Both believers and unbelievers find it impossible to see God with their own eyes, or detect him by any of their other senses. God does not come to us on the frequency of our senses — or even our imagination.
If we do come to know God, it is with the ‘knowledge of unseeing,’ a kind of dark knowing, but no less certain.
Some write that the issue is one either of belief in God or of doubt. But a knowledge of unseeing is not the same as having doubts. It is real knowledge, certain knowledge, knowledge one would die for rather than be unfaithful to. In other words, worth putting one’s life on.
But, however darkly certain, it is unsatisfying to our senses and to our usual ways of knowing.
There are three ways in which, in a twenty-first century context, we come to know the presence of God within us.
First, there is the memory of those in the Nazi and Communist interrogation cells, many of whom did not believe in God when they first went to prison — those who felt impelled not to agree to a lie, even if their bodies screamed under torture or under weariness or despair that they should just surrender and sign their names to a ‘meaningless’ piece of paper. They could not bring themselves to violate a certain inner light, which they came to think was both a part of themselves and yet greater than anything in themselves that they could put their finger on.
Second, there is in humans an unquenchable drive to keep asking questions. This drive is satisfied by nothing finite. It will rest at nothing less than being one with the Source of all questions and understanding, so that there are no further questions; that is, being one with the Infinite Light. The unlimited drive to raise questions is our first experience of the infinite, and it persists and often grows stronger with age.
Third, there is the experience of making practical decisions — which sometimes we know that we make intelligently, and sometimes stupidly — in which scientific knowledge does not show us which decision to make. At those times, in practical intellect, we know a form of knowing that leads to decisions which we darkly know to be right — “feel comfortable with,” we sometimes say. Here, too, we reach a kind of dark knowing, a knowledge of unseeing. Since we become aware in our practical knowing of better decisions and worse, greater goods and lesser goods, we come to understand darkly that there is an (unseen) standard by which we measure all goods, so as to judge them better and worse. Even our best decisions do not measure up to this standard, although our human limitations often oblige us not to let the perfect become the enemy of the good. We do the best we can. We will not be surprised to learn that we could have done better.
This last is how we become aware in our own practical decision-making of good, better, and infinitely best. The ultimate good by which all other goods are measured as finite and imperfect.
I think of these as the path of inner truth (or conscience), the path of the infinite hunger to know, and the path of a dim awareness of infinite Goodness.