The Majesty of God and the Unity of Religion
Luis Henrique Beust
Translation to English by Arian Monadjem
A friend of ours, who has since passed away, Mr. Ali Akbar Furutan, once told us of a story about his life that impacted me profoundly. He studied Psychology in Moscow in the times of the Iron Curtain and the Soviet Union. At that time, speaking of God or of religion was strictly forbidden and could entail severe penalties. Agents of the government would mix amongst students and provoke the less careful ones into entering compromising conversations, which would later cause them to be punished.
Anyway, Mr. Furutan told us that one day a colleague of his asked: “Furutan, why are you different?” He was surprised and replied: “Me? I’m not different!” His colleague insisted and said: “Yes, yes. You are different indeed!” Mr. Furutan replied: “You really think so? Perhaps it is because I am Iranian...” – “No, no! there are many other Iranians studying here, and you are different from them as well!”
Mr. Furutan felt cornered by the colleague’s inquisitiveness, fearful that he may be an infiltrated government agent attempting to lure him into a conversation about religion, knowing that he was a Bahá’í. Mr. Furutan finally said: “Well, perhaps it is because of my principles…” To this his colleague reacted emphatically: “Oh! don’t tell me you believe in God!” Serenely, Mr. Furutan replied: “Let me ask you something, do you believe in God?” His friend replied with the same gusto: “Of course not! I could never believe in something that men created to dominate and repress others.” Mr. Furutan looked to his colleague with compassion and said: “I, too, do not believe in the God you don’t believe in.”
I consider this dialogue to be one of the most beautiful and revealing perceptions of the nature of God. In general the god most people, including priests, tell us about is so small, so flawed, so limited and pathetic that it would be terribly naïve to believe in him. In these limited images of God, He is shown to be a venerable old man who lives above the clouds, forever seated on his throne.
This reductionist figure of God has accompanied western Christianity for two thousand years. As incredible as it seems, this is greatly due to the influence of the arts, especially painting. In Judaism and Islam visual representations of God and the Prophets are forbidden. This same prohibition was never implemented in Christianity, and because of this, from a very early time, Christian artists dedicated themselves to represent great biblical themes in their works.
And what were the consequences of this? When an artist portrayed parts of the scriptures, for example, the creation of Adam (Genesis), or Judgment Day (Revelation), he would paint the picture of a man (usually old and strong), commanding events that were eminently spiritual. The spiritual and everlasting stories that were recounted from the Bible thus were transformed into material mortal images. In an attempt to illustrate biblical themes, artists ended up undermining these tales by representing God as a powerful human being, who nevertheless, was human!
For two thousand years, illiterate populations could not read biblical text, and therefore, the reality that was available to them was that of the fantasies created by artists. The hands of artists sculpted biblical texts, and this illustration, for the great majority of people, was assumed to be the portrait of reality.
Hence, despite the gospel saying: “No one has ever seen God” (John 1:18), and Jesus affirming that “God is Spirit, and it is necessary that those who adore Him do so in spirit and in truth” (John 4:24), the fact of the matter is that because of artistic figurations, God began to be adored in image, not in spirit, and the portraits of God in each and every work of art denied the holy scriptures of the Gospel, for they suggested that the artist had indeed seen God, so much so that he insisted on portraying Him in human form, in the most divers situations.
With the arrival of the 20th Century, these reductionist and anthropomorphic images began to be deconstructed by science and philosophy. When Nietzsche says that “God is dead”, or Yuri Gagarin, in outer space, says that “I looked everywhere but did not find God” they are still, in mid 20th century, referring to that pastiche of God that was revealed to the world through the arts. They speak of God as a concrete being, in human form, with human qualities and limitations. A God created in the image of Man.
With all the knowledge accumulated during the 20th century, we should also evolve in our knowledge of God. We must abandon the medieval image of God as a stronger and more powerful version of man, who is nonetheless flawed and limited (literal interpretation, for example, would have us believe that God was an ignorant and flawed being who didn’t know where Adam and Eve where hiding in Paradise, while walking around in His sandals.)
It is necessary to understand that the God of all religions is an infinite God, a pure spirit, absolute wisdom, omniscient, all powerful and possessor of all good names and attributes at an absolute level, imperishable, infinite and unintelligible. In fact, the only way to God is that of negation: All that we say God is, He is not, for He is far beyond the comprehension or description of any of His creatures.
