Leo Tolstoy Archive

Thoughts on God

Written: 1900
Source: Text From RevoltLib.com
Transcription/Markup: Andy Carloff
Online Source: RevoltLib.com; 2021

Leo Tolstoy



The reader may be interested in knowing the author's own impression of these "Thoughts" when reading them in the first edition of this booklet, published a considerable time after its contents were written. In a private letter, dated 6th September 1900, he says: "I have just read 'Thoughts on God.' There is in them that which is good, and I was moved in reading. But their publication is premature. They should have been published after my death (not distant). Otherwise, it is fearful to live with such a life-program.—These were my first thoughts on reading; and then I was ashamed of myself. If one lives not before men but before God, is not the publication of one's beliefs immaterial? To live before men is very troublesome; to satisfy everyone, earn everyone's good opinion, conceal one's foulness—is very difficult. But how peaceful and easy to live before God, Before Him one need not trouble to dissimulate or pose. He knows which one is, and what one is worth. This alone is one—and a great—advantage of serving God and not men.

"Also, whilst reading, I recalled to mind that which lately I have been thinking—that one cannot say, God is Love, or God is Logos, Reason. Through Love and Reason we indeed apprehend God; but these ideas not only do not cover the idea of God—they differ from it as much as the idea of an eye or of sight differs from the light itself.

"Almost the same thing is said in the booklet."





The thoughts here offered to the reader, illustrating what Leo Tolstoy understands by the term "God," have been extracted from his diaries, private letters, note-book jottings, draft manuscripts of unfinished papers, and various writings of the same kind. A portion of the matter has already appeared, the remainder has not been published before. If the reader desires to form a complete idea of Tolstoy's views on this subject, he should supplement these thoughts by what the author has written on the same theme in his previously published works and in the other booklets in this series.

The reader is requested to bear in mind that the thoughts here presented, not being originally intended by the author for publication, are not expressed as precisely and carefully as they would have been had he been preparing them for the general public; and also that the translation of writings of this character affords special difficulties, owing to their rough and unfinished form.

In order, therefore, that the reader may both do justice to these expressions of thought and fully profit by them, it is desirable that he should endeavor to understand any verbal imperfections according to the spirit of the whole, and to fill up in the sense most advantageous for the thought expressed, any omission he may remark.

V. T.⁠

(No Rights Reserved.)


God is for me that after which I strive—that, in striving after which consists my life, and who therefore for me is; but is necessarily such that I cannot comprehend or name Him. If I understood Him, I should have reached Him, and there would be nothing to strive after; there would be no life. But, and this seems a contradiction, though I cannot understand nor name Him, yet at the same time I know Him and the direction towards Him, and even of all my knowledge this is the most certain.

I do not comprehend Him, yet at the same time I am always anxious when I am without Him, and am not anxious only when I am with Him. What is still more strange is that to know Him more and better than I do at present is not my desire now in this present life, and is not necessary. I can draw nearer to Him, and I wish to ​do so;—in that is my life; but such drawing nearer in no way increases, and cannot increase, my knowledge.

Every endeavor of the imagination to know Him more definitely (for in stance, as my Creator, or as a Merciful Being) removes me farther from Him, and prevents me drawing nearer to Him.

Stranger still, I can love truly—that is, more than myself or than anything else—Him alone. This love alone knows no check, no decrease (on the contrary, all is increase), no sensuality, no insincerity, no subserviency, no fear, no self-satisfaction. Only through this love does one love all that is good; so that one loves and lives only through Him and by Him.

Well, this is how I think, or rather feel. I have only to add that the pronoun "He" somewhat destroys my idea of God: the word "He" somewhat diminishes Him.


It is astonishing how I could for merly fail to see the indubitable truth, that behind this world and our life in it, is someone, something, that knows why this world exists and why we, in it, like bubbles in boiling water, rise, burst, and disappear.

It is certain that something is being done in this world, and that by all ​living beings; being done by me, by my life. Otherwise, wherefore this sun, these seasons, and above all, wherefore this three-year-old child, frenzied with superabumdance of life; that old woman who has outlived her reason; or yonder lunatic? These separate beings, which in my eyes evidently have no meaning, and which are yet living so vigorously, are so tenacious of life, and in whom life is so firmly planted, these beings more than anything convince me that they are wanted for some purpose that is wise and good, and inaccessible to me.


