In my theology class this morning, I was facilitating a discussion that was building a bridge between Yehudah HaLevi’s rejection of the philosophical approach to God and Abraham Joshua Heschel’s similar effort to transcend the realm of rational speculation in theology. One student hit upon an idea that I have distilled in the following manner, with additional commentary:
The philosophical or scientific approach to religion is trying to touch God; the truly religious or spiritual path is one of being touched by God.
I think this sums up so much of Heschel’s approach. After all, one of his books is “God in Search of Man.” To clarify beyond the sound-byte, Heschel definitely sees a 2-way (I-You) relationship with God in which we have an impact on the Divine, but he’s more interested in framing God as the “I” (subject) and us as the “You” (object). He also doesn’t dismiss the philosophical or scientific approach and there’s nothing inherently wrong with trying to “touch God,” by which we meant today being able to point to God, identify God — as if under a microscope. It’s just that such “contact” is inherently objectifying and limiting and so simply isn’t enough; it therefore can’t be our chief activity in the religious enterprise.
We can also, by the way, say that the philosophers are trying to figure out the ways that God “touches” us from a sensory or rational perspective, but are not necessarily in touch (no pun intended, at least not consciously!) with how God might be touching us in a more penetrating, transforming, soulful manner.