In the first section of this book, we took as our starting point the involvement of God. And we saw that in the world of the Bible, God, in moving out to meet us, stimulates in us the urge, deep-rooted in our being, to burst out beyond the bonds of earthly finitude toward him. In pagan religions, such longings after God have always something of a dreamlike quality and the images used to express them are clearly projections of the human imaginations.
But man knows the problems inherent in his use of imagination; and he is therefore in mystical and negative theology fully prepared to see these dream images as having only relative significance, to inquire into what lies beneath them and ultimately to get rid of them altogether. For neither fantasy nor concept can express the true object of man’s real longing. Nor can he know this of himself; for only God can reveal it to him.
In the world of the Bible, this is different. Here God is represented in the act of setting out in front of man on a journey into a future, unknown and yet assured. And man advances toward him, who himself is this unknown future. As God goes before man, as on the journey through the wilderness, he makes man live in a state of perpetual setting out toward that future which alone will bring him fulfillment.
For there is no longer any question of man’s psychosomatic unity being separated out into its constituent elements (as in pagan religions) by his agonizing longing for transcendence (here an immortal soul, there a discarded mortal body, neither of which is any longer “man”). It is a question rather of man being led by the God who goes before toward a genuinely human fulfillment — to a land “flowing with milk and honey”.
The prospect of this land he enters, however, fills him with disappointment. For new pictures of new lands and of this land transformed and altered are projected by the prophets for the future (most strongly by the Deutero- and Trito-Isaiah); and their vision is of an earthly Jerusalem, shining with the power and glory of God for all to see, which is to be the center of the world that will finally come.
Once more the fulfillment of his hopes eludes him, and the images of the promises to come fade away into nothingness; or, to put this better: the eschatological pathos, alive in Israel from the beginning, became more and more accentuated so that the visions of the prophets lapsed into being but symbols of their transcending dynamic for the future, as Israel’s real feeling for the eschatological emerged in late Jewish apocalyptic in its purest form.
Here man’s future, which hitherto had been thought of in terms of the horizontal prolongation of his history, is now seen clearly as breaking in from above into the old world, fallen and beyond redemption, which cannot transform itself from within, but needs recasting in her new and final shape by some power from on high.
In the Old Testament, then, a rift opens up more and more clearly that was at least latently present when God first made the promise, but which had widened to almost intolerable proportions by the time of late Judaism. One can see this in the writings of the Qumran community, which in the plans for the final battle at the end of the age, when the promised Kingdom of God will finally break in, depict a violent scene in which man’s final efforts toward this end (in the carefully drawn-up plan of battle, which in its attention to detail foreshadow the plans that Marxism designs for its campaigns) converge with the mighty acts of God, who intervenes in this very battle with his two Messiahs, and brings about the final victory.
Any idea, however, that the plans of men coincide exactly with the action prepared by God or rather that the divine involvement will draw all human striving into the sphere of its own operation belongs to the sphere of the Utopian and belongs to a dimension outside time (if one looks at this in the perspective of this-worldly history). For neither the place nor the time of God’s inbreaking can be calculated in advance.
The dialectical processes of the Old Covenant go yet further. On the one hand, it becomes continually more clear that the sorrows of our mortal condition are closely associated with a state of subservience to the law (which in this sense means being the servants of an omnipotent God who imposes this law on man). Already in the Book of Job we find that such a situation leads to a fundamental kind of rebellion. Job appeals to a higher court of justice superior to either him or the Lord God, basically for the removal of the heteronomy that expresses itself as much in that kind of suffering that ends in death as in the imposition of the law.
In Judaism, as late as the works of Kafka, this kind of rebellion against a heteronomous guilt pronounced against a man from without and against an incomprehensible Lord who conceals Himself recurs in many different forms. But is not perhaps this heteronomy [vocab: Subordination or subjection to the law of another; political subjection of a community or state; - opposed to autonomy] presented together with the irremovable difference between man who is finite and creaturely and the God who is infinite and the Creator?
