of the Word as the testimony of the religious experience of the prophets. And while many believe that the prophets were somehow inspired, they do not understand the nature of their inspiration; neither are they prepared to believe that within the appearance of the letter there is a spiritual sense which constitutes an authoritative statement of truth.

To see the truth is to see God. But as truth cannot be communicated except by means of words, it is as the Word that the Lord is revealed to man. Hence it is said in John: "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God." (John 1: 1) But whereas the Word of the Old Testament was given through the instrumentality of the human of an angel who was seen by the prophets, and whereas the Word of the New Testament was given through the instrumentality of a human derived from the mother, the spiritual sense of the Word is a direct revelation of the Lord in His own Divine Human; that is, a revelation of Him who in essence as well as in person is Divine Man. Yet because few at this day perceive that the Writings are the spiritual sense of the Word, and as such the essential Word, it is no wonder that many have lost faith in the Scriptures, for apart from the spiritual sense, the Word in its letter cannot be understood.

We should have no difficulty, therefore, in understanding why it is that men in increasing numbers are saying, "Where is thy God?" Some say it in scorn because they are convinced that the idea of God is a primitive myth, and that there can be no real progress in human affairs until the mind of man is emancipated from the idea that there is a supernatural being who imposes His will upon men. Yet there are others who ask this same question, and this because they will to believe in God, but in their confusion they do not understand. It is to the latter, and not to the former, that the Writings are addressed, for what the Writings offer us is a new concept of God; that is, of a God who is Divine Man not only as to His person, but who in essence is the Spirit of good and of truth. As the Lord said to the woman of Samaria: "God is a Spirit: and they that worship Him must worship Him in spirit and in truth." (John 4: 24) And as He said to His disciples on the eve of the crucifixion: "I have yet many things to say unto you, but ye cannot bear them now. Howbeit when He, the Spirit of truth, is come, He will guide you into all truth." (John 16: 12, 13)

The essence of a thing is its spirit. As already considered, therefore, man is not man because he possesses a human figure, but because he is endowed with a human mind. In other words, the spirit of man is the mind, and the mind is the man. Thus it is that we do not know any man except in so far as we know his thoughts and affections. This is a matter of communication, and as ideas cannot be communicated except by means of words, it is as the Word that the Lord is revealed as Divine Man. But as the Word in its letter cannot be understood apart from the spiritual sense, the Lord has come again as the Spirit of truth; that is, as He who in essence is Man. Here He may be seen, not as He was seen by them of old time, nor as He was seen by His disciples, but in His Divine Human, which is the Divine Mind. Hence it is said in the True Christian Religion that "the second coming of the Lord is not . . . in person, but in the Word, which is from Him, and is Himself"; (TCR 776) and also, that "this New Church is the crown of all the churches . . . because it is to worship one visible God." (TCR 787)

By a visible God is not meant a God who is objectively revealed to the sight of the senses, but a God whose love and whose wisdom may be rationally perceived in the understanding. It is in this, above all else, that the Writings differ from former revelations; for whereas in the letter of the Word the thought of the mind is held in the idea of God as a person, in the spiritual sense the thought is directed to the inner reality which underlies the person. That is why we are taught that we are not to think of the Lord from His person, and from this of His essence, but from His essence, and from this of His person; (AR 611: 7) for in the Lord the essential Man is good and truth, even as the man whom He created in His own image and likeness is in essence a form receptive of good and truth. To see the Lord, therefore, is to see and acknowledge the truth of the Word that is from Him. Under no other form can He be made visible to the sight of man's mind.

III

It is one thing, however, to see and acknowledge the Lord; it is another, to love Him. Hence the question, which so frequently arises, How does one love the Lord? Yet in asking this question we are thinking of the Lord as a person; and while it is true that He is a person, it is not on account of His person that He is to be loved. In explanation of this we would remind you of the passage which was quoted earlier in this address, where in treating of the neighbor who is to be loved, the Writings state: "To love the neighbor, viewed in itself, is not to love the person, but the good that is in the person." (TCR 417) This applies to the Lord as well as to man, for in the supreme sense, it is the Lord who is the neighbor.

