As I ponder about God and existence, it becomes harder and harder to separate the two. In fact, I have a harder time dividing them than I do seeing them as one. And while I don’t think the world is identical with God (pantheism), I also don’t think He exists solely as the Unseen Beyond. I find a possible answer to this quandary in the following verse from the Qur’án:
“He is the First and the Last, the Seen and the Hidden.”(57:3)
Existence, as it appears in any given moment, is the Last, because it culminates all time before it. However, since each moment is of the same essential character as every other (i.e., every moment is existence), they are also all the First. They differ with respect to their identity, but not in their role or intrinsic quality.
As for the Seen and the Hidden, people offer an easy example. No one can directly perceive another’s soul, because it is Hidden. Science has made no progress in finding the seat of consciousness, or observing the soul directly. But this does not mean that no relationship is possible: through name, face, language, and other means, we can connect to each other through what may be Seen.
In this sense, existence is God as the Seen, just as much as what people know of me is me. But since others can never know me as I know myself, whatever we learn from existence cannot help us to comprehend God’s reality as the Hidden. And although the world is never the same, being always the Last, I may always apprehend its meaning through its unchanging aspect as the First.1
That said, existence is, in effect, God as I can know Him. Since my consciousness is of this world, it’s as though my whole life I have been sitting in a room of infinite dimensions, observing a Person mostly unknown to me – and every moment being an opportunity to get to know Him better.
Since His exterior form (the world) is manifold and diverse, it’s very easy to make assumptions. My knowledge is my greatest veil in this case, because it leads me to assume that I understand. Existence can appear to me like an oddly-dressed Stranger, so filled with disturbing qualities that He is more often unwelcome than not. There might be momentary interest in some elements, but even more repulsion in the others. In all, life is taken a bit for granted, much of which I have the instinct to change if I could.
But there He sits, all along, patient and undemanding. Every once in a while He does something to grab my attention, but most of the time He leaves me to myself. Although He occupies the whole of my field of vision, my mind wanders. I look directly at Him, but I stop seeing Him. I go to other places in my mind, nicer-looking and of my own invention.
But since He is always there, I always have the opportunity to pay closer attention. To ask more questions. To wonder Who He is, and what He might have to say. Children are fascinated by life, until they think they know what it’s all about. Who is this bizarre stranger, Life, Who so rarely makes sense, but is ever full of wonder and new things?
At some point, I might discover this Person to be my true love, and give over my heart. But to do this requires seeing beyond what my eyes tell me, because really, He doesn’t seem all that glorious. His Essence may be – and this most believe – but His cloak of existence? Too often the words we hear from Him, spoken in the form of daily events, sound like a confused and meaningless gibberish.
Those who take the time may gain an inkling of Who this Stranger really is. We have the whole of our lives to find out. And all it takes is sincere effort; nothing holds us back but our own indifference, the belief that true value lies elsewhere. At every moment, every day of my life, He waits in front of me, ever in plain view. I can’t remember ever having seen anyone else, in fact.
When I pass from this life, perhaps the veil will be lifted, and I will come to fully recognize Who it is I’d been with. This theme is often explored in novels and movies, where a powerful king assumes the guise of a poor man, to visit His subjects and find out what’s in their hearts. And there is always the true-hearted maiden who falls in love with that seemingly poor man, for his inner qualities, only to find out later that her betrothed is the king of all the land.
What if existence is the face of our Ideal King, shrouded in radiant poverty, in order to test who among us is willing to judge by His inward qualities, and not be distracted by outward appearance? And when death lifts the veil, the Stranger will remove this strange cloak, and reveal Himself to be the very perfection we had always sought from life: the substance of most daring dreams.
And as the maiden who gets to marry the king because she accepted him for himself, perhaps true heaven is in suddenly realizing that our love is more beautiful than we could have ever imagined, and we find that we are now bonded to Him by a trust that others will find very, very long in coming, after the fact.
… were the glory of this station to be revealed unto men to an extent smaller than a needle’s eye, thou wouldst witness them gathering before the threshold of divine mercy and hastening from all sides to the court of nearness in the realms of divine glory. We have concealed it, however, as mentioned before, that those who believe may be distinguished from them that deny, and that those who turn unto God may be discerned from them that turn aside.2