Eclipse Torah: Martin Buber on the Eclipse of G*d

Such is the nature of this hour. But what of the next? 

Religion is essentially the act of holding fast to G*d. And that does not mean holding fast to an image that one has made of G*d, nor even holding fast to the faith in G*d that one has conceived. It means holding fast to the existing G*d. The earth would not hold fast to its conception of the sun (if it had one), nor to its connection with it, but with the sun itself.

In contrast to religion so understood, philosophy is here regarded as the process, reaching from the time when reflection first became independent to its more contemporary crisis, the last stage of which is the intellectual letting go of G*d.

This process begin with our no longer contenting ourselves, as pre-philosophical people did, with picturing the living G*d, to whom one formerly only called – with a call of despair or rapture which occasionally became its first name – as a Something, a thing among things, a being among beings, an It.

The beginning of philosophizing means that this Something changes from an object of imagination, wishes, and feelings to one that is conceptually comprehensible, to an object of thought.


…on the other side, in the development of religion itself….instead of understanding events as calls which make demands on one, one wishes oneself to demand without having to hearken. “I have,” we say, “power over the powers I conjure.” And that continues, with sundry modifications, wherever one celebrates rites without being turned to the Thou and without really meaning its Presence…..

One who is not present perceives no Presence.

…and now one who is seemingly holding fast to G*d becomes aware of the eclipsed Transcendence.

What is it that we mean when we speak of an eclipse of G*d which is even now taking place? Through this metaphor we make the tremendous assumption that we can glance up to G*d with our “mind’s eye,” or rather being’s eye, as with our bodily eye to the sun, and that something can step between our existence and G*d’s as between the earth and the sun. That this glance of the being exists, wholly unillusory, yielding no images yet first make possible all image, no other court in the world attest than that of faith. It is not to be proved; it is only to be experienced; we have experienced it. And that other, that which steps in between, one also experiences, today.


In our age, the I-it relation, gigantically swollen, has usurped, practically uncontested, the mastery and the rule….this I that is unable to say Thou, unable to meet a being essentially, is lord of the hour. This selfhood that has become omnipotent, with all the It around it, can naturally acknowledge neither G*d nor any genuine absolute which manifests itself to us as of non-human origin. It steps in between and shuts off from us the light of heaven.

Such is the nature of this hour. But what of the next? It is a modern superstition that the character of an age acts as fate for the next. One lets it prescribe what is possible to do and hence what it permitted. One surely cannot swim against the stream, one says. But perhaps one can swim with a new stream whose source is still hidden? In another image, the I-Thou relation has gone into the catacombs – who can say with how much greater power it will step forth! Who can say when the I-it relation will be directed anew to it assisting place and activity!

The most important events in the history of that embodied possibility called human begin are the occasionally occurring beginnings of new epochs, determined by forces previously invisible or unregarded. Each age is, of course, a continuation of the preceding one, but a continuation can be confirmation and it can be refutation.

Something is taking place in the depths that as yet needs no name. Tomorrow even it many happen that it will be beckoned to from the heights, across the heads of the earthy archons. The eclipse of the light of G*d is no extinction; even tomorrow that which has stepped in between may give way.

Martin Buber, from Eclipse of G*d, excerpted in The Writings of Martin Buber, ed. Will Herberg (1956)





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