My name is Solomon Keal. I am a minister for the General Church of the New Jerusalem, which is a Swedenborgian Christian denomination. These are some of my thoughts about the Lord, the symbolic meanings in the Bible, life after death, faith, charity, usefulness, loving the Lord and one's neighbor, the 2nd Coming, Swedenborg's Writings, and other theological stuff.
Monday, March 8, 2010
Why was Jesus a man not a woman?
Why did the Lord, in His first advent, come as a man and not as a woman? First I would like to address why I believe this is an important question to raise. In the General Church of the New Jerusalem we believe that the truths of the Lord's second coming as revealed by Swedenborg help us to grow closer to the Lord in His Divine humanity. We believe that the God of heaven and earth took on the merely natural form of Jesus Christ in the world. We also believe that, as it says in Genesis 1:27, both men and women are created in the image and likeness of God, and so God is the source of both masculinity and femininity. But because the language of the Old and New Testaments refers to God almost exclusively in a masculine way, it can be hard for women to feel close to the Lord, especially given that Jesus Christ was in fact male. For example, when a woman is giving birth, how easy is it for her to know that the Lord knows exactly what she is going through, if she is picturing Him in the masculine form of Jesus Christ? I personally know women who struggle with this issue. I hope that in the course of this study I can shed some light on this subject, so that women might be able to feel closer to the Lord, and so that all of us might understand our relationship with the Lord more clearly.
(The quotations in this paper are taken from the theological works of Emanuel Swedenborg).
Purpose of the Advent
In asking why the Lord came as a man and not a woman, we must first examine why the Lord came at all. What was the purpose of the first advent? The Lord came into this world to save the human race from extinction. Because the Lord gave us freedom, and a sense that life is our own, we can get ourselves into trouble. As long as this trouble is balanced by goodness in the world, our freedom is maintained. But if the balance gets off, an intervention is required, because evil actually prevents good people from getting to heaven. So the Lord came to save us from our own eternal damnation. And He did this by pushing back and subjugating the hells, restructuring the heavens, and establishing a New Church (see True Christianity 84). He also saved us by glorifying His Human, which meant that He could then continually keep the hells at bay (see New Jerusalem and its Heavenly Doctrine 293), and it also meant that He could then truly be conjoined with us (see Secrets of Heaven 2554). One might be tempted to think - in a stereotypical sort of way - that it was because the Lord came to fight that He must have come as a man. But I think there’s a lot more to it than that.
So how did the Lord accomplish this task? By means of Divine truth, and by means of His Divine Human. An intervention was required, but the Lord could not come to us in His full essence, or His sheer Divinity would have annihilated us. So He came as a part of Him; as Divine truth. He came as the part of Himself that can approach us, and can be approached by us. And He came as the part of Himself that had the power to fight back the hells without destroying them. “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us,” (John 1:14). Jesus Christ was the bodily visible form of Divine truth, which in turn is the form of the Lord’s Divine love.
In my experience this is very often where we reach the end of the discussion: The Lord came as Divine truth, and men are forms of truth, while women are forms of love (see Married Love 90, 160, 187, 223; Secrets of Heaven 8337), so therefore the Lord had to have come in the form of a masculine man. But I think there is a lot more to it than that. For one thing: sometimes in the Word women represent truth. And in fact sometimes women represent Divine truth, as was the case with Sarah, Abraham’s wife (see Secrets of Heaven 2063). So it seems it was not simply the fact that the Lord came as Divine truth that meant that He had to be male.
Masculine and Feminine
Perhaps to understand this better we need to examine exactly what the relationship is between good and truth, and masculinity and femininity. What does the masculine represent?
"The inmost quality in masculinity is love, and it’s veil is wisdom, or in other words, it is love veiled with wisdom, while the inmost quality in femininity is that same wisdom, the wisdom of masculinity, and its veil the love resulting from it" (Married Love 32).
"A male is born intellect-oriented and ... a female is born will-oriented, or in other words, ... a male is born with an affection for knowing, understanding and becoming wise, while a female is born with a love for joining herself to that affection in the male" (Married Love 33).
So if the Lord was meant to be the Word made flesh, it makes sense that He would need to be born with an affection for knowing, understanding and becoming wise. And if the masculine is ultimately ‘love veiled with wisdom’ it makes sense that the Lord would also follow this pattern because the Lord is Divine love clothed with Divine wisdom. This all makes sense, but one still might wonder: if men and women are equal, and both are created in the image of God, then it seems out of balance for the nature of the Lord to be reflected in the spiritual structure of men, more than that of women. Again, there must be something deeper going on here.
