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January 12, 1990 - Image 52

Resource type:
Text
Publication:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1990-01-12

Disclaimer: Computer generated plain text may have errors. Read more about this.

RELIGION

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Continued from preceding page

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Sacred Fires

FRIDAY, JANUARY 12, 1990

synagogues, almost like large
extended families, meeting to
pray and celebrate. But in the
process of celebrating the in-
dividual, the majesty of God
and the reverence due Him
somehow got lost.
At the same time, ours has
been a century of great
human achievement. We con-
tinually amaze ourselves with
what we can do, and in the
process God seems less and
less impressive. When Samuel
F. B. Morse invented the
telegraph more than 100
years ago, the first words he
sent by wire, "What has
God wrought!" When Neil
Armstrong stepped onto the
surface of the moon in 1969,
his first words were, "That's
one small step for a man, one
giant leap for mankind."
Notice who gets the credit,
and who gets left out, when it
comes to 20th century
marvels.
technology is the enemy of
reverence. Deliberately or in-
advertently, technology puts
out sacred fires because
technology is the celebration
of what man can do. In the
Bible, idol-worship is not a
matter of praying to stones
and statues. Idol-worship is
the celebration of the man-
made as the highest achieve-
ment in the world. The sin of
idol-worship is that it is futile.
Because it is really an indirect
way of worshiping ourselves,
it can never help us grow, as
the worship of a God beyond
ourselves can help us grow.
We who spend so much of
our time in man-made en-
vironments — cars, trains,
schools, shopping centers, of-
fice buildings — find life
bland and uninspiring
because we are cut off from
that contact with God's world
which used to draw us out of
ourselves and fill us with
reverence as we responded to
His presence. Consider, for ex-
ample, Psalm 8:
0 Lord, how majestic is Your
name throughout the
earth. . .
When I behold Your heavens,
the work of Your fingers,
The moon and stars that You
have set in place,
What is man that You are
mindful of him
Mortal man that You take
note of him? [Psalm 8:1, 3-4]
What I find most impor-
tant about our glimpses of
the Holy is not simply that
we learn there is a Power in
the world much greater than
our own power, but that we
find that discovery strangely
comforting.

We want to believe in God.
For all our celebration of our
wondrous achievements, we
don't really want to have
ultimate responsibility for the
world. Despite ourselves, we
are deeply disappointed, even
angry, when events make us
wonder whether God is there
for us or not. (I meet a lot of
people who, in the face of per-
sonal tragedy or a major
disaster, angrily conclude
that there is no God. I am
often struck by how angry
some people get at God for
not existing.) When we were
children, we wanted to do
things ourselves, we wanted
the sense of mastery and
achievement, but we needed
the assurance that our
parents were there because
we knew we could do some
things, more than we could
have done six months or a
year earlier, but we felt too
small and weak to be left
alone to do everything. Part
of that feeling persists into
our adult lives. No matter
how much we achieve when
we contemplate the vast size
of the world, we don't want to
be the ones in ultimate charge
of the whole project.
One of the oldest religious
poems in existence is Psalm
29, in which the psalmist
responds to a thunder-and-
lightning storm by finding
the majesty of God in the
awesome might of the storm:
The voice of the Lord is over
the waters,
The God of glory thunders,
The Lord is over the mighty
waters.
The voice of the Lord is
power, the voice of the Lord
is majesty.
The Lord shatters the cedars
of Lebanon.. .
While in His temple, all say
"Glory!" [Psalm 29: 3-5, 9]
I can picture the psalmist
watching a storm move
across the land, pelting the
earth with rain, lighting up
the dark sky with lightning
flashes. His reaction is not
"Wow, what a storm!" His
reaction is like the religious
person's reaction to the moun-
tain or the tiger: "How great
and mighty God must be to
be able to create something
like this." And more impor-
tant, he is not only impressed;
he is comforted by the sense
that there is a God so great
and powerful. The last line of
the Psalm is:
May the Lord grant His peo-
ple strength,
May the Lord bless His peo-
ple with peace.
Because God has so much

strength and power, He can
supply us with the strength
we need when we face chal-
lenges that exceed our human
capacities.
Religion begins with a
sense of reverence, the recog-
nition of God's greatness and
our limitations. That is why
there are no atheists in fox-
holes and few atheists in
hospitals. It is not because
people are hypocrites, ignor-
ing God when things are go-
ing smoothly and suddenly

For all our
celebration of our
wondrous
achievements, we
don't really want to
have ultimate
responsibility for
the world.

discovering Him and plead-
ing piety when they are in
trouble. And it is not just a
matter of turning to God out
of fear. There are no atheists
in foxholes because times like
those bring us face to face
with our limitations. We who
are usually so secure in our
ability to control things sud-
denly learn that the things
that matter most in our lives
are beyond our control. At the
limits of our own power, we
need to turn to a Power
greater than ourselves.
People have always found
God at the limits of their own
strength. But we today can
barely see the limits of our
own power. That leaves little
room for God, and leaves us
with the unwelcome sense of
being in ultimate charge of
this unmanageable mess we
call the world. When we have
succeeded in putting out all
the sacred fires, where will we
turn for warmth and light?
In a century which en-
courages us to use computers
and makes it so hard for us to
write or read poetry, it is so
easy to put out the sacred
fires which have been tended
for a hundred generations. It
is so easy to dismiss religion
as the residue of childish
dependence and medieval ig-
norance. But if we do that,
where will we find the
reassurance that we need not
despair when we run into a
problem we can't solve? When
the sacred fires have been ex-
tinguished, what will light
our way to the encounter with
the One in whose presence we
come to understand our own
potential greatness? ❑

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