Albert Einstein, who was not only just about one of the greatest scientists who ever lived, but was also a spiritual man, once wrote:
“There remains something subtle, intangible and inexplicable. Veneration for this force beyond anything that we can comprehend is my religion.”
Surely this description of God, of an unimaginable Force, is much closer to Divine reality than Michelangelo’s majestic paintings in the Sistine Chapel.
Einstein also wrote:
“My religion consists of a humble admiration of the illimitable superior spirit who reveals himself in the slight details we are able to perceive with our frail and feeble mind.”
Some say that Einstein did not believe in God. This is foolishness. He did not believe in the same God that Mr. Furutan didn’t believe in. In the same god that neither I, nor any reasonable person would believe in. He did not believe in the material god created by art and by literal interpretation of Scripture. But in the “illimitable superior spirit who reveals himself in the slight details we are able to perceive”, He did believe. He believed in this great and majestic, yet unknowable, God.
The holy scriptures of the great world religions always presented God as a Being that was completely beyond human comprehension. An infinite, all-powerful, omniscient, all-loving Being, with absolute wisdom. This is why humanity needs Prophets, which are intermediaries between God and humans.
We can compare God to the sun. Although it provides the earth with life, the sun is far too powerful to come into contact with the earth and the life it creates. In truth, what gives life to the earth is not the sun itself, buy the rays of sunlight. These are the sun in a measure that the earth can withstand, and comprehend. All Prophets say they are the path to God. They are as the rays of light sent down by the sun, for the sun itself is unreachable. This is why Jesus said: “No one goes to the Father except through me (John 14:6)” Every Prophet, like Krishna, Zoroaster, Moses, Buddha, Muhammad, the Báb and Baháu’lláh, has said the same thing, in similar words.
A lot of the Atheism and the doubt that surrounds God is caused by the diminished image that has been painted of the Creator. It is time for humanity to understand that He who is the origin of all origins is a Being far beyond all description and comprehension, and yet a personal God, Who reveals Himself to man though His Prophets.
The Majesty of God and the Unity of Religions
Texts from the Sacred Scriptures of Mankind
Hinduism (Krishna. 5000 years ago, India)God is Peerless, without an equal to Himself. Chandogya Upanishad 6:2:1
There is no likeness to God. Svetasvatara Upanishad 4:19
There is no image of God. Yajurveda 32:3
His form cannot be seen; no one can see Him with the eyes. Svetasvatara Upanishad 4:19
Verily, great is the glory of the Divine Creator. Rigveda 5:1:81
Oh Friends! Adore no one, but Him, the Divine Being. Give praise to Him alone Rigveda 8:1:1
Judaism (Moses. 3400 years ago, Egypt-Palestine)
Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. Deuteronomy 6:4-5
God said to Moses, “I AM WHO I AM. This is what you are to say to the Israelites: ‘I AM has sent me to you.’” Exodus, 3:14
God, who is enthroned from of old, who does not change... Psalms, 55:19
Before the mountains were born or you brought forth the whole world, from everlasting to everlasting you are God. Psalms, 90:2
But you remain the same, and your years will never end. Psalms, 102:27
You have searched me, LORD,
and you know me.
2 You know when I sit and when I rise;
you perceive my thoughts from afar.
3 You discern my going out and my lying down;
you are familiar with all my ways.
4 Before a word is on my tongue
you, LORD, know it completely.
5 You hem me in behind and before,
and you lay your hand upon me.
6 Such knowledge is too wonderful for me,
too lofty for me to attain.
7 Where can I go from your Spirit?
Where can I flee from your presence?
8 If I go up to the heavens, you are there;
if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.
9 If I rise on the wings of the dawn,
if I settle on the far side of the sea,
10 even there your hand will guide me,
your right hand will hold me fast.
11 If I say, “Surely the darkness will hide me
and the light become night around me,”
12 even the darkness will not be dark to you;
the night will shine like the day,
for darkness is as light to you.
13 For you created my inmost being;
you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
14 I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
your works are wonderful,
I know that full well. Psalms 139:1-14
He determines the number of the stars and calls them each by name. 5 Great is our Lord and mighty in power; his understanding has no limit. Psalms, 147:4-5
Have you not known? Have you not heard? The LORD is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He does not faint or grow weary; his understanding is unsearchable. Isaiah, 40:28
But the LORD is the true God; he is the living God and the everlasting King. At his wrath the earth quakes, and the nations cannot endure his indignation. Jeremiah, 10:10
Zoroastrianism (Zoroaster. 2600 years ago, Persia)
I am He Who giveth sustenance; I am the Creator and the Maintainer; I am He Who discerneth; I am the most Benevolent Spirit.
