Published by Worldview Publications
January/February 2003 

The Divine Presence

The Problem

The first intimations of human self-consciousness emerged immediately after the loss of a unique god-consciousness (ca. 1000 BCE). So long as mankind was controlled by this god-consciousness, human will and authority were represented by the symbolic appearance and voice of “god,” expressed by the right brain (left brain in left-handed people).1 Now this possessive god-consciousness was replaced by a consciousness of “otherness” – of distinctions between peoples and between mankind and God. This emerging “other-consciousness” was essential for self-consciousness, since the self-conscious “I” cannot exist without a conscious recognition and acceptance of the “other” – the “Thou”2 Nevertheless, although this transition represented a major advance, mankind felt sadly deprived of its waning god-consciousness and seriously threatened by the new “other-consciousness” taking its place. In the words of the French philosopher, Jean-Paul Sartre, it was concluded: “Hell is other people,” and, “Is it not true that by definition the other is my enemy and my ‘original sin?’”3 Thus, ever since the loss of its primitive god-consciousness, mankind has tried to survive in the great psychological divide between utter necessity for the “other” and the profound denial and rejection of the “other.” Likewise, for three millennia mankind has struggled to redefine itself with respect to God. Is there no real distinction between mankind and God – as in primitive god-consciousness? Or is God someone distinctly “Other” than oneself – as in subsequent “other-consciousness”?

1. At one end of the “religious” spectrum are nonbelievers – “anti-theists,” sometimes called “skeptics.” Some of these have denied the existence of any ultimate “Other” apart from themselves (atheists). Some do not reject the existence of God but deny the possibility of knowing him as the ultimate “Other” (agnostics). Some acknowledge the existence of God but allege that, as “Other,” he has abandoned mankind and the universe (deists).

2. At the opposite end of the “religious” spectrum are the “pro-theists,” who contend that they themselves possess God. Among these are pantheists, who contend that everything is God, and God is everything – that is, mankind itself is the ultimate “Other.” Closely related to pantheists are panentheists. While rejecting pantheism, panentheists are convinced that God is in everything, and everything is in God. For them, God as “Otherness” is the ground of all being, simply needing to rise to the level of mankind’s own consciousness. Another group, known as Gnostics, are dualists. They believe in a good, uncreated god above and an evil creator-god below. Furthermore, they believe that somehow the good god – i.e., themselves – has been imprisoned in the flesh by the evil god and can only be liberated through the possession of appropriate spiritual knowledge (gnosis).

3. Across the “anti-theistic” and “pro-theistic” spectrum has developed a third category of religious “believers” whose perspective – called “orthodoxy” – embraces both “transcendence” (god-above) and “immanence” (god-within). On one hand, God is viewed as an ultimate substance or essence wholly apart from Creation. This god is transcendently unapproachable, immovable and impassible, somewhere in the sky above. On the other hand, this god comes down from the sky through derivative emanations, variously known as divine ideas, souls, spirits, sparks, etc., that become immanent to – possessed by – mankind.

However, all three of these religious perspectives are deeply flawed. (1) If, as the “anti-theists” believe, there is no ultimate “Other” – no ultimate “Thou” – there can be no ultimate “I” – no ultimate self-consciousness. (2) If, as the “pro-theists” contend, the ultimate “Other” or “Thou” is synonymous with the “I,” again there can be no ultimate, relational self-consciousness. (3) The “orthodox,” who try to resolve the dilemma by adopting both a transcendent “Other” (wholly apart from us) and an immanent “Other” (wholly within us), again leave us with no ultimate, relational “Other.” Thus, for three millennia the authentic, global emergence of genuine self-consciousness has been frustrated.

The Solution

Over against all ideologies that thwart the emergence of genuine self-consciousness by obstructing prerequisite “otherness” there appeared the astonishing development of Davidic Judaism. Simultaneously with the critical termination of god-consciousness (ca. 1,000 BCE), David and his scholars provided the perspective desperately needed in mankind’s transition to “other-consciousness” and consequent self-consciousness.

David and his scholars affirmed the existence of the One-and-Only God, recognizing him as transcendent in the sense of being wholly “Other” than mankind. At the same time, they emphatically rejected the notion that God as “Otherness” was either in them (immanence) or through them (“transparence”).4 Rather, God was viewed as prophetically and symbolically present with them, near them, beside them. This God was not an ultimate substance, essence or entity. Rather, he was ultimate covenantal relationality. Unfortunately, there is no accepted word for this relationality. Such a word must therefore be proposed, i.e., paramanence (pa-rá-ma-nence: a new word from the Greek and late Latin para- = near, beside, with, alongside + manere = to remain). The concept of the God who promised his own “paramanence” – to be with his people – was symbolized by the First Temple, which served as a metaphor for the birth of a human child from a divine androgynous (father/mother) parent. Further metaphors included the repeated prophetic assurance that God was compassionate (rachamim = womblikeness).

