The True Biblical Idea of God
“And thou, Solomon my son, know thou, the God of thy father, and serve Him with a noble heart and with a willing mind; for the Lord searcheth all hearts, and understandeth all the imaginations of the thoughts; if thou seek Him, He will be found of thee” (First Chronicles 28-9).
Five hundred years ago, he who dared express a doubt con cerning a religious belief invited swift persecution, and risked the pangs of rack and stake. We burn no “heretics” now. Bigotry and superstition are not yet wholly extinct, but in this age of general enlightenment, their venom has to expend itself in ridicule and abuse; The exponents of an idolatrous fanaticism still fatten on the ignorance of their dupes; but the time is at hand when the very book whose message of light and truth they have so shamelessly perverted shall become the instrument of their destruction.
In spite of all their countless variations of sectarian belief, the religions of the Western world have this in common: they accept the thirty-nine books of the Hebrew Scriptures as a fun damental source of religious doctrine. If only the real signifi cance of the teaching set forth in this wonderful library of wis dom were understood, how quickly the fanatics would be clam oring for the destruction of the very writings they now look upon as the bulwarks of their preposterous creeds. He who reads the Hebrew Scriptures with eyes to see, and a mind to understand, will find more than one explicit denial of the notion we may call the very cornerstone of the whole edifice of bigotry and super stition.
This idea has manifold disguises. Put briefly, it is the assumption that God is a personal being, existing apart from the universe and man, to whom man is in duty bound to offer wor ship and devotion. From this initial supposition are derived all the ramifications of the colossal system of error and imposture which has thrived through the ages upon the ignorance and fear of its victims, and which, even in this age of enlightenment, seeks to fasten upon humanity the shackles of unquestioning obedience to a self-constituted ecclesiastical authority.
I maintain that the Hebrew Scriptures contain no authority for this idea of a personal God. Here and there, of course, are passages which seem to convey this view. We must remember, however, that these thirty-nine books represent many shades of opinion, and many degrees of enlightenment. They are not in fallible documents dictated by a Divine Being. Since they were first written, they have passed through the hands of many copyists, and because they were inscribed on destructible materials, the oldest copies extant are comparatively modern. So there is plenty of room for errors to have crept in, not only through carelessness, but also through deliberate intent to deceive. Nev ertheless, I hope to be able to show that the Bible, both explicitly and implicitly, teaches a doctrine of God which is’a flat contra diction of the notion that the Lord is a being dwelling in some farofif heaven, apart from man.
Moses, the law-giver, shall be our first authority. Educated in Egyptian temples, initiated into the mysteries of their secret wisdom, he must have known that behind all their multiplicity of gods, the Egyptian priesthood recognized the Self-existent, Omnipresent, Omnipotent LIFE-POWER, which, because it is Ownf-presence itself, cannot possibly be regarded as a separate personal being. But we do not have to content ourselves with inferences. The words of Moses himself give a clear statement of his idea of God. Plain and simple, so that a child may grasp the truth yet so full of secret significance that one might write a book about the hidden meaning of the “Name of the Lord.”
I shall content myself with the obvious, plain meaning. But I speak of the deeper significance as a hint to interested students. In Exodus weread: “Thusshaltthousayuntothechildrenof Israel, I AM hath sent me unto you.” The Name of the Lord, then, is I AM. Again, it is written in the fourth verse of the sixth chapter of Deuteronomy, “Hear, O Israel; the Lord our God, the Lord is ONE,” for this is the literal translation of the Hebrew original. That is to say, the I AM is ONE, without a second.
Now, this Name of the Loud, the ONE I AM, is none other than the “Lost Word” which was the object of so much specula tion during the Middle Ages. This is the Name, the knowledge of whose secret meaning and power was the very foundation of Solomon, for we read in I. Kings x, that “when the Queen of Sheba heard of the fame of Solomon concerning the name of the Lord, she came to prove (i.e., to test) him with hard questions.” And this Name, or “Word of Power,” is further revealed to us by another passage in Deuteronomy:
“It is hot in heaven, that thou shouldest say, Who shall go up for us to heaven, and bring it to us, and make us hear it, that we may do it? Neither is it beyond the sea, that thou shouldest say, Who shall go over the sea for us, and bring it unto us, and make us to hear it, that we may do it? But the Word is very nigh unto thee, in thy mouth, and in thy heart, that thou mayest do it.”
