What an overwhelming subject for contemplation! Can the human interpret the Divine? Philosophers have reasoned about it, poets have sung of it, mystics have dreamed of it, and prophets, apostles, and martyrs have had it revealed to them in varying degrees of distinctness. Let us in the simple character of dear children, yearning to know more of Our Heavenly Father, confidingly draw near to Him. The feebleness of our loftiest perception inclines us to shrink back, when we would come face to face with the Infinite. We are confronted by our materialism, our spiritual dullness, the magnitude of the subject, and the poverty of language and expression. Solomon's Temple could not contain Him, and so our most expanded and enlightened comprehension is too puny to hold more than a few drops from the Ocean of Infinity. As we humbly and reverently come into the presence of the "Consuming Fire," let us put off the shoes of our materiality, for we are upon holy ground.
And yet, with all our littleness and ignorance, we receive a warm welcome to the Divine Banquet. As thoughts of the Eternal Mind, and as sparks from that Spiritual Flame which energizes the created universe, we turn lovingly to our Great Source.
In time past we lingered outside the GREAT TEMPLE; we studied its facade from different standpoints; we were curious about the order and symmetry of its architecture; we surveyed its lintels and door-posts, and admired their delicate carvings and tracery. If we stepped over the threshold, we employed ourselves in the outer vestibule with the dutiful observance of ordinances, sacraments, rituals, and penances. We lingered before tablets, dusty with age, trying to decipher their inscriptions of arrested developments of truth, cast into the hard outline of formulated creeds and confessions. The draperies which separate the vestibule from the Great Auditorium were drawn close by the invisible wires of literalism, materialism, and sectarian loyalty. Let us not longer remain outside among symbols and shadows, but with joyful hearts accept the eternal invitation to come in, and surround ourselves with the endless profusion of good things in the Kingdom of the Real.
Our highest concept of the One Universal Power, Life, Intelligence and Will, we call God. Other nations and peoples have designated their supreme ideals of the Infinite, as Jehovah, Buddha, Allah, the Great Spirit, and many other names, in the vain attempt to adequately express Him through the feeble power of language. The word God originally meant Good. Various suggestive definitions have been given to his name as aids in perfecting our conception of Him. He is infinite Love, Wisdom, Goodness; and there is no space, place, time, state, nor condition where He does not live and express Himself. To Him nothing can be added, and from Him nothing can be taken away. The divine life is also manifested to us in Order, Law, Harmony, Peace, Wholeness, Truth, Intelligence, Beauty, and Happiness. Our Heavenly Father is perhaps the fittest appellation to apply to that superlative mental picture which is our representation of Him to our own consciousness.
But in glancing backward through the ages and around us at the present time, we find Him designated by other titles which are misleading. He has been called Lord, Sovereign, King, Ruler, Judge, and Potentate. In a certain sense He is all of these; but their primary and peculiar meanings have come from the manifested characters of ambitious and erring men who have assumed these offices. As applied, they have humanized God instead of deifying man. The King was not God-like, but God was made King-like. Fatherhood and Kingship are almost at antipodes. The former signifies love, care, mercy, discipline, tenderness, sympathy; the latter is a synonym for pride, ambition, haughtiness, inaccessibility, and severity. Caesarism and imperialism stamped their impress upon titles and governments long before there was any general idea of human brotherhood or of republican institutions, and their dark shadows covered medieval theology. Kingship is arbitrary and artificial, while fatherhood is natural. The word Sovereign as applied to God is not found in the Bible, and yet sovereignty is the emphasized center of Calvinistic theology.
Influenced by the corrupt association of titles and false theological conceptions, a distorted view of God has long prevailed in the minds of men. Even the very terms used to distinguish Him, lent their associations to degrade his character. The haughtiness and tyranny which characterized Oriental despots were such important elements in all government, that their false analogies colored all the theology of the early church fathers. Calvin and Luther were also dominated by it, and still later the prevailing current of thought expressed by Jonathan Edwards was Divine Sovereignty as manifested in unconditional Force and Will.
