God: Concept vs Idea
“Concept” denotes realising something, its coming into our conscience, that stirs the mind to try to understand it.
“Concept” could be a principle that is presented to be proven or refuted. This means there must be steps for others to follow, points to connect, and a logic that the human intellect can surround.
For example, the proven fine tuning of key physical forces in the universe, which has allowed human life to exist, proves (for some) the existence of an intelligent designer and maker: God.
But concepts could also transcend deductions based on external inputs. A concept could be a notion that the mind conceives from its own depths, often without a clear process. The route is not obvious to the mind, yet the point of arrival materialises.
One way is for a spaceship to reach a planet. The spaceship has a route that its machines have registered of how it arrived at the planet. Another way is for a sky-gazer to suddenly see a planet. Here, tracing and registering the route to seeing that planet, to its coming into the gazer’s consciousness, is much harder. Yet the tangibility of the planet to the sky-gazer is the same as it is to the crew of the spaceship.
In some theological circles, the sudden ‘appearance’ is considered an “epiphany”: a sort of manifestation. The word ‘manifest’ carries a majesty, for in it there is the understanding that something was always there, yet was not for the masses to “see”. At the moment of the epiphany, it does appear for the select.
Perhaps “epi” (above) gives a subtler meaning. For in epiphany there is a shining above the viewer. One cannot ignore the hierarchy here: that the observer, the one experiencing the epiphany is the witness to a gleam of light, to an illumination that takes place above him/her. The viewer is beneath; that which is being viewed is above.
This is why in some schools of thought the epiphany takes the viewer above; it elevates him/her. In this understanding the epiphany (the realisation by a below of that which is above) is only the first step. After that, what is above merges with (into) what is below. What is viewed comes into oneness with the viewer. The result is that the below (the baser) evolves to the nature of the above (the higher).
For the theorists of illumination, or “al-Ishraq”, the light of the above seeps into the viewer, not only imparting knowledge on him/her, but crucially in this line of thinking, transforming him/her into the essence of the light that caused the illumination. This is a form of the alchemical transformation that several Christian monks referred to.
It is also a form of the dual notion of the “malakut” in Jewish philosophy. The existing material universe is in itself a manifestation of the thinking of the Divine. Or, in other understandings, the “Malakut” is a manifestation in the thinking of the Divine. The point is that the “Malakut” has different yet complimentary meanings, that unite the above with the below. For some, the “Malakut” is the creation, the realm of the created, and at the same time, it is a manifestation of the Creator, an emanation of the Creator, and a route to the Creator. And through the route, the created finds its way to the Creator. A perfect circle, in which the route is within, to the centre.
This is another view of seeing the merger between the baser and the higher. What is different is how the higher came to be manifested: did the baser (the viewer) have a process, a route towards its merger with the higher? Or did the higher (the viewed) just appear, in a phenomenon that for the viewer is but an epiphany?
For the believers in randomness – which essentially is chaos - the notion of the Creator was a reflection of the viewer. In other words, the viewer’s process of living led to a thinking that led to ‘imagining’ a notion that the viewer assumed is the centre from which all originated. Early twentieth century phycologists put it smarty: that the notion of the Creator (God) was a creation of humans’ “chaos informe”, a reference to the ocean of the human psyche where fears and desires clash. This was, partly, why modern materialists saw the concept of God as an “illusion”.
But in the conception of a cosmos – which essentially is a harmonious design - that merger between the Creator and the created is the essence of the existence we call: the universe. In other words, whether the spaceship came to a planet and its crew can trace its journey, or the planet appeared to the viewer in an epiphany, the merger between what is above (the epi) and what is below (the searcher, the viewer, the created) is a path. And paths have changed throughout history. But they all lead to the eternal Truth.
The idea of God is different. It dispenses with the paths. It is about “imagining” the destination. This means it detaches God from all that is not, even if a believer believes that the created is a reflection of the Creator; even here in that view, the idea of God ignores the notion of the reflection and focuses on the essence of the reflected.
In Catholicism this began with discussions about the Trinity, but the thinking here reached its refined heights when it evolved above attempting to explain the Trinity to the masses and tried to imagine the essence of the One behind Its different expressions and their connections.
In Islam, several thinkers visited the same by focusing on “the source”; here we saw works such as that on the “emanations”, where the thinking was not concerned with the link between the Source and the forms it took so that life in the human form begins, but rather was concerned with the emanations as expressions of the Source. The former (the one concerned with the links) is about the methods (the concept of God in the human intellect); the latter about the essence.
The essence defies human understanding. This is a law. And so, for those on journeys for knowledge, the objective is not to grasp the essence, but to ‘see’ its manifestations and through these, understand some of the characteristics and features of that essence. Goethe told us how, when he elaborated on “active seeing”.
This is a route towards the idea of God. Here, the idea denotes an internal image of these manifestations, an image-in, that leads to an imagination of these characteristics and features. And like in the case with Goethe, these attempted imaginations were the points of departure of some of the most creative journeys in the history of humans’ search for knowledge.
Uneducated minds strive to understand the essence. It is a noble but futile quest, for the Law is perfect; it cannot be broken. This is why eschewing understanding of the essence of God is a form of understanding. And this is why the objective of the journeys into and for knowledge strove to evolve the image-in. That image-in, achieved through fertilised imagination, never compensated for understanding, but it stood for it.
Here, epiphany takes its deeper meaning. Epiphany moves from the seeping in of the “above” into the “below” and becomes the recognition that the Divine is essentially in the human. This makes the human divine. Carl Jung came to this conclusion when he referred to the deepest, yet highest, aspect of the human psyche as “l’homme celeste”. This realisation opens vistas of the nature of the human in front of the understanding of the human. This, in itself, gives a glimpse of a feature of the idea of God.