Man is Made in the Image of God
A core message of this book is that God is personal and not the impersonal, or even so called transpersonal, absolute of many forms of mysticism, particularly Eastern but increasingly Western too. So rather than the absolute undifferentiated oneness that these approaches to truth offer, it is the combination of oneness and individuality that is the highest state open to man and the reason for this world of creation in which everything has a value and nothing is illusion except the darkness of separative existence - though even that can become a perceived reality for us if we go too far in its direction.
God is a Person (capitalized because he is the source of all personhood, our possibility of being a person deriving from the reality of him as Person). Do you not feel a sense of relief in hearing that? It means that you are loved, and that there is a purpose behind everything that happens in this world. We are too quick to dismiss this idea as anthropomorphic and say that we have made God in our own image. That may be true for many of the pagan gods, the Jupiters and the Aphrodites etc, but it is not true of the one living God and Creator who is the source and pattern of all the highest and best in us. Of truth, love, beauty, goodness, and of the capacity to give and to sacrifice without thought of reward. Everyone feels these qualities within themselves to some degree, however overlaid by greed, ignorance and selfishness they might be, and everyone recognizes that they are laudable and should be encouraged unless they are sunk so low in self-hatred and bitterness that they cannot rise above cynicism or pride. They are the stamp of the divine Person within us, the reflection of his qualities and, however dim and imperfect that reflection may be, it is still the image of God shining in our hearts, and we can always use it to connect ourselves to our Creator.
God is not like us. We are like him though only so in terms of our purest, best and truest selves. If he had intended us to bathe in the blissfulness of pure consciousness, as the non-dualists would have it, there would have been no need to undergo the experience of life in this world; no need to develop a true sense of values, of courage and the ability to endure suffering cheerfully. But there is the need to learn all these things because they make us actively good rather than just neutral or detached, and that is why we are here. It is why God conceals himself from us and it is why we live in a world of opposites where evil and suffering are not only possible but likely, indeed inevitable. It is only through struggle that we rise and are able to bring out the potential that exists within us all.
So, far from desiring us to deny our individuality, God wants us to develop this from the seed he has implanted within us. He does not want clones. He wants free individuals but ones who are individual not individualistic. The difference is all important. Understand that there is no contradiction between oneness and individuality. This is simply how things are in a universe in which the One is the underlying reality but the many is the expressed reality, and the reason for that is that God, the fundamental 'I AM', finds the greatest joy in always becoming more. It is his nature to give and to expand (through us) and to know both the bliss of being and the joy of becoming which latter is also the means and fulfilment of his fundamental quality of love. Those who think of the absolute as beyond and above all qualities have misunderstood the very nature of God and creation. For the highest truth is not in pure being alone but in bringing being and becoming into harmony, with each completing the other. Isn't a beautiful painting better than a blank canvas? Pure unadulterated oneness would mean that love was an illusion but it is not. It is the essence of existence and that is because God is not one but three in one, and this is reflected in nature whether that be concretely in Man, Woman and Child or abstractly in subject, object and the relationship between them.
Divine reality has been perceived by human beings in this world as sometimes impersonal and sometimes personal. Over the last 100 years or so it has become more common to think that the impersonal conception is nearer the truth, but I regard this as a sad error caused by our current intellectual focus as well as a rejection of earlier (possibly simplistic) ideas about a personal God. I believe God to be personal in his true self-nature but with an impersonal aspect though that is not him in himself but him as the one life as it exists throughout his creation. It is him as immanence. We can identify with this life aspect if that is our wish, but it is a less comprehensive state than the one of relationship with the personal God, the transcendent Creator, a relationship whose basis is love and which acknowledges creation as real. Note that there is a sort of impersonal benevolence when an individual becomes identified with the pure ground of being (manifesting as compassion), but it is not the fiery joy of true divine love which is only known when creation is accepted as fully real in itself, albeit real as an expression of God, and not regarded simply as a lesser state of illusion or dream that is dissipated in the light of the Absolute.
Oneness underlies the multiplicity of reality but it is not the whole picture by any means. It does not make creation insignificant for creation comes about specifically to make something more than simple oneness. An impersonal absolute could never create and, in fact, could never lead to anything. It would just be itself. Creation needs a mind and a mind means a person. There is no getting away from this. God is personal and that means our individuality is real. We do not 'go beyond' it. We do go beyond exclusive identification with it but we retain our unique quality and if we did not what would become of love? What would become of beauty which always needs a form, of goodness which must be expressed and of truth which requires a mind to know it? There is an aspect of pure being to the divine nature but, though this might be shocking to the non-dualist to hear, it is only a part of it. It is the ground of being, like a spiritual counterpart to the body, but it is not God and if you focus on that exclusively you are falling well short of your true destiny as a human being. Man is spirit, soul and body as in his life, his unique quality and his form, and though there is a hierarchical relationship between these parts of his being they are all fundamental aspects of the totality of what he is and can’t be separated. Like his Creator, in whose image he is made, he is three in one.
I was once asked a question on this subject which went something like this.
“Esoteric metaphysics postulates a system in which Beyond-Being is the Absolute or impersonal Divine Essence, and the Personal God only exists at the level of Being which is called the first self-determination of the Absolute. So the Personal God is at a lower and more relative level of reality. This seems to correspond to the Kabbalistic Tree of Life with Ain Soph or absolute Nothingness manifesting as Kether, the first cause and root of Creation. In both of these systems God, as such, is a step down from the Absolute, and a mystical union with God would be a lesser realisation than Nirvana which is entry into Beyond-Being or Ain Soph. This has a certain logical sense of progression to it but it seems you are saying something different.”
This was my response.
