“Lift up your eyes…”

 

“Lift up your eyes on high and see: who created these?”   [Isaiah 40:26]

I’m going to go out on a bit of a limb here, in the sincerest spirit of bold little Zacchaeus,[1] to say that I have more than just a sneaking suspicion that the attitude lurking beneath the surface of the phenomenon of Christian silence during the Holocaust is spawn of the same seed as the phenomenon provoking Christianity’s continuing silence today as concerns the Holocaust. And as concerns its ambiguous relationship to Judaism and the Jewish people in general, as well.

My suspicion is that despite the rejection of Replacement Theology by much of the Christian Church, the deeply entrenched sense of its spiritual superiority over Judaism is based on the stubborn persistence of the misguided attitude of “triumphalism” that still seems hard at work within the collective soul of Christianity. If “triumphalism” is the attitude that one religious creed is superior to all others, [2] then the definition of “Christian triumphalism” would be something akin to “the attitude that the Christian creed is superior to all others.” To wit, the upshot being that we, as Christians, often come across as thinking we have all the answers. When, to be right, according to our own biblical principles, doesn’t permit the adoption of a position of superiority.

Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel

I tend to re-read favorite passages of Abraham Joshua Heschel when I suspect that I’m falling prey to a sense of pride about what I know about theological things. Today I stumbled upon a notion that I think may very well fit this centuries-old affliction of superiority weakening the Christian soul: the notion that a distorted sense of humility will result from a diminished sense of wonder. Heschel writes that there is both an appropriate and an inappropriate sense of doubt for the believer. Healthy doubt opens up the soul-space to encourage our sense of wonder. Writing about the proper biblical sense of doubt that is the truthful acknowledgment of realizing one’s very real human limits, he wrote that this healthy sense of doubt

“… reflects a situation in which the mind stands face to face with the mystery rather than with its own concepts.”

“Whose ear,” writes Heschel, “has heard the trees sing to God? Has our reason ever thought of calling upon the sun to praise the Lord? And yet, what the ear fails to perceive, what reason fails to conceive, the Bible makes clear to our souls. It is a higher truth, to be grasped by the Spirit.”[3]

“The ineffable, then, is a synonym for hidden meaning rather than for absence of meaning….a dimension so real that and sublime that it stuns our ability to adore it, and fills us with awe rather than curiosity.”[4]

Were we, as Christians, to wonder more and explain less; were we to focus on the right questions to ask rather than work to systematize every situation and every mystery into a well-heeled answer, we might turn our eyes upward and inward more often and, in turn, be healed. Which can be translated: set free from the bonds of needing to know all the answers.


[1] And he was seeking to see who Jesus was, but on account of the crowd he could not, because he was small in stature. So he ran on ahead and climbed up into a sycamore tree to see him, for he was about to pass that way. (Luke 19:3-4 ESV)

[2] Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary

[3] Heschel, Abraham Joshua, God In Search Of Man: A Philosophy of Judaism, 1955, 97.

[4] Heschel, 105.