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Spiritual Body Image

Taryn and Pearse explore the idea of people created in the image and likeness of God. In a certain way, everything in creation reflects the human form from the Divine but how are people distinct from the rest of creation? Malcolm continues to look at issues of body image, though his focus is on clothing.

We humans place a lot of importance in appearances, especially our own, often glancing at a mirror several times every day. But most of us are aware of a part of a person beyond that assemblage of cells. People have inklings of another reality apart from bodies made of flesh and bone. Someone can be “beautiful on the inside,” while another can be “inhumane” and even “bestial.” On this earth, these are just turns of phrase.

Meandering through a zoo, no one should have trouble telling the human visitors from the animal inhabitants. One only has to look at the forms of the people and compare them to those of tigers or elephants. People look human. But we are not human merely because of our outward appearance.

According to the Word, the Lord modelled the human race after Himself. In Genesis, “God said, ‘Let us make man in our image, after our likeness...’ So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them” (1:26-27). A few verses later we read, “The Lord God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature” (2:7). We are human because God is Human.

The Lord did create us in His image and likeness, but this phrase does not refer primarily to our physical bodies. The passages in Genesis refer to a deeper reality. This is not to say that God does not have a human form. Quite the contrary. According to the Heavenly Doctrines, the Lord alone is perfectly human. His humanity appears to some degree in every part of His creation (True Christian Religion 37). His love and wisdom flow from Him, creating and sustaining the universe. In this sense, every part of the universe mirrors the Divine Human and the Divine order (True Christian Religion 65).

However, the way something receives that love and wisdom—be it a rock, a tree, a dog or a person—determines its form. A person receives the Lord's love and wisdom more fully than other created things, so a person looks more like Him than a rock, tree, or dog. All people have spiritual qualities in common which make us distinct from other animals. Unlike other creatures, a person can rationally distinguish between good and evil and freely choose between them (Divine Providence 276, True Christian Religion 480, 503). For this reason, a person's spiritual body—a human form—lives on after death (Heaven and Hell 453, True Christian Religion 415).

In short, any external similarities we have to other people reflect a common essence: that rational, free reception of the Lord (Divine Love and Wisdom 287). The Lord gives every human baby born on earth a human spirit endowed with this ability and, as a result, a material body in human form. We humans live a double life, navigating the earth in a material body while inhabiting the spiritual world in spiritual bodies. We keep these physical bodies for the duration of life on earth, and with death we put them off.

But one can think of humanity as a potential. According to the Heavenly Doctrines, an infant is born only “an external image or form of a man” (Coronis 7). One might think of humanity as a spectrum or, for the mathematically-minded, an asymptote. Beyond one end of the spectrum, at the limit of the asymptote, is God. He is truly Human, and we are human because He is so. The spectrum or asymptote approaches the Lord but never reaches Him, just as humans can become more or less like God but never equal to Him. All people fall somewhere within that spectrum or on that line because we all have a human essence on account of our special ability to receive the Lord's love and wisdom. But this ability is just that: a capacity, a potential.

According to the Doctrine of Charity, “Man was created in the image and in the likeness of God... but he inverted his form... and began to love himself more than the Lord” (204). This self-love makes a spirit appear like a devil or an animal (True Christian Religion 462). Fortunately, the Lord constantly seeks to make us more human. To receive the Lord, a person must do so willingly, accepting His wisdom and returning His love. Jesus said, “If you love Me, keep My commandments” (John 14:15). These commandments are summarized in Matthew 22:36: to love the Lord and the neighbor. When we do these things, we become images and likenesses of God, fulfilling the promise in Genesis (Secrets of Heaven 1013, True Christian Religion 41). According to Secrets of Heaven 1013, “When one person loves another as himself, and more than himself, he then sees the other in himself, and himself in the other.”

This reasoning leads to an important spiritual rule: our choices and actions determine what we love, and our love determines our appearance in the spiritual world. All angels have beautiful human bodies because they love the Lord. (Plato would be pleased to hear that every human form reflects that perfect Human.) Angels who love similar things resemble each other, just as biological relatives resemble each other on earth (Heaven and Hell 47). Those who choose to turn away from the Divine Human, denying the gifts of love and wisdom, have spiritual bodies which can appear like lower animals: wolves, leopards, turtles, and so on (Apocalypse Revealed 655, True Christian Religion 462, 566).

We spend a good deal of time caring for our natural body: scrubbing, shampooing, clothing, and feeding. All this is necessary and good to a point. As we contemplate our reflections at the close of the day, perhaps we should consider what we've done to improve our spiritual bodies. That body, after all, stays with us to eternity.

Pearse and Taryn Frazier

Pearse and Taryn Frazier live in Bryn Athyn, PA. Pearse is a student at the Academy of the New Church Theological School ( Taryn teaches biology at the ANC Secondary Schools (

Reader Comments (3)

Thanks, Taryn and Pearse for this simple, yet insightful, essay. In the past, I've felt sad by the emphasis our society at large puts on the natural body, while neglecting to explore the deeper elements of what it is that makes us human. I've been encouraged by the growing trend amongst people to seek out a conscious and purposeful lifestyle, as this reflective way of being seems to be a step toward living a more spiritual, human life here on earth.

February 8, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterErin Schnarr

i like swedenborg generally for his claims on many religious ideas,but i would like for some one to explain to me how jesus came for his second coming in that secrecy ,specially that his modest 1st coming changed the whole world ,so how the second to be in this swedenborgian secercy.Though some have known about Swedenborg but most probably by chance like me .Its a big question and needs clear explanation.For me the only explanation is that he came for the little chosen according to his wisdom?

March 12, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterMakram Max

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