“[Rabbi Abraham Joshua] Heschel spoke about God in a way that I find more than compelling, absolutely indispensable. He spoke about God out of personal experience. And let me say that I find myself — as a modern, rational university-trained human being trying to find my way in the world, I find myself spoken to, addressed rather directly, by this man and his conversation with God. I think he brings God into our lives and into our world in a way that is precious because of his hesitancy and his humility and his openness to other faiths and, also, the crystal clear insight of what God wants, to us. So one of the things that I’ve been thinking about lately, as I — a person who spent his life as a professor of religious studies, who is not a rabbi but is now charged with leading a Jewish institution and educating future clergy — we, I think, need to find a way of speaking credibly about God in the world. And I’m grateful to people of whatever faith who can do that for us. That’s one of the things that’s been on my mind.” - Arnold Eisen, Chancellor of Jewish Theological Seminary in an On Being Interview
This Chancellor, a self-described, “modern, rational university-trained human being trying to find his way in the world” finds the way Heschel spoke about God compelling. Compelling as in speaking to him, as in calling up something from inside him, as in as more than an object of study.
We, who are modern, rational, university-trained human beings trying to find our way in the world — what talk of God would be compelling to us?
When was the last time someone spoke about God in a way you found compelling?
What would you assess as credible speech about God?
Can you imagine finding any talk of God compelling?
Eisen says that more than compelling, Heschel’s way of talking about God is for him indispensable.
Indispensable for what? Or, what is the good that credible ways, compelling ways of speaking about God does? What is the harm, the loss, of not having ways of speaking credibly about God?
Posing the question to myself: credible ways of speaking about God would convey the good of blessing; to have access to such a language, to be able to speak it without shame would help me to feel aligned with a thread of meaning in the world and in my existence. Goods such as a visceral assurance of communion-with rather than isolation from, and a similarly visceral sense that God calls me toward participation in caring for, expanding love in the world; a credible way of speaking about God would rescue me from fading into biting skepticism, to sense that there is some meaning to existence, ours and my own.
I hear all kinds of caveats lining up, reasoned arguments (as well as sweepingly biased judgements against anything sounding like religion) that all these goods; of meaning, connection, participation, vocation, can be delivered without God and without any speech about God. I have been trying to make that be so for me. I do believe that to be possible. And still, I find that I am compelled by the way Eisen speaks of the indispensability of the way Heschel spoke of God, and of the need of ways to speak credibly of God.
We need to find a way of speaking credibly about God in the world.
I feel that need.