The passion of Light
God, a short introduction
I am about to introduce a someone who literally needs no introduction. Because this Person/Being/Spirit has been written and talked about for eons non-stop even by those who don’t believe He/She/It exists.
Just ask anyone you meet: some will be ready and willing to tell you just who God is and even the more reluctant if pressed will tell you what they think even if it is just; “God is very personal to me and I have no wish to talk about it.” And then others when asked will immediately try to convince you that their definition is the correct one with severe penalties for not marching to their drummer.
Wars have been started and been ended by those who have decided to call this ONE by a certain name. There is no other topic that has brought so much peace and love to so many people and the exact opposite to others. Homes and nations have been divided and brought together by just this single definition.
In fact so much has been written and spoken thru the centuries, perhaps billions upon billions of words in every language that there is really no need for this post. And yet I find I must define myself if not the ONE I’m discussing. When we define God we are at the least letting people know where we stand on the topic and in some respects who we are and even how we intend to live our lives.
“What comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us.
The history of mankind will probably show that no people has ever risen above its religion, and man’s spiritual history will positively demonstrate that no religion has ever been greater than its idea of God. Worship is pure or base as the worshiper entertains high or low thoughts of God.
For this reason the gravest question before the Church is always God Himself, and the most portentous fact about any man is not what he at a given time may say or do, but what he in his deep heart conceives God to be like.”
From; The Knowledge of the Holy by A.W. Tozer
It is not that we are the same as the ONE and yet there are many religious traditions which tell us just that, that as we come to accept this sameness we actually become more human and oddly enough Godlike—“partakers of the Divine nature.” (2Peter 1.4) In this we are our conundrum. We even find our definitions are highly anthropomorphic in nature, after all, all we really know is ourselves as humans, hence the argument by some that we have created a god in our image and not the other way around.
When we say for example, “God is love,” we have picked the highest emotion humans are capable. When we attempt to define love we may point to people we see as exemplars of this quality and yet we still must realize that the best humans can demonstrate falls far short of Love when applied to Love as an infinite being who does not have love as a quality along with other qualities but is love itself that is infinite and unknowable.
In the west very little is said about the unknowableness of God. It is part of the western ocean of theology we swim in that God must be defined. However the Eastern Orthodox emphasizes the mystery and unknowableness, preferring negations to affirmations.
God is not.
The best we can do when it comes to knowing God is to say what God is not. “God is not a bully,” is an example.
Buddhism goes so far as to eschew all concepts including the concept of a divine being in favor of direct perception of Reality of everything preferring to live in the certainty of NOW, which of course is the only “time” any of us can know. In fact the only place any of can know God.
Also from the east comes another mystical tradition of the most ancient Hindus:
“So also the mind must be trained to take to right ways. It will gradually grow accustomed to good ways and not return to wrong ways.
D: What are the good ways to be shown to the mind?
M: Thought of God.” From Talks with Raman Maharshi.
In this brief summary of the possibility to know and not know God we encounter the two broad themes of every theology; the imminence and transcendence of God.
The following descriptions and definitions are not meant to be a survey of all the various traditions and their similarities or dissimilarities, that has been done many times over and is far beyond my desire to pursue such a course. Several years ago I read in a blog somewhere a statement by Brian McLaren which really challenged me. He said to this effect that everyone should write their own theology. I also remember the disagreements about this coming from the idea that “regular” people did not have the capacity to do such a thing and the resulting dangers of everyone coming up with their “own theology” was very unhealthy for their faith and maybe the faith of the church at large. This did get me to thinking about all the different theologies I had read over the years and wondering if I could really articulate what I now believed.
I realized that if asked to do this right after bible college and my short time in seminary I simply would have regurgitated everything I had studied at those institutions. I then understood I had been doing that during those many years of writing papers, being graded and thus subtly by their approval or not directed towards the proper way to see and understand God, according to the Wesleyan Methodist tradition with a bit of the Charismatic movement thrown in, both very fundamentalist traditions.
What do I believe now? This is in the classical sense an apology, not trying to show others as wrong or even to prove myself right but to explain what I have come to believe up to this point in my life. That last sentence is itself a big departure from the fundamental views I was schooled in. When I studied other faiths and belief systems it was always with the understanding that ours was the best and the only true way to look at and understand God. I no longer believe this. I’ll save that discussion for latter when I talk about Divine Inspiration.
Is it possible to know God? Yes to an incredible degree as seen in the lives of many individuals who were given the talent to express in their life and words enough to give us a glimpse thru the window of the unknowable. Theirs was not book knowledge but direct emotional connection. But like explaining the sunset to a blind person all that can be said is “you can’t see it until God opens your eyes.”
“He was not born blind because of his own sin or that of his parents,” returned Jesus, “but to show the power of God at work in him.” John 9.3