December 14, 2016

Can God Do Just Anything?

A Memorable Relation from True Christian Religion ~ Emanuel Swedenborg
I saw at a distance a number of persons gathered together with caps on their heads, some with caps bound around with silk - these had belonged to the ecclesiastical order; others had caps with borders ornamented with golden bands - these were civilians; they were all learned and accomplished. I also saw others with turbans; these were not learned.

I drew near, and heard them talking together about the Divine power, as being unlimited, and saying that if it were to proceed according to any established laws of order it would not be unlimited, but limited; and would thus be a power, but not omnipotence. "But who does not see," they said, "that there can be no coercion of law that would compel omnipotence to do thus and so and not otherwise? Certainly, when we think of omnipotence, and at the same time of laws of order in accordance with which it is obliged to proceed, our preconceived ideas of omnipotence fall like a hand when its staff has been broken."

When they saw me near, some of them ran up, and said with some vehemence, "Are you the man who has circumscribed God by laws, as by chains?  How insolent!  Thus also you have torn to pieces our faith, upon which our salvation is based, in the center of which we place the righteousness of the Redeemer, and over this the omnipotence of God the Father, and add as an appendix the operation of the Holy Spirit, with its efficacy depending upon the absolute impotence of man in things spiritual; so that he only needs to speak of the fullness of justification which is in that faith by virtue of God's omnipotence. But we have heard that you see in our faith nothing but emptiness, because you see in it nothing of Divine order on the part of man."

Having heard this, I opened my mouth, and speaking with a loud voice, said
Learn the laws of Divine order, and then lay open that faith and you will see a vast desert, and in it the long and crooked Leviathan, and round about it nets tangled in an inextricable knot. But do as it is said Alexander did when he saw the Gordian knot, that he drew his sword and cut it apart and thus loosed its entanglements, and then dashing it upon the ground trampled its strands under foot."
At these words those assembled bit their tongues, wishing to sharpen them for invectives; but they did not venture, for they saw heaven opened above me, and heard from it a voice saying, "In the first place, control yourselves and listen to what the order is, according to the laws of which the omnipotent God acts." And [the voice] said,
"God, from Himself as order, created the universe in order and for order; and in like manner He created man, in whom He established the laws of His order, by virtue of which laws man was made an image and likeness of God; which laws, in brief, are, that man should believe in God and love his neighbor, and to the extent that he does these two things from his natural powers he constitutes himself a receptacle of the Divine omnipotence, and God conjoins Himself to man, and man to Himself.  Thence man's belief becomes a living and saving belief, and his doing becomes charity, which is also living and saving. But it must be understood that God is unceasingly present, and continually striving and acting in man, even touching his freedom of will, but in no way violating it.  For if God should violate man's freedom of will man's dwelling-place in God would be destroyed, and there would remain only God's dwelling-place in man; which dwelling-place is in all who are on earth and who are in the heavens, and even in those who are in the hells; and this is the source of their power, their will, and their understanding.  But there is no reciprocal dwelling-place of man in God except in those who live in accordance with the laws of order set forth in the Word; and such become images and likenesses of God, and to them paradise is given as a possession, and the fruit of the tree of life for food; while the rest gather themselves about the tree of the knowledge of good and evil and there talk with the serpent, and eat; but these afterwards are driven from paradise. Nevertheless, God does not forsake them, but they forsake God."
Those with caps understood all this, and assented to it; but those with turbans denied, saying, "Is not omnipotence thus limited? and a limited omnipotence is a contradiction."

But I answered,
"There is no contradiction in acting omnipotently according to the laws of justice with judgment, or according to the laws inscribed on love from wisdom; but there is a contradiction in claiming that God can act in opposition to the laws of His justice and love, which would be to act from what is not judgment or wisdom. Such a contradiction is implied in your faith, which is that from mere grace God can justify an unjust man, and can endow him with all the gifts of salvation and rewards of life.
But I will state briefly what God's omnipotence is.
From His omnipotence God created the universe, and at the same time introduced order into each thing and all things in it. From His omnipotence God also preserves the universe, and unceasingly watches over the order of it with its laws; and when anything falls from order He brings it back and makes it whole again. Furthermore, from His omnipotence God instituted the church and revealed the laws of its order in the Word; and when it fell from order He restored it; and when it wholly fell away He Himself came down into the world, and putting on omnipotence by means of the Human then assumed, He re-established it.
From His omnipotence and omniscience God searches every man after death, and prepares the righteous, or the sheep, for their places in heaven, and establishes a heaven from them; while He prepares the unrighteous, or the goats, for their places in hell, and establishes a hell from them. Both of these He arranges into societies or congregated bodies in accordance with all the varieties of their love, which in heaven are as many as the stars in the natural firmament; and He joins in one the societies of heaven that they may be as one man before Him. In like manner He brings together the congregated bodies of hell that they may be as one devil; and He separates the latter from the former by a gulf, that hell may not do violence to heaven or heaven torment hell; for those who are in hell are tormented in the degree that heaven flows in. If God from His omnipotence did not do this every instant, a savage nature would enter into men to such an extent that they could no longer be restrained by the laws of any order; and thus the human race would perish. These and other such things would happen unless God were order, and omnipotent in order."
Having heard this, those who wore caps went away with their caps under their arms, praising God; for in that world the intelligent wear caps. But not so those who wore turbans, for such are bald, and baldness signifies stupidity. The latter went away to the left, and the former to the right.
(True Christian Religion 74)