Friday, August 8, 2014

GOD IS THE PLACE---THE SPACE OF THE WORLD

There are many names for God in Judaism. The Midrash, an early Jewish interpretation of or commentary on a Biblical text, teaches:

Why is God called by the name Makom meaning ‘place’ or ‘space’? Because he is the space of the world, but the world is not his place.

Perhaps you don’t believe in God. That’s OK insofar as I’m concerned. My concept of God is far from traditional. J B Phillips, the English Bible scholar, translator, author and minister, wrote a little book entitled Your God is Too Small. The book contains some good ideas but the God that Phillips says is the 'real,' 'big,' and 'true' one is, in my view, still far too small. My concept of God is essentially nontheistic, at least when viewed in traditional terms. It's outside the square. It's big ... as big as the universe and even bigger than that. My concept of God, now shared by many others (including a number of influential theologians), is still a biblical one, that is, it is supportable by reference to sacred scripture. What's more, it makes sense in the light of what we now know about life and the universe. Traditional concepts of God don't.

Now, having said all that, I think we can safely say this much is true---there was something uncaused and self-existent at the very beginning ... before there was even space and time. We can call it self-existent being, and it is still 'here.' It is still a case of---it is. It exists, not from itself, but of itself. And this pure actuality of existence or being-ness, having within it the plenitude of all being as well as all activity, is the undivided and indivisible wholeness of all existence. The what is is forever becoming the what will be, forever releasing and so realizing its innate creativeness. This being-ness---as well as becoming-ness---fills all time and space with its presence, hence the Biblical concept of omnipresence

Omnipresence. What a wonderful word! We are talking about an ‘all-encompassing’ uncreated reality ('Presence')---reality in self-expression, if you like---that, although unmanifest, forever takes shape and form as manifest existence and being-ness. Omnipresence means ... there is. That's it! There is. That's all of reality. That's all of life. The past? Well, the past is 'there is ... no more.' And the future? The future is 'there is ... not yet.' We are talking about a reality that is truly limitless, encompassing all things including all of space---and yet beyond all space as well. This Presence is not ‘transcendent’ in the sense of some supposed anthropomorphic deity in the ‘upper regions,’ nor can it be said to be immanent for the Presence is not actually contained ‘in’ or ‘within’ anything, nor can this Presence be said to be in any way ‘separate’ from the universe (that is, the sum total of all that is) for the notion of separateness denotes divisibility whereas this Presence is essentially indivisible. It is not only present everywhere, it is Presence itself … everywhere! You can call it the ‘spirit of life’ if you wish. It is to be found everywhere, but especially at the very centre of your being.

As mentioned, makom is the Hebrew word for place. The word comes from a verb (קוּם) meaning ‘to arise,’ suggesting the idea of resurrection, metaphorically at least. I prefer to see it as an unfolding or a manifestation. Be that as it may, the word makom appears in the Hebrew Bible (the Tanakh) over 300 times and in the Torah (the first 5 books of the 24 books of the Tanakh) over 100 times. Its first mention is in the very first chapter of the Book of Genesis where God is said to have created the world and collected the water to one ‘place’ (see Gen 1:9). 

Now, all talk of God as a ‘person,’ in the sense that you and I are persons, is problematic, indeed wrong. Whenever God is referred to in sacred scripture in physical terms it is meant as a metaphor. Got that? A metaphor. Indeed, all theology is metaphor. It is more akin to poetry. It is axiomatic that the Divine---that which is sacred, holy, and of ultimate importance---is not physical and has no physical properties as such. No one should be expected to believe in a God that was so limited, finite, and contingent. We, however, are physical---at least in substantial part---and by reason of our finiteness (in particular, the limitations of time and space) we can only understand things from a physical frame of reference. Hence the need for metaphoric language.

So, what is the metaphor of HaMakom (‘The Place’)? Well, we all know that a ‘place,’ any place, is much more than a geographical location. It’s a space which is capable of containing something else---for example, people, plants, animals, and rocks and minerals. When used in reference to the Divine it means a sacred place, a place where everything is contained, that is, has its being-ness, within the Divine, at least conceptually, but the divine is not contained in anything as such. The Hebrew sages would say, ‘He [God] doesn't have a place, rather He is The Place of the Universe.’ Got the idea?

The New Testament puts it this way, ‘For in him we live and move and have our being.' As some of your own poets have said, “We are his offspring”’ (Acts 17:28). Now, that’s not pantheism. It’s panentheism, that is, God is the ground of all being, God is in all things, all things are in God, but all things do not exhaust the actuality of God. Similarly, Jesus (pictured) is reported to have said, ‘I am in my Father: and you in me, and I in you’ (Jn 14:20). 

The God of which I am speaking is the one form-less, essence-less, self-existent, self-knowing, self-giving, self-becoming, self-actualizing, absolute, indestructible, and abundant existence that forever takes form, that is, incarnates, as you, me, and everything else, but which is never even for a moment absorbed by the innumerable objects of its Self-expression. Indeed, this Be-ing---or Being-ness itself---transcends the limits of matter … and even time and space which are really one, and no more than mediums in which all things exist. Life is flux and movement---ceaseless movement---and life itself is timeless and spaceless. That much is clear. Another thing is clear---everything is contained within ‘the now.’ All duration (time) is total and complete in the now, and there is an ‘eternal’ quality about the now. It is forever new. The present moment has its unfolding in the Now.

You may not like the word ‘God’. The word may conjure up unpleasant memories, or otherwise have unpleasant connotations, for you. If so, don’t use the word. ‘The word is not the thing,’ as the Indian spiritual philosopher J. Krishnamurti so often said.  The true nature of the Divine, as pure and ever-perfect Be-ing, is revealed in these Bible verses from the third chapter of the Book of Exodus in the Hebrew Bible:

13 Then Moses said to God, ‘Indeed, when I come to the children of Israel and say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’ and they say to me, ‘What is His name?’ what shall I say to them?’

14 And God said to Moses, ‘I AM THAT I AM.’ And He said, ‘Thus you shall say to the children of Israel, ‘I AM has sent me to you.’’


The words 'I AM' refer to the subject---note that word, 'subject,' not object---of all existence. The Bible says that I AM is God. So, God, that is, the very essence and being-ness of life itself, becomes what God has said that which God is---'I AM THAT I AM.' We are talking about the very presence and power of life itself---there is only one such presence and power---which forever gives of itself to itself in order to perpetuate itself ... and to become. In a deeper sense, we are talking about the Self-knowingness of God, for we too can be conscious (or rather self-conscious) of that very same I AM presence and power that is the ground of our being, indeed, the ground of all Be-ing. It is the All-in-all. 

So, HaMakom is the life that is the subject of true existence, the very life that lies within, and otherwise manifests itself through and as objects, being all persons and things---the very livingness, or rather Self-livingness, of life itself. Put simply, perhaps even too simply, each of us is I AM in expression---as you and me. Yes, each of us is an 'eachness' within the ALL-ness of the Divine.

God is the place, and God in you, as you, is you. Yes, as you live out your daily existence, know this---you are I AM in expression.

I AM has spoken. And so it is.





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