(Seeking The Light)
"Seek and you shall find," are words from Jesus that any responsible theologian needs to take very much to heart. From a human perspective, God is infinite in His dimension. Using this assumption as a logical basis, one can only conclude that "seeking" is the only way we can know God. What we can comprehend, absorb and theorize about the Divine, is not only limited by our human state of existence, but also by our intelligence, experience and understanding of the world around us. At any given time in human history we may be able to find a new way to look at God; or, just possibly discover what we have once declared God's truth may in fact be in error.
The reality is: in terms of our human perception God is unknowable, for we have nothing in our perception to compare Her with. While the reality of God is intellectually unknowable because His Essence is within all creation, we can relate to God at levels of feeling and emotion. Theology must be careful in its dealing with suppositions about the Divine that it does not seek to humanize or interpret in literal fashion that which is meant to be metaphors for feelings or descriptions of things which cannot be literalized. The danger of literalization of revelation is that it tends to anthropomorphize God to a point where She becomes more human than Divine. The consequences of this are ever present in our religious belief structures.
For example, we often see God as a judge and portray Him sitting in judgment upon our actions; but, what is the nature of judgment of a Being that is totally beyond our comprehension? Would it be the same as human judgment, or, might it differ? Who among us can say what is offending to the Almighty with any first hand knowledge? There simply isn't any correlation between the way we interpret judgment and the way God might administer it. Another example we can cite is the way we proclaim God as all- powerful; that God can do all things; as if He were some kind of a magical being with super powers - a Superman of sorts. But the reality is that God is transcendent of this definition because only God can know the extent of what She is capable of doing. Yes, by comparison to human beings we can proclaim the infinite power of God; but, what we have no way of knowing is: does the very Nature of God imposes any limits upon Itself? Could God make 2+2=5, for example; or, would His Nature insist that it always be four? If God cannot make 2+2=5, than She cannot do all things!
As we approach God in this section, we will look for the symbolisms and metaphors behind Scripture and myth, seeking to understand Her in a manner which neither humanizes God or claims any dogmatic authority to speak for the Divine. We also recognize that some of the most potentially powerful symbols, which are expressed about the Divine, are present in some of the very religious beliefs we profess. Unfortunately, because of the literalization of these religious beliefs, we are often misusing the very tools we have to work with.
The Trinity is one example. This is a dogma that many religions see as a literal article of faith that God is - Three Persons in one Divine Being. Seen literally, we get an Image of God as having three separate personalities; or, that He splits Himself into three. It is often explained away as mystery of faith, but this is because the literal interpretation simply makes no sense. God, cannot be three persons in a literal sense because God is not a person at all! In fact, He is not a being at all (at least in any terms of a being we might understand). God is the essence of Being itself, in all its forms; therefore, God transcends personage, being, or even as having a nature. God is God, and so far as we know, there is only one of Her. This idea of a personage to God is a human invention to aid us in relating to Him. What helps us relate are metaphors; and when seen symbolically, the Trinity is a powerful tool for us to comprehend the uniqueness, the diversity and the complexity of the Divinity.
The first thing it tells us is that there is nothing else like Her. In our world of duality, we do have androgynous creatures, or Siamese twins where two could be considered one, but nothing like a trinity of beings. Simply put, the Trinity states the composition of God is not definable.
There is a story about Augustine walking on a beach trying to figure out the Trinity. As he pondered this deep mystery, he encounters a boy on the beach who is taking water from the sea in a small seashell and depositing it in a small hole that he dug in the sand. Augustine approaches the boy and asks him what he is doing. The boy tells Augustine that he is going to take all the seawater and put it in the hole. Augustine was amused and laughed at the boy: telling him, that the whole idea is absurd - that such an attempt is foolishness. The boy responds by telling Augustine that it is easier for him to empty the ocean into the sand hole using the seashell; than, it would be for Augustine to rationalize or intellectualize the Trinity.
The trinity is a mystery because it is meant to be a mystery, not a literal description of God's Nature or form of existence. The first thing we derive from it is that God cannot be described, a theme which is consistent with both, the Old Testament and other forms of revelation through myth.
