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Who is God?

01/15/2020 10:26:16 AM

Jan15

"Who is the Lord that I should listen to His voice?" (Exodus 5:2) So begins a fantastic battle of wills between Pharaoh, sitting on the throne of Egypt, and God, enthroned on high. Pharaoh is not a good person, but he is asking a great question: “How do we know there is a God?”

 

Throughout most of human history, the assumption was that there was not a single God, but many. Each nation had its own pantheon. As one crossed a national border, one came into the territory of new gods for sun, rain, fertility, war and whatnot. Crossing the threshold of a home, one came into the domain of the family hearth spirits. Pharaoh is not denying the possibility of divinity. To the contrary, he is asking why he should pay attention to this particular deity among the dozens, if not hundreds of others, each with their own rules and preferences. Not the least of which was Pharaoh himself!

Today, Pharaoh would ask a different question, “How do we know there is a God at all?” Indeed, it is a question that is asked daily. There is a whole literature of “evangelical atheists” who marshal scientific, sociological and philosophical evidence to argue against religion.

I would argue that there are three ways that we come to know God, each of which has its challenges and counterarguments.

One way to find God is through reason. We see a universe fully formed, and feel that such a finely tuned watch implies the existence of a watchmaker. On the other hand, our universe is full of flaws and imperfections. Surely a perfect God could have made a perfect world? Of course, the opposite might be true. A world that is so full of randomness and fragility needs a guiding hand all the more!

Another way we can come to know God is through tradition. When Moses is at the burning bush, God says that He is the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Family tradition, and history, present us with a well-trodden path to God. Of course, there are many religious traditions, each passed down parent to child, and many commonly held beliefs (Santa Claus) that are simply false. It's not so easy to prove through logical argumentation that our Jewish tradition has greater authenticity than other transmitted traditions.

The third is the most difficult to define, through personal experience. Moses sees a burning bush, and is struck with wonder, recognizing that there is more to the world than meets the eye. In the end, it is the personal experience of the plagues that brings Pharaoh to accept the reality and power of our God. However, not all of us are blessed with clear signs of God’s presence in our lives, or at the very least with the ability to perceive them clearly.

Perhaps the conclusion is that faith is not easy to come by. “Who is the Lord, that I should listen to Him?” Pharaoh persisted in his question for quite some time, until he found out the hard way. Perhaps we can recognize the fact that faith is not always an easy path to walk, but that there are multiple routes that bring us there.

Mon, March 30 2020 5 Nisan 5780