Why are you downcast? You are waiting for something too great—wait ing, it seems to me, for God in thunder and storm, and not in stillness. The best of it is that, as you say, you cannot "get away anywhere." In this the hand of God is most visible and pal pable.

You say that I do not seem to ac knowledge God. This is a misunder standing. I acknowledge nothing but God.

I think I wrote and spoke to you about my definition of God, which I would now give in answer to the ques tion. What is God? God is that All, that infinite All, of which I am con scious of being a part, and therefore allin me is encompassed by God, and I feel Him in everything.

And this is not at all a play of words it is that by which I live.


What is God? Wherefore God?

God is that unlimited all which I know within myself in a limited form. I am limited, God is infinite; I am a being which has lived sixty-three years, God lives eternally; I am a being which reasons within the limits of its understanding, God reasons without limit; I am a being which loves sometimes a little, God loves always infinitely. I am a part. He is all. I cannot understand myself otherwise than as a part of Him.


Somehow, while praying to God, it became clear to me that God is indeed a real Being, Love,—is that All which I just touch, and which I experience in the form of love. And this is not a feeling, not an abstraction, but a real Being; and I have felt Him.


All that I know, I know because there is a God, and because I know Him. Only upon this can one firmly base one's relations, both with other men and with oneself, as well as with life outside space and time. Not only do I not regard this as mystical, but ​I hold the opposite view to be mystical; whereas this is the most intelligible and accessible reality.


To the definition of God I find it necessary to add that of Matthew Arnold, which I have kept in mind as expressing one aspect, and that the chief, in which God presents Himself to us. (Matthew Arnold deduces his definition from the Old Testament prophets, and, indeed, for the time previous to Christ, it is sufficiently complete.) God is that eternal, infinite, "not ourselves" which "makes for righteousness." One may call it the law of human life, the will of God in relation to that part of men's life which is in their power. I say that this definition was sufficient up to the time of Christ, but by Christ it has been revealed to us that the fulfillment of this law, besides its external obligation to human reason, has also another and more simple inner motive which penetrates all man's being; namely, love: love, not of wife, or child, or country, but love of God (God is Love), love of love—that same feeling of kindness, sympathy, and joy of life, which constitutes man's natural, blissful, true life which knows no death.


One knows God, not so much through ​reason, nor even through the heart, but through one's feeling of complete dependence on Him, akin to the feeling experienced by an unweaned child in the arms of its mother. It does not know who holds it, warms it, feeds it; but it knows that there is this someone; and more than knows—it loves that being.


Formerly I witnessed the phenomena of life without thinking whence they came, or why I witnessed them.

Subsequently I realized that all that I see is the outcome of light, which is understanding. And I was so glad to have brought everything into harmony, that I was quite satisfied in acknowledging the understanding alone to be the source of everything.

But after that I saw that the understanding is a light which reaches me through a kind of dim glass. I see the light, but its source I do not know. Yet I know that the source exists.

This same source, which is the source of the light that enlightens me—a source I do not know, but the existence of which I do know—is God.


To love means to desire that which the one we love desires. But men desire opposite things, whereas that only can be loved which desires one ​and the same thing. One and the same thing is desired only by God.


To love God means to desire that which He desires. And He desires universal welfare.

"Brethren, let us love one another. He that loveth is born of God and knoweth God, because (it is written 'God is Love,' but we ought to say) Love is God." But also God is love, i.e. we know God only in the form of love, and love is God, i.e., if we love we are not God's but God.


Yes, love is God.

Love—love him who has caused thee pain, whom thou hast blamed, disliked; and then all that which had concealed his soul from thee will dis appear, and thou wilt, as through clear water, see at the bottom of his soul the divine essence of his love; and thou wilt not have to, thou wilt not be able to pardon him; thou wilt only have to pardon thyself for not having loved God in him in whom He was, and for not having seen Him through the absence of thy love.


