First, however, let me clarify why I am writing “God” in quotation marks in the preceding paragraph. What or who God is in “Himself” human beings scarcely know. Our language about “God” is always at best tentative, and it must be symbolic. Giving “God” names, and speaking of “Him” as we do, can and often is misleading. And yet, saying nothing does not seem fitting, either. So for the present I will write a few words about that which we call “God,” understanding that these thoughts are crude, the formulations approximate, and that any language about “God” can be, and often is, misleading.
“Religions” have often given the impression that “God has been revealed.” Judaism, Christianity, Islam, and even ancient “religions” in Egypt, Mesopotamia, India, Greece have given the clear impression that human beings know much about “God,” or “the gods,” or “the divine beings,” and so on. I think that it is healthier and wiser to begin with the obvious truth, and to return to it repeatedly: All of our speech about “God” or “the gods” is imperfect because our knowledge of God may not even deserve the name knowledge, but is at best a groping towards knowledge, a desire to understand what is ever beyond our full or satisfying understanding. “Claiming to be wise, they became fools” is a far healthier or more true statement than “the truth of God was known to them” (Romans 1). Wiser is the Apostle Paul’s formulation in his letter to Christians in Galatia: “Now that you have come to know God--or rather, to be known by God.” We can know, apparently, that we are known; but who or what is knowing and forming us remains ever beyond our mind’s grasp.
Return to the opening formulation: When considering any question having to do with what we call “God,” it seems beneficial to return again and again to the truth of reality experienced.
Whatever we think or say about God is one of several things, or a blending of these: (1) It may be a more or less mindless repetition of what we have heard or read about “God,” most likely from one or another religious tradition, scripture, liturgy, prayer, or doctrinal formulation. (2) Or, one’s own mind can develop some thoughts based on what one has heard or read about “God,” such as the “Triune God” of Christian dogma. (3) Or one’s imagination, moved perhaps by one passion or another, can imagine all sorts of things about “God,” and formulate them as “truth” or “revelation.” (4) Or one can proceed more cautiously and circumspectly, presenting a more or less faithful exegesis of one’s experiences of the divine. (5) Or one can recall and present in words another’s experience of the divine. (6) Or, one’s formulations may be a combination of these or other kinds of discourse on “God.”
I am seeking to avoid numbers 1-3 above, and to proceed mainly from numbers 4-5, to the best of my ability. In other words, I seek to base my thoughts and words about “God” on the truth of reality experienced, especially by a prophet, apostle, philosopher, or mystic; or from some momentary lights in my own consciousness. Although in Christian liturgy we necessarily use scripted language from the Judaeo-Christian tradition (in the scripture readings, in preaching, in songs, in the Eucharistic prayer, and so on), in one’s quieter meditations, or when speaking with those seeking understanding, we need to be more cautious, more analytically cautious.
Let us consider one of the greatest “revelations” in history for an example: The experience by the man called “Moses” (Mosche) in or out of “the burning bush” on Mount Sinai. What this one particular, concrete human being experienced on that occasion, and then formulated in words, remains probably the most significant and fundamental experience-formulation of the divine presence recorded in documents of human history. It is recorded in the Book of Exodus (chapters 3-4) that God spoke to the man Moses, having drawn his attention through the appearance of what looked like a fire that burned, but did not consume a bush. In any case, apparently what we call “God” broke into the consciousness of one particular human being, on one occasion. In the midst of Moses’ awed and questioning mind, the divine Presence identified Itself not as a named, finite “god” dwelling on a mountain, not as a being of any sort, but simply as “I AM.” Or from the written document (dated much later, of course, than the original experience), that is what Moses “heard” or experienced of the Divine: “I AM WHO I AM.”
