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As a kid attending Catholic grammar school for eight impressionable years, kneeling, sitting and standing in hard cold pews through mass on weekday and Sunday mornings, and even during a short stint as an altar boy sneaking sips of wine in the sacristy, God seemed pretty easy to picture.
To my childhood eyes God looked like an old, old white man, with a white beard bushier than Santa Claus’s, wearing white robes and no jewelry, half hidden behind the billowing white cumulus clouds of heaven. No sweat, no problem – that was “God.” He was a human, only much older and better and bigger than any human who ever existed or would ever exist.
God held a tall gold scepter in his right hand to represent his reign in heaven, and gold keys to unlock the Gates of Hell for the sinners. In many depictions the red devil Satan with a black goatee and black pitchfork stood as millions of these sinners filed past to go to their doom.
When I picture God now, no matter how hard I try not to, that first picture still jumps into my mind.
I mean, how else can I imagine what I now know as an Unknowable Essence, divine and omnipotent, who made the universe and understands everything in it. I mean, seriously? No wonder atheists and agnostics doubt the existence of God. I mean who could believe that such a being exists, when all we know is a physical reality composed of touchable and tangle items like trees and houses, and something called a “spirit” or “soul” (whatever that is!), within us?
Essentially that’s what most of us have been taught no matter what our religious tradition, in some form or another. The point of it all is to believe and trust that God exists, and is just as real as that tree or building or mountain we admire.
Not only that, religious scripture exhorts us to “know and worship Him,” even though, and despite the amazing fact, that we are told over and again that we can never truly know God!
No wonder we’ve become skeptical and disbelieving. So I ask, who is God, anyway?
To Baha’is it’s as clear as the noonday sun: the Baha’i teachings describe God as ‘that “innermost Spirit of Spirits” and “Eternal Essence of Essences,” an invisible yet rational God Who, however much we extol the divinity of His prophets on earth, in no wise incarnates His infinite, His unknowable, His incorruptible and all-embracing Reality in the concrete and limited frame of a mortal being:
To every discerning and illumined heart it is evident that God, the unknowable Essence, the Divine Being, is immensely exalted beyond every human attribute such as corporeal existence, ascent and descent, egress and regress… He is, and hath ever been, veiled in the ancient eternity of His Essence, and will remain in His Reality everlastingly hidden from the sight of men… – Baha’u’llah, Gleanings from the Writings of Baha’u’llah, p. 46.
He standeth exalted beyond and above all separation and union, all proximity and remoteness … ‘God was alone; there was none else beside Him,’ is a sure testimony of this truth. – Baha’u’llah, The Book of Certitude, pp. 98-99.
A few important words stand out here. Essence is defined as “the basic, real, and invariable nature of a thing or its significant individual feature or features.” In philosophical terms, essence is “the inward nature, true substance, or constitution of anything, as opposed to what is accidental, phenomenal, illusory, etc.” In other words, the essence of a thing in this case is the Reality of that thing, no matter what title we give it.
Of course, we all know what reality means: things we can touch, taste, smell and experience through all our other senses as well, such as temperature and balance.
But of course here, when speaking of God, we refer to a spiritual Reality above the ken and keen of mortal mind and understanding.
This spiritual Reality is a very real, very experiential, even emotional, and yes, physical reality, such as what we feel when we pray and meditate with absolute sincerity. If you’ve ever experienced any level of higher consciousness, any awareness of a reality beyond this physical world, you know what I mean.
So is there a God? Yes, I would unequivocally answer, and He ain’t wearing any whiteface, white beard and white robe like I learned He did. He’s not even a He—instead, any human concept of God falls far short of that ultimate Reality.
When we talk about this Unknowable Essence and Reality we named God along the way, it helps to know that He is love personified. Frankly, without that love we wouldn’t exist. That same love maintains order in the universe, causes the supreme magnetic forces to hold suns and planets in their places and in their orbits, and especially touches our hearts whenever a child is born.
So how do you conceive of this entity many of us call “God?”
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I, too, ask myself who is god sometimes. Perhaps, there is a bit of god in everyone of us. That if we look within with pure hearts, we find signs of god readily. The virtues are god, truthfulness is god, Justice is god, compassion is god, respect is god, joyful mess is god, love is god, kindness is god. All these virtues are within me, and when I bring them out by nurturing these virtues, then will I know god.