I borrowed a book titled Divine Love and Wisdom written by the Swedish polymath Emanuel Swedenborg. According to the Wikipedia website, Emauel Swedenborg was a Swedish scientist, philosopher, theologian, revelator, and, in the eyes of some, Christian mystic. There is a short text in the translator’s preface of the book which goes, “In 1745, at the age of fifty-seven, Emanuel Swedenborg (1688 – 1772) had an experience that radically hanged the course of his life. Much later, he would describe it as a vision of Jesus Christ commissioning him to “open to people the spiritual meaning of Scripture” and initiating years of regular experiences of the spiritual world. Soon after this vision, he resigned from his post on the Swedish Board of Mines and spent the remainder of his years writing and publishing the theological works for which he is now best known.”
There is an entry titled “The Church of the New Jerusalem – Swedenborgianism” in Walter Martin’s The Kingdom of the Cult. Walter Martin critiques Swedenborg’s doctrines on the Holy Scriptures, the Trinity of God, vicarious atonement, and the destiny of man. He concluded at page 519 that “Swedenborg was far from being a Christian, and certainly was not a Christian theologian.” Personally, I am skeptical of people who profess particular stances in religious doctrines on the basis of personal divine revelation. Nevertheless, I am interested in what Swedenborg might have to say about the notion of divine love and wisdom.
I had come across the name of Emanuel Swedenborg in the past when I searched for IQ of famous people back when I was quite interested in the concept of psychometric assessment of intelligence. There are websites listing Swedenborg as having an IQ of 205, exceptionally way above the average of 100 on the IQ scale. I haven’t taken a proper IQ test before, but according to the free IQ test I took online, my IQ is rated at 134, which is deemed as gifted, but below the genius level. But I am not very sure about the credibility of these online IQ tests which I suspect give inflated scores to make its takers happy. I am not sure about how credible the IQ score assigned to these various famous figures like Swedenborg are credible when IQ test did not exist when these guys were alive. Moreover, I am not sure how useful an IQ test is in measuring intelligence. Some remarkably intelligent people who have taken the IQ tests did not fare exactly too well in their IQ score. The physics Nobel Prize winner Richard Feynman was determined to score only 125 when he took the IQ test in high school, high, but only above average. Francis Crick, Nobel prize winner in medicine and co-discoverer of the structure of the DNA molecule with James Watson, scored only 115. William Shockley, Nobel Prize winner for physics for his part in the invention of the transistor was measured at 129. He later became a staunch advocate of eugenics, making controversial statements like proposing that individuals with IQs below 100 be paid to undergo voluntary sterilization. But these individuals have certainly achieved more intellectually and contributed more to humanity than any other people who claim to have higher IQ scores, especially those who apply to become Mensa members.
I found some of the contents discussed in the introduction of the book by Gregory R. Johnson interesting. I shall give the excerpts of the various passages below.
1. At page 24 – “Every account of creation must deal with the question, “Why did God choose to create the world rather than remain alone?” There are two basic answers to this question: God creates out of need or out of abundance. If God creates out of need, this implies that God alone is not perfect and self-sufficient and that the net amount of being and goodness is increased by the creation of the world. Expressed mathematically, God plus creation is greater than God alone. In the Hermetic tradition, for instance, God creates the world because he lacks self-consciousness. Self-consciousness can only come by the recognition of oneself in another who is capable of recognizing one in turn. God, therefore, must create another being who can know him. He cannot create another God, for a god is uncreated. But he can create a mortal being who is capable of knowing him. This is the human being. Once the human comes to know God, God comes to know himself and is complete. Creation is thus a circular process in which God goes out of himself and then returns to himself by beholding himself in the mirror of his creation. If on the other hand God creates out of abundance, this implies that God alone is perfect and does not need creation to augment his being and goodness. This means that all the goodness and being of the created world is a gift of God, that God shares his superabundant being and goodness by creating beings that can receive them. The created world has no being and goodness of its own. Therefore, in terms of being and goodness, God plus creation is not greater than God alone. There are different models for understanding creation out of abundance. Plotinus, for example, resists ascribing any human traits to his concept of the One from which all beings emanate. The One gives rise to the world simply as an expression of its infinite creative power (Plotinus Enneads 6:8). Christianity, by contrast, understands the creation of the world as an act of love, and not a selfish love that seeks something in return, but an unselfish love, a love that arises not out of neediness but out of the fullness of the soul (Sokolowski 1995, 31-40)”
