Monthly Archives: July 2011

Being is Mysterious

 “What stirred their souls was neither the hidden nor the apparent, but the hidden in the apparent; not the order but the mystery of the order that prevails in the universe.”

In Chapter 5 of God In Search of Man, Abraham Joshua Heschel discusses The Sense of Mystery. Read related posts in this series; A Legacy of WonderThe Sublime, Ways to His Presence, Philosophy and Religion and God in Search of Man Part I.

All this I have tested by wisdom. I said, “I will be wise,” but it was far from me. That which has been is far off, and deep, very deep; who can find it out? Eccesiastes 7:23-24

Heschel says that Scripture teaches more than just “ultimate wisdom being out of our reach” but a greater idea he calls much more “radical”. What is this “radical” teaching that Scripture alludes to? That everything that is, is more than what we think or perceive it to be. It is “far off and deep, exceedingly deep” according to the writer of Ecclesiastes. Heschel states simply that “Being is mysterious“.

Heschel speaks of the “secret” being at the “core of the apparent; the known is but the obvious aspect of the unknown“. Also, “the deeper we search the nearer we arrive at knowing that we do not know“. These thoughts of ultimate reality are grounded in humility and help to combat the tendency for prideful thinking and ideas in modern skepticism and reason such as “what we account can be accounted for” and “exploring the ways of being will lead us to what, why and where from being originates”, that is apart from where Scripture says it does of course.

The mystery is not only beyond and away from us. We are involved in it.” What Heschel means by the term mystery is not limited to the spiritual or philosophical sense but in this present world of reality. It is part of our existence and can be experienced as “the essential mystery of being as being, the nature of being God’s creation out of nothing and therefore, something which stands beyond the scope of human comprehension.”

To the choirmaster. Of the Sons of Korah. According to Alamoth. [1] A Song. – Psalm 46:1

In Hebrew, the word “olam” commonly refers to the world as in the phrase “olam haba” i.e. the World to Come. The Hebrew root word for “olam” is “alam” which means to hide or conceal. Heschel says “the world is itself hiddenness; its essence is a mystery” and “the world is something we apprehend but cannot comprehend.” It is with this line of thought that Heschel speaks of a Midrash (teaching) on the word “alamoth” such as used in Psalm 46:1. Usually this word “alamoth” is simply regarded as a “musical or liturgical term”, but Heschel says that it teaches “hidden are the things that we see; we do not know what we see.”

Surely I am too stupid to be a man. I have not the understanding of a man. 3 I have not learned wisdom, nor have I knowledge of the Holy One. 4 Who has ascended to heaven and come down? Who has gathered the wind in his fists? Who has wrapped up the waters in a garment? Who has established all the ends of the earth? What is his name, and what is his son’s name? Surely you know! – Proverbs 30:2-4

Ultimately this mystery that we are involved in and the world depends on is known and knowable while at the same time it is unknown and unknowable, it is the Mystery of the Universe – that is God Himself! We have not complete understanding yet we do know His Son’s name – Yeshua Ha Mashiach (Jesus the Messiah)! Enjoy being part of the Mystery!

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

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Got Righteousness?

I was talking with my Grandpa this past Sunday after his Sunday school class and he was a bit excited. His excitement was not due to being over-joyed by someone or something but rather by being worked up over some of the dialogue that had taken place in his class about Paul’s Letter to the Galatians. To give you some background, my Grandpa has been a faithful member of his Baptist church for many years but has taken some criticism as of late due to his becoming more vocal of Scripture continuity and Torah-relevance (the ongoing validity of both “testaments” along with the Law in some form or fashion). I won’t get into the juicy details of our conversation right now (I might save that for some future posts….wait for it, wait for it) but it did cause me to review some of my study notes from earlier this year when I was going through the book of Galatians and reading David Stern’s Jewish New Testament Commentary.

Read a related post here: Galatians: The Revolution Starts Here

In addition to these notes, I’m anticipating gaining some additional insight, Lord willing, when I start D. Thomas Lancaster’s newly released commentary on Galatians that should be arriving in my mailbox any day now:-). It looks as though I could be in Galatians for the rest of this year!

Stern notes that there are two primary topics in Galatians:

  1. Paul’s authority as an Apostle.
  2. Justification through trust in Yeshua’s atoning sacrifice. Being justified apart from any works of the Law or otherwise. Specifically circumcision (shorthand for conversion to Judaism) as a prerequisite or in addition to trusting in Yeshua for Salvation.

