Wednesday, September 13, 2006
In Judaism, the preeminent sign of God's power is not the fact that God spoke the world into being. It is not that He the shaped Adam from the dust, either, that he created him (and her) in His image, and breathed into them His speaking spirit. Nor is the preeminent example of God’s exploits to bring Israel out of the house of bondage seen as enough of a challenge for God,…No, not the splitting of the Reed Sea, nor sustaining Israel with water and heavenly bread, leading them with a pillar of fire and smoke for forty years in the desert, nor vanquishing nations of giants before them.
Sure...Those things are of course evidence of His incomparable greatness, but one act represents the paradigmatic “power” of God. One act affirms God's might before all these. In a prayer religious Jews pray daily, God's might is simply described and praised the following way:
“You are eternally mighty, my Master, the Resuscitator of the dead are You; abundantly able to save.
“He sustains the living with kindness, resuscitates the dead with abundant mercy, supports the fallen, heals the sick, releases the confined, and maintains His faith to those asleep in the dust. Who is like You, O Master of mighty deeds, and who is comparable to You, O King Who causes death and restores life and makes salvation sprout!
“And You are faithful to resuscitate the dead. Blessed are You, Hashem, Who resuscitates the dead.”
The might of God is tied here to the idea of mankind’s redemption…in particular, mankind’s redemption from death. God’s might to Jews is best evinced in the empowerment of the lowly, which is the definition of redemption in Jewish culture. God’s power is almost cast as a function of God’s mercy for the powerless. So all-encompassing is God’s might that even the carcasses of the lowly shall be raised by Him. There is very little else that could define paradigmatically the relational thrust of Jewish theology. Jewish religion, it could be said, is about the loyalty and devotion of the powerless to their one Great Sustainer…or rather, more accurately, the loyalty of the Great Sustainer to the powerless.
Of all the theological ideas the Jews have contributed to the world, the concept of God as a merciful, powerful resuscitating redeemer, it could be said, is the most definitively “Jewish”. God’s great work is fundamentally redemptive in character and not awaiting our belief in Him (the Pharisees too had “belief”!) God’s might, rather, unseats presents powers and lifts up those without power…those are usually the ones who are pliable, penitent and humble enough to reach out to Him. When Jesus instructs his followers to claim the least desirable seat in the banquets, he is expressing this relational Jewish disposition. John 3:16 is best understood as, “For God so loved the world that He sent down his beloved Son, so that whosoever would grasp His hand should not remain in the grave but be raised up to eternal life.”