A basic teaching of Christianity is that there is only one God but in three distinct divine persons, the Father, the Son of God and the Holy Spirit: each said to be God. Many Christian theologians themselves admit they have found it impossible to come up with a persuasive and rational explanation for three Gods in one. So they call this a mystery.
Any lack of understanding in what the churches teach, I suppose, is not necessarily a problem for those of faith. Having said that, I suspect this central dogma is a major obstacle for many other people who won’t believe in something they don’t understand.
Son of God unprovable in historical terms
Virtually all scholars of antiquity agree that Jesus Christ existed. They have offered various historical portraits of his life, which at times share a number of overlapping attributes, such as a charismatic healer and religious prophet, who preached about the “kingdom of God” as a means for personal and social transformation. The question of his divinity is more difficult for historians and his claim to be what he called the Son of God.
Christ’s birth was not strictly a ‘virgin birth’ or parthenogenesis, for this would necessarily have produced a female offspring. Because he was male, he had to have had a father to give him his male sex chromosomes. He came to see himself as the Son of God. One snag from a scientific perspective is that if his father were really God, rather than a human being, how did he get his male sex chromosomes?
Son of God as body of the one God
Christians believe Christ’s assertion that his father was God and understand this to mean that he was a distinct person from his father in the same way as you and I are not the same person as either of our parents. However, an alternative Christian view originating from Emanuel Swedenborg is expressed by Brian Kingslake:
“Your soul is a finite vessel containing God’s life; and, because it is finite, you will always be finite. You will never merge with God. But Jesus was different. God was his Father, so his soul was God. It was not a vessel containing God, it was God himself. Therefore Jesus had no finite limitations.”
He goes on to claim that Christ’s spiritual growth went on and on without halting, until his humanity was dissolved into the divinity of God, making one divine person only. So according to this view of the Son of God, Jesus Christ had a divine soul that was within him throughout his life on earth.
However, his maternal heredity was like that of any other child. Mary gave him his natural tendencies. He began life in complete ignorance and had to learn everything. He could grow weary and could become angry and weep. Because of the self-orientated tendencies, he inherited from his mother, he was to be vulnerable to corrupting influences, as we all are.
Ordinary life in Palestine meant experiencing daily events like others of his age group. The boy would have learned how to become aware of things around him and of the way his family saw them. Like the rest of us, his thinking would have been restricted much of the time by how things appear and seem to be. In other words his experiences would have been shrouded by human consciousness. At the same time, the argument goes, if his soul were divine, there would have been many ‘break-through’ moments of a higher perception. John’s Gospel suggests these quite vividly. For example he wept over the self-defeating, self-centered attitudes around him.
“I believe there is no one lovelier, deeper, more sympathetic and more perfect than Jesus — not only is there no one else like him, but there could never be anyone like him.” (Feodor Dostoevsky)
Son of God having Christ’s dual nature
Swedenborg suggests that because of what he claims is Christ’s dual nature, at times there would be states of temptation say for material gain or egoist fame and thus Christ, even though he always resisted such urges, would have felt distinct and apart from God. So when feeling tempted by ordinary selfish urges he would have been conscious of himself as the son of Mary: but even in his most exalted states, free from baser tendencies, he was only conscious of being what he called the Son of God rather than God himself.
I would ask whether, compared with the traditional view of the Holy Trinity, it is more rational to think of the Holy Trinity as three dimensions of one Divine Person? I would suggest that just as we each have a soul, a mind and a bodily activity so does God: only in God’s case it is a soul of love, a mind of wisdom and a bodily activity that has powerful effects.
Swedenborg maintained that before Christ’s birth in Bethlehem, God did not exist in an ultimate form of flesh and bones and natural mind although there was a potential for this to develop. And this did develop through Christ’s overcoming and purifying his natural side inherited from Mary.
If this theory is correct, by the ‘Son of God’ we can understand the natural degree of mind and body which God took upon himself when he came into the world as the ‘Word made flesh’. And if true, there would have been no Son of God before the birth of Jesus and thus no separate divine person.
I myself feel it is probably misleading to describe Christ, after his ascension, as the Son of God. Instead I would say that Christ is the natural degree of the divine — i.e. God’s body rather than a distinct person of a Godhead; the Lord God we all can relate to person to person in what might be said to be a visible form. As the Bible says
“In Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form” (Colossians 2:9)
Copyright 2013 Stephen Russell-Lacy
Author of Heart, Head & Hands Swedenborg’s perspective on emotional problems