I’ve been reading the Jewish philosopher and theologian, Abraham Joshua Heschel’s book God in Search of Man. Wonderful book. Here’s some bits from a chapter on revelation.
Incomprehensibility does not imply an illusion.
Revelation should not be rejected because of its being incomprehensible. It is not the only fact that is impervious to exploration, unverifiable by experience. That which is incomprehensible must not be considered unreal. Can we explain how being came into being? Can we describe exactly how the tense power of a spirit glides on the strings of a violin, creating a world of delicacy out of nothing? Is the cry and anguish of six million martyrs theoretically comprehensible?
Heschel, God in Search of Man
Religionless Religion of the Prophets?
…the prophets were those who in the name of God stood up against that which most people to this very day call religion.
Prove it. Or not?
Revelation can be either doubted or affirmed but neither denied nor proved.
There are no proofs for demonstrating the beauty of music to a man who is both deaf and insensitive…Proofs may aid in protecting but not in initiating certainty; essentially they are explications of what is already intuitively clear to us.
Sanctifying human life.
The Bible is an answer to the question: how to sanctify life. And if we say we feel no need for sanctification, we only prove that the Bible is indispensable. Because it is the Bible that teaches us how to feel the need for sanctification.
Deeds are divine.
The degree of our appreciation of the Bible is, therefore, determined by the degree of our sensitivity to the divine dignity of human deeds. The insight into the divine implications of human life is the distinct message of the Bible.
What does it mean to be human?
He who seeks an answer to the most pressing question, what is living? will find an answer in the Bible: man’s destiny is to be a partner rather than a master. There is a task, a law, and a way: the task is redemption, the law, to do justice, to love mercy, and the way is the secret of being human and holy.
The uniqueness of the Bible (according to Heschel).
There are no words in the world more knowing, more disclosing and more indispensable, words both stern and graceful, heart-rending and healing. A truth so universal: God is One. A thought so consoling: He is with us in distress. A responsibility so overwhelming: his name can be desecrated. A map of time: from creation to redemption. Guideposts along the way: the Seventh Day. An offering: contrition of heart. A utopia: would that all people were prophets. The insight: man lives by his faithfulness; his home is in time and his substance in deeds. A standard so bold: ye shall be holy. A commandment so daring: love they neighbour as thyself. A fact so sublime: human and divine pathos (does Heschel mean suffering?) can be in accord. And a gift so undeserved: the ability to repent.
Hyphens between the sacred and the secular.
Some people may wonder: why was the light of God given in the form of language? How is it conceivable that the divine should be contained in such brittle vessels as consonants and vowels?
The Bible does not deal with divinity but with humanity. Addressing human beings about human affairs, whose language should be employed if not man’s? And yet, it is as if God took these Hebrew words and breathed into them of His power, and the words became a live wired charged with His spirit. To this very day they are hyphens between heaven and earth.
Indecision is the result of distracting ourselves.
He who cannot make up his mind, who will not introduce his soul to the Bible until the reasons for its divine dignity have gone all the way to meet his mind, is like a person who refuses to look at a painting before he can decipher the name of the artist signed at its corner. He does not realize it is the work which identifies the signature. Signatures may be forged, a work of art must be created. We easily forget that reasons, too, are in need of reasons; that no proof is ultimate and self-supporting.
Is the Bible a massive lie? How can we really know?
To deny the divine origin of the Bible is to brand the entire history of spiritual efforts and attainments in Judaism, Christianity and Islam as the outgrowth of a colossal lie, the triumph of a deception which captured the finest souls for more that two thousand years. Yet, an assertion such as this would be such a formidable shock as to have repercussions upon our very ability to make such a statement. If the finest souls are so frail, how can we claim to attain knowledge about he prophets’ self-deception?
Justice: the prerequisite to right worship.
Above all, it [the Bible] never ceases to proclaim that worship of God without justice to man is an abomination…