To love the Lord, therefore, is not merely to love Him as a person, that is, as a Divine Man who came into the world and revealed His love for all men through His person; it is to love the good which is from Him. Concerning this the Writings state: "Those who think . . . naturally and . . . not at the same time . . . spiritually . . . are unable to think otherwise than that the Lord is to be loved as to . . . [His] person." (Wisdom XI: 1) But "to love the Lord means to do uses from Him . . . for the reason that all . . . good uses that man does are from the Lord. . . . No one can love the Lord in any other way; for uses, which are goods, are from the Lord, and consequently are Divine; yea they are the Lord Himself with man." (Love XIII: 1) If, then, men ask, "Where is thy God?" let them but look to those uses which underlie all human relationships, and in them they will find Him who is good, for to see the good that is implicit in use is to see God.

For the most part we think of uses in terms of occupations and services. But these human activities are not uses; they are only the forms which uses take. Nevertheless, to be of use we must perform some service; that is, we must in one way or another serve as a means whereby good is done to the neighbor. Yet in serving the neighbor, the appearance is that the good that is done is from ourselves; but the Writings insist that this is not so, for of himself man cannot do good, but he can do good from the Lord. In this the choice rests with man. He can do what is good from the Lord, or he can turn what is good into evil in himself. In so far as he turns what is good into evil he perverts and subverts the use.

Take for example, the institution of marriage. Here is a use which is said to excel all other uses, and this for the reason that it is the Divinely appointed means whereby the Lord provides that there may be a heaven from the human race. The use is the Lord's, but man enters into the use; and in so far as he looks to the use he shares in the delights which are proper to it. But if in the marital relationship, as in any other human relationship, man's primary concern is for self, he turns what is of use into what is essentially selfish, and he destroys in himself the unique faculty or ability into which all men are born; namely, the capacity to enter with delight into the service of use.

By this we do not mean to imply that through selfishness man renders himself incapable of serving others; but we do mean that the delight which he finds is in those things which accrue to self and not in the use. There is a world of difference between these two motivations; for whereas in the one, man's affections and thoughts are centered in self, in the other his essential concern is for the use that self is intended to serve. Hence we are taught in the Writings that the love of self is not necessarily an evil love, for when it is rightly subordinated to the use it is intended to serve, it actually perfects the man. (TCR 403) That is what is meant when it is said in the Gospel of John: "Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends. Ye are My friends, if ye do whatsoever I command you." (John 15: 13, 14) But what is it that the Lord has commanded us? Is it not that "thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul . . . and thy neighbor as thyself"? (Matthew 22: 37-39)

In essence and purpose these two great commandments are one. The reason for this is that we cannot love the Lord unless we love the neighbor, and we cannot love the neighbor unless we love the Lord, for to love the Lord is not merely to love Him as a person; it is to love the uses which are from Him. And to love the neighbor is not to love him on account of his person, but because of the good which he does; that is, because of the uses which he performs. Thus it is that to love the neighbor is to love the good and truth which are from the Lord with the neighbor. Concerning this the Writings teach that "the man who loves good because it is good, and truth because it is truth, loves the neighbor eminently, because he loves the Lord who is good itself and truth itself. There is no love of good and love of truth from good, that is, love to the neighbor, from any other source. Love to the neighbor is thus formed from a heavenly origin. It is the same thing whether you say use or good; therefore performing uses is doing good; and according to the quantity and quality of the use in the good, so far in quantity and quality the good is good." (TCR 419)

IV

There is, then, a God, and He is good; and as stated in the Gospel of John: "All things were made by Him; and without Him was not anything made that was made." (John 1: 3) To believe otherwise is to believe that man is but a chance product of physical forces which somehow emerged as a living soul. But the atom does not think; neither does the molecule display any

of the attributes of the human mind. Of all created forms, man alone can see what is true, and from truth do what is good. Hence man is said to be a form of use; that is, a living form capable of self-determination in the doing of those goods which are of use to the neighbor. It is, then, in the exercise of the God-given faculties of freedom and rationality that man is man. But man is not man from himself, for of himself he cannot do good. He is man because God is Man; that is, Divine Man, who in essence is good and truth. Hence we are not to think of Him from His person and from this of His essence, but from His essence, and from this of His person, for in no other way can we attain to a rational understanding of a God who is a Divine Man.

-New Church Life 1965;306-313

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