By contrast, how natural, lovable, and featherlike are the New Testament delineations of God. How the utterances of Jesus and the writings of the beloved disciple glow with warmth and tenderness in their portraiture of the divine nature!
It has often been demonstrated that man's mental and even physical well-being has vital relations with his concept of God. This is an old truth (all truth is eternal), but our recognition of it needs to be awakened. The most impartial and scientific research shows that a wholesome and normal apprehension of God distinctly tends to express itself in harmony and healthfulness of both mind and body. All spiritual quality finds manifestation. God includes all primary causation. All springs, roots, and causes ultimate in Him. Our so-called causation is generally secondary. The Scriptures are crowded with broad and practical promises which have lost their significance because of our gross materialism. Paul says, "Ye are [not shall be] complete in Him." But we have lost the consciousness of such completeness. A self-centered sense of sufficiency has taken its place, which brings forth the bitter fruit of incompleteness. Internal conditions translate themselves outwardly. Such an order is logical and scientific. What external refreshment can be compared with the glorious sense of divine enfoldment? What fair sunny clime or salubrious retreat can equal a dwelling in "the secret place of the Most High "? What strength like the "Strong Tower," and what defense like "His shield and buckler"? With David we can say: "He is the health of my countenance and my God." Weary, weak, and distressed brother or sister, hold in the inner chamber of your soul the healing thought: "In Him we live and move and have our being," and keep it there until its vivifying presence sends a glow through your whole being. Clasp it in your consciousness until you feel the divine heart-throbs pulsating through the channels of your entire complex nature.
Our trust in the breadth of the divine beneficence has been mainly theoretical, and therefore we have turned to external systems instead of the Overflowing Fountain. God is our life, and it is only when the conduits which connect us with Him are obstructed, that we are conscious of dryness and leanness. If we "abide under the shadow of the Almighty," His glorious wholeness will impress its influence upon both soul and body. Thought has a wonderful molding power. "As a man thinketh, so is he." Thought of the Living One, and of His image in us, vitalizes the unseen springs of our being, even down to the subsoil of its physical basis.
When we gaze God-ward our vision is so colored by subjective states, that the Unchangeable wears the aspect of mutability. He is something different to us to-day from what He was at any time in the past. Different observers see Him in the various aspects of Justice, Love, Anger, Mercy, Power, Goodness, Severity, Wrath, Sovereignty, Harmony, Cruelty, Law, and even as Blind Force. The idea of God is unique in respect to the great diversity of its qualities to men. Any name, even that of God, is only the outward label for a mental image. When it is presented to the eye or ear, it calls up a mental delineation which has real existence in us, whether correct or deformed.
To the ancient Israelites God was a tribal or a national Deity, and even a Military Leader. He fought their battles, and when angry He was propitiated by burnt offerings and sacrifices. But with all their misconceptions, their monotheism exalted them far above the surrounding polytheistic nations. After centuries of slow progress their idea of God became broadened and spiritualized, and in the period of the primitive church, reached its highest development. But a little later a strange reactionary movement set in towards anthropomorphism. After the Apostolic period the materialistic concept of God soon became prevalent, and colored prevailing theologies; and even in this nineteenth century, its cold, mechanical limitations are only slowly fading. A humanized Deity, having a localized habitation, and possessing parts and passions, lingers with great pertinacity in the minds of men. When our standpoint is located below the white light of the spiritual horizon, a distorted God is visible. The material man sees Him as an infinitely magnified image of the human self. Man's unworthy motives, opinions, and ideas of justice, as though seen through a great telescope, are clothed with divine outlines and proportions. The vindictive man worships a vindictive God. The austere, selfish morality of the "elder brother" is often associated with the divine character. Besides these self reflected false images of God, systems of theology have painted many unlovable views of Him, and men are repelled by their hard outlines. Towards any true divine concept, humanity is drawn naturally and unconsciously. Man feels the link which binds him to God so distinctly that atheism would be almost impossible, were it not that a falsity has been set up and called God. Scholastic theology has represented Him as an august Monarch, seated upon a great throne, who glories in his sovereignty and imperialism. It has made his character autocratic and wrathful, and the natural outcome has been a formal worship inspired by fear and dread. Conscious of his weakness and sin, man cringes before God as an offended, omnipotent Personality, instead of seeking Him for strength and succor. Not wishing to bring God into his own guilty consciousness, so far as possible he has kept the "Present Help" out of his thoughts. The human elements in the Old Testament Scriptures are filled with perverted ideals of God, which have the qualities of men, and these were re-enforced by the traditions and interpretations of medieval theology.
