God in Search of Man: A Philosophy of Judaism

Article excerpt

God in Search of Man: A Philosophy of Judaism, by Abraham Joshua Heschel. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1955.

Books are alike only in that they contain writings bound in some fashion, usually nowadays in hard or soft cover. Beyond that, they come in every variety-essay or poetry collection, scholarly study, literary or popular fiction. In quality, the writing may be lyrical or persuasive, or it may lack grace and coherence, character development, or verisimilitude. That is why it is so basic to determine first the genre of a book, that it may be judged for what it tries to do and not for what the reviewer wanted the author to do. And, partial as I am to the reading and writing of theology, that was my first task in thinking about Heschel's God in Search of Man.

This book is indeed rich in theology, and its themes, enunciated in that striking title God in Search of Man, do capture Heschel's theology well: that God loves humans and that for some strange reason he seeks them out, makes covenants with them, bestows blessings upon them, and holds them as the apple of his eye. These themes are so grounded in the scriptures that one can hardly disagree, unless one is a deist or something of that ilk. But this is not a theology book; it develops no new argument and presents no theological thesis for discussion or debate.

In genre God in Search of Man is a book of meditations. The term "philosophy" in the subtitle means not systematic analysis but love of wisdom, the wisdom of the scriptures and the tradition. I am familiar with books of this kind from my Roman Catholic upbringing and seminary training. Early each morning in the seminary, beginning at 5:40 AM, we would meditate for twenty minutes in silence. As a focus for our meditation, we were directed to use meditation manuals, some better than others. The genre continues, perhaps exemplified by Kathleen Norris' Amazing Grace, which contains a series of thought-provoking passages on faith and life, each taking up but a few brief pages. The point was never to read the meditations so as to memorize their content or learn something not heretofore known. …