What is God – Part 7 – God as Rulemaker

See below for links to parts 1-6

Every year we pray that “our Father, our King” will write us into the Book of Life.  Last time, we talked about God as Parent.  Let’s look this time at the metaphor of God as “the Rule-Maker.”

All of the Abrahamic religions have, at their core, a set of rules that strict adherents will follow.  (In Judaism, we are supposed to be able to count 613 of these.)  In theory, God has given us, the children of Abraham, the Law, and we are required to follow it.  In some versions, we are rewarded if we follow these rules and punished if we don’t.  Many non-Jews find it difficult to understand Reform Judaism’s lack of focus on reward and punishment.  “Why,” they ask, “would you do what is Good, if not to be allowed into Heaven or to avoid eternal damnation?”  I have often said that this is one of the main reasons there are so few Jews – we made a major marketing mistake in not promising eternal bliss in exchange for observing mitvot!

In one of my classes in Adult Ed, one of our congregants beautifully summed up the Reform response.  “There is no goody-bag at the end, so you just have to enjoy the party!”

There is plenty in the Torah to suggest that God wants us to treat God as a Sovereign, our Lord, hence our use of the name Adonai.  One essay on this name suggests, though, that it might not be God who decreed this attitude:

It is we humans who ascribe lordship to God, out of our need for submission.  Lordship is a projection from human society onto the mysterious, unknowable, divine Being. [Yet] saying “Lord” puts us into relationship with Y-H-W-H.

So, how well do the various forms of the metaphor “Rule-maker” work for you:  Adonai, Sovereign, Punisher, Auditor, Judge, Din, Melekh, King, Commander?

I am not looking for a “Commander who commands.”  I am not interested in rewards, and I don’t believe in punishments.  Leading a Good life is its own reward.  But I am quite attracted to the idea that my own experiences of holiness are grounded in fundamental transcendent principles that ought to shape the choices we make.  My own choices, then, are more than just “taste,” and I am allowed to make normative statements about how we all ought to act towards each other.

I don’t believe that there is an entity that has laid out the rules for my life.  But a metaphor that suggests a transcendent set of rules that all people ought to respond to is an important way to ground our morality.  I can relate to that

Dan Swartzman has been teaching in our Adult Education program for many years.  Dan is a professor at UIC, where he teaches ethics, law and nonprofit management.  He and his family have been members of Temple Sholom for 23 years.

For part 1 go to http://www.sholomchicago.org/2013/05/07/what-is-god-part-1/
For part 2 go to http://www.sholomchicago.org/2013/05/30/what-is-god-part-2-is-god-a-person/
For part 3 go to http://www.sholomchicago.org/2013/06/14/what-is-god-part-3-god-as-a-metaphor/
For part 4 go to http://www.sholomchicago.org/2013/06/28/what-is-god-part-4-creator/
For Part 5 go to http://www.sholomchicago.org/2013/07/12/what-is-god-part-5-you-are-holy-because-god-is-holy/
For part 6 go to http://www.sholomchicago.org/2013/07/19/what-is-god-part-6-god-as-a-metaphorical-helper/