Love is the manifestation within oneself (the consciousness) of God, and therefore the propensity to get out of oneself, to liberate oneself, to live a ​godly life. And this propensity calls forth God, i.e. Love in others.

This is not expressed clearly.

My chief idea is that love evokes love in others. God, having awakened in me, produces the awakening of the same God in others also.


One of the signs of the fulfillment of the Christian law, the will of God, is union. . . . Our principal aim must be to abolish all the obstacles which separ ate us, to hold fiast only that which unites us not only with Christians, but also with Mohammedans, and Buddhists, and savages. That is Chris tianity . . . the teaching of truth, com prehensible to all nations and all men.


Above all, above all—I say to you from soul to soul; the chief aim, in finite, joyful, always attainable, and worthy of the powers entrusted to us, is the increase of love.


When an unsolved question tor ments one, then one feels oneself to be a diseased member of some whole, healthy body; one feels oneself to be an unsound tooth in a sound body, and one asks the whole body to help the one member.

The whole body is God; the mem ber is myself.


One should do as do the Spirit-Wrestlers—bow down to the ground before every man, remembering that in him is God. If to bow physically is impracticable, we should at all events do so spiritually.


The consciousness, the sensation of God who is living in me and acting through me, cannot be felt always.

There are activities to which one has got to give oneself up altogether, unlimitedly, without thinking of anything save that one thing. In these cases it is impossible to think of God; it would distract, and it is unnecessary.

One should live simply, without exertion, giving oneself up to one's tendencies; but the moment there arise inward doubt, struggle, despondency, fear, ill-will, then immediately, recognizing in oneself one's spiritual being, recognizing one's connection with God, one should transport oneself from the material into the spiritual region; and that not in order to escape the work of life, but, on the contrary, to gather strength for its accomplishment; for the victory over, the mastering, of the obstacle. Like a bird—to advance on one's legs with folded wings, but the moment an obstacle is encountered, then to unfold one's ​wings and fly up . . . and one finds relief, and one's burden disappears.


This is what has happened to me: I began to think more and more abstractedly about the problems of life—In what does life consist? What is its aim? What is love?—and I got farther and farther away, not only from the Old Testament conception of God the Creator, but also from the conception of Him as a Father, the righteous source of all life, and of my own being. And the Devil ensnared me, and it began to enter my mind that it is possible, and especially desirable (for union with the Chinese Confucians, with the Buddhists, and our own atheists and agnostics) altogether to avoid this conception. I thought it was possible to restrict oneself to the conception and acknowledgment of that God only which is in me, without acknowledging any God apart from that—without acknowledging the one who has implanted in me a particle of Himself. And, strange to say, I suddenly began to feel dull, depressed, and alarmed. I did not know the cause of this, but I felt that I had suddenly undergone a dreadful spiritual fall, had lost all spiritual joy and energy.

And then only did I comprehend ​that this had happened because I had deserted God. Aid I began to think, and, strange to say, to guess whether there be a God or not; and I found Him, as it were, afresh. And I was filled with such joy, and such a firm assurance did I gain of Him, and of the possibility and duty of communion with Him, and of His hearing me, and my joy grew so great, that all these last days I have been experiencing the feeling that something very good has come to me; and I keep asking myself, "Why do I feel so happy? Yes! God! There is a God, and I need be neither anxious nor afraid, but can only rejoice."

I am afraid that this feeling will pass away, will grow dull; but for the present it is very joyous. It is as if I had been within a hair's-breadth of losing, nay, had thought that I had actually lost, the Being dearest to me; and yet had not so lost Him, but had only realized His priceless worth. I hope, if it does pass away, that it will only be the ecstatic feeling, but that there will remain much of what I have newly gained.

Perhaps this is what some call the "living God"; if that be so, then I did very wrongly towards them in not agreeing with but contradicting them.

The chief thing in this feeling is a ​consciousness of entire security, a consciousness that He is, that He is good, that He knows me, and that I am entirely surrounded by Him, that I have come from Him, and am going to Him, form a part of Him, am His child. All that seems bad, seems so only because I trust to myself and not in Him, and from this life, in which it is so easy to do His will (this will at the same time being mine), I cannot fall anywhere, except only into Him; and in Him is perfect joy and welfare.

