Three Questions For Those Who Seek God

August 27, 2019

"Listen to me, you pursuers of justice, you who seek ADONAI: consider the rock from which you were cut, the quarry from which you were dug. Consider Avraham your father and Sarah, who gave birth to you; in that I called him when he was only one person, then blessed him and made him many. For ADONAI will comfort Tziyon, will comfort all her ruined places, will make her desert like 'Eden, her 'Aravah like the garden of ADONAI. Joy and gladness will be there, thanksgiving and the sound of music" (Isaiah 51:1-3).

These three verses come at the very end of the Haftarah for Shabbat Ekev. As we consider them, three questions emerge that have everything to do with the authenticity and quality of our spiritual lives––or the lack thereof.

Considering these questions will assist you in the positive introspection our tradition values at the turn of the years, which will be upon after the month of Elul, at Rosh Hashanah.

The First Question: Who Are We Listening To?

Who’s got our ear?  Who’s got our heart?  What voice, what perspective is the bottom line for each of us today? What voice are we seeking to identify and follow amidst the incessant chatter of our culture?

This is not an idle question, but one for which we will someday be obliged to give an answer. While some might assume this question is easy to answer, it is not. Let's take another look and find out why.

There are many Yeshua believers who have wedded their faith in God to a political philosophy, or to a political leader, or to some group that opposes a given political philosophy or leader

They have a well-defined bottom line on all matters of morality, the economy, immigration, world politics, gender-identity, Zionism. They have it all down.

But more often than not, such people are only listening to themselves and to their crowd. They live in an echo chamber where nothing new is allowed to get in—no new word, no new perspective—just ideas that confirm "what we already know.”

The problem here is that God is not a Democrat. He is not a Republican. He is not even an American. And to equate Americanism, Republicanism, Liberalism, Conservatism, or any other "ism" with the voice of God is idolatry. Doing so is no harmless blunder. Rather, such idolatry, such subsuming the perspective of God within the fashions of the day is a horrible thing, a stench in God's nostrils, and the smoke from that fire obscures rather than clarifies our vision of God.

Yeshua said of himself, “My sheep know my voice and they follow me?” Is that me? Is that you? For some it is never us. For others of us, sometimes. For many of us, “I don’t know.”

God calls us higher. He calls us to cultivate and guard a mindset in which the voice of the God of Israel, his perspective, is always the bottom line for us. He calls us to a habitual attitude of radical openness to reconsidering our own horizons due to having glimpsed his. We must crave to hear his voice. It is not enough to say we are "open to it"—we should hunger to hear his voice. and therefore earnestly seek it. Amos spoke of a time of national spiritual blight, when God would "send a famine through the land-- not a famine of food or a thirst for water, but a famine of hearing the words of the LORD" (Amos 8:11). Finding this prospect to be terrifying is a mark of spiritual vitality. Failing to be phased by the prospect of such a famine betokens the diagnosis given by Isaiah at the beginning of his book,

"The whole head is sick,
the whole heart diseased.
From the sole of the foot to the head
there is nothing healthy,
only wounds, bruises and festering sores
that haven’t been dressed or bandaged
or softened up with oil" (Isaiah 1).

Before we move on, let's consider one more word about alertness to the voice of God.

The Reticular Activating System

To be a new mother is to volunteer for serial exhaustion. Despite this exhaustion there is something we all stand to learn from mothers and how they sleep––or don't. The mother may be completely exhausted and often will be. She is asleep and a car alarm goes off in the neighborhood. She barely notices. A police helicopter goes over the house. She barely stirs. But let her precious baby cry out two rooms away and she is out of bed and off to the rescue.

Or picture yourself in a crowd, perhaps a ball park or a busy mall. People surround you, and the hubbub of crowd noise is an incessant drone. But what happens if someone out there calls your name? You are instantly hyper-focused, turned toward the source, looking to connect with the one calling you.

