Go to our home page!







Cosmic Alarm
Deep Water
Creative void
The Way in








Big Brother
Dark Night
The Mirror
The Way in








Power Perception
The Search
The Way in








God's Tent
God's Spirit
The Way in





10. The Mirror and the Lens Inside Us

Islam and Christianity are two major world religions that claim to have received a direct revelation from God. Both believe in a universal judgement when God will reward the good and punish the evil. In both religions there has been a tendency towards externalism as if God, an external judge, bases his verdict on external transgression or observance. We saw that within Islam Sufism rebelled against this trend.

There are many Christians, too, who by sheer ignorance have become ritualists and practitioners. However, the basic message of Christianity is unmistakable. It agrees in substance with the Sufi position. God looks at the heart. He has given every individual a conscience; and it is according to this conscience that people will be judged. Whereas in the Old Testament there still was an external code of law, Jesus Christ abolished that system of law and replaced it with inner grace. The law of the New Testament is the Holy Spirit speaking in our hearts. We carry in us not only the voice of God which tells us what to do and what to avoid; we also carry God's love, which urges us to do the right thing.

Documenting this central Christian doctrine exhaustively would go far beyond the space available to me. I will briefly explain the Roman Catholic belief, which is very much representative of what most other Christian Churches hold. I would like to start with conscience itself. Psychologists have tried to derive its origin from a “super ego”. Anthropologists have said it is partly inborn, partly learned from the clan and society in general. Christians will generally feel that these explanations, though containing elements of truth, do not adequately explain the whole phenomenon of conscience

John Henry Newman (1801-90) has written some wonderful pages on conscience. With the awakening of human reason all men and women have a sense of right and wrong. This is truly an amazing fact. For, if we analyse the dictates of our conscience, we observe that they are based not on personal advantage, or pleasure, or the expectations of society, but on some objective norms. We know, for instance, that murder is wrong, that helping a person in need and seeking the truth are praiseworthy. These are not mere animal instincts; they show our inner awareness of a moral law that is part of the universe to which we belong.

Our consciences, Newman points out, evoke feelings of either guilt, reproof and disgust, or peace, joy and praise. Because they are feelings they show involvement with a Person. “Conscience is always emotional. This means that it involves the recognition of a living object towards which it is directed. Lifeless things cannot stir our affections. Affections respond to persons. . . Moreover, the kind of feelings we have prove that the feelings of our conscience are directed to a person who is supernatural and divine. We feel good or guilty even if no other human being knows about it. This proves that we have within us the image of One who is good and who expects us to live according to the reason he gave us.” (1) In a story about early Christianity Newman makes a pagan child speak about her conscience. It is a moving description which sums up accurately the experience of people in all religions.

I feel God within my heart.
I feel myself in his presence.
He says to me: Do this. Don't do that.
You may tell me that this command is
a mere law of my nature,
as it is to rejoice or to weep.
I cannot agree to this.
It is the echo of a person speaking to me.
Nothing shall persuade me that it does not
ultimately proceed from a person external to me.
It carries with it its proof of its divine origin.
My nature feels towards it as towards a person.
When I obey it, I feel satisfaction;
when I disobey, a soreness just like that which
I feel in pleasing or offending some revered friend.
Believing in God I believe in what is more than a mere “something”.
I believe in what is more real to me than sun, moon, stars, the earth and the voice of friends.
You will say, who is he?
Has he ever told you anything about himself?
No, he hasn't.
But I will not give up my conviction.
An echo implies a voice; a voice a Speaker.
That Speaker I love and fear. (2)

In his letter to the Romans Paul has stated clearly that the natural law is written on people's hearts, and that everyone will be judged according to his or her conscience (Romans 2:14-16). This makes Christianity radically an interior religion. The Catholic Church has endorsed this recently in the pronouncements of the Second Vatican Council (1963-65). “Conscience is the most secret core and sanctuary of a person. There he or she is alone with God, whose voice echoes in his or her depths. In a wonderful way conscience reveals that law which is fulfilled in the love of God and the love of one's neighbour.” (3) It is on account of this principle that the Church proclaimed its declaration of inner religious freedom for all. “People are bound to follow their conscience faithfully in all their activities so that they may come to God, who is their final destiny. Therefore no one may be forced to act contrary to his or her conscience. Nor may any person be prevented from acting according to his or her conscience, especially in religious matters.” (4)

