Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Working on your image

A colleague at school lent me an old copy of Reform Judaism magazine, which contained an interview with Rabbi and psychologist Jack H. Bloom entitled "What God Can Learn From Us." Audacious but serious. God is lonely, insecure and prone to rash and cruel judgments; he needs to be taught many things, including the difference between obedience and love. That's where we can help, since Being in a cov­e­nantal relationship offers the possibility of healing in both directions. Some more:

You have said that many Jews are “in serious denial about the nature of the Deity with whom we are in relationship.” That’s true. Modern commentators do cartwheels to make “difficult” Torah texts consonant with the idea of a benign, perfect Creator of the world who maintains a special, loving, covenantal relationship with the people Israel. One prominent rabbi wrote that “the Torah speaks of God as a parent, a lover, a teacher and an intimate sharer of our hearts.”

To the astute reader this is not even close to the whole truth. For many Jews, throughout the ages, God has been and remains a great source of strength and comfort; however, judging from the Torah, our foundation text, all too often God is anything but all-loving.

Given that the Torah teaches us that we are created b’tzelem, modeled after God, what are the implications of acknowledging the dark side of God? We have long assumed that being so modeled refers to that which is good and noble in us. However, the character traits which cause us discomfort and prompt us to seek out therapy to correct are common to God as well. Just like God, we humans can be intolerant of imperfection (our own and others), judgmental, quick to anger when things don’t go our way, and prone to act abusively and destructively. In short, being modeled after God reflects both what is positive and negative about us. To truly grasp this idea, we need to set aside the simplistic concept of a perfect God we’ve inherited from our parents and religious school teachers and come to see and accept the notion of a flawed or wounded God.

How do we begin to change our relationship with God? We start by changing ourselves. In any healthy relationship, when we change, our partner changes. So when we humans become exemplars of what it means to be fully human—often in areas God knows little about—God will have to grow and change, too. In short, by becoming fully human, we help God to become a better exemplar. And that’s no small thing. What more could any exemplar—Divine or human—want?

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