Monthly Archives: May 2011

Ways to His Presence

“What do we and the people of the Bible have in common? The anxieties and joys of living; the sense of wonder and the resistance to it; the awareness of the hiding God and moments of longing to find a way to Him.”

This is my summary of God in Search of Man, Chapter 2 – Ways to His Presence. Read posts on Chapter 1, here and here.

Heschel begins by noting the absence of the Bible in general philosophies of God and specifically Western philosophy. Heschel states that the “basic premises of Western philosophy are derived from the Greek rather than the Hebraic thinking…….philisophical reflection about religion has been operating from Athens rather than Jerusalem.” This view unfortunately, has also been prevalent in the Church and prevails through-out much of Christian Theology and history. Fortunately though, the last 30-40 years has seen an increase in scholarship working towards bringing out the Hebraic context of Jesus, the New Testament and 1st Century Christianity and Judaism as a whole. While scholarship is working toward bringing a more balanced approach to the philosophies of religion and theology, there is much to be done to get this information to the masses.

Heschel says the central thought of Judaism is The Living God and that the supreme problem for a philosophy of Judaism is:

  1. What are the grounds for man’s believing in the realness of the living God?
  2. Is man at all capable of discovering such grounds?
  3. Unless we seek God, may we fail to find Him?
  4. Is there a way of developing sensitivity to God and attachment to His presence?

Heschel says that the prophets appeal to the spiritual power in man and that the initiative and intensity of seeking God is within man’s power. He also states that “it is true that in seeking Him we are assisted by Him.” Heschel states that an element in seeking Him includes the fact of keeping His commandments (Psalm 119) and that prayer goes beyond seeking help and it is ultimately about seeking Him.

“But from there you will seek the Lord your God and you will find him, if you search after him with all your heart and with all your soul.”  Deuteronomy 4:29

“You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart”  Jeremiah 29:13

“Seek the Lord and his strength; seek his presence continually!”  Psalm 105:4

Heschel states that God is waiting for man to seek Him. That we must go on trying to return to Him, to care for Him.

“The Lord looks down from heaven on the children of man, to see if there are any who understand, [1] who seek after God.”  Psalm 14:2

“You have said, “Seek [1] my face.” My heart says to you, “Your face, Lord, do I seek.” [2]  Psalm 27:8

“It is an exceptional act of divine grace that those who do not care for Him should suddenly discover that they are near Him”

“I was ready to be sought by those who did not ask for me; I was ready to be found by those who did not seek me.
I said, “Here am I, here am I,” to a nation that was not called by [1] my name.”  Isaiah 65:1

Heschel lists three ways to seek Him, three starting points of contemplation about God that are based on three Biblical passages:

  1. The way of sensing the presence of God in the world, in things. (Isaiah 40:26)
  2. The way of sensing His presence in the Bible. (Exodus 20:2)
  3. The way of sensing His presence in sacred deeds. (Exodus 24:7)

These three ways that lead to Him also correspond to the main aspects of religious experience: worship, learning and action. “The God of nature is the God of history, and the way to know Him is to do His will.”

May grace and shalom be multiplied upon you in the name of Yeshua (Jesus) the Messiah!


Greek Yogurt and 1st Corinthians 8

Over the past year or so I have gradually made the switch from “traditionally” prepared yogurt to becoming a huge fan of Greek style yogurt (I don’t think I could ever go back to thin, runny yogurt). Though not just any Greek yogurt will do, as I have found out they are not all created equal. I have tried many brands and flavors but my hands down favorite is the pomegranate flavor made by The Greek Gods. Since I started eating this particular brand of yogurt, I have been able to run faster, jump higher, hold my breath longer…….ok I’m joking. What I have been thinking about is their company name The Greek Gods, mythology (the movie Thor is #1 as of this post) and how all of this might line up with Scripture. Should I be concerned with promoting a company whose name is The Greek Gods? Could it be wrong that I immensely enjoy this cultured dairy product produced in the name of Greek mythology?

As I sat in my company break room this past week enjoying the smooth textures and creaminess that make up this Greek yogurt I thought of Paul and his 1st Letter to the Corinthians, about which he had some things to say about food and idols, but it had been a while since I’d read it and I couldn’t remember the whole context. So this weekend, I decided to read it again and look up some commentary to get a better understanding on what was happening.

8:1 Now concerning [1] food offered to idols: we know that “all of us possess knowledge.” This “knowledge” puffs up, but love builds up. 2 If anyone imagines that he knows something, he does not yet know as he ought to know. 3 But if anyone loves God, he is known by God. [2]  1 Corinthians 8:1-3

Paul starts off 1 Corinthians 8 with the question of food sacrificed to idols. The Corinthian congregation was largely made up of former pagan gentiles who had once worshipped false gods and idols by offering sacrifices in their temples. Now as believers in Yeshua and the One True God, they no longer offer these sacrifices but might encounter food in the marketplace that was used in a sacrificial offering to one of these so-called gods.

8:4 Therefore, as to the eating of food offered to idols, we know that “an idol has no real existence,” and that “there is no God but one.” 5 For although there may be so-called gods in heaven or on earth—as indeed there are many “gods” and many “lords”— 6 yet for us there is one God, the Father, from whom are all things and for whom we exist, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things and through whom we exist.  1 Corinthians 8:4-6

Some of the Corinthian believers knew that the gods which this food was sacrificed to were no gods at all, while some were still struggling with their former conduct and having a hard time being at peace with this situation. Paul’s advice is simple, if you’re a believer who understands your freedom in this circumstance, then don’t let your knowledge not be guided by love and be sensitive to your fellow believer and constructive to their walk of faith.

