Judaism: Five Ideas That Assimilate With Christianity
Running head: Judaism 1
David Grinstead, Transpersonal Studies Department, Atlantic University
David Grinstead is now at Department of Continuing Education, Alamance Community College.
Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to David Grinstead, Department of Continuing Education, Alamance Community College, P.O. Box 8000, Graham, NC 27253-8000. Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org.
More information regarding the author is available at www.linkedin.com/in/livealife.
I will present five major ideas from Judaism which I can assimilate with my primary Christian spiritual-religious world view and implement into my life.
1. God is active in history, but this activity goes beyond the limits of the collective experience and is not limited to just extraordinary and special moments in time. There are multiple levels of human existence and consciousness and there are individual and collective historical events. Experiences involving the Divine Presence occur at all of these levels with or without personal awareness.
2. Meaning is found in personal and collective suffering and ultimate meaning is found in personal and collective vicarious suffering.
3. The concept of God as divine mind or abstract thought minus the qualities of ego, personality, or emotion does not hold up under the proofs of the Jewish experience of God’s active presence in their midst.
4. What is the present day role of the prophet/priest/minister versus that of psychic or seer?
5. What is true spirituality? What is true religion? What constitutes a life immersed in the ways of and means of God?
God is active in history, but what constitutes the scope of God’s activity in history? Is this historical unfolding strictly a collective experience of moments in time for Israel when God’s will was revealed only in extraordinary events? (Heschel 168) Or is it a much broader sweep that takes place showing that God’s presence in history is not limited to expression via cataclysmic events, but consists more of acts that are perceptible in rare moments which are usually indiscernible? (Herschel 178)
Clearly for Israel the uniqueness of certain events in the life of the collective is epitomized in the Hebrew notions that God intervenes directly in history at certain critical points and that as a people Israel is the recipient of God’s unique challenges. (Huston 284) Some consider this involvement not so much a process of endurance whereby God keeps a steady hand on the helm of the unfolding of history, but rather a sporadic divine intervention via extraordinary events overlaid with the awareness that although God’s power may be absent throughout much of human history, God’s concern is always present. (Heschel 168)
In this concept of the collective experience of God in world history, something just as important and much closer to home is being overlooked. There are multiple levels of existence and functioning in which permeate the entire human experience (national, state, local, county, e.g.) and all levels of the individual life experience (school, work, family, e.g.). The Biblical claim is that “God is found within the limitations of the world of change and struggle, and especially that he reveals himself in events which are unique, particular and repeatable.” (Huston 283) In support of this claim are Karl Jung’s findings concerning Synchronicity which demonstrates the simultaneous imminence and transcendence of God in all the affairs of humanity both collective and personal.
Karl Jung expressed it this way when towards the end of his life he was asked by a reporter if he believed in God. He replied: “I could not say that I believe. I know! I had the experience of being gripped by something that is stronger than myself, something that people call God.” (Grof 231) This is contemporary psychological support of the prophets’ teaching that God is active in all arenas of life seeking out humankind for reconciliation. While human choices made collectively and individually determine the shape of the world and personal historical life events, God is always at work on humankind, shaping history according to divine will. (Heschel 168, 174) This divine work takes place at all levels of existence, consciousness, and experience with or without collective or personal awareness.
A conscious knowing of this ever present reality of God is both a blessing and a freeing of those in present day society who may feel shackled by the pagan influences of our time which sate that there is a “mysterious, unconquerable fate to which human beings…must submit” (Seltzer 596) or the burdensome Christian doctrine of original sin which has “compromised the scriptural conviction that man is given the power of moral improvement and self-determination.” (Seltzer 596) This confirms that which has been made known to me experimentally and intuitively; thereby, enabling me to further distance myself from some of Christianity’s more burdensome and biblically unsound doctrines concerning the ultimate nature and destiny of humanity.
I recall a quote from George Bernard Shaw that was displayed on a plaque at the junior college I attended 1968-69: “Some men see things as they are and say why. I dream things that never were and say why not.” This quote had a major impact on my youthful idealistic world view. But thirty years later my world view has changed due to the reality that, when faced with
the actualities of human suffering. In spite of all of humanities’ efforts to reduce the levels of human suffering, it seems to forever keep increasing and multiplying at all levels of the human experience.
This morning, at the Unity Church where I attend, the minister quoted from a sign that hangs in a local drug store: We are spiritual beings having a human experience not humans having a spiritual experience. I really wrestle with this concept which, (to me), denies my humanity and consecutiveness to the physical world and the reality of suffering as a natural consequence of being alive on planet earth. Such thinking is an expression of New Thought, New Age Idealism, and Prosperity Theology. Each in its own way is in denial of the truths as revealed through the Buddha that the very denial of suffering and the avoidance of suffering is the root cause of much suffering.
