Hegel said: “With this possibility of knowing God the obligation to know Him is imposed upon us.”
But it may well be impossible to know God.
Some people say that faith is a type of certainty. An Israeli man quoted by Amos Oz: "You cannot separate faith and certainty. They are one and the same. In my vocabulary they are synonyms." Simone Weil: "In what concerns divine things, belief is not appropriate. Only certainty will do. Anything less than certainty is unworthy of God."
Others steer away from certainty. Jim Wallis, an evangelical pastor with the social justice organization Sojourners: "Real faith, you see, leads us to deeper reflection and not -- not ever -- to the thing we as humans so very much want: Easy certainty." Frank Schaeffer puts it this way: "atheism and fundamentalist religion," though "ideological opposites," nevertheless "often share the same fallacy: truth claims that reek of false certainties. I also believe that there is an alternative that actually matches the way life is lived rather than how we usually talk about belief. I call that alternative "hopeful uncertainty."
It isn't to the benefit of any ideology or practice to allow us to achieve certainty, for then we would abandon the quest it had assigned to us. If we achieved certainty in faith, religion would have made itself obsolete. "Ignorance is the ground of thought. Unproof is the ground of action. If it were proven that there is no God there would be no religion. ... But also if it were proven that there is a God, there would be no religion..."
But what can religion do for us? Does it tell us that we are broken — and then try to fix us, or inspire us to fix ourselves, or give us the tools to make things better? G. K. Chesterton: "When the world goes wrong, it proves rather that the Church is right. The Church is justified not because her children do not sin, but because they do." As stated by someone Christopher Phillips quoted: "Socrates tried to do the right thing at a time when everyone else was doing the wrong thing. And you know they were all doing the wrong thing in retrospect, because their civilization crashed and burned. As long as just one person is willing to do the right thing amid a sea of badness, there’s reason to hope. Socrates’ life and death, from what I’ve been reading, were modeled on a sense of duty that was ‘faith-based’ — he had faith in people to do the right thing, at least over the long haul, even if over the short term most are acting foolishly. If we don’t all act out of a similar faith, how can we ever hope to see light again in dark times?"
Is the project always incomplete? Leslie Dewart: "For faith is always coming-into-being, it is never quite fully faithful, it is always on the way, hence never perfect and achieved. And if faith is a mode of existence, then Christian theism is a way of life."
And we are never introduced to the whole God?
Frederica Mathewes-Green: "People newly coming to church should have an unfamiliar experience. It should be apparent to them that they are encountering something very different from the mundane. It should be discontinuous with their everyday experience, because God is discontinuous. God is holy, other incomprehensible, strange, and if we go expecting an affable market-tested nice guy, we won't be getting the whole picture. We'll be getting the short God in a straw hat, not the big one beyond all thought."
We are always seeking? Deepak Chopra: "Many doubters have said that God was invented so that these ferocious instincts can be kept in check. Otherwise our violence would turn on us and kill us. But I don't believe this. The oldest hunter lurking in our brains is after bigger prey, God himself."
The quest is difficult. It is had to do what we are doing, to find what we wish to find, and to retain it and act upon it as if we really believe it. The character Pi says in Life of Pi: "Love is hard to believe, ask any lover. Life is hard to believe, ask any scientist. God is hard to believe, ask any believer. What is your problem with hard to believe?"
We don't always control the process. Cary Tennis: "faith can neither be argued into or out of someone but must arrive and depart according to its own capricious schedule."
And the history of religion and faith, too, is ongoing. Nicolas Berdyaev: "Everything existential is history, dynamic force, destiny, man, the world, are history, God is history, a drama which is working itself out." Working itself out, or perhaps not working itself out, or working itself farther into a hole, but in any case, ongoing.
Where do beliefs about God — God's existence or nonexistence or anything else we might think about the subject — come from? Do they spring from a preexisting philosophy? Or do religious opinions come first, and do those opinions produce our other kinds of philosophy? We don't know. Dale B. Martin: "It seems to me that all arguments about priority — that one's theology is simply a reflection of one's ideology or vice versa — are fruitless. How can we possibly know the answer to such a question? How could we ever sort out so exactly the intricate workings of another person's mind, when we can never be sure why we ourselves believe certain things?" It seems safe to say that everything we believe influences everything else we believe, even if we cannot identify a first cause. For that reason, we should be careful about what beliefs we cultivate. John A. Hardon: “[Vladimir] Solovyev's [1853-1900] fundamental premise was that Orthodox (true) doctrine about Christ is the only sound basis for truly Christian society. What a person believes about Christ determines his concept of the human community.” Judith Plaskow: “Once images become socially, politically, or morally inadequate, however, they are also religiously inadequate." The explorer Freya Stark said: "There can be no happiness if the things we believe in are different from the things we do."
SourcesG. W. F. Hegel. Reason in History: A General Introduction to the Philosophy of History. Translated by Robert S. Hartman. Indianapolis: Library of Liberal Arts, Bobbs-Merrill Co., 1953. (Originally 1837.) p. 16.
Amos Oz. In the Land of Israel. (1983) Translated by Maurie Goldberg-Bartura. USA: Harcourt, Inc., 1993. p. 153.
Simone Weil. Quoted in Deepak Chopra. How To Know God: The Soul's Journey into the Mystery of Mysteries. New York: Harmony Books, 2000. Introductory quotation.
Jim Wallis, quoted in "Without a Doubt." Ron Suskind. New York Times Magazine. October 17, 2004. pp 46ff.
Frank Schaeffer. Patience with God: Faith for People Who Don't Like Religion (or Atheism). Cambridge: Da Capo Press, 2009. Prologue, p. xiii.
Ursula K. LeGuin. The Left Hand of Darkness. (1969) New York: Barnes & Noble Books, 2004. p. 72.
G. K. Chesterton, The Everlasting Man. New York: Dodd, Mead, and Co., 1925. p xiii.
“Tarah,” quoted in Christopher Phillips. Socrates in Love: Philosophy for a Die-Hard Romantic. New York: W. W. Norton and Co., 2007. p. 173.
Leslie Dewart. The Future of Belief: Theism in a World Come of Age. New York: Herder and Herder 1966. p 64.
Frederica Mathewes-Green. At the Corner of East and Now: A Modern Life in Ancient Christian Orthodoxy. New York: Jeremy P. Tarcher/Putnam, 1999. p 149-150.
Deepak Chopra. How To Know God: The Soul's Journey into the Mystery of Mysteries. New York: Harmony Books, 2000. p 14.
Yann Martel, Life of Pi, p. 297
Cary Tennis. Answer to the question "I'm a Christian turning agnostic" in his advice column "Since You Asked..." Salon.com February 24, 2006. Accessed February 25, 2006.
Nicolas Berdyaev. The Divine and the Human. London: Geoffrey Bles, 1949. Foreword, 1944-45. p v.
Dale B. Martin. Slavery as Salvation: The Metaphor of Slavery in Pauline Christianity. New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1990. pp. 145-146.
John A. Hardon. Christianity in the Twentieth Century. New York: Image Books, DoubleDay, 1972. p 182.
Judith Plaskow, Standing Again at Sinai: Judaism from a Feminist Perspective. San Francisco: Harper and Row, 1990. p 135.
Freya Stark, quoted in the Columbia, Mo., Daily Tribune, quoted in The Week, Oct. 14, 2011. p. 21.