This capacity to selece a noise or voice out of an undifferentiated background is what is known as our R.A.S., our Reticular Activation System. This names how our brain is wired and habituated to focus on whatever it is that we love and that we have made important to ourselves. Without even trying, when such a cue happens in our context, we are instantly on the alert.

We need to develop the same capacity with God, through our valuation of His input in the reading of the Word, in hearing it preached and taught by gifted people, and through a practiced sensitivity to the subtle and vaired ways his Spirit nudges us. We need to value and love his subtle and transformative was of influencing us.

So again, who are you listening to? What are you listening for? How important is the voice of God to you?  Or are you just as happy marching to a different drummer?

The Second Question: How Can We Know We Are Seekers of God?

The second question is this: How can we know if we are this kind of person, for whom hearing and following the voice of the Shepherd of our souls is the bottom line?  In other words, how can we know we are seekers of God? The text provides an answer: “you pursuers of justice, you who seek ADONAI.” God equates being seekers of justice with being seekers of God

Do our values, does our social conduct, do our political commitments reveal us to be people who seek justice as an overruling non-negotiable priority?  Or do we seek safety? Do we seek power? Do we obsess about denying power to them? Is that what it’s all about for us?

Recently, the media hovered over an election for the Marysville, Michigan City Council, where sixty-seven year old candidate Jean Cramer responded to the prospect of attracting foreign-born residents to the community by saying she wanted to "keep Marysville a white community as much as possible." Now, of course you are almost surely not the kind of separatist this woman is. But for some people establishing distance from people unlike themselves whether racially, economically, culturally, or politically is the lodestone of their lives. It should take little thought to realize that such commitments are unsuited to defining the directionality of the people of God.

As we go into the High Holy Days, the Word of the LORD makes harsh demands upon us. These demands reminds us of what it is we must seek if we would be identified as God-seekers:

"He has told you, humanity, what is good,
and what Adonai is seeking from you:
Only to practice justice, to love mercy,[
    and to walk humbly with your God" (Micah 6:8).

If you want to make sure you are a person who seeks God, then answer the question: Do you seek justice, love mercy and walk humbly with your God? To the extent these things matter to you, then you are a God-seeker. And to the extent that these things seem inconvenient, secondary, unrealistic or unimportant to you, you are not, no matter how religious you are.

The Third Question: How Big Are Our Expectations?

Our text reminds us of this:

Consider Avraham your father and Sarah, who gave birth to you; in that I called him when he was only one person, then blessed him and made him many. For ADONAI will comfort Tziyon, will comfort all her ruined places, will make her desert like 'Eden, her 'Aravah like the garden of ADONAI. Joy and gladness will be there, thanksgiving and the sound of music. 

Abraham and Sarah are the rock from which we Jews where hewn—we are connected to them. And all whom the God of Israel calls into his spiritual family are children of Abraham by faith––connected by God's mercy to Abraham and Sarah.

We are enfolded in their covenantal promises

We are part of their spiritual family

And as God was with them, he will be with us

Do we believe this?

Remember they started with nothing. They were respectively ninety and one hundred years old when their first child was born

They followed the voice of the Good Shepherd to a land they did not even know, and in the process, Abraham became a very rich man, with an entourage of hundreds of people. When his nephew Lot was captured in an act of war, Abraham went out to rescue him with 318 trained men born in his household. These were not his descendants, but rather his entourage, his posse. This was a powerful man. Think of him as God's sheik!

This is the man to whom God promised that his descendants would be like the stars of heaven and like the sand on the seashore.

What is the size of our expectations? Do we believe that we have a God that big, who can do in and through our lives things as great as these?

Returning to our original Isaiah context (51:1-3), we should remember that this word comes at a difficult time for Judah, a time of anticipated exile, judgement and defeat, ADONAI’s promise to Judah is total. He connects it with his track record with Abraham and Sarah. 

