THEOSOPHY, Vol. 53, No. 2, December, 1964
(Pages 36-44; Size: 25K)
(Number 8 of a 9-part series)
MISUNDERSTOOD BIBLICAL TRADITIONS
[Part 1 of 2]
EMOTIONS and conditions such as love and hate, anger and self-control, light and dark, freedom and bondage, etc., ad infinitum, appear to be ingredients in every type of human experience. Without the presence of the "pairs of opposites," human perception would not be possible. Where is the individual who could describe the nature of any object without the qualifying characteristics of large and small, hard and soft, pretty and ugly, or whole and part? Who could appreciate, or even understand, the whole or ignoble character of any friend or acquaintance without recourse to the dual attributes of wise and foolish, cheerful and morose, moral and debased, or merciful and cruel? All human experience, it would seem, grows out of and actually depends upon these inescapable dualities --dualities, moreover, which are ever-shifting, ever-shading, one into the other -- each side of the pair having existence, apparently, only in relationship to its other half. The opposites, we say, are essential to all forms of human thought and experience. Are they also qualities of Deity?
The subject of mercy naturally falls into three general divisions or categories: (1) in its connection with Deity; (2) in its relationship to Justice; and (3) as an attribute of Man.
The first question of whether mercy is an attribute of Deity, of whether God loves and hates, or feels jealousy and revenge, is one that has been taken up and discussed by almost every ancient and modern school of religious and philosophical thought. In some instances, it has been made the issue underlying deep ecclesiastical disunity. Many early Christian philosophers, among whom there seems to have prevailed far greater freedom of thought and expression than exists today, grappled strenuously with this question. And though the rise of dogmatism served to implant in the race mind the notion that the problem no longer exists, or has been solved, it continues to arise and to plague the thoughts of serious minds.
The pivotal point of the problem seems to be the concept men hold as to the nature of Deity -- whether, as some individuals believe, God is a personal Being, with attributes similar to those of man, or whether, as held by others, Deity is an impersonal Divine Essence or Presence, above and beyond all qualities. To the former class of believers, the very presence in life of such qualities as love, mercy, intelligence, truth, and justice seems proof patent of the existence of a personal God. If God were not a personal Being, it is argued, there could be no such qualities as love and mercy. And the proponents of this view point to the Scriptures to substantiate their belief. In the Koran, the Holy Writ of Islam, for example, each of its 114 chapters, with the single exception of the ninth, begins with the phrase: "In the name of God, the Merciful One." In the Old Testament, the Bible of the Jews, many of the prophets and psalmists sing unending songs of praise to the "merciful God" in heaven.For the Lord thy God is a merciful God. (Deut. 4:31.)Except for God's mercy, according to the Judeo-Christian tradition, it is not likely that either heaven or earth would have been created, or life breathed into the inert form of man. Except for the merciful hand of God, races and nations could not have come into being, nor could cities, towns and villages have been populated and become great and prosperous. It is due to the mercy of the Lord that the Sun shines and fructifies the seeds of the earth, and that every living creature is endowed with the power to bring forth each its kind. The strength and wisdom of man, his health and good fortune, they teach, are his for no other reason than that God, as a personal Being, seated upon his throne in heaven, looks with pity and compassion upon the object of his creation. It is due to the goodness of God that the afflicted are not more afflicted, or the desolate more desolate. All of man's efforts, except for the tender mercy of the Lord, would be vain, and death and everlasting woe would be his lot. "The earth, O Lord, is filled with thy mercy." (Ps. 119:64.) Such is the view which, for many centuries, has dominated the mind of the major portion of the Western world.
For the Lord is good; his mercy is everlasting; and his truth endureth to all generations. (Ps. 100:5.)
...: for his mercy endureth forever. (Ps. 136:1.)
The early Christian Gnostics, who flourished in the first and second centuries of our era, held radically different views concerning the nature of both God and man. Instead of the personal God idea, which makes of Deity the Creator and man the "creature," they taught that God is an impersonal divine Essence, or Presence, separate from no part of life, but immanent in the Whole. Everything, in its essential nature, they held, is God -- thus endowing all life potentially with the nature, stature and dignity of Godhood. The medieval Kabalists, both Jewish and Christian, taught the same, and said that God sleeps in the stone, stirs in the plant, dreams in the animal, wakes in the human being, and only in Perfected Man, in the Christ or Buddha, does God know self to be the ALL. Like the advocates of the personal God idea, the Gnostics too were able to point to Scripture in support of their views -- not only to the Bible, but to Greek, Egyptian and Buddhist writings.
