Seeing God Everywhere

~Frithjof Schuon

One often hears it said that it is necessary to “see God everywhere” or “in everything”; this does not seem a difficult conception for men who believe in God, though there are many degrees involved, extending from simple reverie to intellectual intuition. How can one attempt to “see God”, who is invisible and infinite, in what is visible and finite without the risk of deluding oneself or falling into error or without giving the idea a meaning so vague that the words lose all significance? This is the question we propose to clarify here, though it means returning to certain points we have already treated elsewhere.

First of all it is necessary to consider in the things around us—as well as in our own soul to the extent it is an object of our intelligence— what might be called the “miracle of existence”. Existence indeed partakes of the miraculous: it is through existence that things are so to speak detached from nothingness; the distance between them and nothingness is infinite, and seen from this angle the least speck of dust possesses something of the absolute, hence of the “divine”. To say that one must see God everywhere means above all that one must see Him in the existence of beings and things, our own included.

But phenomena do not have existence alone, or else they would not be distinct; they also have qualities that are superimposed as it were on existence and deploy its virtualities. The quality distinguishing a good thing from a bad resembles on a lesser scale the existence distinguishing each thing from nothingness; as a consequence positive qualities represent God, as does existence pure and simple. Beings are attracted by qualities because they are attracted by God; every quality or virtue, whether the slightest of physical properties or the most profound of human virtues, transmits to us something of the divine Perfection, which is its immutable source, so that metaphysically speaking we can have no other motive for love than this Perfection.

But there is yet another “dimension” to be considered by the man who seeks the remembrance of God in things. The enjoyment that qualities afford us shows that they not only exist around us, but also concern us personally by way of Providence; for a landscape that exists without our being able to see it is one thing, and a landscape we can see is another. There is thus a “subjective-temporal” dimension, which is added to the “objective-spatial” dimension, if one may express it this way: things recall God to us not only to the extent they are good or display an aspect of goodness, but also to the extent we can perceive this goodness or enjoy it in a direct way. In the air that we breathe and that might be denied us, we meet God in the sense that the divine Giver is in the gift. This manner of “seeing God” in his gifts corresponds to “thanksgiving” while the perception of qualities corresponds to “praise”; as for the “vision” of God in mere existence, this gives birth in the soul to a general or fundamental consciousness of the divine Reality.

Thus God reveals himself not only by the existence and qualities of things, but by the gift He makes of them to us; He reveals himself also by contraries, that is, by the limitation of things and by their defects,2 and again by the absence or disappearance of something which, being good, is useful and agreeable to us. It will be noticed that the concrete opposite of existence is not nothingness—which is only an abstraction— but limitation, which itself prevents existence from extending to pure Being, hence from becoming God. Things are limited in multiple ways, but above all by their existential determinations, which on the terrestrial level are matter, form, number, space, time. A clear distinction must be made between the aspect “limit” and the aspect “defect”; indeed the ugliness of a creature is not of the same order as the spatial limitation of a perfect body, for this limitation expresses a form, a normative principle, or a symbol whereas the ugliness corresponds only to a lack and does nothing but confuse the clarity of the symbolism. Be that as it may, what God reveals by the limitation of things, by their defects, and also—in relation to the human subject—by the privation of things or of qualities is the “non-divine”, hence “illusory” or “unreal”, character of all that is not He.

From: Gnosis: Divine Wisdom 
A New Translation with Selected Letters