J. (Joshua) Abelson.

The immanence of God in rabbinical literature online

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with all my ways. For there is not a word in my
tongue, but, lo, Lord, Thou knowest it altogether." ^^^
" Whither shall I go from Thy Spirit ? or whither shall
I flee from Thy Presence ? . . . The darkness and the
light are both alike to Thee."^^^ " Thy way is in the
sea, and Thy path in the great waters, and Thy foot-
steps are not known." ^^^ "He stretcheth out the north
over the empty place, and hangeth the earth upon
nothing. He bindeth up the waters in His thick clouds. "^^^
" The pillars of heaven tremble, and are astonished at
His reproof." ^''^ " Lo, these are parts of His ways."^^°^
" Lord, when Thou wentest out of Seir, when Thou
march edst out of the field of Edom, the earth trembled,
and the heavens dropped, the clouds also dropped water.
The mountains melted from before the Lord, even that
Sinai from before the Lord God of Israel." ^^^^ " The glory
of Lebanon shall be given unto it, the excellency of
Carmel and Sharon ; they shall see the glory of the
Lord, and the excellency of our God."^^^^ In Talmudic
and Midrashic literature we find statements like j'^Ntt) *tdSd
HDD ^b^Di^ n^^'Dti) «^n -^idd DipD. " No place but has the
Shechinah in it, not even a humble bush";^^^^ or the naive
utterance about God in nature in the tale of Rabban
Gamliel acting as host to other Rabbis at a feast in
honour of his son. Gamliel offers a cup of wine to R.
Eliezer, but he refuses it.^^*^ He offers it to R. Joshua and
he accepts it. When Eliezer remonstrates with Joshua
for allowing a great man like Gamliel to wait upon him,
Joshua replies that he has a precedent for this in a
greater man than Gamliel, viz. Abraham, who personally
attended to the wants of his guests. Whereupon Zadok,


another member of Gamliel's academy, interposes with
the remark, " How long will ye lay aside the honour of
the Omnipresent and engage in honouring human beings?
God causes His wind to blow, vapours to ascend, brings
down rain, causes the ground to sprout, and prepares a
table before every one. Shall not then R. Gamliel think
fit to be our host?" This seems a short and very
prosaic summary of the beautiful poetry of the 104th
Psalm. The allusions to God as the Light of the World
are legion. For example : " How did God create
light ? He wrapped Himself in a white garment and
caused the world to be brilliant with His light (p^mm

The whole universe as being a reflexion or repro-
duction of God's image is well given in the following : ^^^^
niri njj n"ipn Sin rsmyi mis -12 mi -i»i i^d d'^iijiji) imDi
mojn pi3^D HDin m*i -i©i iSo "^T) d^dh 12"i2?^ -idini n^oi

imTi W^pn biN niri nmii? imis ]^n D"n nw:i . . . fiDii?^ ?iii>i
ntDii? Nini W^pn bm imis nih mn DH^n . . . rr^^^i. r^\D^s
iD^N rr'^npn Sin . . . n^nnn Dhpni:^ mi itDi iSd . . . mis
. . . idSii?i D^priD Mih Nim idSii? n-ii nnS nih nSn ]d
Here we have several ideas : (l) w^ater as expressing
the Divine workman's hand ; (2) the birds of the air
(plDli?'' pji:;), the natural species, expressing a similar note ;

(3) the world of mankind an image of the Divine ;

(4) the world of nature as a manifestation of God's
praise and exaltedness. Another favourite idea is that
of the Universe as God's throne or God's footstool,
based on Isaiah Ixvi. 1, "The heaven is my throne, and
the earth is my footstool " ; or on Isaiah vi. I shall
quote several more illustrations later on. They all go
to show, that in the conception alike of ancient, as of
modern, thinkers the larger world of nature as well as
the small inner w^orld of man are, so to speak, strung


upon a Divine Thread, a structure built upon, and
supported by, a fundament of Divinity ; in short, they
are a manifestation of a universally diffused Divine