Accompanying this denial is another teaching that we create our own reality; therefore, through right thinking and full consciousness all suffering may be avoided. If all of life and all life forms are the perfect expression of Divine Mind and Divine Will, why do animals, plants, birds, fish, etc. suffer the ravishes of disease, accidents and old age just as their human counterparts? Is all of life lacking in consciousness?
Definitely right though, increased consciousness and right application all goes a long way in reducing unnecessary suffering. But there will always be suffering; much of which may be undeserved, resulting from no discernible cause. In such cases there is no why that can provide an explanation to the human need to know.
What of those who suffer due to no apparent fault of their own? Jewish experience, theology, and philosophy have much to teach regarding vicarious suffering. I recall the
experiences of Brian White, who as a young child, was infected with the Aids virus from a blood transfusion. It was heart wrenching for me to watch as neighbors, friends, and school officials turned against him and his family in hysteria, forcing him to get a court order to attend school and live where he pleased. He became an international voice on behalf of all Aids patients, and did much to foster the proper understanding of the nature of the Aids experience. Brian was an innocent victim of a terrible disease and no doubt deserving to have lived a full and normal life, but he died prematurely at the age of eighteen from Aids.
Is it possible that…
we finding meaning in life even when confronted with a hopeless situation, when
facing a fate that cannot be changed? For what then matters is to bear witness to the uniquely human potential at its best, which is to transform a personal tragedy into a triumph, to turn one’s predicament into a human achievement. When we are no longer able to change a situation—just think of an incurable disease such as inoperable cancer—we are challenged to change ourselves. (Frankl 143)
My Tai Chi instructor often tells me to learn to invest in loss that I might learn. This is such a foreign idea to my normal way of thinking of win…win…win! Yet this ideal is the very same as that of the Israelites need to learn through their defeats while out of their experiences emerged redemption for the world. (Smith 294)
While personal suffering as chastisement may be one’s own responsibility, the prophets’ message is not to be understood exclusively in terms of the sufferer’s own situation. Sometimes suffering is not a penalty, but a privilege, a sacrifice that while endured discloses special
meaning and possible redemption to those other than the one suffering. It is a process of salvation unfolding. (Heschel 149, 151) Through such experiences the deepest of life’s meaning is to be found in and through vicarious suffering: meaning that enters lives that are willing to endure pain that others might be spared it. (Smith 295)
Often I and others close to me have suffered deeply, especially my children, without any clear and discernible personal reason for the suffering. Why me? Has often been a cry of anguish, however, much wisdom has been gained. A statement by the Greek playwright Aeschylus offers an explanation for the need for the pain: “He who learns must suffer. And even in our steep pain that will not forget falls drop by drop upon the heart. And in our despair, against our will, comes wisdom, by the awful grace of God.” (Sanford 225)
From experience I conclude that God is much more than abstract thought, or impersonal divine mind, minus the qualities of personality, ego, or emotion. My deepest pains and greatest joys are shared to my greatest depths with Yahweh who is my ultimate companion, friend, and lover.
The conscious and growth for which we strive is not achieved intellectually but
passionately. It is not brought about simply by learning or psychologizing but through loving as well, for it is love that is both beautiful and painful, that open us to a larger consciousness, and that finally wages with divine love to ennoble the soul. (Sanford 329)
For the Jewish experience grounded in history the world exists in a dualistic balance of physical and spiritual realities. What is the nature of this spiritual reality that seems to pervade the Jewish experience of natural history? Maybe its reality is revealed in humankind’s dual
character which is composed of body and soul…is moved by an evil and a good impulse and belongs to the world and the world to come…where these dichotomies are not allowed to veer toward inward asceticism and a determination to escape from the world…where soul and body are not fully separable entities. (Seltzer 290-291)
The prophetic assurance that God does not reveal himself in an abstract absoluteness, but in a personal and intimate relation to the world (Heschel 223) is not limited to the Jewish experience as pressed in this quote from an Eskimo shaman:
There is a power we call Sila, which is not to be explained in simple words. A
great spirit, supporting the world and the weather and life on earth, a spirit so mighty that what he says to mankind is not in common words, but by storm and snow and rain and the fury of the sea; all the forces of nature that men fear. But he has also another way of communication; by sunlight and calm of sea, and little children innocently at play, themselves understanding nothing… No one has seen Sila; his place of being is a mystery, in that he is at once among us and unspeakably far away. (Grof 129)
The Jewish notion God is active in the world of sense experience and found within the limitations of the world of change and struggle aligns with my personal experience. Such supports my conviction that the religious concepts of the physical world being as Maya and of the necessity for the individual to seek release from his/her individuality and fade into the World-Soul is a lop-sided misrepresentation of balanced spiritual truth and reality. (Smith 282, 283)
The world of matter and spirit are equally adventitious to human destiny. The human condition is of utmost importance to God for God does not reveal himself in an abstract absoluteness, but in a personal and intimate relation to the world…he is moved and affected by what happens in the world, and reacts accordingly. He reacts in an intimate and subjective manner, and thus determines the value of events. The notions that God can be intimately affected, that He possesses not merely intelligence and will, but is so intertwined with the human condition that He shares in and feels our sufferings and joys with us in the same ways as we endure or enjoy these experiences define the truest essence of the divine/human love affair. (Heschel 223-224, 290-291) This is how I describe how we are never alone and am always in the midst:
Not being aware a mystery it is that surrounds us—each alone while in the
midst. How do you explain it, this being in the midst? Always being there, yet not being aware of being there. Isn’t that how it is? A way we tilt our mind, a way we clock ourself while in the midst? Odd it is the ways we see what we want to see, yet denying what we do see. Truths denied while in the midst. It seems we shudder to think, to realize, that we are never, have never, and never will be alone.