Such an experience of the divine remains normative in “history.” It is not for us to invent “gods,” or merely to have recourse to “the God of our tradition,” or so on, but to ponder and to be conscious of the truth as experienced. And it is surely not for us to replace the truth of God for our own imaginations, for our own private and passing “self” or ego. The often silly and shallow Swiss-French philosophe, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, preferred his own fanciful musings to the truth of reality experienced. In his novel, Emile, Rousseau asks the self-referential question, “Did God speak to Moses to speak to Jean-Jacques?” In other words, “What do I, Rousseau, need of any so-called “revelation” of God to Moses--or to anyone else? I have God speaking directly in my heart.” Indeed, Rousseau says that he does have God speaking directly in his heart as “the voice of conscience,” which “makes man like God.” Again quoting the Apostle Paul: “Proclaiming themselves wise, they became fools.” Or to put the matter more simply: Rousseau, drop your blind arrogance and self-centered existence, and open up to the truth of the God who did speak to Moses, and who speaks to anyone through that singular experience who will think about it, meditate on it, heed it.
From what can be known in the course of human history, God indeed spoke to Moses to speak to us. Or more cautiously: the divine communicated himself to Moses, who in turn communicated the truth of God to us. But how did God “speak” to Moses? What happened? Assuming that Moses was a human being as we are, let us briefly consider the truth of reality, and how it is that a human being can “hear” God speak, or be moved by God.
What we call “human being” is essentially that part of the whole of reality that is between the Divine and other beings / material reality. Man is between God and the “sub-human.” (Ways in which animals may or may not experience God is not here the question, but set aside for further thought later.) Man is a part of reality in which the Divine can and does move, break in, communicate, act. Again, leaving aside the ways in which the Divine acts on other parts of reality, what we can know and experience is God moving us in consciousness. When we question God, when we ask, “Who are you, LORD?” it is God himself moving us to question. What we experience is a restlessness, a wondering, a desire to know that which simply is, a desire to be rooted and grounded in what truly is and what endures, so that we do not simply pass away as all material being does. Desiring life now and forever, desiring what is really good (and not just an appearance of good), desiring the source of all that exists, desiring to glimpse that which is simply beautiful and present in all things beautiful, our minds are drawn towards God. The divine is that Presence in us moving us towards the Divine. Human is the being drawn to God; or to be human is to share responsively and consciously in God. All things are in God, but human is the mode of being in God mindfully, with awareness, with a desire for a more perfect union.
What is it that can truthfully be called “God,” based on such experiences as those of the great man, Moses? Who or what is the God of Moses? Who is it that speaks or is heard by Moses to say, “I AM.” What is happening in Moses? What has stirred him up? Why does God move Moses? In the context of Exodus, Moses is moved in order to stir him up to lead “my people Israel” from bondage into freedom under God. Did God move Moses ultimately to lead all human beings, or even all of creation somehow, from bondage to death, to sin, to self, into freedom and fullness of life in He WHO IS? Is Moses the Representative of the God to humankind, for one and for all? If Moses, then why other prophets? Perhaps we do not heed, and need reminders? Why Christ? To see what God-in-man fully looks like? Why does the divine stir and move in each of us? Can we not just hear words with our ears, obey, and live? What is gained by encountering the Divine hiddenly in the truth of one’s soul or consciousness?
Why does God seek man, human being? Why does man seek God? Why do I ask these questions?
Let us consider once again, briefly, the question, “Does God have feelings?”
What God is in and of Himself, we do not know. What we know of God is the Divine as experienced by particular human beings in history. Men such as Moses and the Apostle Paul “heard” God speak to them, in them, but does that mean that God has a voice? To have a voice, would not God have to have a body? To be a body, would not God be bounded in space-time, limited, and bound to perish? Does it not make more sense to say, “The divine Presence can be experienced in a human being as words, or as love, or as peace”?
When the divine is experienced as present in a human being, one may “hear,” or “see,” or “feel.” Words can be heard in a receptive human being: “I AM.” “I AM Jesus, whom you are persecuting.” “If you love me, keep my commandments.” Words are heard, for the Divine communicates to the human soul in a way that a man can understand. So God “speaks” Hebrew to Moses, Greek to Paul, Aramaic to the Apostles, English to Wesley, and so on. Or the mind of a man, moved by the divine Presence, can “see” images, or pictures in the mind, in response to flowing Presence. Or one feels “the peace of God that surpasses all understanding,” when one is not “in his flesh,” in himself, but conscious of divine Presence here and now.