Saturday, January 14, 2012

"God" in Judaism: What Can I Learn from a Cursory Look?

I decided when I chose my New Year's Resolution topics this year to keep things simple (in order to try to make it accessible to as many people as possible who might read these posts), so, knowing full well the pitfalls of that choice, I am looking at what I as a Mormon can learn from the Jewish perception of "God" - but I am doing so quite shallowly.  (For example, I am using the term "God" in place of how Jews would reference God.)  I think it's important that I admit that upfront, and I would LOVE any deeper input readers can offer. 

With that introduction, the following are the most interesting points I found about how Judaism describes God (recorded in quotation marks simply to highlight and separate, not used in the classic way to show exact words of others, since the summaries are my own) - with my own commentary on each point:

1) Strict Monotheism

God is above all and incomprehensible.  The idea that there are no other Gods before him would be explained best as saying that no other Gods existed before him, but it also means that no other Gods ought to be worshiped first (before God).  In other words, there are no other Gods.  He alone is God.  He is "the Existent One".  He is "I AM".  Period.  

(Obviously, there is a conflict here between the Jewish conception of God and the Mormon idea of eternal progression and "godhood" being a condition that can be attained / bestowed to multiple people and held by multiple Beings - as well as the idea of a Heavenly Mother, a Son-God and a spirit God who all are distinct entities.  However, there is divergent thought within Mormonism about the idea that "as man is, God once was" - so it is not totally inconsistent with some Mormons' beliefs to agree that there is no other God before "our God" - in either sense of the phrase outlined above.  There also is the idea that FOR US, in practical terms, there is no other God before God, the Eternal Father - and, in that sense, he is "our only God" and ever "before / above" us - he is "the Existent One" in every way that matters, as even God, the Son, worships him. 

Applying that to me personally, I take the message that I need to be humble and worshipful in my view of God, no matter what potential I might believe is ahead of me (us).  I can't let the "potential to become like God" that is inherent in Mormon theology blind me to the foundation of "grace that so fully he proffers me".  I can't begin to think I deserve to achieve the object of my faith.  I need to remember always and forever that "Our Heavenly Father" allows us to "be one, even as we are one" - not because we deserve it, but simply because it was his creation that enables it.  Therefore, what I take primarily from the Jewish perception of God is the need for humility - abject humility, even as I cling to the New Testament "Good News" preached by Jesus of Nazareth.) 

2) "The Godhead"

In Kabbalah (a form of Jewish mysticism), "the Godhead" refers to the concept of "Ein Sof" - which is what lies beyond the consideration of the mortal mind.  In simple terms, it is the unknowable.

(I find it fascinating that this can be compared in Mormon theology to the "veil of forgetfulness" that separates mortals from their pre-mortal existence.  If we stop and think about it in those terms, there is very, very little we teach about the time before our mortal birth.  We believe we existed as individuals, created from "intelligences" - but we have no idea whatsoever about how that creation occurred.  We refer to the God(s) who created our spirits as our Heavenly Parents, but there is no indication of precisely how that parentage was formed - other than the act of accomplishing a creation.  As I have said in at least two posts on this blog, we were NOT formed into individuals who shared our parents' specific physical characteristics, since one of the key elements of birth into mortality was the acquisition of a physical body that eventually would be resurrected and "glorified".  Thus, there was a fundamental difference between our "first creation" by "parents" and our "second estate" into which we were "born" in the same form as our mortal parents.  Therefore, I believe it is safe to say, in Mormon terms, that much of what it really means to believe in a "Godhead" still is hidden from us - still lying outside the consideration of our mortal minds.

In this way, although we do not share the monotheistic view of the term, I think it is safe to say that, at the most fundamental level, we share a belief that the "Godhead" still is mysterious and unrevealed to mankind - at least in general and perhaps even for prophets [based on the limitations articulated in the Pearl of Great Price].

What do I take from this personally?  For me, this also emphasizes the need for humility in how I think of God - that I continue to hold as one of my "personal creeds" [to use Pres. GA Smith's phrasing] the principle that, "I see through a glass, darkly.") 

This has been a very simplistic treatment of Judaism's view of God, but I am glad I took the time to ponder it this week.  There is an element of Mormon theology that, when left to the "natural man", can lead to a degree of egotism and "unrighteous dominion".  The humility that lies at the heart of Judaism (despite its own "chosen people" outlook) is something I need to remember and internalize even more than is natural for me.

As will be the case throughout this year, I welcome any input provided by those who read these posts.


backandthen said...

My thoughts are a lot less organized than yours but I have been surprised to find again that you have blogged about something that I have been either pondering about this days or that you have written about a close subject I have been pondering about. It is like the second time since the beginning of the year but the first time that I mention it because the first time was just a coincidence to me. The second time makes it interesting.
I think you say that great minds think alike which makes us obviously great minds right?

Papa D said...

If you say so, Gwen, I will accept it. lol

Anonymous said...

I have these moments increasingly in my life where I consider that God as He really is , as opposed to how I would have liked Him to be, is quite incomprehensible to me. All of the things that we say about Him are just dim shadows shed by our own presence.

I have wondered if is a little like a fly trying to comprehend me.We just don't have the equipment to make a judgement,and yet we judge Him all the time. I'm not even that dot on the mandelbrot set...

Strangely I find this quite comforting,because it means that I'm really not all that. And then again,I belong to that Great Creator and I belong in this universe. Just like Moses's paradox,he perceives that he is nothing having been shown a vision of the universe,and yet in the presence of Satan he can assert that he is a son of God. Let's go look at the stars.

Papa D said...

Anonymous, I really love your last paragraph, especially. I shared it with Mama and one of our daughters, and they loved it, as well.