God's mystery

When we look at the world, we notice many qualities in varying degree, such as power, strength, durability, mass. And when we read about God’s omnipotence and perfection, we naturally project the scale of those degrees to their uttermost limit: that God is ultra-powerful, unthinkably strong, impervious to harm, etc.

However, it is a mistake to make gods out of those qualities themselves. It is one thing to see “goodness” in world, and imagine God to be perfectly good; but another to question His existence based on whether He measures up to our understanding of the Good or not. To believe in goodness over God – likely because goodness is something we actually experience – means that if God fails to act as we imagine a good God to be, it follows He is either not perfectly good or not God.

What I read in Scripture, however, points to a deeper mystery: that God’s perfection does not allow for attribution. Consider light. In the darkness, when one cannot see, light illumines and makes things visible; but if there is too much light, it turns to pain and blindness and is actually worse than the darkness itself. It is not that the light has failed, but rather that our eyes have a very limited range within which to perceive its benefits. Our perception of its virtue is defined by our limitations.

Or as children: our parents often did things we felt were unfair or unwise, imagining their failure to comprehend the complexities of our little world. What we lacked was a proper perspective to measure those actions. How, then, can we hope to measure or judge what is infinite? How can we know even the least bit of good in anything God does? If a flea sits on Beethoven’s head, does he appreciate the mastery of his art? He only knows what reaches him, and according to his own understanding and capacity.

So God cannot be judged or measured. It does not matter what He does, or whether we see it as good or evil. He created the concept of goodness and so is above and apart from it. What He does is good by His doing it, since goodness follows from His actions and not vice-versa. The implication is that He does not have to be logical, consistent, or fair in any way, as there is never a time when He must live up to our understanding of what is right or fair.

Say: Were He to utter but one word, that word alone would exceed in sweetness all the sayings of men.1

To be the creature of an infinitely powerful Being, not bound by any moral stricture I’m able to imagine; Whose actions, perfect beyond all comprehension, seem capricious to my finite mind, isolated from the Grand Design; Whose motives remain consistently obscure and impenetrable; and Whose merest intention could render my existence naught, or effect a change even in my thoughts without my noticing His influence; these considerations make it only natural for me to want to instinctively bind God, to imprison Him in my idea of what is just and true – simply to be free from considering what He is truly capable of, at any and every moment, and that by His doing so it expands our definition of what justice looks like.

With a look He granteth a hundred thousand hopes, with a glance He healeth a hundred thousand incurable ills, with a nod He layeth balm on every wound, with a glimpse He freeth the hearts from the shackles of grief. He doeth as He doeth, and what recourse have we? He carrieth out His Will, He ordaineth what He pleaseth. Then better for thee to bow down thy head in submission, and put thy trust in the All-Merciful Lord.2

And Bahá’u’lláh wrote:

… “He doth what He willeth, ordaineth what He pleaseth.” Were all the denizens of earth and heaven to unravel this shining allusion, this darksome riddle, until the Day when the Trumpet soundeth, yet would they fail to comprehend even a letter thereof, for this is the station of God’s immutable decree, His foreordained mystery. Hence, when searchers inquired of this, He made reply, “This is a bottomless sea which none shall ever fathom.” And they asked again, and He answered, “It is the blackest of nights through which none can find his way.”3

I cannot find my way through this mystery, but at the very least I can acknowledge and respect it.

  1. Bahá’u’lláh, Summons of the Lord of Hosts, para.17

  2. `Abdu’l-Bahá, Selections from the Writings, p.51

  3. Bahá’u’lláh, The Four Valleys