Monday, December 31, 2007

Keeping God on the Horizon

I received an interesting question via email today: “Dear Rabbi, Is it possible to keep God on my horizon?”

What is a horizon? A horizon is that point beyond which one cannot see. The horizon doesn’t contain anything. It isn’t a thing in and of itself. It is that place where things disappear into the unseen.

Some people want to draw near to the horizon, but this makes no sense. As you move toward the horizon the horizon retreats.

Some people want to move in the direction of the horizon, but this too makes no sense. The horizon exists in all directs: turn in any direction and see as far as you can see and where your seeing ends is your horizon.

Keeping God on your horizon, therefore, means keeping God just beyond your sight, just passed what you know and can know.

The horizon is not the unknown itself, however. The horizon is the point of unknowing. The unknown itself has content. You discover this content when you come to know what was hitherto unknown. Today I don’t know what will happen to me tomorrow, but I will know what did happen to me tomorrow when (and if) I look back on tomorrow from the perspective of the day after tomorrow. Yet even as I look back my horizon is still in front of me, unchanged. Or, better, constantly changing.

So maybe the horizon is a good metaphor for God: God is the point of unknowing. No, the word “point” is misleading. The horizon is not a point in the sense of destination that can be reached. As I said, it is constantly retreating, forever moving. So there is no “point” but a pointing. The horizon is a pointing of unknowing. Grammar aside, does this work? Is God a pointing beyond the known?

All definitions of God have their limitations, but for the moment this one sounds pretty enticing. I like the idea that God is a pointing rather than a point, a doing rather than a being. I like the fact that God is not limited to the unknown, for that again seems to make God a thing, but is simply the pointing toward unknowing.

Of course this does make God somewhat transcendent rather than immanent. God is “out there” rather than “in here” or “right here,” but perhaps I am being too literal with the word horizon. Certainly there is a pointing to an inner as well as outer unknowing.

Anyway, to answer the email: Can you keep God on the horizon? No. Whatever is “on the horizon” isn’t. The horizon is that just beyond what is. Perhaps this is what Torah means when it calls God Ehyeh asher Ehyeh, I am what I am becoming; I am just beyond what you know and see.

Happy New Year to all of you!

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