But if conscience deals with natural law-the law infused by creation-what about the laws revealed by Christ? Do Christ's words in the gospels, and the prescriptions laid down by the Church through the centuries, not constitute a new law which Christians have to obey as God's will for them? The Christian answer is: No! As Paul explained so clearly in his letters to the Romans and Galatians, Christ abolished all law. As Christians we live directly under God's grace. By living in our hearts in a new and marvellous way, God gives us the inner love and strength to live up to the requirements of our vocation. (5)

In simple terms, this is what Christians believe: in natural religions-and the Old Testament was still part of this -people's relationship to God is perceived as taking place through intermediate structures. To obtain favours one Performs rituals and sacrifices. One has to observe feast days, customs and taboos. One relates to God through sacred places, sacred persons and sacred objects. This whole network of external structures is a “system” standing between the human person and God. Laws are part of this “system”. Jesus, however, destroyed this kind of “system” and established a direct relationship with God. Each person is linked immediately to God, who lives in his or her heart. Whatever structures remain - such as sacraments, ministries, church laws, and so on-have only a subsidiary function. They support; they are not important in themselves.

Thomas Aquinas (1224-74), for instance, who is rightly considered by many to be a paragon of traditional orthodoxy, attributes to external laws only a secondary role. “The new law of Christ”, he tells us, “consists mainly in the grace itself of the Holy Spirit which is inscribed in the hearts of the faithful. The written law comes in the second place, and then only because it offers helps which dispose people to receive grace or give guidance as to how to use that grace. ” He goes on to explain this in the following terms:

Everything should be understood according to its principal element. However, the principal element in the law of the New Testament, the thing that constitutes its total quality, is the grace of the Holy Spirit which is given us by faith in Christ. Therefore the new law is mainly the grace itself of the Holy Spirit. This is clear from what the Apostle Paul states when he says. . .: “The law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set me free from the law of sin and death” (Romans 8:2). Therefore also Augustine stated that “as the law of the Ten Commandments was written on stone tablets, so the law of faith has been written on the hearts of the faithful”. And elsewhere he says: “Which are those laws of God which he has written in our hearts, if not the presence of the Holy Spirit himself?” There are, however, some guidelines which the new law contains, which dispose people to receive the grace of the Holy Spirit or which help the correct use of that grace. These occupy a secondary place in the new law. Also about these guidelines the Christian faithful should be instructed in words and writings, both regarding things to be believed and things to be done. Therefore I conclude once more that the new law is mainly the inner law, only secondarily a written law. (6)

The law of the Spirit is, in a manner of speaking, the Holy Spirit himself. “The law of the Spirit is identified either with the person of the Holy Spirit or with the activity of that same Spirit in us.” “The Holy Spirit himself is the New Testament in as much as he works in us the love that is the fullness of the law.” (7) That is why we can say that the new law justifies us; that it forgives sins and makes us holy. This is another reason why it is different from any written law.

Thomas works out the implications:

In the Old Testament a law was given externally so that sinners were struck with fear; here, in the new dispensation, the law is given within so that sinners can be made holy. . . That is why the Apostle Paul says: “The letter kills, but the Spirit gives life” (2 Corinthians 3:6). And Augustine points out that here with “the letter” is meant every written text existing outside people, even the text of moral precepts such as are contained in the Gospel. That is why even the letter of the Gospel would kill unless there would also be present inside the grace of faith that heals. (8)

The new law for Christians is the Holy Spirit who fills the heart with love and enables it to respond. Written laws play a supporting role. They give suggestions, hints, directions; as a guide leading us to Christ (Galatians 3:24), or as traffic signals marking out the straight and narrow road (Matthew 7:13-14). They challenge those who have lost the way. That is why Paul can say: “The law is not made for the just, but for the unjust” (1 Timothy 1:9). The external laws, though helpful, can never replace the inner law of grace and love.

