The wisdom of Judaism stands out among other religions, proclaiming that the soul owes its allegiance not to any finite thing, but to the Maker of all things and powers. Nothing in the world owes its existence to itself or is truly independent of a cause. Not the life-sustaining sun or rain, and not the frightening storms or threat of war; not love, not fertility, not speed, strength, nor death. Everything is part of a system, each part is limited to its place, and the world is sustained by the true Power of Powers, the Giver who holds it all together. Why should we subjugate ourselves to forces and objects that are, like us, fully dependent on Him? Only He deserves our hearts, and we should look to Him first when seeking wisdom and the path that leads upward in this world.
This is very different from monolatry, the worship of one ‘god’ among the many powers. Instead, this is the surrender of all finite things to the One above even mystery and all limited existence themselves. It is thankfulness of the heart towards the only One who gives, but doesn’t have any need or impulse to take.
Other faiths have come to the same conclusion, not just Judaism, and they share in this wisdom. Some call the Creator of everything the ‘great spirit’, ‘supreme being’, or ‘highest power’. They are on the right track. But where Judaism stands out even further in its resplendent wisdom is the refusal to worship God in a ‘form’. Sure, the Jewish scriptures and traditions have many metaphors, where God is considered a king, a father, a craftsman, a shepherd. There are many manifestations too, in fire, cloud, voice, thunder, light, angels (messengers), and the holiness of places; in the splendour of creation, in the righteous experiences of humans on His path, and in blessings for His people. “God is with us” is a phrase that describes the Jewish experience well, and many places, things, beings, actions, and times have been vessels of His presence in the world. Even the continued existence of every thing and moment declares His immanent nearness. But none of these is more than a vessel to know Him through
No representation is perfect; no finite, limited thing gives more than a glimpse of His ways. In the earth, sky, and sea, we are all servants. This is the beautiful thing, the sign of wisdom that is held by this nation through history. In Judaism, the heart is directed to its Maker with no images, no things, no fragments of reality in the way. Just many pathways to know Him within.
The New Testament tries to use similar imagery to describe Jesus as ‘the way’ to God. He is called a reflection, a manifestation of God’s glory, likened to the creative ‘word’ and ‘wisdom’ of God. But this is not how most of his followers, throughout the many centuries since he lived, have looked at him. They speak to him not merely as one of many channels to knowing God, and not just as a messenger or representation of God, just like the many other blessings of God’s presence that are around us each day. They don’t even speak to him as if he were the most perfect reflection amidst all created things, but still being God’s servant and handiwork. Instead, they speak to Jesus personally when they want to pray to their Creator. They nuance it with words and phrases like ‘son’, ‘servant’, ‘in the name of’, and ‘through him’, but still tend to call it heresy to say that his soul (like our own, and like all of the vessels of God’s manifest glory), is not from eternity and deserves none of our highest praise. Yet they see it in the particular, with shape and relationship; that is, finiteness.
This is hardly what you could call ‘very Jewish’. It is totally oblivious to one of the lights of the Jewish faith, amidst all the forms of monotheism that believe that finite forms can adequately represent in their being the one who holds all things. True Judaism emphasises that His presence is in words, in messengers, in ways, and in showered blessings, but turns the heart away from visible or comprehensible (that is, finite) things when it comes to prayer. This is why the prophets spoke as they did about how He is above the earth; all the powers are His messengers and servants; every thing owes praise to Him, inherently.
The real Jewish perspective is to see the God who made all things being present in small things and places, but not worship the places themselves.
When speaking of ‘trinity’ or of ‘multiplicity in God’, mainstream Christianity has said that Jesus is distinct from the Father and yet not distinct. Is that the same as saying he is infinite, yet finite? In any case, the blurring of this line is serious: it is the definition of the most precious relationship in the world, and anyone on our side of the line doesn’t deserve our embrace. Anything that is ‘partly’ or ‘mostly’ mystery is not true mystery at all, but it is unavoidably an imposition of visible (limited) forms into God who made it all. Isn’t He closest to us Above All Things in His loving sustenance of our existence and our hearts? This is above the forms that our imaginations, or ANY comprehension, can begin to hold or even speak of.
There have been some Christians who disagreed with the mainstream and who have seen Jesus as the prince over creation, even the first or highest created being, through whom everything was made, or else merely a man who has been exalted to the highest level… but not, himself, God. They read certain verses of the New Testament differently. But history has shown that their theory is also unlikely. What messiah ends up being an object of idolatry by most of his followers for thousands of years? And where has the Torah observant remnant been all along; with this man, or with the things passed down from generation to generation before he was born? When the desire to follow a man as the highest authority in creation overshadows the good sense of seeing where the Torah-careful have always been treading without him, that threatens distraction from the paths of wisdom. And the New Testament itself isn’t guiltless, either, even if it never deifies its leader. The pedestal he is put on overshadows all else, until the presence of God in this generation, in every drop of blessing around us, is lost in the light of ‘he was here’ and ‘he is coming back’.
Whether your prayers are directed to the form of a human face or the finite aspects of a man’s soul, or whether his praise simply fills your prayers as ‘a way through which to God’, this is not the sort of humble fading-into-the-background that we expect of a servant or a vessel of God’s glory. The beautiful thing is when the heart can be free to fly to its Maker beyond all forms. All forms are limited things, and none will truly represent Him to our souls or eyes or minds…
So look through them by all means, but look beyond them all. That is the Jewish way.