Are you with me Jesus (God)?

The Prophet, LJ Frank, Artist

by LJ Frank

This is an odd story about that which we cannot see. It’s also about my intellectual wrestling with the thoughts of existential philosopher theologian Martin Buber, that is, Man, invented names for their Creator as he suggests in I and Thou……… to effectuate approachability, accessibility, and to control the attributes of such an invisible being.

 Before we take a deeper dive, some prefatory remarks. Upon completing The Summa Theologica (from the  Five Volumes translated by the Fathers of the English Dominican Province) Thomas Aquinas wrote in the margins of a manuscript that “We think we know but have yet to discover.”

It is said that by some scholars that he was completely silent the last year of his life. I have a deep appreciation for that sentiment.

The following is from my personal library: There’s an abundance of scholarship on my shelves concerning the Genesis, History, Birth, Problem of and Death of God. Works by Karen Armstrong, Bernard Murchland, Jean Bottero, Thomas Altizer, Gordon D. Kaufman, Richard Elliot Freedman, Rudolph Otto, Burton Mack, Mark S. Smith, Martin Buber, Mircia Eliade, Spinoza, Frank Moore Cross, and so forth.  I arrived at a state with more questions than answers. From theological dogma to philosophical thinking, ad infinitum.  I’ll add James Wood critique of Marilynne Robinson on Genesis in The New Yorker. That being a critique on Good, Evil and God, for which there are a multitude of works.

The more I learn the less I ultimately know. And like Marlowe’s Doctor Faustus, which I like best of all the works on Faust (concise, clear and disturbingly curious…… my kind of book), Marlowe’s Faust makes a compact signed in blood with Mephistopheles to acquire and know all……. the ultimate meaning of existence – the use of magic, liberation or damnation……. what shall you sell your soul for? That was a popular topic in the Elizabethan Age.  Today that magic is technology……. the new Faustian bargain?

On the other hand, how does one approach the Creator?  Who shall I say sent me, Moses asks the Burning Bush (The Torah, Exodus  3:14), Ehyeh-Ashe-Ehyeh, r, אֶהְיֶה אֲשֶׁר אֶהְיֶה‎‎……… is the reply. I am that I am…. that to me sounds like a Paleolithic consciousness. I love it. I find it the most theologically and intellectually intriguing. If not mystical.

Emotions and theological significance are invested in names…. some of which can be quite curious depending on where you are or were…a nomadic tribe in Canaan or a modern synagogue, temple or cathedral in a 21st century city.

A philosophical – historical insight:

(1) God when translated as human like is approachable. God loves us, cares about each of us as individuals.  Pray to him, and God will deliver. This is also the God of salvation and damnation, who judges us, who demands to be worshipped, who is jealous of other Gods and can get angry at his creation. 

(2) God as infinite, God: omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent. God the creator. This God is the philosopher’s God, the existence of which can be logically proven, as with Aquinas’s proofs. This God is very distant from us, cold and not approachable. You can’t have a meal with this God. (2a) One logical development of this God is deism: God the watchmaker, who creates the universe and the laws of nature that govern it, winds it up, and after that it operates on its own, without further divine intervention. No miracles. Hence, petitionary prayer is useless. (2b) Another logical development of this God is Spinoza’s God. The more rigorously one carries the argument of infinitude, the less one can separate God from all of creation. For God must include everything, right? Anything less would limit God. That latter path was Spinoza’s way, completely rejecting any human attributes to God. God is not a person. God is the laws of nature. Hence, petitionary prayer is an absurd superstition. God cannot be controlled any more than the laws of nature can be controlled.

(3) God as unknowable, completely beyond words and logic. Any description limits God, so it must be false. It follows that talk of God as having human attributes such as emotions is blasphemous. Stop talking about God! The only path to contact with the divine is mysticism, an alternative state of consciousness in which one loses oneself in a state of rapture that is itself beyond words.

  • It’s where all religion, including of course all kinds of paganism, begins. God is a projection of human hopes, fears, etc. A very human God, only more powerful. The trouble is that this God does not stand up to logical or moral scrutiny. This God is merely the biggest bully on the block. Maybe it’s prudent to slake this God’s vanity through worship.
  • Upon further scrutiny, such a God doesn’t merit such treatment. One fears God like one fears a mafia don. Dissatisfaction with this God, as obviously morally deficient and full of human vices, as well as quite short of the powers needed to be a creator, leads to (2), and dissatisfaction with cold logical reasoning about God leads to (3). But none of these positions is stable. People keep wanting (1), a God they can relate to in a human way, a personal God who can offer protection, love, salvation, etc. Christianity, with the trinity and Jesus as actually human, tries to have it both ways–both 1 and 2, with a small mystical strain. Judaism and Islam absolutely reject any notion of God as human–that is blasphemy–and so tend to adopt a more distant, infinite God, who is harder to relate to. And natural psychological tendencies keep drawing the faithful back to (1), whatever the priests, rabbis, imams, and mystics say or do.

An evening after his presentation a few years before he died, Stephen Jay Gould, Professor of Biology from Harvard, asked me about God…. I had introduced him to a large audience that night.

What about him I asked as we sipped from our glasses of wine at the hotel.

Does he exist? 

Seriously?

Yeah, I’m serious.

I knew at that moment something was troubling him. Perhaps his health.

I said, that’s a question I have asked since I heard Paul Tillich say if you deny the existence of God, you are affirming him. That was way back in the early 1960s. I ask Religion Professor Mircea Eliade (University of Chicago) what he thought, and he said Paul (Tillich)was speaking out of both sides of his mouth.

So, I said to Professor Gould that belief involves faith, for some as Kierkegaard said, it’s a leap of faith in the face of absurd. There is no proof as you know.

But he repeated, do you believe in that existence?

I feel a Creator exists but I have no idea what form that entity assumes or whether we would recognize that entity even if we could see it. Burning Bushes is the stuff of myth.

Gould said nothing and we finished our wine.

I thought of that turn of the century conversation as I listen to the news as one of the two people running for president as of this writing is a convicted felon, adjudicated rapist and narcissistic authoritarian …….. I thought of Faust……. and the bargains humans make. 

At that point I walked through a metal detector….and under my breath before boarding, I contemplated the question ……. are you with me Jesus (God)? What does that mean? Why do human’s need the superstition as Mircea Eliade would ask. Is there something within each human cell that has attributes of conscience and consciousness, according to recent biological studies, that causes us to ask the question……… What don’t we know?