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«What is Truth? notes A strange question perhaps, yet one that expresses both our confusion and our skepticism regarding truth. Confusion, because ...»

What is Truth?


A strange question perhaps, yet one that expresses both our

confusion and our skepticism regarding truth. Confusion,

because with a multiplicity of religions and a diversity of

beliefs around us we may genuinely wonder, “Where is

the truth?” Skepticism, for it suggests that truth does not

exist; in fact, there really is no objective truth.

The Hebrew Bible, the Tanakh, answers the question

clearly. “Hashem, God is the truth” (Jeremiah 10:10;

literal translation). For the Bible then, truth does exist;

truth is association with God Himself. In fact, truth, Emeth, in the Hebrew language, is one of the 13 attributes of God. It falls seventh in the list in the exact center of the 13 attributes listed in Exodus 34:6; literal translation, a passage that is recited in the liturgies of Rosh Ha-Shanah Yom Kippur (Jewish New Year, Day of Attonement).

If truth is identified with Godʼs character, it does not come from us but is to be found outside of us – in God.

This recognition implies that in order to find the truth we should not approach it with the preconceived idea that we know what the truth is. Instead, we should approach the truth with a question, “What is it?” This is the very same question, in fact, the ancient Israelites asked when confronted with the manna, the bread of God in the wilderness. “What is it?” they asked, and the question gave the name to this heavenly bread, for the Hebrew word manna means “What is it?” The meaning of the word manna suggests an important lesson regarding how we should approach Biblical truth. We should approach it with the question: “What is it? What is truth?” We should approach it with the same humble and honest mindset as the ancient Israelites approached the manna in the wilderness, asking “What is it? Asking the question from this frame of reference no longer suggests confusion or skepticism. Instead, it implies sincere questioning from one who expects a true answer from above.

Copyright© 2003 Shabbat Shalom.

The Shema Israel Bible Correspondence Course is a project of Shabbat Shalom.

Mail: Shabbat Shalom Andrews University Berrien Springs, MI 49104-1535 Fax: (269) 471-6202 e-mail: sshalom@andrews.edu BIBLE STUDY – Lesson # 2* notes The God of Israel Is There Someone Else?

C limbing toward the top of a snow caped mountain, a hiker suddenly stumbles. As the rope unfurls and finally breaks, he grasps a jagged rock and is now hanging above a two-mile abyss.

He tries to pull himself up but can't. Then, afraid of an avalanche, he whispers: "Is there someone?" Silence.

He whispers louder: “Is there someone?”

A powerful voice answers: “Yes, I am here:

God!” As his grip weakens, the hiker waits for something to happen. Then, the voice is heard again: “Trust me, son; just let go. I am going to send two mighty angels who will carry you to the ground.” The hiker looks down toward the chasm below feeling utterly hopeless. He cries out again: “Is there someone else?” Like the hiker, it is difficult for many to believe in God – even if He answers. And yet, God is out there, and there is not "someone else."

*Unless otherwise noted, all scripture references are taken from the New International Readerʼs Version of the Bible, Copyright 1998, by the Zondervan Corporation.

–  –  –

In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth (Genesis 1:1).

Then the Lord God formed a man.

He made him out of the dust of the ground. He breathed the breath of life into him. And the man became a living person (Genesis 2:7).

–  –  –

For all time to come, the burnt offering must be sacrificed regularly.

Sacrifice it at the entrance to the Tent of Meeting in my sight. There I will meet you and speak to you (Exodus 29:42).

–  –  –

Then His people remembered what He did long ago. They recalled the days of Moses and his people. They asked, “Where is the One who brought Israel through the Red Sea? Moses led them as the shepherd of his flock. Where is the One who put His Holy Spirit among them” (Isaiah 63:11)?

–  –  –

I t is not possible to speak or even to think about God without trembling, not only because God is God, but also because of what we are, limited and distorted creatures.

Our assumptions about Him will always be insufficient. God will always stand beyond our minds and our theological analysis.

