Monday, March 24, 2008

Rami: Response to Mike's 3/22 Posting

I want to comment on your notion that God is “wholly other.” If you mean that God is wholly other than anything we can conceive, then I agree. This is again the Hindu teaching of Neti Neti: Not This, Not That. But if you mean to say that God is wholly separate then I disagree.

I am a panentheist (pan/all en/in theos/god), a nondualist. For me all reality rests in God, as God. This is how I understand the Hebrew term HaMakom, The Place, one of the Names of God in the rabbinic tradition. God is the Place in which all life happens. God is the field out of which the universe grows, in which it lives, and to which it returns. Or, if you prefer, God is that “in which we live and move and have our being” (Acts 17:28). God is both immanent and incarnate as the world and transcendent in that God is greater than the world. I am pretty certain you see things differently, and that will come up for us over and over again.

I love your phrase, “God is beyond all handling,” and as you imply God is beyond all knowing as well. In Exodus 33:22 we learn that God cannot be seen Face to face. That means we cannot know God fully and directly, because the god we would know would be an idol of our own imagining. As Lao Tzu writes in the Tao Te Ching, “The Tao that can be named is not the Eternal Tao.” Again, neti neti, any god we can imagine is not the Eternal God. But we can know what Lao Tzu calls the te, the way of Tao as we human’s come to know it when we act in harmony with it. It is the te of God that God reveals to Moses: mercy, grace, patience, overflowing love, abundant trustworthiness, and forgiveness (Exodus 34:6).

So how does God act in the world? I would suggest that God doesn’t act in the world, but rather as the world. Again this is what I mean by God incarnate as nature and nature being God’s Body. When we deeply and truly understand God’s Body, which includes our bodies, we discover its te. And, if we choose to act in harmony with God’s te, we liberate others and ourselves from tyrannies of all kinds.

I see the Exodus as parable rather than history. God, Moses, Pharaoh, etc. are aspects of myself. Pharaoh is my tendency to enslave and be enslaved; God is my capacity to end that slavery; and Moses is the means by which I can do so. If I follow the te of God, the way of mercy, grace, forgiveness, etc., I can free myself from bondage and end the bondage in which I have enslaved others.

This is God acting in history not as Other but as you and me. This is why the story requires human agents: Shifra and Puah, the midwives; Yochabed and Miriam, Moses’ mother and sister; the Pharaoh’s daughter and Zipporah Moses’ wife; and Moses himself. Each of these people tapped into and lived the te of God, and in so doing brought liberation closer to reality. God doesn’t intervene in history, but godliness unfolds in history.

1 comment:

AaronHerschel said...

I too am a Lao Tzu fan--thanks to you. And as such I tend to agree with you vis a vis the unknowability of God. But I'm surprised to find you claiming that the way of God can be known. Doesn't the chinese word Tao commonly translate as "path" or "way?"

I don't mean to create a semantic argument, and I do recognize the line you've drawn between Tao and te. Still, though I'm no Taoist scholar, my quick and admittedly haphazard Google search led me to a Brittanica article that suggests "te" is more Confucian than Taoist--refering to a rather rigid moral or ethical system of behaviors, rather than the absolute, and awe-ful freedom of Tao.

Even so, if, as you claim, we may come to know the te of God by reading Exodus, then I find it incredible that such a reading would lead you to conclude that the way of God included mercy, grace and forgiveness. The Egyptians certainly would have a few objections: the drowning of their army, the deaths of their firstborn male children, locusts, boils, etc, etc.

I remember hearing a midrash, though now I cannot locate it, that has God interrupting the Israelites in their celebration after the Red Sea crossing, demanding that they mourn for the drowned Egyptian soldiers. The Passover seder demands the same of us, when we diminish our glasses of wine for each of the ten plagues.

Ruthlessness and compassion are inextricably linked in Exodus, and in its attendant rituals. In fact, I'm (disturbingly?) reminded of Aleister Crowley: Do as thou wilt is the whole of the law; love is the law: love under will." While compassion, mercy, and love are law, they are not the whole of the law, and are tempered by, directed by, free will.

Returning to Exodus, God is faced with a moral dilemma: what does he value more, life or freedom? Freedom is the choice, but it comes at a terrible cost. Free will catapults us out of Mitzrayim, out of the narrow te, and into the ethical wilderness of Tao, where ambiguity reigns, and we all have blood on our hands. Our compassion demands that we mourn the blood, but we cannot wash it off.