No subject is as worthy of consideration as the plight of humanity. Indeed, God himself is described as reflecting over the plight of humanity rather than contemplating eternal ideas. His mind is preoccupied with humanity, with the concrete actualities of life and living rather than the timeless issues of thought. (Heschel 5)
As I prepare to reenter the pastoral ministry by July 1999, I wrestle with the question of what constitutes, or distinguishes, the role of the prophet/priest/minister in the context of present day ministry from that of a guru or a New Age spiritual leader serving as a seer or psychic. I need functional role boundaries that are in line with my Ideal. Using the Hebrew prophets as my role models, I have gained a better understanding of those boundaries.
The mystic generally enters into an alternated state of consciousness out of concern for his own spiritual well-being resulting in attainment, insight and inspiration that constitutes a spiritual self-enhancement. The prophet may also have such experiences but of primary importance is not the concern for his personal spirituality nor personal illumination, but the illumination of a people. The prophet has a mission to lead the people to the service of God through prophetic insight. (Herschel 361-362)
The primary role of the priest is that of functionary for the maintaining of a religious institution uniting people through worship, praise, song, ritual and other religious activities. Yet the priestly role often needs to be balanced by the prophetic role which knows that religion can distort what the Lord demands of humanity by allowing such egocentric acts as the bearing of false witness, the condoning of violence, the toleration of hatred and empty religious ritual and ceremonies. (Heschel 11)
Moses provides me with the ultimate example of how to unite the roles of prophet/priest. In all types of trying situation he functioned as a mediator between the two worlds: as divine lawgiver, as a channel of power from the World of Spirit, and as an intercessor on behalf of his people. It is a balanced perspective. (Borg 29-30)
While the seer or psychic may receive insightful information through altered states of consciousness or the use of spirit guides and angels, the Hebrew prophet went straight to the ultimate source of information. There were not any go-betweens in the prophetic experience. The prophets spoke of knowing and being known by God, of seeing visions, of being present in the “heavenly council.” (Borg 29-30) And these experiences of direct contact with God did not put aside personal consciousness or rational thought. It was a unified right brain left brain experience:
The deprecation of consciousness, the high estimation of the state of trance seems
to be unknown to the prophets. Their intense concern with man and society is incompatible with an ecstatic mentality. Unlike mystical insight, which seems to take place in the “abyss of the mind,” in “the ground of consciousness,” prophetic illumination seems to take place in the full light of the mind, in the very center of consciousness. The prophet’s will does not faint; his mind does not become a mist. (Heschel 359)
This is the balanced understanding of the prophet/priest/minister role as I believe it can be applied in present life reality.
The prominent theme is exhortation, not mere prediction. While it is true that
foretelling is an important ingredient and may serve as a sign of the prophet’s authority…his eternal task is to declare the word of God to the here and now; to disclose the future in order to illumine what is involved in the present. (Heschel 12)
What is true spirituality? What is real religion? What constitutes a life immersed in the ways and means of God? This is my take on the question as presented:
Religion—the tie that binds with chains and fetters, religion that pins the mind
to the inside of the soul. The eternal substance forever bound to the traditions of spiritual-less slavery. Groups huddle in mass staring into the hole waiting for the oncoming train not aware that it arrived long ago and sits awaiting their boarding.