Putting these thoughts together we can draw some important conclusions. When God created us he gave us human reason which functions as our conscience. He wrote on our hearts principles of truth and justice that go beyond our own narrow self-interest. It is according to the dictates of our conscience that we will be judged. When God revealed himself in Jesus Christ, he did not impose an external law but filled our heart with the Spirit of love. Again it is on our response to this inner Spirit that we shall be judged. Does it not follow from all this that we carry inside us the God who will judge us?

To say that we are responsible only to ourselves would be ridiculous; for right and wrong are values that transcend us. It would be as ridiculous as believing that we created ourselves. But to say that our highest judge is God in us makes sense; as it makes sense to say that the Creator manifests himself most clearly in us. If I can know God the more I know my true self, I will be faithful to God the more I obey my deepest sense of right and wrong. To know the divine will I must, in the final analysis, turn inwards and listen to his voice.

In Hamlet Polonius, chief counsellor of Denmark's King Claudius, concludes his advice to his son Laertes with a famous admonition:

To thine own self be true,
and it must follow, as the night the day,
thou canst not then be false to any man.

The formulation restricts the norm to loyalty between human persons. But the adage could be extended in a theological sense. “To thine own self be true, and it will follow like the night the day, to God thou canst not then be false.” For being true to ourself, we will heed the stirring of our conscience and the prompting of the Spirit. Being true to ourselves we are then being true to God who is our inner judge.

This way of looking at things frees us from the mistaken idea that God is pitted against us; that he is our adversary, our task-master from whose anger we want to escape. It saves us from falling into the trap of external practice and ritualism. It stops us from judging other people too rashly; forgetting that they too carry the inner judge. Above all, it gives us a new sense of self-respect and dignity. It makes us treasure the resonances of God we feel in our heart.

The light of God is reflected in our deepest self. All great mystics use the image of the mirror in us: Chuang Tzu, the Upanishads, Ruysbroeck. . . Ghazali reflects on it in a beautiful passage.

I see a patch of light on the floor of my room.
I look up. It comes from the moon. It shines through my window, strikes a
mirror on the wall and reflects from it down onto the floor.
Again I look up, at the moon.
Suddenly I realize that the light of the moon is itself reflected from the sun. (9)

There is light in my heart. There is light in teachers and guides. There is light in external laws. The ultimate source of all this light is God.

Or again we may think of our inner self as a lamp. God is shining from within. Our human individuality searching for truth and reaching out to wholeness, focuses that light. The sharper the lens, the clearer his image will be. But how can we learn to discern the light? How shall we make contact with its Source? The next chapter offers some suggestions.


1. J.H. Newman, An Essay in Aid of a Grammar of Assent, Longmans, London 1870, pp. 101-17.

2. J.H. Newman, Callista, London 1870, p. 314.

3. The Church in the Modern World No. 16; cf. A. Flannery, Vatican Council II, Dominican Publications, Dublin 1975, p. 916 (inclusive language my own).

4. Declaration on Religious Liberty No. 3; cf. Flannery, ib. pp. 801-2.

5. Regarding Paul's teaching, see especially: J. Lecuyer, “Pentecôte et loi nouvelle”, La Vie Spirituelle 25 (1953) 471-90; S. Lyonnet, "St Paul: Liberty and Law", The Bridge 4 (1962) 229-51.

6. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica, Pars Prima Secundae, Q. 106, art 1; ed. De Rubeis, Marrietti, Turin 1932, Vol. 2, p. 648 (translation my own).

7. In Hebraeos cap 8, lect. 1; In 2 Corinthios cap. 3, lect. 2; cf. S. Lyonnet, op. cit. (note 99), pp. 8-9.

8. Summa Theologica, ib. Q. 106, art 2.

103. Ghazali, Miskat al-Anwar, ib. p. 56.

Next? Go to:

The Way in to the Judge

The Way in to GOD

Creator in us

Inner Judge

Beyond thought



This course is based upon the book God Within Us by John Wijngaards and published by Collins, Fount Paperbacks, London, 1988..

You can purchase electronic versions of this book from our online shop.

1. For a PDF format click here
2. For a mobi version for Kindle click here
3. For an epub version for iPad click here