Scientist, philosopher, and theologian Emanuel Swedenborg (1688-1772) addresses and offers his own unique solution to these issues in his cosmological and highly philosophical work Divine Love and Wisdom, originally published in Latin, Amsterdam, 1763.
In this work, he rejects the traditional Christian concept of creatio ex nihilo ("creation out of nothing"), and instead posits a universe that is created out of the substance of God, and that therefore reflects the nature of God, without itself being God. Swedenborg therefore steers a middle course between traditional Christian theologies of creation and Eastern, pantheistic theologies of creation. To use a modern term, rather than being pantheistic, his philosophy of creation and the universe is panentheistic, meaning that God suffuses the universe and is in the universe, but is distinct from the universe.
In order to do this, he posits a God who consists of love, wisdom, and action, and articulates the principles of "correspondence" and of vertical and horizontal levels. Through these concepts, and several related ones, he describes a universe created by God, reflecting the being and nature of God, and yet being of an entirely different order and level of reality than God.
God as love, wisdom, and action
Fundamental to Swedenborg's entire philosophy and theology is the concept that God consists of love, wisdom, and action.
Swedenborg rejected the traditional Christian concept of God as a Trinity of Persons, saying instead that there is a Trinity of three "essential components" forming a single Person of God. In abstract terms, these "essential components" are love, wisdom, and action, which correspond to the more concrete biblical terminology of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
In simple terms, Swedenborg said that:
- Love is the substance of God.
- Wisdom is the form of God.
- Action is everything God does (and says).
These three can be distinguished intellectually, but in reality they can exist only together as one. Any one without the other two is a non-real, purely intellectual entity.
From these three "essential components" of God flow all other levels and modes of reality. And every mode and level of reality has an analog of these three "essential components" in it. For example, a physical object such as a chair has substance, form, and function, which correspond to the love, wisdom, and action of God.
In a very basic way, then, the universe reflects the nature of God while also being of an entirely different nature and order of reality than God.
Vertical and horizontal levels
Swedenborg identified two distinct types of levels in the universe, which he called "vertical" and "horizontal" levels, or "distinct" and "gradual" levels. Here is his description and definition of them in Divine Love and Wisdom #184:
There are two kinds of levels, vertical levels and horizontal levels. Knowing about levels is a kind of key to unlocking the causes of things and probing into them. . . .
There is no way to uncover these deeper, invisible features without a knowledge of levels. We move from outer to inner and then to inmost by levels, and not by gradual levels but by distinct ones. “Gradual levels” is the name we give to declines or decreases from coarser to finer or denser to rarer, or better, to gains or increases from finer to coarser or from rarer to denser. They are just like going from light to darkness or from warmth to cold.
In contrast, distinct levels are totally different. They are like antecedent, subsequent, and final events, or like the purpose, the means, and the result. We refer to them as “distinct” because the antecedent event exists in its own right, the subsequent event in its own right, and the final event in its own right; and yet taken together they constitute a single whole.
He then goes on to use different physical and spiritual phenomena to illustrate these two different kinds of levels.
Translating these into a single physical example, the different states of ordinary matter, solid, liquid, and gaseous, form vertical or distinct levels. They do not gradate smoothly into one another, but one "jumps" suddenly to the other when specific conditions of pressure and temperature exist; and each is distinctly different in character from the others. However, within each distinct level, there are horizontal or gradual levels in which temperature and pressure can increase or decrease in a smooth, gradual, and continuous way.
In the universe as a whole, Swedenborg states, there are three overall vertical or distinct levels of reality:
- Divine reality, which is God
- Spiritual reality, which is the spiritual universe, in which the human mind or spirit exists
- Physical reality, which is the physical universe, in which the human body exists
God, Swedenborg says, consists entirely of divine reality. All created things, by contrast, consist of spiritual and/or physical reality. These come about through God placing boundaries, or limits, on substances emitted from God's own infinite, unbounded, limitless substance.
In the act of placing such limits on substances emitted from God, God causes them to be non-divine, thus non-God, and instead to be first spiritual reality, which has fewer limits, and then material reality, which has greater limits. This process also involves slowing down and limiting the energy inherent in these levels of reality. In modern terms, the opposite end of the spectrum of reality from the infinite and unlimited energy and form of God is the point of absolute zero, at which point all motion stops, and matter itself comes to its ending point.
Through this structure of vertical and horizontal levels of reality, and nesting vertical and horizontal levels within each level of reality, God creates a universe that is an expression of the nature of God, and is continually filled with God, and yet exists on its own distinct levels of reality that are not themselves God.
The final basic concept that is essential to Swedenborg's philosophy of creation is the concept of "correspondences."
The original Latin term correspondentia is difficult to translate into English because no English term fully or accurately represents the meaning Swedenborg assigns to it. "Correspondences" have something of the nature of symbolism, with lower levels of reality "symbolizing" higher ones. But they go beyond mere symbolism to a relationship in which objects and actions on lower levels of reality express or manifest in their very nature the corresponding objects and actions on higher levels of reality.
To use a simple human example, when two people hug, it does not merely symbolize their love for each other, but expresses that love. Love, spiritually and interpersonally, is a force that draws two people close together in heart, mind, and spirit. A hug, similarly, draws two people together into close physical contact. So we can say that a hug "corresponds to," or expresses and manifests in physical reality, the nature of the love that draws two people together in spirit, or in spiritual reality.
