Here’s the second part of Caitlin Hubler’s essay. For part one, start here.

For too long, conceptions of scriptural authority have become identical with notions of scripture’s immutability and containment. However, as surprising as it might be to modern sensibilities, the scriptural text of late Second Temple Judaism was both open and sacred.

Jews living in the late Second Temple period believed that God would always be revealing more of himself. They were under no illusions that the whole of scripture had, at last, come to them. Importantly, this did not resign them to disillusionment or despair. On the contrary, all the evidence from Qumran seems to indicate that, for the Jews of the late Second Temple period, whatever holy texts they possessed, this intuition remained stirring: “There must be, or must have been, or one day might be, more than this.” How could the totality of God’s revelation be contained in any group of texts? If God had nothing more to say, would Israel’s story then be finished? God was telling a long story that could by nature never be contained in the finitude of their scrolls.

Jews of the late Second Temple period were wise to recognize the gift that scripture was to them, and were similarly wise to stop short of identifying their particular received texts as the promise of scripture fully fulfilled. Although the scriptures take a different shape today, a surprising deal of wisdom can be gleaned from this disposition.

There is a spiritual maturity in being able to receive what one is given without making it into more or less than what it is. It requires a balancing act, walking a tightrope wherein one wavers between the twofold dangers of pride at having received so much and apathy at having received so little. As a result, occupying this already-and-not-yet space that is the Christian life necessarily demands that a person live with some degree of prolonged unfulfilled desire.

In our consumeristic American culture, we typically conceive of unfulfilled desire as negative, an unwelcome presence to be avoided at all costs. This is not without reason: I will be the first to affirm that the actual experience of living with unfulfilled desire is much less rosy than sitting around attempting to wax poetic about it. But a persistent, even painful sense of longing is not evidence of an inauthentic spiritual life. It is simply a sign that this world is not all there is. As C.S. Lewis said, “If I find in myself a desire which nothing in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world.” To put it bluntly: longing belongs. And if it does, we can trust that it belongs for a reason. Is it possible that even our deepest unfulfilled longing could be used by God not as a means of discipline but as a compass pointing to our true home?

Unfulfilled longing is not an anomaly but is rather an essential experience of be(com)ing human, and our responses to such longings make up the hope-filled journey of the Christian life. Caputo’s idea of “being-toward” might describe the process of responding to our unfulfilled desires. Perhaps God gives us these vacuums in our souls to draw out of us a greater and greater hope in the One who is the ultimate object of all desire.

God will give what God will give, nothing more and nothing less. This essential truth of the Christian life is encoded into God’s own name as told to Moses: “I will be who I will be.” It is ours to wait with joyful expectation as we receive what is, although present, also still “to come.”

The famous “Great Psalms Scroll” found at Qumran, 11QPsa, contains one especially poetic passage describing the revelation David received from God, illustrating the unbounded nature of revelation:

And David, son of Jesse, was wise, and luminous like the light of the sun, and a scribe,
and discerning, and perfect in all his paths before God and men.
And YHWH gave him a discerning and enlightened spirit.
And he wrote psalms: three thousand six hundred;
and songs to be sung before the altar over the perpetual offering of every day,
for all the days of the year: three hundred and sixty-four;
and for the Sabbath offerings: fifty-two songs;
and for the offerings of the first days of the months,
and for all the days of the festivals, and for the Day of Atonement: thirty songs.
And all the songs which he spoke were four hundred and forty-six.
And songs to perform over the possessed: four.
The total was four thousand and fifty.
All these he spoke through prophecy which had been given to him from before the Most High.

The number 4,050 is not meant to be exact but to “overwhelm us with numbers.” These are not references to other psalms within the collection but to an unseen, imagined corpus. As Derrida might say, “The corpus remains immeasurably vaster than the library supposed to hold it.” Even if these psalms may never be accessed, what is important is that God has been at work, continually communicating with Israel’s leaders since the time of David. No scroll could contain the totality of that revelation. Instead, the open nature of the text is what ensures that God will always have more to say. This passage reveals a resilient hope in and pride for the holy texts it references: texts that, though elusive, collectively gesture towards the God who is their source.

Image credits: Osama Shukir Muhammed Amin.