Annelise on The Torah Path
Much of the Christians’ expression of love for God and connection with Him is based on a sense of pathos: awe-filled compassion about the humility and suffering of the incarnation idea. This joins with thankfulness for undeserved grace that is seen as costly, and therefore a sense of (amazingly) shared experience with God in the human situation and the hope of healing our world. The body, the face, the words, the presence, and the feelings of this historical figure are therefore allowed into a realm of worship into which many Christians would even die rather than allow any other thing or personality that they thought was created.
Countless traditional Jews have also given up everything rather than go anywhere near the idolisation of any man, woman, or thing in this world, including the one admired by Christians as ‘God incarnate’. According to the testimony of their lives and deaths, that man is not part of the worship revealed to their ancestors and experienced by them, and so the practice must be turned from sharply and loyally.
Another part of the Christian’s love for God is based in an expression of joy in regards to ‘already-fulfilled’ hope and glory. This messianism, while its praise is intended to go to God, treats those who wait for God’s promises to flourish in another way as if they were enemies of light. Such abuse of the honour given by God Himself to those who wait patiently and faithfully for Him is an ugly result of the misdirected Christian vision of glory.
How can people have a real and living relationship with our Creator if those elements of the Christian understanding are absent, even shunned, as falsehood? To a Christian, their real experience of knowing God may seem immensely precious according to that false expression. But the relationship that observant Jews have with God through His Torah and a daily knowledge of dependence, thankfulness, and the honour of being His servant is in itself so deep that no other reason is needed to compell them to protect it against such violations as the direction of worship towards a man they know to be created.
Hashem alone is attractive and precious to them, the one whose existence and holiness go far beyond us and who still is close at hand. Every blessing is a gift from Him, and every moment of existence is an immediate connection with Him through His will, His giving-desire. Every single facet of the heavens, of the earth, even the realms of meaning and of spirit, is dependent on Him for its being and gives praise to Him for substance.
And how can this be believed in the face of immeasurable suffering in our world? Christians point to God ‘feeling our pain’, but aren’t rabbinic Jews left with a Creator who is absent from human experience? Why count blessing as His kindness if we do not count pain as His cruelty (God forbid)?
The impression of this issue in Tanach is that when things seem good we should thank God, and when things are awful we nonetheless can’t say He is immoral. This is the theme of the end of the book of Job, and other passages. Whatever happens, He deserves us and we should still serve Him. There’s no question about fearing and serving God, in the light of creation. But what about love?
It seems the reason people love God in the Tanach is more personal: a thankful belief that He has made a way for us to be in His favour.
His love is incomprehensible through circumstances, and it is right to be awestruck by Him and admit that we can’t make sense of His wisdom. But in creating within each of us the ability to draw near Him, He has shown us true kindness and favour, which deserve in our lives a real response of love, connection, and trust, even in this broken world. As we go through life trusting Him, the relationship draws deeper, purer, and nearer. And this is the experience of Israel in the path of Torah.
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Yisroel C. Blumenthal