Martin Buber: Philosophy of Religion

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William Peebles
Philosophy of Religion

Buber Essay

In part three of “I and Thou”, Martin Buber sets out to illustrated the paradoxical relationship between the properties of an infantine God as they apply to man’s quest for encounter. Buber states that God is both “the wholly other” and “the wholly same”, the “mysterium tremendum” but also the mystery of the obvious.

Buber gathers much of his terminology from the writings of Rudolf Otto. Otto stated that God is “the wholly other” and is experienced as the “mysterium tremendum”. This concept refers to the idea that an infinite god cannot reside in our finite world, thus God is everything outside of our normal realm of experience or everything not possible to ever fully comprehend. Because God is “the wholly other” and impossible to fully understand, God also has the quality of overwhelming mystery or “mysterium tremendum”. Our inability to break God down into facts and figures, turning him into and it rather than a You, shrouds God in an infinite mystery. While everything in our finite world can be measured by its boundaries, God is boundless and thus wholly the opposite of everything we can ever experience.

While Buber describes God as being wholly opposite and overwhelmingly mysterious, Buber also claims that God is ”the wholly same” and the mystery of the obvious. Here in lies the paradox in Buber’s description of the properties of God. God is both wholly different and wholly the same. Buber is not mistaken in saying this. God’s infinite existence does make him completely incomprehensible but only in the sense of an I-It interaction. In an I-You interaction, an interaction in which one can encounter the entirety of another, God is the eternal You. The need to encounter God is evident through all of our human encounters. As each human encounter inevitably peters out into experience, we sense, that there is something more that we want. In this way, we come to realize that we are longing...
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