The Divine Human
Perhaps a better understanding can be gained on this subject if we explore the nature of the Lord’s Divine Human and His Divine Natural. “After He assumed the Human in the world, He also became Man in ultimates,” (Doctrine of the Lord 36). Gender issues aside, it is important to know that when the Lord was born, His body was completely natural just like our bodies. This represents the fact that God is human and we are human because God is human.
"He has a body and every thing pertaining to it, that is, a face, breast abdomen, loins and feet; for without these He would not be a Man" (Divine Love and Wisdom 18).
A full understanding of this fact is what leads to a full understanding of the fact that God is human and has a personality. It prevents us from getting the false impression that God is an impersonal force. But at the same time we need to recognize that He is much more than a human body.
Here is an analogy that helps to explain this concept: The Lord was in a finite body, in a similar way that the Divine truth is contained in the Bible. The Bible as a natural, physical object is not Divine truth, but it contains within it Divine truth. In a similar way, Jesus’ body, as a natural, physical object was not Divine, but it contained within it Divinity.
After the Lord was glorified, He put off the human from Mary, and put on the Human from the Father (see Doctrine of the Lord 35:2). And unlike us when we die (see Married Love 32, 44), the Lord did not retain His gender when He was glorified. He could not have, since He was now joined to His Divine soul which was the source of both genders. The Lord was no longer constrained by masculinity, just as He was no longer constrained by time and space. But once again, lest we imagine God as being without Person, we are taught that He rose “with His whole body,” (Doctrine of the Lord 35:9) and yet “His body was not now material, but Divine substantial.” (Doctrine of the Lord 35:10) So while this may be a comfort for some to know that the glorified Lord is no longer constrained by masculinity, we are still left with the problem of trying to picture God in a human form. (It is interesting to note that when Jesus was glorified, He became the ‘Holy Spirit’; a name which is not constrained by masculinity.)
In the first advent, the Lord gave us an image of His humanity and personality by coming to earth in human form. But we are caught in the paradoxical place of needing to recognize that while God Himself came to earth in the material body of Jesus Christ, God is no longer limited by the material body of Jesus Christ. However if we simply forget about the life of Jesus Christ in an effort to move away from the associated constraints of masculinity, then we also move away from the power of the life of the One who brought us salvation. On the other hand, if we recognize that God is in essence Divine love and Divine wisdom, and that in fact “the Divine is imaged in a pair who are in truly conjugial love,” (Heaven and Hell 374) then we are at risk of falling into the trap that the Christian world fell into when they separated God into separate persons. How do we picture one human God from whom comes both masculinity and femininity?
The Writings of Swedenborg help us with this problem by reminding us that we should:
"Think about God in terms of essence, and from this think about person. Thinking in terms of person about essence means thinking materially about essence too. But thinking about person in terms of essence means thinking spiritually also about person" (True Christianity 623:5).
So we should remember that the essence of God existed in the actual person of Jesus Christ, while not being constrained by the masculine nature of that person. We need to think about the Lord as being the First and the Last... at the same time. In heaven, when the angels read the Word, the story of Jesus Christ is not limited by mere masculinity for them as it often is for us. This is because they are thinking spiritually, and not naturally. This is not easy to do, but it is what we too should strive for.
Why Not A Woman?
While the above ideas may help us with the mental problem of trying to think spiritually about the Lord beyond the masculine body of Jesus Christ, we are still left wondering: why did the Lord choose a masculine body over a feminine body?
