Is God an Outside Job or an Inside Job?

Whether God is an Outside Job or an Inside Job, is a fundamental question which strongly effects how -or even whether- one might seek a mystical experience with the Divine.  It requires us to question how we anticipate God acting in the world.  Answering, requires that we reflect upon our understanding of the ontology of God.

(Merriam-Webster.com defines ontology as:  1. A branch of metaphysics concerned with the nature and relations of being;  2. A particular theory about the nature of being or the kinds of things that have existence.)

  •   What is God’s nature?
  •   What is our relationship to God, in terms of relative classification or “kind” of being?

I believe Theologian Paul Tillich is correct in observing that the Western perception of God is most commonly described in one of two ways:

  1.   An outside force, divorced from humanity (this is the “invading” God of which bishop Spong speaks).
  2.   A living force, which flows up from our depths of being (an aspect of Tillich’s “ground of being”).

The Outside God is always alien to us;  a God from which we are forever separated due to our nature;  God is radically Other.  For those seeking a mystical apprehension of the Divine, perhaps the most important point to note is that -due to our very nature- we can *never* attain Unity with the Divine.  The separation between God and Humanity is devastatingly, categorically absolute.

The Inside God, in stark contrast to the Outside God, is of the same nature as are we;  we share an essence of the Divine;  we have access to the vitality of the Divine;  some even observe the Divine *is* the very life we carry.  In this view, each of us contains an “inner spark of the Divine.”  Some view this spark as innate, others as potential.  (Is it a flame or a seed?)  We may be removed from God by various degrees, but because we and God are of the same root nature, ultimately of the same Source -because ultimately there is only One- we are always potentially able to attain (or return to) Unity with the Divine.

Among the major contrasting themes are:

  •   Separation vs. Unity;
  •   Alien vs. Intimate;
  •   Exterior Force vs. Interior Force;
  •   Acting Upon Us vs. Acting From Within Us;
  •   Transcendence vs. Immanence.

And there is a direct corollary to how this effects our understanding of the bible (or any other sacred text).  These two very different perspectives from which to view God, the bible, and humankind may be illustrated by asking ourselves two questions:

  1.   Did God write the bible?
  2.   Or are the texts of the bible representative of the human effort to apprehend God?

These are very different things!  If God wrote the bible we must struggle with why God hates some people and loves others.  Why does God demand genocide?  (Bishop Spong answers this quite simply and effectively:  the god of hate represents a tribal god;  tribal gods always hate who we hate.)

Once we recognize that sacred scripture is written as a human attempt to explore our apprehension of the Divine, we are able to see instances of tribal god worship contrasted against worship of a Universal God of Love.  Which expression of the Divine is nearer our human heart largely is a question of which stage of faith we predominately occupy spiritually.  (For a discussion of stages of faith, see earlier blogs of March, June and July of 2013.)

Are we derivative of the Divine?

I suspect we are.  I suspect we flow from the Divine Source.  I certainly do not think the Divine flows from us:  through us, yes;  but not from us, as if we are the Source.

At least, in so far as we presently exist.  But I also suspect the question is more complex.  Our views are constrained by concepts such as Time.  If one is able to imagine a view which does not include Time, one might find questions such as who is derivative of whom to be without meaning.

For reasons such as this, I believe we are well served by maintaining a certain “looseness” in our thoughts and apprehensions.  I have long suspected that after our physical deaths we may very well discover that a great many of the questions with which we are so concerned, will not be found to be right or wrong, but rather so thoroughly misapprehended, as to be without meaning.

Yet we must begin where we find ourselves, and work with what tools we have.

I call this Practical Mysticism.  The subject of mysticism and of seeking union with the Divine is so broad and deep that I suspect we will never take its measure in one lifetime.  Severely complicating matters is our inability to express the experience through language.  This inability to share the subtle nature of the experience of the Divine limits our ability to learn from the experience of those who travelled before us.

Great mystics have left us clues.  Impressions, however vague, of their apprehension of the Divine.  But such works are nothing like engineering texts describing how to build a bridge or rocket.

Thus, to a large degree we each must plot our own course into the Unknown.  And it is all too easy to loose our bearings.  It is my opinion we should attempt to fix, as best we may, certain points to serve as light houses, or constellations, by which we may sail into the Cloud of Unknowing, which surrounds and obscures the Divine.  Yet we must always remain aware these are relative bearings only;  they do not, and are not meant to, literally limit the Divine to the confines of our puny intellect.

As I now apprehend the Divine, It is both Transcendent and Immanent.  And ultimately, Ineffable.   Merriam-Webster.com defines these terms as:

Transcendence

  •   The quality or state of being transcendent.

Transcendent

  •   Extending or lying beyond the limits of ordinary experience;
  •   In Kantian philosophy:  being beyond the limits of all possible experience and knowledge;
  •   Being beyond comprehension.

Immanence

  •   The quality or state of being immanent.

Immanent

  •   Indwelling, inherent;
  •   Being within the limits of possible experience or knowledge — compare transcendent.

Ineffable

  •   Incapable of being expressed in words — indescribable.

There is an aspect of the Divine which will always remain to the human mind and heart utterly Transcendent.  We forget this when we squish God into a box and define who God loves and hates, and are so arrogant as to explain why.  This aspect of the Divine is incomprehensibly alien to us.  This apprehension of the Divine informs us that we know so little of the Divine, as to know nothing.  We should be incredibly humble in face of this profound state of ignorance, which we all share.

Yet, simultaneously there is an immanent aspect of the Divine, one which bubbles forth from our own depths!  (And from all life, for that matter.)  This is the aspect of the Divine which we may come to know as a part of ourselves, intimately.  This is the inner-divinity of which all mystics speak, yet are unable to fully express.

We might consider the implications of the ineffable nature of the experience which mystics seek.  Having had an experience of “Mystical Union with the Divine” it is consistently related as being an experience which is incapable of being expressed in words.  Imagine “seeing the face of God” and being unable to relate that experience to others, except in the most impoverished terms.

Many find this frustrating.  However, I believe we should consider reframing our perspective.  While we may not be able to share in the experience others have had, we are able to draw inspiration from the event itself:

  •   we too may aspire to share a similar sense of Union with the Divine!
  •   if they can do it, so may we!

 

With blessings,

Erik+

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