بسم الله الرحمن الرحيم
Before we can answer the question “how can I know that God exists?” we must first ask the question “how do I know anything at all.” Or perhaps more appropriately, since God is not a “thing,” we should ask “how do I come to know?” As we shall see, all knowledge is ultimately grounded in what is unfortunately called “intuition” in English, but which is more appropriately called “immediate knowledge” or “knowledge by presence” in Islamic philosophy.
I will nevertheless sometimes use the word intuition, but it should not be mistaken for the ordinary usage of simply having a “hunch” about something or the vain, amorphous imaginings of artists and poets. From intuition, in its proper sense, descends pure reason, with its capacity to give completely certainty based on deductive proofs. After that descends inductive reason, which allows us to make probabilistic arguments that reach a different kind of certainty. Lastly, we have sense perception, which contrary to popular belief is actually the lowest and least reliable form of knowledge. Ordinary sense perception, quite obviously, cannot on its own lead one to belief in God, since God is not restricted to matter. It must be combined with either reasoning or intuition in order to yield fruit, at least as it pertains to the question of God and meaning. This latter combination of vision and intuition we might call “enlightened sense perception” or “mystical vision”, by which we might see God’s Sacred Names in ordinary sensory objects. But that’s for another time.
Now the question for you, my dear reader, is what are you looking for? Are you looking to know God directly, unmitigated by any long-winded, tedious discourse involving minute reasoning? Are you looking for absolute proof of the existence of God, one that considers all objections and involves very precise reasoning? Would you be satisfied with a very compelling probabilistic argument, based on solid evidence, for the existence of God? Or perhaps, more darkly, you are here simply to “refute” any attempts to show that God is, in fact, Reality. Perhaps you have already made up your mind and are here simply to edify your ego, without the slightest intention to actually listen to what is being said and to make a genuine attempt at understanding. Perhaps if you were to hear something that might otherwise change your perspective, you would miss it simply because you are subconsciously committed to an uncharitable reading and fault finding rather than sincerity. Of course, I would not presume any of this, but the fact remains that we are all susceptible to such tendencies. If we find this darkness within our own souls, we must realize there is nothing to be gained in this world by proving that “I” am right, other than the momentary satisfaction of having domination over another soul, but everything to be gained through sincerity.
With that reminder at hand, I shall assume going forwards that you are entirely sincere in seeking to know the truth, whatever it might be, and that you are entirely prepared to hear this humble author’s perspective. As to the previous concern, what will ultimately satisfy all human beings is the direct knowledge of God, which is acquired by intellectual intuition. When a person experiences God, by definition certainty is attained – light fills the heart and one’s phenomenological experience of Being radically alters. It might be wise then, to simply prescribe steps for how one might achieve this meeting with the Divine, so that one might see the Truth for themselves rather than merely hear of it second hand. Indeed within each religion, there is a mystical path that is aimed at precisely that, and if one wishes they are entirely free to embark upon such a path.
However, a problem arises in that a person who is not already on this path wants to know with certainty that the object of the journey, namely God, does in fact exist and so such efforts would not be in vain. It seems to be asking a little much to tell a person they must completely change their lifestyle, values, and temporarily suspend their established beliefs about the nature of reality simply to experiment and see, perhaps, if God is indeed Real and as Glorious as He is made out to be – a highly dubious supposition to begin with if one is already entrenched in the atheist camp.
I contend that it is much easier to experience God than people of such persuasion might think. You see, the experience of God is a continuum. To experience God as a devoted mystic might experience Him would require a very high level of commitment, sincerity, and devotion. But to experience God at a very basic level – enough to know that there is something Sacred and mystical about reality that contemporary science entirely ignores is actually not that difficult to achieve. It is, in fact, this initial taste of the Sacred that inspires most religious people to religion. If one becomes more sincere and devoted, the experiences become more intense and sweeter than honey. Consequently, some people become ensnared upon the mystical path until they attain the Divine.
Intrigued? You might at this point be wondering what one might do in order to induce such an experience. Simple. Do something good with the hopes of seeing God in the depths of your heart. Sincerity is the key here – you must desire to see God and act out this desire through goodness. Do as much good as you can with this deep sincerity, and you will experience the Sacred sooner rather than later.
