Knowing of God

The Issues 

How do we know of God? By God, I mean the creator of the universe and all which is in it, including ourselves.

What do we know of God? If it is possible to know something of God, it is barely a net gain if we (like the late Anthony Flew did during at least one stage), accept a deist position. That is, some have concluded that arguments from design assure that there was a designer or creator. But such arguments in themselves tell us nothing life-changing about God. Thus, even in those communications where he accepted the existence of God-the-designer, Flew pointed out that these arguments do not allow for supernatural revelation, or any dealings between God and individual human beings. Flew specifically stated that his deist God is “very different from the God of the Christian”. For this reason, he rejected the goodness of God, and the concept of the after-life.

The Discussion in Brief

First of all, as I contended in An Introduction to the Maronite faith, the power of the historical arguments for God, from the New Testament, are too little appreciated.

Second, the problem we have is our means of knowing of God. Knowledge of God is a property of the higher faculties, what Plato and Plotinus called “the nous,” and philosophical arguments are conducted with the lower mind. In Gurdjieff’s terminology, the lower intellect (the “formatory apparatus”) can never really know of God: it can only type out and sort labels, but activity of the higher emotional centre, preparing for the direct apprehension of the higher intellectual centre, will bring us to an understanding of God which tells us not only something concrete of God, but also who we are, and allows us to sense the way to Him.

Third, and finally: there is a reason that we are usually stuck in the lower part of the mind. The conscious development which God desires for man requires the exercise of faith, that is, it requires us to move forward into the great mystery, step by step, only being able to intellectually assert with confidence what we understand, i.e. what we know, feel and sense all at once.

The First Two Points

I shall not repeat all which is in the book, but it boils down to this: read the Gospels, especially the Gospel of St John. I could say the same for the Apocalypse (the Book of Revelation) by St John, but I acknowledge that that book is dazzling, even bewildering. It is too advanced for almost all of us. But read the Gospels. Take them as history for the purposes of this exercise. If they are true, they are overwhelming evidence for the evidence of a God who so loved the world. That is all I need to say about that here.

Let us turn to the second consideration. We have in us faculties which enable us to understood something of God, His being, His goodness and His truth. But those faculties are not under our command. In particular, they are above the ordinary intellectual faculties with which we philosophise and rationalise.

Consider that the two people are on a cliff-top. The first one looks through a telescope and reports that he can see a ship on the far horizon. The second gets out his trusting thermometer, and is sceptical: the thermometer does not confirm that report. The first one tells his friends to look through the telescope. He say that he has never learned how to use a telescope, and does not care to, because it hasn’t been proved. Besides, he would look silly in front of his friends: holding a telescope up to his eye makes him look like he has a stick pocking out of his eye.

Clearly, the issue is the means which are being used, and the attitude of the two people is a key part of the means they use.

I think that the question of the being of God is similar. The man looking through a telescope is on the religious path. He has faith, and when he lacks faith, he prays for it. His faith directs and nourishes his feelings. It restrains his mind from going into scepticism and cynicism. It gives him an instinct, intuition and apprehension (the precise word is hard to pin down), but this is the telescope.

The man without faith, like any man without a telescope, could learn to use the telescope. But for that, he has first to accept the possibility that the telescope can work. If he does not, then he will explain away to himself anything which he sees through its lens. He has to be willing to make efforts to learn how to use it, otherwise, at the first difficulty, he will give it up, and get on with something real. The second man has a genuine scientific instrument: a thermometer. He uses it each and every day, and it has never failed him. He dresses by it, and he always makes the right choices. His idea about the ship is this: if there really were some large vessel out there, it would be radiating heat. That heat would cause the thermometer to record a higher reading. But the gauge is unchanged. Therefore, there is no ship out there, and he doesn’t have to risk embarrassing himself by putting that ridiculous instrument to his eye.

The reality is that anyone can use the telescope. In cultures where religion is accepted without question, the incidence of genuine faith is far, far higher than it is in modern Western society. Not everyone has the faith, or even if they profess it, it is never absorbed and makes a real difference to their lives. But you might be surprised how many times I have been called to a death-bed, and the elderly person, never distinguished for conspicuous piety, has lost their mind for everything except their prayers. When I start praying, they come alive. The faith has made a change in them, and the whole of them responds, mind, heart and body.

The Third Point

In his Simple Explanation of Work Ideas, Maurice Nicoll wrote: “The idea that man is a self-developing organism means that he cannot develop under compulsion. To see God in the flesh would mean man being compelled to believe by the evidence of his senses, but man cannot develop in this way at all. He can only develop through understanding.”

That quality of understanding requires all three faculties, mind, feeling and organic instinct, together. It is the relation between our being and our knowledge.

At the end of the day, what it comes down to is this: if a man can remember himself, that is, to the extent that he is collected and united in himself, to that extent he can sense the limitation of our physical world, that there are higher powers, and that they are here. To the extent that he is present, man can sense the presence of God. But this is a far achievement.

Joseph Azize, 15 December 2017

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