Justin Bond sort of got the jump on me over at Messiah Connection. I had discussed possibly resurrecting J-BOM (the Jewish Book of the Month). And 3.5 people responded enthusiastically! I’d said let’s make Heschel’s God in Search of Man the selection for January and February (many people couldn’t do a book a month). But I never started J-BOM. Then I saw Justin’s post yesterday, shaming me into compliance even if only 3.5 people in the world share this book journey with me. So, now I propose we do sort of a J-BOQ (Jewish Book of the Quarter) and include Heschel through March.
So, in this post I will include links to recap #1, #2, and #3 (covering chapters 1-3) and a link to Justin’s post at Messiah Connection. And leading up to these links, I will get on with #4, “Wonder.”
There is a reason why Abraham Joshua Heschel is one of the most quoted writers. He is three parts mystic and one part intellectual, well-versed in Bible, rabbinics, mystical texts, and philosophy. He is a rare individual who brings so much depth to his writing that his words flow easily from his pen to the minds and hearts of readers. With simple language he conveys mysteries. This chapter on wonder continues to explain perfectly for postmoderns and moderns how to perceive God.
In #1, Heschel warned against the aspect of philosophy in which the problem outlives all solutions. He says there is much that philosophy could learn from the Bible.
In #2, he talks about the living God of the prophets and tells us where to seek him, in the world (worship), in the Bible (learning), and in sacred acts (deeds).
In #3, he takes on the horror of meaninglessness and teaches us to look for the sublime which is defined as that which are able to see but not convey.
It’s heady stuff. It cuts through atheism and agnosticism and inadequate, impersonal views of God.
In the fourth chapter, Heschel outdoes the others, which hardly seemed possible. Wonder is his category. He wisely points out that modern man fell into the trap of believing that everything can be explained.
If you think you can argue with him, Heschel will politely make you look foolish. It’s the popular science books and the laymen who think the universe is ciphered down to a fine point. The great scientists know there is more mystery than knowledge.
And the greatest mystery is thought itself (a point C.S. Lewis makes strongly in Miracles). Heschel gives the ultimate quotable sentence on this one: The most incomprehensible fact is the fact that we comprehend at all.
To the prophets, wonder is a kind of thinking. So the wisdom sage in Job can write lines like, Did a man ever wish that he would be swallowed up? And now men cannot look on the light when it is bright in the skies . . . God is clothed with terrible majesty. (37:21-22).
That is why, says Heschel, Jews pray things like “He creates light and makes the dark” twice a day. No scientific theory, once accepted and published, requires constant repeating.
Wonder is not like theory or fact. It must be constantly kept alive. This is what Jewish living is all about: to make us see the spiritual adventures in common things, the hidden wisdom and love.
If I tried to describe all the beauty in this chapter, I’d have to keep writing for an hour. Let me just say he closes with a paragraph from Kant, the philosopher whose works I would not usually turn to for inspiration. I will write a post soon on “Sci-Fi, God, the Universe, and Us” to capture my thoughts about this paragraph Heschel shares from the good German philosopher.
But the word that sums up Heschel’s fourth chapter is wonder, pure and radical amazement.
See Justin Bond’s post about J-BOM and God in Search of Man here.