Oh, broken and bruised humanity! how have you suffered and agonized as you looked up to such a God!
Oh, weak and timorous children of men! bound in iron fetters, how have you trembled as such a nightmare overshadowed you!
What floods of tears have expressed the desolation and helplessness of stricken souls who had only a caricature of God placed before them!
How the love-tendrils from infantile and childish hearts, spontaneously thrust out to "feel after Him," have been chilled and paralyzed!
Thank Heaven, such monstrous perversions belong mainly to the past, and golden rifts are now everywhere seen in the clouds which for so long were impenetrable. By filling humanity with a slavish fear of God, designing men more effectively promoted their monarchical and ecclesiastical dominion. It has been a moral impossibility for the human heart to "pant after" Him when presented in such false proportions.
God cannot be seen through the intellect. Dogmatism has built up a logical and institutional Deity, and though he be moral and lawful, he is not lovable. In order to kindle love in the breast of man, he must behold that which in its own nature is attractive. The scholastic conceptions of God have been so sharply drawn, that they amount to a mental graven image. There is a world-wide chasm between a spiritual perception of God, and the very best concept which can be formed by intellectual processes. The one sees and feels the Eternal Life, Love, and Truth, while the other theorizes upon a legal or mechanical force, as an objective Deity. The first glows in the depths of its own being with reflected warmth and brightness, while the last is a frame-work of system, fitted together by scholastic logic. The unaided intellect is colorblind to divine harmony.
Idolatry was never more prevalent than at the present time. It is only when the gods of worldly ambition, of mammon, of fleshly appetites, of the baser self and the material body, are hurled from their pedestals, that our clarified vision begins to discern the Eternal One. We also pay unconscious homage to modern, material invention and scientific achievement. We are looking forward to some Golden Age which will be ushered in by a new social order; nationalized land, impossible poverty, perfected legislation, improved medication, sanitation and communication. When these external ideals occupy the thought, and form the great desideratum, they become idols. The belief that mankind can realize completeness and happiness in these achievements, rather than in God, amounts to an idolatrous homage, however desirable, they are secondary.
How often the crudity of our childish ideas clothed God with material form and gigantic human outline, and such imagery is still present in some degree in many adult and even scholarly minds. If the spoken name of the Deity brings before the mind any image having material quality, it is a graven image, and therefore an "other" god than the One who is Spirit. The gross ideals of the medieval church, and also those of later periods, were grotesquely expressed by the old masters, who represented the Father as an aged man, with flowing hair and beard, and stern, dignified bearing.
Anthropomorphism has insisted upon the conception of God as a person. In a sense we may call Him personal, and yet the term, to most minds, conveys the idea of limitation. To whatever degree our concept of Him involves such a quality, it is false, and therefore idolatrous. How impotent is human language for the expression of Divinity! Its narrow definitions do not fit the Infinite. Beware, Beloved, lest we hastily call our brother an atheist or a pantheist, because his idea of God does not quite coincide with ours. Of the two, his concept may be the truer and larger. The Infinite Love, Life, Will, and Intelligence, is the true God. Unless the term person is enlarged and lifted infinitely above that which it signifies to most minds, it is too circumscribed to define the All in All. Any mental image of God which has to do with changeableness or with any materialistic form, locality, height, breadth, or depth, is false, and with a wrong beginning every logical outcome will be perverted.
