By Hazrat Inayat Khan
God and the God-ideal may be explained as the sun and the light. As there are times when the sun becomes covered by clouds, so there are times when the God-ideal becomes covered by materialism. But if for a moment the cloud covers the sun, that does not mean that the sun is lost; and so the God-ideal may seemed to have disappeared in the reign of materialism, yet God is there just the same. The condition of the world is like the ever rising and falling of waves. Sometimes it seems to rise and sometimes to fall, but as with every rising and falling wave the sea is the same, so with all its changes, life is the same.
We find that during the past few years all over the world we have come to a phase when the God-ideal has seemed entirely forgotten. It does not mean that the Churches have disappeared. It does not mean that God does not exist, but that a light that was once there has been covered and has ceased to illuminate us; yet as night follows day, so these changes of condition come in life – light and darkness.
In this age of science on the one side and materialism on the other and commercialism on the top, man seems to have blinded himself in acquiring wealth and power, and sees nothing else. It is not that there is no search for the light. It is the nature of every soul to search for light, but the great question is, how can the light come when nation is against nation, race against race; the followers of one religion against the followers of another. How can there be peace and how can there be light?
The sign of the day is that all things are clear, and the sign of the night is that nothing can be found or seen; there are clouds. […] When a man thirsts for the blood of his fellow man, how can we say that there is light? If a man can eat joyfully at his table when his neighbor is dying of hunger, where is the light? That is the condition of humanity today. And what is the cause? It is that the light, the God-ideal, is not there.
I was once struck by a very simple answer from a maid when someone came to the door and knocked, and the maid was not free to go at once; when at last she came, the man was very angry because she had not opened the door quickly enough. I asked the maid, 'What do you think was the reason that he was so angry?' And she said, with her innocent expression, 'Because there is no God with him.'
The word of Christ is that God is love; and if God is love, then we, every one of us, can prove God in us by expressing God in our life. According to the external customs of the different religions, one goes to church, one to the mosque, one to the synagogue, and another to the temple. The inner church however, is none of these, but in the heart of man, where God abides […] With this divine element lighted in man's heart he will go to the house of prayer, and then his prayer will be heard.
There is a well-known story in India of a girl crossing a place where a Muslim was performing his prayers; and the law is that no one should cross where a person is praying. When the girl returned, the man said to her, 'How insolent! Do you know what you have done?' 'What did I do?' asked the girl. And the man told her. 'I did not mean any harm,' said the girl 'but tell me, what do you mean by praying?' 'For me, prayer is thinking of God,' said the man. 'Oh!' she said, 'I was going to see my young man, and I was thinking of him and I did not see you; but if you were thinking of God, how did you see me?'
The idea, therefore, is that prayer becomes living if it is offered from a living heart; coming from a dead heart prayer has no meaning and is dead. There is a story of an Arab who was running to a mosque where the prayer of God was being offered, but before he arrived the prayers were finished. On his way he met a man coming from the mosque, and asked him, 'Are the prayers finished?', the man replied that they were finished, and the other sighed deeply and said, 'Alas!' Then the man asked, 'Will you give me the virtue of your sigh in exchange for the virtue of my prayers?' And the other agreed. Next day the simple man saw the Prophet in a dream, who told him that he had made a bad bargain, for that one sigh was worth all the prayers of a lifetime because it was from the heart.
There is a great difference between the stages of evolution of various human beings, and it is natural that every human being, according to his particular stage of evolution, should imagine God before him when he prays. Has anyone else a right to judge the one who prays, and to say, 'God is not this or that'? People who force their beliefs on others often put them against that belief even if it is a true belief. It requires a great deal of tact, thought, and consideration to explain one's beliefs, or to correct the belief of another. In the first place it is insolent on the part of man to wish to explain God, although man today would like not only to explain God, but also even to examine whether the Spirit of God exists. The other day I was much amused to hear that there are people who not only want to take photographs of the spirits, but even to weigh the soul! In ancient times it was a good thing when the State had respect for the God-ideal and religion, and taught that respect to humanity. Today man wishes to use what he calls freedom in religion, even in the basis of all religions, the God-ideal. But it should be remembered that it is not the path of freedom that leads to the goal of freedom, but the path of the God-ideal that leads to the goal of truth.
Man has respect for his mother or father or wife, or for his superiors; but all these have limited personalities. To whom then shall he give most respect? Only to one being: to God. Man can love another human being, but by the very fact of his loving another human being he has not got the full scope. To express all the love that is there, he must love the unlimited God. One admires all that is beautiful in color, tone, or form; but everything beautiful has its limitations; it is only when one rises above limitations that one finds that perfection which is God alone. One may say, 'Yes, the perfection of all things, of love, harmony, and beauty, is God; but where is the personality of God?' This is the difficulty, which some people experience when trying to find something to adore or worship, something different from all they see. In all ages men have worshipped idols or the sun or fire or some other form as God, because they were not able to see further than their eyes could see. Of course, it is easy to criticize this or to look at it with contempt, but in fact it only shows that every soul has a desire to admire, to adore, and to worship someone.
Although no trace of the personality of God can be found on the surface, yet one can see that there is a source from which all personality comes, and a goal to which all must return. And if there is one source, what a great Personality that one source must be! It cannot be understood by great intellect, nor even by the study of metaphysics or comparative religion, but only by a pure and innocent heart full of love.
The great personalities who have descended on earth from time to time to awaken in man that love which is his divine inheritance, have always found an echo in innocent souls rather than in great intellects. Man often confuses wisdom with cleverness, but a man can be clever and not wise, and by cleverness a person may strive and strive, and yet not reach God. It is a stream, the stream of love, which leads towards God.
[Extracted from the section titled “The God-Ideal” in Hazrat Inayat Khan, The Unity of Religious Ideals (The Sufi Message Vol IX)]