The sense of peril resulting from direct contact with the divine ground has nothing to do with any ideas that the people are sinful or the god wrathful. It is more like the famous question of the Bhagavad Gita: “Suppose a thousand suns should rise together in the sky,” what would happen to our reality? How can the individual hope to survive contact with Source? Source incarnates all the energy and power in the Cosmos and infinitely beyond.
Presence by its very nature overwhelms all individual existence.
This strange and awesome paradox is resolved not by theory, but in the very experience of the encounter itself. The living presence of the divine “which is the suchness and substance of all that is” not only IS but is also FOR man. The person experiences an overpowering concern, in which they are held, cared for, recognized, and loved–within the very encounter itself. So the paradox of the encounter is that it is, on one hand, overwhelming and at the same time radically affirming. The individual is rendered powerless, almost lifeless before the divine, even as the individual is enlivened and empowered.
The core of the encounter is three fold. The revelation of love and concern for man, the calling of man to responsibility and action, and a radical affirmation of the dignity and meaning of personhood and individuality.
To sense this more deeply, hear directly the description of the encounter by of one of the great master prophets Ezekiel, “I fell on my face, then the spirit entered me and set me on my feet and spoke with me.” Ezekiel is overpowered and yet retains his personal identity. In all of the reports of the encounter, the same paradoxical quality is apparent. The divine reveals itself as all consuming energy, and at the same moment, hides the full intensity of infinity, holding the prophet in the protective embrace of divine love. Overwhelmed by the presence in the encounter, man finds himself affirmed. There can be no encounter with nothing. If human individuality is overwhelmed into nothingness, there can be no encounter. God invests with man the evolutionary impulse to stand up again and unfold his individuality. Even as he experiences his nothingness, he is affirmed as dignified, adequate, responsible, and beloved. Man is granted a measure of independence. He is free to be himself because God cares for and affirms him. God hides in his revelation in order to preserve the personality of man. The Wholly other reveals itself as friend, sustainer, preserver. This is what the prophets used to call the Humility of God.
So we see that the divine self-revelation in the encounter is dual. Radical presence, which is overwhelming, coupled with radical love, which is affirming of human dignity and preserving of human individuality.
The encounter invites man into fellowship with God. Communion and even Union are the divine invitation. But for the prophet and the Western spirituality that he birthed, there can be no identity between man and God, for in identity man is absorbed and the fellowship is lost.
For more of this essay, see Part 1, Part 2, or Part 4.
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