Monday, July 16, 2007

God and other preliminaries

If I don't start writing, I will never do it. This is not a book review - but a stretch of pondering.

I have now reread the first four chapters, pages 1-84 of Frymer-Kensky. Chapter 4 title is a set of three essays: The God of Jews and Christians, by Peter Ochs, then A Jewish View of the Christian God, Some Cautionary and Hopeful Remarks, by David Ellenson, then by David Tracy, God as Trinitarian, a Christian response to Peter Ochs. (The links to these theologians are from a Google search - I do not know any of these writers personally or as correspondents).

To start with the Christian Response. I have come to know the worship of the God of Israel through the life, death, and impact of the Jew, Jesus Christ, on me personally. When I am pressed for a name, or as I did on Friday when meeting the cantor, to ensure that I was not deceptive in seeming to withhold identity, I call myself a Christian. Why then do I have such trouble with adjectives? One could hardly expect a Roman Catholic theologian to not give a 'Christian' response in the context of this book. But what I found on second reading is that I am more uncomfortable with that essay than with the essays by Jewish theologians that seem to me to paint a better understanding of my faith than the Christian theologian. I read it again, and now I see three things that disturbed me:

1. the origin and history of radical monotheism.
2. the replacement of old and new with first and _ (unspecified)
3. the discourse on economic and immanent trinitarianism

I think I did not understand some of these on second reading. Now I get them better. I think also that I am reading in the text a tone of both theological power and liturgical establishment that makes me uncomfortable.

3. I must try this sometime and see if the one I call Abba will teach me the difference between economy and immanence!
2. We have discussed this before. Old wine is good!
1. I am grateful for his quick review of the history of monotheism. But I find that once one has grasped this enlightenment view of the evolution of God (a concept I was fed as a child), it is singularly unsatisfying. You want to define God for me - who cares! God is not a definition. What can I say?

Example: "Christianity provides realistic knowledge of God in three principal ways: through its Gospel narratives, its doctrines, and its liturgy. These three principal institutions of Christian realism require that Christians maintain a Trinitarian understanding of God: whether that is disclosed in everyday terms of through the development of more conceptual namings of the Trinitarian God."

Good grief! Is one supposed to worship because of this? What am I to make of the adjectives: realistic, Christian, and conceptual? Sorry - but though this book is a very good read, this particular essay doesn't score high for poetics. (Though if you look carefully, there is some repetition for effect - in case you didn't get it first time, and some chiasm too!)

Let God be named as Abba, as Beloved, and the host of adorations that escape the throat in love. John 14-16 provides adequate unity of my names whether they are traditionally devotional or slightly impish [Ratgeb, The Last Supper, BD asleep 1519]. And finally, though one must use and support the institution, can one fathom without special pleading its governance or the nature of its orders? As we have seen from the Papal thingy, 'Christians' don't even seem to accept each other! Recent discussions around training of pastors and clergy need to consider how the laity can be given informed and articulate tongues of fire. I know it is dangerous.

To move back to the first two essays in the chapter, it is good to read what Jewish tradition has said about Christian doctrine concerning the Trinity (I will put a big letter on it this time) and Incarnation. To be blunt, I love reading reports of the Talmud - they never cease to draw me in. A sample from Rabbi Isaac, a medieval authority:

"Although they [Christians] mention the name of Heaven, meaning thereby Jesus of Nazareth, they do not at all events mention a strange deity, and moreover, they mean thereby the Maker of Heaven and Earth too; and despite the fact that they associate the name of Heaven with an alien deity, we do not find that it is forbidden to cause Gentiles to make such an association, ... since such an association (shituf) is not forbidden to the sons of Noah."

Rabbi Isaac has opened up a detente, and if we began to agree that the Psalms underlie a common experience for him, for Jesus as Jew, and for me, we might find much more common ground than expected. If we could consider the relations implied in Romans 15:14 (I am not giving up my New Testament!) about the offering of the Gentiles being acceptable, would we find resistance at the equality of inclusion sought by Gentiles in the worship of the God of Israel? And while we might disagree for a while that such a One was earthbound like us for a time, would we find that each of us was in receipt of a certain covenant loyalty? Who would refuse a further opening of such possibilities?

Ellenson restates the principle of the editors of the book: "Christian worship is not a viable religious choice for Jews." I have to ask: Is shared worship impossible then? I know it is not - so there must be something faulty about adjectives again. I, by the way, as an Anglican, cannot worship in full with Roman Catholics. If anything, this points to an error of Christianity. God forbid that the Jews should become Roman Catholics! But I must agree with many of the principles the editors have enforced in the book because the principles deal in adjectives and dogma. It is important to state them lest either side consider the other without the possibility of wholeness.

The nice thing about the essay by Peter Ochs is that I found myself saying - yes, he's more or less got that right. I recognize what he is saying about what people would call my religion. (Funny I did not recognize that with the Christian author.) Ochs' essay deserves much more detail - so backing off the God chapter, I will later return to its lead essay - and perhaps will write my own response.


beyondwords said...

It has been my understanding that "ehud" is not arithmetically "one," but a unity of diversity. Is it possible, then, that the Trinity doesn't contradict Jewish thought at all?

The mutual distinction, mutual dependence and mutual honor among the Persons of the Trinity give me hope that love is the ultimate reality.

The Godhead submits to the rule of love for the sake of the Other and thereby creates the rich communion into which we are invited through the Jew Jesus, eternally part of that unity/diversity, but earthbound for a time.

I believe this communion is why there is something instead of nothing, and it is glorious and sufficent for me.

Bob MacDonald said...

Thank you. Your comments encourage me. My Hebrew teacher in Victoria asked me early in our acquaintance - 'how can I,' he said, by 'I' meaning himself, 'be one with God?' Clearly he was leading into a non-arithmetic aspect of oneness that for him was a deep question. I gave no quick answer so I could allow his question work in me.

beyondwords said...

I am humbled to be able to encourage you. It is the Sp;irit. I have never studied Hebrew like you and my comments are sometimes posted with not a little trepidation.

Your wrestling with God is similar to my own. I crave knowing I'm not alone.