God’s Hiding Places: Four Pavilions (Part 2)

(Continued from Part 1)

Here are two final suggestions about where God is hiding:

Pavilion 3: Rabbi Rehumi—God is Hiding in the Empty Space between a Husband and a Wife

“This R. Rehumi who was frequently [at the school] of Raba Mahuza [in Babylon] used to return home on the Eve of the Day of Atonement [once a year]. On one occasion he was so attracted by his subject [that he forgot to return home]. His wife was expecting [him every moment, saying,] “He is coming soon, he is coming soon.” As he did not arrive, she became so depressed that a tear began to flow from her eyes. He was [at that moment] sitting on a roof. The roof collapsed under him and he was killed.”

(Babylonian Talmud Ketubboth 62b)

The ketubboth section of the Talmud, from which this story was taken, addresses issues relating to marriage contracts. This tradition dates back to before the time of Jesus. These contracts often contained requirements for the husband to meet his wife’s financial needs. They also typically required the husband to satisfy his wife’s sexual needs. The Day of Atonement, the only day the scholar in the story went home, was a day in which sex was prohibited. Yet, even on that day the rabbi forgot to go home because he was studying his Holy Book. The high roof on which the scholar stood collapsed. He was no closer to God. God is not hiding under the pavilion of His Holy Book or on his little scholarly Tower of Babylon. God is hiding in the space between a husband and a wife.

Pavilion 4: Edwin Firmage—God is Eternally Hiding

Edwin Firmage is a leader in Utah’s environmental movements, an essayist, a photographer, an independent biblical scholar, and a cultural Mormon, from a long line of Mormon thinkers and leaders.  He represents one kind of Mormon thinker that has interesting things to say about the God’s hiding places. The following is an excerpt from the introduction to his book in progress, on the Book of Jeremiah.

“For what it’s worth, here is what my own skeptical, historically informed, Western spirituality looks like. I grew up in a religious (Mormon) home, but am today agnostic, which is my less in-your-face way of saying atheist. My loss of belief occurred in graduate school, and I have not found reason to regret the conclusions I came to then, decades ago. For me now, God is a convenient name for creative emptiness, a shorthand way of referring to the ongoing process of unfolding creation outside and within us. My ‘God’ is akin to but not tied in any dogmatic fashion to the Kabbalistic Ein Soph, which is not only the infinite but also the unending. God for me is the spirit of Zen and the soul of haiku. In my view, God is an empty space in being that must remain empty, a space that we must avoid filling with ourselves at all costs. Such is my midrash on the prohibition of images, that commandment to cherish emptiness that lies at the heart of Western, and not just Eastern spirituality. In the face of this creative emptiness, humility and awe are still appropriate responses, and idolatry still our greatest sin, which is why, in my view, prophetic ethics are still relevant even if the Yahweh of mythology has passed away.”

The following are my notes on, and interpretations of Firmage’s musings about God’s hiding places. Since God is creative emptiness, it is idolatry to claim to find God, because, for Firmage, God is eternally hiding. It is creativity that comes out of this emptiness, this mystery. To define God is idolatry—hence the Jewish prohibition against drawing God. Like the angel wrestling Jacob, God does not want to be tied down before the light of dawn. Yet, the hiding God of Firmage gives us clues that keep us hunting to find Him hiding just over the hill. Hence, idolatry is unavoidable.

For Firmage, if you think you have found the hiding God, you haven’t. Every word for, and every picture of God and the truth is a betrayal of God and the truth. We objectify and control and create a God. It then becomes a dogma. Then it becomes an icon. Then you become God. The ultimate idolatry is to play God. Our power over nature is really power over each other, with nature as the intermediary. God cannot be concrete. God is only useful as a metaphor. In fact God HAS to be a metaphor, Firmage concludes. We must therefore live in a constant state of humility as we seek to listen to the God of creative emptiness, since we cannot ever find Him. Occasionally we hear God’s whisper from behind the veil.


God’s Hiding Places: Four Pavilions (Part 2) — 4 Comments

  1. Thanks for the Firmage quote. I think I disagree with it, but the quote is still thought-provoking. Is his book going to be a commentary, or more like philosophical musings?

  2. I find it interesting that the ketubboth section of the Talmud talked about contracts for the husband to satisfy the wife’s sexual needs when in most marriages it is the husband who wants more sex.

  3. Allen,
    As I understand it, Firmage’s book will be a commentary on Jeremiah.

    Interesting insight. I am not sure what to make of this other than a physical relationship must to be considerate. What I also find intersting is that, like for Mormonism, God is not a hermit or a monk in this story and spirituality is not obtained by trying to escape the physical world. God in this story is very much in the world. I think that this story should resonate with Mormons, who see the physical world as a sacred place and God as a physical Being. There is something wonderful, surprising and healthy in that perspective.