Netzach: Ibn Gabirol on Eternity

Black hole HubbleNetzach: I translate it as “endurance” and as “eternity.”

“Eternity” fits when I imagine the sefirot as qualities of the Divine Itself. Each quality comes forward in turn, dominating the energy of a season or an era. At times, God is Love, or Judgement, or Beauty. God is also Eternity: a stable constant, no matter how quickly life seems to change.

“Endurance” fits when I confront the sefirot as energies of my own inner life. What spiritual powers help me find my way? Unconditional love, informed judgment, and appreciation of beauty. And endurance of life’s inescapable roller-coaster of emotion and health, suffering and joy, choices and chances.

Medieval philosophers actually debated whether God is “eternal” or “enduring.”

An eternal God, they said, exists outside of time. Time has its place only in the created world. It is a unit of motion, based on the rotations of planets, moons, and stars. It helps us measure change of all kinds. God, who is not a unit of physical measurement, has no place in the system of time.

An enduring God exists in time — in all of time. God was in the past, is in the present, and will be in the future. Time, like every created thing, existed in the mind of God before creation. God just sees it and lives it differently, all at once.

Both visions of God comfort me. The Eternal God reminds me that my life, my experience, my very being is a tiny speck; no problem is as large as it seems to me. The Enduring God can hold an entire universe of good and bad all at once; if I call on this God for help, perhaps my psyche can hold all its challenges, too.

The hymn Adon Olam brings together the Eternal God and Enduring God. “Without beginning, without end,” says part one. “My rock, my lifeline, in times of trouble; into this hand I place my spirit,” says part two.

No wonder Adon Olam is attributed to the medieval Jewish neoplatonic philosopher Solomon Ibn Gabirol. For him, the subtle essence of God, the world of ideas, and the physical world are expressions of the same universal matter. God outside of time and God throughout all time appear to us differently, but both are facets of the One.

What comforts you best: a glimpse of eternity or a role model of endurance? When do you need to endure? When do you glimpse eternity?

Netzach is the quality explored during week four of the spiritual practice of counting the Omer.

Image: Black Hole, Hubble Space Telescope

  1. I also find comfort in an eternal God as well as an enduring God, Still, if God exists within time, I do not
    understand many things that take place in the world. I relate to us being a speck within the cosmos.
    The new findings of multiple universes for me support the concept of an eternal God, one that started it all. I wonder sometimes if God has decided to take a very long nap and reawaken at a certain time.
    All I know is that the Creator is a magnificent scientist, artist, mathematician, and visionary. More to ponder about this great writing…

    1. JP, thanks for your comments. The idea of an eternal God speaks to me too, more so than a God with any personal or person-like attributes. Yes, it’s a pretty amazing cosmos!

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