As was mentioned above, in the Word, Sarah represents the Lord’s Divine truth, so would it not have been possible for a female Messiah to embody Divine truth? We also find many references in the Word to imagery that paints the Lord in a feminine way. "Behold, as the eyes of servants look to the hand of their masters, as the eyes of a maid to the hand of her mistress, so our eyes look to the Lord our God, until He has mercy on us." (Psalm 123.2) For example in Deuteronomy 32:11-12, and Matthew 23:37 the Lord is compared to a female bird who wishes to protect her young under her wings. The Writings indicate that in both cases this represents the power and protection of Divine truth (see Apocalypse Revealed 245). In Deuteronomy 32:18 it says, “You were unmindful of the Rock that bore you, and you forgot the God who gave your birth.” The Writings indicate that here too, the ‘Rock’ signifies the truth (see Secrets of Heaven 8581). In Isaiah we find these passages:
"Thus says the Lord, your Redeemer, who formed you from the womb;" (Isaiah 44:24)
"Listen to Me, O house of Jacob, all the remnant of the house of Israel, who have been borne by Me from before your birth, carried from the womb; even to your old age I am He, and to gray hairs I will carry you. I have made, and I will bear; I will carry and will save." (Isaiah 46:3-4)
"Can a woman forget her nursing child, that she should have no compassion on the son of her womb? Even these may forget, yet I will not forget you." (Isaiah 49:15)
The Writings indicate that all of these passages have reference to the fact that the Lord is the one who regenerates us; or in other words the one who gives birth to us spiritually (see Apocalypse Explained 710:3,11,14). So if a woman could have represented Divine truth and also the one who regenerates us, why could the female form not have been appropriate for the Messiah?
A simple and not very satisfying answer is that even though perhaps theoretically the Lord could have come as a female Messiah, still He did not. So trying to picture God in the form of a woman actually distances us from the person of the Lord God Jesus Christ. But it is useful to remember that the reasons for why the advent happened the way it did, where it did, and when it did, are not only based on the Lord’s Divine plan, but also on His reaction to our natural choices.
If we try to answer the question by looking at natural reasons, it is pretty clear: The culture of that part of the world at that time would not have accepted a female Messiah. It was an extremely patriarchal society. Hebrew and Jewish women in Biblical times were subject to their fathers and husbands. They were not counted in the censuses of the Torah, or involved in many of the religious practices. Punishments were usually more harsh for women than for men. They were in many ways considered a form of property. Polygamy was common. There are numerous laws listed in the Torah which show how women were second-class citizens, and in no way socially equal to men. The few women who had power, such as Miriam, were usually still subject to men.
When Jesus came to that church, He radically changed the way that women were viewed by how He treated them. He spoke with women (even foreign women) in public, and He had women disciples and friends. He forgave a woman caught in adultery, and He encourage people to think differently about divorce, and many of the other laws of the Torah. The Lord treated women as equals, and paved the way for how women are treated today. If the Lord had come as a woman, the culture would not have accepted her as a leader and therefore society would not have changed.
This illustrates the fact that the way the Lord appears to us (both in our minds and in the actual advent) is largely dependent on our state of reception. (see Secrets of Heaven 2520:2, 2533.2) The limited understandings - and consequent culture - of the Jews paved the way for the necessity of a male Messiah. The language of the Word, and in fact the very history of the Word, reflects humanity’s limited understanding of God. Just as we can get stuck on the appearance that God is angry, we can get stuck on the appearance that God is male.
Our Relationship With The Lord
But I am still left with wanting a more satisfying answer regarding the spiritual reasons for why the Lord came as a male. There must be a way that the equal and complementary duality of masculinity and femininity is reflected in our understanding of the Lord. As I mentioned before, women can represent either good or truth in different circumstances. Perhaps a closer look at what those circumstances are will help us gain greater clarity on this:
"In the celestial church the husband was in good, and the wife in the truth of this good; but in the spiritual church the man is in truth, and the wife in the good of this truth" (Secrets of Heaven 4823; see also 5946).
In the Word, the Lord is often referred to as the Bridegroom or Husband of the church. This brings up the interesting point that in the Word,
"a bridegroom means the Lord in respect to Divine good, and a bride means the church in respect to Divine truth from the Lord. For a church is a church by virtue of its reception of the Lord's Divine goodness in the Divine truths that it has from Him" (Apocalypse Revealed 797).
But outside of the Word, in our actual lives,
"A husband does not represent the Lord and his wife the church, because both husbands and wives together form the church.... Rather, the correspondence rests with married love, insemination, procreation, love for little children, and other things of a similar sort that occur in marriage and result from it" (Married Love 116).
So how do we synthesize all of these teachings? And how does it help to answer our question of why the Lord came as a man?
All of these numbers point to the idea of a process. The Lord was born on this earth as Divine truth, but through the process of glorification He became Divine good; the Bridegroom of the church. We also have a process in us of learning truths from the Lord that eventually lead to good from the Lord. And that process eventually moves on from truths-leading-to-good (spiritual) to good-leading-to-truths (celestial). And our relationship with the Lord is ultimately like the process of marriage, while at the same time like the state of being parented. But these points need more cohesion. So to gain more clarity let us explore the nature of our relationship with the Lord as His church.