Thus, in the Bible, Deity is held to be "infinite" in understanding (Ps. 147:5); "eternal" (Heb. 9:14); "immortal" (1 Tim. 1:17); and "immutable" (Mal. 3:6) -- utterly incomprehensible, in other words, to finite human minds. The designations infinite, not subject to space; eternal, not subject to time; immortal, not subject to decay; and immutable, not subject to change, it is interesting to note, are all negative terms, and they serve rather to express what God is not than to make positive affirmation of what God is. No great spiritual teacher or prophet, in any of the religious systems, has ever attempted to define the Spirit. Thus, Gautama Buddha is quoted as saying:Om Amitaya! measure not with wordsFollowing the tradition of her predecessors, H. P. Blavatsky likewise refused to define Deity, but presented for the consideration of serious minds Three Fundamental Propositions, the first of which posits:
Th' Immeasurable; nor sink the string of thought
Into the Fathomless. Who asks doth err,
Who answers, errs. Say nought!
The Books teach Darkness was, at first of all,
And Brahm, sole meditating in that Night:
Look not for Brahm and the Beginning there!
Nor him, nor any light
Shall any gazer see with mortal eyes,
Or any searcher know by mortal mind;
Veil after veil will lift--but there must be
Veil upon veil behind.
(The Light of Asia.)An Omnipresent, Eternal, Boundless, and Immutable PRINCIPLE on which all speculation is impossible, since it transcends the power of human conception and could only be dwarfed by any human expression or similitude. It is beyond the range and reach of thought -- in the words of Mandukya, "unthinkable and unspeakable." ... there is one absolute Reality which antecedes all manifested, conditioned, being. ... the rootless root of "all that was, is, or ever shall be." It is of course devoid of all attributes and is essentially without any relation to manifested, finite Being. It is "Be-ness" rather than Being (in Sanskrit, Sat), and is beyond all thought or speculation. ... (The Secret Doctrine I, 14.)The Theosophists, then, like the Buddhists and Christian Gnostics, do not speculate upon THAT which is incomprehensible. Bowing in silent reverence before the awful mystery of the ABSOLUTE, they postulate almost endless series of Hierarchies of Intelligent Beings, or lesser Gods -- the "creators," so to say, of both heaven and earth. And some of these Beings, or lesser Gods, Theosophy teaches, are grander by far, infinitely more merciful and compassionate than the highest conception a human being may hold of a personal God --only they are not Deity, the Absolute and Unconditioned ALL. Other of the lower deities, like the Greek Nemesis and the Jewish Jehovah, are sometimes filled with wrath and fury -- the embodiments, really, of the Karmic retribution of the races, nations, families, and individuals to whom they are related.
Just as the seven colors of the spectrum emanate from the One White Light, which is no color, so, according to Theosophy, the seven Hierarchies, or Elohim, of which Jehovah is one, emanate from the ONE TRUE DEITY, which possesses no attributes. Herein, say the Theosophists, is to be found one of the keys to deeper insights into the Bible. The term "God," as there used, has been made to apply indiscriminately to both the SUPREME DEITY and to any one or several of the Hierarchies, or lesser Elohim -- thus making for confusion more confounded. The term Elohim, according to the Editors of the Oxford Cyclopedic Concordance, and as all Hebrew scholars know, "is a plural name." "It occurs," they say. "more than 2500 times [in the Bible], and is always translated God in the English versions" (page 147). The first sentence in Genesis, therefore, instead of containing the word "God," should read: "In the beginning the Elohim [plural] created the heaven and the earth." And is this rendering not supported by the statement in Genesis 3:22, where "the Lord God [Elohim] said, Behold, the man has become as one of us [plural]"?
According to the same Oxford authorities, I Kings 18:39, instead of reading as it now does: "The LORD, he is the God," should be made to read: "Jehovah, he is the Elohim." In like manner, Deut. 10:17, instead of reading: "For the LORD your God is God of gods," should be made to read: "For the Lord your Jehovah is Elohim of Elohim" -- probably meaning to imply that Jehovah, the Hierarchy under which the Jewish nation was born is, in their view, the highest of the seven Elohim.
Each nation, according to ancient Astrology, is born under the influence of one of the seven Sacred Planets -- each of these planets being ensouled by, or being the dwelling place of, one of the seven Hierarchies or Elohim. The planet under which any nation is born remains throughout the lifetime of that nation its ruling God. And as each day of the week is held to be governed also by one of the seven planets, it is easy to understand how religious astrology possessed a strictly scientific foundation. Jehovah, ruler of the planet Saturn, rules also the last day of the week -- Saturday -- which became the Sabbath day of the Jews. Is it any wonder that the Christian nations, having adopted the Jewish tribal God as their own -- thus ignoring the warning of Jesus about putting "new wine into old bottles" -- find themselves for the past twenty centuries under the heavy yoke of the "Karma of Israel"?
