What is God – Part 9 – God as Voice

See below for links to parts 1-8

OK, if we admit that we are hearing voices, we can get into trouble!  Of course, that isn’t the point.  I don’t actually hear God say to me “Well, Dan, did you have a Good day?  And how many mitzvot did you perform today?

Yet, as I have said repeatedly in this series of blogs, I do have some experience of transcendence.  For instance, I believe that people have a right to healthcare.  Where did we get that right?  Certainly not just because a bunch of us agreed on that, because then it could be taken away if the agreement were to change, and that does a lot of damage to the notion of “inalienable rights.”  (Something that is “inalienable” can not be separated from the whole.  It is not something you can remove.)

And it can’t be that our rights come from a document.  We had rights before the Constitution was written; the Bill of Rights doesn’t create the rights, it merely recognizes and empowers them.  We had the rights before we wrote that document.  In another of our important documents, we called this “self-evident,” and that these rights came from our “Creator.”

Philosophers call these “natural rights.”  They arise out of the nature of what it means to be a human being.  It is why we can say that the way women are treated in a third of the world offends our sense of what is just.  That they exist as humans makes them deserving of the rights they are being denied.

And so these rights must come from somewhere else.  In my view, this “someplace else” is the mystery that I keep referring to as “transcendence.”  It is mysterious, and therefore ultimately unknowable.  But not beyond our experience.

Because, everyone once in a while, we hear a “still small voice within us” that makes it plain what is just and what is unjust.  We hear a “still small voice of conscience” that tells us what is right and what is wrong.  Sometimes the voice is “still, clear,” and sometimes it is “whispering in the mind.”  And the reason we take notice is because that voice is “speaking the truths the heart knows.”  The power of these experiences is exactly there, when the voice we hear is consistent with the experiences that our hearts have already had.


I try never to be certain about things.  (Very “post-modern” of me!)  But when a metaphor sings to me, when it captures very well my experience of God, the meaning in the mystery, I can’t help but listen.  “Faintly heard, a voice not ours.

God’s Voice is, for me, one of the more powerful metaphors we find in our liturgy.  It recurs often in the Gates of Prayer.  I have only noticed it once in our current siddur, in a prayer to end the Friday Evening Service, which I don’t believe we have ever used.  I miss the still, small voice that seems to speak such volumes to me.

Dan Swartzman has been teaching in our Adult Education program for many years.  Dan is a professor at UIC, where he teaches ethics, law and nonprofit management.  He and his family have been members of Temple Sholom for 23 years.

For part 1 go to http://www.sholomchicago.org/2013/05/07/what-is-god-part-1/
For part 2 go to http://www.sholomchicago.org/2013/05/30/what-is-god-part-2-is-god-a-person/
For part 3 go to http://www.sholomchicago.org/2013/06/14/what-is-god-part-3-god-as-a-metaphor/
For part 4 go to http://www.sholomchicago.org/2013/06/28/what-is-god-part-4-creator/
For Part 5 go to http://www.sholomchicago.org/2013/07/12/what-is-god-part-5-you-are-holy-because-god-is-holy/
For part 6 go to http://www.sholomchicago.org/2013/07/19/what-is-god-part-6-god-as-a-metaphorical-helper/
For part 7 go to: http://www.sholomchicago.org/2013/07/26/what-is-god-part-7-god-as-rulemaker/
For part 8 go to: http://www.sholomchicago.org/2013/08/09/what-is-god-part-8-god-as-light/