The Flight from God describes the experience of distancing oneself from God. When we are under the impression that we are running away and that we reach a space where God is absent, we discover that God is already there, inviting us to believe.
Max Picard was born into a Jewish family, in 1888, in Germany. He studied and practised medicine, but, dissatisfied with its evolutionary orientation, he turned to philosophy. In 1939 he became a Christian. The rabbinical heritage of his family is found in the sapiential style of his writing. Probably his most famous and translated book is The Flight from God, published in 1934.
Stylistically, the book is a poetic prose. Although it abounds in allegories, the symbols remain accessible to the contemporary reader as well. The force of the evoked images, as well as the description of social dissolution in the face of technologization and excessive urbanisation, have turned The Flight from God into an ever-relevant reading, both in the 20th and in the 21st century.
The title starts from the condition of the human whose first postlapsarian gesture is to flee from God. This gesture remains emblematic of the homo viator, the fleeing human—the human who distances himself from God in the useless attempt to find a lost self.
In industrialised society, flight has become generalised and transcends the individual. Picard observes that flight has become a way of life and creates moral relativism. Distancing oneself from the divine is not generated by any moral emotion, and this is reflected in all aspects of life: in human relations, in art, in economics, science, entertainment, and even in religion. As a result, it leaves many unfulfilled and in pain, causing humans to continuously search for alternative structures and meanings.
Picard points out that there is still a reminiscence in every person that will not give in to flight, and this is linked to love, which in turn sends us to God. Then, after exploring the flight, Picard proves that God is present in the world of flight, in man’s search—when we are under the impression that we are running away and that we reach a space where God is absent, we discover that God is already there, inviting us to believe.
The book has an edifying and formative dimension for the biblical vision of the world: it contrasts the structures of the world distanced from God with the structures of the world of faith; it identifies and discusses the causes of the collapse of modern culture and its attempts to fight with the spiritual dimension of the human, the tensions of the encounter between freedom and individuality, along with the observation of the individual’s perpetual vacillation between the world of flight and the world of faith.
Although culture seems to perpetuate the condition of the human fleeing from Divinity, Picard affirms the vital option that humans have: to recognise the vision of divine love for them. It is a book with a relatively open ending, since the acceptance of God and His world is within the space of faith.
Laurentiu Nistor is a pastor in the Seventh-day Adventist Church and a theology PhD student.