Rational Scientific Theories from Theism

The General Human Form

by Bruce Jarvis

The idea of our physical body having a representational quality is not unique to theistic science. Our language is full of terms and expressions which draw their meaning from parts of the body. The Apostle Paul used the analogy of the human body to illustrate how the various functions of the church correspond to parts of the body (1 Cor. 12). But Swedenborg's other world experiences enabled him to describe the whole vast concept in tremendous detail and with great conviction. 

I want to stress two important ideas before going any further. Firstly, we've got to get away from the idea of 'shape'. The human 'functional form' is what we're talking about here, not 'shape'. We need to free our minds from the limitations of 'time' and 'space' when we talk about the Divine and about the spiritual kingdom. It is not easy, but we must try. The functions and the uses of the body are that which is vital, and these have to do with 'form', not 'shape'. 'Form' is all to do with how the different parts function together and inter-relate in such a way that there is an essential wholeness or oneness. The same principles of 'form' apply to any organisation, like a government or council or company. Certain functions and uses are carried out which correspond to the functions within the body. This 'form' is a common factor to the whole of creation, because all life is derived from one source. 

The other important point is to do with how much that happens to us goes beyond our consciousness. The vast majority of our bodily processes happen to us involuntarily; they just go on without our interference. Of course, if we are to be healthy, the parts we play voluntarily are absolutely critical. I want to stress that precisely the same is happening to us so far as the health of our spirit is concerned. Our own contribution to its health is critical, but then so much else goes on beyond our awareness. 

We will look here at some of the main functions of our material body, but leave the details of anatomy or physiology to later. Here we stay with just the principal functions of the body, functions which we all know something about: 

  • functions like to one performed by the skeleton;
  • the function of the digestive system;
  • the function performed by the blood and breathing system;
  • and so on.
I want to look at these functions firstly from the physical angle, and then in each case discern the corresponding inner functions. As we do this, we must hold on to the central idea of wholeness of the overall uses. 

The Bones of the Skeleton

Let's look first at the function performed by the bone structure of the body - the skeleton. What are its main characteristics? 

Perhaps the first thing to notice about the bones and the skeleton is the dual or two-sided nature they have. In themselves, bones have little life - there's a sort of deadness about them. When the rest of our body has decomposed and rotted away, it is the bones which are left - gaunt, eerie, dead, somewhat macabre, even frightening. And, of course, a living body which becomes emaciated through starvation or illness, or distorted through disease, loses its beauty and takes on a bizarre appearance. 

And yet, despite all that, the bones do form a real basis of the whole body. Everything is built on them. They're linked together by cartilages and discs and ligaments to form a superb outline upon which everything else in the body is arranged. The skeleton gives us a framework, and the whole potential for movement and activity depends on it. Without the skeletal structure, the heart, the lungs, brain, muscles and so on would be useless. We'd be a heap of flesh, unable to do anything useful at all. 

So on one hand we have a rather dead quality about the bones. And on the other, they have a crucial role in giving the body form and potential usefulness. 

Do you remember the vision of Ezekiel had (Ez. 37) of a valley full of dry bones? A picture of men and women who've got no spiritual life in them, whose lives have become hard and dry. It was only when those bones were linked by tendons, covered by flesh and skin, and then filled with God's spirit, that they were able to rise to their feet and really live. 

All of this emphasizes what I said a few moments ago about the wholeness and oneness of life. The question is, what characteristics of our spirit are being mirrored by the bones and skeletal structure? What inner functions do they correspond to? 

The key lies on the uses they perform: 

  • they act as a basis for everything else, preserving the proportion of the body and keeping all the parts in their relative positions;
  • they give strength and potential mobility;
  • they afford protection to vital organs like the brain, the heart and lungs, the spinal cord, and so on.
Quite an invaluable role for rather dead bones! 

The counterpart which exists in the spirit of men and women is the sense that life is completely our own, to do with as we wish. It is the intellectual conviction of the mind that we make all the decisions about what's happening to us. We may not be free of outer constraints but we do have a strong feeling that we are in charge of our destiny. We come into the world with that subconscious conviction, and the whole of our development into adulthood bolsters that notion. All the experiences and knowledges we gain combine to give us a sense of independence and self-reliance. Everything else hangs upon that. 

Where would be be without that sense? We'd be like a body without bones or a skeleton! We'd have no identity or personality; there'd be no proportion in our character; we'd be an amorphous heap! And it's the striving to make something of our life and to acquire independence which gives us strength and drives us on to achieve things. 

All those other vital functions carried out by organs protected by the skeleton correspond to the way in which this vital sense of life being our own has within itself the power to take care of those functions without which we could not exist. So important is this function of the bones that, in biblical terms, not one bone is to be broken (Ex. 12.46; Ps. 34.20). 

And yet, when we think about it, that sense of selfhood, of believing that life is totally our own to do what we want with, is also a pretty dead thing. On it's own it's got a hardness about it. Carried to extremes it's also sinister and frightening. In itself it has no power; it's power is illusory or only potential. What it requires is a covering of affections and loves. It's these that enable the gift of selfhood to have reality. Only as our loves and desires become active do we become human. It's the quality of these affections, coupled with living our life as if it is our own, which determines our beauty as a person. 

The Fuelling Function

Let's take a look now at another general function of the body - what I call the fuelling function

There's a tremendous awareness these days about which foods are beneficial to the body, and about others which might be harmful. We're becoming increasingly concerned to see that we get the right kind of foods, not just in quantity but in quality too. There's a great stress on wholesome foods, and a balanced diet. 

