How can we describe God?

The Creator cannot be the same kind of being as that which He created (e.g. The painter vs. the painting). Hence, God is distinct from His creation. Yet, we might still ask why we cannot directly see God. Direct vision is very limited and could never be an appropriate way of seeking the Unlimited. For instance, there are innumerable bacteria in the human body, indeed innumerable bacteria in so small a space as a human tooth. These creatures are quite unaware of the tooth in which they live. To become aware of it, they would have to somehow situate themselves out of the tooth, and then, through the use of artificial means (telescopes, microscopes and the like) they might, conceivably, obtain some very approximate notion of the dimensions of the tooth, and then, perhaps, of the larger body to which the tooth is attached. Only through such an effort, which is hardly imaginable, could the bacteria become aware of the human body that makes up the large ground or sustaining environment of their life. And this hardly imaginable awareness is itself an immeasurable distance away from anything remotely resembling what we would call understanding. Though on a very different scale, the awareness of human beings is similarly limited. It may indeed be that, with the assistance of telescopes and other instruments, we can ‘see’ across distances of millions of light years. But all that we ‘see’ in this way is insignificant compared to the dimensions of the whole of which it is a minute fragment. In fact, allowing for the difference in scale, what human beings can ‘see’ is as insignificant as the bacteria’s awareness of the living tissue within which they exist and perish, when compared to the dimensions of the body in which that tissue is a minute fragment.

Further, if we consider the matter closely, we soon realize that our ‘seeing’ (or hearing or any other mode of perception) is conditional upon our understanding. We must have some general ideas about what we ‘see’ in order to distinguish it and recognize it. If we did not have some idea, however vague at first, of what, for example, a tree is, we should be literally unable to ‘make sense’ of that object before our eyes which we know as a tree. If our ‘seeing’ is as limited as it is, and if we need some general understanding so that we can ‘make sense’ of what we ‘see’, how improper a demand it is, how absurd a demand, to ask why we cannot directly ‘see’ or directly ‘know the Creator of the whole.

We are created beings, that is, finite, limited in our possibilities and our capacities. Only the Creator, God, is Infinite. By His Mercy, the Creation is available to us as the environment within which we exist and perish, strive for understanding and virtue, and seek salvation. The Messenger Muhammad said: “Compared with the Seat of Honor, the whole universe is as little as a ring thrown upon a desert.” Similarly, compared with the Throne, the Seat of Honor is as little as a ring thrown upon the desert. From that comparison we gain some understanding of how limited our capacity is to comprehend Infinity. How can we even begin to conceive of the reality of the Seat of Honor and the Throne from which the All Mighty in His Infinite Majesty sends out His Will and Command and sustains His Creation, let alone begin to conceive of God Himself?

 

 

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