Another implication of this metaphor can teach us about the paradox and diversity of God. The Trinity can tell us that God is more than one thing. She even transcends opposites, becoming more than two, and yet, at the same time remaining one. The Trinity is a symbol, which reveals the complexity of God, conveying our inability to intellectualize such.
Seen in its symbolism, the Trinity is more than an article of faith that defies reason. It becomes a catalyst by which we can grasp the complexity of the totality of God. Of all our symbols of faith, the Trinity should stand out as a warning against trying to limit the Divine in any way.
Outside Christianity, too, we have metaphors or symbols that represent God. Light is a rather common one that portrays the paradoxical and unknowable Essence of God. We now know that light is both a particle and wave and a diversity of many colors in a spectrum that mixes and mingles to produce pure white light. Like the Trinity, light portrays the diversity of the Divine by its spectrum, which is itself, an array of colors. Yet, when seen together the spectrum is of one white light. And, like three persons in one, we have aspects of light that transcend our senses of perception in the ultraviolet or infrared bands of the spectrum. Symbols are the only way we can convey the idea of God, because God is a diverse and paradoxical Force for which we cannot set perimeters or assign definitions. The Old Testament prophets knew this; this was the reason the Name of God was forbidden to be spoken - because God could not be limited by language. Isaiah expresses this inspiration in the Old Testament:
For My thoughts are not your thoughts, My ways not your ways - It is YAHWEH who speaks. Yes, the heavens are as high above the earth as my ways are above your ways, my thoughts above your thoughts.
And Thomas Aquinas realized it when he said:
Hence, in the last resort all that man knows of God is to know that HE DOES NOT KNOW HIM since he knows that what God is surpasses all that we can understand of Him.
(De Potentia g.7)
We can move beyond the Judaic/Christian world too, to see that same Essence of the Divine, or the Ultimate Concern, is, transcendent of human knowledge or its limitations. In the Buddhist's tradition this Force is know as a void, not meaning empty, but rather, beyond any definition.
The Koran tells us:
Say, "He is the one God; God the eternal, the Uncaused Cause of all being: He begets not and neither is He Begotten, and there is NOTHING THAT COULD BE COMPARED
And from the Upanishads:
[Brahma is] that which cannot he spoken in words... but that whereby words are spoken.... what cannot be thought with mind, but that whereby the mind can think.
(Kena Upanishad 1 "THE UPANISHADS" p5l)
The revelations of many religions warn us of the dangers of trying to humanize God, His will, Her attributes, His Being, or Her Image; but in our effort to relate to God we often do not see that we are violating this injunction.
Whether it be Plato's "light," or the Christian "Trinity," or the Buddhist's "void" - these are all metaphors to convey the same universal message about the Ultimate Cause of all things; that message being, this Force is transcendent of our human perception and reason. This Force cannot be intellectualized; but rather, it must be experienced and felt from the depths of our spirit. Theology makes its biggest mistake when it tries to define God, as opposed to leading us to seek the Presence of God within our own being.
Responsible Theology, while looking for an Image of God that we can relate to, will not seek to pigeonhole God or limit Him. Our theories and speculations are not meant to define God, but offer food for thought that individuals may find God in a manner in which they can relate to Her in their everyday lives. Theology is responsible when it seeks through the symbols to convey an attitude toward God that is harmonious with our known world without claiming to speak for God.
While God can only be experienced at an inner level, we need to address our intellectual curiosity. Theology should be able to do this without strapping people with guilt or fear. Theology should be able to do this without replacing the "seeking" with dogma.
Another area we need to concern ourselves with is the idea of God having an unchanging nature. This only feeds dogmatism and mankind's foolish premise that men can know and speak the absolute truth of God.
But even if you look to the book Christianity often defines as "The Word of God," you will quickly see that the Image of God is ever changing and being refined by the faithful who seek after Her. Beyond Christianity, the whole concept of the Divine has had an ever-changing face since man first conceived of the idea.
