Why Cannot We See God?
The Holy Book teaches: Vision comprehends Him not, but He comprehends all vision.
After the Messenger’s ascent to the heavens his Companions asked him if he had seen God. He answered:
What I saw was the Light. How do I see Him? And on another occasion, he answered: I have seen a Light. These statements clarify the Well-Known saying; the light is the limit or veil of God. Between God and us is the light, which He created. All that we see we see by that light, within that light-the light is the ground and environment and the limit of our seeing, and that light shields or veils us from God. In fact, we see but a part of that light of creation, we see but a part of what veils Him.
Let us consider the matter from another direction. Great scholar Ibrahim Haqqi says:
In the whole universe of creation there is nothing that is either the like or the equal or the contrary of God. God is exalted above all form, indeed immune to and free from form.
It is only because existing things have a like or an equal or a contrary that we are able to distinguish them and perceive them. We know what is ‘long’ only against what is ‘short’ by comparison or contrast; similarly, we know ‘light’ only against what is ‘dark’. How then should we distinguish or perceive One who has neither like, nor equal, nor contrary? This is the meaning of the statement that God is exalted above form.
The reader will certainly have understood that the question of those who ask to directly perceive God is but an image of the question of those who ask to directly ‘think’ or ‘know’ His Being. But, in truth, we can no more ‘think’ or ‘know’ His Being, than we can ‘see’ Him. Just as He is beyond all measures of form or quality or quantity, He is also beyond all our powers of conception or reasoning. ‘Whatever conception of God we form in our minds, He is other than it. God is beyond; and beyond all our conceptions; and we are surrounded by thousands of veils.’
Men of wisdom have said that God exists and He cannot be comprehended by human reason, nor perceived by human senses. The only means to knowledge of Him is through the Messengers, that is, the men whom God appointed as bearers of His Revelation. Where perception and reason have no access, we need to, indeed we must, accept the guidance of Revelation.
Imagine that we are in a closed room and hear a knocking at the door of that room. We may well form some vague impressions about who is knocking, but we can no more than guess at his attributes. We know for certain only that there is knocking at the door, and that we are free to go to the door and, on opening it, ask the person to make himself known to us so that we obtain thereby a more secure knowledge of his true attributes.
This poor analogy may help us to more usefully approach the question of how to seek God. The fact of creation, the immensity of it combined with an essential unity of form, the sheer beauty and harmony of it, and its usefulness to us as well as its demands upon our labor and our understanding, all make us aware of the existence of the Creator. In just the same way as we deduce from the manufacture of a wonderful diversity of fabrics out of a single material that there is certainly an agent who spins and mixes and dyes and weaves and otherwise prepares the final product, so we deduce from the stunning evidence of the Creation that there is a Creator. While a manufacturer of fabrics can be got hold of and may be persuaded to make himself known to us, no such impertinent curiosity can be addressed to the Creator. Indeed, it would be most incorrect to do so-as well as being impossible just as impossible as it would be for the fabric to address such curiosity to the fabric-maker. Thus, without assistance from the Creator himself, we can get no further than when, hearing the first knocking on the door; we began to indulge hopelessly vague surmises about who was knocking.
But the reality is that, by the Mercy of God, the Creation of mankind was accompanied by Revelation. Through God’s Revelation to the Messengers and their teaching, the door is held open for us. We are enabled to respond to the Creation around us as signs manifesting not only the fact of the Creator’s existence but also His Attributes. Through the Messengers we learn to contemplate His Attributes and to call them-the One, the All Merciful, the All Compassionate, the All Knowing, the All Powerful, and so on. A true understanding of these Attributes requires inward experience and contemplation, which are achieved only after sincere and total observance of the Divine decrees, objective study and long, profound meditation, according to the pattern of the Messengers. Only if a person has developed the inward faculties will he be able to grasp the meaning of the Divine works, that is, the Creation, and then rise to contemplation of the Divine Attributes manifested in it. Even then, it is by no means possible for any person to comprehend the Divine Essence. That is why it is said ‘His Names are known, His Attributes are comprehended, and His Essence exists. What falls to us is to remain committed to our covenant with God, and to beseech Him in this way: ‘O You, who alone are worshipped’. It needs no saying that we are unable to attain to true knowledge of You. Yet we believe that You are indeed nearer to us than our neck-veins. We feel Your existence and nearness in the depths of our hearts through the universe which You have created and opened to us like a book, and through the wonderful harmony of form between the least and the largest of what You have brought into being. We come to perceive that we are integrated into the whole realm of Your theophanies, and by that perception our souls are rested and consoled, and our hearts find serenity.’
But there are some who do not seek any such serenity or indeed any inward life at all. They are of a mechanical turn of mind and readily fall into a mechanical kind of sophistry, which entraps and paralyses their reason.
By M. Fethullah Gulen