Nigh unto us indeed, so close that its very nearness and familiarity make us overlook it! For it is none other than the present tense of the verb,“to be,” the simple statement “I AM,” that we all use a thousand times a day. “I AM” is truly “in our mouth, and in our heart.” It is the fundamental fact of our being, the very core of our existence. The very essence of the Mosaic doctrine of God is the idea that this I AM is ONE, with out a second.
I AM is the Name of the Infinite Spirit of Life. To divide the Infinite is a mathematical impossibility. Hence there must be one I AM manifesting through countless personalities, though itself remaining impersonal. The I AM in John Smith is the IAMinHenryJones. TheIAMintheheartofthesunisthe I AM that holds the molecules of water together in the rain-drop which reflects that sun. All things and creatures are but mani festations of the ONE, and that I AM is not to be worshipped as a far-off God, nor to be propitiated with sacrifices.
Isaiah says, “I am the Lord, and there is none else. I form the light, and create darkness; I make peace, and create evil; I am the Lord, that doeth all these things.” There is nothing equivocal about these words. They state plainly that God is the One Power that does all things. They drive the idea home and clinch it with the statement that this One Power creates all those things that men call evil, as well as those that men call good. Whatever is manifested, no matter how men regard it, it is the result of the operation of this One Living, Intelligent Energy, which manifests in human beings as the central fact of their existence, the I AM in our mouths and in our hearts.
The key to the mystery is the fact that the process by which the I AM becomes manifest is one of unfoldment. “First the ston£, then the plant, then the animal, and then the man,” is the way the ancient Hebrew philosophers put it. Consequently, there has been a progressive development of human conscious ness. In its lower degrees it cannot grasp the unity of Being be hind the multiplicity of appearances. Man, in this stage of de velopment, worships stocks and stones. A higher development enables him to grasp the idea that invisible causes produce visi ble effects, and then he thinks the gods enter, by some magical process, into the idols he has made. Gradually the conception of unity transforms the belief in many gods into the idea of a single deity; but not until man grasps the truth that this One God is not a person, but an all-pervading, intelligent Power, central in every human life, can he read the Bible with under standing.
This One Power creates evil as well as good, darkness as well as light. It brings us to the realization of truth: it also finds expression in our mistaken notions. This is inevitable, because the creative method is one of gradual unfoldment, and the early stages of that unfoldment are bound to be imperfect. Hence it is written in Genesis xi, 7: “Come, let us go down, and there confound their language, that they may not understand one another’s speech.”
He who can read between the lines may discover much from this story of the Tower of Babel. Observe that one of the rea sons for the undertaking was lack of knowledge of the Name. “Let us build us a tower, and let us make us a name.” Notice, too, that the whole edifice was based upon substitution of inferior materials for those which ought to be used in building. “And they had brick for stone, and slime had they for mortar.” When ever man relies upon his little inventions and make-shifts, when ever he ignores the solid rock of basic truth, written throughout nature for all to read who have eyes to see, his efforts are fore doomed to ultimate disaster and confusion. But even by these failures he learns. They are part of the process of unfoldment, and the mistaken efforts of mankind are just as truly manifes tations of Life-Power as the greatest human successes.
This fact is one of the mysteries confronting all students of the hidden laws of life. All things are manifestations of a single Power, and the highest human expression of that Power is love. Yet a lower manifestation of love is just what creates the illusion of a Divine Personality. Man feels instinctively that he is the expression of a power far greater than his personality. Upon that Power he feels dependent. To it, and rightly, he attributes a might and wisdom far transcending anything expressed in human life. He loves the Source of his existence, but he falls into the error of thinking God is’outside the universe and apart from man. Thus love is perverted to serve the ends of superstition.
In yet another form love leads us astray. Our love of prece dent and custom; our love for the ideals and forms honored by our parents; and, most of all, our petty love of the opinions of other people, hang a veil of error between us and the light of truth. But even this is a stage of the great unfoldment of the One Spirit. Sooner or later it shall pass away.
A child plays with her doll, and her imagination makes it live. Childish humanity loves its man-made gods, and while the glamour lasts, believes they are alive. Dolls and gods have their appointed place in the universal order, but when a grown woman plays with dolls we send for an alienist, and humanity has now grown old enough to put aside its idols. One all-pervading Spirit of Life is the Creator, Preserver, and Transformer of all things: and that Life-Power is within us all. We have no need » to worship a far-off divine personality. Our God is here, and the only worship worthy of the name is the worship of right ac tion, which shall make each man and woman a free channel for the limitless possibilities of Infinite Life, the One I AM.