The Human Form      

By New Christian Bible Study Staff

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In Hamlet, William Shakespeare said that “God has given you one face, and you make yourself another.” We can see this all around us. When we look at people in their early 20s, their attractiveness is all about cheekbones, eye color, symmetry, skin tone – physical things coded into their genetics. When we look at people in their 80s, we don’t see bone structure at all: Instead we see the etchings of a million expressions, faces worn into permanent smiles ... or permanent frowns.

This reflects an idea that is profoundly important in the theology of Swedenborg: the idea that internal things flow out into externals, so that the externals become a form reflecting the internals.

Extended to its fullest, this idea has an astonishing impact. Because the Lord is the inmost of all life – and indeed reality itself – that means that all life takes its form from the Lord. And since the Lord is the ultimate human, this means that all of reality, on all its levels, is in human form.

That might seem like a strange idea, but consider: You are, yourself, obviously in human form. If you think of your family as one human, you can probably see how you fill specific functions within that human form – how you are the heart, or the brain, or the stomach. Think of a large organization you’re part of, and the roles people fill – it’s not hard to see who is blood, who is muscle fiber, who is skin. Think of that organization as part of a larger community, and it’s not too hard to place it in its human role. Think of the community’s role in its nation, a nation’s role in the world – all are analogous to the human form.

This also works in the other direction. Each cell in your body has something analogous to a brain, something analogous to a heart, something analogous to intestines. Even the molecules and atoms themselves that build us are made of pieces that are drawn to each other and bond, just as our desires and our thoughts bond to make us who we are.

And here’s something worth considering. If you look at those functions in a cell and see something go wrong – some aspect not doing its job within that human form – what happens? The cell dies and is reabsorbed. What happens to a family when the forms get out of whack? It gets dysfunctional, and may break apart. If you look at organizations, you can likely observe that the better they are at reflecting the human form, the more successful they are. The same is true of communities and nations; the most successful are the ones that offer the freedom for citizens to find and fill their roles, with no one part of the “body” getting too big or taking over.

That’s a pretty incredible idea – and one with wide applications – even taken that far, but think what it means for the greatest and most perfect human organization of all: heaven! In heaven each individual is as good a human form as he or she can be, and is filling the perfect right role as well as he or she possibly can. What’s more the various communities and societies are in perfect order and in the perfect roles, coming together in a collective human for of heaven that is so perfect that Swedenborg calls it the “Grand Man” (or “Grand Human,” to be sensitive to gender issues) and says that it is the actual body of the Lord.

This is actually reflected in one of the most beautiful passages in the Bible. In Numbers 24, the prophet Balaam looks down from a mountain at the camp of the Children of Israel. He’s been called by the king of Moab to curse the Israelites, but the Lord puts other words in his mouth: “How goodly are thy tents, O Jacob, and thy tabernacles, O Israel! As the valleys are they spread forth, as gardens by the river's side, as the trees of lign aloes which the LORD hath planted, and as cedar trees beside the waters.”

Swedenborg tells us that the reason for this description is that the camp of Israel – carefully ordered and organized by the Lord through Moses – is a representation of heaven itself, in all its variety and perfection.

Here are some excerpts from Swedenborg's works:

From Arcana Coelestia 5377[1-2] (Elliott translation):

"Whatever exists in the human being, both in the external man and in the internal man, has a correspondence with the Grand Man. Without that correspondence with the Grand Man - that is, with heaven, or what amounts to the same, with the spiritual world - nothing can ever come into being and remain in being. This is because it does not have a connection with anything prior to itself or consequently with Him who is the First, that is, with the Lord. Nothing that lacks such a connection, thus that is independent, can remain in being for even a single instant. For everything that remains in being does so entirely by virtue of its connection with and dependence on what brings it into being; for remaining in being consists in a constant coming into being.

[2] From this it follows that not only all the individual parts of the human being correspond to the Grand Man but also every single thing in the universe. The sun has a correspondence, and so does the moon; for in heaven the Lord is the Sun, and the Moon too. The fire and heat of the sun, as well as its light, have a correspondence, for it is the Lord's love towards the whole human race that its fire and heat correspond to, and His Divine truth that its light corresponds to. The stars too have a correspondence, the communities of heaven and their dwelling-places being what the stars correspond to. Not that the heavenly communities dwell in the stars, but that they have been set in order in the same kind of way as the stars. Everything under the sun has a correspondence - every single thing beneath it in the animal kingdom and every single thing beneath it in the vegetable kingdom. And unless the spiritual world were flowing into them all, every one, they would instantly break down and fall to pieces."

From Divine Providence 204 (Rogers translation):

"We say that hell, too, is in the human form, but it is in a monstrous humanform, like that of the devil, by which is meant hell in its entirety. It is in thehuman form because the people who are in hell were also born human beings, and they also have the two human faculties called freedom and rationality - even though they abuse their freedom so as to will and do evil, and their rationality so as to think and justify it."

From Heaven and Hell 460(Dole translation):

Finally, I should like to offer a secret no one has ever known before, namely that everything good and true that comes from the Lord and makes heaven is in the human form. This is true not only of the greatest whole but also of every least part. This form influences everyone who accepts what is good and true from the Lord, and causes everyone in heaven to be in ahuman form according to that acceptance. This is why heaven is consistent with itself in general and in particular, why the human form is the form of the whole, of each community, and of each angel, as explained in the four chapters from 59 to 80. I need to add here that this is also the form of the details of thought that come from heavenly love in angels.

(References: Arcana Coelestia 3637, 3883, 4222; Divine Love and Wisdom 388)