But the relations between this Supreme Divine Spirit
and the Universe and man are not a fact to be explained
in a few words. Great systems of thought and belief
have been built upon the differing interpretations which
have been applied to this relationship. Of these systems
the two most important are (1) Pantheism, (2) Deism.
Pantheism takes its stand upon the premiss that God is
equally present in every part of His creation. The
following is the definition given by a recent writer on
the subject : " So far from tolerating any doubt as
to the being of God, it denies that there is anything
else. For all objects of sense and thought, including
individual consciousness, whether directly observed in
ourselves, or inferred as existing in others, are, according
to Pantheism, only facets of an infinite Unity which is
' altogether one ' in a sense inapplicable to anything
else. Because that Unity is not merely the aggregate
of all the finite objects which we observe or infer, but is
a living whole, expressing itself in infinite variety. Of
that infinite variety our gleams of consciousness are
infinitesimal parts, but not parts in a sense involving
any real division." ^^^^ The crucial point in this, as in all
definitions of Pantheism is the fact that it assumes one
and the same level of Divine revelation in every atom
of the material universe. This the Theist denies. He
will not endorse the assertion that God reveals His
presence equally in every one of the steps in the ladder
of being. As Dr. Inge says : " We all believe in the
omnipresence and immanence of the Deity, but we could
not endorse the words of the Indian philosopher who said,
' The learned behold God alike in the reverend Brahmin,


in the ox and in the elephant, in the dog and in him who
eateth the flesh of dogs,' nor Pope's line that God is ' as
full, as perfect in a hair as heart.' "^^^^ The fatal error
of Pantheism is the fact that it posits a God who is in
the world but who is not above it. In other words, it
assumes the immanence but excludes the transcendence
of God. This makes it really indistinguishable from
materialism.* Deism is the logical opposite of Pantheism.
Whereas the latter errs in too exclusive an insistence
upon the immanent aspects of Deity to the total ex-
clusion of the transcendent aspect, the former makes
quite the opposite mistake of envisaging the Deity
solely from the transcendent aspect to the total exclusion
of the immanent standpoint. Deism regards natural
law as all-sufiicient, and the perfect Deity who made
the world, sits above it in perfection and isolation —
an interested but passive spectator. As long as the
world goes round well without a hitch, God surveys
it from the heavens with complacency. Should any-
thing go wrong, then and then only does He interfere
and set the machinery all right again. It is these occa-

* " Pantheism is only a polite form of atheism. The truth of Pantheism
lies in its destruction of the dualist antithesis of God and the world, in its
recognition that the world exists in virtue of its own inherent forces." — Haeckel,
TJie Riddles of the Universe, p. 103, R.P.A. edition. Quoted in Sir Oliver
Lodge's Life and Matter.

Baron Von Hiigel in his sketch of the spiritual character of Catherine of
Genoa speaks of her faith in " the diversity, multiplicity and depth " of godliness
which distinguish men. " They will necessarily, even if they all be fully faith-
ful to their call, possess Him in indefinitely and innumerably various degrees
and ways." This conviction, says he, " prevents any touch of real Pantheism or
Indifferentism from defacing the breadth of her outlook " {The Mystical
Element in Religion, i. p. 233.)

The accusation of Pantheism has been laid at the door of many a writer on
mysticism, and the unbiassed reader is often offered the alternative of substantiat-
ing or refuting the charge. This is well exhibited in the case of lleister
Eckhart, the profoundest of all German mystics. His ideas of the distinction
between "God" and the "Godhead," of the relation between the soul and
the Godhead, of the nature of human and Divine personality, come very near
the perilous edge of Pantheism, and it is not by any means easy to redeem him
from the charge. See Inge, Christian Mysticism, p. 161, also Rufus Jones, Studies
in Mystical Religion, chap. xii. See also chapter on Theism and Pantheism in
vol. ii. of Martineau's Study of Religion.


sional Divine interferences in mundane affairs that were
regarded by Priestley and his followers as " evidences of
God's interest in the world and mankind. But God's con-
cern went not one jot beyond this.* Such was one of the
main tenets of the Deism which in the seventeenth and
eighteenth centuries found a great stronghold in England
and France. For the present it is enough to say that a
deistic universe in this sense does not express the views
of Judaism whether from the Biblical, post-Biblical,
mediaeval philosophic, or modern standpoint. Here it
may especially be emphasised that the transcendent
view of God as preached by Deism is being more
and more shattered by the teachings of modern
scientific and philosophic thought generally. This
thought bases itself on the great fact of intelligence, will,
purpose, in nature. And it draws the irresistible con-
clusion that at the back of it all there must be one
great unifying, Infinite Intelligence that we call God.
Professor Momerie says: "If we proceed to analyse
our experience and to ask what is implied in the terms
knowledge and existence, we shall see that in the very
possibility of experience, there is implied the unceasing
activity of an infinite and eternal Personality essentially
similar to our own."^^^^ In other words, our knowledge
of the material world — nay, even the very being of
that world — is dependent on the existence of God. And
again he says : " Corresponding then to the constructive
activity of our own mind which enables us to know the
material world as a system of relations, there must be
the constructive activity of another Mind, essentially
akin to our own, which produces and maintains the
system of relations that we know. In other words,

