Library volunteer Peter Cox shares some of his thoughts on finding God.
Awareness of God
Humankind’s first inkling of God may have been several millions of years ago. Judging from experiences of various people, this inkling may have begun from a simple awareness of God either personally or through the earth. The personal awareness was probably too primitive to be termed a full relationship with God and the apparent personal ‘God’ would not have been regarded as the God of anyone else. Nevertheless, a personal primitive God could appear to be constant and loving. However, the more that people became aware of the same loving God, the more certain that God would be and the greater chance that a quest for such a God would be successful. Moreover, the true God would be the God of all things and considerably more powerful than a god of one human person alone. It would therefore be a very significant step to find this powerful God. Such a step may be difficult because of a general support for different gods supported by organised religion. The awareness of God in the universe was probably initially not towards a universal God but to a multiplicity of spirits of various elements of the earth such the sun, moon, water, fertility, etc, which became a host of gods. As humankind began to realise that all elements of the earth were related, there became a tendency to believe in a chief god over the other gods. These gods often acted according to what human persons did or did not do. The exchange of gifts between the god and humankind were often quantitative and was therefore judicial in a material sense so that the relationships with the gods would not be based upon love. History is full of instances when sacrifices were made to a god or gods so that crops would not fail and enemies were overcome. Moreover, many states used religion as a device to protect their supremacy so that their gods were subject to invention.
Finding the God of Darkness by contemplation
A universal God cannot be a god who acts judicially and therefore materially so that He must be other than the universe. A person finding the true God therefore has to search beyond all earthly things such as images and words including those of religion. This is why the God found in this way can be termed the God of Darkness. Some will find only a false God because they have mixed the true God with earthly things. Others will not have the courage to enter a realm which is unknowable to them. However, if a person found the true God, His awesome power would be experienced and the God of certainty would be found. From the book of Genesis, it appears that at least Moses1 and Elijah2 found this God of Darkness and quite likely Abraham also. If Abraham had found the universal God, it would explain why he would do anything for God even if it meant sacrificing his own son.3 In patristic times, the God of Darkness was found by St Gregory of Nazianzus,4 St PseudoDionysius,5 and St Maximus the Confessor.6
Finding the God of Light
Another aspect of God is perceived through the universe as expressed by Isaiah.7 While this experience has less depth than that of the God of Otherness, it is just as important. Those who experience the God through the universe receive the impression of light and love. Such a light is ‘truly mysterious’8 and so is not the same as physical light. Furthermore, God desires that His love be returned as Hosea stated that God desires ‘steadfast love (but) not sacrifice.’9 The impression of the God of Love therefore appears to be more outgoing than the God of Otherness.
Reconciliation of the God of Otherness and Love
If God was only ‘other’, He would be entirely unknowable so He could not be found. If God was not ‘other’, He would be an element of the universe and not God. If however, God related to the universe without being limited by its attributes, He would maintain His distinction (διακρισις) from the universe and therefore still be ‘other’ as well as relating with love. This unrestricted God would be infinite relative to the universe so that His love would be infinite and directed towards all things without partiality.10 Also, as He would be unrestricted by number, He could be regarded as the One11 as He could not be divided.
The divine essence and energies
If we find the true God, we will realise that He is infinite relative to us but, because of this, He can never be completely knowable to us. If we also find that He loves the universe and its parts, we would never be able to understand the infinite quality of His love. We can express this by saying that we cannot know God as He is in Himself12 which St Maximus defined as the divine essence.13 The fact that we can find God at all must be because of His infinite love and because parts of the universe are able to respond to it. The resulting affect of the divine love and the response can be termed the divine energies in contrast to the unknowable divine essence. However, we cannot categorically state that only human persons can find God as, because the infinite quality of God’s love, even an almost infinitesimal response could enable some knowledge of God to be found.
1. Ex 3.2-6.
2. 1 Kings 19.11-13.
3. Gen 22.
4. St Gregory Nazianzus, Orat 37 on Mt 19; PG 36; trans. NPNF2, Vol 7, p. 339.
5. St Pseudo-Dionysius, Myst Theol 1.2; PG 3, Col. 1000A; trans. CWS-PD, p. 139.
6. St Maximus, Gnost 1.84-85; PG 90,; trans. CWS-MC, p. 144.
7. Isa 6.3.
8. St Pseudo-Dionysius, Myst Theol, 1.1/1.3/1.3; PG 3, cols 1000A/1000C/10001A; trans. CWS-PD.
9. Hosea 6.6.
10. Acts 10.34.
11. 1 Cor 8.6.
12. St Maximus, Char 4.7; PG 90; trans. CWS-MC, p. 76.
13. St Maximus, Amb 34.2; PG 91, col. 1288B; NC-AMB2, p. 67.