By Hazrat Inayat Khan
The God-ideal has been regarded by different men in different ways. Some have idealized God as the King of earth and heaven; some have a conception of God as a person. Others think of God as an abstraction. Some believe in God, others do not; some raise the idea of the Deity to the highest heaven. Others bring it down to the lowest depths of the earth. Some picture God in paradise, while others make an idol and worship it. There are many ideas and many beliefs, and many different names, such as pantheism, idolatry, belief in a formless God, or belief in many gods and goddesses; but all are striving after the same thing in one way or another.
If I were asked how many conceptions there are of God, I would say, as many as there are souls; for all, whether wise or foolish have some conception of God. Everyone knows God in some way and has his own picture of Him, either as a man, as the absolute, as goodness, or as something beautiful or illuminating. Everyone has some conception, and even for the one who does not believe in God, the name of God exists.
Very often the unbeliever is an unbeliever because of his own vanity, though this is not always so. He says that only simple people believe in God; he sees that there are millions of simple souls who worship God, and yet this worship does not raise them higher, and so he finds no virtue in the worship of God. Others believe in the God-ideal so long as they are happy, but when condition change when sorrow and trouble come, they begin to doubt whether there really is a God. I have often met people who had had great belief in God, but having lost a dear one after having vainly prayed and implored God that they might keep him, they had lost their belief. I once met a most unhappy mother who had given up her belief in God after the death of her only child. It grieved me to think that a soul so religious, tender, and fine, had given up her faith because of that one great sorrow in life. I told her that while I sympathized with her most deeply, yet in giving up her faith she had brought upon herself a much greater loss, a loss for which nothing could make up.
In the Bible and also in other scriptures we read that we should glorify the Name of God. But is God raised higher by man's worship of Him, or is He made greater by man's belief in Him? The answer is that God is independent of all that man can do for Him. If man worships God, believes in Him, and glorifies Him, it is for man's own good; for belief in God serves the greatest and only purpose in life. That purpose is the attainment of divine perfection, and it is for its fulfillment that man was born.
There is a question often asked by the metaphysician or the philosopher, when he reads that all is God and God is all. He says, 'If God is goodness, what is then the opposite of goodness? Is it outside God? If so, God is limited and something else exists as well as God. Are there two powers, rival powers? What is the power called evil?' It is true that God is all, but we would not call a man's shadow the man; evil is only a shadow, just like illness, which is another illusion. In reality there is only life, real existence, and illness is lack of life.
The Being of God is recognized by His attributes. Therefore man speaks of God as the just God. He sees all power, all goodness in God; but when the situation is changed, when he sees God as injustice, he begins to think that God is powerless, and to judge the action of God. But one must look at this from a different point of view. Human beings are limited, imperfect, and yet we try to judge the perfect Being, or His perfect action, from our own imperfect standpoint. In order to judge, our vision must become as wide as the universe; then we might have a slight glimpse of the justice, which is perfect in itself. But when we try to judge every action by limiting God and by holding God responsible for every action, we confuse our faith, and through our own fault we begin to disbelieve.
The error is in man's nature; from childhood we think that all we do and say is just and fair, and so when man thinks of God, he has his own conception of justice, and by that conception he tries to judge God and His justice. If he is forgiving, he tries to overlook God's apparent injustice, and to find goodness in God and to see the limitation of man. This is better; but in the end man will realize that every movement is controlled and directed from one source, and that source is the perfection of love, justice, and wisdom, a source where nothing is lacking. But it is most difficult for man to have a perfect conception of the God-ideal, and he cannot begin in a first lesson to conceive of God as perfect. So the wise are tolerant of all the forms in which souls picture their God.
There is a story told of Moses. One day he was passing through a farm, and he saw a peasant boy sitting quietly and talking to himself, saying, 'O God, I love you so; if I saw you here in these fields I would bring you soft bedding and delicious dishes to eat, I would take care that no wild animals could come near you. You are so dear to me, and I so long to see you; if you only knew how I love you I am sure you would appear to me!'
