Here is the mystery of all mysteries.
The Christian mystic of the 13th century, Meister Eckhart, expressed this mystery like this.
"I pray God to rid me of God."
Want to know God?
That's the mystery. To know God, I suspect you must give up, let go and be free of all conceptions, all beliefs about God. God is not anything you think. God is really nothing, no-thing. Whatever beliefs you have of God could never be God. Therefore, they could never be right. At their very best, they would be purely reductionistic in nature. They could accomplish nothing more than ever so slightly point in the direction of God.
The mistake almost every religious person makes -- who is interested in the sacred and, of course, not everyone thinks they are -- is to believe, first, that their beliefs about God are right and then to mistakenly think that what they think about God is tantamount to knowing God. But the real truth is, the more certain you are that you know God, that you have the sacred all figured out, the less you actually know.
When I was a young minister, I would often preach and teach with such absolute-sounding authority. I now realize, it was all a cover of bull$h!t. I made myself sound authoritative because, inside, I was not really so sure about much of anything. In fact, I now realize that the surer you sound, the more certain you aren't.
Want to know the truth? No honest person is. The one truth we all share in common is that there is not much we can know. The more certain you think you know God, therefore, the less you actually know.
In fact, you cannot know God. And yet, you do, too. You can experience God. Or, for my agnostic and atheist readers, you can experience something you equate with God.
Whatever! But, for those who have such experiences, and there are even atheists who do, something transcendent, inexplicable, and even life-changing can and does occur. One of my favorite French atheists, Andre' Comte-Sponville, has made that abundantly clear in his amazing little book: The Little Book of Atheistic Spirituality.
Is this all contradictory?
Of course, it is.
It could not be otherwise.
Be mindful of this: the more certain someone sounds about their beliefs -- their spiritual or sacred knowledge -- the more certain you can be they actually know very little. Which explains, too, why some of them hide behind magnificent and certain-sounding declarations, "I believe," or better, "We believe the Bible." Or, "The Bible says..."
By saying such meaningless things, they actually confuse their fear and uncertainty with faith. As a consequence, they mistakenly believe they are "right." They think that by saying things like, "We just believe the Bible..." they are exercising faith. What they are really doing is just shrouding their fear of being wrong behind what they mistakenly think is faith in being right.
In the final analysis, do you REALLY want to know God?
I would suggest practicing what the early Christian mystic prayed: "God, rid me of God."
If you'd like an authentic faith and not the phony religious nonsense perpetrated on the masses today, let go of all beliefs about God.
In fact, you might just let go of God.
See what happens.
Dr. Steve McSwain is an author and speaker, counselor to non-profits and congregations, an advocate in the fields of self-development, interfaith cooperation, and spiritual growth. His blogs at BeliefNet.com, the Huffington Post, as well as his own website (www.SteveMcSwain.com) inspire people of all faith traditions. Dr. McSwain is an Ambassador to the Council on the Parliament for the World's Religions. His interfaith pendants are worn by thousands on virtually every continent, sharing his vision of creating a more conscious, compassionate, and charitable world. Visit his website for more information or to book him for an inspirational talk on happiness, inner peace, interfaith respect or charitable living.