Just as God took Abraham and Sarah from nothing to extraordinary blessing, and just as he remains the same God today, so in the future he will reverse Judah’s fortunes, to a time of blessing and fruitfulness, a time of thanksgiving and the sound of music. And so he will do for us as well.

Listen for God's voice. Seek it. Seek him. And find more blessing than you can contain.

For ADONAI will comfort Tziyon, will comfort all her ruined places, will make her desert like 'Eden, her 'Aravah like the garden of ADONAI. Joy and gladness will be there, thanksgiving and the sound of music. 

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5 comments on “Three Questions For Those Who Seek God”

  1. What a stirring message, Rabbi Dauermann. I needed to hear this, at this very moment.

    I found myself uneasy in answering the question, "Who's got my ear? Who's perspective is my bottom line?"

    Your post here gives me new clarity. Thank you.

    1. Thank you for your comment, Judah, and for your confession that the question "Who's got my ear? Who's perspective is my bottom line?" made you uneasy. As the old saying goes, God seeks to comfort the afflicted and to afflict the comfortable. May all of use know a holy unease at this season, and amidst that uneasiness, may we have our ears attuned to hear his voice. Blessings to you and yours.

  2. I'd like to pose a question for further consideration, about *how* to seek G-d. You cited Micah 6:8, Stuart -- specifically, its admonition to "practice justice, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God" -- but it seemed to me that you neglected the subsequent question about how to do this or what the terms even mean. Perhaps you thought that the answer might be so obvious that it didn't require explicit invocation. I'm not so sure how obvious it may be. How should one determine the definition of "justice", for example? Islam has a well-defined system of "sharia" by which it claims to administer justice. However, I'm pretty sure that Americans, in particular, would not wish to live under that sort of so-called "justice". Americans, of course, also have well-defined laws and notions of justice, and pledge themselves to pursue "liberty and justice for all". The American view is based on older views that owe much to the "Enlightenment" and the "Renaissance" in Europe, as well as to the Jewish bible and the apostolic writings that reflect it.

    However, the Jewish prophet Micah was addressing a Jewish audience, even though his phrasing that addressed "adam" indicates also that a wider humanity was in view. Nonetheless it is fair to infer that his notion of how his prescription was to be interpreted would have been rooted firmly in the Torah and in the Hebrew language. Its citation of "mishpat" which we render as "justice", implies the existence of courts and deliberations and principles of evidence. Its citation of "hesed", which was rendered here as "mercy" (as in many English translations), implies also the notions of love and kindness that recognize the value of all human beings and their implicit "rights" that must be considered and valued, which can be appreciated by one's own sense of how one may wish to be treated also by others. Its citation of "hatzne'a lechet", rendered as "walking humbly", qualifies that conduct by juxtaposing it with the Presence of G-d. This offers a measure of scale which fully justifies humility vis-a-vis the Infinite Eternal Judge, and it offers a sense of relationship by which G-d is not merely "Other" but is also to be viewed as intimately close. These are merely the linguistic implications. Developing a comprehensive appreciation of their meaning depends on examining how such terms and their synonyms are used throughout the Tenach. Examples may be found also in Talmud, from which subsequent Jewish jurisprudence and its basis in Torah developed.

    While I think your point well-taken, Stuart, about not allowing any particular political philosophy or leader or fad to take precedence over the interpretation of matters of morality, the economy, immigration, world politics, gender-identity, Zionism, et al, I'd like to amplify that by asserting two things: one, that the various "isms" are not equal in value; two, that all of them need to be subordinated to and evaluated by HaShem's principles as illustrated in His Torah instructions and their prophetic elaboration. Hence we are not talking about "seeking God" in any generic sense; but rather is a very specific sense of seeking to ally with the One-and-Only G-d HaShem, as distinct from any of the other gods and values that may be exalted in any other context. Let us be clear and specific that the Islamic representation of a one god, called Allah, is not the same god as HaShem. Their characteristics are different; and "Allah" resembles more closely one of the ancient "Ba'alim" rather the Creator Who chose Avram and covenanted with a specific subset of his descendants to carry His principles for proper human behavior forward through human history. These days it seems particularly important to emphasize the limits of ecumenism, and the need to insist that distinctions be acknowledged.

