Are You Missing A Potential For More Love?
Understanding The Three Faces of God
Today let us talk about God.
God is a way to refer to that which is of ultimate concern. That which is absolutely the most important thing in existence.
There are three common categories of understanding God and corresponding practices to grow toward that which we deem most important: the 1st person, 2nd person, and 3rd person perspectives—the three perspectives which all human language systems have in common.
While almost all religious and spiritual traditions have all three in their literature, they almost all emphasize one above the others. The average seeker is therefore likely to think that the most common perspective is the “only” or “right” way to develop in the domain of that which matters most, resulting in missed opportunities for their growth and unnecessary strife in relationships.
I offer the following distinctions in service of (1) your own development towards that which is of ultimate concern to you, the reader, and (2) increasing awareness and understanding of the relative truths in the varieties of religious experience for more peaceful, loving, and supportive relationships.
First Person: Enlightenment
The first person perspective on God is commonly referred to as Enlightenment. The sense of who “I” am shifts from a localized sense of self in the body to a sense of self that includes everything.
I am God. Not Jordan=God, but pure subjective awareness, no longer limited to a body, a set of memories, or a future. The “I” which was contracted around a particular identity now includes everything. “I” have awoken to the True Self, which is truly omnipresent.
Meditation is a practice which helps us recognize this face of God, because we become more and more aware that who we are is not what we think and feel. When we are able to see our thoughts objectively, the question eventually arises: who sees these thoughts? What self is that? And then what sees that self? And so on, until we arrive at the pure subjectivity inside of every sentient being—or at least every human.
This is a common theme in Hinduism, Buddhism, and much of the New Age religious perspectives. “Namaste” invokes this perspective of the divine. In Christian terminology, we begin to recognize the Christ in each of us, and see with the eyes of Christ.
Second Person: Relationship
The second person perspective of God is one in which we build a relationship with the divine. We pray, sing, talk with, and worship an idea of God which is separate from us but deeply personal and intimate.
This is most commonly seen in Christianity; both in the way Christians worship and grow and in Jesus’ relationship to his “father.” There are also rich and healthy versions of understanding God this way in Chinese Traditional Religions, Tibetan Buddhism, Orisha traditions, guru yoga, and many others.
This perspective is also lacking in many Westerners who are no longer part of a Christian tradition, which I believe is a travesty. The second person relationship requires one to submit to a higher authority outside of one’s own perspective—a healthy antidote to narcissism and absolutely necessary for true humility. Second-person worship through song and dance is massively powerful and creates a deep sense of community: walk into a Pentecostal Church and try not to feel moved by all the people singing songs of praise. Plus it is just plain fun!
Third Person: The Mystery (Nature and Evolution)
Seeing God from the third person perspective, we recognize the incredible beauty of nature, the perfection of the laws of gravity and thermodynamics, the complexity of life. We look up at the stars, so massive, numerous, and distant; we see the Milky Way Galaxy, comprised of billions of stars, and remember that there are billions of galaxies in our universe. We place ourselves and our planet in perspective of the vastness of the universe, and cannot help but be awed.
The third person perspective is also one that sees the divine as evolution and creativity. Somehow, something came out of nothing. We call this the Big Bang, but we might as well call it God. It is inexplicable. It is utterly mysterious. Then through some miraculous process elements formed, and later atoms formed, and later these came together to form molecules, and so on and so forth throughout umpteen billion years of evolution becoming more and more complex we had single celled organisms on a planet, and then multi-celled organisms, and then humans. And who knows what else.
We see the third person perspective in nature mysticism but it is most common in scientific circles, philosophy, and contemplation of the mystery of existence.
The Potential For Love
According to most mystics and saints, what is of ultimate concern is so vast as to be unthinkable in the limitations of the human mind, and inexpressible in the confines of language. Many Jews do not pronounce the name of God, YHWH. The Tao that can be told is not the eternal Tao, says Lao Tzu, and yet he calls it the Tao, because it is very difficult to communicate or understand experience without words to refer to things. Indeed it is impossible to represent anything truly with words, much less something which is infinite.
Yet we do our best to describe the Divine anyway because we know that there is something worth living for beyond ourselves. We know that becoming more aligned with this divinity makes life better for everyone, including ourselves. And we know that, like training wheels, words, concepts, and practices help us find our way to God, even if we throw them out in the end.
Therefore take these distinctions and look at your own spiritual life, and your own perspective on God. And if ‘God’ makes you uncomfortable, just for a moment, replace that word with ‘Love.’ Ask yourself, are you missing a potential for more love, by focusing on only one of these three perspectives? Are you judging the way that other people find and share love, because you privilege one over the others?
“To God belong the East and the West; whithersoever you turn, there is the Face of God; God is All-embracing, All-knowing”