7 However, not all possess this knowledge. But some, through former association with idols, eat food as really offered to an idol, and their conscience, being weak, is defiled. 8 Food will not commend us to God. We are no worse off if we do not eat, and no better off if we do. 9 But take care that this right of yours does not somehow become a stumbling block to the weak. 10 For if anyone sees you who have knowledge eating [3] in an idol’s temple, will he not be encouraged, [4] if his conscience is weak, to eat food offered to idols? 11 And so by your knowledge this weak person is destroyed, the brother for whom Christ died. 12 Thus, sinning against your brothers [5] and wounding their conscience when it is weak, you sin against Christ. 13 Therefore, if food makes my brother stumble, I will never eat meat, lest I make my brother stumble.  1 Corinthians 8:7-13

So back to my original questions; 1. Should I be concerned with promoting a company whose name is The Greek Gods? 2. Could it be wrong that I immensely enjoy this cultured dairy product produced in the name of Greek mythology? The answer to both of these questions could be yes or maybe, if I gave allegiance the Greek Gods and put trust in them to direct and provide guidance for my life or if I thought that by eating this yogurt, I was imparted or trusted in certain attributes that these Greek gods were said to posses, then, yes I might have a problem. On the other hand, if I thought it was nothing more than a good marketing idea and a catchy name or if I don’t put my hope in the Greek myth, that the Greek gods are nothing more than a fairytale, then no, I think I’m fine. Obviously, this is not the same circumstance that the Corinthians faced but there are principles we can learn.

David Stern in his Jewish New Testament Commentary on this chapter lists a couple of these principles:

1. Don’t misuse “knowledge” and “freedom”. Both should be guided by love to build up the body of Messiah and not tear it down.

2. Practice Self-limitation when necessary – limiting yourself in order to edify others.

 “All things are lawful,” but not all things are helpful. “All things are lawful,” but not all things build up.  1 Corinthians 10:23

May grace and shalom be multiplied upon you in the name of Yeshua the Messiah!

Philosophy and Religion

 This past weekend I went to hang out and jam music with some old friends from my hometown. I’ve known some of these guys for close to 20 years and generally they’re what you call “good ol’ boys”. Virtually every time we get together, the topic of God, The Bible and general religion comes up (usually after a few drinks) and we have some lively discussions about all things supposed and unknown. This time around was no exception but there was something said that really struck a chord with me. I had just started re-reading God in Search of Man by Abraham Joshua Heschel last week and the timing couldn’t have been better for our conversation. Although, in an ironic twist, the timing couldn’t have been much worse either since I had lost my voice the day before and couldn’t really carry on a conversation since it was a bit difficult to even vocalize a sentence. So here’s what was said that really stuck out to me……”All religion basically comes from philosophy, that is where it was born”. I was able to get out that I disagreed with the statement and all agreed we would pick up this topic when we got together next but since that may be a few weeks, months or even a year from now, I decided to write this blog in the meantime.

In Chapter 1 of God in Search of Man, Heschel lays the groundwork for the rest of the book which is a philosophy of Judaism. Heschel covers in this chapter what the differences between philosophy and religion are and how they should work together for the benefit of both. Heschel also shows inconsistencies and offers warning when either philosophy or religion pose as something they’re not. Here a few excerpts that lay the basics and should be some good starting points for conversation on this oft-repeated but misunderstood from both perspectives theme.

Philosophy and Theology

Heschel states that philosophy could be defined as the art of asking the right questions. Philosophy begins with a problem and see’s that first where as theology starts with a dogma and has the answer in advance. With philosophy the awareness of the problem out lives all solutions and it’s answers are questions in disguise with every new answer giving rise to new questions. With religion on the other hand, the mystery of the answer hovers over all the questions.

Philosophy of Religion

Heschel states that philosophy of religion as criticism of religion will not fulfill its function and that philosophy should not be seen as the perpetual rival of religion. Philosophy of religion should remain a method of clarification, examination and validation rather than a source of ultimate insights. The task of philosophy should be to examine the claim of religion while also refuting the claim of philosophy when it tries to become a substitute for religion.

Philosophy as a Perspective

Heschel states that philosophy without a qualifying adjective is somewhat of a misnomer, since there are many different philosophies based on many various subjects and factors. Philosophy is a human attempt to see a synoptic view of things and the task of philosophy of religion is to place religious understanding in relation to the entire range of human knowledge. Meaning that philosophy helps religion to become relevant to aspects of reality outside of its stated dogma or ritual.

Religion of Philosophy

Heschel states that religion must be approached as religion and not some rudimentary form of philosophy and that the object of the inquirer must be guarded against becoming adjusted to the pattern of the inquirer and religious categories treated as abstract philosophies. Philosophy of Religion must not become a Religion of Philosophy.

A Challenge to Philosophy

Heschel states that religion is a unique source of insight and what is meaningful in religion is not necessarily meaningful in philosophy. The role of religion is to be a challenge to philosophy and not merely an object for examination. Both philosophy and religion are in constant need of examination and purification. One of the goals of philosophy of religion is to stimulate a critical reassessment of philosophy from the perspective of religion.

My prayer and hope is that God would bless all of our conversations and lead all of us to a place of faith and truth by the power of His Spirit.

May grace and shalom be multiplied upon you in the name of Yeshua the Messiah!