“The names of worldly things are utterly deceptive, for they turn the heart from what is real to what is unreal. Whoever hears the word god thinks not of what is real but rather of what is unreal. So also with the words father, son, holy spirit, life, light, resurrection, church, and all the rest, people do not think of what is real but of what is unreal, [though] the words refer to what is real. The words [that are] heard belong to this world. [Do not be] deceived. If words belonged to the eternal realm, they would never be pronounced in this world, nor would they designate worldly things. They would refer to what is in the eternal realm.” (The Gospel of Philip 53:24-34)
Many people I know have issues with the judgmental, violent, punishing, angry, jealous (oh, but, He loves you) God of the Old Testament . Interestingly enough, the early Christian sect called the gnostics did, too. They felt that there was a disconnect between the God that Jesus was preaching and teaching about, and the God of the Old Testament. So, they devised a way to make sense of that God. They named the god of the OT a demiurge (literally, creator) and said this was a lower God. The God Jesus proclaimed was a higher, transcendent God. Valentinus, one of the greatest gnostic teachers, explained this a little more metaphorically, basically saying that there is a difference between the popular images of God (master, king, lord, etc) and what the image represents.
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For gnostics, gnosis was recognizing how people become entrapped by the names and images, and then rising above that to a connection with the God beyond.
Well, this got the gnostics in lots of trouble, because the orthodox Christians said there was only one God. Period. The Old Testament god was the same God of Jesus. In addition, they believed that this one God had given all power and authority on earth to the bishops, priests and deacons. Bishop Clement (90 – 100 CE) went so far as to say that if one was guilty of insubordination to these leaders, that was the same as being insubordinate to God, and it was punishable by the death penalty.
For gnostics, the orthodox had been brainwashed, distracted, fooled by this lower god and couldn’t see beyond. There was no way Gnostics would follow or worship a lower god or bishops who were blindly serving that demiurge.
In 325, the Nicene Creed was constructed, reflecting the church’s response to this heresy: “We believe in one God, the Father, the Almighty, maker of heaven and earth.”
For centuries now, our imaginations and theological understanding of God has been limited by this language and we have been warned not to question God or the church (because if you questioned, you were being insubordinate to the church and so also being insubordinate to God).
And, yet, mysticism in all the major religions has sought to free us from this semantic construct of the Divine. When we can get beyond the God of names and images, when we can remember who we are as a part of the Divine whole, when we allow for the expansion of our mind and hearts, then we will once again achieve knowing, gnosis.
Below are quotes and commentary from the mystical traditions of Islam, Judaism and Hinduism. There is much we have forgotten, much that has been deliberately hidden from us, much to be reclaimed.
“The teachings of the Sufis suggest that there is a deeper, more profound pulse and flow operating in creation that we move to. All traditions recognize an eternal ebb and flow that is intimately connected with the breath. When we bring a conscious connection to this inner tide we connect with the Whole.” ~ Coleman Barks, The Illuminated Rumi
“An impoverished person thinks that God is an old man with white hair, sitting on a wondrous throne of fire that glitters with countless sparks, as the Bible states: “The Ancient-of-Days sits, the hair on his head like clean fleece, his throne–flames of fire.” Imagining this and similar fantasies, the fool corporealizes God. He falls into one of the traps that destroy faith. His awe of God is limited by his imagination. But if you are enlightened, you know God’s oneness; you know that the divine is devoid of bodily categories — these can never be applied to God.” ~ Rabbi Moshe Cordovero
“In the beginning there was Existence alone – One only, without a second. He, the One, thought to himself: Let me be many, let me grow forth. Thus out of himself he projected the universe, and having projected out of himself the universe, he entered into every being. All that is has its self in him alone. Of all things he is the subtle essence. He is the truth. He is the Self. And that, … THAT ART THOU.” (Chandogya Upanishad)