All that I might write would not express what I have felt. Whether I am suffering physical or moral pain, whether my son be dying, or that which I love be perishing and I cannot help it, or sufferings are awaiting me—suddenly the thought recurs to me: "And how about God?" and all becomes good and joyous and clear.


There is not one believing man to whom moments of doubt do not come—doubt in the existence of God. And these doubts are not harmful; on the contrary, they lead to a higher understanding of God.

That God, whom one knew, has become familiar, and one no more believes in Him. We entirely believe in God only when He discloses Himself afresh to us. And He discloses ​Himself to us from a new side when we seek Him with all our soul.

I had been thinking much about God, about the essence of my life, and, as it seemed, only to feel doubtful as to both the one and the other; and I questioned the evidence of His exist ence. And then, not long ago, I simply felt the desire to lean myself upon faith in God, and in the imperishable ness of my soul; and to my astonish ment I felt such a firm, quiet assurance as I had never felt before. So that all the doubts and testings evidently not only did not weaken, but to an enor mous extent confirmed my faith.


One should never go to God, as it were "on purpose": "Now let me just go to God. I will begin to live ac cording to God. I have been living ac cording to the devil ; let me now try to live according to God; who knows — perhaps no harm will come of it. . . ."

There is harm in this, and great harm. Coming to God is something like getting married: one should do it only when one would be glad not to come to Him, or not to get married, but cannot help doing so. And there fore it is not that I would tell a man: "Go purposely into temptations"; but to him who formulates the question thus: "Well, and is it certain that I ​will not lose by going to God instead of to the devil?" — I would cry out as loud as I can, "Go, go to the devil, by all means to the devil!"

It is a hundred times better to get well scalded against the devil than to keep on standing at the cross roads, or insincerely going to God.


I have read Herbert Spencer's reply to Balfour; [1] the profession of Agnos ticism, as they now call Atheism.

I mean, that Agnosticism, although it wishes to be something different from Atheism, by setting up the sup posed impossibility of knowing, yet is, in reality, the same as Atheism, because their common root is the non-accept ance of a God.


And so I read Herbert Spencer, who says, not that he desires to throw off belief in God . . . but that he is obliged to do so; self-deception is the only other alternative. "There is no pleasure," he says, " in the conscious ness of being an infinitesimal bubble on a globe that is itself infinitesimal compared with the totality of things." (I should like to ask him what he understands by "the totality of things.") "Those on whom the unpitying rush of ​changes inflicts sufferings which are often without remedy, find no consola tion in the thought that they are at the mercy of blind forces, which cause, indifferently, now the destruction of a sun, and now the death of an animal cule. Contemplation of a universe which is without intelligible purpose yields no satisfaction. The desire to know what it all means is no less strong in the Agnostic than in others, and raises sympathy with them. Fail ing utterly to find any interpretation himself, he feels a regretful inability to accept the interpretations they offer."

Someone else was saying exactly the same thing to me the other day, "A sort of circum-rotation takes place, and in the center of this vortex, end less in time and place, I appear, live, and disappear. This is certain. All the rest — 'i.e.' the conception of some intelligent being, from which I have proceeded, and for the attainment of whose object I exist in common with all that exists — such a conception is a self-deception."

There are two distinct and mutually contradictory theories of the universe which may be represented thus —

The Agnostic says, "I observe my self, a being born of my parents, in the same way as I observe all other living beings which surround me, and which ​exist under certain conditions subject to my examination and study; and I study myself and other objects, both animate and inanimate, and the con ditions in which they exist. And in accordance with this study I order my life. Questions as to origin I investi gate in the same way, both by observa tion and by experiment, and I attain a greater and greater knowledge of them. As to the question whence all this universe has proceeded, why it exists, and why I exist in it, I leave it un answered, as I do not see the possibility of answering it as definitely, clearly, and convincingly as I answer questions concerning the conditions of things in the universe. And therefore the answer to this question which consists in say ing that there exists a supposed rational Being, a God, from whom I have proceeded (it is generally said, 'from whom the world proceeds,' by which is meant the creation of the world, which the Christian teaching does not affirm), which Being, for some reason known to itself, has determined the law of my life—this answer to the question I do not accept, as it does not contain the clearness and demonstrability possessed by the scientific answers to the questions con cerning the causes and conditions of various natural phenomena."

