It is objected that my fifth proposition in defense of theism (“Where is God in propositions about him? He is the is”) still belongs to the form God is P, “only using the copulative grammatically as a descriptor,” as Jim H. says. But this is evidence merely of the limitations of language. I am not seeking to define God, but to describe his presence. When Moses goes to the Israelites and says, “God of your fathers has sent me to you,” he warns, they will protest, “What is his name?” God replies: “Ehyeh-asher-ehyeh. . . . Thus shall you say to the Israelites, ‘Ehyeh sent me to you’ ” (Exod 3.13–14). A little later, after convincing the people (4.31) but then failing to secure the liberation of the Israelites in the first interview with Pharaoh (ch 5), Moses reproaches God. “Why did you send me?” he wails (5.22). God replies that Pharaoh will soon release Israel “because of a greater might.” Then he reintroduces himself to Moses: “I am YHVH,” he says. “I appeared to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob as El Shaddai, but I did not make myself known to them by my name YHVH” (6.2–3).
Is God lying? Has he a bad memory? Abraham invokes YHVH by name (Gen 12.8), Isaac builds an altar at Beersheba and does the same (26.25), and in his dream of a stairway reaching to the sky, Jacob is addressed by God, who stands beside him and says, “I am YHVH, God of your father Abraham and God of Isaac” (28.13).
But these incidents do not contradict God’s claim to Moses in Exod 6.3. According to me, what he did not make known to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob was the secret of his name, its meaning, which is rooted in the copula lihyot. In the Sabbath hymn “Adon Olam,” the Jews sing in praise: “V’hu hayah, v’hu hoveh, v’hu yiyeh—And he was! And he is! And he will be!” If you take the letters of the copula’s conjugation and recombine them, you end up with YHVH. As a student of mine once quipped, the name is a contraction of hayah and hoveh and yiyeh—sort of like “He wasiswillbe.” The name contains all possible conjugations of to be.
Now, usually the verb to be is suppressed and merely understood in Hebrew. When God addresses Israel at Sinai, for instance, he introduces himself by saying, “Anokhi YHVH eloheykhah—literally, “I YHVH your God” (Exod 20.2). Early in the Hebrew bible, though, the word is expressed, and in a most interesting form. The first words out of God’s mouth: “Y’hi or vayhi or” (Gen 1.3). The English translations do an injustice to the stark parallelism of the Hebrew. What is worse, they shift the tense, which remains the same when repeated in the Hebrew. Although not exactly right, this is closer than the traditional renderings: “God said, ‘Light is,’ and light is.” No cause-and-effect relationship is being implied, however. Rather the Hebrew is saying simply that light is because God says that light is. The is-ness of the light is God’s speech; that is, God himself.
God makes himself known by being. Heidegger’s first metaphysical question (“Why is there something rather than nothing?”) is not a problem for theists. Because he is. Or, rather, to answer in Hebrew: Why is there something rather than nothing? Is.
Sunday, March 08, 2009