Affirming Life: Learning from Martin Buber

Ted Grimsrud—May 27, 2011

“Some Mennonite theologians express a growing sentiment that…Mennonites should integrate their theology more fully with that of Christendom.”  However, “perhaps there are other traditions which might be equally helpful theologically for a dissenting tradition, such as Judaism.  It is urgent before going too far down the road the road of Christendom that other options and theological goals be tested.”[1] Perry Yoder, Old Testament professor at Associated Mennonite Biblical Seminary wrote these words nearly twenty years ago. They are probably even more relevant today.

Yoder’s warning provides the context for my exploration of the insights of Martin Buber, a Jewish theologian who lived from 1878 to 1965, first in Austria and Germany, and then, after 1938, in Israel.  Buber’s most famous book was called I and Thou [I will use the translation by Walter Kaufmann published by Scribners in 1970; page numbers from this book will be in parentheses in the text of this essay.]

I find I and Thou to be a difficult book and hope only to scratch the surface of Buber’s thought.  What I want to offer is not so much an objective summary of Buber’s thinking, but what I could call “reflections stimulated by Martin Buber’s book I and Thou.”

I will organize my reflections around five general themes: one, that the heart of reality is relationships; two, that God is a You and not an It; three, that all of life is spiritual; four, that reality is trustworthy; and five, that life is to be lived in the present. Continue reading “Affirming Life: Learning from Martin Buber”