God has evolved inside and outside Christianity from the hunter, to the farmer; from a punitive and vengeful God, to a merciful and forgiving God; from a God of authority and Kingship, to a God of Love and kinship.
Theology makes another mistake when it asserts its conclusions, be they based upon Scripture or any other man written decrees, as the final truth of God. Sometimes, our theologies actually stagnate the personal relationship between a human being and their God by imposing the ideal that only the their church, or religion, has the ability to speak on behalf of God. While this may serve the objectives of the religion quite well, it can cause individuals to reject the Divine and all the positive aspects that God can bring into one's life.
While many are served by religious beliefs, the claim of absolute power to interpret and speak for God by any religion invites corruption, deceit, and manipulation of many faithful followers. History has taught us this from mainstream religious belief structures to the fringe beliefs of some radical groups.
Theology cannot be responsible and assert the right of any human being to speak for God whether they are theologian, prophet, saint, or clergyman. God may inspire but She never compels us to view the inspiration correctly. Despite Divine Inspiration, men will remain men and are capable of error, deceit, misinterpretation and even delusional thinking.
We can see that in our own Judaic/Christian history, God's Image has become refined through what many religious leaders of the time thought were rebels, heretics, or of the Devil. We have went from the laws of Moses and their often cruel consequences, to a warrior God of King David, to a more responsible approach offered by Isaiah. From Isaiah we moved down the historical road to Jesus where we meet the Divine as a Loving Father whom is reaching out to all that "seek" Him out.
Theology, like any other knowledge, is a growing knowledge. When it shuts out new ideas, refuses to admit that it can be in error, and refuse to acknowledge God's Inspiration to the "thinkers" of its age; it no longer serves God or God's people. Such theologies create an Image of God that is often contradictory and not relevant to the reality of the people it serves. These theologies often handicap people from "seeking" God in the reality of their everyday world. Unless God is practical and a part of our everyday lives, She is no more than a superstition at best; and, a terrible hypocrisy at worst.
But despite attempts to stop the evolution of knowledge, both of our God and ourselves. Attempts that have burned books and people to try to suppress what it considered to be contrary to its infallible truth; attempts that use fear and trickery to support its control - despite all these attempts, our knowledge and vision of God has progressed. It might even be true that God is unchanging, but, our perception of Her is ever changing even as our perceptions of ourselves change. For this reason, we must seek what God is conveying to our world in our time making Her relevant to our peoples.
The key to this Responsible Theology is that in dealing with God, we must admit freely and first off, that we are "seeking" a Divine Image that fits our world as we understand it. Responsible theology is "seeking" the inspiration of God to find the Image that makes sense in the real world. A responsible theology must combine our knowledge of science, of our natural world, with the revelations and myths of the past to find a relationship with God that might help us improve the world we live in - the world created by God's Hand!
We know that a vast amount of information about God is in fact unknowable; and at best, all we can do is make assumptions. The first assumption we need to make is that God should make sense in terms of the reality that She created. The Image of the Creator should be harmonious with the creation; otherwise, the Creator and Creation have little in common. The Image of God should be psychologically healthy for the faithful; otherwise, faith will lead to neurosis.
As we approach God in this Chapter, we are not seeking God for all men for all time. We believe God is eternal but our understanding of Him must change as we change.
One might illustrate what we are saying by comparing our perception of God to our perception of the sun. Our sun appears to be a relative constant in our everyday lives and even in terms of human history. But our perceptions of the sun changes during the course of the day, the time of the year, and even the whether conditions which may enhance or obscure our view. Our ideas about what the sun is, its role in our reality, and its affect upon our world has been ever changing, as we understand more about it. This becomes the only responsible approach we can take toward God.
To analogize: Copernicus had profound insight into the workings of our solar system, but we certainly wouldn't try to assert as truth many of his theories (some of which were wrong). But ultimately, it was those very theories that helped us to understand what we understand today. In this same sense, the holy writers of the past should be a beginning; but never the end unto itself.