Moses heard this, and said, 'Young man, how dare you speak of God in this way? He is the formless God, and no wild beast or bird could injure Him who guards and protects all.' The young man bent his head sorrowfully and wept. Something was lost to him, and he felt most unhappy. And then a revelation came to Moses as a voice from within which said, 'Moses, what have you done? You have separated a sincere lover from Me. What does it matter what I am called or how I am spoken to? Am I not in all forms?'
This story throws a great light on this question, and teaches that it is only the ignorant who accuse one another of a wrong conception of God. It teaches us how gentle we ought to be with the faith of another; as long as he has the spark of the love of God, this spark should be slowly blown upon so that the flame may rise; if not, that spark will be extinguished. How much the spiritual development of mankind in general depends upon a religious man! He can either spread the light or diminish it by forcing his belief on others.
Very often a person thinks that other people should believe in and worship his God. But everyone has his own conception of God, and this conception becomes the stepping-stone to the true ideal of God. Then there are others who believe in God, but do not show their belief in any outward religious tendency. People often misunderstand them, and yet there is something very beautiful hidden in their heart, not understood and not even known. There is a story told in the East of a man who used to avoid going to the house of prayer. He showed no outward sign of being religious, so that his wife often wondered if he had any belief in God; she thought a great deal about this and was very anxious about it. One day she said to her husband, 'I am very happy today.' The man was surprised, and asked what made her happy, and she said, 'I was under a false impression, but now that I have found out the truth, I am glad.' He asked, 'What has made you glad?' And she replied, 'I heard you saying the name of God in your sleep.' He said, 'I am very sorry.' It was too precious, too great for him to speak of, and he felt it as a great shock, after having kept this secret in the deepest part of his being because it was too sacred to speak of. He could not bear it, and he died.
We cannot say from outward appearances who believes and who does not believe. One person may be pious and orthodox and it may mean nothing; another may have a profound love for God and a great knowledge of Him, and no one may know of it.
What benefit does man receive from believing in the kingship of God? How does he derive real help from his belief? He must begin by realizing the nobility of human nature. Not that one should expect everything to be good and beautiful, and, if one's expectation is not realized, think there is no hope of progress; for man is limited, his goodness is limited. No one has ever proved to be our ideal; but we may make an ideal in our imagination, and, whenever we see that goodness is lacking, we may add to it from our own heart and so complete the nobility of human nature. This is done by patience, tolerance, kindness, forgiveness. The lover of goodness loves every little sign of goodness. He overlooks the faults and fills up the gaps by pouring out love and supplying that which is lacking. This is real nobility of soul. Religion, prayer, and worship, are all intended to ennoble the soul, not to make it narrow, sectarian or bigoted. One cannot arrive at true nobility of spirit if one is not prepared to forgive the imperfections of human nature. For all men, whether worthy or unworthy, require forgiveness, and only in this way can one rise above the lack of harmony and beauty, until at last one arrives at the stage when one begins to reflect all that one has collected.
All these riches of love, kindness, tolerance, and good manners a man then reflects, and he throws this light on to the other person and brings out those virtues in him, just as watering a plant makes the leaves and buds open and the flowers blossom. This brings one nearer to the perfection of God, in whom alone one sees all that is perfect, all that is divine. As it is said in the Bible, 'Be ye therefore perfect, even as your father which is in heaven is perfect.'
[Extracted from the section titled “The God-Ideal” in Hazrat Inayat Khan, The Unity of Religious Ideals (The Sufi Message Vol IX)]
URL of Part 14: http://www.newageislam.com/books-and-documents/the-sufi-message--excerpts-from-hazrat-inayat-khan’s-discourses-on-the-unity-of-religious-ideals---points-of-view-about-the-god-ideal-–-14/d/11956