I thought Stern’s comments on righteousness in Galatians were particularly helpful for understanding their various contexts in this Letter.

“even so, we have come to realize that a person is not declared righteous by God on the ground of his legalistic observance of Torah commands, but through the Messiah Yeshua’s trusting faithfulness.”  Galatians 2:16 (CJB)

Stern makes note of two kinds of righteousness in his commentary on verse 2:16:

  1. Behavioral Righteousness – doing what is right physically or socially in accordance with Scripture.
  2. Forensic Righteousness – being regarded as righteous in the senses by God by being cleared of guilt for past sins and being given a new nature inclined to obey God rather than rebel against Him as before.

Stern says the “task of becoming behaviorally righteous begins with appropriating forensic righteousness by trusting in Yeshua; and it occupies the rest of a believer’s life“. To me this is a related way of saying we are justified (declared forensically righteous) through Yeshua and we are sanctified (becoming behaviorally righteous) for the rest of our lives through that same trust in Yeshua.

Stern notes that there are two Greek words that distinguish these two kinds of righteousness:

  1. dikaioo – generally forensic righteousness
  2. dikaiosune – generally behavior righteousness

Stern points out that in verses 2:21, 3:6, 3:21 and 5:5 both forms of righteousness is what is intended.

What was one of Paul’s main proof texts to make his point to the Galatians about both types of righteousness and how it is achieved?

“Behold, his soul is puffed up; it is not upright within him, but the righteous shall live by his faith.” Habakkuk 2:4

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

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A Legacy of Wonder

“This is one of the goals…to experience commonplace deeds as spiritual adventures, to feel the hidden love and wisdom in all things.”

In chapter 4 of God in Search of Man, Heschel talks about Wonder or Radical Amazement as being one of the “Ways to His Prescence”. You can read related posts here: The Sublime, Ways to His Presence, Philosophy and Religion and God in Search of Man Part I.

Heschel begins by saying that “the surest way to suppress our ability to understand the meaning of God and the importance of worship is to take things for granted.” When we have the attitude that there are no mysteries and that everything can be explained in its time, then there is no need to go beyond the world looking for its explanation since it’s explanation is well, self-explanatory. Heschel calls this type of “indifference to the sublime wonder of all living things “the root of sin”.

This is the Lord’s doing, it is marvelous in our eyes – Psalm 118:23

Heschel says that “among the many things religious tradition holds in store for us is a legacy of wonder.” The Biblical man’s attitude toward both historical and natural reality is one of wonder and his radical amazement never ceases. Our time is one in which perhaps no previous generation has had the amount of external distractions (technological, media, social, ect) mixed with a heavy amount of “conventional notions and mental clichés” which has led to a numbing of our sense of wonder and radical amazement. More than ever we need to consider God’s directive to Job “Hear this, O Job, stand still and consider the wondrous works of the Lord…….the wonderous works of Him who is perfect in knowledge….” Job 37:14-16

He does great things past finding out and marvelous things without number – Job 9:10

As a part of their daily prayers, religious Jews pray to God three times a day “for His miracles which are with us daily and for His continual marvels….”. Jews also pray the Shema which states that “God is One” twice every day. Heschel asks why all the repetition? In every generation, Heschel says “The insights of wonder must be constantly kept alive. Since there is a need for daily wonder, there is a need for daily worship.”

If I would declare and speak of them, they are more than can be told – Psalm 40:6

Heschel challenges that there is no act worth committing or even living itself if we take for granted life’s blessings and defeats. When we utter a prayer over a meal alone or in fellowship, are lit up by a smiling childs face, encounter someone who’s overcome or succumbed to an illness, laugh or weep uncontrollably with a loved one or friend, in all these things and more we should “maintain our sense of wonder” and remind ourselves “of the eternal mystery of creation” by “invoking His great name and our awareness of Him”.

I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. [1] Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well – Psalm 139:14

Perhaps the greatest sense of wonder one might have is the mysterious and perplexing amazement at his own being. Since I was young I have occasionally looked in the mirror and got lost in this thought of me being me. That I have been created and that I’m aware of the grandeur of this and marvel at its grace. As Heschel says “Even the very act of thinking baffles our thinking, just as every intelligible fact is, by virtue of its being a fact, drunk with baffling aloofness” and “The most incomprehensible fact is the fact that we comprehend at all.”

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

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