There is a theme in both the Old and New Testaments that points to the heart of nondual awareness. It is expressed most clearly in the Book of Exodus. Moses asks to see God’s glory and God responds, “You cannot see My face; for no one shall see Me and live.” The Bible repeatedly says that no one can see God and live. God is described as holy, and no mortal can be in the presence of the holy God according to the Bible.
In other words the ego – the separate self – cannot survive the presence of God. The little self is consumed in the fire of the One Self of the universe, who is God. The false self burns up in the presence of the true self. In the Presence of the One True God, the One Divine Self, all false selves disappear. There is only one Reality and that is God. This is a nondual Reality. Like a fire it consumes all others. It shakes the foundations of our lives (to use another biblical metaphor) and what remains – what is unshakeable – is Real.
There is a theme in both the OT and NT that points to the heart of nondual awareness. It is expressed most clearly in the Book of Exodus. Moses asks to see God’s glory and God responds, “You cannot see My face; for no one shall see Me and live.” The story continues in a humorous way. God says that even though Moses cannot see his face, he agrees to give Moses a glimpse of his backside if he wants. He tells Moses to stand on the mountainside. God says that he will hide him in a cleft of the rock – a crevice. God will cover Moses with his hand as he passes by. God says, “Then I will take away My hand, and you shall see My back; but My face shall not be seen.”
I remember my OT professor laughing about this in a seminary class. When God said that he would show Moses his backside he was referring to his buttocks. God – or at least the author of Exodus – was having a bit of fun with the idea. Maybe I should preach a sermon called the Buttocks of God. I am not sure how well that would be received in church.
Anyway you get the point. The Bible repeatedly says that no one can see God and live. God is described as holy, and no mortal can be in the presence of the holy God according to the Bible. When the prophet Isaiah has a vision of God on his throne he remarks, “Woe is me! I am undone, for I have seen the King, the Lord of Hosts.” He is shaking in the presence of God. I love the phrase “I am undone” and I have spoken about it before. Isaiah feels like he is falling apart, disintegrating in the presence of God, which was exactly my experience.
The NT repeats the theme. In the prologue of the Gospel of John, the author says, “No one has ever yet seen God,” but then goes on to say that Jesus has “made God known.” In other words God is filtered through Jesus. There is a well-worn sermon illustration that says that saints are like stained glass windows. They are people through whom the light of God shines. In the Bible people glimpse God indirectly or partially but never fully.
Exodus says that Moses used to go into the Tent of Meeting and speak with God “face to face,” which seems at first reading to be a contradiction. But this description is in the same passage as where it says “You cannot see My face; for no man shall see Me, and live.” In the tent of Meeting Moses is apparently speaking with God, but not seeing God’s. Even so, when Moses came out of one of these meetings with God, his face shone with the glory of God. Even that reflected glory was too much for the people of Israel. They insisted that he wear a veil over his face to protect them from the reflected radiance of God’s presence.
There are those other passages in the NT. The Book of Hebrews talks about Moses and Mount Sinai and the fire on the mountain and earthquakes. Then it ends saying we have an “unshakable kingdom” and “For our God is a consuming fire.” That is enough Bible quoting for the moment. The point of this theme throughout the Bible is that being in the presence of God destroys us in some way. It shakes us to the core. We cannot survive it. We are consumed by the presence of God. The foundations of our lives are shaken, says the psalmist, but what remains and cannot be shaken is eternal.
In other words the ego – the separate self – cannot survive the presence of God. The little self is consumed in the fire of the One True Self of the universe, who is God. The false self burns up in the presence of the true self. In the Presence of the One True God, the One Divine Self, all false selves disappear. There is only one Reality and that is God. This is a nondual Reality. Like a fire it consumes all others. It shakes the foundations of our lives (to use another biblical metaphor) and what remains – what is unshakeable – is Real.
There is a wonderful line spoken by John the Baptist in the Gospel of John. Speaking of Christ, John says, “He must increase; I must decrease.” In context he is speaking of his reputation and ministry, but it has a deeper spiritual meaning as well. The ego and God cannot coexist. The ego must decrease and God must increase. The spiritual life is about letting go of ego until it is no more, and there is only God. The closer we come to God, the more the ego is burned away.
James the brother of Jesus says, “Draw near to God and He will draw near to you.” That instruction is then followed by talk of cleansing and purification. The spiritual life is drawing near to God until you are no more.
Let me put it another way: Where God is, you are not; where you are, God is not. I am using the word “you” here in the sense of the human self - the ego. There is only room for One and that One is God. There is no room for a second. God is one without a second, as the Upanishads say. It is the same message as the Hebrew scripture where God says that he is God and there is no other. That is the Shahada of Islam. There is no God but God. These all point to the nonduality of God.
There are no other gods. All other gods are false gods, and that includes the god of the self. Let me say it again: Where God is, you are not; where you are, God is not. When we see God – or in Jesus’ words, see the Kingdom of God – we see that we are not. What we mistakenly thought of as ourselves is not real. The ego is seen as nothing more than an illusion. There is only God. Where God is, we are not.
Where we are, God is not. That takes a little more explaining. When we think that we are the ego and separate from God, then we cannot see God. God is not. That is what it means to be spiritually lost. We are lost in illusion, lost in separateness. All we see is ourselves and other separate selves and a separate world. That is hell here and now. The result is sin, which is suffering and disharmony and falsehood. Where you are, God is not – meaning not seen.
In reality there is no place or time where and when God is not. So when I say “Where we are, God is not” it does not mean there is someplace God is not. I mean that when we identify with ego, it seems like God is absent. In reality God is omnipresent and eternal. The Kingdom of God is here now. But the ego does not see God. The more we hold onto ourselves, the less we see God. Without the ego this life is seen as eternal life.
Heaven is Oneness. It is the end of separateness. Heaven is nonduality. Hell is duality. Heaven is knowing our union with God. Hell is believing we are separate from God. Jesus describes this separateness as outer darkness where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth. It is a picture of suffering caused by separation from God. It is suffering caused by believing we are separate from God. That is the source of human suffering. In reality we cannot be separated from God.
The apostle Paul says in a famous passage, “What can separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? … In all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us. For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
Nothing can separate us from God. We are one. Only when we do not realize that, do we feel like we are separate from God. Then we experience all sorts of suffering, and alienation, and fear. There is no fear in love. Perfect love casts out all fear, John says. And God is perfect love. No one can see God and live. Yet when we realize we are no one, then this no one can see God and live. This is eternal life.