In There or Out There – Where is God? ‎

What is God? | Total Comments: 0 | Total Topics: 25

			A remarkable and largely ignored book appeared in 1982. The author was Aryeh Kaplan, the ‎visionary of Jewish spirituality whose premature death in 1983 cut short the life of one of the ‎most influential personalities of modern Judaism. This particular book, called ‘Jewish ‎Meditation’, covers in great detail a subject that hardly any Jews at the time even knew ‎existed. Towards the beginning he gives a general introduction to the idea of spiritual ‎meditation. He ventures into the subject of meditating about meaning in life, finally getting to ‎the remarkable statement: ‘You may find yourself pondering not only the meaning of your ‎own life, but the very meaning of existence in general. At this point, you will have discovered ‎God’. ‎
‎ ‎
Hardly allowing the reader to catch his or her breath, he goes on to discuss two different ‎aspects of God that we are very familiar with already: ‎
‎ ‎
‎‘We often think of God as being “out there”, far away from the world. But it is important to ‎realize that God is also “in there” – in the deepest recesses of the soul. ‎
Here are two ways in which a person can discover God. ‎
First, a person can reflect on questions such as these: What is beyond space and time? How ‎did the world come into existence? Why does the world exist? What came before time? By ‎pondering such questions, a person can find God, but he will find God only in the sense that ‎God is “out there”. The second way in which one can find God is by delving deeper and ‎deeper into the self in the manner discussed earlier. Here also one finds God, but one is ‎finding Him in the sense that He is “in there”.’ (p.17-18) ‎
‎ ‎
The ‘in there-out there’ dual existence of God has been the subject of much of this portion of ‎this project. The ‘out there’ aspect has been ‘there’ from the very beginning with the Creator. ‎It adopted the role of the Guide. It appeared in several other images along the way, including ‎the Master of the Universe, and the unknowable God of the philosophers, before ending up as ‎the mystical En Sof. The ‘in there’ aspect began with the Biblical ‘Glory’, continued with ‎Philo’s ‘Logos’, was renamed the rabbinic ‘Shechina’, and eventually found a permanent ‎home in the Kabbalistic ‘Sefirot’. It is tempting to speculate that in Biblical times the outside ‎aspect was called Elohim while the inside aspect was called Hashem, but this explanation is ‎difficult to sustain. The two images switch back and forth from ‘in there’ to ‘out there’ so ‎often that it is impossible to guess which one should be which. ‎
‎ ‎
Leaving that tempting possibility for others, we will concentrate on the question of the title of ‎this essay: Where is God? As time went on, Jewish theology progressively pushed the ‎outer aspect into increasingly distant regions. In the Bible it didn’t seem all that ‘out there’, at ‎least until the later stages when it was placed in the Heaven of Heavens. Through much of ‎rabbinic times it remained firmly embedded as the arena for all creation – the Place of the ‎universe. The philosophers, with their rational drive to make God unknowable, pushed the ‎image out beyond all perception and made it more of a concept. The mystics took up this ‎distancing and labeled it the En Sof, a term that encapsulates the infinite gap between God ‎and creation. ‎
‎ ‎
Paralleling this steady separation is the increasing closeness of the inner aspect of God to the ‎created world. In the Bible it was there but was somehow apart. The Glory was barely ‎perceivable under only the most unique of circumstances. The Logos was hardly everyday fair ‎either, though its appearance as wisdom gave it more familiarity. The Shechina seemed like a ‎ghostly presence that could come and go around the world, seemingly defying any rules ‎of physicality. But the philosophers were reluctant to grant absolute divinity to this presence, ‎considering it to be more of a created force that God could use to accomplish things in the ‎world. ‎
‎ ‎
It took the mystics and the Kabbalah to firmly establish the inner aspect within the confines ‎of the world through the various stages of transformation from the En Sof into the Vacated ‎Space. But after all the seemingly reluctant steps to make God’s presence real, it did become ‎real in the form of the Sefirot. The Hasidim took the final step of calling everything in ‎creation a manifestation of God. Even thoughts in the mind, emotions, and forces of evil, ‎were nothing more than heavily veiled disguises for God’s presence. In this regard, they ‎agreed with Spinoza’s pantheism declaring that the natural world with all of its laws is simply ‎God once and for all. But they differed from Spinoza in maintaining the traditional belief in ‎the outer aspect of God, thus bringing the panentheist conception of God to its final form. ‎
‎ ‎
Where is God? We still need the unknown and unknowable aspect of God to be the Source ‎of existence - the ‘Ground of being’. This is an image of God that even many borderline ‎atheists are willing to concede. No matter what equations scientists may come up with, and ‎no matter what laws are discovered in nature, the question of who breathes fire into the ‎equations and who makes the rules apply will always be there. ‘Out there’, according to this ‎image, is simply recognizing the evident fact that we exist and something must make us exist. ‎Where is God – God is everywhere. In fact, it could more accurately be stated that God is ‎‎‘every where’. This is the old ‘Place’ image of God resurrected in a more modern form. There ‎is nothing really new about this image and what it says about where God is. It is an image ‎that goes beyond the bounds of ‘where’. ‎
