Islamic Garden

Islamic Garden
Islamic Garden in Lausanne, Switzerland

Thursday, July 5, 2007

The Wise Heart and The Shaking of the Foundations

In another reputable commentary entitled "Surat al-Fatiha - Foundation of the Qur'an" by British-born Dr. Hamid Algar, who received his Ph.D in Islamic Studies from Cambridge University in 1965, he makes references to many commentators who suggest relatively "restricted interpretations" about the errancy of the Jews and Christians:

"Those who have incurred anger" are said to be the Jews and "those who are straying" are said to be the Christians.

Yet the Divine Revelation in Sura 5:85 speaks to the closeness of the Christians to Islam:

"And nearest among them in love
To the Believers wilt thou
Find those who say,
"We are Christians":
Because among these are
Men devoted to learning
And men who have renounced
The world, and they
Are not arrogant."

So, we may do well to consult one of these men who are "devoted to learning."
I am thinking of the world renowned Christian theologian Paul Tillich, who says this about Divine Wrath, in his book "The Shaking of the Foundations:"

"Death is the work of the Divine wrath: "For all our days are passed away in thy wrath, we bring our years to an end as a sigh" - as short as a sigh, and as full of sorrow as a sigh. The idea of Divine wrath has become strange to our time. We have rejected a religion which seemed to make God a furious tyrant, an individual with passions and desires who committed arbitrary acts. This is not what the wrath of God means. It means the inescapable and unavoidable reaction against every distortion of the law of life, and above all against human pride and arrogance. That reaction, through which man is thrown back into his limits, it not a passionate act of punishment or vengeance on the part of God. It is the reestablishment of the balance between God and man, which is disturbed by man's elevation against God.

The poet expresses his profound understanding of the relation between God and man in the statement that God sets our innermost secrets in the light of His face. God's anger is not directed against our moral shortcomings, against special acts of disobedience to the Divine order. It is directed against the secret of our personality, against what happens in us and to us, unseen by men, unseen even by ourselves. This, our secret, determines our fate, more than anything visible. In the realm of our visible deeds we may not feel that we deserve the wrath of God - misery and tragedy. But God looks through the veils which hide our secrets. They are manifest to Him. Therefore, we feel every day the burden of being under a power which negates us, which disintegrates us and makes us unhappy. This is the wrath under which we endure special failures and special sufferings.

This is the situation of all men. But not all men know it. "Yet who knoweth the power of thine anger, and who of us dreads thy wrath? So teach us to count our days that we may get a heart of wisdom!" The 90th Psalm tries to teach us the truth about our human situation, our transitoriness and our guilt. It does what the great ancient tragedies did. They revealed to all the people of the city, gathered in the theatre, what man is; they showed the people that the greatest, the best, the most beautiful, the most powerful - all - stand under the tragic law and the curse of the immortals. They wanted to reveal the tragic situation of man, that is, his situation before the Divine. He becomes great and proud and tried to touch the Divine sphere, and he is cast into destruction and despair. This is what the psalmist wanted to reveal to the righteous and unrighteous people of his nation - what they were; what man is.

But the psalmist knew that men, even if shaken for a moment, forget their fate. He knew that men live as if they are to live forever, and as if the wrath of God did not exist. Therefore, he asks us to count our days, to consider how soon they shall come to an end. He prays God that He Himself may teach us that we must die.

The psalmist does not think that realization of the truth of what he has been saying will cast man into despair. On the contrary, he believes that just this insight can give us a heart of wisdom - a heart which accepts the infinite distance between God and man, and does not claim a greatness and beatitude which belongs to God alone.

The wise heart is the heart which does not try to hide this from itself, which does not try to escape into a false security or a false cynicism. The wise heart is the heart which can stand this knowledge courageously, with dignity, humility, and fortitude. This wisdom is implicit in every word of the psalm. It is the greatest wisdom that man, having felt the tragedy of life, achieved in the ancient world."

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