* In Kimlii on Amos iii. 2 there is a curiously similar idea of God's non-
interference with the nations except when some great crisis arises. Kimhi
quotes a few Rabbinic parallels to this idea.


the intelligence, of which our mental constitution is
the outcome and to which we owe subjectively the very
possibility of knowledge, is, at the same time, objectively
the source of that orderly relation amongst phenomena
which alone makes them possible objects of experience.
Our limited consciousness implies the existence of a
consciousness that is unlimited, the life of every finite
personality bears undeniable testimony to the necessary
existence of an infinite Personality." Momerie is here
voicing: the modern scientific immanent character of
the Deity. God is eternally present, eternally active,
ceaselessly and perpetually manifested in the world
around us. And, as a recent writer ^^^^ points out,
even Herbert Spencer's " Infinite and Eternal Energy
from which all things proceed," to which Spencer
applied the epithet of " absolute," confirms this con-
clusion. How can one accurately describe as absolute,
an energy which underlies all things ? The uphill task
of modern religious thought is to demonstrate that
this immanent force is a Personality, a Personal God
possessed of the two outstanding attributes which we
regard as inseparable from a human personality.* These
are (l) Intelligence; (2) Love. Among other modern .

* When employing a term like personality in this connexion we must be
cai'eful to know its exact meaning. Some jieople confound the idea witli that
of materiality, i.e. when speaking of God as a personality they imagine that it
is necessary to invest Him with a tangible form. But of course the personality
of God does not mean or imply a bodily personality. The body is not the
criterion of personality at all — not of human personality either. What gives
personality is life, consciousness, will, affection, the moral sense, etc. When a
man possesses these, he is a personality ; without tliem he is either a corpse or
an idiot. When therefore we assign personality to God, it is on the under-
standing that He possesses these attiibutes ; no idea of physical compass or
dimension must or need enter. See Maimonides, Guide of the Perplexed, vol. 1.
chap, xlvi., where the author explains the anthropomorphisms of the Bible as
an accommodation to the poverty of human speech. The lower senses, says
he, are merely ascribed to God to show tliat He exists. But His personality
is something far subtler, deeper and more embracing than these sensual
characteristics. Of. Martineau's remark {A Study of Religiun, vol. ii. 2nd
edit. p. 183, 1889): "As the parts of our nature which thus enter into
relation with God are precisely those which make us 'Pcrsoiis' and distinguish us


writers who have set themselves to a demonstration of
tliis truth, we may single out for mention J. R. Illing-
worth from the theological standpoint, and Sir Oliver
Lodge from the standpoint of science. Illingworth gives
an analysis of the successive stages by which, commenc-
ing with Animism, there blossomed out the full concep-
tion of Divine Personality as presented in the Old and
New Testaments. His arguments for the proof of this
Personality are the following : Firstly, the Cosmological
argument. This is, to use his own words, " the argu-
ment derived from the belief that we recognise in the
universe without us certain qualities of infinitude, reality,
causation, independence and the like which have no
counterpart except in the region of our own personality,
and can only, therefore, be interpreted as attributes of
a person." ^"^^ Secondly, the teleological argument, or
argument from evidences of design in the world. The
adaptations which we notice all round us in the world
of nature suggest the presence of a directing, indwelling
reason which is comparable only to the " continuous
consciousness which co-ordinates all the functions of our
being, manifesting itself in every thought or word or
deed." In other words, consciousness, intelligence,
design, purpose are the hall-marks of personality in
man. Therefore they are the hall-marks of personality
in God. Thirdly, the moral argument — the voice of
conscience, the "Thou shalt" and "Thou shalt not"
within the human breast. This cannot possibly be the
invention of other men. It commands and urges and
forbids, praises and blames in a way that no mere
man-made law or social ordinance could do. Yet, says

from other ' living things ' it is difficult to see why the same term should not
be given to the corresponding attributes of rational and moi'al Will in Him. . . .
Here it is that the God, immanent through the universe besides, and operating
by determinate methods alone passes into transcendent existence . . . and
establishes moral relations with beings whom He has endowed with a certain scope
of similar volitional causality."


