Tuesday, September 14, 2010
Can Any Of Us Say What God Is Not?
No man should ever be proud of ignorance. Given the total knowledge available in the world, ignorance is inevitable. But it should never be a source of self-satisfaction.
And yet, a lot of men claim that “not knowing” is a virtue. This is especially true in the area of religion. Some act as if knowledge and faith were antagonistic; that the only way to bolster and secure one’s faith is to remain as ignorant as possible of the faiths of others. This even applies to the history of one’s belief. Indeed, much of the contemporary debate between Christianity and Islam is a contest fueled by ignorance.
For the Mason, this kind of attitude is problematic. One of the great lessons in Masonry is toleration for others, and especially of their beliefs. To say, “I am right,” is proper and acceptable. To say, “I am right and you are wrong,” is to give way to both bigotry and intolerance. Sadly, this kind of small-mindedness seems particularly prevalent in matters of faith.
Can any of us say what God is not?
Surely, this is the most unanswerable, daunting and enduring question of all time! There is simply no definition of what God is that is universally acceptable. There is only the conviction of the human heart; and we all know that the heart can be deceivingly expressive. Thus, we have many interpretations of the Great Architect. There is God, the builder; God, the destroyer, God, the preserver. There is the One God; and the many Gods. There is the God of nature of the Pagans, the God/Goddess of the Wiccans. There is the God of the Gentiles, the God of the Christian Trinity, and the God of Unity to Islam. Then there is the God of the Philosophers, the God of Mystics, the God of Reformers, the God of Enlightenment, and a whole new host of Gods being proclaimed by contemporary spirituality gurus with all manners of insight.
All this leads me to think there is really only one enduring characteristic of God; and that is that God cannot be defined. God is a symbol; a mystery, a hieroglyph, a metaphor. Of God, there is understanding, reason, knowledge, touch, perception, imagination, name, and many other things. But God is not understood, nothing can be said of It, It cannot be named. It is not one of the things which is.
Regardless of one’s faith system, or from what culture one’s understanding of God has evolved, reading the scriptures of faith alone is not the process for deriving the truth about God. God must be discovered or tapped into by ascending to God Itself. It has to be a kind of metaphysical reality, since there is nothing of this world which can be compared to It. This is why God is a matter of belief or faith, and not reason. We cannot know; we can only believe, not believe, or doubt.
The bottom line is that a God who is not the same for everybody; a God that cannot be proved by scientific solution, a God that cannot be universally known by rationalization is the ultimate enigma of humanity. The only truth for which we can be certain is that God does not correspond to any human way of speaking. It can be analyzed and broken down into so many adjectives or attributes; but It has no cause, no qualities, no temporal dimension. There is absolutely nothing we can say about It.
Of course, if we acknowledge that God is the source of all things, then we can suggest certain things about this Source. We can also believe that because goodness exists, God must be essential or necessary. We can say that because we know life, power, and knowledge exist, then God must be alive, powerful and intelligent in the most essential and complete way.
The outcome of all this is that we can gain an intuitive, imaginative knowledge of God which might well transcend reason; but, in the mortal scope of things, we can only know God by interpretation.
This is why it makes sense to see God as a symbol—because a symbol can mean what the symbol user interprets it to mean. The good thing is that, since every one of us is confined to know only what we can see and feel about God’s nature, this gives us the right to believe what we believe, and to hold firmly to that belief as the Truth. But it also admonishes us not to deny others the same right, even when we fundamentally disagree with their belief.
When issues of religion are raised to a level of national debate, it would be nice for once to have a dialogue which is focused, not on differences of faith, but on the great balance of faith and reason.