Supplement to Responding to an Atheist (and to a Christian)
The following question was posed in the context of my article “Responding to an Atheist”. This question articulates something that weighs deeply on the hearts of many Christians. The Jewish testimony that lifts God above all of nature seems to push God far away. The Christian philosophy which has God humble Himself and participate in the experience of His creations makes God so much more accessible and loving.
Here then is the question: “…what is wrong with the Christian belief that God might humble Himself and be known as part of creation, even though He still deserves our worship… and even more so because of such a gift?”
Annelise puts the question in context: “I understand that there’s no way within Judaism of testing that someone/something that seems like part of nature actually is an incarnation of God and deserves our worship. But I’ve never understood the idea that categorically God could not do this; that He *could not* make His person known in a human person, who had just a breath of air in his nostrils, if that were in His wisdom and kindness.”
In other words; it would be one thing for Judaism to say that we are not satisfied with evidence presented to “prove” that Jesus is this “incarnation” of God, but Judaism goes further than that. Judaism asserts that it cannot be. It is impossible.
What is the basis for this assertion? How can Jews be confident that God cannot humble Himself in this way?
As a member of the witness nation I see it as my duty to respond to this question and I pray that my words add clarity to the matter and not confusion.
There are different types of opposites in this world. We have light and dark, tall and short as well as many others. We can imagine a compromise between most of these opposites. You can have a room that is only partially illuminated and that would be seen as a compromise between light and dark. You can have something that is tall when compared to an average person but would be considered short when compared to a mountain. This then could be a “compromise” between tall and short.
The qualities of truth and falsehood are more difficult to reconcile with each other. Generally we say that a given statement is either true or false. However we could still imagine compromise in a situation where a statement is true in one context but false in another. That would be good and fine for a statement that only possesses truth or falsehood as descriptive qualities. But the raw concepts of truth and falsehood can never be reconciled. By definition truth is not falsehood and falsehood is not truth. We can then say that truth and falsehood are “more opposite” than light and dark.
Truth and falsehood are still not the most opposite entities. Truth is not truth because falsehood is falsehood. If falsehood would be impossible to conceive of truth would still be truth (although in a world where falsehood does not exist we would not appreciate truth as truth).
In the context of worship of the divine the titles Master and subject are more opposite than truth and falsehood. It is not that the word “master” is an intrinsic opposite of “subject” in a way that no compromise is possible. A person can be a master of one person and a subject of another – but that compromise can only take place outside of the context of worship of the divine.
In the context of worship of the divine the words “Master” and “subject” carry a different connotation. The fact that God is the Master, the Creator of all existence, the One who constantly sustains all life and the fact that His creation is subject and completely dependent upon Him for its very existence every second – these facts form the heart of worship. If there would only be a Master and no subjects then there would be no worship. And by definition subjects cannot exist without a Master.
The entire concept of worship is rooted in the recognition that all are subject to, dependent upon and completely helpless before the Master. By definition the subject is the one FROM whom all worship is due and by definition the Master is the One TO whom all worship is due.
In the context of worship of the divine there can be no compromise between Master and subject.
After everything is said and done, Judaism does affirm that God made Himself known within creation. He gave us His Law, which reveals His will as it pertains to every aspect of creation. He chose a place within creation; namely Jerusalem; that He calls: “His home”. He formed a covenant with a living nation and He breathed His truth into the nostrils of every human being. God made Himself accessible to us so that we can have a deep and meaningful relationship with Him. But the foundation of the relationship will always remain that as His subjects we owe all worship to Him.
The devotion that Christianity demands towards Jesus is rooted in a lack of appreciation for the concept of divine worship. The testimony of Israel declares that everything that exists within the confines of nature, between heaven and earth, are completely subject to the One Master to whom all devotion is due. By pointing to one inhabitant of this earth and setting him up as an object of worship, Christianity is in effect blurring the lines between subject and Master – the most important definitions in the context of worship. By pointing to someone who shared our dependence on the One Master and exalting him as an object of devotion, Christianity is in effect denying that the dependence upon God that is intrinsic to our nature is the root of our worship.
The entire concept of worship of the divine is rooted in a deep appreciation of the definitions of “Master” and “subject”. The sincerity of the worship is directly related to the depth of appreciation of these two opposing concepts: “Master” and “subject”. Any attempt at blurring the lines between these two is a contradiction to the worship encouraged by the Jewish Bible. By establishing a theology that compromises between Master and subject the Church has set itself up against the worship of God.
If you found this article helpful please consider making a donation to Judaism Resources by clicking on the link below.
Judaism Resources is a recognized 501(c) 3 public charity and your donation is tax exempt.
Yisroel C. Blumenthal
Christians can harmonise everything in Tanach with their concept of ‘Jesus’, and come out with intricate theologies that are full of thankfulness.