​So says the Agnostic, and in not admitting the possibility of any other knowledge but what is acquired by observation and the analysis of obser- vation, he is, if not right, at least quite logical and consistent.

The Christian, on the other hand, acknowledging God, says, "I am con- scious that I exist only because I feel myself to be a rational being. And in feeling myself to be so, I cannot but recognize that my life and that of all that exists must be equally rational. And in order to be so it must have an object. The object of my life must be outside myself, in that Being for which both I and all that exist serve as instruments for the attainment of the object of life. This Being does exist, and I must, in my life, fulfill its law or will. Questions as to the nature of this Being which demands of me the fulfillment of its law, and as to when and how, in time and space, this rational life originated in me, and originates in other beings — that is, 'What is God?' Is He personal or impersonal?' 'Did He create the world, and how?' 'When did a soul awake in me?' 'At what time, and how did it originate in others?' 'Whence has it come and whither will it go?' 'In what part of the body does it reside?' — all these questions I ​must leave unanswered, because I know beforehand that in the region of their observation and analysis I shall never come to a definite answer, as all will disappear into the infinitude of time and space. It is for this reason that I do not accept the answers given by science as to how the universe (the suns and worlds) has originated, how the soul originates, and in what part of the brain it is located."

In the first instance, the Agnostic, acknowledging himself to be a mere animal, and therefore admitting that he is subject only to external sensa- -tions, does not admit a spiritual origin, and resigns himself to that senseless- -ness of existence which violates the demands of reason.

In the second instance, the Christian, acknowledging himself to be only a rational being, and therefore accepting only that which corresponds to the demands of reason, does not acknow- -ledge the adequacy of the data of external experience, and considers those data fantastic and erroneous.

Both are equally right. But the difference between them, and an essential one, lies in the fact that, according to the former conception, everything in the universe is strictly scientific, logical, and rational, except the meaning of the life itself of man ​and the whole universe. And they have no meaning. And consequently, from such a conception, there may proceed very many interesting and amusing considerations ; but, notwithstanding all efforts to the contrary, nothing necessary for guidance in life. Whereas, according to the latter conception, the life of man and of the whole universe acquires a definite, rational meaning, which has the most direct, simple, and universally accessible adaptability to life, at the same time not excluding the possibility of scientific investigations; which, in this case, are put in their proper place.


To-day, science investigates the universe "behind time," from the pagan standpoint; endeavoring to conquer it by power for man's personal or social welfare ; whereas the religion of our day has for long been demanding another relation: the study of the universe from the standpoint of personal subjugation to the higher Will.

And it is this science, in its object two thousand years behind time, which wishes to determine the basis of morality !


One of the superstitions that most confuse our metaphysical conceptions is the superstition that the world was ​created, that it arose out of nothing, and that there is a God-Creator.

In reality we have no ground for imagining a God-Creator, nor any necessity. The Chinese and Indians have no such conception, and moreover a Creator, a Providence, is incompatible with the Christian God-Father, God-Spirit. The God who is Love, a particle of whom lives in me, constitutes my life; and the manifestation and avocation of this particle constitutes the meaning of my life.

God the Creator is indifferent, and allows suffering and evil. God the Spirit delivers from suffering and evil, and is always perfect welfare. A God-Creator there is not. There is myself acknowledging the universe through the faculties given me; and inwardly recognizing my Father-God. He is the origin of my spiritual self — the external world is only my limit.


People often speak of the evil which God causes to men (for instance when they are overcome with grief at the loss of one they love), and while so saying and thinking, they imagine that they believe in God, and they pray to Him.

God does evil! And, if God does evil. He is not good, not Love ; and, if He is not good, then He does not exist. ​This comes of people being so certain that what they do wrongly is not only good but excellent — as when they affirm that to give all one's love to one's children is very good. Then, when they experience the evil which is only the result of their own mistakes, their own sins, they blame, not themselves, but God. And therefore, in the depth of their soul, they acknowledge God to be evil, that is, deny Him, and therefore do not receive consolation from Him.