The God of the Judeo-Christian tradition is widely accepted by the unthinking "multitudes" as being ever merciful, wholly just, and no respecter of persons. But it is a question whether these qualifications can be supported either by Scripture or by those events in Great Nature and in life which are sometimes called "the acts of God." Hurricanes and tornadoes rush in and engulf both good and evil men alike. Earthquakes swallow up whole cities without respect to age, sex, or morality. And cataclysms of various kinds perform their work of destruction regardless of human pain or despair. Are these the doings of an "ever merciful" God?
If the mercy of the Lord "endureth forever," how is one to explain those numerous instances in the Bible of what appear to be outright cruelty, and even injustice -- the very opposite oftentimes of mercy?And I will dash them one against another, even the fathers and the sons together, saith the Lord: I will not pity, nor spare, nor have mercy, but destroy them. (Jer. 13:14.)It may be understandable that the parents in such cases should receive little or no mercy or pity -- although even this is a question, inasmuch as those unfortunate mothers who take up this course of life are more often than not driven to it by some trust, by circumstance or environment, or by the society in which they live. But wherein lies the justice of showing neither mercy nor pity toward the innocent offspring of such parents, who, from no cause of their own, happen to be born to this lot? It may be true that the God of the Bible shows no mercy for waifs such as these, but human pity fortunately does -- and thus provides foundling homes and bright sunny schools, where these souls may experience at least a little of the sweeter side of life.
And I will not have mercy upon her children; for they be the children of whoredoms. (Hosea 2:4.)
If the God of the Jews and Christians is "no respecter of persons," how is one to understand those instances of nationalism in the Bible, as when the property and wealth of the Canaanites, for example, were given without compensation to the fleeing Israelites, who had done nothing to earn them?So the children [of Israel] went in and possessed the land, and thou [the Lord] subduest before them the inhabitants of the land, the Canaanites, and gavest them into their hands, with their kings, and the people of the land, that they might do with them as they would.From the point of view of the disobedient Israelites, the "goodness" of the Lord must have seemed "great" indeed! Few individuals stop to question, however, how these actions of the Jewish God must have appeared in the eyes of the unfortunate Canaanites. How could these people, who had, no doubt, worked long and hard for the cultivation of their farms and cities, be made to understand that the hand of the Lord is the hand of "mercy"? Nehemiah says nothing at all about this. He does say, however, that because of continued perversity, the Jews were finally delivered into the hands of their enemies -- the implication being that if these disobedient people had been a little less rebellious, the Lord might have allowed them to stay on in this "fat land," with the rightful owners as their slaves! In any event, the welfare of the Canaanites seems not to have been even worthy of the consideration of the Lord -- lending support to the Theosophical teaching that the God of the Old Testament was a tribal deity, one of the lesser gods, whose concerns were only those of the Jews.
And they [the children of Israel] took strong cities, and a fat land, and possessed houses full of goods, wells digged, vineyards, and oliveyards and fruit trees in abundance; so they did eat, and were filled, and became fat, and delighted themselves in thy great goodness. Nevertheless, they [the Israelites] were disobedient ... (Neh. 9:24-5.)
How we have been able for so many centuries to reconcile such obvious partisanship, such cruel aggression and disregard for the welfare of others, with a kind and merciful God, is a mystery difficult to comprehend. Once grant that the God of Israel is one of the Elohim or lesser Gods -- distinct from the Supreme DEITY -- the history of the Jews as given in the Bible becomes comprehensible. But to roll all the different Gods, Hierarchies, and Elohim into One Supreme Deity, as the translators of the Hebrew texts have done -- and then fasten upon that Supreme every act of national pride and vengeance, is a blasphemy against the Most High, destroying whatever of beauty and consistency the Bible possesses, and at the same time justifying ambitious national aggrandizement everywhere. Who can deny that the war-like spirit of Western nations has been inspired by the Lord God of Israel? Did he not plunder the lands of Sihon, Heshbon, Bashan and Canaan? Did he not take possession of the farms and vineyards they had labored to cultivate? Did he not destroy their kings and requisition their goods? If a good and merciful God does with justice all these things, why should not the leaders of modern nations do the same? No, the God of Israel can hardly lay claim to the title of the Most High Deity, nor does the Bible enumeration of his actions support the generally accepted belief that his mercy endureth forever. There are countless ordinary human beings whose mercy and compassion exceed by far that of the Jewish tribal God.