I am saying something different. The difference is slight but I consider it to be critical. In the past I have thought in a similar way to the approach you describe, and believed that Nirvana or entry into the Void of pure being must be a deeper and truer realisation than the mystic’s sense of oneness with God for in that there is still duality present. That’s the logical way of seeing things. Union is trumped by non-duality which must be better than duality. Or so one might suppose. But there was always a nagging doubt. If Ultimate Reality really is a formless Absolute of pure being or Nothingness whence comes anything at all? Where does the Creator God come from? How does he arise from Nothingness? How can something come from Nothing or form from pure and absolute formlessness? Why should Beyond-Being ever give rise to Being unless Being is already present within it in some way, and if it is then that is duality. There is not just pure and absolute oneness. There is oneness and the potential, at least, for something else, something more. If Nirguna Brahman (Brahman without attributes, without any qualities whatsoever) is the bedrock of everything where do the qualities and attributes come from? How could they ever arise? So Saguna Brahman (Brahman with attributes) must be present in some way in Nirguna Brahman which means that the Void, so called, cannot be completely empty, the Self cannot be pure, undifferentiated consciousness alone, and the Absolute must already contain the Relative within it. There can be no such thing as pure being without the innate capacity to become always and fully present within it.
So this is why I now don’t accept the idea that absolute reality is the divine darkness of nothingness which is what Beyond-Being or Ain Soph or Nirvana would be. It’s why I would no longer put the personal God on a lower level of reality than the impersonal one, seeing them now as simply two faces of the one reality, just the Absolute in different modes relating to passive and active existence or rest and expression. But then even God at rest contains the active God, the Creator God in itself. The Creator is not a limited mode of the Absolute but the Absolute in movement, in becoming mode. But this becoming is the expression of being, integral to it and not in any way a lesser reality. How can it be since to be at all it must be there from the very beginning, indeed before the very beginning? Likewise time must exist in eternity in order to exist at all, ever. We can say it only exists in theory or potential but exist it must. It is not simply not there at all until suddenly it is. And so if God is the Absolute in expression, which he is, then he is fully there already in the Absolute. He is not a lesser or more relative thing at all. He is not and can never be part of maya as he must be in a pure non-dualistic system.
All this, of course, has implications for the question of individuality, denied in Buddhism and advaita which don’t understand the reality of the relative world. Individuality is a real, God-given thing not an illusion of ignorance. And this means that enlightenment does not mean the end of the individual but the end of a limited identification with individuality which is an utterly different thing. The whole point of it is not the entry into pure, timeless, inert, changeless being or Nirvana but the integration of being and becoming to create something more than either on its own, something that encompasses and involves the whole being not just a part of it. This is found in the proper union of the soul with God, a union that accepts the totality of existence and does not seek to escape matter for spirit. It is the cosmic marriage that joins the two together, something that would not be possible (actually nothing would be possible) if the root of reality really were the featureless Beyond-Being you describe. To say that Being comes from Beyond-Being can only be acceptable if we acknowledge that it is already wholly present in Beyond-Being and is not a limited step down into a lesser reality.
For what is consistently misunderstood by monists and those who don’t properly distinguish between God and the soul, because they think that both arise from and sink back into the Absolute of Beyond-Being, is that the ground of pure consciousness is not God. Self-emptying can take one to this ground which then seems as though one has penetrated to the deepest mysteries because all has been stripped and there is nothing left but pure naked existence. But this is not God or not the completeness of God. It is but his outer being as existing in the soul. It is not his heart. The true mystic seeks a union of love with the heart of God. Heart to heart. This may be duality but it is a duality beyond non-duality and is the real goal of creation which has to do with making something out of nothing. Who would be satisfied with nothing rather than something, with featureless being instead of eternal love?
For the truth the non-dualists fail to see is that God is more than pure consciousness, and the oneness of pure being (identification with the ground) is but a precursor to a loving (and necessarily dualistic) relationship with the Creator. Because they make the mistake of envisaging formless being as beyond God, and see him as emerging from that, they confuse entry into the depths of their own soul with the spiritual goal. This is why some of them can say that there is no path, no goal and all you have to do is to realise what you already are. But that is false. There is a path, there is a goal and it requires more to reach that goal than simply to know yourself as pure consciousness. That may take you to the root of your being and realisation of oneness, but the mystic's goal of a union in love with God fulfils the purpose of creation to a much higher degree because it unites the two poles of life whilst fully preserving the truth in both of them. It does not deny love or creativity, as non-duality inevitably does if its implications are properly grasped, but sees these, or their coming to be, as the purpose of creation. God created, and he created us, so that there might be a ceaseless expansion of light, love and beauty, and this there can only be when being and becoming are both fully realised. If one is rejected for the other you are spiritually impoverished.
The conclusion we must draw is that twoness (or duality) is actually a higher thing that oneness, mystically and metaphysically considered, as long as we understand it to include oneness as a sub-structure. Besides which pure and absolute oneness cannot actually exist for, if it did, in what way could it be distinguished from 'noneness'? For there to be anything there must be two things, and if there are two things then there must be a third to connect them just as love connects the lover and the beloved. Nevertheless, although these are different, they are all completely one as well. Another way of putting this is to say that eternity must be dynamic if it is ever to be capable of expression.
From what I have written here and in earlier chapters it might seem that I reject the Buddhist approach to truth but that is not the case. Its great value is that it takes the subject away from identification with himself and leads him to a deeper insight into the true inner nature of the human being. It gives an understanding of immanence that is lacking in most modern Christianity and, as far as I can see, all forms of Protestantism. At the same time, Buddhism and similar paths lack a proper awareness of the Creator and Father of the universe and so overlook the need to form a loving relationship with God. So it is incomplete and needs to be balanced by the Christian way but then the same might be said in reverse too. So I return to the idea that both meditation and prayer are important for a complete approach to God, one that takes into account both his immanent and his transcendent aspects.