Outer Faith & Inner Faith

Relating to a silent God.

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Many people would dispute Wolpe's assumption that God's presence in the world is different today than it has been in the past. But for those who do struggle with what may seem to be God's silence in today's world, Wolpe offers a poignant and thought-provoking rumination on faith in the modern world. Reprinted with permission from Beliefnet.com.

The traditional image of faith is that it descends upon us from mountaintops. In the Bible, Moses walks down from Sinai, tablets in hand. He is the standard bearer of a God who has liberated the Israelites from Egypt. The Israelites are busy at the moment with the Golden Calf. They have turned their back on God, doubted his providence and protection--but they do not doubt that God exists. 

God has been a powerful presence in the Israelites' lives. We read of a deity who is manifest in the plagues, the splitting of the sea, the cloud by day and pillar of fire by night. Faith is an acceptance of something that is so overpoweringly evident that only a fool could doubt. Israel may misbehave. They may flout God's law. They may even doubt that God cares for them. But to doubt God's existence, or seek God in subtleties, is not the biblical reality. God is present, undeniable, overwhelming.

Today the theological ground has shifted. The discoveries of science have limited God's arena of power; hospitals replace altars as foci of healing. Archeology probes into the truth of biblical accounts. The horrors of history put a strain on faith in God's fashioning a benevolent world. The recognition of the variety of cultures shakes confidence in the certainty of one's own truths.

When we speak of miracles today we speak of naturalistic miracles, not of splitting seas or suns standing still. The skies no longer speak to us. Faith is not the manifest certainty of the supernatural. It arises from within rather than being imposed from without.

Faith is something we are taught to locate inside ourselves. We will see the world a certain way if we have faith, we are told. We can even locate God inside ourselves. But how impoverished and inadequate such an idea would be to our ancestors. To see God inside oneself when God is the author of the universe, the Creator of all?

God has been, if you will forgive the term, downsized. God is now the size of our souls, not greater than creation. The spiritual wizards of the moment cling to the admonition to look inside oneself. See the beauty of a flower, or, as the poet Blake advises us, eternity in a grain of sand. Hearing that, one imagines the ancient Israelite exclaiming, "I need not look among all these grains of sand; after all, God just brought a darkness so thick one can touch it over the whole land of Egypt."

Again and again, we are driven back on the difference between a God of thunder and a God of stillness, a God evidenced by presence and a God sought in absence. I stand before the New Age bookshelf and think: Jacob saw angels and wrestled with them. We just read about them.

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Rabbi David Wolpe

David Wolpe is the rabbi of Temple Sinai in Los Angeles and the author of several books on Jewish belief.