Illii]gwortli, " with all its independence of human author-
ship, it has the notes of personality about it. . . . It
educates our character with a nicety of influence irre-
sistibly suggestive of paternal care. . . . And the inevi-
table inference must be that it is the Voice of a Personal

It will at once be noticed that no endeavour is
made in Illiugworth, to deduce the possession of the
attribute of Love in the personality of God ; and
unless this is done, the whole argument is really un-
proven. For this purpose, Christian writers generally
have recourse to the Incarnation. But from a Jewish
standpoint this is quite unnecessary. It can be reached
by quite another road. God as Reason and God as
Love are not mutually opposed. The Psalmist certainly
did not think them antagonistic, or how could he
have said, " Righteousness and justice are the founda-
tion of Thy throne ; loving-kindness and truth shall
go before Thy face"?^^^^ The truth seems to be that
they are each and equally an aspect of the Divine
Nature. God from the standpoint of reason is the
Judge of the whole earth. From the standpoint of
mercy He is the Father who " doth not afflict willino-ly
nor grieve the children of men." ^-^^ In Rabbinic
phraseology the ^n mo is never dissociated from
the D^'Dmrr mo. Punishment was never considered
by the Jew as the act of a vindictive Judge. It was a
pledge of God's merciful interest in him, a sinner, urging
him to abandon his evil course. God so loved him

* "But there is a moral presence of His Spirit to our minds, which places
us in relations to Him more intimate and sacred. Surely there occur to every
uncorrupted heart some stirrings of a diviner life ; some consciousness obscure
and transient it may be, but deep and authoritative, of a nobler calling than we
have yet obeyed ; a rooted dissatisfaction with self, a suspicion of some poison
in the will, a helpless veneration for somewhat that is gazed at with a sio-h as
out of reach. It is the touch of God upon us. His heavy hand laid upon our
conscience and felt by all who are not numb with the paralytic twist of sin "
(Martineau, Endeavours after the Christian Life, chap, on "The Besetting God ").


that He could say, " Return, ye wayward children ; I
will heal your waywardness." ^'^*^ The metaphors and
similes in the Old Testament depicting God as the
lovinsf Father are too numerous to mention. The verse
" Whom the Lord loveth He correcteth, even as a father
the son in whom he delighteth," ^^^^ shows clearly enough
how to the mind of this ancient writer, pain was not the
punitive measure of a judge, but a discipline of love.
And it is exactly in this light that Jewish teachers
regard the subject to-day.^"'''^ Suffering is the whole-
some discipline inflicted on us by a God in whom
love and reason are combined. Surely the assertion
of the Personality of God can have no stronger cor-
roboration than this.^-*^"^

Thus the following conclusions emerge : our answer
from the modern standpoint to the question, What are
the relations of the Supreme Divine Spirit to the universe
and man, must be, that this Spirit is a personal God
possessed of intelligence, reason, will, purpose, and love,
who is the Power behind all phenomena. He is Omni-
present. Every particle of creation reveals Him. He
is eternally active. And it is by this eternal activity
and eternal self- manifestation that He is directly
known to us. Here we have our definition of Imma-
nence. It is at once an answer to (a) Pantheism,
which is synonymous with materialism ; {h) the rational-
istic Deism of the eighteenth century, which, with its
too great leaning upon transcendence, placed God out-
side the world and deprived Him of any influence
therein ; (c) a good deal of modern Agnosticism, which
derives many of its arguments from the professed
inability to reconcile many theological teachings, as
e.g. Biblical miracles. Inspiration, with the universally-
accepted dogmas of modern science. God indwells
His creation. He is the Infinite Power and Infinite


Love manifested in and through this finite world of
things and men. This is the way in which the best
modern thinking presents God/^"^ This is the meaning
of the phrase " Divine Immanence."

