To those who say there is no God or if there is He can’t be known, I was rereading a book recently that remind me how close the atheist/agnostic is to encountering the Divine. They are always on the fringe of encountering Him. The book I was reading was written by the Jewish religious philosopher Martin Buber (1878-1965) in 1923 and is entitled I and Thou. It can make for difficult reading but it is worth wading though his deep waters of insightful thinking to unveil his thoughts. I will do my best to give clarity to Buber’s philosophical thoughts. If you are an atheist/agnostic you are closer to encountering Him than you may think.
Buber contends that all meaningful living is derived from relationships. The “I” of each individual seeks meaningful living and longs to come into the reality of a meaningful person by way of one or another of two distinct ways or relationships: the I-It or the I-Thou. What really determines the being of a person is the way they relate themselves to the beings, objects and events around them. In I-it relationship one detaches themselves from the “object” experienced and uses it as a tool for personal benefit, while in the I-Thou relation one participates in a dynamic and mutually shared and embraced relationship.
The I-it relationship, while the most comfortable and familiar relation, is not the primary relationship that discovers true meaning in life. The I-it relationship is one where one’s primary world is one of subjective experiencing. In other words we treat beings and events as objects or “its,” which we only experience with our natural senses, and such relations have limitations as to life’s meaning. In the I-it relation we use objects as tools for accomplishing personal goals and desires. In the I-it relationship experiencing takes place within the individual and not between persons. In the I-It relationship one sees everything and everyone as objects or “its” to be used for one’s personal benefit. As a result we miss the deeper meaning and fulfillment that can be found in life. Buber says that one “who lives with the ‘It’ relation alone is not a man.” In the I-It relation a person does not respond but only reacts to what is concrete and external, what is being experienced with the senses and mind.
Can life fully be known when we only approach life and others as objects or its? Real fulfillment and meaning requires participation, embracing, openness and involvement. It involves a real encounter, openness and genuine mutuality, which is the relationship of I-Thou. The I-Thou relation is one in which each person confirms the other as of unique value and not just an “it” or an object for one’s subjective benefit. An I-Thou relation requires openness on one’s part. We fail to experience the I-Thou relation because we become secure in the I-It relation where we find comfortableness. One involved in an I-Thou relationship experiences life on a higher plane of existence.
What Buber says about the I-It and I-Thou relationship has great significance for our encountering the Divine. As Buber writes, “One can have I-Thou relations with nature, with men, and with the divine…I-Thou is the living vitality of a meeting of spirit… between man and his Thou, like the air around him and in his lungs.”
Buber contends that reality is relational and that this flows from God, who is the Eternal Thou. The connecting thread between all relations is found in our openness to the Eternal Thou. In every earth-bound relationship that we experience there is an inner sense that there could be something more, something more lasting and more fulfilling. This “more” is an encounter with the Eternal Thou. Buber insightfully states, “In every sphere in its own way, through each process of becoming that is present to us, we look out toward the fringe of the eternal Thou; in each we are aware of a breath from eternal Thou; in each Thou we address the eternal Thou” (Buber, 1958). Buber is saying that in our every activity and relationship, His breath is present with us. Without an encounter with God life is but a shadow of what it was intended to be, only a fading reflection of the reality that could be.
Our safeness, however, with the I-It relationship hinders our encountering the Eternal Thou. Just as in the relationship of I and It we can never truly know another person and, as well, we can never know God. When we seek to prove His existence as an object among other existing things we will never encounter Him. To encounter an I–Thou relationship with the divine an individual has to be open to the possibility of embracing such a relationship.
Only when we open ourselves to One whose existence is beyond existing “things” and reach out and risk an encounter with the Eternal Thou does He reveal Himself. It is when one enters into an openness that is beyond the I-It with respect to what lays outside of one’s self, then one encounters the Eternal Thou. Such openness is uncomfortable because it requires one moving beyond the concrete of the familiar and reaching beyond the earth-bound relation of the I-It. But only as one does will one encounter the Divine.
As one opens themselves up unto the possibility of encountering in a relationship the Eternal Thou He will reveal Himself in the sparkling eyes of a child, in the glowing beauty of a sunrise or sunset, in the blossoming of a flower, in the fluttering of a beautiful butterfly, in the love shared between a friend or loved ones, in the stars twinkling in the sky, the myriad of colorful leaves on an autumn day, in the sun resting its warm rays upon your shoulders, and in the gentle breeze kissing your cheek. The revelation of Himself is a gift of grace which enhance one’s life beyond the I-it relationship.
Buber writes, “Meeting the Eternal Thou occurs in the full acceptance and hallowing of the ordinary and everyday… if you hallow this life you meet the living God… Existence will remain meaningless for you if you yourself do not penetrate into it with active [and embracing love and openness]. Everything is waiting to be hallowed by you, it is waiting to be disclosed in its meeting and to be realized in it by you. Meet the world with the fullness of your being and you shall meet Him.” If one desires the greater life hidden within life one encounters, as Buber says, “the unfathomable.” If one denies the greater life hidden within life one stands before “nothingness.” If one is open to the I-Eternal Thou relation, He will eventually be encountered in response to one’s openness.
Having an encounter with the Eternal Thou which is beyond the concrete existence of other existing “things,” is the cry of Isaiah, “Seek ye the LORD while he may be found, call ye upon him while he is near” (Is. 55:6). And it is in openness and embracing the reality that such a relationship is possible that one encounters the Divine Being behind all of life.
The Eternal Thou is near you today. He has revealed Himself in history in the person of Jesus Christ. Open the door of your heart to Him. Embrace the possibility of knowing Him and in so doing He will make Himself known to you. He is as near you as the air in your lungs.