The God Squad: Did man create God?
From the mailbag. Too short answers to too tough questions:
Q: My take is that God is a man-made invention, and as such everyone is free to create their own personal god and dogma to match. Let me know what you think. I am betting that I am right. – From D
A: And I am betting my life that you are wrong, dear D. If you are right, then Hitler’s theology is just as valid as Martin Luther King Jr’s, and that cannot be true.
Q: I really enjoyed your column today in Newsday. Just had a quick question: Could you elaborate what you meant by Judaism that when you believe in heaven it’s more the “world to come”? I thought Jews do not believe in heaven and/or hell. – D from Plainview, N.Y.
A: Judaism absolutely, positively believes in heaven. It is just called The World To Come, which in Hebrew is olam habah. Christianity adopted this Jewish belief and expanded it with certain doctrines like purgatory, but the basic belief that death is not the end of us is firmly rooted in Jewish teachings. Just one example: The highest honor in Judaism is to be called to bless the Torah during the Torah reading in a Jewish prayer service. The prayer after the reading of a section of the Torah is “You are blessed O Lord our God King of the Universe who has given us a Torah of truth and who has implanted within us eternal life. Blessed are You giver of the Torah.” I am sad that so many Jews and therefore so many Christians do not realize this Jewish belief in life after death. In my experience, too few rabbis preach about olam habah, and therefore too many Christians never hear this belief from their Jewish friends. But there it is. We will not be separated forever from those we love.
Q: I recently came upon a quotation attributed to Khalil Gibran. It is true for anyone of faith. "Faith is a knowledge of the heart beyond the reach of proof." It is in line with your recent column titled "Reconciling one's faith with scientific facts." – R from Jupiter, Fla.
A: Khalil Gibran was a Lebanese author know best for his book “The Prophet." I agree that faith is beyond scientific proof. Faith is trust and science is knowledge. However, there is proof for faith. Our world is ordered by laws and that ordering requires an orderer. This is one of my favorite Gibran quotes: “You pray in your distress and in your need; would that you might pray also in the fullness of your joy and in your days of abundance.”
Q: Is the Bible really the word of God, or is it written by human beings who, however wise, were fallible, as all of us are. – From P in Port Washington, N.Y.
A: Imagine you are looking at a house in a forest that is partially obscured by trees. The house is the word of God. The trees are ignorance and ancient prejudice that obscure God’s words.
Q: I was rather disappointed by your column on what you love about Christmas. In all honesty, no one is expecting a rabbi to express or write about what he loves about Christmas. No one is expecting you, especially as a rabbi, to embrace or defend Christianity, Christian beliefs and tenets, and the Christian interpretation of the birth of the Messiah. You are Jewish and I respect, understand and happily accept that. I love that Christianity has Jewish roots, and that Jesus was, of course, a fully practicing member of the Jewish faith. I don’t expect you to “love Christmas.” But if you decide to write a column about what you love about Christmas, should it not be one that truly expresses what you love about it? Is it really only “the trees, Santa and the music”? – From F
A: Let me try again. I love that Christmas is about the birth of the Messiah. Without a belief in a Messiah who will usher in a new age of peace and wholeness in our waring and broken world, we are just left forever with an unredeemed world. Perhaps that is the truth of things here on planet earth, but, along with my Christian co-religionists, I believe that the future of our planet and our people has hope. That hope comes from Jesus for Christians, and it comes from a new Messiah for others, but the hope is shared and the hope itself is transformative. That hope gives us the courage to wait. That hope also gives us the courage to try our best to actively help the birthing of that new age. That is the message of Christmas and that is what I love.
(Send ALL QUESTIONS AND COMMENTS to The God Squad via email at email@example.com. Rabbi Gellman is the author of several books, including “Religion for Dummies,” co-written with Fr. Tom Hartman.)
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