Continuing – “Swedenborg’s account of creation is complex because it contains elements of both creation from need and creation from abundance. On the one hand, it is apparent throughout Divine Love and Wisdom, from the title on, that Swedenborg casts his account of creation in the Christian language of love. Yet his account of the workings of divine love quickly become expressed in the language of need. In ss47-49, under the proposition “Divine love and wisdom cannot fail to be and to be manifested in others that it has created,” Swedenborg argues that “the hallmark of love is not loving ourselves but loving others and being united to them through love.” Self-love is a matter of “feeling our joy in others…and not theirs in ourselves.” Swedenborg argues that by contrast unselfish love involves mutuality, that is, feeling our joy in others and feeling the joy of others in ourselves. “What is loving ourselves alone, really, and not loving someone else who loves us in return? This is more fragmentation than union. Love’s union depends on mutuality, and there is no mutuality within ourselves alone” (s48). Because God loves, and love requires mutuality, God must create an “other” to love. This other cannot be another God, for even if it were possible for God to create another God, the love that would exist between them would be more like self-love than love for one’s neighbor. Thus God requires the existence of finite beings – humans and angels- whom he can love and who can love him in return. In s170, Swedenborg claims that the ultimate goal of creation, the “eternal union of the Creator with the created universe,” cannot happen “unless there are subjects in which his divinity can be at home, so to speak, subjects in which it can dwell and abide.” Although Swedenborg speaks of God’s need of other beings to love and be loved by in return, his position does not ultimately reduce to creation out of lack or imperfection. God loves out of abundance, not out of lack. But once he loves, the nature of love requires beings who can reciprocate.”
I am not sure why God made creation. And I don’t think it is possible to analyze any being’s psychology definitively by reasoning alone to come to a conclusion on why that being does a certain thing. A god could easily have made creation out of his own amusement, boredom, or on a whimsy. But I suppose that it is reasonable to take our impression of how God is like from religious sources containing such description, and the bible contains description of God as a God of love, with such an expression of love being most magnificently and evidently displayed by the redemption of humanity from sins by God’s death on the cross. I think it is open for one to appraise though whether they believe that God is a God of love, and the problem of evil and suffering is a defeater of that proposition. Personally, I like the evangelical Christian conception of God as a loving Father, who is wise, all-powerful, all-knowing, yet someone whom you can treat like a friend. He is there to help you, guide you, and to pick you up where you fall.
2. On the goal of creation at page 28 – “Swedenborg’s account of creation can be depicted as a circle. God goes out of himself, creating the world out of his own substance. But God implants in creation a desire to circle back and return to himself. According to Swedenborg, the goal of creation is “that everything should return to the Creator and that there should be a union”; “The grand purpose, or the purpose of all elements of creation, is an eternal union of the Creator with the created universe”. This circular conception of creation is present in Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, as well as in Neoplatonism and Hermeticism.”
I often hear Christians saying that God made creation for his glory, and that we are created to glorify God. But sometimes, I wonder why God would ever want, or need that glory from creation. I personally like the idea of God as a friend. But I don’t think or feel that God is really my friend, or someone who loves me. He seems very much impersonal to me such that what I pray for goes unanswered.
3. On why it is necessary for humans to have the illusion of autonomy when it comes to loving God at page 36 – “Swedenborg denies that “we ourselves climb up to God on our own power. It is done by the Lord” Our ability to ascend from one physical level to the next and one spiritual level to the next depends on our receptivity to divine love and wisdom. This receptivity is not, however, something we control. All created beings are, in themselves, dead and inert. All their vital and active powers are infused into them by God, who is the only intrinsically alive and active being. God is at work in our inmost thoughts and feelings, always guiding us toward him…We are unaware of this fact, because nothing seems more our own than our lives: “Angels, like us, simply feel as though they participate in love and wisdom on their own, and therefore that love and wisdom are theirs, their very own” (S115).