God Is Not What You Think
Do you think God is real? Do you pray or “talk” to God? Do you listen to others who tell you with great certainty what or who God is? Do you think you understand God and have the right set of beliefs? Is your religion the best of all the world’s religions? Is your group of believers correct and know the absolute truth; while other believers are wrong, misguided, or (at best) only partially correct? Do you think God will reward good people and punish bad people; that the faithful go to heaven, the unfaithful go to hell?
Or do you question whether God exists? Do you have a problem reconciling religion with science? Do you want to believe in a God; but have a hard time understanding how a good, all-powerful God would allow so much suffering? Or is the idea of God so strange that you are agnostic to the whole concept of God? Do you think humans dreamed up God as a way of dealing with the world? So we could answer questions like: where did we come from, how was the world created, and where do we go from here?
How do we find the answers to these questions?
We Can’t Think Our Way To God, But We Can Live Our Way
We are not going to find the answers by thinking harder or longer about the questions. The answers won’t come to us because we practice the right religious tradition. Or because we have the correct set of beliefs. As St. Thomas Aquinas said in his Summa Theologica, “Since we cannot know what God is, but only what God is not, we cannot consider how God is but only how He is not.” In his Questio Disputata de Potentia Dei, he says, “This is what is ultimate in the human knowledge of God; to know that we do not know God.”
And how about these words from Shankara, whom some call the St. Thomas of Hinduism, “Oh Thou, before whom all words recoil.” He knew that what we in the West call God, and what the Hindus call Brahman, is ultimately beyond human words and concepts. Words are abstractions that can only point to what is real. Our languages allow us to efficiently communicate with each other; but they also restrict our minds. We become prisoners of abstractions; removed many times from Reality. Our minds become a sharp tool for dealing with the finite; but a dull tool for understanding the Infinite.
Yet here I am using words; they cannot be avoided. But they ultimately can only carry us so far. To get to God, we have to drop our concepts of God. Our words, our concepts point to something; but they are not the same as that thing. Perhaps that is why the Jewish tradition has tried to avoid saying Yahweh or God. Something to be referred to (YHWH); but certainly not spoken. How can we use a word to label something we don’t understand? And then talk about it like as if we do understand. Our minds may want to; but we can’t put God in a mental box.
And images can restrict our minds, just like words. How many of us in Western cultures have an image in our heads of a great-grandfather God in the sky? Complete with white hair and beard. Could Michelangelo’s famous Sistine Chapel fresco The Creation of Adam be one of the sources for this mirage in our collective consciousness?
Muhammad was so concerned about this phenomenon, that he forbid his followers to create images of the divine. How can one capture the infinite reality of Allah (al-Lah, the God), and place it in the finite? Which is why Muslim culture developed the mosaic tradition to decorate mosques.
God Is Beyond Time And Space
Just as words and images restrict our minds; time and space restrict our ability to understand or know God.
This situation is put beautifully in chapter 25 of the Tao Te Ching, “Before the world was and the sky was filled with stars… There was a strange, unfathomable Body. This Being, this Body is silent and beyond all substance and sensing. It stretches beyond everything, spanning the empyrean. It has always been here, and it always will be. Everything comes from it, and then it is the Mother of Everything. I do not know its name. So I call it TAO. I am loath to call it ‘greater than everything,’ but it is. And being greater, it infuses all things; moving far out and returning to the Source.”
And yet in the first chapter we are warned, “The Tao that can be talked about is not the true Tao. The name that can be named is not the eternal Name.”
Being beyond time and space, can we grasp the meaning of these words from the Bible? John 1:1-5, “Before the world was created, the Word already existed; he was with God, and he was the same as God. From the very beginning the Word was with God. Through him God made all things; not one thing in all creation was made without him. The Word was the source of life, and this life brought light to mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has never put it out.”
Language reveals and restricts at the same time. So to help illuminate, we can substitute for “Word” in the above quote the following: “logos” (reason, plan) from Greek, “Shechinah” (settling of the divine, feminine aspect) from the Jewish tradition, “Christ” (anointed, divine influence, a holy emanation) from the Christian tradition. Or from modern-day psychology, “collective unconscious” (pre-existent forms, the archetypes) as part of the collective conscious.
God Is Revealed In What We Do (As We Become)
We do not know God; but God knows us! Much like our hands cannot know our mind; but our mind can know our hands.
Look at the dialog in Exodus 3:13-15. Moses said to God, “Look, when I come to the Israelites and tell them that the God of your ancestors sent me to you and they say to me, ‘What’s this God’s name? what should I tell them? And God said to Moses, “Ehyeh Asher Ehyeh — I will be who I will be. God continued, “This you shall say to the Israelites: ‘I will be’ has sent me to you.”
God will be, as we become. Mind to hand.
It is in what we do that God is revealed. As we see in Matthew 25:34-36, “Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.”
Wake Up And Have No Fear
That kingdom Jesus talked about is now; if we are open to a new way of thinking, seeing, and being. “Metanoia (new mind),” as Jesus called it. We must talk less, and listen more. We must wake up.
In his later years, people would come to Buddha and ask, “Who are you? What are you?”
“Are you a God?” “No.” “An angel?” “No.” “A saint?” “No.” “Then what are you?”
He answered, “I am awake.” His actual name was Siddhartha Guatama; but he became know as Buddha – the “Enlighten One” or the “Awakened One.” In Sanskrit, the root budh means to wake up and to know.
All of humanity is in various stages of waking up. Some of us are holding on to our finite minds out of fear. Fear of our ego’s death, fear of letting go. Others are being pulled towards infinite Mind, loving the Unknown. As we wake, what seemed real fades in the light of a new Reality. Our enemies become our friends, our problems become our challenges, our fears become our hopes.
We are in an observer created universe. If we are unhappy with the state of the world; many of us try to fix the world and are disappointed with the results. But if we change our mind, then the world changes. As Einstein put it, “No problem can be solved by the same consciousness that created it.” As we change, as we are born again; everything changes.
In the Hindu Upanishads it is said, “When a man finds his existence and unity in the Self – who is the basis of life, who is beyond the senses, who is formless, inexpressible, beyond all predicates – then alone does he transcend fear.”