“I’m a rabbi. But I don’t try to provide any answers. I tell people what tradition says, and if they find meaning in it, and it works for them, then they are welcome to apply it. If not, we’ll look at other possibilities. I think that every generation has a responsibility to create its own understanding of religion. I believe God can grow as we do. I could be accused of diluting Judaism, but I think that if it has no relevance to people’s lives, Judaism will cease to exist.”
It’s a timely quote, along with Rob Bell’s rather unfortunate statement that if Christianity remains committed to its core values, it will fade away and die. However, the Rabbi isn’t striking at the core values of Judaism like Bell struck at the core values of Christianity – instead, this Rabbi actually bolstered Judaism, and provided a workable model for Christianity as well.
But there’s a statement in there that stands out.
“I believe God can grow as we do.”
Naturally, many people find a lot of beauty in what the Rabbi said (and I’m among them), but many comments also centered on that phrase, and took issue with it.
I think there’s danger in that phrase, but I don’t think the phrase itself is dangerous – nor is the idea dangerous, as long as we remember who God is.
Some people stated that God, being above the concept of time, does not ever change. Others stated that a God who “changed with the wind” was not God. Others stated that God has no need to change, being, well, the “I am,” being without cause and without the need for justification or response.
I understand all of these sentiments, and from God’s perspective, they would be perfectly correct. God is the “I am.”
When God told Moses that His Name was “I Am that I Am,” God was saying that He existed without anything else: He needed nothing to exist such that He was a response to it. God was the cause. God was the source. God was the beginning.
God was grunge before grunge was cool.
Change is a response to circumstances; as time passes, or things happen, we change in relation to the world around us to compensate for the changes the world endures.
God doesn’t need that relation. He is beyond it. There is no change.
How, then, can I agree with the Rabbi?
The key is to remember who God is – unchanging, perfect, unified, Holy – and also to remember who we are.
We change. We grow. We change perspective.
With change, with growth, with perspective, our understanding of God – individually, and corporately – also changes.
Does this change God, though? Or is it just a play on words to say that God changes?
I think it’s closer to the latter. God has no need to change, but there is a continuing, individual revelation; God appears to us each individually from where we stand.
This is part of why Rob Bell’s dismissal of core Christian values (namely, the Bible) is so important. If we accept a continuing revelation of God, then we have to have a way of determining what is constant. Otherwise, we lose any ability to tell the difference between God and whim.
We have to have axioms: God exists. He is knowable. He is One. We exist. We are separated from God. We are to love Him. We are to be His people. We can know what His Will is to at least some degree.
Without those things… there is no God. There can be no relationship between us and Him. Destroy any of those, and we lose any context in which God becomes important to us in any way.
That does not preclude a growth in understanding; that doesn’t prevent God from doing different things at different times, fully within His Will.
Consider Nineveh. He sent Jonah to Nineveh to save its people – and a generation later, destroyed Nineveh so much that armies walked nearby, unaware of the existence of what had been the greatest city in the world.
The important question is not “Can God change?” but “Can we change?” We can, and we do. Let’s use that change to become closer to God, and to bring others along with us.