The ultimate ideal as put forth by the Hebrew prophets is that real religion is about how one lives from one’s center in present reality. It is to be found in the world without being of the world. True religion/spirituality is a living faith that is expressed through humility, justice and mercy which is not only illuminating for the individual but for the masses as well.
The basis of spirituality in the individual is motivation. The basis for all motivation must be our love of God and our neighbor as ourselves. Edgar Cayce’s readings indicated that on the earth plane, will is the educative factor. The use of will in accord with the Law of Love teaches us attunement and provides joy, happiness, and peace. (Puryear 209, 63)
The ideal for true spirituality/religions is this: “That they truly know me, and understand that I am the Lord of justice and of righteousness whose love is steadfast; and that I love to be this way.” (Jeremiah 9:24) As God is, each of us should also be.
Anthropomorphism: the endowment of God with human qualities, the humanization of divinity.
Atonement: blood contains the life force and the shedding of blood is necessary for the cleansing or forgiveness of acts/behaviors committed collectively or individually that are offensive to God. The blood of an animal sacrifice symbolically atones for the sins of humans as all sins (conscious and unconscious) must be atoned for – the primary function of the priest who is to atone for Israel and maintain its purity
Covenant: an agreement between two parties establishing a reciprocal relation of rights and obligations; the relationship between Israel and God which conveys the permanence, steadfastness, and mutuality rather than the personal depth of that relationship
Day of the Lord: the most important day of the year when the sanctuary was ritually cleansed and the sins of the priests and people were expiated, the day of solemn personal repentance for all Jews
Faith: for most people in modern times it means believing in the existence of God; in earlier times no faith was needed as the reality of God was a given rather faith had to do with one’s relationship to God—not whether one trusted in God
Gentile: foreigners versus Israel; in the early years of Israel they were treated kindly and as equals but by the time of Jesus there was a sharp distinction and they were regarded as unclean and contaminating
Pharisee: means the separated ones…a religious party of the Jews emerging after the Macabean conflict, religious leaders drawn primarily from the people, they tried to bring religion into the common life of the people by stressing religious observance
Prophet: a man thought to have received a direct call to speak or act for God; at first they were seers, diviners, cultic preachers, e.g., but later these were replaced by a mixture of literary, reactionary and revolutionary individuals; historically unique to Israel as for the most part the prophetic experiences did not involve altered states for the method of delivery was conscious and rational; of central importance was the message which did not intend to predict the future but spoke directly to present situations
Revelation: God’s disclosure of Self and Will to humanity which is unknowable except by what God wishes to communicate to us via history, visions, dreams, natural phenomena, and primarily scripture; the concrete historical encounter with God is grounded in the essence of the Torah versus philosophical theory; this revealing cannot be obtained by reason, but it can subsequently be verified by reason; unlike Christianity Judaism does not claim exclusively to possess the doctrines that constitute the natural religions of all mankind
Talmud: a written collection of opinions and logic interpreting scripture and Mishnah to everyday life.
Torah: the scared text, the first five books of the Bible and in a broad sense the whole body of doctrines and laws derived from and read into these scared texts; Jews find in it the living presence in their midst of divine love and the divine mind; the primary source of conventional wisdom which became part of the consciousness of individual Jews simply through the process of growing up within the culture.
Yahweh—YHWH: the ineffable Name pronounced Adonai (Lord) in prayer and study, reserved to be spoken as Yahweh by the high priest only on the Day of Atonement by the late Second Temple period
Seltzer, R. M. (1980) Jewish People, Jewish Thought: The Jewish Experience in History. New
York, NY: Macmillan Publishing Company.
Smith, H. (1989) The Religions of Man. New York, NY: Harper & Row, Publishers.
Heschel, A. J. (1962) The Prophets. New York and Evanston: Harper & Row, Publishers, Inc.
Puryear, H. B. (1982) The Edgar Cayce Primer: Discovering the Path to Self-Transformation.
New York, NY: Bantam Books.
Dimont, M. I. (1962) Jews, God and History. New York, NY: Signet.
Sanford, J. A. (1996) Mystical Christianity: A Psychological Commentary on the Gospel of John.
New York, NY: Crossroad.
Borg, M. J. (1987) Jesus A New Vision: Spirit, Culture, and The Life of Discipleship.
San Francisco, CA: Harper and Row.
Frankl, V. E. (1984) Man’s Search for Meaning. New York, NY: Pocket Books, Washington
Grof, C. & Grof, S. (1990) The Stormy Search for the Self: A Guide to Personal Growth Through
Transformational Crisis. New York, NY: Putnam’s.
The Living Bible Paraphrased. (1971) Minneapolis, MN: World Wide Pubications.