Then there's concern, too, about pollution, and the damage that's done to our bodies is there's too much lead in the air we breathe, or if the atmosphere is contaminated with radiation. Industrial waste and agricultural pesticides, etc., do untold damage to the streams and rivers our drinking water comes from. All of this is very ironic when we consider how absolutely crucial to survival are breathing good clean air and drinking good clean water. We can't survive very long without either of those; and if they're polluted in any way then disease sets in. 

Another vital function of the body is purification, by which surplus materials, waste products and foreign bodies are ejected or overcome. Much of this process is autonomic and beyond our awareness, but our cooperation is nevertheless required. This is how God's loving Providence works; there is ceaseless activity behind the scenes, so much of which we feel nothing. But we can become aware of what is going on; we can come to appreciate and marvel at it; and do out utmost to cooperate with out Maker in getting rid of what is surplus or which has served its usefulness or which is harmful to us. 

And so we could go on, seeing how all these functions correspond to inner realities. I want to leave what I call these internal functions of the body, and spend a few minutes examining the other side of how our body works. The functions I have briefly talked about, and which all work together in such a wonderfully interdependent way, are all concerned with ensuring that the body is fit and able to do what is required of it. And this is the whole point. It all happens so that the body can relate to what is outside itself. It doesn't exist just for itself; it's in contact with and influenced by the surrounding environment. 

For example, we have an external function which receives signals and information from the world around the body. Our five senses and the nervous system do this for us. We're all aware of the amazing complexity of all the incoming signals, and how certain ones are sorted out from all the others. Even when we're asleep, the system operates to protect us from danger. 

On the plane of the spirit we have senses and a 'nervous system' which carry out the corresponding function. This capacity can be left to function in an autonomic way, without much involvement or discernment from ourselves. But, just like our physical powers, these can be trained and developed to be more responsive and sensitive. There is the basic issue of being protected from danger, so that we can become more sensitive to alien forces which are constantly trying to affect us. But, on the positive side, we can also develop our powers so as to become more appreciative of positive forces at work: the goodness of other people, the nice things about them, our own talents and gifts, the bright ideas and lovely impulses that come into us. There is so much going on all the time, crowding in upon us. We can't avoid that happening, but we can develop the skills and powers to cope with them and understand better what's happening. 

Of course, receiving all these stimuli from outside ourself is only the first stage. What comes next - the second external function - is the stage or function of analysis or decision. Physically, we have a brain which does this job. It sifts through the vast amount of incoming signals, and makes decisions about which ones are important and require action, and which ones can be stored away in the memory. We know the brain is a wonderful and incredibly complex organ, made up of two main sections which interact with each other. And here we see the clue to understanding the corresponding action taking place in our spiritual body. Our two basic faculties of the intellect (or rational) and the will (or intuition) interact to appraise and sort out all that comes into our spirit. What decisions are taken as to how we shall react, or what words we shall say, or what attitude we shall take up, and so on, all result from the interaction between what we feel we want to do and what our understanding says we should or shouldn't do. Much of this goes on without conscious reaction, but, again, it is possible for us to acquire a greater facility in this area of analysing and deciding courses of action which relate to our inner being. 

How can we develop this more sensitive state of being? Let's apply the same criteria to the spiritual body as we do to developing the skills of a more physical kind. It involves training, sharing with others, learning from their experience and our own, constant practice, and so on. But the principal thing is a heightening of our awareness and perception of what is really happening to us on our journey through life. Once we have become more tuned into the purpose of creation, and to the reason for our own existence, then we can begin to see more reason for spending time and energy on what is really satisfying. 

There us perhaps one final function we ought to mention, because that is what everything else works towards. All the internal functions, and the external ones too, have one purpose: that the body shall be able to respond to the demands made upon it. And this is the exact parallel of all the functions of the spiritual body: that as men and women we shall be capable of action, of loving service, of genuine compassion, of real empathy: all the elements which go to make up a beautiful, "warm-blooded" person. 

We've been given a physical, material form which is ideally suited to serving the wishes of the inner person. We know only too well that the two are not always in the sort of harmony that leads to peace and happiness and goodwill between men. What's more, we are frequently aware how a bitter and twisted, even an evil character, can be housed in a most attractive body which conceals the real person. And there again, we've probably all known the most delightful, angelic people whose bodies have become diseased or deformed, or who are wracked with pain. In this life the correspondence between what is within and what's without is not always as it should be. It is a measure of the love and wisdom of the Creator that He allows it to be that way. He leaves us in freedom to become what we want to be. 

The upshot of all this is that there will come a time, when we've left the limitations of this material degree, when what is within will be perfectly matched by what is outside. In the life that lies beyond this material world, we shall be one whole complete person. No disagreement between our heart and mind. No distinction between what we're really like as a person, and what we show to the world around us. No deception, no confusion. A beautiful character - a beautiful body. A horrible personality - a body to match. 

This is how the Divine life operates. This is the aim of God's providential care, that we shall become a whole person, wonderfully integrated, happy within ourself. It extends right down into the very details of our material body, which is the perfect mirror for us to gaze into. 

Author: Bruce Jarvis, April 1988; I.J. Thompson, July 2001.

www.TheisticScience.org Author: Ian J. Thompson, Email: IanT at TheisticScience.org