Should we picture the Lord? If so, how?

Po Rev. Dan Goodenough

{{en|Walking on Water}}

One Visible God

Why should we have a mental picture of the Lord? Why was it important for pre-Christian people to NOT make pictures of Jehovah? Then with the Lord’s birth, that seemed to change – so now why do we need a mental picture that we can relate to?

Pre-Christian people had various, and often simple, ideas of God as human, but many people then were also very prone to idolatry. They worshipped statues, golden calves, Dagon, and numerous other deities. Rachel, when she left Laban's household, took "the household gods" with her. (Genesis 31:30-35)

The Ten Commandments forbid "any carved image, or any likeness" of anything: "you shall not bow down to them nor serve them…." (Exodus 20:4-5)

When Moses asked to see God’s glory, he was told, "Thou art not able to see My face; for men shall not see Me and live." (Exodus 33:20). But YHWH did put Moses in a cleft of a rock, and sheltered him with His palm, and passed by Moses with His glory; Moses saw His back, but not His face. (Exodus 33:21-23)

At various times Moses argued with God as with a man, and in the Old Testament YHWH often spoke in human words, through an angel. But people did not see God in what could be called God’s own form. A few individuals saw the Angel of YHWH, who spoke for God. They thought of God as human, NOT as an impersonal force. In 1 Kings 22:13-23 the prophet Micaiah says he saw YHWH "sitting on His throne, and all the host of heaven standing by, on His right hand and on His left." YHWH asked this gathering how to persuade Ahab to "go up, that he may fall [be struck down] at Ramoth Gilead." After some discussion a spirit was apparently allowed to convey a lying message to Ahab. Clearly Micaiah and others regarded YHWH as some kind of human God.

But on the whole the pre-Christian Israelites thought little about a visible form of the one God. YHWH seemed distant, invisible, changeable and somewhat arbitrary. YHWH was Creator and law-giver, and demanded obedience, with good rewards for His followers and punishment to the proud and disobedient. If a visual image of God had been allowed, what kind of picture or image would it have been, or could it have been? Possibly like the brief description of the "Ancient of Days" with hair like pure wool, in a white garment sitting on a throne of fiery flame. (Daniel 7:9) It's hard to imagine an acceptable picture of God for pre-Christians, before He actually came to earth in His own human form.

This completely changed when He came to earth, born as Son of God, and gradually made His human mind (and body) Divine. He brought Divine love (from His soul) into all His human qualities – even loving His enemies. He went through a Divine rebirth of His human, and "glorified" it while living on this natural space-time plane where we live. He became YHWH in His flesh on earth, visible for all. His life was recorded in the four Gospels, with numerous teachings, healings, and miracles, and numerous examples of treating others with authentic love, while also treating evil for what it was. Seeing God Himself in Jesus Christ on earth, also gives a true picture and image of God that we can trust, and worship. No photos or portraits, which might lead back into idolatry. But from artists many, many pictures and images show what we know from the Gospels – a living picture of God in natural form, showing Jesus as Divine love in human shape.

We’re invited to picture Jesus as the face of God. Jesus said to Philip, "Have I been with you so long, and yet you have not known Me, Philip? He who has seen Me has seen the Father, so how can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? Do you not believe that I am in the Father, and the Father in Me?" (John 14:9-10; and other passages in John; and see Arcana Coelestia 10579.)

The writer of the Book of Hebrews calls Jesus "the brightness of [God’s] glory and the express image of his substance, and upholding all things by the word of his power". (Hebrews 1:3)

Paul calls the Lord "the image of the invisible God…." (Colossians 1:15) "For in him dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily." (Colossians 2:9)

"For it is the God who commanded light to shine out of darkness who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ." (2 Corinthians 4:6)

"Great is the mystery of godliness: God was manifested in the flesh…." (1 Timothy 3:16)

These and other statements make it clear that Jesus Christ shows us God; that we see God in Jesus Christ.

Never before had it happened, that YHWH God could be seen in a real live human being on earth, enabling us to picture and see and understand God truly, in a human form of authentic love. Some dangers of idolatry remain – e.g., some images and religious practices and processions among some Christians. But the Lord’s teachings themselves (in the Old and New Testaments, and very much in the Heavenly Doctrines) discourage excessive external worship centering on images. Artists have produced so many visual images of the Lord that we can have a sense of God’s loving humanity for all, without focusing on just one image.

