October 29th, 2018
The rabbi said, “There is no mitzah, no commandment, that requires a Jew to believe in God.”
I was sitting in the synagogue when he said that, and it made me think. The Orthodox Jews follow 613 different mitzvot (commandments), which they derive from the Torah. These rules from God cover almost every aspect of their lives. Yet, somehow, God isn’t all that concerned with their actual beliefs.
As the rabbi went on to explain his statement, he indicated that God does not command us to have specific thoughts or intentions or beliefs. God is interested in our actions. He is concerned with what we do, as opposed to what we think.
This whole idea is in opposition to most of Christian thought. Christians, especially Evangelicals, place a huge emphasis on belief. As just one of many examples:
“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.”
The whole notion of believing in God (in the form of Jesus) permeates the Christian Bible. Apparently, Jewish thought does not have this emphasis. God seems to get along just fine if His people have doubts about Him.
In a way, this focus on actions, rather than on faith, takes the pressure off. I often have doubts about God: about His nature, His love for me, and even His existence. I have usually felt uneasy expressing these concerns to other Christians. They sometimes give me a funny look, and then make it clear to me that non-believers are on a rocket ship going straight to hell. In non-theological terms, a person who does not believe in God is screwed. In some flavors of Christianity, that’s the gist of it. In Judaism, that may not be the case.
I spend time with Buddhists, and they have yet another take on this topic. In Zen, for instance, God is not necessarily relevant to anything. It makes me think of the first verse in the song from John Lennon, appropriately titled “God”:
“God is a concept
By which we measure
For some Buddhists, God is just a concept. So, belief in a god is kind of superfluous.
However, in Zen, intention is important. Thoughts, though transient, are important. Right intention leads to right action. Zen does not look much at results, because in reality we have very little control over the results of our actions. Zen does look at the intentions behind our actions. Why we do something is as important as the action itself. This view doesn’t sound very Jewish. The Jewish perspective seems a bit more bottom line.
So, who’s right? Is anybody right?
What should we believe? Should we believe at all?
This is what I believe.
Love wins in the end.