Personhood of God

Martin Buber I and Thou

“The clear and firm structure of the I-You relationship, familiar to anyone with a candid heart and the courage to stake it, is not mystical. To understand it we must sometimes step out of our habits of thought, but not out of the primal norms that determines man’s thoughts about what is actual.” -Martin Buber

I have been engrossed in I and Thou for several weeks now. Rather than try and cram all of my favorite quotes from I and Thou into one post, I have decided to break it up into a few discussion points, hopefully more to follow.  Buber’s work, although vague at times, is based on a practical model for how mankind relates to both God and people. Oftentimes in reading the works of early Christian Mystics one can be left wondering if it is even possible to experience a deeply personal relationship with God without retreating into a cloistered environment. I personally believe that we can grow in relationship to God no matter what station we find ourselves in in life. Faith is a choice… Below is an introduction to some of Buber’s thoughts on the personhood of God, which speaks to that practical relationship. Ironically, what follows was postscript to his original work, but probably should have been stated upfront.

“How – people ask – can the eternal You be at the same time exclusive and inclusive? How is it possible for man’s You-relationship to God, which requires our unconditional turning toward God, without any distractions, nevertheless to embrace all other I-You relationships of this man and to bring them, as it were, to God?…

The designation of God as a person is indispensable for all who, like myself, do not mean a principle when they say “God,” although mystics like Eckhart occasionally equate “Being” with him, and who, like myself, do not mean an idea when they say “God,” although philosophers like Plato could at times take him for one – all who, like myself, mean by “God” him that, whatever else he may be in addition, enters into a direct relationship to us human beings through creative, revelatory, and redemptive acts, and thus makes it possible for us to enter in to a direct relationship to him. This ground and meaning of our existence establishes each time a mutuality of the kind that can obtain only between persons. The concept of personhood is, of course, utterly incapable of describing the nature of God: but it is permitted and necessary to say that God is also a person. If for once I were to translate what I mean into the language of a philosopher, Spinoza, I should have to say that of God’s infinitely many attributes we human beings know not two, as Spinoza thought, but three: in addition to spiritlikeness – the source of what we call spirit – and naturelikeness, exemplified by what we know as nature, also thirdly the attribute of personlikeness. From this last attribute I should then derive my own and all men’s being person, even as I should derive from the first two my own and all men’s being spirit and being nature. And only this third attribute, personlikeness, could then be said to be known directly in its quality as an attribute.

But now the contradiction appears, appealing to the familiar content of the concept of a person. A person, it says, is by definition an independent individual and yet also relativized by the plurality of other independent individuals; and this, of course, could not be said of God. This contradiction is met by the paradoxical designation of God as the absolute person, that is one that cannot be relativized. It is as the absolute person that God enters into the direct relationship to us. The contradiction must give way to this higher insight.

Now we may say that God carries his absoluteness into his relationship with man. Hence the man who turns toward him need not turn his back on any other I-You relationship: quite legitimately he brings them all to God and allows them to become transfigured “in the countenance of God.”

One should beware altogether of understanding the conversation with God – the conversation of which I had to speak in this book and in almost all of my later books – as something that occurs merely apart from or above the everyday. God’s address to man penetrates the events in all our lives and all the events in the world around us, everything biographical and everything historical, and turns it into instruction, into demands for you and me. Event upon event, situation upon situation is enables and empowered by the personal language to call upon the human person to endure and decide. Often we think that there is nothing to be heard as if we had not long ago plugged wax into our own ears.

The existence of mutuality between God and Man cannot be proved any more than the existence of God. Anyone who dares nevertheless to speak of it bears witness and invokes the witness of those whom he addresses – present or future witness.” – I and Thou – by: Martin Buber (pg 180-182)

Buber, a Jewish philosopher,  stops short of drawing any connections to Christianity. Nevertheless, I find Buber’s views intriguing, you guessed it, for the process, and in this case the relational approach between I-You that is seemingly developed from an aware point-of-view.

Pax Vobiscum
-C.M. Gregory

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