God is Not an Object


A discussion over in Mad Priest's blog about religious pluralism and the notion of absolute religious truth led me to consider this proposition:

God is not an object.

By this, I mean to suggest that God cannot be characterized in the same way that we characterize others who exist outside ourselves. To be able to make absolute, objective truth statements about God, we would have to stand outside of God as an external observer. But that is impossible. If, as panentheism suggests, everything is contained within God, then there is nothing outside of God.

Our relationship to God is thus subjective and relational. It seems to me that God's ineffability is implied by God's immanence. It also seems to me that absolute, objective statements about God's essential nature are meaningless as a result. The best we can do is make limited statements about God that are inherently incomplete, limited as they are by the subjective nature of our interactions with God. Like the story of the blind men and the elephant, we can only take our subjective glimpses of some aspect of God's infinite nature and try to make sense of them. But they will never represent an absolute truth.

That is how it is possible for multiple religions to offer different paths to the Divine. Religions represent ways of characterizing an ineffable, deeper reality that none of us can observe objectively. Absolute statements about God are meaningless; all we can offer are paradigms, influenced by the ways that God reveals his/her divine presence to us. These paradigms are inherently provisional and limited.

That could seem a bit fatalistic, to say that we can never really know God objectively. Not just fatalistic, but also counter to the aspirations of many people who seek God; many Christians, for example, want to have absolute certainty about God, and insist that there is one truth, or one true religion, that exhibits this religious certainty. One response might be to try to know God as fully as possible subjectively; this is the path of mysticism. Another response is to simply give up on God by characterizing the divine nature as aloof and uncaring.

But I would argue that God's mysterious nature is not due to God being aloof, distant, or uncaring. Just the opposite. Our difficulty in conceiving of the Divine mystery is due precisely to God being so intimately involved with the world; it is this intimacy that prevents us from getting a handle on God's objective nature. It is a truism that people who are the most intimately involved with something or someone are the least able to be objective about that person or thing they are involved with. (Of course, the fact that we are so limited in our nature, in comparison to the infinite nature of God, also limits our ability to understand God as well.)

But there is another point to consider. Because I believe that God is involved and active in the world, that means that even if God's essence is elusive and ineffable, God's activity is manifest to us--through such ideals as love and justice. Far from being fatalistic, this understanding of God suggests that humans can continually endeavor to heed the continuous call offered by the God with whom they are intimately involved. Our collective, historical memory allows us to learn from the past and develop a greater appreciation of the Divine will. History suggests, for example, that the Divine will is for human love to tend in the direction of greater inclusiveness. The mysteriousness of God's nature may be a constant factor in our religious life, but God's activity is evolutionary rather than constant. One imagines that God still holds out hope that we can build the Kingdom of God that Jesus spoke about, a Kingdom predicated on a love that is as inclusive as possible.