Alternatively, you can exhibit self-restraint in the face of temptation to do something you know to be evil, once again with the hopes of seeing God in the depths of your heart. You might have a particular deed that you are in the habit of doing, which violates your conscience. You might be rude to your parents, or a jerk at work, or hard-hearted in your relationships. You might do something that you know is wrong, and you might do it regularly. Simply stop doing it for the sincere desire to see God, and the Sacred will embrace you. Seeking forgiveness from God, with a deep desire for that forgiveness and to see God will also give you a direct experience of the Divine, though I suspect this would be more difficult for people who do not yet accept the existence of God to try.
In fact, there are more purely intellectual ways to induce such realization, but I find that it is pointless to try to run before you can walk. If someone sincerely wants to see God, the above are the simplest prescriptions he or she can follow to attain the desired result. Ironically, this same prescription can be applied for those who accept a religion but wish to strengthen their connection to God, and to taste the sweet honey they have yet to experience. The obstacles to knowing God in this direct and intimate manner are not about labels, what one calls oneself, but about the state of one’s heart. Of course, it is easier for the nominal believer to take the steps necessary to humble himself such that God manifests Himself into his heart because the belief system of a believer is conducive to this. It tells him God exists and that to see Him one must be humble, shun evil and do good works with complete sincerity. The nominal disbeliever, on the other hand, must at least be convinced to at least try the proposed experiment.
Once one directly experiences God, even at a relatively low level compared to the great mystics, the question of a reasoned proof becomes less important (although not entirely). If you were to taste the food at a particular restaurant, would you be interested to read a review in order to know if the restaurant is good? Perhaps in order to compare experiences, but your mind will be made up as to whether you liked the food you just ate, rather than what some other person’s opinion on the matter is. Nothing that other person could say could convince you to either like or dislike the food more than what your own taste buds have told you. Likewise, for he who has tasted the Divine, what difference does it make whether he can prove it to someone else by means of ratiocination?
It is for this reason that religious people are often accused of dogmatism regarding their religious beliefs. We have tasted the Divine, what does it matter if we can prove our perspective through some rational argument? And, at any rate, understanding a rational argument for the existence of God is not the same as experiencing God; it cannot replace the experience of God because it belongs to a different, lesser order of being. Try describing love or real hatred to someone who has never experienced such emotions; the person may understand it conceptually, but they will not know what the experience truly is. They are different altogether – to know what love is one must experience love; to know what hatred is, one must experience hatred. No amount of conceptual gymnastics in the discursive mind will be equivalent to the experience; thus it is with the Sacred.
But all this is not entirely true. There are four reasons why a religion must offer rational defenses for its viewpoint. The first and most important reason is that the Glory of God and His Omnipotence demands that He manifest Himself on all the levels of being. Each level of being is limited in its capacity, and so it can only accommodate His Sacred Presence to a limited degree and in a certain modality (or way). Pure intellection, what we have called “intuition”, is the highest modality available to man, but this does not mean that God, and by extension God’s religion, must not appeal to the other faculties of man: rationality, sentimentality, even the body, in as far as lower orders of being can be connected to higher principles.
If all of this sounded rather convoluted, I hope in time to convey the full meaning of what I have written here. To summarize the point perhaps more succinctly: the fitra, or innate human nature, tends to reject a God who is too weak to prove Himself with foolproof rational arguments. It demands that God, if He indeed exists, establishes compelling proof such that the naysayers have no leg left to stand on, and should they continue to insist in their denial, the reality of their lies, slander, commitment to reject Truth out of hatred, envy and resentment of Being should come to light for those who wish to see. The truth cannot be ambiguous; the hujjah must be established so that none have an excuse to remain ignorant. That is a God that can be worshipped.
The fitra also demands a God that can appeal to our sentiments, moral and otherwise, but since the rise of Protestantism in the West, religion has become nothing but sentimentality, so I will not delve into this aspect of religion. In fact, I suspect a few of my dear atheist readers have read nothing but “muh feelings” into everything I have said thus far about intellectual intuition and the sense of the Sacred. This conflation between intellectual intuition and sentimentality is unfortunate, but not altogether unexpected. How could we expect those who’ve yet to open their eyes to understand sight, let alone the difference between colours and shapes?
