Jun 20, 2004
So Jacob was left alone, and a man wrestled with him till daybreak. When the man saw that he could not overpower him, he touched the socket of Jacob’s hip so that his hip was wrenched as he wrestled with the man.
Then the man said, “Let me go, for it is daybreak.” But Jacob replied, “I will not let you go unless you bless me.” The man asked him, “What is your name?”
“Jacob”, he answered. Then the man said, “Your name will no longer be Jacob, but Israel, because you have struggled with God and with men and have overcome.”
Now Moses was tending the flock of Jethro his father-in-law, the priest of Midian, and he led the flock to the far side of the desert and came to Horeb, the mountain of God. There the angel of the Lord appeared to him in flames of fire from within a bush. Moses saw that though the bush was on fire it did not burn up. So Moses thought, “I will go over and see this strange sight –why the bush does not burn up.”
When the Lord saw that he had gone over to look, God called to him from within the bush, “Moses! Moses!”
The Lord said to Moses, “I am going to come to you in a dense cloud, so that the people will hear me speaking to you and will always put their trust in you.” Then Moses told the Lord what the people had said.
Each of the above quotations (excerpted from the New International Version) from the Bible are all parts of well-known stories in the Bible that provide some of the lessons to live by for millions of Christians and Jews around the world. But there is more to be gleaned from these passages than the overt messages of right and wrong. When taken together, seemingly unrelated passages such as these can provide profound insight into the nature of religion and man’s relationship with God.
In the quoted passages, God appears as a man, a burning bush, and a cloud respectively.
So which is it? Is he a man, a bush, or a cloud? Of course the obvious answer is that God is none of these, but simply appeared as such for the benefit of the recipient of the message. It is widely accepted and understood that no man can see the full manifestation of God. It is utterly incomprehensible to the finite mind. For this reason God appears in the Bible in various forms in order to facilitate the limitations of humanity. Nor can it be said that each of these recipients “interpreted” the image of God in these ways. That is to say that they did not behold God and interpret that vision as a particular physical thing. God determined which physical appearance to take and the beholder saw it as God presented it.
There are two lessons to be learned here. First, since man cannot perceive the actuality of God, it is God’s choice to manifest in such a manner as man can understand. Moreover, God determines the form that best suits the particularities of the situation. While the quotations are provided from the Bible, it cannot then be assumed by the Christian that God simply failed to manifest for non-Christian peoples. God separated, as stated in the Bible, the Jewish nation from the rest of the world. But does this mean that other peoples were not also separated? Does it not make more sense to believe that God simply appeared to other peoples in a way that better facilitates the way they would understand? Why, for example, is it so unheard of that God would manifest as Krishna in India? There is no reason that God would not do this. Indeed it makes perfect sense that this separation of peoples would occur in the various parts of the world. This is how the foundation of religion facilitates the stability of a people. Common beliefs and a universal law of morality serve both to bind the people together and instill a unified commonality of culture and goodwill. Both of these result in a happier and less troubled society. Of consequence is the fact that the various stories in each religion, while often (but not all) times are different, but invariably teach the same fundamental structure of law and action. Of particular note are examples like the global flood, which occurs in the history of virtually every religion extant, and many religions of peoples no longer in existence. In each case, God preserves a few (or one) in a ship or other container and is later credited with the repopulation of mankind. Each of the religions of the world teach to love your neighbor, to not steal or kill, etc., and usually include such things as responsible eating, working and hygeine habits. Just as God appears in the Bible as a man, a cloud, and a burning bush, so too does he appear in India as Krishna or Shiva, in ancient South America as Quetzalcoatl, and myriad forms throughout the history of man to preserve a peaceful and harmonious society. Such a scenario makes infinitely more sense than the idea that God created man and then abandoned all but a select few, leaving all of the rest, the good and the bad, to exist without the benefit of the wisdom of the Creator.
The second lesson to be learned here is that there is no such thing as “interpretation” when determining the nature of God. God appears in the manner that the recipient can understand and accept. If the recipient can understand nothing, God will not appear (“seek and you shall find”). If the recipient needs a personal God that affects only himself or those immediately around him, this is the form God takes. It should be noted here that although God instills the belief that there is a chosen people, while simultaneously choosing other peoples, there is no contradiction. This is a difficult hurdle to get around, and in fact took me nearly twenty years of intensive study in history, philosophy, and the physical sciences to begin to understand. Full understanding is impossible. Contradiction is the rule, not the exception when analyzing the nature of the universe. But are these contradictions "dishonest"? How can they be? They are the building blocks of existence, without which there is no man, there is no debate about God and religion. Even the physicist (nay, even the atheist physicist) must admit that at a certain point his equations and theories become meaningless and reality cannot be defined. Atoms exist in two places at once, simultaneously as particles and waves, and act on each other instantaneously without regard to separation by distance. None of this can be in any way explained by science. Moreover, experiments conducted in the hope of defining these processes are for the most part wholly incapable of resolving the problem of understanding. When, for example, we wish to determine what exactly the nature of an atom is, we find that the atom is whatever we wish for it to be. If we experiment to prove it is a wave, then atoms are waves. If we experiment to prove they are particles, those same atoms are particles. Even on this level and under scientific analysis God shows the inadequacy of the human mind. Does the particle "lie" when it says its a wave? Of course not. It actually is a particle when our perception "needs" to see a particle. Someone else may "need" to see the wave properties of the atom and that is what they will get. It is the lie that is not a lie. While these sorts of physical contradictions do not act on a scale perceivable by humanity, there is no reason why God, an omnipotent being, would not utilize this feature of the universe when dealing with man. This is perhaps also why "God moves in mysterious ways" and why we are not to question the actions of God, as they are beyond our understanding. Full perception is beyond our capability and understanding can only be imparted in bits and pieces. We should all observe this lesson and understand that although God has manifested in our lives as the only way for us, it is not necessarily the only way for all.
This creates all kinds of problems initially. How then do we recognize our companion followers of the one true God with all the various books, beliefs, and manifestations? How can the Christian identify his Jewish, Hindu, or Muslim brother in this circumstance? The Bible provides the obvious answer to this question:
By their works you will know them
This is one of the most fundamental concepts of the Bible. In fact, I would say that if the entire Bible had to be distilled into one sentence, this would have to be in that sentence. God appears to all in the best way for the recipient, but instills common basic traits that are apparent to all. The importance of the above statement cannot be over-emphasized. By this statement we can ascertain those that are in harmony with God. An additional lesson can be learned here: even an atheist who acts as a true Christian is closer to God than a professed Christian that acts as a hypocrite. It could be that the said atheist simply has not pursued spirituality to a degree that he can see God’s manifestation. But if he acts in a manner in harmony with God, who’s to say that God is not with this person? It is for God to say, not man. Due to the religious melting pot that has become America, it is increasingly difficult to maintain a harmonious relationship with God and our neighbors. By their works you will know them. Remember this and all else falls into place.