But what about the pre-Christians – were they left spiritual orphans? Their churches were representative churches, and their way to heaven and regeneration differed somewhat from the one that Jesus Christ opened. They never enjoyed the spiritual light that became possible after the Lord came to earth; they knew not the Gospels’ living pictures of good will to every neighbor. But many certainly came to heaven and formed spiritual and heavenly kingdoms. The Most Ancient Church people were especially innocent and good, and close to God, though not as close as is possible now. And SINCE His coming, these pre-Christians do now have fuller and clearer conjunction with God, as foretold in Isaiah: "The light of the moon shall be as the light of the sun, and the light of the sun shall be sevenfold, as the light of seven days, in the day that YHWH binds up the breach of his people." (Isaiah 30:26)

True Christian Religion 109 tells how Christianity brought profound and fundamental spiritual changes. Still, the pre-Christians had full opportunity to be led to heaven, through the religions that were available to them. The light, life, and uses in their heavens were more limited, but now have grown greatly since the Lord’s First and Second Comings. As human life worsened in the centuries before the Lord came by human birth, evil multiplied and almost destroyed the providential spiritual balance and free choice on earth (as evidenced in ancient history, e.g. Caesar’s life and wars). This spiritual decay spread because the ancient representative Word and churches did not provide enough truth or understanding of God. So the Lord came to earth to restore His power and control over hell, and bring His love and light down to earth, first in His (Jesus’) own natural mind – and since then to humans on earth, and also in shining light for all the heavens.

Finally, here is a very strong, inspiring goal for the New Christian Church:

"it will worship one visible God , in whom is the invisible God, as the soul is in the body…. Joining together with an invisible God is like the eye’s grasp of the universe, whose end is beyond its sight; or like vision in mid-ocean. But conjunction with a visible God is like beholding a man in the air or on the sea, spreading forth his hands and inviting all to his arms.” (True Christian Religion 787)



2 Corinthians 4:6



6 For God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, hath shined in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.

Iz Swedenborgovih djela


Arcana Coelestia #10579

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10579. 'For no one will see Me and live' means that the essential nature of the Divine Himself can be seen only through the Lord in heaven. This may be recognized from the truth that no one has ever seen Jehovah the Father, but that when He has been seen the Lord is the One who has been seen, because the Lord is the very face of Jehovah.

No one has ever seen Jehovah the Father

This is clear from the words of the Lord Himself in John,

Nobody has ever seen God; the only begotten Son who is in the bosom of the Father, He has made Him known. John 1:18.

In the same gospel,

You have never heard the Father's voice nor seen His shape. John 5:37.

In Matthew,

No one knows the Father except the Son, and he to whom the Son wishes to reveal Him. Matthew 11:27.

[2] When Jehovah the Father has been seen the Lord is the One who has been seen This too is the Lord's teaching in John,

Jesus said, If you recognize Me you recognize My Father also, and from now on you recognize Him and have seen Him. Philip said, Lord, show us the Father. Jesus said to him, Have I been with you for so long and yet you do not know Me, Philip? He who has seen Me has seen the Father. So why do you say, Show us the Father? John 14:7-9.

In the same gospel,

Abraham your father rejoiced to see My day, and saw it and was glad. Truly, truly, I say to you, Before Abraham was, I am. John 8:56, 58.

From these statements it becomes clear that the Lord - His Divine Human - is the One whom people have seen when they have seen Jehovah, thus that He is the face of Jehovah.

[3] The Lord is the face of Jehovah

This too is clear from the Word, as in Isaiah,

He became their Saviour. The angel of Jehovah's face delivered them; because of His love and His compassion He redeemed them, and took them and carried them all the days of eternity. Isaiah 63:8-9.

Similarly in Exodus,

Behold, I send an angel before you to keep you safe on the way, and to bring you to the place which I have prepared. Take notice of His face, lest you provoke Him, for He will not bear your transgression; for My name is in the middle of Him. Exodus 23:20-21.

[4] Before the Lord's Coming into the world, whenever Jehovah appeared to people He did so in the form of an angel; for when He passed through heaven He took on that form, which was a human form. For the whole of heaven, by virtue of what is Divine there, exists as one complete human being, as has been shown in much detail where the Grand Man, which is heaven, has been the subject; and this was how the Divine Human in those times came into being. And since Jehovah appeared in the human form of an angel it is evident that [this Divine Human] was nevertheless Jehovah Himself and that that actual form also was His, being what was Divine and His in heaven; and this was the Lord from eternity. But because Jehovah took on that human form by passing through heaven, and yet in order to save the human race it was necessary for Him to be a human being - in all reality and essentially such - He was pleased to undergo human birth, and so to take on a truly human form in which He - Jehovah Himself - was present. The Lord teaches that this is so in John,

Believe Me that I am in the Father and the Father is in Me. John 14:11.