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All the intricacies of nature, from the vastness of the universe to the complexity of life to the ‎inner workings of the mind come into being through the ‘outerness’ of God. But they include ‎the ‘innerness’ in the way they occur. Those equations and those rules – what exactly are ‎they? Did they just happen to work out that way? Why couldn’t they be any other way? ‎Scientists are working hard to answer these questions, but whatever they come up with will ‎always be tinged with an element of ‘it had to be this way because this is the way that it is’. ‎That essential nature of the way things are is the innerness of God in physical form. When a ‎law of nature is refined in some way to reveal a more accurate or more inclusive ‎understanding of the world, it is God’s innerness taking a more defined shape. ‎
‎ ‎
If God is so ‘in there’ why might God not intervene in world affairs? The answer to this ‎question is very elusive, assuming it exists at all. When we assume that God intervenes, we ‎generally imagine the ‘out there’ aspect sticking its divine hand inside and manipulating ‎things so that they come out more in accordance with the divine plan. But what if the ‎intervention takes a different form? What if the intervention does not occur through some ‎miraculous ‘outside’ manipulation, but through the very ‘innerness’ that is always present? In ‎other words, the innerness of God in creation is the extent of God’s intervention. ‎
‎ ‎
God may not intervene to alter the thoughts of human beings by suspending their power of ‎free will, but God does intervene through the very existence that power. This is not direct ‎intervention in the usual sense expected of God. It is a more constant form of intervention, ‎which is so permanent as to no longer be properly called intervention. ‘Intervention’, in this ‎new sense, is really just God being ‘in there’. We can choose to see it as intervention or we ‎can choose to see it as just the way things are. It is all a matter of perspective. Up until fairly ‎modern times, people were generally unable to see the workings of the world as anything but ‎classic divine intervention. Perhaps recent events and discoveries have forced us to expand ‎that limited vision to view them as simply the innerness of God. ‎
‎ ‎
When looked at in this way, panentheism is almost an automatic belief. God is ‘out there’ and ‎God is ‘in there’. The two work together in such a seamless interface that it is difficult to tell ‎where one ends and the other begins. The unknowable outerness penetrates into the knowable ‎innerness. The knowable innerness dissolves into the unknowable outerness. Each needs the ‎other to fill the gaps in the whole picture. When combined, the two images are no longer an ‎image at all. They are the complete reality. The human mind has created an image that so ‎encompasses the whole that it actually is the whole. Panentheism takes God out of the ‎domain of any one belief and once and for all tells us where God is. God is above all, ‎within all, and underneath all. ‎
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Perceiving the Image ‎
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It is a little odd to think of God as everything that is. There is an almost reflexive tendency to ‎consider God to be outside of us, like a third party who observes from a distance and ‎sometimes interjects something pertinent. To think of God as being right there inside us, as ‎our thoughts, our feelings, our hopes and our bad breath - is cutting things a bit too close. It is ‎a little protective to put a comfortable distance between ourselves and God. Perhaps it is even ‎more protective to get rid of God altogether. It allows us to just do our own thing and not ‎really have to worry about some ‘higher force’ breathing down our necks. ‎
‎ ‎
What does it mean to perceive God as the Source of everything that is, while also being ‎everything that is? It means that every single thing, from the most distant stars to the fleetest ‎thought, is God’s body and mind. The oneness of it all is truly awesome. It is not strictly the ‎oneness of Biblical monotheism, which introduced the revolutionary notion that there was ‎only one deity instead of a whole collection of deities. Neither is it restricted to the oneness ‎of rabbinic monotheism in which the devotee must be willing to show total dedication to only ‎one power and spare nothing for anything else. It is not even the oneness of the medieval ‎philosophers in which God was the single source of the existence of everything, though this is ‎getting much closer. ‎
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The oneness of this image is found in the seamless transition from the Creator to the creation. ‎There is no Creator because there is no creation. There is just God becoming. It may have ‎happened as a Big Bang and may have evolved through the complicated and profound laws ‎of nature. It really doesn’t matter for the question that we are addressing and for the image ‎that we are attempting to perceive. It was God before all and it is God throughout all and it ‎will be God after all is said and done. We are a part of God’s becoming real. We - our minds, ‎our thoughts, our choices - are a little corner of God’s mind, God’s thoughts, God’s choices. ‎Every other person, no matter how rude or noble, shares this little divinity with us. So do ‎rocks and air, empty space and numbers. Where is God? God is within all that. Isn’t it high ‎time we peeled away the layers and perceived the reality? ‎
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Reflections ‎
‎ ‎
Why is it that we are so insistent on putting a distance between ourselves and God? We have ‎only succeeded in driving God out of our lives. What exactly is accomplished by keeping ‎God at arm’s length other than guaranteeing our own inevitable meaninglessness? Is this what ‎we really want? ‎



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