In as far as we are human beings, each one of us as an intellectual faculty, a rational faculty, a sentimental faculty, a body, and so forth. But among mankind, some tend towards one or another aspect of their being. Thus we have a second reason why the existence of God must appeal to reason: there are some who cannot overcome the tendency for rational understanding prior to action. These people cannot put aside their mind and simply act experimentally, as I have suggested, until they have satisfied the demands of their mind, at least minimally. Once they are satisfied that God either most certainly or at least probably exists, and that a particular religious path will get them the desired experience of the Sacred, only then will they act. To some extent, as I have pointed out, all human beings are like this, but few tend to this way of being so strongly that they require the kind of rigour that philosophy offers.
There is a third reason we must have proof. The experience of God, as attained through intellectual intuition, can vanish and be replaced by darkness because of the commission of serious sins. In other words, sometimes we turn away from God, and the memory of the Sacred fades along with it, given a lengthy enough period of time. This, of course, is not zero or one hundred, but a matter of degree. Upon the commission of relatively minor sins, we may still retain a faint sense of the Sacred, but upon the commission of a series of persistent major sins over a long enough period of time, we may all but lose the experience of God. When this happens, there is an opening for doubt to creep in, and I suspect this is how many formerly religious people fall prey to atheism and scepticism.
Fourthly, different religions all claim truth and there is a need to appeal to rationality in order to sort through them since many of them presumably do in fact offer an experience of the Sacred. Are all religions ultimately the same? Is one religion true to the exclusion of all others? Does it really matter? How do we resolve theological differences? The ultimate question here, which reason must answer, is which religion if any, should I follow? Which school of thought, within any one religion, should I follow?
With that, I leave you – at least for now. It is now up to you to decide whether you want to try to connect to the Sacred through suprarational means, to taste that sweet nectar that will transform your entire experience of being, to find relief from suffering, and to show the glorious potential of life. At any rate, our next installment in the series will explore rational proofs for the existence of God, which will benefit you regardless of whether you choose to take steps from now to connect to the One who yearns for you. What have you got to lose?
قَالَتِ الْأَعْرَابُ آمَنَّا ۖ قُل لَّمْ تُؤْمِنُوا وَلَٰكِن قُولُوا أَسْلَمْنَا وَلَمَّا يَدْخُلِ الْإِيمَانُ فِي قُلُوبِكُمْ ۖ وَإِن تُطِيعُوا اللَّهَ وَرَسُولَهُ لَا يَلِتْكُم مِّنْ أَعْمَالِكُمْ شَيْئًا ۚ إِنَّ اللَّهَ غَفُورٌ رَّحِيمٌ – 49:14
The bedouins say, “We have believed.” Say, “You have not [yet] believed; but say [instead], ‘We have submitted,’ for faith has not yet entered your hearts. And if you obey Allah and His Messenger, He will not deprive you from your deeds of anything. Indeed, Allah is Forgiving and Merciful.”
أَلَمْ يَأْنِ لِلَّذِينَ آمَنُوا أَن تَخْشَعَ قُلُوبُهُمْ لِذِكْرِ اللَّهِ وَمَا نَزَلَ مِنَ الْحَقِّ وَلَا يَكُونُوا كَالَّذِينَ أُوتُوا الْكِتَابَ مِن قَبْلُ فَطَالَ عَلَيْهِمُ الْأَمَدُ فَقَسَتْ قُلُوبُهُمْ ۖ وَكَثِيرٌ مِّنْهُمْ فَاسِقُونَ – 57:16
Is it not time for believers to humble their hearts to the remembrance of God and the Truth that has been revealed, and not to be like those who received the Scripture before them, whose time was extended but whose hearts hardened and many of whom were debauched sinners?
الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا وَتَطْمَئِنُّ قُلُوبُهُم بِذِكْرِ اللَّهِ ۗ أَلَا بِذِكْرِ اللَّهِ تَطْمَئِنُّ الْقُلُوبُ – 13:28
“…those who have faith and whose hearts find peace in the remembrance of God- truly it is in the remembrance of God that hearts find peace-“
أَفَمَن شَرَحَ اللَّهُ صَدْرَهُ لِلْإِسْلَامِ فَهُوَ عَلَىٰ نُورٍ مِّن رَّبِّهِ ۚ فَوَيْلٌ لِّلْقَاسِيَةِ قُلُوبُهُم مِّن ذِكْرِ اللَّهِ ۚ أُولَٰئِكَ فِي ضَلَالٍ مُّبِينٍ – 39:22
So is one whose breast Allah has expanded to [accept] Islam and he is upon a light from his Lord [like one whose heart rejects it]? Then woe to those whose hearts are hardened against the remembrance of Allah . Those are in manifest error.