But what you wrote here is important. The gospels don’t just portray Jesus as somehow being in a relationship of oneness with the Father. They show him praying often, they show him as a paradigm of humility and obedience before God. At many points in the gospels he is actually portrayed as doing what the kings of Israel, and all other righteous people and leaders, are meant to do: pointing people not to their own glory but to God’s.
Through the lens of belief in the incarnation, that is seen as (all the more) a stunning picture of how Jesus ‘took on the role of nature’, to represent creation before God, to such an extent that he actually took on the humility and worship that are due to God… as an example to us. But I do not believe that God would draw such a clear picture in the scriptures of what creation is in relationship with Himself, and call it a matter of the highest and clearest importance, only to come in a way that looks *paradigmatically* like the humility of creation… and still ask to be worshiped or known in the person of that man. Christians may know a lot of the same things about God, and relationship with Him, as Jews do… but even when sincere, it’s so trapping and destructive to seek God in the form of a part of creation instead of the ways He has *truly* made Himself present with us. If traditional Judaism is right, then Christians are pushing you away and alienating you in the very message that God Himself entrusted to your people to show in our world.
when I said Christians believe Jesus “took on the humility and worship that are due to God… as an example to us”, I meant, they believe he took on the humility and worshipfulness that are due from humans towards God.
HaShem made it known that He is not ever to be a part of nature. as in He does not share His Glory with another, for us to know and take to heart that He is the G-d in the Heavens and on the earth, and-here is the key which separates Judaism from all other faiths, except the Noahide-there exist none other.
He also said He is not a Man, that He would lie. In Hosea, we are told to choose between Baal and HaSHem; there cannot be the two!
There are many more verses which stipulate the separation between Him and His “subjects. However, there are also many items which connect us, as with Free Will. So where would you fit HaShem between His Spiritual Self, and a man who is recognized as god on earth, except in the Pagan faiths which the Christian paradigm is identical.
So to say that JC is G-d on earth is contrary to what He told us. However, I have studied the recent Christian thinking on this subject, and noticed that many Christians have come to the conclusion that Gospel and Tanach may have irreconcilable differences.
I hope this helps. I do ot look for Christians to agree with us, but to respect that we have a firm basis on which we base our views and beliefs. Use their energy to help their fellow worshippers to come to grips with the conflicts they may see betweem our sacred writings, and to rspect that we are two different faiths, and to live in harmony with each other.
“and-here is the key which separates Judaism from all other faiths, except the Noahide-there exist none other.”
Correction -The belief that God is an Absolute Unity and is therefore separate from His creation is central to the teachings of Islam .Surah 112 of the Quran states:
“Say,He is God ,the One and Only”
“God the Eternal ,the Absolute”
“He begets not ,nor is He begotten”
“And there is none like unto Him”
“After everything is said and done, Judaism does affirm that God made Himself known within creation. He gave us His Law, which reveals His will as it pertains to every aspect of creation. He chose a place within creation; namely Jerusalem; that He calls: “His home”. He formed a covenant with a living nation and He breathed His truth into the nostrils of every human being. God made Himself accessible to us so that we can have a deep and meaningful relationship with Him. But the foundation of the relationship will always remain that as His subjects we owe all worship to Him.”
This paragraph helped me to understand something, and I really want to share the experience. There was a time near the beginning of this year when I made a clear decision before God about the questions I was wrestling with. I couldn’t see enough that I should make a choice to seek God outside of Christianity rather than within it. But I’d been struggling for a couple of months about how to pray, whether to pray to Jesus or about him, in the question of whether he was Creator or created. I had been avoiding the semantics and the imagery so as not to be disloyal either way. But there came a time when I absolutely couldn’t allow someone who might have been created into my prayers whatsoever, and I understood that in prayer we aren’t meant to have an image in mind anyway… so I decided before God to pray to Him as the God who is beyond creation and who makes Himself known in it as the Tanach shows over and over… and not to allow ‘relationship with Jesus’ into that in my actual prayers unless there were a clear knowledge that I must.
What I during that prayer and from then on (until today) was a big difference in the way that I looked at the world around me, and at God. I could sense a lot more clearly what it meant that God makes Himself present through the constant creation of everything around us, His blessings in making all that we live amidst, and in holding us with His wisdom in creation even though we can’t understand it all. There is purity and clarity in seeing the whole of nature as a servant of God, with not one part of it ever having been anything else. And in knowing God, no longer was I yearning for Him to ‘come back’ so I could spend time in His revealed presence *literally* ‘face to face’; I could know that He is very close to us both in creation and in obedience, both of which are holding His glory more and more. That’s what I felt. And I was so careful not to step into it because of some idolatrous ‘aesthetic of purity’ that pushed aside His reality in favour of another experience. But it has kind of confused me, nonetheless. Don’t Christians know that God is the God who fills the universe, even while they believe that He made His presence known more locally in Jesus? Didn’t I believe that Jesus was not just a man, and know that nothing in creation deserves the worship of God?
