By Abraham Joshua Heschel (1907-1972)
Restore us, O Lord God of hosts! Let your face shine, that we may be saved! — Psalm 80.19
The renewal of man involves a renewal of the sense of wonder and mystery of being alive—taking notice of the moment as a surprise. The renewal of man must begin with rebellion against reducing existence to mere fact or function.
Contemporary consciousness has not come to terms with its own experience. Overwhelmed by the rapid advancement in technology, it has failed to develop an adequate anthropology, a way of ensuring the independence of the human being in the face of forces hostile to it.
Why do I speak about the renewal of man? Because the Hebrew Bible is not a book about God. It is a book about man. Paradoxical as the Bible is, we must accept its essential premise: that God is concerned about man.
It is useless to speak of the holy to those who have failed to cultivate the ingredient of being human. Prior to faith are premises or prerequisites of faith, such as a sense of wonder, radical amazement, reverence, a sense of mystery of all being. Man must learn, for example, to question his false sense of sovereignty.
Men of faith frequently succumb to a spectacular temptation: to personalize faith, to localize the holy, to isolate commitment. Detached from and irrelevant to all emergencies of being, the holy may segregate the divine.
To recover sensitivity to the divine we must develop in “uncommon sense,” rebel against the seemingly relevant, against conventional validity; to think many thoughts, to abandon many habits, to sacrifice many pretensions.
Those who pray tremble when they realize how staggering are the debts of the religions of the West. We have mortgaged our souls and borrowed so much grace, patience, and forgiveness. We have promised charity, love, guidance, and a way of redemption, and now we are challenged to keep the promise, to honor the pledge. How shall we prevent bankruptcy in the presence of God and man?
We must learn how to labor in the affairs of the world with fear and trembling. While involved in public affairs, we must not cease to cultivate the secrets of religious privacy. What is required is a continuous effort to overcome hardness of heart, callousness, and above all to inspire the world with the biblical image of man.
*Abridged and adapted from Moral Grandeur and Spiritual Audacity.