Responses and Reactions V
This is the fifth in a series of commentaries by the distinguished novelist NORMAN MAILER on selections from Martin Buber’s Tales of the Hasidim (Schocken Books).
The Fear of God
Once Zusya prayed to God: “Lord, I love you so much, but I do not fear you enough! Lord, I love you so much, but I do not fear you enough! Let me stand in awe of you like your angels, who are penetrated by your awe-inspiring name.” And God heard his prayer, and his name penetrated the hidden heart of Zusya as it does those of the angels. But Zusya crawled under the bed like a little dog, and animal fear shook him until he howled: “Lord, let me love you like Zusya again!” And God heard him this time also.
There is an existential logic in this story which leads to a root in the meaning of miracles. Zusya is ambitious, he is intellectually ambitious, he wishes to feel a fear of God because he is secretly confident he will be able to withstand that fear and so acquire more knowledge of the universe, more revelation of the secrets of God and Nature. The request is Faustian. Yet God in revealing Himself further to Zusya terrifies him profoundly. Why? Does He terrify Zusya because He is Jehovah, a God of wrath and rectitude, an essentialist’s God? Or is the fear which comes over Zusya a part of the profound fear God feels Himself, a fear that His conception of Being (that noble conception of man as a creature of courage and compassion, art, tenderness, skill, stamina, and imagination, exactly the imagination to carry this conception of Being out into the dark emptiness of the universe, there to war against other more malignant conceptions of Being), yes, a fear that precisely this noble conception will not prevail, and instead a wasteful, slovenly, slothful, treacherous, cowardly, and monot- onous conception of Being will become the future of man-such a fear must for a God be insupportable. It is the heart of existential logic that God’s ultimate victory over the Devil is no more uncertain than the Devil’s victory over God–either may conquer man and so give Being a characteristic Good or Evil, or indeed each may exhaust the other, until Being ceases to exist or sinks through seas of entropy into a Being less various, less articulated, less organic, more like plastic than the Nature we know. What a fear is this fear in God that He may lose eventually to the Devil. What abysses of anxiety and pits of woe in such a contemplation. Zusya asking to fear God more, is given instead a vision of God’s fear. Like any other man, Zusya draws back in terror.
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