It is into God one must penetrate. There only can one unite with others.


The moral law, being founded on phenomena of life, will always be local, temporary, casual, and, above all, doubtful. Whatsoever general reasons may be put forward, why I should act thus and not otherwise in this indefinite universe, I will always find, or will feel, the existence of other yet more general reasons which will overthrow the demands put before me ; and so on to infinity.

And therefore no temporary law, not founded upon the relation to the infinite, can ever be certain. Only such a relation to the universe, or to the mind of the universe, to God, from which flows a certain continual ​direction of conduct, can be the basis of morality. And so has it always been, and so it is.


Nothing better proves the existence of God than the attempts of the evolutionists to accept morality and deduce it from the struggle for existence.

It is obvious that morality cannot emanate from struggle; and yet they feel that we cannot do without it, acknowledge its existence, and endeavor to deduce it from their own propositions ; though to deduce it from the theory of evolution is as strange (or even more so) and illogical as to deduce it from the ordinances given by the Hebrew God on Sinai. Their mistake, which consists in denying the consciousness of one's spiritual self as a product of God, a particle of Him, without which there can be no rational view of life, —this mistake forces them to admit an unjustifiable and even contradictory mystery: to admit in the form of morality that same God whom they have excluded from their view of life.

The other day a Frenchman asked me, "Would it not be sufficient to base morality upon righteousness and beauty ?" — again that same God whom they are afraid to name.


​Let us endeavor to express that which we know, that which is necessary to us, joyful and certain ; and God (the same whom you think it necessary to evade) will help us. By naming Him I acknowledge my incompleteness; I, His weak, small vessel, endeavor to open myself—that part of me which can receive Him — in order that He may enter into me in so far as I am able and worthy to receive Him.

Above all. He is necessary to me in order that I may express whither I am tending and to whom I go. In this monotonous earthly life I may not feel Him, I may do without this form of thought and expression ; but in relation to the passage from the past life into this one, and from this one into another, I cannot avoid expressing by Him that from whence I come and whither I am going, this being the form of expression nearest to the true character of the case; from God to God, — from that which is outside of time and space to the same again.


The will of God is known to every man much more than the will of society, of the State. Man is not, as those on the lowest plane of understanding think, an individual or social animal only; but man is a particle of the Divine, contained in a bodily shell. ​Man is the son of God, and knows his Father, and his Will. To do the will of the Father, one must know Him, be conscious of Him ; and the man who knows the Father always knows His will.

Ignorance of His will is produced not by the impossibility of knowing it, but by the non-fulfillment of the two first requirements of Christ ; from the non-acknowledgment of the insignificance of the personal life; and from not denying it.


It is not that I altogether agree with what you say about the understanding and about God, but my thoughts are not in conformity with yours. I do not say that I agree, because in speaking about these matters it is often difficult to express accurately what one thinks, and words may say too much or too little, and therefore it is never possible to admit that a certain way of formulating completely corresponds to one's conception. But I see that we think and feel in the same direction, and this gives me great pleasure. It is impossible not to think about these matters, but each of us involuntarily thinks in his own way. To formulate one's thoughts, in the way it has been done in various creeds, is not only useless, but may be dangerous. It is possible and necessary to ​formulate deductions which are applicable to life, as did Moses : "Thou shalt not kill !" or Christ : "Resist not evil !" I repeat, however, that I think in the same direction, and quite agree with you that the understanding is attainable in proportion to one's purity, humility, and love.


Striving towards God, towards the purity of the Divine Essence in me, towards that life for which this is here purified, I indirectly, somehow, attain more surely and more exactly both the general and my own welfare, without hurry, without doubt, and with joy.

And help me, God!


Father, help me to fulfill Thy law in all humility, purity, and love, and to find therein a perpetual source of joy.


Lord, take me, teach me, enter into me. Be one with me, or destroy me. Without Thee I will not, I cannot live. There is no life without Thee, Father.


I like to address God. If there were no God, the call into empty space were in itself good. From such an appeal, all those weaknesses of vanity, ​self-complacency, self-interest, from which it is hardly possible to be free when appealing to men, are absent.