This chapter will undoubtedly spark debate and maybe even offend some. It may, like most theology, contain speculations beyond what it should make. But it must be pointed out here that this is not presented as Holy Truth; but rather, as a simple hypothesis of what we believe based upon a cross section of human inspiration and knowledge. Here contained are suppositions that we hope will make sense in terms of everyday reality, offering motivation for personal responsibility, containing psychologically healthy viewpoints - and, ultimately make God more acceptable and visible in our reality. It is hoped that the debate continues so that we may constantly refine and grow in our understanding of God, what our best relationship with Her is; fine tuning our religions that they may serve both God and man in a much better capacity.
Men are no more capable today of asserting infallible truth about God than our ancestors were. Yet, our speculations can be better presented today because we can view the scope of Revelations at a much wider level to include those of peoples many of which our ancestors didn't know existed. Combining this wider perspective with a knowledge and understanding of the creation unequaled in human history should give us keener insight into the Creator's interaction with the creation.
These premises are not meant to be an attack on other's religious belief structures. They are simply presented to illustrate that there are some objective ways to look at present religious beliefs. In doing so, one might find disturbing psychological implications from some of our more ancient theological interpretations - especially when, we try to cling to those ideals as literal, or proclaim them to be the written word of God.
We also do not claim that these religious beliefs affect all individuals in the same way. For some, present belief structures work quite well, but, for others they are harmful causing them to live in fear, shame, or guilt. Our position is that for any religion to be responsible to the needs of its faithful, it must have enough laxity to allow for diversity in an individual's personal Image of God. Logic would dictate: God has made us unique and diverse, for Him to not allow for that diversity would be a gross injustice toward humanity.
In addition, the primary roles of religion should be to encourage tolerance, promote equality and brotherhood, offer comfort, and unite people to better the reality of the world in which we live. The religious ideals of old, with their built in prejudice, could often accomplish this goal in the local communities it served because people were often of like mind. But in today's global interaction, it serves no useful purpose to divide people by attacking the legitimacy of another's belief structure and its credibility in the eyes of God.
Diversity seems to be in God's natural order of creation, and it certainly is a mark of the human personality; it only seems logical that God in Her infinite wisdom has provided for that diversity in regards to relating to Him.
To this end, it is hoped that a responsible theology will present an Image of God that allows for a diversity of belief; allows the individual to "seek" God according to their ability to do so; and, create a dialog that allows us to explore the Divine in a manner that enables us to learn from one another. It is this works contention that God has given Her inspiration in many forms to all peoples of this world; for anything less, would have created a state of inequality in a human race we contend is equal. In other words, God would have created an equal field for all men.
When we seek we can find, and when we find we will seek to know more. As you move forward to consider the ideas here postulated, it is hoped that you approach with an open mind "seeking" for yourself; asking, what it is that God means to you and the world! These ideals would challenge you to ask God to reveal to you on a personal level what your Image of Him should Be. Ultimately, what you believe about God is what counts most to you. If your concepts lead you to have a better life for yourself and encourage you to make life better for all you can, than it is a sound and productive faith. If your faith has you sitting in judgment of others, declaring God's wrath, or trying to dictate how other people should live, your faith is simply counter-productive.
In the apocryphal Gospel According
to Thomas, which was discovered in 1947 among the Nag Hammadi
Jesus said: Let him who seeks, not cease seeking until he finds, and when he finds, HE WILL BE TROUBLED, and when he is troubled, he will marvel and will reign over all.
(Gospel According to Thomas, 2)
To approach anything in a new manner is often a deeply troubling experience, and, seeking the reality of God in our own being is no different. Yet, unless we question our beliefs, be they secular or religious, there can be no progress in our human intellectual evolution or our spiritual growth. Blind faith often leads us away from love as can be seen so often in many fundamentalist attitudes of many religions. Intolerance, violence and hatred are often the consequences of dogmatic unquestioning belief. It would seem that those things, which lead us away from love, are the same things that would lead us away from God. It may be troubling, but if theology is to be responsible, it must approach God with the recognition of Her diversity that is clearly visible in the reality of the creation.
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