(Written and arranged on November 9, 2009)
I have been pondering the concept of “God” for the last several years. I once believed that my idea of God was the only valid one. However, I no longer believe that way.
Thomas Merton wrote:
So much depends on our idea of God! Yet no idea of Him, however pure and perfect, is adequate to express Him as He really is. Our idea of God tells us more about ourselves than about Him. (New Seeds of Contemplation, p. 17)
So if my “idea” of God tells me more about myself than it tells me about the nature of God, then I wonder what might be a more accurate and inclusive concept of God that I might consider.
In my opinion, the next two excerpts suggest an “idea” for the mystery of “God,” and which I believe are more inclusive and more accurately reflect the wide variety of human experiences.
Experience of “God”
These experiences, besides being ecstatic, were for me aha! moments. They gave me a new understanding of the meaning of the word God. I realized that God does not refer to a supernatural being “out there” (which is where I had put God ever since my childhood musings about God “up in heaven”). Rather, I began to see, the word God refers to the sacred at the center of existence, the holy mystery that is all around us and within us. God is the nonmaterial ground and source and presence in which, to cite words attributed to Paul by the author of Acts, “we live and move and have our being.”
Thus I began also to understand what it means to say that God is both everywhere present and “up in heaven”—both immanent and transcendent, as traditional Christian theology puts it. As immanent (the root means “to dwell within”), God is not somewhere else, but right here and everywhere. To speak of God as being “up in heaven”—that is, as transcendent—means that God is not to be identified with any particular thing, not even the sum total of things.
God is more than everything, and everything is in God. Being a thinking type, I began studying experiences of God in both mystical and nonmystical forms. I learned that even though these experiences are extraordinary, they are also quite common across cultures, throughout history, and into the present time. Gradually it became obvious to me that God—the sacred, the holy, the numinous—was “real.” God was no longer a concept or an article of belief, but had become an element of experience. (Meeting Jesus Again for the First Time, pp. 14-15)
Being / God
When you say Being, are you talking about God? If you are, then why don’t you say it?
The word God has become empty of meaning through thousands of years of misuse. I use it sometimes, but I do so sparingly. By misuse, I mean that people who have never even glimpsed the realm of the sacred, the infinite vastness behind that word, use it with great conviction, as if they knew what it is that they are talking about. Or they argue against it, as if they knew what it is that they are denying. This misuse gives rise to absurd beliefs, assertions, and egoic delusions, such as, “My or our God is the only true God and your God is false,” or Nietzsche’s famous statement “God is dead.”
The word God has become a closed concept. The moment the word is uttered, a mental image is created, no longer, perhaps, of an old man with a white beard, but still a mental representation of someone or something outside you, and, yes, almost inevitably a male someone or something.
Neither God nor Being nor any other word can define or explain the ineffable reality behind the word, so the only important question is whether the word is a help or a hindrance in enabling you to experience That toward which it points. Does it point beyond itself to that transcendental reality, or does it lend itself too easily to becoming no more than an idea in your head that you believe in, a mental idol?
The word Being explains nothing, but nor does God. Being, however, has the advantage that it is an open concept. It does not reduce the infinite invisible to a finite entity. It is impossible to form a mental image of it. Nobody can claim exclusive possession of Being. It is your very essence, and it is immediately accessible to you as the feeling of your own presence, the realization I am that is prior to I am this or I am that. So it is only a small step from the word Being to the experience of Being. (The Power of Now, p. 11)
Keith’s Thoughts: What if God is Reality? And what if in some mysterious way, we are “of God”—that we are God’s children? Then, I would suggest that the following statements are worth consideration.
“What you do—or don’t do—has absolutely no effect on God’s love. God doesn’t love you more because of your ‘righteous’ acts. And, He/She doesn’t love you less because of your ‘sinful’ acts. You are simply loved of God, and there is absolutely nothing you can do to either increase or decrease this infinite and pure love.”
Perhaps, what I’m trying to define is grace.
Thomas Merton wrote:
What is “grace”? It is God’s own life, shared by us. God’s life is Love. Deus caritas est. By grace we are able to share in the infinitely selfless love of Him Who is such pure actuality that He needs nothing and therefore cannot conceivably exploit anything for selfish ends. Indeed, outside of Him there is nothing, and whatever exists exists by His free gift of its being, so that one of the notions that is absolutely contradictory to the perfection of God is selfishness. It is metaphysically impossible for God to be selfish, because the existence of everything that is depends upon His gift, depends upon his unselfishness. (The Seven Storey Mountain, pp. 303-304)
Your are loved
The beginning of the fight against hatred, the basic Christian answer to hatred is not the commandment to love, but what must necessarily come before in order to make the commandment bearable and comprehensible. It is a prior commandment, to believe. The root of Christian love is not the will to love, but the faith that one is loved. The faith that one is loved by God. That faith that one is loved by God although unworthy—or, rather, irrespective of one’s worth!
In the true Christian vision of God’s love, the idea of worthiness loses its significance. Revelation of the mercy of God makes the whole problem of worthiness something almost laughable: the discovery that worthiness is of no special consequence (since no one could ever, by himself, be strictly worthy to be loved with such a love) is a true liberation of the spirit. And until this discovery is made, until this liberation has been brought about by the divine mercy, man is imprisoned in hate. (New Seeds of Contemplation, 76-77)
We love him, because he first loved us.
(1 John 4:19)