I’ve been recently exploring the apocrypha of the Bible — those books that, for some reason or another, it was decided at the Council of Nicaea that they not be included into the Bible we use today (which Bible, I’m not sure, for the Catholic version contains some of the book deemed apocrypha by Protestants, like the Book of Judith). I got this great book called The Gnostic Bible which includes many of the mystical texts of Christianity that were left out of the Bible and presents them with a scholarly introduction explaining their origins.
The first time I looked at this book, I flipped it open and was moved–and I mean, to the point of goosebumps on my arms–when I read the following passage from the Secret Book of John. In this passage, Jesus explains God to the apostle John. What moved me personally was that this description mirrors my own vision of the Great Divine. Note how “The One” replaces the actual word “God.”
I asked if I might understand this, and it said to me, The One (10) is a sovereign that has nothing over it. It is god and father of all, the invisible one that is over all, that is incorruptible, that is pure light at which no eye can gaze.
The One is the invisible spirit. We should not think of it as a god or like a god. For it is greater than god, because it has nothing over it and no lord above it. (11) It does not exist within anything inferior to it, since everything exists within it alone (12). It is eternal, since it does not need anything. For it is absolutely complete. It has never lacked anything in order to be completed by it. Rather, it is always absolutely complete in light. The One is
illimitable, since there is nothing before it to limit it,
unfathomable, since there is nothing before it to fathom it,
immeasurable, since there was nothing before it to measure it,
invisible, since nothing has seen it,
eternal, since it exists eternally,
unutterable, since nothing could comprehend it to utter it,
unnamable, since there is nothing before it to give it a name.
The One is the immeasurable light, pure, holy, immaculate. The One is unutterable and is perfect in incorruptibility. Not that it is part of perfection or blessedness or divinity; it is much greater.
The One is not corporeal and is not incorporeal.
The One is not large and it is not small.
It is impossible to say,
“How much is it?
What kind is it?”
For no one can understand it. (13)
The One is not among the things that exist, but it is much greater. Not that it is greater (14). Rather, as it is in itself, it is not a part of the eternal realms or of time. For whatever is part of a realm was once prepared by another. Time was not allotted to it, since it receives nothing from anyone: what would be received would be on loan. The one who is first does not need to receive anything from another. Such a one beholds itself in its light.
The One is majestic and has an immeasurable purity.
The One is a realm that gives a realm, life that gives life, a blessed one that gives blessedness, knowledge that gives knowledge, a good one that gives goodness, mercy that gives mercy and redemption, grace that gives grace.
Not as if the One possesses all this. Rather, it is that the One gives immeasurable and incomprehensible light.
What shall I tell you about it? Its eternal realm is incorruptible, at peace, dwelling in silence, at rest, before everything (15).
It is the head of all realms, and it sustains them through its goodness.
We would not know what is ineffable, we would not understand what is immeasurable, were it not for what has come from the father. This is the one who has told these things to us alone (16).
– Secret Book of John, translated by Marvin Meyer
Maybe I’m easily wooed by poetic writing, but I really like all the contradictions. It reminds me of beginning of Charles Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities (even though I’m not a fan of Dickens or this book), “It was the best of times; it was the worst of times…”
But to me, God would be a contradiction of Himself: alive, but not alive (in our sense of alive); creator of life, but also a part of life; within the Universe, but outside of it. The Master-Creator-Of-All–The One, as he is described here–would not be something we humans could easily define in our own terms. I think really that is the point of this explanation. Not even Jesus, in his human skin, cannot explain it to his people. He is also limited by the clumsiness of our inarticulate speech.