In the Word, the feminine usually represent the church in the sense of mere humanity. From the very beginning, with the creation of Eve, the form of a woman has represented our sense of self.
"The meaning of the woman as the church can be seen from the heavenly marriage described above in number 155 [Secrets of Heaven 155]. The heavenly marriage is a relationship in which heaven (and so the church) is united to the Lord through its sense of self. In fact heaven and the church are to be found in the feeling of independent existence, because without it there could never be union. When the Lord in His mercy infuses our selfhood with innocence, peace, and goodness, it still seems to be our own, but it becomes heavenly and full of the greatest blessings.... Because of the heavenly, angelic sense of self, the Word calls the church a woman, a wife, and a bride, young woman, and daughter." (Secrets of Heaven 252-253).
But in another sense the church is not us, but actually our relationship with the Lord:
"The church comes from the Lord and it exists in people who go to Him and live according to His commandments.... Love is what conjoins, and conjunction with the Lord is the church" (Married Love 129).
So in one sense the church is humanity: finite imperfect people. But in another sense the church is an ideal that is apart from us. We might even think of the Lord and His church (in the ideal sense) as the ultimate image of a conjugial couple, where they are no longer two but one. But there is more:
"While we call the total assemblage of angels heaven because they do make it up, what really makes heaven overall and in every specific instance is the Divine Nature that emanates from the Lord, flowing into angels and accepted by them.... If people are in heaven or in the church, they are in the Lord and the Lord is in them" (Heaven and Hell 7,11).
So in a third sense the church is the Lord. The church is the Lord with us. And in that sense, the Lord takes on a feminine form, in the form of the church.
Representation of Women
In the Word, women represent a number of different things, but they are always placed in the context of men. Regarding natural reasons, we might say that this is because of the history of male-dominated society. But regarding spiritual reasons we might say that this is because women represent conjunction. When a woman represents truth, she is representing truth in it’s conjunction with good. When a woman represents good, she is representing good in it’s conjunction with truth. “A female is born with a love for joining herself to that affection in the male” (Married Love 33). It can seem out of balance or unfair that when the Lord is Divine truth He is usually represented by a man, and when He is Divine good He is also usually represented by a man. But perhaps it is that ‘distinguishing into parts’ that is represented by the masculine. Perhaps the feminine represents the conjunction (rather than separation) of good and truth in the Lord?
The masculine likes to understand and distinguish. The feminine likes to conjoin. “For the intellect has to do with light, and love with warmth, and concerns that are matters of light are seen, whereas concerns that are matters of warmth are felt” (Married Love 168). We first come to know the Lord through His distinguishable elements. As we come to understand the Lord in this way, we ‘see’ Him. And because that understanding has to do with our intellect, He appears to us as masculine. But once we have moved out of that spiritual state into a celestial state, and we experience that conjunction of good and truth in us, in the Lord, and between us and the Lord, we ‘feel’ Him. And because that feeling has to do with our will, we experience the Lord as a marriage or conjunction that is very often represented by a woman (the church).
"It seems as though truth is the primary thing in the church, because it is its first concern in time.... The good of charity is nevertheless the primary thing in the church... Now because the good of charity is from the Lord, and truth of faith exists in a person as though it originated with him, and because these two form the kind of conjunction of the Lord with people and of people with the Lord... it is apparent that this conjunction is the church" (Married Love 126).
So why did the Lord not come as a woman? Because the form of a woman represents the Lord inside of us. We do not see or worship the Lord inside of us; we live the Lord inside of us! “The reason is that goodness is a matter of warmth rather than light, and warmth is not seen but felt” (Married Love 123). Picturing and worshiping the Lord as outside of us is an intellectual, spiritual thing to do, and is represented by the masculine. This is the first, and necessary step in the process, but the end goal is that we should feel and live the Lord! That is the loving, celestial thing to do, and is represented by the feminine.
So the Lord in His first advent came in the form of a man because the masculine represents that first step in our spiritual process, and that is what the advent is. But it is only an appearance that truth is the primary thing of the church, just as the masculine form of Jesus Christ was only an appearance of the full humanity of God. He also came in the form of a man because the masculine represents that spiritual awareness that God is outside of ourselves, whereas the feminine represents that celestial awareness of God living in us and conjoined with us. There is much more to be studied on this subject than is possible in the scope of this paper, but my hope is that some of these ideas will be useful to people in understanding our relationship with the Lord God Jesus Christ.