And elsewhere,

I and the Father are one. John 10:30.

[5] The Lord's existence from eternity is also taught by Him in John,

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. All things were made through Him and without Him nothing was made that was made. And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us. John 1:1-3, 14.

In the same gospel,

I came out from the Father and have come into the world; again I am leaving the world and going to the Father. John 16:28-29.

In the same gospel,

Jesus said, Father, glorify Me in Your Own Self with the glory I had with You before the world was. John 17:5.

And in the same gospel,

Truly, truly, I say to you, Before Abraham was, I am. John 8:58.

[6] These places show plainly that the Lord's Human as well is Jehovah, thus that His Human is Divine. It is on account of this that it says in John, The Word was God, and the Word became flesh, and also, 'Before Abraham was, I am', not 'I was', because Jehovah is I Am, Exodus 3:14.

From all this it may now be recognized that 'no one will see Me and live' means that the essential nature of the Divine Himself cannot be seen, except through the Lord in heaven. The expression 'through the Lord in heaven' is used because the Lord, being the Sun of heaven, is above the heavens, yet is present within them. Divine Truth is present within them, and Divine Truth emanating from the Lord as the Sun is the Lord in heaven; therefore the Divine Truth there is His face.

[7] It has been stated above in 10567, 10568, that things which are interior and Divine in the Word, the Church, and worship are meant by 'Jehovah's face'. The reason for this is that Divine Truth emanating from the Lord, thus the Lord in heaven, composes the things that are interior and Divine in the Word, the Church, and worship. This Truth is what is meant by 'Jehovah's face' wherever this is referred to in the Word, as in Matthew,

See that you do not despise any of these tiny ones; for I say to you that their angels in heaven always see the face of [My] Father who is in heaven. Matthew 18:10.

In the Book of Revelation,

The throne of God and of the Lamb will be in the holy Jerusalem, and His servants will minister to Him. And they will see His face. Revelation 22:3-4.

[8] In Moses,

Jehovah will make His face shine upon you and be merciful to you. Jehovah will lift up His face upon you and give you peace. Numbers 6:25-26.

In David,

Many are saying, Who will show us good? Lift up the light of Your face upon us, O Jehovah. Psalms 4:6.

In the same author,

How long, O Jehovah, do You hide Your face from me? Psalms 13:1.

In the same author,

To You my heart said, Seek My face! Your face, O Jehovah, I seek. Psalms 27:8.

In the same author,

God will be merciful to us and bless us; He will make His face shine upon us. Psalms 67:1.

In the same author,

Turn us back, O God, and make Your face shine, that we may be saved. Psalms 80:3, 7, 19.

In the same author,

Blessed are Your people, who walk in the light of Your face. Psalms 89:15.

In the same author,

O Jehovah, do not hide Your face from me. Psalms 102:2.

In the same author,

You hide Your face, they are dismayed. Psalms 104:29.

[9] Anyone can understand what 'Jehovah's face' serves to mean in these places, namely the Divine and everything which is an attribute of the Divine. Thus His 'face' serves to mean mercy, peace, and every kind of good, but in the universal sense Divine Truth since Divine Truth encompasses every kind of good. Both among people in the world and among angels in heaven Divine Good is embodied within Divine Truth; without it Divine Good does not exist, for truth is the receiver of good, thus also of mercy and peace. From this it now follows that where Divine Good does not exist within Divine Truth, neither does Jehovah's face. It also follows that where evil exists within falsity the Divine is not seen. This is what Jehovah's hiding His face and turning it away is used to mean in the following places: In Isaiah,

Your sins have hidden Jehovah's face from you. Isaiah 59:2.

In Jeremiah,

On account of their wickedness I have hidden My face from this city. Jeremiah 33:5.

In Ezekiel,

I turn My face away from them, and they profane My secret place. Ezekiel 7:22.

And in Micah,

Jehovah will hide His face from them, as they have rendered their deeds evil. Micah 3:4.

But it should be recognized that Jehovah, that is, the Lord, never turns His face away from a person, but that a person ruled by evil turns his face away from the Lord; and since, when he does so, the Divine is behind his back the appearance is that the Divine hides Himself or turns Himself away. The reality is that all hellish spirits turn their back to the Lord as the Sun, but angels always turn their face towards Him; and as to their spirit people behave in the same way while they live in the world.

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Thanks to the Swedenborg Society for the permission to use this translation.