The answer is yes. But the reality is that if Jesus is not God, then allowing his personality into our concept of God is fundamentally false… no matter how wholehearted Christians are in worshipping God alone, as they think He desires. To let go of a falsehood is by nature to restore clarity to the places where God has *actually* made Himself close. It’s so meaningful to be able to focus on those things that He has set apart to bless us through, in their proper place, so that He alone can be our God in the way that He designed and commanded.
“In the context of worship of the divine there can be no compromise between Master and subject.”
I had to reread this post before I actually got the full force of this statement. You’re saying that Jesus could not have been both the subject giving worship AND the one receiving worship.
“By pointing to someone who shared our dependence on the One Master and exalting him as an object of devotion, Christianity is in effect denying that the dependence upon God that is intrinsic to our nature is the root of our worship.”
So in order to make the above claim that Jesus was both humble before the Father and deserving of worship, Christians are changing the definition of why it is that God deserves our worship to begin with… and what it means… not just as a personal loyalty to Him, but as part of what nature is and means.
I get what you mean about this, now.
Rabbi Yisroel… you put a lot of emphasis on the idea that all things in creation owe worship to our Creator, because He made us and therefore we’re His subjects. Do you think that is the main reason why we worship God? Don’t the scriptures show that we worship Him also because of His goodness and holiness and beauty? And that Israel owes Him worship because He saved you and you entered into a covenant with Him only? I think you’re right, but I would value hearing more clearly from Tanach what it is about being created that makes us owe both love and submission, and what makes this the single definitional concept of humility and worship.
Also, apart from the revelation to Judaism, can a person know these things? Many people have questions about God’s goodness, His closeness, and the covenant you’re speaking about, but still hold that we owe our whole being to our maker in the process of learning more. We walk with Him in the questions and seek truth because it’s His, and choose not to live just for ourselves. But that’s on a level below words, and I can’t explain it. Many people and cultures in our world don’t believe that we owe our full love and trust to our creator, even if they believe we owe our existence to Him. How do we know that they are missing something?
Addition to “Supplement to responding to atheist/Christian”
It was years ago, in a Christian chat. There we had an atheist missionary who pretended that mankind decended from monkeys. My response to him was: “You do, me not!” 🙂
Who had created the olam? When I consider various statements about various divinities on the one hand and of HaShem on the other I must conclude that a Christian God (Greek: Theos) is as non-existing as Thammuz, Amun-Re, Ba’al, Krishna and other pagan divinities are. HaShem had said that His people were not allowed to worship or serve any of those – a Christian divinity included. All triune divinities are pagan divinities – Israel, keep away! Sorry for messianic Jews, but you are trapped in a Roman Catholic “truth” that their pagan divinity is triune. May-be he is, I don’t know but; Shma Yisrael! HaShem is not “God”, but He is ELOHIM! Even the expression “God” was derived from a pagan divinity (Gad).
Isa 65:11-12 But ye are they that forsake the LORD (YHVH), that forget my holy mountain, that prepare a table for that troop (Hebrew; Gad/God), and that furnish the drink offering unto that number. 12 Therefore will I number you to the sword (….)
In atheistic Soviet Union an old Jew sat in Moscow on a park bench who had strange letters on his lap. The dictator himself passed by and noticed the strange letters. He asked the old Jew; “What are you doing there?” “Comrade Breshnew”, the old Jew replied, “I am learning Hebrew”. Breshnew then asked; “And what is that good for?” “See”, the old Jew answered, “I am an old man and when I die and get to Heaven, I want to be prepared; in Heaven Hebrew is spoken.” The Atheist Breshnew didn’t believe in life after death and so he asked the old Jew; “….and what are you doing when you get to Hell?” “About this I am not afraid”, the Jew responded, “Russian I do speak already.”
Here is a short summary of the Mu’tazili position on God’s word from a Christian site, ‘God is a speaker. He is a speaker not in a sense that He speaks His Word, which eternally subsists in Him as an attribute; rather He speaks His Word, which He creates in a particular place. God’s Word for man is thus created. When He spoke to Moses in the burning bush, He created His Word in this bush; the bush really spoke to Moses. For the Mu‘tazilis a material, yet uncreated, manifestation of the eternal Word was impossible.’ To my understanding, it is an accurate depiction of their position.
My question is, Who was in the burning bush speaking to Moses and manifest to his sight and Whom did he worship there?
Reblogged this on 1000 Verses – a project of Judaism Resources.