Most theories of religion start out with defining the religious situation as man’s search for God and maintain the axiom that God is silent, hidden and unconcerned with man’s search for Him. Now, in adopting that axiom, the answer is given before the question is asked. To Biblical thinking, the definition is incomplete and the axiom false. The Bible speaks not only of man’s search for God but also of God’s search for man. “Thou dost hunt me like a lion,” exclaimed Job (10:16).
“From the very first Thou didst single out man and consider him worthy to stand in Thy presence.” (The liturgy of the Day of Atonement) This is the mysterious paradox of Biblical faith: God is pursuing man. (adapted from Kuzari II 50 and Kuzari IV 3) It is as if God were unwilling to be alone, and He had chosen man to serve Him. Our seeking Him is not only man’s but also His concern, and must not be considered an exclusively human affair. His will is involved in our yearnings. All of human history as described in the Bible may be summarized in one phrase: “God is in search of man.” Faith in God is a response to God’s question.
-Abraham Joshua Heschel
God in Search of Man
For the past several mornings, I’ve been exploring the wine-dark depths of the soul. Naturally, the soul is found wanting (Romans 3:10). It’s not a pretty picture to sit at the bottom of a deep well and contemplate both the physical darkness and the darkness of the human spirit. I know that God wants us to repent, to turn from sin and to return to Him. More than that, He wants us to sweep away the barriers that inhibit such a return; barriers like discouragement, depression, guilt, and conflict. I’ve heard that we are what we think, but thought is a habit, like cigarettes. Even when we know some thoughts are bad for us, it’s not so easy to quit.
Up until now, I’ve been picturing this struggle as one we have to fight alone, or at least one in which we are expected to do most of the heavy lifting. If I got myself into that deep, nasty hole, I’m supposed to get myself out again, right? God’s waiting at the top encouraging me, but I’ve still got to make the climb alone.
Now Rabbi Heschel is suggesting that God is climbing down after us with a rope ladder and a flashlight.
I’ve heard that before.
I’ve heard that when Israel went down into Egypt, God went down with them:
“I am God, the God of your father,” he said. “Do not be afraid to go down to Egypt, for I will make you into a great nation there. I will go down to Egypt with you, and I will surely bring you back again. And Joseph’s own hand will close your eyes.” -Genesis 46:3-4
It is said that when the Jews were exiled into the diaspora and Herod’s Temple was utterly destroyed, God went into exile with His chosen ones. It is said that He was also imprisoned in the camps with His people during the Holocaust. Whenever the Jews suffered, God suffered with them. Whenever they were raised up from the depths, God lifted them.
For God is not always silent, and man is not always blind. His glory fills the world; His spirit hovers above the waters. There are moments in which, to use a Talmudic phrase, heaven and earth kiss each other…Some of us have at least caught a glimse of the beauty, peace, and power that flow through the souls of those who are devoted to Him. There may come a moment like thunder in the soul, when man is not only aided, not only guided by God’s mysterious hand, but also taught how to aid, how to guide other beings. The voice of Sinai goes on for ever; “These words the Lord spoke unto all your assembly in the mount out of the midst of the fire, of the cloud, and of the thick darkness, with a great voice that goes on for ever.” (Deut. 5:19 Aramaic translation of Onkelos and Jonathan ben Uzziel and to the interpetation of Sanhedrin 17b; Sotah, 10b; and to the first interpretation of Rashi) -Heschel page 138
But that’s Sinai. What allows the rest of us to also hear “a great voice that goes on for ever.” except perhaps the death of the tzaddik, the great Rebbe of Nazaret, Jesus the Christ? But even if we dare to claim a portion of the Kingdom of Heaven through the blood of the Lamb, what else might prevent the God of Israel from finding the son of Noah in the abyss?
However, it is the evil in man and the evil in society silencing the depth of the soul that block and hamper our faith. -Heschel page 141
The Shechinah, the presence of God, is not found in the company of sinners; but when a man makes an effort to purify himself and to draw near to God, then the Shechinah rests upon him. -Heschel page 147
In the spirit of Judaism, our quest for God is a return to God; our thinking of Him is a recall, an attempt to draw out the depth of our suppressed attachment. The Hebrew word for repentance, “teshuvah”, means “return”. Yet it also means “answer”. Return to God is an answer to Him. For God is not silent. “Return O faithless children, says the Lord.” (Jeremiah 3:14) -Heschel page 141
But all this says is that God is in search of the Jew. Is he also in search of his other creations, of the rest of humanity?
What choice do we have but to believe this is true; that God seeks everyone, the Jew and Gentile alike. To not believe this is to abandon hope forever. Christians take it for granted that they are close to God but closer to Jesus. Unfortunately, a careful examination of that certainty shows that one of the requirements is the belief that God draws closer to Christians at the cost of becoming more distant from the Jew.
The approaching dissolution of the Jewish economy, and the erecting of the evangelical state, shall set this matter at large, and lay all in common, so that it shall be a thing perfectly indifferent whether in either of these places or any other men worship God, for they shall not be tied to any place; neither here nor there, but both, and any where, and every where.
-Matthew Henry, Commentary on John 4:21-23
as found at Derek Leman’s blog
I can’t accept that. God is a God of all or He is a God of no one.
So if the faith of both Jew and Christian leads us to believe that God is meeting all people halfway, so to speak, then we must, even without waiting to see His light, reach up to Him as He is reaching down to us. We must take the hand He is extending, grasp tightly, and begin to climb.
He has found us.
We must not wait passively for insights. In the darkest moments we must try to let our inner light go forth. “And she rises while it is yet night” (Proverbs 31:15) -Heschel page 143