The only alternative therefore (if we look at this from the perspectives of the Old Covenant) is to inquire behind the law (which after all, as St. Paul says, only came afterward; see Romans 5:20), and return to Abraham’s Utopian faith in the resurrection of the dead (see Romans 4:17-25), for this first driving force of the Old Covenant was already pregnant with the final result, it is at work in the background of all prophetic activity (see Ezekiel 37; Isaiah 26:19), and at the same time its final aim is the removal of the heteronomy we have been talking about, because God’s law is to be instilled into human hearts so that men may obey it freely (see Jeremiah 31:33; Ezekiel: 11:19), and man will relate to God, not as a servant to his master but as a friend to his friend or as a child to his parents (see John 15:15; 8:35).
Under the Old Covenant, however, such an outlook is altogether excessive; and when it is combined with those tendencies always latent in man to rebel against the Lord his God, the result in modern Judaism is man being represented as by origin an autonomous being who has given himself a heteronomous law (perhaps he had to do this, as Freud and the later Scheler suggest, in order to reach civilization), who, however, is able to see through the limitations he has imposed upon himself (cf. not only Freud but also Bergson and Simmel) and must loose his inhibitions (Marcuse) in order to reach the source of his inner drives and of his power.
In this kind of Judaism, where the law is criticized out of existence as being something that merely “came afterwards”, and in “negative thinking”, freedom has the last and perhaps most puzzling word (Horkheimer, Adorno) and there the hopes of man and his history thrust them out into the sphere of the merely Utopian (Ernst Bloch), completely overturning all existing situations for the sake of the absolutely new, which exists only then. (Ludwig Rubiner: “Dasein itself does not exist, that which subsists does not exist, we ourselves are the first to make everything” [Der Mensch in der Mitte, 1920, p. 142.1)
Alternatively one can, instead of pointing to the thinking without rules of primitive man (Levy-Bruhl), manipulate the law system from the standpoint of one's own freedom (Wiener) or even equate law and nature as being primitively a structure without subject (Levi-Strauss).
Such is the dialectic of Judaism (as Hegel saw it), the contradiction in human nature becoming seething and virulent through the coming of God, a nature that has been created for a purpose, and now realizes that it has been set in motion toward that end, which by its own powers it could not attain.
The end toward which the whole world is orientated is that unity of divine and human freedom in Jesus Christ, which God alone can effect, for in Christ man finds his own self and is taken up whole and entire into God, in him the urge of Jewish messianic hopes is set at rest, provided that it is agreed to accept the synthesis as being God's grace, and not the goal that Israel is able to reach by dint of its own messianic power.
For that driving force innate in the chosen people leads horizontally into the historical future, but it also leads to the transcendence of this horizontal line. Israel, however, cannot herself resolve this difference, for it is the hollow space in which the figure of the God-man is to be inscribed, who has fulfilled the destiny of all men, even to death and the hopelessness of hell, and transcends this destiny by his resurrection from the dead.
For this reason, Jewish ideology in its brisance [vocab: The shattering effect of the sudden release of energy in an explosion.] as in its dialectic remains the enduring negative proof for the necessity of the Christ event. Jewish thought presses for a change in the structure of the world and of society, because their present structures are so closely allied in principle with the laws of aggression and death. It is always, however, only the structures of this world and this society that Judaism feels must be changed, because the messianic promise is directed toward a temporal future. Should Judaism succeed in changing the structures from the roots upward and lifting the law imposed from above from its hinges, then by this it would in fact bring about a change of heart. The heteronomy of servitude would lie behind us; we would have passed into a realm of freedom, a world of the positively human (Marx).
It is impossible, however, to imagine such a step being taken; it belongs to the sphere of the Utopian, because it implies the removal of that which is to be changed. Judaism, above all religions, ought to have known how to wait in expectation for God to act.
But instead of having the faith to wait for God, she took the management of the messianic kingdom into her own hands and either transformed the meaning of the law promulgated by God as the way to freedom, so that it became a “work” involving the taxing and burdensome labors of man’s own resources (whereas, in fact, it is only by love in its fullness, as St. Paul shows, that the law can truly be fulfilled), or else in the light of the prophecies of Utopia, she has totally excluded all God’s part from the law and, taking prophecy into her own hands, has made it into an enormous human achievement.
We can now begin to see the originality of Christianity in what it brings with it, what it demands and in what in itself alone promises.