Do we really know about the nature of God?
Well, yes, we have the revealed religions to tell us of God’s nature.
But, some may wonder: do we humans impute our hangups, our biases, our character traits (or even character flaws) on to God, or at least on to our concept of God?
When one studies the major religions of the world, one can find examples of where over the centuries the content of the message (or teachings) is altered and/or the emphasis on various precepts is changed. Priests, rabbis, Buddhist abbots, and Brahmins are not necessarily free of the desire to leave their personal mark on their respective faiths. As well, we ought not assume that all who take religious vows are of unimpeachable moral character. “Truths” can be modified by those who are driven by zealotry, fanaticism or hypocrisy. Organized religion, we are sorry to say, does have some weighty baggage that might be better let go of.
Thus, if there are distortions in our concept of God or our understanding of His nature, perhaps we ought not be very surprised.
Other writers have written that the religious teachings revealed throughout history are tailored to the level of understanding of the people at the time. (A useful analogy might be that you would not attempt to teach college calculus to young children just learning arithmetic.) This may help to explain why some of the teachings that have come down to us moderns are a cause of considerable consternation. Some may believe that not very much about God has been revealed to us.
Consider the differences between the Biblical understanding of God and how God is thought of or understood in India. Yahweh is very different from Krishna (or even the impersonal Brahman). The Semitic conception or understanding of God is of a supreme being that is very stern and harsh. Perhaps this conception is in part due to the harsh physical and social environment that the ancient Hebrews lived in. Warlike desert peoples will have harsh gods. In India, Krishna is in some ways a playful God. And, though per the teachings of Hinduism humans still need to live moral lives or suffer the serious consequences through the inexorable law of Karma, there is not this idea of a perpetually aggrieved, angry God because of the fall of 2 early humans from a paradisal state.
Radhakrishnan, in The Hindu View of Life, says that religious experience is mediated or filtered culturally and psychologically and this also contributes to the differences in our “understanding” of God. We include a few thought provoking quotes here:
“. . . . The variety of the pictures of God is easily intelligible when we realize that religious experience is psychologically mediated. . . . . . .
“It is sometimes urged that the descriptions of God conflict with one another. It only shows that our notions are not true. To say that our ideas of God are not true is not to deny the reality of God to which our ideas refer.” (page 20, emphasis mine)
“The history of philosophy in India as well as Europe has been one long illustration of the inability of the human mind to solve the mystery of the relation of God to the world. The greatest thinkers are those who admit the mystery and comfort themselves by the idea that the human mind is not omniscient.” (page 49)
That last remark is very apropos for many in the arenas of modern philosophy and of science. The human mind is not all-knowing and does have its limitations. That is a humbling and troubling thought for many who lack a certain helpful humility.
Of course, there are the mystics who claim to have bona fide spiritual experiences. Their experiences in a different level of consciousness are largely beyond words. But, it does seem that these experiences are transformative, and have a profound impact on the persons who have them. If you have had the spiritual experience, much of this “do do this” and “don’t do that” is unnecessary. You will naturally not want to hurt others. You will awaken or tap into a truly loving part of our spiritual nature that largely lies dormant in the vast majority of the population. Buried under all this fighting over differences is the fact that all our souls come from God – even though many of us do not realize this.
We have touched on this question/topic in a few previous essays on this blog. Thus, we keep it short today.
For interested readers, we recommend this earlier essay:
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