When Moses came to God and asked Him to tell him who He was, not without some irony God answered, “I will be what I will be,” the literal translation of the Hebrew phrase “Ehye asher Ehye.” In other words, “Who I am,” said God “is not of your concern, and ultimately the encounter will surprise you. You cannot lock me into your definitions and your theological analysis. It would be vain to try to prove my existence.” Indeed God is not a truth or an idea to be demonstrated following a logical sequence of arguments.

His existence is never questioned. Only the fool would venture to say “in his heart, there is no God” (Psalm 14:1). Godʼs existence

imposes itself upon us before anything:

“Before You created the world and the mountains were made, from the beginning to the end you are God” (Psalm 90:2).

The Bible starts with this clear and unquestionable presumption that God exists: “In the beginning God created” (Genesis 1:1). In the Bible the most frequent phrase describing the reality of God is the affirmation that He is alive. That is what characterizes Him in comparison to the Jacques Doukhan, “Ha-Shem, The God of Israel,” Shabbat Shalom,

–  –  –

The God of the Bible is not an abstract principle or an ethereal power.

He is described as a physical being with hands (Genesis 49:24; Psalm 75:8-10), a nose (Isaiah 65:5), and a mouth (Deuteronomy 8:

3). God is as real and personal as a human being. He walks (Deuteronomy 20:4;

Genesis 3:8), speaks (Genesis 17:22; Isaiah 65:12), fights (Genesis 32:22-32; Exodus 14:14, 25) and even touches (Genesis 2:7;

Genesis 32:25; Psalm 23:5).

To be sure, we should not take this description of God to the letter. The purpose of this language is to teach us that God is real, even as real as we are. This concept is further revealed in the mutual resemblance between God and the human creature (Genesis 1:27). Thus, the Bible presents a paradoxical picture of God. On the one hand, He is depicted as the God beyond human perception. No one can see notes Him (Exodus 33:10). Any picture or form of Him would therefore be inappropriate (Exodus 20:4). God is infinitely distant, He is unreachable and no one can control or apprehend Him. He dwells in heaven (Deuteronomy 26:15; Psalm 113:5; Isaiah 14:13-14).

On the other hand, God is present everywhere: “How can I get away from your Spirit? Where can I go to escape from You?

If I go up to the heavens, You are there. If I lie down in the deepest parts of the earth, You are also there. Suppose I were to rise with the sun in the east and then cross over to the west where it sinks into the ocean.

Your hand would always be there to guide me. Your right hand would still be holding me close. Suppose I were to say, ʻIʼm sure the darkness will hide me. The light around me will become as dark as night.ʼ Even that darkness would not be dark to You. The night would shine like the day, because

darkness is like light to You.” (Psalm 139:


In fact, the Bible begins with an acute awareness of this tension. The first creation story (Genesis 1:1-2:4a) presents a God who is far, transcendent, God of the Universe, and the second creation story (Genesis 2:4b-25) presents a God who is near to mankind and is directly involved in human affairs. Interestingly the name of God which appears in those texts corresponds to their respective contexts. In the first creation account, the name of God is “Elohim,” from the root “alah,” which conveys the idea of strength and preeminence. This name is also used in the plural form to express the notes idea of Godʼs majesty and supremacy: this God is the God of Gods! He contains in Himself all the divine powers. In the second creation account the name of God is YHWH (the tetragrammaton) from the Semitic root “hwh” which means “to be” or “to speak” and expresses the idea of Godʼs closeness to humans. The ancient rabbis understood this linguistic and theological distinction: “The Holy One, Blessed be He, said to those, You want to know my name? I am called according to my actions. When I judge the creatures I am Elohim, and when I have mercy with My world, I am named YHWH” (Ex R. 3:6).

For the men and the women of the Bible, Godʼs proximity, or closeness was a daily and continuous experience. Adam, the first man, was created as a result of a personal and physical contact with God who “breathed into his nostrils the breath of life” (Genesis 2:7). God actually spoke to Adam and Eve, to Cain, to Noah, and to Sarah and they answered back! The Bible records these conversations between God and mankind.

