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Further Reflections on Buber: Where can we find the Eternal Thou?

The Kotzker Rebbe once asked his students “Where is God?” His students said “Does not the Bible tell us that the whole world is full of His glory?” To this he, responded ” That maybe fine for the heavenly angels, but the answer for man is different. God is present wherever human beings allow God to enter.”

According to Lurianic Kabbala, the existence of world began with the creation of space, which allows for the existence and emergence of our freedom and creativity, so too, according to Buber, the indwelling of God depends upon us creating a space for the Shechina to indwell. It is in our daily encounters with people, this possibility can be realized and fulfilled. It is in our human and eco-relationships, we must come to see God’s Presence unfold within the world. No sterile philosophy or theology will do.

Buber’s theology of encounter may also be understood in terms of God’s own divine act of self-emptying (kenosis) where God intentionally forgoes “losing” some attributes so that we may freely discover the Divine in one another.
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Buber once said,

If believing in God means being able to speak of Him in the third person, then I probably do not believe in God; or at least, I do not know if it is permissible for me to say that I believe in God. For I know, when I speak of him in the third person, whenever it happens, and it has to happen again and again, there is no other way, then my tongue cleaves to the roof of my mouth so quickly that one cannot even call it speech.

In summary, in the meeting of “I and Thou”, for Buber, the edifice through which the human being builds up in his I-centered thinking are abolished, frontiers which imprison him in his egoic vision of the world thus separating him from his fellow human beings. In the thinking of Buber, the I-centered dimension of human life is the It – a world where the modern individual is cut off from the experience of love as well as the experience of transcendence. In the universe of the I– It, human beings are shackled to the securities of his concepts and systems without meeting the last and deepest dimension of human life, isolating himself from his fellow human beings and the world around him. The “I” dimension to life is what makes modern people especially lonely and hungry for genuine human contact that culminates in love, and a sense of belonging.

This limiting isolation is conquered according to Buber in the Thou – once the individual enters the world of the “I – Thou,” in the meeting of “I and Thou”. In this meeting the human being becomes a person in the face of the Other; real dialogue takes place and the eternal Thou of God speaks to the human being through the ordinary reality of the world.

Buber points towards the presence of the eternal Thou in poetical words:

“In every sphere in its own way, through each process of becoming that is present to us, we look out toward the fringe of the eternal Thou; in each we are aware of a breath from the eternal Thou; in each Thou we address the eternal Thou. Every sphere is compassed in the eternal Thou, but it is not compassed in them. Through every sphere shines the one present.”

One could say based on Buber’s vital insight, that God is the Presence that overcomes estrangement and enables man to fulfill himself as an integrated personality.