But there is something more to be said. We have
searched for and found our definition of the idea of
Immanence, and yet we cannot leave the matter here.
There is another pressing phase of the subject with
which we must make our reckoning. We must have
a clear understanding of the exact relations which
Immanence bears to Transcendence. The fatal blot on
the teachings of the Pantheist is the fact that he
denies the Transcendence of God. Does Immanence
deny this Transcendence also ? Or, to put it more
explicitly, can any Immanent theory of the Deity be
said to hold its ground while totally excluding the
Transcendence theory ? In answer to this query, it
seems pretty certain that any Immanent theory which
does not ipso facto involve the claims of Transcendence,
is really indistinguishable from Pantheism. It is merely
Pantheism masquerading under another name. As a
matter of fact, there is some lack of clearness and
unanimity in the modern exponents of Immanence ;
and that several among the latter are mere Pantheists
though unconscious of it, and though they would rebut
the accusation with the uttermost vehemence were it
laid at their door, is to me, beyond doubt. I cite in
this connexion the views of the Rev. R. J. Campbell,
one of the most uncompromising among modern ex-
ponents of the Immanence doctrine. It is difiicult
from his writings to know where and how to draw
the line of -^iemarcatio^ between Immanence and Pan-
theism. Thus,""Ee'1iises expressions like " The highest
of all selves, the ultimate self of the universe is God "
{New Theology, p. 34). " The word God stands for


many things, but to present-day thought it must
stand for . . . the unitary principle implied in all
multiplicity" (ibid. p. 17). Now, a theology of this
kind seems to me neither religious nor ethical. It is
not religious for the following reasons : — (a) It leaves
no room for the Personality of God. God, in this
theory, is merely an absolute principle, merely another
and grander name for the universe, apart from which.
He has no existence or significance whatsoever. You
cannot render religious homage to the " ultimate self
of the universe." You cannot feel religious trust in
a metaphysical idea. You cannot make an eff"ort at
communion with an abstraction. (b) It excludes a
vital dogma like that of the Fatherhood of God, the
indispensable corner-stone on which three great faiths
of the world, Judaism, Christianity, and Mohammed-
anism, rest. It leaves no room for the feeling of love
or obedience towards that Infinite Power, which, as
many of us believe, trusting to what we hold to be
the evidence of our own souls, is ever welling out in
unbounded mercy and love towards us. (c) It con-
flicts with the idea of Prayer. Prayer must be directed
to a person. You cannot pray to a unitary principle
or to a universal life. You cannot worship that which
is only a higher manifestation of yourself No such
conceptions of deity will ever provoke the yearnings
of the soul or satisfy its prayerful aspirations ; and it
is not ethical, because if God is the ultimate self of
the universe, then His manifestations must be equally
in the evil and the good, in the virtuous and the
vicious. All men and things must equally reveal
Him : the sinner as much as the saint, the honest man
no more than the thief, the coward no less than the
hero. All moral distinctions are annihilated.

Wherein lurks the fatal error in the presentation


of such views of Immanence ? It lurks in the fact
that the "indwelling" of God in man and the world —
which is the meaning of Immanence — is so prone to be
confounded with the identity of God with man and the
world. Here is a dilemma from which it is not easy
to escape. Many a mediaeval mystic was, through this
very cause, pronounced heretical and his writings con-
demned. Their overweighted insistence upon Imma-
nence always laid them open to pantheistic suspicion.
Much of Jewish mediaeval mysticism likewise bore the
brunt of unstinted abuse from staunch orthodox
authorities, because in laying itself open to a pantheistic
interpretation it appeared to be in flagrant contra-
diction to the accepted dogmas about the Jewish God.*
What, then, must be the interpretation of Imma-
nence which, while avoiding the lurking pitfall of
Pantheism, brings it into line with the root-tenets of
religion ? The answer can best be given by quoting the
remarks of two distinguished modern writers on the
subject. In his Personal Idealism and Mysticism
(p. 45) Dean Inge, speaking of the dijfferences between
Stoicism and Alexandrian Judaism, says : " If we would
avoid Pantheism, we must worship a God who is above
as well as in the world." In his book on Divine
Im,m,anence Illingworth says : " On this analogy, then,
the Divine Presence which we recognise in Nature will
be the presence of a spirit, of a spirit which infinitely
transcends the material order, yet sustains and indwells
it the while. We cannot indeed explain the method
either of the transcendence or the indwelling, but we
come no nearer to an explanation by attempting . . .

* " Unless safeguarded by limiting dogmas, the theory of Immanence, taken
alone, is notoriously apt to degenerate into Pantheism ; and into those

Online LibraryJ. (Joshua) AbelsonThe immanence of God in rabbinical literature → online text (page 3 of 32)