So help me, Father!


To be ready to pass for a fool, a deceiver ; to know that in any case one will so pass. To dirty one's hands in order not to be afraid of grasping dirty things. And then to live not for reputation in the world ! It is easy to say all this, but when one has been used to live for reputation, and wishes to give it up, there is nothing to live for except God. It is "a vicious circle." If one lives to God, one will disregard the opinion of men. If one disregard the opinion of men, one will learn to live for God; there is nothing else to live for.


No living man will ever fulfill the will of God perfectly. But because we see and know the impossibility of complete fulfillment, it does not follow that we should determine beforehand to fulfill it incompletely, partially—(this is a most common, dreadful sin). But we should, on the contrary, incessantly and always strive for its complete fulfillment. "Seek ye first the kingdom of God."


The desire for good is not God, but ​only one of His manifestations; one of the sides from which we see God. God manifests Himself in me by the desire for good.


The God contained in man at first seeks to free Himself by expanding, enlarging the being in whom He is contained; then, realizing the unsurmountable limitations of that being, He seeks to free Himself by emerging from it and enveloping other beings.


The rational being is not containable by the life of the individual, but the moment it becomes rational seeks to emerge from that life.

The Christian teaching shows to man that the essence of his life is not his separate being but God, contained in this being. And God is recognized in man through reason and love.

Above all, the desire for personal welfare, self-love, exists in man only while reason has not awakened in him. As soon as reason has awakened, it becomes clear to man that the desire for the welfare of himself, his separate being, is fruitless; because welfare is unrealizable for the separate inert being. As soon as reason appears the desire for only one kind of welfare becomes possible — universal welfare; ​for in universal welfare there is no strife but union; no death but the transmission of life. God is not love itself, but in unrational beings He manifests Himself in self-love; in rational beings in universal love.


Nature, it is said, is economical with her forces — with the least effort she attains the greatest effects. So also with God. To establish on earth the kingdom of God, unity, mutual service, and to destroy enmity, God does not need to accomplish it Himself. He has implanted in Man his reason, which liberates love, and all that He desires will be done by man. God does His work through us. Time does not exist for Him, or exists only in eternity. Having implanted in man rational love, God has done all.

Why has He done it thus, through man, and not through Himself? The question is futile, and would never have suggested itself were we not all perverted by the absurd superstition of the "creation" of the world by God.


What follows when man recognizes as his real Ego not his separate being, but God, who is living in him ? Firstly, such a man, not consciously desiring his own personal welfare, either will ​not at all or at least will not so strenuously deprive others of it. Secondly, having acknowledged as his Ego, God, who desires universal welfare, man must desire the same.


Prayer is addressed to a personal God, not because He is a person (I even know with certainty that He is not a person, because personality is limitation, and God is unlimited), but because I am a personal being. I have a piece of green glass before my eyes, and therefore everything appears green to me : it cannot appear otherwise, although I know it is not green.


Riding home from Toula I was thinking "I am a part of Him, in a certain way, separated from other such parts. He is the All — the Father." And I experienced the feeling of love towards Him. Now, especially just at the present moment, I am unable not only to revive, but even to recall this feeling. And yet it was so joyful that I said to myself, "Well, I thought I should no more experience any new feeling, and now I have learned a wonderful, blissful new feeling." Yes, feeling, that is the word.


It is said that God should be conceived as a personality. This is a ​great misunderstanding ; personality is limitation. Man feels himself a personality only because he is in contact with other personalities. If he were alone, he would not be a person. These two conceptions — the external world (other beings), and our own personality, mutually define one another. If there were not the world of other beings, man would not be conscious of his own personality, nor realize the possibility of the existence of other beings. And therefore a man, in the world, cannot conceive himself otherwise than as a person.

But how can we say of God that He is a person? Herein lies the root of anthropomorphism. We can only say of God that which Mahomet and Moses said: that "He is One." But there can be no notion of number in relation, to God, therefore this implies not that He is one numerically, but that He is one — centered : not a conception, but a being — that which the orthodox call "the living God" in contrast to the pantheistic God; that is, the highest spiritual being who lives in all. He is one in the sense that He exists as a being who can be addressed; that is, that there is a relation between me, a limited personality, and God, unfathomable but existing.

