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Part 2 - View Table of Contents

It All Begins With God

Is There Anything We Know About God?

Is God entirely beyond comprehension?

Yes and no.

First the no: We can't know, conceive of, or speak of what God is because we are utterly without the tools and ability to grasp any semblance of what He is. Since our entire existence takes place within a world of time, we can't possibly imagine an existence where there is no time. Likewise with space and matter—we can't even begin to conceive of an existence where there is no space or matter. If we are asked to conceive of a reality that has no space and matter and no time, most likely the only word that we would find to describe this reality would be, "nothing." If you remove all of the basic elements of existence, then what you have is non-existence—absolute nothingness. But that's not exactly true because even if you delete everything comprising all of existence, God still exists. And He is none the worse for the absence of mere trivialities like matter, space, and time.

All that we know of God is that His being is fully independent of anything that exists in our reality.

And now for the yes: While we can't even begin to know God directly, we can know a little bit about Him. The difference between knowing God Himself and knowing something about God is a little like the difference between renting a furnished oceanfront apartment from a friend and renting the same apartment from a reclusive stranger and never dealing with anyone but the real estate agent. Think about it. When you rent from the stranger through an agent, you will encounter a wide variety of items that give you some idea of who the owner is. The style of furniture, the pattern on the dinnerware, the books on the shelves, the art on the walls, the preset stations on the remote control, all of these, and more. From all of these you will be able to know something about the person in whose home you are now living, but you still won't know the person himself. It's similar with God; from the fact that He created all that exists we can discover certain insights about Him, though we remain far removed from knowing who or what He actually is.

Five Things We Know About God

Always Read the Warning Label
(Caution: When one begins to speak about God, one is immediately on a slippery slope that can lead to misleading anthropomorphic conclusions. Therefore, it is important to point out that whenever we apply human terms to God—terms like God's "seeing" or "speaking" or "thinking"—this is done only because we have no other terms in which to speak. These terms are meant to give us a sense of an idea or concept, but in actuality God doesn't "see" in the way we think of seeing and He doesn't "speak" in the way we think of speaking. So we use these terms only as metaphors to give us an inkling of a far greater and indescribable reality.)

1) Absolute Being

God's existence is absolute. The notion that God's being is absolute includes the following: He is fully complete in and of Himself. The nature of His completeness is such that he lacks nothing and needs nothing. God also has no restrictions or limitations and as such, nothing can exist "outside" of Him because if anything were able to exist in a way that was separate from His existence, then there would be some sort of a dividing line between these two existences. And all dividing lines indicate a boundary or limitation of sorts. God, the absolute being, has no bounds or limitations. Additionally, absolute being means that His existence is unchanging. God never becomes "more" or "less" in any way; He is never different.

Lastly, absolute being means that His existence is self-sufficient. Hang on to your hats for this one: To say that God has always existed and required nothing to initiate His existence, and to further say that He will always exist and needs nothing to maintain His existence is true, though somewhat inaccurate. The inaccuracy has to do with the issue of time. Since God's being exists even when time does not exist, this means that concepts like always, before, and after have no relevance to His being. So it's not that He always existed and always will exist, it's just that He is. Get it?

2) Independent Existence

Imagine:

Close your eyes and imagine that you are standing in a broad, rolling meadow. Fresh spring grass, daisies, and buttercups gently sway in the breeze. A cloudless french blue sky stretches on forever, and a young boy is running through the meadow clutching a string that stretches high up to a kite.

Now open your eyes:

It's time to turn off your imagination and return to wherever you are, which probably isn't the middle of a meadow.

Were that meadow and that boy real, or were they just the stuff of your imagination? The answer is both. On the one hand there was some reality to that meadow, so much so that it could actually produce the feeling of being there. At the same time, it was just your imagination, and whatever reality it had was completely dependent on you. As long as you were choosing to focus your mind on that little boy in the meadow, his kite would fly; however, the moment you focused elsewhere, he, his kite, and the whole meadow would simply cease to exist. In a sense, this is a description of the relationship of our existence to God's.

Let's consider the nature of our existence as compared to God's. The perspective we will examine is the difference between Creator and creature. Let's start with the creatures, the ones created by God. This includes everything—from quarks to butterflies and from minerals in the soil to stars in distant galaxies, and us. The status of being a creation includes the following: Creation couldn't have created itself; therefore, it never could have come into being without God. Creation owes its existence to God. But there is more: the nature of creation can be seen in one of two ways. One way is the autopilot model. In this model, God created everything, hit a cosmic Start button, and the whole contraption has been running on its own ever since. The second model is quite different. In this model, the act of creation itself is an everpresent, ongoing reality. This means that creation was not a one-time event, rather that God is creating everything anew at every instant. This is the classical Jewish understanding of creation.

The consequence of an ongoing renewal of creation is that there are two types of existence, one that is wholly independent and one that is utterly dependent. Want to guess which one is the Creator and which is the creature? That's right! God's existence is independent. This means that if everything ceased to exist—us, our breakfast cereal, and the farthest star in the farthest galaxy—their lack of existence would in no way affect God. The being of the Creator is fully complete, self-sufficient, and independent from His creation.

As for us creatures, that's a different story. We are utterly dependent. This means that since God is "creating" every moment again and again, all of reality is continually and absolutely dependent on God's constant renewal of existence. The moment God decides not to hit that cosmic Refresh button, poof, everything ceases to exist.

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Shimon Apisdorf is an award-winning author whose books have been read by hundreds of thousands of people around the world. He has gained a world-wide reputation for his ability to extract the essence of classical Jewish wisdom and show how it can be relevant to issues facing the mind, heart and soul in today's world. Shimon grew up in Cleveland, Ohio, and studied at the University of Cincinnati, Telshe Yeshiva of Cleveland and the Aish HaTorah College of Jewish Studies in Jerusalem. He currently resides with his wife, Miriam, and their children in Baltimore. The Apisdorfs enjoy taking long walks, listening to the music of Sam Glaser and going to Orioles games.

Shimon can be reached at sjapisdorf@earthlink.net

Enjoyed Judaism in a Nutshell?
Other books by Shimon Apisdorf, available online at The Jewish Literacy Foundation.


 
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