The Mystery of God

God may be understood as our Source and divine Providence, but it is still a mystery which can be understood in many ways.

For various reasons argued elsewhere, I believe there is something greater that brings us all into being, binds us and gives us direction. I call this the Source; others call it God or other names. But what or who is this God?


Some see the Source as pure goodness or pure bliss or some other identifiable state of perfection. Others including myself see it as something beyond attribute, beyond goodness or beyond bliss - beyond everything, though also in everything. In my view, goodness is part of the Source, just like everything else. In all our many colours – our light and shade - we come from the Source; but within that Source we have Providence, which is the agent of goodness.


For the sake of discussion here, I wrap the Source and Providence up in the one bundle and label it God, which is what the followers of the monotheistic religions do. Thus I have, I think, at least some conceptual clarity. But still my mind is in a fog, for when I try to explain God I see only a mystery.


God as the Absolute


One way of making sense of this mystery is through the idea of the Absolute. The Wikipedia article on Absolute (philosophy) says:


In philosophy, the Absolute is the term used for the ultimate or most supreme being, usually conceived as either encompassing “the sum of all being, actual and potential”, or otherwise transcending the concept of “being altogether. While the general concept of a supreme being has been present since ancient times, the exact term “Absolute” was first introduced by Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, and features prominently in the work of many of his followers.


The term “Absolute” has also been applied to Brahman, supreme deity of Indian religions.


Whether the Absolute – God or the Source - is the sum of all being (as Spinoza thought) or is somehow beyond being is not really of any importance to us in our daily lives; it’s an imponderable that doesn’t affect the way we go about our business. What is important is the following five points:


  1. There is or seems to be something that accounts for our existence – “the sum of all being, actual and potential” – which logically we cannot limit in any way (for we have no basis for doing so) though we can talk about its aspects.

  2. One aspect is that it provides for us in all sorts of ways – the traditional notion of God or Providence.

  3. Another aspect is that it is endlessly creative, bringing forth novelty and sustaining and enhancing life through the interaction of truth (the cosmic order) with individual will.

  4. Another aspect is that it is so all-embracing as to encompass all things, evil and suffering as well as the good, and decline and death as well as birth and flourishing.

  5. Another aspect is that there is apparently some sort of mind or intelligence at work, revealing itself sometimes directly, sometimes in paradox and sometimes through a cloud of confusion; but again, limiting our thoughts in any way is an error. Thus relying on revelation alone is an error; seeing mind in purely mechanical terms is an error; and conceiving of a universal mind that is constantly evolving is also an error, for this implies that the Source has not always been complete and that the Absolute has been less than whole.


To say all this, however, is still not enough, for it does not address our lived experience of God. God may be ultimately one – the Absolute - but it is also the many which are subordinate to the Absolute.


God is in many things


God our Source, our Absolute, our ultimate frame of reference is typically found in many things. Some find it in humans or human-like beings, mythical creatures, the self, the sun, the sky, the ocean, light, vegetation, animals, places, the changing seasons, life, creation, goodness, good and evil, beauty - the list goes on.


This multiplicity of perspectives is one of the reasons why so many people find the whole subject too hard and refuse to engage with it at all.


Wherever this God is, I suggest, must be something of the everyday as well as something of mystery. It must be something we can converse with or interact with. It is, perhaps, whatever we need at any given time, yet also whatever can most surprise and indeed transform.


God is found in the mystery of the connectedness of things: that things fit together and work together and do so willingly. The scale of this phenomenon is cosmic and beyond human explanation; it simply is. It is the way of things. It is in all but transcending all, core as well as context. It is that which underpins our existence and our ongoing creation, our ongoing will not only to live but to live well. It is the reason for the apparent uniqueness of our universe and our planet. It is the unity of all things and the fundamental integrity of all. It is the unity and the diversity, harmonious and balanced. It is the endless resilience of everything.


If I consider the providential aspect of God, as I often do, it is the endless capacity of the universe to provide for me (and for others). It provides for me by giving me sustenance, beauty, gentleness, ideals, inspiration and so on. It also challenges me and so provides for me in negative ways.


If I want an immediacy of connection with God I have only to look at or touch or smell or listen to things that are all around me. My own personal connection with God is strongest through leaf in all its forms, however it can come through other things as well, water especially, indeed any kind of beauty or source of inspiration. Sometimes too it comes through human interactions, the caring look, the helping hand.


Conclusion


Whether we see God as the Source of all or the Good that provides for us all, or both, or even something different, mystery remains.


For me, the first step in clarifying this mystery is the distinction I have drawn between Source and Provenance, or Source and the Good. This gives at least a conceptual clarity that is often missing in discussions of this kind.


Secondly, I recognize that the mystery has many different aspects – one might say the number of aspects is almost unlimited, for it is something deeply personal. I have outlined a few of these aspects – connectedness, unity, resilience, providence.


All this I know (or think I know) intellectually, yet still the mystery remains. The magnitude of the Source is too great to grasp emotionally or even through imagination.


God, our Source and divine Providence, is a constant mystery to us. This is inevitable, for we are by our nature too small to comprehend something which is beyond definition – something which accounts for and encompasses all being, actual and potential.

Even if we struggle to explain the divine mystery in any single coherent way, we have many ways of accessing it. There are some who interpret the mystery through a superhuman sort of person like Jesus Christ, or the Indian pantheon of gods and goddesses, or the Chinese. Others relate to the mystery though nature or aspects of nature – the depth of the sea, the impenetrability of the sky, the energy of wind, the power of the Sun, the majesty of the lion or the eagle. Then there are those who accommodate themselves to the mystery by way of ideas – abstractions – like goodness, beauty, the unity and connectedness of things, or the relentless energy and inventiveness of ongoing creation. Potentially, there are as many paths to connection with the divine mystery as there are people.

We can choose to deny the existence of this mystery, but if we take the more positive stance which is acceptance, we can deal with it through reason or emotion or both. We can have a rational explanation of sorts and at the same time have the joy (or awe or terror or whatever emotion occurs) of experiencing God in some aspect of the everyday.