We know God as a single being, we ​cannot know Him otherwise, and yet we cannot realize one single being as pervading all. In this we find the chief incomprehensibleness of God. If God be not One, then He becomes diffused, non-existent, whereas if He be One, then we involuntarily represent Him to ourselves as a personality, and He is no longer the Higher Being, the All. And, nevertheless, to know God, to lean on Him, we are forced to conceive Him both as pervading all, and at the same time as One.


The world is certainly not such as we conceive it. Other instruments of perception will give us other worlds. But however that which we call the world may change, our relation to it is undoubtedly as we conceive it, is unchangeable, being based on that in us which perceives; and which perceives not only in me but in all conscious life. This perceiving element is the same everywhere, in all, and in oneself. It is both God Himself, and that limited part of Him which constitutes my real self.

But what is this God, — the eternal, infinite, omnipotent, which has become mortal, limited, weak ? Wherefore has God subdivided Himself? I do not know, but I do know that this is so, and that in this is life. All that we ​know is naught else than a similar subdivision of God. All which we cognize as the world is but the perception of these divisions. Our perception of the world, that which we call matter in time and space, is the contact of the limits of our Divinity and the other subdivisions of God. Birth and death are transitions from one subdivision to another.


The strictest and most consistent Agnostic recognizes God whether he wishes to or not. He cannot but recognize that his existence and the existence of the whole world has some sense, inaccessible to him, and that there is a law of his life, a law to which he can submit, and from which he can deviate. It is just this recognition of a higher sense of life, inaccessible to man, but necessarily existing, and of the law of one's life, which is the recognition of God and His will.

And such a recognition of God is much firmer than the belief in God as Creator, Trinity, Redeemer, Ruler, etc.

To believe so is to have dug through the rubble to the solid rock, and to have built the house thereon.


Men know two Gods: one whom they wish to compel to serve them, ​demanding from Him in prayers the fulfillment of their desires ; and another God, whom it is for us to serve, and to the fulfillment of whose will all our efforts should be directed.


Just now, having found myself alone after my work, I asked myself what I should do next, and being free from any personal desires (except the physical demands which are felt when one desires food or sleep), I felt most vividly the joy of the consciousness of the will of God, of requiring and desiring nothing but to fulfill that which He wishes.

This feeling was evoked by the question which I put to myself in solitude and quiet, "Who am I ? What am I ?" And the answer came of itself so clearly, "Whoever and whatever thou art, thou art sent by someone, to do something. Well, then, do it!" And so joyously, so well, did I feel my fusion with the will of God.


What am I here, abandoned in the midst of this world ? To whom shall I turn ? From whom shall I seek an answer ? — From men ?

They do not know; they laugh; they do not wish to know. They say, "That is nonsense. Do not think ​about it. Here is the world and its attractions — live ! "

But they shall not deceive me. I know that they do not believe what they say. They too, like me, are tormented, and suffer from the fear of death, of themselves, and of Thee, Lord, whom they do not wish to name.

I too; for long did not name Thee, and I too did the same that they do. I know this deception, and how it oppresses the heart, and how terrible is the fire of despair which is concealed in the heart of him who does not name Thee. However much they strive to quench it, it will burn up their heart as it, used to burn mine.

But, Lord, I named Thee, and my sufferings ceased. My despair has passed.

I hate my weakness, I seek Thy way, but I do not despair. I feel Thy nearness, feel Thy help when I walk in Thy ways, and Thy pardon when I stray from them.

Thy way is clear and plain. Thy yoke easy and Thy burden light, but I, have long wandered outside Thy ways, long in the abominations of my youth have I proudly flung off every burden, freed myself from every yoke, and untaught myself to walk in Thy ways; and both Thy yoke and Thy burden ​have become heavy for me, though I know they are good and light.

Lord, pardon the errors of my youth, and help me to bear Thy yoke as joyfully as I accept it.


  1. From an article by Herbert Spencer on "Mr. Balfoor's Dialectics."