What is God – Part 12: God’s name is Ineffable

What a complicated word this is – “ineffable.” If something has a quality that is ineffable, it is not possible to express it in words. Often, this is because the quality is too beautiful, too grand, too exalted.

One set of metaphors we found in our Adult Ed class was those attempts to describe something that was indescribable. (Put aside the fact that calling something indescribable is, in fact, describing it.) God is Alone, the Eternal, the Answer to all of the “why” questions. We know the letters of God’s name, but not how to actually say them out loud.

What is God – Part 11 – God as the Model

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.

What is God – Part 10 – God as Presence

In the last posting, I mentioned how much I enjoyed the idea of God’s Voice. Another metaphor which works equally well for me, maybe even better, is that of God’s “Presence.” No matter how much I try, I could never express this idea better than the poem from the S’lichot Service, “The Thread:”

What is God – Part 9 – God as Voice

OK, if we admit that we are hearing voices, we can get into trouble! Of course, that isn’t the point. I don’t actually hear God say to me “Well, Dan, did you have a Good day? And how many mitzvot did you perform today?

Yet, as I have said repeatedly in this series of blogs, I do have some experience of transcendence. For instance, I believe that people have a right to healthcare. Where did we get that right? Certainly not just because a bunch of us agreed on that, because then it could be taken away if the agreement were to change, and that does a lot of damage to the notion of “inalienable rights.” (Something that is “inalienable” can not be separated from the whole. It is not something you can remove.)

What is God – Part 8 – God as Light

I grew up with the Gates of Prayer as my siddur. That is, when I started being serious about being a Jew, in the 1980’s and 1990’s, that compact blue book from 1975 was what we used at Temple Sholom, and it remains my image of a prayer book.

In it, I found a wealth of metaphors to educate my search for understanding God, as in this meditation:

“And God said: ‘Let there be light.’ This first light God made before he made the sun and stars. He showed it to David, who burst into song. This was the light that Moses saw on Sinai! But . . . this light, coming out of darkness and formed by the Most Secret, is hidden: ‘Light is sown for the righteous.’”

What is God – Part 7 – God as Rulemaker

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!

What is God – Part 6 – God as a Metaphorical “Helper”

Before addressing this new topic, let’s take a moment to review where we have been. Some of you will see God as a purposive entity, one who monitors events in our lives and acts accordingly. I, and probably some of you, think of God as a metaphor to help us explain and, possibly act upon, our experiences of transcendent mystery. So far, we have talked about metaphors of God as “Creator,” Almighty, Shaddai, Source, Mind, Will. And we have explored images of God as “Holy,” Glory, Kavod, Harmony.

What is God – Part 5 – You are holy because God is Holy

Let’s start with the question of what it means that something is “holy.” We use this word to describe something that is “other worldly,” not of our material existence, and usually it is applied to something that is worthy of extraordinary consideration, such as reverence or awe. What we label “holy,” then, are experiences that we set apart form the ordinary and mundane.