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I and Thou by Martin Buber: A Short Emotional Response

buber 4I am continuing today with my week long summary and reflection on Martin Buber’s monumental work, I and Thou. If this confuses you, I recommend reading or re-reading my previous four posts on Buber’s work. I-thou represents the attitude of man in communion with God and his creation. I-It is the world of practical interaction, use and abuse. Both are necessary, but the one without the other warps into unseemly shapes. And so, we go on…

In I and Thou, I feel as though Martin Buber has begun a discussion on the nature of religion and the nature of man, his systems, his passions, and his thoughts that I must not, indeed cannot drop. I almost feel betrayed by his death, and by my own inability to dialogue at length with him on the implications of his ideas on my own existence as a Christian, and on my own struggles in a world, and a church, dominated by only one primary word—I-It.

One would ask to what degree Buber’s rejection of the propositional content of revelation affects his own view of Scripture, and whether his ideas set all religions on equal footing, saving, of course, those religions which lose the self, or propagate by nature the demonic.

It may be granted that communion of spirits goes beyond issues of propositions, but do his statements equal a denial that God communicates to men and through men concerning the issues of life, mission, and worship?

Does he believe that the Ten Commandments are a proper I-It complement to Moses’ I-Thou encounter with YHWH?

Does God have a specific will for man apart from communion of spirit?

What teleological end does he envision for those who do not ever walk in relation with the Eternal Thou? What remains for those whose religion consists of the use of idols, thrives on loss of the self in absorption, and operates by principles of magical manipulation? What will come of the demonic Thou to whom no one is a Thou?

In light of his discussion on the demonic Thou as the barrier of human history, what principles does he believe ought to be laid down for dealing with these men in both the public and private spheres of life? How does this affect his ideas about crime and punishment, his thoughts on war, and his theology on sin?

What should citizens do about corruption in government, and even in daily encounters with those whose sole pulse is toward the fulfillment of their own whim and the satisfaction of their own overgrown and deviant appetites?

It is one thing to say that one who comes from a meeting with the eternal Thou is not afraid to face the world, but how might one live wisely in it?

How might one move effectively between the Thou encounters of the spirit and the practical, ethical, and moral dilemmas of life? To say, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you”, as some reflection of the heart recognition of the personhood of those surrounding you does not immediately address the many complexities of living in a world full of men who don’t.

Some, who have had the opportunity to digest more of Buber’s writing than I have, may be able to propose some answers as to how Buber might answer my questions. I would welcome their input. Indeed, I have my own inclinations about how I might profitably answer these questions for myself… some might make you uncomfortable, some you might love, but all are worthy of patient and loving dialogue.

As it is, in spite of my many questions, Buber has given words, and articulate distinction, in a non-technical poetic sense, to the struggles of my own life and heart over the past thirty years. While a lot of bewilderment on the means by which one may find the golden mean between idealized visions of I-Thou and the practical demands of I-It remain, Buber has rejuvenated my hope that I just might be able to find some real meaning in my own life and work in the church before Christ, despite the seeming vanity of my efforts over three decades.

I highly recommend this work.

3 thoughts on “I and Thou by Martin Buber: A Short Emotional Response

  1. Josephus says:

    It almost seems as if Buber is discussing what Christians might call a “mountain top” experience with God, and what role or value we should place on it. What concrete examples does he give of I-Thou meetings?

    I question whether treating God as a “Thou” as opposed to an “It” is preferrable. Many prophets (and people) call upon God to act as God on their behalf, asking God to fulfill God’s covenant obligations to them. One who only experiences God as an I-Thou, is a reverant outsider, but not a marriage partner.

    I also wonder if Buber explores if God treats creation as both “It” and “Thou”. At times it might be inappropriate to treat God as a means to an end, as “our servant”, but would not the humble converse be us availing ourselves as an “It” to God to be used by God at God’s pleasure?

    Lastly, my American ears hear perhaps a critique against capitalism, i.e. which might be viewed as the pinacle of treating everything as I-It.

    I inately like that he pushes communion with the divine beyond the reaches of human manufacturing. But historically, did not God consent to interact with us in a system of God’s own choosing, the temple? Buber seems to push the realities of life as God’s covenant children beyond the scope of those children, at least in any regular or privleged sense. Sure, their relationship with God hinges on God’s participation, but has not God pledge to interact with us based on certain peramiters of covenant? One might argue whether such meetings occur “by faith” without any sensation of them, or whether such meetings are only “meetings” when they are sensed and thus mutually experienced.

  2. You’ve said a lot here. Each comment is worthy of a detailed response. Let me think on these a bit. If you don’t hear more in a few days, come back to this to remind me.

  3. Anonymous says:

    Difficult read but very thoughtful.

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