About the same time I chanced on a passage written by Joseph Joubert, an eighteenth-century French Catholic, not so well known to the modern reader as he ought to be, which impressed me deeply.
“The soul cannot move, wake, or open the eyes without perceiving God. We perceive God through the soul as we feel the air on the body. Dare I say it? We can know God easily so long as we do not feel it necessary to define Him.”
I began to see that, like most Caucasian Christians, I had been laying too much stress on the definition. The Trinity had, so to speak, come between me and the Godhead. I had, unconsciously, attached more importance to God’s being Three than to His being God. Seeing Him as Three, I instinctively saw Him as Three Persons. Seeing Him as Three Persons, I did not reflect that the word Person as applied to God must be used in a sense wholly different from that in which we employ it with regard to men. To get into what I call the open, I had to bring myself to understand that we cannot enclose the Infinite in a shape, or three shapes, resembling in any way the being with digestive organs, arms, and legs, which worked its way up from slime.
That is, in order to “dwell in the secret place of the Most High, ” where one is immune from fear, I was obliged to give up the habit of embodying God in any form. I had to confess that, what is meant by the Three Persons in One God, I did not know. Furthermore, I saw no necessity for thinking that I knew, since such knowledge must transcend all scope of the human mind. The formula, if you must have a formula, is one thing; but turning it into a statute of limitations and applying it to the Illimitable is another.
To make my position clearer, and to avoid the subject of religion, let me add that, inferring from the Bible that there is a Father, a Son, and a Holy Ghost, I did not feel it imperative on my part to go beyond this use of terms. Merely to abstain from definition was like a load taken off my mind. How the Son was begotten of the Father, or the Holy Ghost proceeded from them both, or what eternal mysteries were symbolized in this purely human phraseology, were, it seemed to me, matters with which I need not concern myself, seeing that they passed all my comprehension. Not the Trinity should come first to powers so limited as mine—but God.
It dawned on me too, that God need not necessarily be to me what He is to others, nor to others what He is to me. Of the Infinite, the finite mind can only catch a finite glimpse. I see what I can see; another sees what he can see. The visions may be different, and yet each vision may be true. Just as two painters painting the same landscape will give dissimilar views of it, so two minds contemplating God will take of Him only what each is fitted to receive. Water poured into differently coloured glasses will take on the colour of the cup which it fills, even though it be the self-same water in them all. If I find God for myself, I shall probably not behold in Him exactly what anyone else in the whole world or in all time has ever beheld in Him before.
I saw, too, that from a certain point of view the stand of the agnostic is a right one. We cannot know God in the sense of knowing His being or His “Personality,” any more than we can know the essence of the life-principle. Just as we know the life-principle only from what it does, so we know God only from such manifestations of Himself as reach of our observation. Everything else is inference. Because we see something of His goodness, we infer that He is good; because we experience something of His love, we infer that He is loving; because we behold something of His power, we infer that He is almighty. It is, first of all, a matter of drawing our conclusions, and then of making those conclusions the food of the inner spiritual man whose life is independent of the mortal heart and brain. But a sense in which God is “unknowable” to us has to be admitted.
I make this statement now in order not to be misunderstood, when later I may say that God must be this or that. Though I shall do so for the sake of brevity, it will always be in the sense that, if God is what we have inferred from His manifestations, He must be this or that. In other words, having to some degree worked my own way out of fear. I must tell how I came to feel that I know the Unknowable, doing it with the inexact phraseology which is all I find to hand.
PHOTO CREDIT : BEN WHITE
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