My name is He Who giveth health; the Priest; the Omniscient Lord; the Saint; the Glorious; He Who sees everything; the Protector; He Who wisheth well; the Creator; the Producer of prosperity; the King that ruleth as He desireth; He that misleadeth not; He Who destroys all malice; He Who conquers everything; He Who formed everything; the All Good; the Complete Good; the Lord of Good; He Who confers benefits as He wishes; the Beneficent; the Full of Energy; the Holiness; the Great Being; the Best of Sovereigns; the Wise One. Khordah-Avesta
Buddhism (Buddha. 2500 years ago, Nepal-India)
There is an Unborn, Unoriginated, Uncreated, Unformed. If there were not, then escape from the world of the born, the originated, the created, the formed, would not be possible. But since there is an Unborn, Unoriginated, Uncreated, Unformed, therefore escape is possible from the world of the born, the originated, the created, the formed. Satipatthãna Sutta. Apud Novak, p.75-6
Christianity (Jesus Christ, 2000 years ago, Palestine)
“I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God, who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty. Revelation 1:8
But Jesus looked at them and said, “For mortals it is impossible, but for God all things are possible.” Mathew, 19:26
God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth. John 4:24
This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light and in him there is no darkness at all. I John, 1:5
Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love. I John, 4:8
Every generous act of giving, with every perfect gift, is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change. James, 1:17
Islam (Muhammad. 1400 years ago, Arabia)
Say: He is God , the One! God , the Eternal Refuge! He begetteth not nor was begotten. And there is none comparable unto Him. Khoran, surah 112
Vision comprehendeth Him not, but He comprehendeth (all) vision. He is the Subtile, the Aware. Khoran, surah 6:103
All that is in the heavens and the earth glorifieth Allah; and He is the Mighty, the Wise. His is the Sovereignty of the heavens and the earth; He quickeneth and He giveth death; and He is Able to do all things. He is the First and the Last, and the Outward and the Inward; and He is Knower of all things. Khoran, surah 57
Bahá’í Faith (Bahá’u’lláh. 170 years ago, Persia-Palestine)
He, in truth, hath, throughout eternity, been one in His Essence, one in His attributes, one in His works. Any and every comparison is applicable only to His creatures, and all conceptions of association are conceptions that belong solely to those that serve Him. Immeasurably exalted is His Essence above the descriptions of His creatures. He, alone, occupieth the Seat of transcendent majesty, of supreme and inaccessible glory. The birds of men's hearts, however high they soar, can never hope to attain the heights of His unknowable Essence. It is He Who hath called into being the whole of creation, Who hath caused every created thing to spring forth at His behest. Gleanings from the Writings of Bahá’u’lláh, XCIV
Far, far from Thy glory be what mortal man can affirm of Thee, or attribute unto Thee, or the praise with which he can glorify Thee! Whatever duty Thou hast prescribed unto Thy servants of extolling to the utmost Thy majesty and glory is but a token of Thy grace unto them, that they may be enabled to ascend unto the station conferred upon their own inmost being, the station of the knowledge of their own selves. No one else besides Thee hath, at any time, been able to fathom Thy mystery, or befittingly to extol Thy greatness. Unsearchable and high above the praise of men wilt Thou remain for ever. There is none other God but Thee, the Inaccessible, the Omnipotent, the Omniscient, the Holy of Holies. Gleanings from the Writings of Bahá’u’lláh, I
Exalted, immeasurably exalted, art Thou above the strivings of mortal man to unravel Thy mystery, to describe Thy glory, or even to hint at the nature of Thine Essence. For whatever such strivings may accomplish, they never can hope to transcend the limitations imposed upon Thy creatures, inasmuch as these efforts are actuated by Thy decree, and are begotten of Thine invention. The loftiest sentiments which the holiest of saints can express in praise of Thee, and the deepest wisdom which the most learned of men can utter in their attempts to comprehend Thy nature, all revolve around that Center Which is wholly subjected to Thy sovereignty, Which adoreth Thy Beauty, and is propelled through the movement of Thy Pen. Gleanings from the Writings of Bahá’u’lláh, I