Friday, October 9, 2009
Gifts From Judaism
I've started teaching Judaism in my Religion 101 class. The impact of Judaism on world history and thought is nothing short of remarkable. It birthed the two most populous world religions: Christianity and Islam. Arguably, it was the first thoroughly monotheistic faith. And, the Torah (especially the Ten Commandments) is the basis for Western law.
However, I believe the greatest gift of Judaism is the portrayal of God in intensely personal terms. The God of the Hebrew scriptures is powerful and transcendent, and the Creator of all that exists. Yet, this same God is described as walking in the cool of the evening in the Garden of Eden, having conversation with humans, and caring deeply about the fate of his creation, especially humans.
As Huston Smith puts, "The God of Judaism is more like a person than a thing (my italics)." This is a God we can relate to and have a relationship with. This is a God who cares, loves, forgives and is with us in times of need.
Contrast the God of Judaism with the gods of the Romans and Greeks. The gods and goddesses of Mount Olympus were basically indifferent to humanity because they were so self-absorbed. Contrast the God of Judaism with Brahmin, the chief god of Hinduism, who is an impersonal universal spirit.
I prefer to think of God in personal, rather than impersonal, terms because I can have a relationship of love and trust with a personal God. As a Christian, this personal God is most powerfully manifested in the person of Jesus Christ. Yet, the God in Jesus Christ is the same God whom the Jews have worshiped and praised throughout the centuries.