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Can We Really Know the Divine?

Monks and theologians have said for centuries that God is all powerful, all knowing, and the creator of all the universe. This makes God much larger than the universe thus much larger than human brain can handle. But yet, theologians of many religions believe that we can know the Divine.

The resolution to this paradox is implied in the German language. In German there are two words for knowing: wissen-: to know as one knows facts, and kennen- to know as one knows a close friend. This language helps clarify the dilemma. The Divine is unknowable (unwisslich), but not unknowable (unkennlich.) A man can no more know God (wissen) than know every star in the galaxy. But a human can know the Divine (kennen) as one bonds with a friend. We can share the quiet times, the deep times, and the dark times. We can bond on what we have in common. The common elements are the Divine things written into the human heart.

Now some Western religions are truth-based. They expect you to know (wissen) God. They teach all the facts about their deity and expect followers to get those facts right. But does knowing the facts (wissen) about another really make you know (kennen) them? If you learn a list of facts about me, does that make you my friend? I can become your friend (kennen) and still not know (wissen) many facts about your life. This is particularly true if you have unknowable qualities. The problem is that knowing the facts about God (wissen) and knowing the Divine (kennen) as a close force in your life are quite different concepts. The path of friendship is narrow, you must get close, and the path of friendship is straight you must confide. The path of knowledge is broad. You may know many facts and still not be close friends.

Yes, in truth-based religions God is a celebrity and the practitioners are his fans. They've read the bio, they have the score card, they know the list of facts (wissen.) But fans are not truly friends (kennen.) They don't truly know (kennen) the one they adore, nor are they known by the one they adore.


One God or Many?
It may matter to you, but it doesn't matter to God
  Western monotheistic religions are religions of truth. One thing is true, everything else is false. You must know the truth and reject the error, or be condemned. Truth is righteousness, non-truth is sin and lies. There is no gray nor is there uncertainty. You must know the one and only true God, and practice the one and only true religion.

Yet God is infinite. God transcends human comprehension. God must be greater than the universe he created. God is said to be all-knowing, all-powerful, all-loving. This infinite God, being greater than the universe he created, is also much greater than your mind, which is a small part of that universe.

The God that created you knows that your mind is not capable of comprehending the infinite. You creator knows that your mind will be limited to whatever picture or abstract representation it uses to try to comprehend the infinite, or for that matter, anything that is larger than the processing capacity of the mind. Thus, your God knows that you cannot fully comprehend the Divine by the limitions of a single picture of what God may be.

Take this example, if you limit your understanding of God to the following phrase, "Our father who art in heaven ……" you limit your God in many ways. That sentence, if it sums up your understanding of God, limits God to being an older male who exists someplace else. God is someplace else, not within. God is only male; he contains none of Divine elements of the feminine. God is older; he contains none of the strength and vibrancy of youth. God is in human form, he is not expressed through other elements of his own creation.

Yet the creator has expressed himself through all elements of the universe, both male and female, old and young, human and animal, group and individual, animate and inanimate, the human heart and the external universe, - all these are expressions of the Divine.

Thus, every picture you use to comprehend the Divine expands your understanding of the Divine. If your religious imagery contains both gods and goddesses, then you acknowledge both the masculine and feminine elements of the Divine. Religions that contain non-human expressions of the Divine show appreciation for the way the creator has expressed himself through nature. Religions with mythologies about predators and prey understand that the predator-prey relationship is part of the sacred design. The relationship is not sin, it is not wrong. It is the way of creation.

Again, God knows that your mind is too limited to fully understand any boundless concept when the image of that concept is limited to one, and only one, picture. God has no reason to be angry at you for having this limitation, because this limitation is part of his design. The Divine Creator, which has expressed itself through all things created, knows that your understanding of the Divine will be limited to the pictures which you draw from the creation. Thus the more diverse pictures you draw, the less limited your understanding of the Divine will be.

If it is a sin to misunderstand the creator, think of how much greater a sin it would be to limit God to a single overly simplistic, clearly finite picture, such as "Our older male authority who is somewhere else." Think of how much more sinful it would be to impose limits on your definition of God, and impose these limits on other peoples understanding and appreciation of God, than to have a picture of God that reflects what he has expressed of himself within his creation.

God doesn't care whether you see him as one or many, because he has designed the limits of understanding into your mind. However, God might care if you limit your appreciation of what he can be by limiting your picture of him. Even more, God might care if you impose your limitations of appreciation and understanding on others.