Meister Eckhart, the thirteenth-century Dominican speculative mystic, is one of my favorite writers. I have two favorite quotes from Eckhart:
“Therefore let us pray to God that we may be free of God that we may gain the truth and enjoy it eternally…” (German sermon 52)
“The truth is such a noble thing that if God were able to turn away from truth, I would cling to the truth and let God go; for God is truth, and all that is in time, and that God created, is not truth.” (German sermon 26)
What I like about Eckhart is that he is so shocking. What does he mean when he says we should pray to God to rid ourselves of God? How could anyone choose to cling to the truth if that means letting God go? What’s going on?
Eckhart is trying verbally to slap us in the face, to get us to recognize that there is a difference between what we think about when we say the word “God” and the ultimate reality, God. There is a difference between talking about God as understood by finite, temporal, contingent beings, and what Eckhart calls the Godhead or the Ground of Being who is beyond Being and Nonbeing. (Paul Tillich borrows this phrase, “Ground of Being,” to speak of God.)
As shocking as these quotes from Eckhart sound, they’re really not so different from what Paul says in 2 Corinthians 11:14: “And no wonder, for even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light.” Whether or not one accepts the existence of Satan as an ontological entity (and I do not), this verse does suggest that not everything that looks like it comes from God is actually from God. God is different from what often passes for God. Moreover, Paul repeatedly points to the limits of human knowledge in 1 Corinthians 13:8-12: “For our knowledge is imperfect and our prophecy is imperfect; but when the perfect comes, the imperfect will pass away…. For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall understand fully, even as I have been understood.”