But the question will be asked: Did not Jesus speak of his Father in Heaven, and did he not mean by this term the God of the Jews? At no place in either of the four Gospels does Jesus once mention the name "Jehovah"! Let those who would identify the Father of Jesus with the Lord God of Israel explain the strange sentences put in the mouth of Jesus by the author of the fourth Gospel during his disputes with the Pharisees. Jesus said:I know ye are Abraham's seed ... I speak the things which I have seen with my Father: and ye do that which ye have seen with your father. (John: 37-8.)Jesus the initiate (or Jehoshua) did not recognize Jehovah, the Father of the Pharisees, nor did he worship any tribal or planetary god besides his own "Father," whom he knew, and with whom he communed as every high initiate does, "Spirit to Spirit and Soul to Soul." The "merciful Father" of Jesus, who was within instead of without, had little in common, evidently, with the Lord God of Israel. Jesus referred to his own Higher Self -- the Atman of the Hindus, which is the God above each individual Soul.
Does the Absolute Deity possess attributes, we ask again? Does God love and hate, feel pleasure, mercy, jealousy and revenge? Questions such as these, it may well be, are problems essentially internal for every man, problems no one can solve for another. Answers to questions about Deity probably depend more upon inward awakening than outward communication, upon an ever-growing awareness within one's self. But to aid the searcher in his quest for Truth, other questions, posed by many sages, may prove worthy of consideration: Does Space, sometimes held to be the physical plane symbol of Deity, possess any qualities? Can Space be said to be large or small, far or near, round or flat? Is it hot or cold, light or dark, serene or disturbed? Although container and sustainer of everything -- things desirable only in terms of the qualities -- does Space Itself possess any of them? Can God be less than Space?
Does white light possess any color? Or does color come into being only when the unqualified rays of that light manifest through objects?
Is the sun hot, and does it emit light? Or are both light and heat by-products of the earth, having no existence before the impersonal rays of solar energy enter the terrestrial atmosphere?
Parabrahm, or Absolute Consciousness, the Highest Deity, according to The Secret Doctrine, is ever Unconditioned. It is only through an instrument or vehicle of matter that It can well up as individual consciousness, or "I am I." None of the great teachers ascribe qualities to the Absolute, although all the qualities exist in IT. Our knowledge begins with differentiation, and all manifested objects, beings, or powers are only differentiations of the Great Unknown.
The author of an ancient Upanishad, whose lamp shone brighter, perhaps, and whose gaze penetrated far more deeply into the soul of things than is achieved by the careless and the superficial, must have pondered long and searchingly the questions concerning the nature of the One Unchanging REALITY, or God. He said:The Spirit sees not; yet seeing not, he sees. For the energy that dwells in sight cannot cease, because it is everlasting. But there is no other besides the Spirit, or separate from him, for him to see.Subsequent verses relate that although the Spirit smells not, speaks not, tastes not, hears not, thinks not, touches not, and knows not -- he nevertheless does all these things, since the energy that dwelt in them is everlasting. Only, being in a condition of absolute UNITY and oneness with the Whole, there is no one, or no thing, on the outside to speak to, or hear, or know. Here is an exercise in metaphysical subtlety seldom reached in Western philosophic thought. Yet, it is a position to which the reflective mind must come if it is to grapple successfully with the subject of our discussion.
Is it possible that, just as the seven colors of the spectrum all have their source in the one White Light, which is no color; and as light, heat, moisture, cohesion, magnetism, and electricity, being correlations on the earth plane, all have their source in the one unmodified Solar Energy -- so likewise, perhaps, are human love, mercy, justice, envy, greed and hatred but "refractions" and "correlations," earthbound representations, in fact, of an underlying Unity? Logic would certainly seem to suggest as much.
But what, the question will be asked, is the nature and quality of that Unity? Can it be known to the mind of man? Is it a Force, a Principle, a Law, a Being -- or is it Consciousness itself, pure and unadulterated? Whatever it may be, its one, never-changing nature, which is said to be "no attribute," is LOVE -- called by William Q. Judge "the master of life." "For pure divine love," said H. P. Blavatsky, "is not merely the blossom of a human heart, but has its roots in eternity. Spiritual holy love is immortal ... has a magic and divine potency ... and is not limited by space and time."The more thou dost become at one with it [Alaya's Self], thy being melted in its BEING, the more thy Soul unites with that which IS, the more thou wilt become COMPASSION ABSOLUTE. (The Voice of the Silence.)
MISUNDERSTOOD BIBLICAL TRADITIONS
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(Part 9 of a 9-part series)
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