Fragments On The Experience Of God

The following is an excerpt from Raimon Panikkar’s The Experience of God: Icons of the Mystery (2006). Please contemplate and enjoy.


Everything [Panikkar writes] that we would be able to say about the experience of God in a strictly rational manner would be blasphemous. Indeed, there is something blasphemous about every theodicy and every form of apologetics. To want to justify God, to prove God’s existence or even defend God, implies that we are presenting ourselves as the very foundation of God. We are transforming ontology into epistemology, and the latter in a logic that would be above the divine and the human. Ultimately, it is a question of the primacy of thought over being, which has characterized Western thought since Parmenides.

The experience of God cannot be monopolized by any religion or by any system of thought. Inasmuch as it is ultimate experience, the experience of God is one that is not only possible but even necessary for all human beings to arrive at the awareness of their own identity. Human beings are fully human only from the moment that they experience their ultimate foundation, what they really are.

The experience of God is not the experience of whatever or whoever there might be. It is not the experience of an object. The whole Christian tradition, from Denys the Areopagite to Thomas Merton, as well as the majority of the religious traditions of humanity, have always told us that we can only know one thing about God: that we cannot know him. “Blessed be the one who has arrived at infinite ignorance,” says that great genius of the Christian world, Evagrius of Ponticus. Agnosia is learned ignorance, absolute non-knowledge. In the Kena Upanishad (II, 3), we are sent back to the same experience. We call it God in order not to break completely with those traditions that have utilized this word as symbol of mystery….

The experience of God is not the experience of an object. There is no object God of which we can have the experience. It is the experience of nothingness, hence of the ineffable. It is the experience of discovering that one’s own experience does not arrive at the depths of any reality. It is the experience of emptiness, of absence; the experience by which one becomes conscious that there exists a “something more,” but not in the quantitative order, not something that completes but something that has no bottom–an emptiness, a Non-being, a “something more,” if you will, that precisely makes all experience possible.

The experience of God is not a special, still less a specialized, experience. When we wish to have the experience of God, when we wish to have an experience of any kind, we inevitably deform it, and it escapes us. Without the link that unites us with all reality, we are unable to have the experience of God. In the experience of eating, drinking, sleeping, loving, working, being with someone, giving someone good advice, doing something stupid, and so on, we discover the experience of God. Since it is not the experience of an object, the experience of God is pure experience; it is precisely the contingency of being with, living with, since it is not the experience of an “I am” but of a “we are.” In Christian language, we call it Trinity (pp. 38-40).