- Revelation:A Work in Process
Ultimate meaning is not grasped once and for all in the form of timeless ideas, acquired once and for all, securely preserved in conviction. It is not simply given. It comes upon us as an intimation that comes and goes.—Abraham Joshua Heschel, Who is Man?
For millennia, Jewish thinkers have wrestled with the issue of revelation. We want to know whether God reveals anything, and if so, what of God’s will has been revealed to us. We seek to prove whether anything claiming to have been revealed by God actually has the imprimatur of divine authority. We hope to know whether God obligates us to live in any particular way, and to discover why and how God reveals God’s will to human beings.
For those with an Orthodox disposition, the answers to those questions are indisputable: The Torah as we know it is the direct result of verbal revelation.1 God dictated the text, which was dutifully recorded by Moses on Mount Sinai and passed down, unaltered, from generation to generation. It must be interpreted closely and followed precisely, because every letter in it has unambiguous divine authority. On the other hand, for those with a purely scientific outlook, the answers to those questions are also clear: The Torah as we know it is a human document. As such, it must be interpreted contextually and followed only if it concurs with modern sensibilities.
Those who are not given to embracing either extreme position, however, face a dilemma. The former view seems to call for the suspension of critical [End Page 55] thought, rejecting the findings of science except when they agree with one’s religious worldview. If science contradicts the Torah, the revealed word of a perfect God,2 then science has made the error. The latter view, however, in undermining the Torah’s direct divine authority, challenges the reasonableness of adhering systematically to its approach to living, constructing community, and encountering the world.
Conservative Jewish thinkers have often attempted to forge a viable middle path on this issue, a way for Jews to accept the findings of sciences while retaining a belief in the Torah as a text with divine authority. Usually, this middle path involves understanding the Torah as having been “divinely inspired.” Frankly, these arguments have largely been full of sound and fury, signifying nothing. They have never described what “divine inspiration” means, how it works, what its content is, and how the Torah we possess actually was formed through this process.
Meanwhile, the voices at the polar extremes grow ever louder and more forceful, and their uncompromising, unambiguous approaches grow increasingly attractive. And to those Jews who accept science and yet want to believe, somehow, that the Torah is divine, we have offered only vague platitudes and hazy explanations. Many Conservative rabbis adjure their congregants to live their lives as if the Torah is thoroughly divine but to understand the text as if it is completely human; in other words, those in the middle are told they may think like scientists, but ultimately they must live like traditionalists. Finding this approach deeply unsatisfying, many Jews generally end up doing the opposite: they believe like fundamentalists (or they reject belief altogether, assuming that true belief must be fundamentalist in order to be authentic), and they live like scientists.
It does not have to be this way. Utilizing the tools and insights of Process thought,3 and especially drawing on the work of Rabbi Bradley Shavit Artson, [End Page 56] I will attempt to lay out a view of revelation that satisfactorily bridges the chasm between an all-divine Torah and an all-human Torah, a middle path that posits a revelation that is simultaneously human and divine, one that accounts for scientific fact while satisfactorily describing why, how, and what God revealed.
A Revelation That Happens “By My Breath”4
In his doctoral dissertation, Strolling in Paradise: The Process of Creation,5 Rabbi Artson convincingly argues for a theology that assimilates the best of our scientific knowledge with the insights of religious tradition.6 In Rabbi [End Page 57] Artson’s view, this kind of theology...