(To be read at the Service of Universal Worship)
Religious Gatheka Number 41
The God-ideal has been regarded by different men differently. Some have idealized God as the King of earth and Heaven. Some have a conception of God as a person, others think of God as an abstraction. Some believe in God, others do not. Some raise the ideal of the Deity to the highest Heaven, others bring it down to the lowest depth of earth. Some picture God in Paradise, others make an idol and worship it. There are many ideas and many beliefs, different names, such as pantheism, idolatry belief in a formless God, or belief in many gods and goddesses. But all are striving after something in one way or another.
If I were asked how many conceptions there are of God, I would say, as many as there are souls, for all, whether wise or foolish, have some conception of God. Everyone knows God in some way, and has his own picture of Him, either as a Man, as the Absolute, as Goodness, as something beautiful or illuminating; everyone has some conception and for the one who does not believe in God, even for him the Name exists. Very often the unbeliever is an unbeliever because of his own vanity; though this is not always so. He says that only simple people believe in God; he sees that there are millions of simple souls who worship God, and yet it does not raise them higher, and so he sees no virtue in the worship of God.
Others believe in the God-ideal so long as they are happy, but when their condition changes, when sorrow and trouble comes, they begin to doubt whether there really is a God. I have often met people who had had a great belief in God, but having lost a dear one, and having vainly prayed and implored God that they might keep him, they had lost their belief. I once met a most unhappy mother who had given up her belief in God after the death of her only child. It grieved me to think that a soul so religious, tender and fine, by that one great sorrow in life had given up her faith; I told her, that while I sympathized with her most deeply, at the same time in giving up her faith she had brought to herself a much greater loss, a loss for which nothing could make up. In the Bible we read, and in the other Scriptures, that we should glorify the Name of God.
There is a question: Is God raised higher by man's worshiping Him; or is He made greater by man's belief in Him? The answer is that God is independent of all that man can do for Him. If man worships God, believes in Him and glorifies Him it is for man's own good; for belief in God serves the greatest and only purpose in life, for the fulfillment of which man was born, and that purpose is the attainment of that perfection which may be called divine.
Why must God be called a King? Why not any other name? The answer is that it is impossible for words to explain or define God, but all that man can do is to use the best word for the Greatest being, the Supreme Being, and he uses this word because language is poor and he can find no other or better one.
Again comes the question of the metaphysician or the philosopher when he reads all is God and God is all. He says: If God is goodness, what then is the opposite of goodness? Is it outside God, if so, God is limited. Then something else exists as well as God. Are there two powers, rival powers? What is the power called evil? It is true that God is all, but you would not call a man's shadow the man. What is evil then? It is only a shadow. What is illness? It is another illusion. In reality there is only life; real existence; illness is lack of life, it is a shadow, an illusion.
The Being of God is recognized by His Attributes. Therefore man speaks of God as the just God, he sees all power, all goodness in God; but when the situation is changed, when he sees God as injustice, he begins to think that God is powerless and to judge the action of God. But one must look at this from a different point of view. Human beings are limited, imperfect, and from out own imperfect standpoint we try to judge the Perfect Being, or His perfect action. In order to judge our vision must become as wide as the Universe, then we might have a little glimpse of the Justice which is perfect in itself.
But when we try to judge every action by limiting God and by attaching the responsibility of every action to God, we confuse our faith, and by our own fault we begin to disbelieve. The error is in man's nature, from childhood we think all we do and say is just and fair, and so when man thinks of God he has his own conception and by that he tries to judge God and His justice; if he is forgiving, he tries to overlook God's apparent injustice and find goodness in God and to see the limitation of man. This is better, but in the end man will realize that every movement is controlled and directed from One Source, and that Source is the Perfection of Love, Justice and Wisdom, a Source where nothing lacks. But it is so difficult for man to have a perfect conception of the God-Ideal, and he cannot begin in a first lesson to conceive of God as perfect. So the wise must be tolerant of all the forms in which souls picture their God.
There is a story told of Moses. One day he was passing through a farm and he saw a peasant boy sitting quietly and speaking to himself and saying: 'O God I love you so, if I saw you here in these fields, I would bring you soft bedding and delicious dishes to eat, I would take care that no would animals could come near you. You are so dear to me and I so long to see you, if you only knew how I love you I am sure you would appear to me.'
Moses heard and said 'Young man, how can you dare to speak of God so? He is the Formless God and no wild beast or bird could injure Him who guards and protects all.' The young man bent his head sorrowfully and wept. Something was lost for him and he felt most unhappy.
And then revelation came to Moses as a voice from within which said; 'Moses, what have you done, you have separated a sincere lover from Me. What does it matter what I am called or how I am spoken to; am I not in all forms?' This story throws a great light, and teaches that it is only the ignorant who accuse another of a wrong conception of God. Everyone thinks the other person must believe in and worship his God. Everyone has his own conception of God and this conception makes the stepping stone to the true Ideal of God. Then there are others who believe in God, but do no show their belief in any outward religious tendency. People often misunderstand them and yet there is something very beautiful hidden in their heart, not understood, not known.
There is a story told in the East of a man who used to avoid going to the house of prayer, who showed no outward sign, so that his wife often wondered if he had any belief in God; and she thought a great deal about this, and was very anxious about it. Then one day she said to her husband: 'I am very happy today.' The man was surprised, and asked what made her happy, and she said: 'I was under a false impression, but now I have found out the truth I am glad.' He asked: 'What has made you glad?' and she replied: 'I heard you saying the Name of God in your sleep.' He said 'I am very sorry.' It was too precious, too great for him to speak of, and he felt it was a great blow after having hidden this secret in the deepest part of his being because it was too sacred to speak of. He could not bear it, and he died.
We cannot say from the outward appearance who believes, and who does not believe. One person may be pious and orthodox and it may mean nothing; and another may have a profound love for the Deity and a great knowledge of Him and no one may know it.
What benefit does man receive from believing in the Kingship of God? How does he derive real help from his belief? He must begin by realizing the nobility of human nature. Not that one must expect everything to be good and beautiful, and if one's expectation is not realized, think there is no hope of progress, for man is limited, his goodness is limited. No one has every proved to be your ideal; you may make an ideal of you imagination and whenever you see goodness to be lacking, you may give from your own heart and so complete the nobility of human nature. This is done by patience, tolerance, kindness, forgiveness. The lover of goodness loves every little sign of goodness. He overlooks the faults and fills up the gaps by pouring out love and filling up that which is lacking. And this is real nobility of soul.
Religion, prayer, worship are all intended to ennoble the soul, not to make it narrow, sectarian, bigoted. One cannot arrive at true nobility of spirit of one is not prepared to forgive imperfect human nature. For all, worthy or unworthy, require forgiveness, and only in this way can one rise above the lack of harmony and beauty, until at last one arrives at the stage when one reflects what one has collected. All the riches of love, kindness, tolerance, good manners, a man then reflects and he throws the light on to the other person and brings out those virtues in that other, just as watering a plant makes the leaves and buds open and the flowers blossom. This brings one nearer to the perfection of God in Whom alone one sees all that is perfect, all that is divine. As it is said in the Bible: 'Be ye perfect, even as your Father in Heaven is perfect.'