We are, we say, created in God’s image. Using a metaphor found in The Gates of Prayer, God is the Mold from which we were fashioned. I find this to be a compelling metaphor. God is the Model for our own thoughts and behaviors.
God is Holy, so we must be holy. God is Just, so we should act justly. God is merciful, so we should love mercy.
One of the powerful images in Christianity is an incarnate God. Jesus is both 100% human and 100% divine, at the same time. If he were less than perfectly divine, his teachings wouldn’t have the authority that they do. And if he weren’t completely human, people would be hard-pressed to see him as a model for their own behavior. How ought we to behave in a particular situation? Ask “What would Jesus do?”
Jews, of course, have not adopted this model. But if you believe in God as an actual entity, then you have a similar benefit – observe the traits that make that entity worth worshiping and then use them as a Guide.
If you, as do I, see divinity as a mystery, ultimately unknowable, then the role of Model becomes a metaphor. I have experiences of the righteousness of certain behaviors and the corruption of other behaviors, and I am willing to act as if those behaviors that are righteous are, in fact, righteous for all people, and that corrupt behavior is similarly fundamental to all humans. Therefore, I am positing a transcendent source of righteousness and corruption. God is the name I use to describe that transcendent mystery that gives meaning to the important things I do.
By studying Torah, by seeking to understand the stories told by our ancestors as they tried to figure out what was meaningful in their lives, I find a Model against which to judge my behavior and the behavior of others. In words found in one of our siddurim, we are seeking a “single Truth” or reacting to “an Impulse to morality.”
Without a belief in a transcendent Model, we are all radically free to do whatever we wish. Down that path is chaos. If we want to make normative statements about what is acceptable behavior and what is unacceptable, applied to ourselves and to others, then we have to assume that there is a set of fundamental principles against which such behavior is measured. In my Judaism, God is that touchstone, an image in which I believe we were all created.
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/
For part 7 go to: http://www.sholomchicago.org/2013/07/26/what-is-god-part-7-god-as-rulemaker/
For part 8 go to: http://www.sholomchicago.org/2013/08/09/what-is-god-part-8-god-as-light/
For part 9 go to: http://www.sholomchicago.org/2013/08/16/what-is-god-part-9-god-as-voice/
For part 10 go to: http://www.sholomchicago.org/2013/10/18/what-is-god-part-10-god-as-presence/