    Similarly the exalted personages of other religions and their values must likewise be subordinated and evaluated. We may find that many of their values are consonant with HaShem's Torah. His values predate the Torah, just as He does Himself, and all humanity may be traced to the sons of Noa'h who all had at least some vestigial memory of HaShem's prehistorical instructions to the human family. But, parochial as it may seem, there is only one G-d in heaven or on earth, and He is HaShem. Even Christians must subordinate themselves to that fact. Rav Shaul was quite explicit in Phil.2:5-11 that haRav Yeshua ben-Yosef is a separate being from G-d the heavenly Father, regardless of the honored purpose assigned before his birth which he accomplished well to merit the exalted position at HaShem's side. But there is only One Power in heaven, explicitly presented as such in Is.45, despite the honor to be accorded to the special agents through whom He accomplishes wonders, be they in the form of an angel or the form of a man. Yohanan's apocalyptic vision envisioned the Lamb-who-was-slain standing before the throne of the Most High, not usurping the position of Him-Who-sits-on-the-throne, nor squeezing-in to sit next to Him on the same throne, nor sitting on His lap. These key disciples of Rav Yeshua, as well as the prophet Isaiah, seem to have a clearer understanding than appears in later-developed Christian doctrine.

    Rav Yeshua himself, of course, was completely subordinate to his Father HaShem, serving as an example for his disciples. Hence, to follow his shepherdly voice is in no manner a departure from the pursuit of Hashem's ways as elucidated in His Torah instructions. Indeed, his sacrificial role facilitates it. His Jewish disciples who dedicate themselves to greatness in the pursuit of the kingdom of heaven that he advocated must be more diligent and righteous about performing and teaching Torah, in all its finest details, than even the scribes and Pharisees whom he had commanded them to obey. His gentile disciples must, then, emulate the Jewish ones in all matters of Torah which may be applied properly to non-Jews who embrace the Jewish covenant while not becoming obligated members of it. They must look past the obvious identifying Jewish signs and practices of tallit, tefillin, circumcision, kashrut, kippot, and the like, to emulate the deeper practices and mitzvot of justice, loving-kindness, humility, dedication, study, and honor and respect toward fellow disciples in particular and fellow humans in general, all of which illustrate and constitute their allegiance to HaShem.

    And, lest anyone lose sight of proper priorities, as Rav Yeshua excoriated the ancient scribes and Pharisees of his era for having done (cif: Mt.23:23), let's likewise encourage his Jewish disciples toward performing the greater matters of Torah without neglecting any lesser ones. As we enter the month of Elul and pray "sli'hot" in preparation for the Days of Awe in which we Jews confess as a nation our communal shortcomings, as distinct (we may hope) from our individual ones, let us bear in mind this perspective on what it means to seek HaShem and exercise actively our allegiance to His covenant that was made with all of our people -- the House of Israel and the House of Judah, together as one Jewish people who may minister to those outside who embrace our covenant with the help of our ben-Yosef messiah in pursuit of righteousness and redemption for themselves and for their represented nations.

    1. You assume of me a lack of nuance that does not apply. It is obvious that Torah and its implied halachic discussion factors in in spelling out the implications of the more general terms from Micah. I don't know why you assumed I would think otherwise. Shalom for now.

      1. It was not nuance that I was addressing, Stuart, but definition. Nor was I assuming or inferring anything except the possibility that you might have considered something so obvious that it didn't require explicit definition. Your reply seems to confirm that suspicion. But whether obvious or implicit, we're apparently agreed nonetheless on the subsequent direction of study for those who take seriously your three questions above. 'Hodesh Tov, and Shabbat Shalom.

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