By Hazrat Inayat Khan
Many who are ready to accept the God-ideal, yet question the personality of God. Some think that if all is God, then God cannot be a person; but to this it may be answered that though the seed does not show the flower in it, yet the seed culminates in a flower, and therefore the flower has already existed in the seed. If one were to say that the flower is made in the image of the seed, it would not be wrong, for the only image of the seed is the flower. If God has no personality, how can we human beings have a personality, who comes from Him, out of his own Being, we who can express the divine in the perfection of our souls? If the bubble is water, certainly the sea is water; how can the bubble be water and not the sea? The difference, however, between the human personality and the divine personality, God's personality, is that the human personality can be compared, whereas God's personality has no comparison. Human personality can be compared because of its opposite; God has no opposite, so His personality cannot be compared. But to call God 'all' is like saying that he is a number of objects, all of which exist together somewhere. The word 'all' does not express the meaning of the God-ideal; the proper expression for the God is the Only Being.
And then there are others, philosophically and scientifically minded people, who have read many books and who have thought about the soul and the spirit, who have come to the intellectual understanding that if God exists it is as an abstract idea that we may call God or life, it does not matter which. They are the people who have eaten of the truth without digesting it. It is like swallowing pebbles, which one can never digest. They have some part of the truth, but they do not profit by it. To the one who believes that we should not consider God as being abstract, but that He can only be realized, to him the abstract means something. But when the abstract means nothing, then God means nothing.
By turning God into something abstract man loses the opportunity which is given to him to benefit by the formation of a conception of God. No doubt what man has constructed is subject to destruction; it can only last a certain time; but if he makes use of it he arrives at realization, whereas if he destroys that conception which was meant to bring him to the fulfillment of his life, he has lost something which was invaluable. By thinking in dry philosophical terms people often go astray, not so much by having false ideas as by not being able to digest the truth.
Thus one might ask if one should worship the personal God rather than the abstract God. We should begin by worshipping the personal God, and we should allow our soul to unfold in the abstract God. If we begin our religious life by worshipping the abstract God then we begin at the wrong end. The realization of the abstract God is the satisfaction which comes after we have perfected the worship of the personal God. But if we were to remain forever at the stage of worshipping the personal God, we would not derive the full benefit of that worship; we should worship the personal God as a means to attain to the knowledge of God, and this knowledge is to be found in the abstract. […]
The worship of the personal God is the art of idealizing, the greatest and the best art there is. We idealize the object of our worship as the perfection of all things, of love and justice and forgiveness and power and beauty. In the idealization of our object we offer all the appreciation and admiration we have, and when we have humbled ourselves before the object we have created, we have begun our journey on the spiritual path. It is this beautiful negation of the self that is artistic, more so than the attitude of the ascetic who calls himself God but whose ego is rigid, devoid of beauty and art. In the end it is this path which helps us to efface ourselves entirely in that object of worship, that object in which we see God. And by doing so, in time a door opens, and then we enter into the abstract qualities of the Spirit, to realize the ultimate truth.
We read in the Bible, 'Be ye perfect even as your father in heaven is perfect'. Man only knows the outermost part of his being, for man is the sign of imperfection; but in the innermost being of man is perfection. Therefore man is entitled to perfection by realizing his innermost being. But as from the time of his birth he has identified himself with his limited being, he has never known himself as anything else but imperfect. There is no possibility for him, even by realizing that he is God or the Deity Himself, of attaining to perfection; for his first impression always is of limitation, of imperfection. Whatever position he may have in life, whether he is a king, or as fame or wealth or power or wisdom, yet he is limited. He cannot think of himself as anything but an imperfect being. That is the position, and yet the purpose of his life is to come to perfection.
And how is man to come to perfection? Only in one way, and that is first to make a conception by worshipping God, by trying to know about God, by attributing all that there is of beauty and power and justice to that perfect conception in himself. By doing this a man will come nearer and nearer to the truth; and by the time he has come closer to God he will have lost the idea of his false self which stood between himself and perfection. And by this process of losing his false self, which is called in the Bible self-denial, and which the Sufis called Fana and the Yogis Yoga, he will come to the realization which is the longing of his soul and by the attainment of which he fulfills his life's purpose.
The God-ideal is so tremendous that men can never comprehend it fully, therefore the best method adopted by the wise is to allow every man to make his own God. In this way he forms whatever conception he is capable of forming. He makes Him King of the heavens and of the earth; he makes Him judge, greater than all judges; he makes Him Almighty, having all power; he makes Him the possessor of all grace and glory; he makes Him the beloved God, merciful and compassionate; he recognizes in Him providence, support, and protection; and in Him he recognizes all perfection. This ideal becomes a stepping-stone to the higher knowledge of God. The man who has not enough imagination to make a God, who is not open to the picture of God presented by someone else, remains without one, for he finds no stepping-stone to that knowledge which his soul longs for but which his doubts deny.
There are many who feel that it would be deceiving themselves to make a God out of their imagination, Someone who is not seen in the objective world. The answer is that our whole life is based and constructed upon imagination; and if there is one thing in this objective world, which is lasting, it is imagination. The man who is incapable of imagination, who does not value it, is devoid of art and poetry, of music, manners, and culture. He can best be compared with a rock, which never troubles to imagine.
Man is not capable of picturing God as other than a person – a person with all the best qualities, the ideal person. This does not mean that all that is ugly and evil does not belong to the universe of God, or, in other words, is not in God himself. But the water of the ocean is always pure, in spite of whatever may be thrown into it. The Pure One consumes all impurities, and turns them into purity. Evil and ugliness exist only in man's limited conception; in God's great Being these have no existence. Therefore he is not wrong who in his imagination makes God the God of all beauty, free from ugliness; the God of all the best qualities, free from all evil. For by that imagination he is drawn nearer and nearer every moment of his life to that divine ideal which his soul is seeking, and once he has touched divine perfection, he will find in it the fulfillment of his life.
[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 17: http://www.newageislam.com/books-and-documents/the-sufi-message--excerpts-from-hazrat-inayat-khan’s-discourses-on-the-unity-of-religious-ideals--on-the-multiplicity-of-conceptions-of-god-–-17/d/12117