. . . [After the charismatic prophet, Elijah, had fled to Mount Horeb,] he came thither unto a cave, and lodged there; and, behold, the word of the Lord came to him, and he said unto him, What doest thou here, Elijah? And he said, I have been very jealous for the Lord God of hosts: for the children of Israel have forsaken thy covenant, thrown down thine altars, and slain thy prophets with the sword; and I, even I only, am left; and they seek my life, to take it away. And he said, Go forth, and stand upon the mount before the Lord. And, behold, the Lord passed by, and a great and strong wind rent the mountains, and brake in pieces the rocks before the Lord; but the Lord was not in the wind: and after the wind an earthquake; but the Lord was not in the earthquake: and after the earthquake a fire; but the Lord was not in the fire: and after the fire a still small voice. And it was so, when Elijah heard it, that he wrapped his face in his mantle, and went out, and stood in the entering in of the cave. And, behold, there came a voice unto him, and said, What doest thou here, Elijah? – 1 Kings 19:9-13.

This episode made it clear that God is not in the cosmic elements – pantheistically, panentheistically or Gnostically. Nor is God absent, unapproachable, immovable or impassible. Tragically, the relational presence (“paramanence”) of the covenantal God was never perceived, accepted or celebrated even by his own Chosen People. Therefore, in 722 BCE God sent the northern ten tribes into Assyrian exile. Then, over a century later (597/586 BCE), he sent Judah into Babylonian exile. Not surprisingly, the exiles were disconsolate (Psalm 137:1-5). Nevertheless, the captives prospered in Babylon. They greatly increased in number, wealth and prosperity, and even in governmental influence.

Soon after Cyrus II conquered Babylon (539 BCE) and launched the first Achaemenid Empire, he granted the exiled peoples the right to return to their homelands and restore the worship of their hereditary gods. Sheshbazzar, son of King Jehoiachin, led the first return of the Judahites and apparently laid the foundation for the Second Temple. Under Darius (522-486 BCE), Zerubbabel, a Davidic descendant, and the high priest, Joshua, led a second return and began the full construction of the Second Temple, which was completed in the sixth year of Darius (516 BCE). Then, for unknown reasons, Zerubbabel disappeared from history. Over 70 years later (445 BCE), Hanani, a brother of the king’s cupbearer, Nehemiah, made a pilgrimage to Jerusalem and became deeply distraught over the deteriorating condition in Judah. Upon learning of this situation, Nehemiah relinquished his high position as cupbearer and secured the permission of Artaxerxes Longimanus to return to Judah as governor. About the same time, Ezra was appointed by Artaxerxes to return as well and to establish the Jewish Law as the law of the land. Ezra, a Zadokite priest, belonged to the “important class of ‘scribes’ in whose hands lay the whole work of [governmental] administration.”5

One and a half centuries had passed since the exiles first arrived in Babylon. Under the benign rule of the Persians, the exiles had gradually accommodated Persian culture. They had accepted Aramaic, the lingua franca of the Persian Empire, as their primary language; and they had adopted aspects of the Persian calendar. They no longer regarded history as a succession of events but, rather, as composed of linear time – from primal beginning to apocalyptic end. When the exiled prophet, Deutero-Isaiah (Isaiah 40-66), identified Cyrus II as YHWH’s Messiah, the Judahites began to carefully examine the emperor’s monotheistic religion, known as Zoroastrianism (see Isaiah 44:28–45:4).

Zoroastrianism had originated nearly a millennium earlier during the lifetime of Zarathushtra (between 1700 and 1500 BCE). Zarathushtra was regarded as a prophet who had received a series of divine revelations and recorded them in the Zoroastrian scriptures, known as the Avesta. His religion stressed the

importance of purity in the service of God [– to] have good thoughts, speak good words and do good deeds. The religion greatly emphasized doing charity in deeds as a basic necessity of life. Also it [offered] . . . respect to six creations of God. 1) Earth, 2) Sky, 3) Sun and Moon, 4) Plants, 5) Animals, 6) Mankind. Zarathushtra referred to the Almighty Lord as “Ahura Mazda” and Satan as “Angra Mainyui,” who stood for conflict among men, luring them through their greed and leading them on [a] destructive path. Zarathushtra believed that every man (human) is born with good and evil quality within himself. It is up to the man to choose between the good or evil since he is endowed with the power of knowledge and intelligence or good mind. . . . He can choose good and thus help “Ahura Mazda” to defeat “Angra Mainyu” and bring peace on this earth.6

Upon reflection, both Nehemiah and Ezra saw Cyrus II as the new Messiah and his Zoroastrianism as making fundamental contributions for the restoration of the Chosen People. They concluded that the First Temple era had failed because it placed YHWH in “paramanence” (remaining beside) the people, whereas Zoroastrianism placed its monotheistic god in immanence to (remaining in) the people. Ezra and Nehemiah then adopted the concept of YHWH’s immanence by defining his presence as “Law.” They confirmed this conclusion by referring to the earlier prophetic statement of the Levitical priest, Jeremiah:

Behold, the days come, saith the Lord, that I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel, and with the house of Judah: . . . but this shall be the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel; After those days, saith the Lord, I will put my law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts; and will be their God, and they shall be my people. And they shall teach no more every man his neighbour, and every man his brother, saying, Know the Lord: for they shall all know me, from the least of them unto the greatest of them, saith the Lord . . . – Jeremiah 31:31-34.