All true religion must have for its basis a right conception of God. This is at once the center and foundation. If the starting-point be wrong, the problem of man's relation to his Maker will not be solved. It has been said: "If man has a false idea of God, his love of God is the love of an untruth, and everything will be in some degree wrong with him." Friends, ponder the tremendous import of such a fact. How full is the world and the church of unconscious idolatry! In a certain sense man creates the God he worships. His own mental concept receives his homage, and it is in some degree of his own construction. The Calvinist has formed a different idea of God from the Armenian, and the Trinitarian from the Unitarian. The tribal, the national, the traditional, the institutional, and the denominational deities have had human shading and coloring. All such concepts, and such as are peculiar to "Jerusalem" and "this mountain," need to be rectified by a worship which is consciously "in spirit and in truth." It is only as we go beneath "the letter" that we find the true spiritual idea of God delineated in the Bible, which portraiture also found concrete outward expression in the Christ. A correspondence of these ideals is also discovered in the intuitional deeps of our own souls, when we delve beneath the false strata of materialism and dogmatism. Intellectual tradition and speculation have veiled our spiritual eyes, and thus the likeness of God has become dimmed and humanized. Even by religious teachers, and in theological systems, God has been presented as the Author of evil, trouble, and disease, and as actively exercising the reflected human qualities of hate, wrath, and vengeance. At the same time, men have been told that they must love such a God supremely, under the alternative of endless punishment. The choice thus presented has been either eternal woe, or a moral impossibility. Dogmatic systems have clothed God with a Roman sternness of legality and unapproachableness.
Oh, sincere but mistaken teachers, who have evolved such a Deity from your dark imaginings, and then expected that your brothers and sisters would yearn after him; go back, and with child-like humility learn the alphabet of His nature! Oh, desponding brother, to whom life is a "vale of tears," know that the dark universe upon which you gaze is but a reflection of your magnified selfish gloom! Oh, inwardly barren soul, be not surprised that God's green fields are, to you, a veritable Sahara! Oh, weary, footsore pilgrim on life's journey, with your field of vision filled with shadows and specters, rise to a higher standpoint, and the Sun of righteousness will dissolve all clouds and illumine the whole horizon!
God is not a mixed being of opposite and conflicting principles, as good and evil, love and hate. Unity and harmony form his monogram which He has stamped upon the open page of nature, and graven upon the tablets of the hearts of his children.
We misunderstand God in what we call the "acts of his providence." There are certain orders of events which are entirely beyond human control, as earthquakes, tornadoes, and floods. There are others in which there is a seeming mixture of human and divine agency. Regarding the first, some interpret such phenomena as sent directly by God, and others, as the outcome of "laws of nature " which were first instituted by Him, but which often prove terribly calamitous to man. An earthquake destroys a city, and many human lives are lost. How can God, who is infinite and unmixed Love, cause or permit such a calamity? It is at once assumed that such an event is an intrinsic evil, and therefore, as God must be the author of it, that He sends evil. Evil is a moral subjective human quality. How can it come out of Infinite Good? To solve such a problem, we must take a broader view in the perspective of the Real. Let us open the eyes of our spiritual understanding and see if we cannot find some interpretation of such occurrences. God is spirit; and man, being made in God's image, is also spirit. The intrinsic man is spirit, even on the present plane. Therefore no physical "calamity" can touch so much as a "hair of his head." Man's body is not man; but he has lost the consciousness that he is spirit, here and now (however well he may know it theoretically), and therefore has lost the divine and only true standpoint. He has grown materialistic, and unconsciously identified the ego with his body, which only exists as a form of external expression. In proportion to man's materialism, physical disaster to him implies evil. Only spiritual vision can distinguish the true proportion of events. We therefore confidently accept the proposition that God is Good, and All is Good. As spiritual bodies (divine images), here and now, no material catastrophe can harm us. In nature all movements are good, for they are in accord with natural law and development, and these are beneficent. No objective evil can pierce to the real or spiritual self. It is the animal, or false self, which beholds images of evil. Can we live in the body and not be of the body? Just in that degree that we have a constant and ruling consciousness of our divine birthright. A minor order of events, such as personal misfortune and disease, also gain their somber aspect from our homage to matter. With a ruling spiritual consciousness, disease would finally disappear, for inner health and harmony would have exact correspondence in outward expression. "A good tree cannot bring forth corrupt fruit."
