‘God’ — A Most Misunderstood Word
I would argue that the biggest reason that people lose faith in there being ‘God’, is because ‘God’ is the most misused and misunderstood word that there is . The pervasive and pernicious caricature that ‘God’ is some dude on a cloud with a beard, makes a mockery of religion and of the very idea of Divinity and turns away anyone who has a capacity for critical thinking, but lacks access to truthful religious teaching.
If you don’t believe in ‘God’ because you have been led to believe that ‘God’, like Santa, is a character sitting in the sky, scrutinizing our behavior, judging us as good and bad, then I feel fully that you are absolutely correct in not believing in such a thing.
It is beyond ridiculous.
If that is what you believe, however, you may be surprised when I say that none of the major religions consider that to be what is meant by the concept ‘God’.
A proper understanding of this one concept would easily allow one to make sense of most of the so-called mysteries of religion and also much more of our own lived experience.
The problem is that, as with any human institution, religions are comprised of finite, i.e. limited human beings.
In case you haven’t met a human, I can tell you we are all perfectly imperfect. Many of us don’t know what we are talking about, many have agendas for power and control and many fashion ‘God’ into an image of their own understanding.
There are genuine lineages in every religion, where the truth of the Divine is taught with truth, depth and subtlety, but relatively few people encounter those true teachings, which are usually drowned out by the vaster noise of the confused or the corrupt.
This problem is compounded by the nature of our modern world, where few people have time to truly investigate the vast phenomenon that is religion, nor even deeply study their own.
Too often, people base their opinion on what ‘God’ is by this ‘God’, the all-powerful father metaphor, that they may have encountered in their childhood, rather than by developing a more profound understanding of the concept through deep personal study, let alone from personal experience.
In Judaism, the progenitor of monotheism, there are 72 names for ‘God’, each referring to some aspect of the Divine, yet in day to day practice the Divine is referred to simply as Hashem, ‘The Name’, precisely because it is considered better to leave undefined a concept that is too expansive to fit into a single word.
Outside of the religion itself, I have seldom seen anyone adequately explain the Jewish concept of ‘God’. Most folk seem to think Jews believe in some vengeful ‘God’ named Jehova, or Yahweh, but that is not the case. The same understanding of ‘God’ that is found in Judaism, properly understood, can also be found within streams of all the major religions, including Hinduism and Buddhism, which typically aren’t considered monotheistic.
The holiest prayer in Judaism is the Shema, in which the holiest line, affirmed by Jews repeatedly every day, is often translated as ‘Hear O Israel, the Lord is your God, the Lord is One’.
Obviously Hebrew is not English and translation can be a subtle thing. A more truthful translation of that holy line would be ‘Hear O Israel, The Lord is your God, the Lord is a Oneness,’ i.e. that ‘God’ is a Unity.
This basic concept that ‘God’ is a unity can be found in the writings of such revered Christian theologians as Aquinas and Boethius. Yet this simple truth is in fact the starting point and most basic building block of every mystical tradition in every religion, from Sufism to Daoism and everything in between. Even Hinduism, according to some teachers, doesn’t hold that there are many ‘Gods’ but, like Judaism, takes the many deities to be expressions of different aspects of the One Godhead.
It is simply the wording and the confusion of concepts that often makes folk think that something different lies at the heart of different religions.
Religions may differ in their understanding of the form of how we should relate to the Divine, but their concept of what the Divine is, is One.
This idea that ‘God’ is a oneness is simply an expression of the idea that:
nothing exists but ‘God’. Everything that is in existence is one inter-dependent, inter-twined Whole and that Whole has intelligence, that Whole is conscious, that Whole is consciousness.
Everything from our mother Earth, to the most distant star, from the insects to ourselves, is an aspect of the Divinity expressing itself into form. Everything is Sacred. Everything is engaged in a great dance of being as the one Whole experiences itself from infinite points of perspective.
When we see the incredible, self-organizing, natural intelligence of life we are seeing ‘God’ in its continual, ongoing, unfolding of creation.
To speak of ‘God’ is to refer to life itself and of death and of more than we can perceive. ‘God’ is both the infinite and the finite and more than can be conceived through the finite medium of the mind.
‘God’ is not a separate something
Following from the misunderstanding of what ‘God’ is, we may turn to such ‘mysteries’ as the problem of evil. Why does this all-powerful, all-knowing, all-good ‘God’ allow the evil we experience in our human life?
Well, one reason is because we are ‘God’ and we are co-creating our reality together. If you don’t like it, stop perpetuating bad choices. There is no point waiting for some outside force to come save us. We have the power and the responsibility to save ourselves.
We are souls with bodies, but in truth we are all aspects of the One Soul, which is the Oversoul, which is ‘God’. (Emerson’s essay ‘The Oversoul’, is a classic and deeply beautiful statement of this timeless truth.)
We are ‘God’ experiencing itself in a particular form and exploring a particular form of experience and there is great purpose, benevolence and beauty in that, if only you can find it in yourself.
I would also like to distinguish that while we are ‘God’, we are not the whole of ‘God’, but rather we are like cells in the body of ‘God’. We are in a co-creative dance with the rest of creation and so we must treat others as we would treat ourselves, because everything is a piece of our greater self.
Cut down the amazon and you are cutting your own lungs. Poison a river and you poison the One water, which recycles in and out of you over and over. Exploit your brother and know you are creating a culture of exploitation that has just become a part of your own life. Everything you do, you do to yourself.
As is true of our body, each cell contains all that is contained by the whole, for we are a microcosm of the macrocosm. The Universe is a fractal hologram, its’ parts contain the whole and vice-versa. So ‘enlightenment’ is possible to us, because it is possible for us to have what psychology calls the ‘peak experience,’ to know ourselves as ‘God’ and thereby to embody a consciousness that perceives our own true place within our One Intertwined Whole, which you can call ‘God’, or you can call ‘Life’, or which you can call whatever, so long as you are aware that the word is very far from the thing itself.
This is a lived experience. Like sex, it cannot be truly known, until you have experienced it. Heaven and Hell are not places, but states within us. The more you walk in peace and truth, the more you will find it pouring into your life, within and without, for you are both the actor and the author of your own story, creating with every thought, word and deed, just as we are collectively authoring and creating the story of humanity, within our world of experience.
As soon as you stop thinking of ‘God’ as something ‘out there’, you are ready to start seeing your spiritual practice as the practice of cultivating and growing your relationship with the Divine, in you, around you and moving through you, in every moment of being and becoming.