This mechanism or principle of correspondence binds together the various vertical levels of reality, such that each lower level of reality expresses within its own nature and type of reality the specific attributes of each higher level of reality within its own nature and type of reality.
To use the earlier example of the three basic states of matter: water vapor, liquid water, and ice are each distinct from one another, in that they exist in different states. However, they also correspond to one another in that each has molecules consisting of two hydrogen and one oxygen atom chemically bound to one another, giving the resulting substance specific attributes that express themselves in all three of its states, gaseous, liquid, and solid.
With these general principles in mind, and using them as axioms, we can draw conclusions about the more specific issues raised in the question:
How can a non-spatial, non-temporal Being create a spatial and temporal universe?
This is possible because although there is no space and time in God, space and time correspond to attributes of God. Specifically, Swedenborg associates space with God's love, and time with God's wisdom.
Space corresponds to love
Love cannot be measured in a physical sense. But it does have a "vastness" to it in that it encompasses all the varying states of human life and emotion. Human emotional states vary enormously, and when we move between them, we move in the spiritual analog of space. For example, when we are angry at another person, we feel distant from that person emotionally, whereas when we are feeling affectionate toward another person, we feel close to that person emotionally.
So physical space is the physical analog, or correspondence, of love.
Time corresponds to wisdom, or truth
Spatial events unfold within an "arrow of time," in which there is a sequence events rather than all events taking place simultaneously.
In God, all things are simultaneous, since God is timeless. However, the wisdom of God expresses itself in the temporal unfolding of events in the physical world, and the apparent time of the spiritual world, which involves the development of the human mind, and its thought, understanding, and wisdom, through the experience of, and knowledge gained from, one event happening after another in a developing sequence.
So time is an analog, or correspondence, of the intellectual, thought, or wisdom component of the human mind, which develops over time or through a sequence of events, one building upon another. And what happens developmentally, or horizontally, in human beings (and by correspondence in physical events) exists simultaneously in the timeless state in which God exists.
How can something that cannot be measured (God) produce something that can be measured?
The above considerations should answer this question. Things that are non-spatial and non-temporal at the level of divine reality become "extended" in the spiritual analogs of space (different states of love) and time (sequential development of thought), and in the space and time that exists in the physical universe.
Though Swedenborg, living in the 18th century, had no science available to him that was adequate to support some of these concepts, today we know that space and time are not some superimposed gridwork in which the physical universe exists, but rather are properties of the physical universe. To speak of a time "before the universe existed" is therefore nonsensical. Time itself, along with space, came into existence together with the physical universe.
This means that God did not create the universe from a timeline that extended before the creation of the universe, in which God contemplated and planned out creation. Rather, God created the universe from a timeless state above and beyond the very existence of time and space.
In that sense, there is no temporal or spatial "starting point" of creation. Rather, physical matter and the space and time associated with it are created from within as expressions of different essential components of God, and specifically, as physical expressions of God's divine love and wisdom.
How does the universe express and demonstrate the nature of God?
Closely related to the other questions is the question of how the universe can express and perhaps demonstrate the nature of God.
The foregoing points and discussion should provide a general answer to this question.
Getting a little more specific, if still somewhat abstract, God's creation of the universe does not proceed temporally, such that, as Deists believe, God created and wound up the universe like a clock, and then left it to run on its own. Such an arrangement would require God to be contained in and bounded by time—an idea Swedenborg specifically and emphatically rejects.
We humans may think of creation as a temporal event since that's how we experience it. And due to the principle of correspondences, creation can be described in temporal, sequential terms, as it is in the book of Genesis.
However, what is actually happening, according to Swedenborg, is that creation proceeds, not temporally and horizontally, but atemporally and vertically from within and above. In other words, God didn't create the universe at some time in the past; rather, God is creating the universe from within at all points that we humans experience as space and time.
To reduce this to a slogan using the concepts presented above, according to Swedenborg creation is a vertical process, not a horizontal process.
Swedenborg's compact Latin statement to express this is:
Subsistentia sit perpetua existentia. (Divine Love and Wisdom #152)
This statement is difficult to translate into a correspondingly simply and direct English statement, but here is a stab at it:
Sustained existence is a constant coming into being.
In other words, the universe and everything in it is continually being created at every moment by God from within.
Because of this nature and characteristic of creation, every part of creation continually expresses something specific about the nature of God, because every part of creation is an ongoing creation that expresses by correspondence some specific aspect of the nature of God. (The existence of evil puts a wrinkle in this principle, but that's an entire vast discussion of its own.)
Does the physical universe prove or demonstrate God's existence? Not really, because that's a matter of human perception. What it does, rather, is express on its own level the nature of God as God exists on God's own level.
Even this rather long answer (by StackExchange standards) only scratches the surface of Swedenborg's vast, philosophical and theological conception of the nature of God, and of creation as an expression of God, presented in his work Divine Love and Wisdom. However, the concepts presented in that book do provide a systematic, comprehensive philosophical and theological perspective that addresses these and related questions in a unique and highly original way.
By engaging in creation through distinct, vertical levels of reality, within which there are horizontal or gradient levels, and through the mechanism of "correspondences," by which higher levels express their nature in their analogs on lower levels of reality, God creates a universe that is both distinct from God in that that it manifests and operates on its own distinct and discrete levels according to its own nature and laws, and that also expresses the nature of God in that all of its substances, forms, laws, and events are expressions on their own levels of corresponding aspects of the divine love, wisdom, and action of God.