A God too big for words
A Christian Science perspective.
Why should one pray in times of trouble? One of the chief arguments against belief in God is the contradictory and illogical nature attributed to Deity in different books of the Bible. The Bible is full of verses describing God’s awareness of human suffering and pity for it. But it also says that God is “of purer eyes than to behold evil” (Habakkuk 1:13). An all-powerful God who permits evil but regrets it makes no rational sense, and a God who knows (and so, can do) nothing about injustice seems absurd and pointless. How can we reconcile divine Love that can reach out to us in our need with a divine Mind that is pure and free from any sense of sin, disease, and death?
Perhaps it’s the wrong question. Recent articles in The New York Times by David Brooks and T.M. Luhrmann suggest that if we are genuinely interested in understanding the experience of faith and the attraction of religion, the discussion must be considerably more nuanced. To write or speak about God is to rely on analogies, and all analogies inevitably fall short of reality. Language, a human construct, is an unlikely container for incorporeal Spirit. We devise these expressions to describe our perceptions – they are a kind of map, but they are not the territory itself.
God has been called a loving parent: “[Y]our heavenly Father knoweth that ye have need of all these things” (Matthew 6:32). He has been described as being aware of our struggles: “Thus saith the Lord, the God of David thy father, I have heard thy prayer, I have seen thy tears:” (II Kings 20:5), and as responsive to human trouble: “I have surely seen the affliction of my people which are in Egypt, and have heard their cry ... for I know their sorrows;” (Exodus 3:7).
These descriptions that we find in records of spiritual experience, sometimes beautifully poetic, come as close as language can come to describing the feeling of being cared for, finding an invisible means of support, and being rescued when conditions seemed to preclude all hope. They are experientially true, if not philosophically defensible. Their value is like that of artistic revelation – not intellectually analytical, but ringing with truth.
The best answer that I’ve found to the seeming contradiction in the divine nature is in the metaphysics of Christian Science, which explains why we can consistently find healing, redemption, and blessing from God – pure, supreme Good – who knows no evil. In her book “Unity of Good,” Mary Baker Eddy, who discovered Christian Science, wrote, “To gain a temporary consciousness of God’s law is to feel, in a certain finite human sense, that God comes to us and pities us; but the attainment of the understanding of His presence, through the Science of God, destroys our sense of imperfection, or of His absence, through a diviner sense that God is all true consciousness; and this convinces us that, as we get still nearer Him, we must forever lose our own consciousness of error” (p. 4).
All those human analogies to spiritual substance remind us of our true condition – inseparability from divine Life, Truth, and Love. So yes, God is like a fountain that cannot “send forth at the same place sweet water and bitter” (James 3:11). And as Mrs. Eddy said, He is Spirit in which “there is no matter, even as in Truth there is no error, and in good no evil” (“Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures,” p. 278).
As we have our own experiences that draw us nigh to God and as we actually experience the Love, Soul, Principle that blesses and embraces us, words may well fail us. When I think of the times I felt God’s healing presence, I find myself using words such as love, light, warmth, joy – lovely terms, but hardly definitive.
The awe and gratitude for the beauty of all creation that I felt in the midst of an ice storm when prayer lifted me out of feeling mired in miserable conditions, was so much bigger than the words I tried to put it in. I can only say what it felt like. But, as Eddy wrote, “The precise form of God must be of small importance in comparison with the sublime question, What is infinite Mind or divine Love?” (Science and Health, p. 256). The real value of religion is in the way it connects us to that universal question. The recognition of divine good as real, present, perceivable, and powerful leads us step by step from the effect of God’s goodness to the completeness of that good.