Author Ken Wilber writes about a concept he calls The Three Faces of God. These are the three ways in which humans can relate to God– or to anything else for that matter. It is not that God has three faces; rather, we have three ways of facing God. These three ways (known to us writers as “the three voices”) are God as Self (First Person: Me), God as the Great Other (Second person: You) and God as the Source of all creation (Third person: It).
The manner in which we choose to face God deeply informs the nature of our spiritual practice. God as first person (Self) is the foundation of most Eastern meditation practices; God as second person (Great Other) is the object of most prayer and devotional practices (East and West); and God in third person (Source) is the object of theological inquiry, as well as the object of many invocations and blessings. (May the Source be with you!)
Many contemporary spiritual teachers, and certainly most individuals that I have encountered, are very comfortable with God in the first person (as the core of Self), and reasonably comfortable with God in the third person (as the One Source), but have a great deal of difficulty with God in the second person: God as the Great Other. Addressing God as second person/other may trigger childhood memories of relating to God as the Great Judge sitting on a celestial throne or as a cosmic Santa Claus with whom we share our wish list. In dismissing these childhood versions of God we may have thrown out God as second person in its entirety! But we do this at a great cost.
While seeing God only in first and third person expressions can provide the basis for some powerful realizations, it also has a shadow side. Particularly with focusing on God as within/self there can be a tendency toward a subtle form of arrogance and egocentricity. Oh yes, we are always working to overcome the ego… but who is it that is busy trying to overcome the ego? Why, me of course! The ego may even pretend to deliver its own eulogy while it cruises merrily along disguised as an enlightened version of me.
Refusing to practice with God as Other may be avoiding a very important spiritual practice called humility. And yes, this too may conjure memories of being labeled a sinner and a worm of the dust; but this is NOT what humility means. Humility has nothing to do with toxic guilt or shame; it has everything to do with recognizing the inherent nothingness of the ego. Humility is seeing the ego for what it really is: simply a mental construct installed by our family, culture and early life experiences.
If we have ego damage or deficiencies in ego development then it is important to get the therapeutic support that we need to develop what might be called “a healthy ego.” This is a necessary step, but ultimately we must reach the realization that the ego—sick or healthy—is not the reality of who we are. We can realize this only by appropriately surrendering the ego to a power greater than itself.
Spiritual practice that includes a God (by whatever name or form) as the Great Other can bring about true humility which can lead to deep peace and open us to the experience of true power. Humility also opens our heart to genuine love and compassion. As humans, we are relational beings, our brains are programmed that way, so it is important to include God as Other in our spiritual practice; otherwise we may become prone to the rampant egocentricity that permeates our culture and suffocates our souls.