In moving from the concept of “paramanence” in First Temple Judaism to immanence in the Second Temple period, Ezra and Nehemiah elevated the Law to the status of divinity. Since divinity was now enthroned in the hearts of believers, there was no need for the enthronement of a king. Since the Law in the heart spoke God’s words to all believers, there was no need for the prophetic office. Since the immanent god could utter all truth to every believer, there was no need for further Scripture – so the existing sacred documents now could be canonized.

There were further implications to the immanence of divine Law in the believer. The believers who had chosen the “good” were the wheat that had to be separated from nonbelievers, who had chosen the “evil” and constituted the chaff (see Jeremiah 23:28). Therefore, Ezra and Nehemiah proceeded to exclude all foreign wives from the Chosen People despite their long history of intermarriage. Also, Ezra and Nehemiah deliberately excluded the Samaritans despite their adoption and adherence to the Pentateuch. Furthermore, as many Judahites as possible were ensconced within the walls of Jerusalem, at the center of Eden, in order to create a divinized power structure called a theocracy or theonomy and to exclude the “evil” which supposedly pervaded all aliens.

In taking these actions, Ezra and Nehemiah also began to adopt Zoroastrian dualism, which distinguished between a “good” god and an “evil” god. They took this step without regard to the emphatic warning from Deutero-Isaiah – who had declared Cyrus to be the Messiah (Anointed One). For despite that declaration, Isaiah had endeavored to make a radical distinction between Cyrus as the Anointed One and his dualistic beliefs. Thus, immediately after making his messianic pronouncement, Deutero-Isaiah had declared:

. . . [T]here is none beside me. I am the Lord [YHWH], and there is none else. I form the light, and create darkness: I make peace, and create evil: I the Lord do all these things. – Isaiah 45:6, 7.7

Second Isaiah thus forcefully rejected Zoroastrian dualism. For Isaiah there was no evil creator-god like Angra Mainyu. However, despite this warning, Judaism began to introduce the concept of an evil one. First there was Satan as God’s own prosecuting attorney (see Job 1:6-12). Finally there was the evil and fallen creator-demiurge adopted by Gnosticism, whom the Gnostics believed had imprisoned the true god in human flesh.8

Summary and Conclusion

Thus, the transition from First Temple to Second Temple Judaism led to a number of subtle but profound changes in Judaic thought and practice:

1. The concept of God with us (“paramanence”) was discarded for a god within us (immanence).

2. The covenantal God in relationship with mankind was replaced by a contractual god who possessed mankind as property, goods and services.

3. The truth of the God who is present in history was abandoned for the indwelling of divine Law.

4. “Sin” was no longer a denial or rejection of relationship but, rather, a refusal of submission to “higher powers.”

5. “Atonement” was no longer the concept of God’s protective coverage (kippurim) of mankind but, instead, the union of mankind with divinity.

6. Since god as Law was allegedly enthroned in the heart, the concept of monarchical rule was discarded.

7. Since god was immanent to mankind, there was no longer any need for a prophetic spokesperson, and the prophetic office was terminated.

8. With the end of the prophetic office, due to divine immanence, the existing Scriptures were canonized to assure that there would be no future additions.

9. Since the “chosen ones” alone possessed the immanence of the good god as Law, it was assumed that all “others” must be possessed by the evil god, and so they were excluded from all communion.

10. One consequence of these changes involved the development of a theonomic or theocratic power structure that presumed to be the earthly manifestation of God.

11. Another consequence of the transition from the First to the Second Temple was the virtual abandonment of all “otherness.”

12. Finally, the loss of “otherness” inevitably compromised God’s own age-long struggle to endow mankind with true, human self-consciousness.

Only the divine presence of God in his human manifestation as Jesus Christ could ultimately reconcile mankind’s profound rejection of the “other.” Only that event could answer mankind’s fundamental need of genuine self-consciousness, accepting of the “other.” So it was that Jesus assured his disciples that he – the ultimate “Other” – is not our enemy but our Friend (see John 15:15).

Notes and References

  1. See Julian Jaynes, The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co., 1990), pp. 226, 227. (go back)
  2. See Martin Buber, I and Thou (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1970), pp. 31-33. (go back)
  3. “Communion and Fear,” at www.angelfire.com/ms/Michaelus/Communion.html. (go back)
  4. See Thorleif Boman, Hebrew Thought Compared with Greek (New York: W. W. Norton & Co., 1960), pp. 190-192. (go back)
  5. Victor Tcherikover, Hellenistic Civilization and the Jews (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 1959), p. 12. (go back)
  6. “Zoroastrianism: The History and Evolution,” at www.geocities.com/SiliconValley/Bridge/5452/zpapers/ZEVELTON.html. (go back)
  7. See “Resolving the Threefold Paradox,” Outlook (November/December 2002). (go back)
  8. See Neil Forsyth, The Old Enemy: Satan and the Combat Myth (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1987). (go back)

 

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