Wednesday, May 17, 2006

The Omnipresent Word

I concluded my previous post on awareness of God with the somewhat tongue-in-cheek observation that knowledge of God is impossible because until you become aware of God in the world you will pay no attention to sacred texts and religious ceremony and until you receive special revelation of God through Word and Sacrament you can't see God in the world.

I alluded to Xeno because just as Xeno's proof of the impossibility of motion is immediately disproven by observation, the claimed impossibility above is also disproven by experience. But it leaves open the question of just how it is the we encounter God. Again, I turn to a pair of stories from Jewish tradition as related by Rabbi Kushner.

There is a story, Kushner says, of a group of rabbis debating just what exactly the Israelites heard at Mt. Sinai. The first rabbi says that they heard the entire Torah, from Genesis to Deuteronomy. This is a solid, orthodox answer. The next rabbi said, "No, all they heard was the ten commandments." An answer much closer to the Biblical story. A third rabbi claimed that they heard only the first of the "ten words": "I am the Lord your God who brought you out of the land of Egypt." A fourth rabbi said that they heard only the first word of the first "word" -- "I" and the rest of the Torah was clear from that. Finally, a fifth rabbi argued that they heard only the first letter of the first word, aleph, an almost imperceptible sound, the sound of the opening of the throat as one is about to speak, and that this alone spoken by God was enough for them to understand all that was to be revealed.

The second story is related to this one. The second story seeks to resolve the question of whether what happened at Sinai was unique. According to one tradition, it happened only there, never to be repeated. According to another tradition, it is repeated constantly and what God spoke at Sinai, God is always and everywhere repeating. Kushner cites a Jewish source which resolves the question by saying both are correct. The revelation at Sinai was unique AND it is always being repeated. The resolution is that while this revelation is always and everywhere being spoken by God, it was only at Sinai that God allowed those present the clarity of mind and soul to hear the revelation. Kushner says it was as if God turned on the Dolby noise reduction for a moment to stop the usual hiss that deafens us.

These are nice stories. I like these stories.

So here is my Christian interpretation. The Word that God speaks everywhere and always is Christ. And so Kushner is right that through an awareness of the world around us we can meet God, and Barth is right that we can only come to know God through Christ.

But it is important to notice here, and I think Kushner would agree with this, that we do not learn about God by looking at the world. Instead, while looking at the world, we discover God in the world. God meets us in, with and under Creation.


D.W. Congdon said...

Very nice post, Mel. You could put this in terms even more in line with Barth and Juengel: that God is not just in the world, but God actually comes to the world freely to meet us here. God's advent in Jesus Christ is the basis for our knowledge of God and of ourselves.

I think we ought to be wary of allowing human experience to be a kind of revelation of God. Our fallen existence simply renders our experience incapable of truly being "aware of God." This kind of natural revelation is precisely what Barth argues against by elevating Jesus Christ alone as God's self-revelation.

Andy said...

I understand Barth's concern, but I think we need to make room, at least, for our experience of God to be a revelation of God. That is, if God does encounter me in the world, then I can't dismiss that. And how else would I know God? (Compare Inheritor of Heaven's recent comment on the other post.)

One other thing I'd like to clarify...I like the adjustment that God comes to the world freely to meet us here, but when you say God's advent in Jesus Christ is the basis for our knowledge of God, it introduces the problem of the Jews' knowledge of God. Would J√ľngel and Barth extend this advent to the pre-incarnation coming of Christ into the world?