It is only to our color-blind and inverted vision that there appears to be two great opposing principles at warfare in the Universe. With the telescope of spirit, which reveals all that is real, we may sweep the illimitable Cosmos, and find harmony without discord,—One Principle, One Good.
Is not, then, the material or the physical life of value? Yes, it is sacred as an expression of what is within it. Only when mistaken for the Reality, and thereby idolized, does it become discordant and tyrannical. Viewed as external manifestation, it grows beautiful, and also becomes harmonious with the environment of its own plane.
We are utterly unable to discern the true God objectively, until the subjective torch in our own souls has been lighted. Darkness within, directly reflects outer darkness. The beloved disciple says: "God is light, and in him is no darkness." Darkness in the spiritual as in the physical world is negation. Its delusive appearance of reality comes from idolizing unreality. To clarify our vision we must center our pure desire and aspiration upon the Supreme Good, and hold it there until the surrounding negation fades out of view. When the sun rises, the moon and stars disappear. When God is beheld in his Allness, opposites vanish into their native oblivion. Then selfhood is put under foot, and we are filled with the "mind of Christ."
"Having promise of the life that now is." God is our life, though we feel vitality as if it were our own. All life is God manifested. When selfhood is our life-center, our orbit is eccentric and confused. God is the Living One, comprising both center and circumference. Spirit is eternal, and death non-existent except to the eye of sense. Death is the casting-off of a crude form of expression for our which is more perfect, and therefore it is not death, but fuller life. A sense of matter is decay. An homage of the unreal is idolatry. Such senses of false life must die, but souls live, because they are images of God. Spirit is indestructible.
The cry of the human soul after God, and its restlessness until it finds Him, is because of its intrinsic oneness with Him. God is the counterpart and complement of humanity. Man is like a discordant musical instrument until he comes into recognized unison with his Maker.
There is an aspect of God which presents him as a Trinity. The threefold nature, as seen by man, furnishes a fulcrum as an aid to the finite in comprehending the Infinite. It is impossible for sensuous man to interpret Spirit (God) except through divine manifestation. In Christ, God filled the human mold perfectly, and that demonstration was an expression of divinity to mankind on the human plane. The Holy Spirit, as God, becomes a Guest of the human spirit, and thus a great seeming chasm between them is filled. God is one God, but to human view there is a threefold Deific demonstration. It is not God, composed of three distinct persons, but a triple manifestation of God to human consciousness, that constitutes the Trinity. To know God aright is "life eternal." To our rudimentary spiritual vision the Incomprehensible One is resolved. Our eyes would be blinded by the full effulgence of the white light of One Spirit and Life, and so it comes to us softened, divided, and expressed.
And yet, Beloved, God is not complex, and to know him, a child-like transparency is requisite, while the mightiest intellect may cry: "Oh, that I might find him!" A view from the top of the loftiest tower which can be built upon the intellectual plane, will not bring Him within the field of vision; but at the center of every soul there is a "Mount of Transfiguration," from the summit of which we may get veritable glimpses of the Beautiful Reality. In the clear azure spanning that "Mount" we read a Name in letters of light, and that Name is Love.