I am causing trouble on Facebook. I know, many of you are saying, “Why is this night different from all other nights?” I really did not mean to do it, but … well, it just happened.
See, someone posted a note that said that God was returning soon, and all those not on board should be afraid. Now, I have no problem accepting that for Christians Jesus will return, while, at the same time, believing that for non-Christians God manifests in all sorts of other ways. So, I did not take issue with the statement of the poster’s expectancy of “God’s” return (except to say that I never felt God left), but I have a problem with the “fear” piece.
I refuse to believe that fear has anything to do with faith, especially that a God of love should be feared. I know that the English language perverted “Yirat Adonai,” translating it “Fear of God.” The more authentic translation, though, is the “Awe of God.”
I asked the usual question, “If God is infinite, how can God be narrowed to loving one group and scaring all others?” I believe with absolute faith, that God speaks many languages, has inspired the writing of a variety of sacred texts, and does not choose one piece of God’s own creation over another, any more than I can love one of my children more than I love another. I affirm that Christianity, Judaism, Islam and, by extension, the other main religions of the world are all equally authentic, each finding God through unique and engaging spiritual enlightenment.
The number of people who favorably commented on this person’s post, agreeing with her position of God being monolithic (and telling me how wrong I was) was downright scary, yet not surprising. In the midst of my distress, I had to take notice of two realizations: 1. I have to believe that God is not scary and loves all folks; and 2. Lots of people think I am wrong.
I then read this week’s Torah portion where the text speaks to us about false prophets. “If there will arise among you a prophet, or a dreamer of a dream, and he gives you a sign or a wonder, and the sign or the wonder of which he spoke to you happens, [and he] says, ‘Let us go after other gods which you have not known, and let us worship them,’ you shall not heed the words of that prophet, or that dreamer of a dream; for the Lord, your God, is testing you, to know whether you really love the Lord, your God, with all your heart and with all your soul. (Deut. 13)” I fully understand how, in the eyes of the persons writing and agreeing with the post, I am that false prophet. I also understand, how in my eyes … they are. So, we are stuck. We have a sacred text upon which both of us hang our theology, and yet, if we hold tightly to it, we deny each other’s authenticity.
This is why so many people run from religion.
How can there be one God who created everything, including this cause for discord within the very texts at the core of God-based study and worship?
I have to wonder what God thinks about all of this (assuming that God thinks … and thinks about this). Here is where I come down on this matter. When helping couples prepare for marriage, I ask them to work through a series of exercises aimed at helping them communicate more effectively. We all fall short of doing this well all the time, but the more tools we have, the better likelihood of our doing well more often.
One of the key pieces of this endeavor is to help remind couples that they do not have the right to make up each other’s mind. Put another way, no one has the right to condemn another, for the words that they put in someone else’s mouth. Nor can they condemn someone for words someone else put in their mouths. I may believe that my partner hates my family, but absent his/her indication of it, I cannot condemn him/her as though it were gospel. People wrote the Bible. People have edited and translated it. People have been interpreting it and reinterpreting it for over 2,000 years. No matter what our own personal faith, to make God say something that results from our own experiential and linguistic manipulations is tantamount to false prophecy.
My partner may hate my family, and perhaps God does like some of us more than others. To use our own manipulations to prove it, though, taints the entire process. I don’t believe my partner hates my family, nor do I believe that God picks and chooses. That said, for me to say that God absolutely agrees with me is equally wrong (even though more palatable).
Here is the bottom line, as I see it: Faith is personal. We believe what we believe and need to govern our own lives in accordance with the highest truths of our most sacred beliefs. We do not have the right to impose those beliefs on anyone else, nor, do we have a right to judge someone’s value in faith on whether or not they agree or disagree.
If we are allowed to judge people at all, it can only be based in the way in which they are personally true to the call that exists in every faith tradition, to honor our Creator by caring for all over which we have been made steward. This stewardship begins with dignifying each other, since we all stem from the very same acts of creation. Any other response to each other is false prophecy, and serves only to dehumanize each other.
Rabbi Marc Aaron Kline serves the Temple Adath Israel. Ordained in 1995 from Hebrew Union College – Jewish Institute of Religion, he earned a B.A. from Tulane University, a J.D. from the University of Arkansas, and a Masters from Hebrew Union College. He has taught ethics, philosophy, religion and government in high schools, college and graduate schools and regularly runs a diverse adult education program. He has served as chair of the LFCUG Human Rights Commission and is very active in the greater community.