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Meditations on the Nature of Biblical Spirituality

Unlike the Greek philosophers and poets of antiquity, the ancients of Judea did not perceive God as a philosophical construct, nor as a static timeless being, nor as an impersonal cosmic process, energy, force or intelligence and certainly not as a sentimentalized ethical ideal (as expressed by Feuerbach,  Freud, and M. Kaplan). Our spiritual ancestors never apologized  for using human language in describing God.

The writers of the Psalms never hesitated utilizing human language whenever depicting the mystery and Presence of the Divine. Beneath the biblical psyche is a realization that the human drama means something to the Heart of the Divine—even despite humankind’s occasional rejection of Him. God is paradoxically bound up to human history—and even limits His freedom in how He interacts with it (cf. Gen. 6:6).

When the ancient psalmists gazed into the heavens, they did not behold an endless abyss of cosmic nothingness; rather, they beheld a God with whom they could audaciously and personally address as “You.” Unabashedly, the spiritual teachers of Judea used a host of personal pronouns and anthropomorphic metaphors to convey something profound about the mystery of God’s Presence and closeness to the world, without which God could not be known. Martin Buber notes that in addition, anthropomorphic language reflects a deeper significance than most of us realize:

Our need to preserve the concrete quality is evidenced in the encounter. . . .It is in the encounter itself that we are confronted with something compellingly anthropomorphic, something demanding reciprocity, a primary Thou. This is true of those moments of our daily life in which we become aware of the reality that is absolutely independent of us, whether it be as power or as glory, no less than of the hours of great revelation of which only a halting record has been handed down to us. [1]

This same idea runs like a current throughout the literature of the Psalms. In keeping with his ancestors’ religious experience, the psalmist never tires of exclaiming how the God Who creates the heavens and the earth, is still very much still accessible to the prayers of the most ordinary human being. Clearly, “God is close to all who call upon Him, all who call upon Him in truth.” Liberation theologian Leonardo Boff cuts through the chase and remarks, “The psalms reveal the consciousness of this divine proximity.” The visceral language of the Psalms accentuates this closeness, “Praise the LORD, my soul all my inmost being, and praise his holy name “(Psa. 103:1). From the innermost depths of our physical being, we  can encounter God’s Presence and Being.

God’s accessibility paradoxically defies the human effort or tendency to localize the Creator within a certain geographic zone. Although the Temple occupied a central place in the life of the ancient Israelites, the psalmist delights in knowing that God’s Presence is not at all limited to just the spatial confines of the Sanctuary. Young King Solomon understood the paradox of God’s Presence and exclaimed:

“Can it indeed be that God dwells among men on earth? If the heavens and the highest heavens cannot contain you, how much less this temple which I have built! Look kindly on the prayer and petition of your servant, O LORD, my God, and listen to the cry of supplication which I, your servant, utter before you this day.

1 Kgs. 8:27-28

In prayer and in meditation, we focus on the God-space that exists within the depths of our being. After years of suffering, Job comes to the realization that,” “And from my flesh I shall see God; my innermost being is consumed with longing” (Job 19:26). Job comes to see God as a more of a Personal Reality–Who is closer to his soul than he is to himself. God is there in every synchronicity we experience, in every human face we encounter.

Biblical faith had nothing to do with creeds, but it has everything to do with the power of deeds. How we behave says more about our deepest sentiments about God, ourselves, and the world around us. Every aspect of Creation has a relationship with God; every blade of grass sings it melody of prayer and thanksgiving to its Maker. By virtue of creating the natural order, God enters into a relationship with a being that is Other than Himself. Just as God creates the space for us, so too, we must create the space within our hearts for God to dwell within us.



Discussion

  1. Yochanan Lavie  March 24, 2010

    Too much anthropomorphism can lead to Christianity, where the word becomes flesh. The ancient Hebrews probably did view God as a cosmic person. But after our encounter with the Greeks, we see Him as a personality, a timeless cosmic force, and a non-biological life form, but not as a magnified human being. As you know, this finds full expression in the Rambam, although he has his detractors. I prefer the cosmic human being as a literary character (more colorful), but I prefer the cosmic force as a deity.

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