One of the most poignant of these divinehuman dialogues involves Abraham, our father. The Biblical text describes Abraham bowing before three individuals, one of whom he addresses with the usual name of God “Adonay” (Genesis 18:2). He addresses Him with the second person masculine singular pronoun “beʼeyneyka” “in thy eyes” (Genesis 18:3). Furthermore the Biblical text clearly suggests that two of the three “men” went to Sodom (Genesis 19:1) and Abraham “still stayed before the Lord” (Genesis 18:22). The story is puzzling and somewhat disturbing because it places notes God in space and time, within the limitations of our flesh. But Abraham does not seem to be shocked; he even debates with the Lord as one would do in a Middle Eastern marketplace!

Jacob too, experiences close physical contact with the divine. He wrestles with God and takes his name Israel from this violent encounter (Genesis 32:28). Moses is remembered in Biblical tradition as the only one “whom the Lord knew face to face” (Deuteronomy 34:10) and indeed no one came so close to God. As He passed in front of Moses, He said, “I am the Lord, the Lord. I am a God who is tender and kind. I am gracious. I am slow to get angry. I am faithful and full of love. I continue to show my love to thousands of people. I forgive those who do evil. I forgive those who refuse to obey. And I forgive those who sin.

But I do not let guilty people go without punishing them. I punish the children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren for the sin of their parents” (Exodus 34:6-7).

Later the presence of God was sensed in the midst of the people of Israel. Through the visible sign of the cloud, God dwelled (shakan) among them (Exodus 40:34-38).

In the memory of Israel this experience of Godʼs nearness was preserved, and the word Shekinah, derived from the verb “shakan” (dwell), came to express the nearness of God and even God Himself (Ab 3:2; Nb Rabbah 13:6).

It is also interesting that the prophet Isaiah, referring to this experience of the Israelites in the wilderness, preferred to interpret it in notes relation to the Holy Spirit (Ruah ha-qodesh).

Through the “Ruah,” this powerful and invisible “Wind” of God, divine power was manifested among them (Isaiah 63:11). The Shekinah is here associated with the Holy Spirit within them Godʼs proximity at its best.

–  –  –

This movement of God who responds to mankind and even comes down to dwell in the midst of His people constitutes one of the most unique features of the God of Israel. In the Ancient Near East all peoples notes believed in the existence of a God who lived in heaven. But only the God of Israel left His heavenly palace to hear men and women and reveal Himself to them. This is the essential difference Daniel notes between the gods of the pagan Chaldeans and the true God: “but there is a God in heaven who can explain mysteries. Nebuchadnezzar, He has shown you what is going to happen…” (Daniel 2:28).

This is, perhaps the primary reason why we believe in God–because He makes Himself known to us, because humans experience His word, His love, His power, His person and His influence in the flesh of their existence, and in the flow of history.

Even the existence of suffering and the sense of Godʼs silence was interpreted by the prophets as an indication of His presence rather than His absence. Paradoxically, the prophet Isaiah find in the very fact that God is not visible and hides Himself, the very reason why He is the true God. “I will wait for the Lord. He is turning His face away from Jacobʼs people. I will put my trust in Him” (Isaiah 8:17). For, true faith in God implies an experience which challenges this faith. In spite of His absence and the perception of His distance, there is not another God. Even if God does not bless, and our work is not successful, even if He seems not to answer our prayers, His existence is never questioned; we believe in spite of all this. Like the Jews hidden in a cave in Cologne who inscribed on the wall, “I believe in the sun even if it does not shine, I believe in love even if I do not feel it, I believe in God even if He hides notes Himself.”

–  –  –

Elie Wiesel, “Eine Quelle für die Hoffnung finden, Gespräch mit R. Boschert, Süddeutsche Zeitung, October 28/29, 1989, quoted in

Hans Küng, Judaism: Between Yesterday and Tomorrow [New York:

The Continuum Publishing Company, 1995], 727, n. 44 notes And God said to Moses, “Ehyeh-Asher-Ehyeh.” He continued, “Thus shall you say to the Israelites, ‘Ehyeh sent me to you.’” Exodus 3:14, NJPS

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