Prophetic Honesty

Judaism

Prophetic Honesty
Tuesday, August 28, 2018

Divine knowledge is always rooted in the details of ordinary life. The aim of all knowledge or visionary ecstasy is to increase the power of hesed [steadfast love] and compassionate action. . . . It is alive with the awareness of the holiness of Creation and the boundlessness of God’s mercy, and is utterly honest about the necessity of living such awareness in loving service to all beings. . . . With great knowledge and love [come] great responsibility to try to represent the Divine in all things and activities, and to stand up for justice and the dispossessed in a brutal society. —Rabbi Rami Shapiro [1]

Israel’s history unfolds and reveals the divine incarnation (God’s practical involvement in this world). In other words, the Hebrew Scriptures recognize patterns and connect the dots so that hundreds of years later we, too, can trust the same patterns continuing in our lifespan. Planted in fertile soil, the love and presence of God always comes to fullness. By gradually accepting the daring initiative of intimacy with God, the Hebrew people became a true community of faith. It was not so much that God loved Israel more than all the other peoples of the earth, but, somehow, they learned how to hear and trust God’s initiatives and could pass the message to the rest of the world. Election is only for the sake of passing the same experience on!

In the Hebrew Scriptures, we read about people who found God in the seemingly secular and mundane. By including ordinary life, the Hebrew Scriptures include what most of us would call the problem—the negative, the accidental, the sinful—as the precise arena for divine revelation. There are no perfectly moral people in ancient Scriptures; even Abraham drove Hagar, his second wife, into the desert with their son Ishmael (Genesis 21:14), which was not ethical even by the standards of his time. The Jewish people, contrary to what might be expected, chose to present their arrogant and evil kings as part of their Holy Scriptures. They included stories and prophecies that do not tell people how wonderful they are but, rather, how complex and human they are!

The ability to think critically about ourselves is the first necessary step out of the dualistic mind toward full consciousness. It teaches us rational honesty and patience with ambiguity and mystery. The Abrahamic religions have the power to correct themselves from the inside and move beyond mere superstition because of their sacred and self-critical texts.

The biblical account shows that Israel did not distance itself from its own contradictions or the contradictions of life, from the horrors and suffering of human history. These hard realities are presented in the story of Job, the experience of both Exodus and Exile, and the constant invasion and occupation by foreign powers. The Jews may have often felt like saying to God what Teresa of Ávila is supposed to have said: “If this is the way you treat your friends, no wonder you have so few!” If it is any consolation in our current political scene in the United States, much of the Divine Revelation within the Bible happened under bad kings and leaders! Rather than inhibit faith, these challenges deepened it.

Self-criticism is quite rare in the history of religion, yet it is necessary to keep religion from its natural tendency toward arrogant self-assurance—usually called idolatry, which is the central and grounding “sin” of the Old Testament.

References:
[1] Rami Shapiro, Hasidic Tales: Annotated and Explained (Jewish Lights Publishing: 2004, 2013), xiii-xiv.

Adapted from Richard Rohr and Joseph Martos, Great Themes of Scripture: Old Testament (Franciscan Media: 1988), 2; and
Richard Rohr, Things Hidden: Scripture as Spirituality (Franciscan Media: 2008), 18-20.

Image credit: Red and Orange Solar Flare (Rosette Nebula [detail])
Inspiration for this week’s banner image: God reveals the essence of divinity to Moses: ehyeh asher ehyeh, most often translated as I AM what I AM. A more accurate Hebrew translation would be “I will be whatever I will be.” In either case, the Hasidic understanding of the text is the same: God is all that is. God is all that is happening at every moment. God is I AM—not a being or even a supreme being, but Being itself. . . . [Each of us is] a keeper of the I AM; just as a wave is a “keeper of” the ocean in its particular place and time, so are you a keeper of God in your particular place and time. To realize this about yourself is to realize it about all beings. —Rabbi Rami Shapiro
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