Friday, December 18, 2015

The Sun

A minister of a local church recently interviewed me as part of a series of sermons he was giving on Jesus through the eyes of non-Christians. In the interview, one of my responses was based on the Master's oft-used analogy of God as the sun. I cannot recall the question that prompted this response, but I ran into this same minister a few weeks ago and he said that this response was the most thought-provoking analogy he had heard. He even used that part of the interview a few times over the course of these sermons.

Why, I wondered. What is it about this analogy that is so profound?

The quote comes from 'Abdu'l-Baha, in The Promulgation of Universal Peace. "How shall we know God? We know Him by His attributes. We know Him by His signs. We know Him by His names. We know not what the reality of the sun is, but we know the sun by the ray, by the heat, by its efficacy and penetration."

The basic idea is that God is like the sun. Not only do we get all our light from this bright orb, but all life on this planet is directly dependent upon it. (All right, I know there are a few organisms that live off the various acids and heat from the heat vents in the oceans, but please, you get the idea.) Now, this sounds good up to this point, and is, in fact, fairly basic (which is why I'm not mentioning the acid-eating stuff in the ocean).

But we can go a bit deeper. For example, we understand that we can never know the sun directly. If we were to even begin to approach it, we would be incinerated long before ever getting there. Science fiction movies notwithstanding, we are unable to even send a probe there. In fact, all we can ever know about the sun is only knowable through its rays. Granted, we can know an awful lot about the sun from its rays, but still it is incredible to realize that everything we do know about it has only been gleaned from these few rays that happen to fall upon our tiny little planet. In terms of the sun itself, these few rays are barely worth mentioning.

To me, this is an example of how inaccessible God is to us, puny portals that we be.

Of course, one could argue that it also means that God doesn't give a squat about us, being so insignificant, and the amount of energy needed to sustain us being so meager. But there I would disagree. If the sun were sentient, then I am certain that nothing would please it more than to see its energy put to good use, say by growing all the plants on the planet. Similarly, I believe that God does actually like to see us benefit from our creation, just as a parent enjoys seeing their child do well. I believe that God does want us to be happy and to prosper and grow.

Also, I believe that this analogy helps us to come together as people of different beliefs.

How, you may ask? Simple.

When speaking with this minister, I used the example of a mirror reflecting the light of the sun. One could point to the mirror and truly say "That's the sun." They would be right, indicating the reflection they are seeing. At the same time, another person can come along and say, "No, that's just a mirror." Of course, they're correct, too. It's all a matter of perspective. Oh, and also not insisting that your own view is the only one. This allowed us both to understand that the other person's view of Jesus was more really little more than a difference of terms. We recognized that we both loved and revered Jesus.

Another thing it does is get us to ask the relationship between us and the sun. Whose relation to the sun is the most appropriate? Is it the individual working on their tan on the beach? Or the dancer on the hill at the solstice? Is it the couple who work in their garden in the spring? Or the scientist who is studying the sun? You see, dear Reader, everyone gets something out of it, but not everyone gets the same thing, and that's ok. We are free to allow each other to get what they need, knowing there is always more. We also understand that none of what we do here on earth changes the sun itself. In fact, what we do in relation to the sun changes us.

Just as our relation to God has no effect on God, but ultimately changes who we are.


  1. I love this, can i get your permission to use all or some of it for a pamphlet? thanks.

  2. Of course you can. After all, it's from 'Abdu'l-Baha. All I did was write a bit of a commentary on it. And if you do, I'd love to see it.