Continuing here with my notion that paradox is built into religion and perhaps we learn something from paradoxes.
A problem with the Ten Commandments is that there are eleven of them. Catholics combine the first two commandments, Protestants the final two.
A major problem with the First Commandment is that it is impossible to comply with it.
“I am the Lord your God . . . . you shall have no other gods before [besides] me.” (Exodus 20, see also Deuteronomy 5)
The problem is that we can never know exactly what God is, or if there is a god, and our idea of God is always incomplete. Therefore, whatever concept we have of God is going to be at least partly false, and that false image is what we have in our minds in place of the actual God. Thus we create an idol and place it before God. Any idea of God that we fashion will necessarily be incomplete and an idol, not the real thing.
“You shall not make for yourself an idol, whether in the form of anything that is in heaven above, or that is on the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I the Lord your God am a jealous God . . . .” (Exodus 20, see also Deuteronomy 5)
I presume this commandment, which I’ll include as ‘First,’ means that there should be no representation of God, whether a stone statue, or a painting, or a poem.
But the Bible has various passages that attempt to represent God’s qualities, God’s words, God’s actions, or God dying a human death. Thus the Bible, being of human origin, is incomplete in its portrayal of God and therefore a false idol. Of course the Bible has many wise sayings, which perhaps are ‘inspired’ in some way, but nevertheless, because it is incomplete, and it makes a show of representing something of God, the Bible is an idol. Something alien that is placed in mind before the actual God, obscuring it.
We don’t know what God is. That did not stop theologian Elizabeth Johnson from writing a whole book, Quest for the Living God, to discuss what she calls, “The Ineffable” – that which cannot be defined.
I’ve always had a problem with the “Greatest Commandment” attributed to Jesus of Nazareth: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.” (Matthew 22:37, also search on ‘neighbor as yourself’)
Right off, that tells me that God is a ‘Lord,’ therefore limited by maleness. Obviously a false and incomplete idol, unless God is indeed limited by gender.
“Your God” implies some sort of relationship. How do I objectively define that relationship? My relationship with an unknown.
Is there such a thing as a “soul”? What is “mind”? What is a ‘god’ for that matter?
How can I love something that is unknown to me, that is, “The Ineffable”?
When you fall in love with your lover, don’t you love the person you perceive, not who is actually that person, and maybe later on, you find out that what you thought you saw, was there only because ‘Cupid’ wounded you with one of his arrows 😉 ?? Why would I bother loving a God who is merely the incomplete product of my fallible human perceptions? Can my mind grasp the Infinite?
“No one is good but God alone.” (Mark 10:18) Further, “a good tree cannot bear bad fruit.” (Matthew 7:17, 18) In this Vale of Tears, amidst the Yin and the Yang, that is, Samsara, there is definitely something other than the good. So where does that bad stuff come from? Not from the good tree obviously.
So exactly what is IT that I am supposed to LOVE with my whole heart, soul, and mind?
As soon as I attempt to define IT so I can obey the ‘Greatest Commandment’ and LOVE IT with my whole supposed soul, I have violated the First Commandment against setting up idols.
“Their angels continually see the face of my Father in heaven.” (Matthew 18:10) God has a face? What species is this face? God is limited to a certain species?
I actually don’t believe there is any harm in making idols. How else are you going to pray unless you fashion some sort of image of God in your mind so you can speak to it? Evidently, the author who wrote the First Commandment didn’t really mind if someone inappropriately thought of God as a “Lord,” and was perhaps simply trying to eliminate some of the more extreme idols, like the ‘golden calf.’ (See Exodus 32:28, 35 where Moses has 3,000 of his own people slaughtered and the ‘Lord’ sends a plague upon ‘his’ people in retaliation for the calf. Gosh, what a nice god. . . . maybe a bit jealous? At least Moses refrains from killing his own brother, the one who made the golden calf, even though, paradoxically, Moses tells others to kill their own brothers over this (32:27))
By the way, for the many times Jesus is addressed as “Lord,” in the New Testament, there is no way to tell if people are saying “Lord-God” or simply “Sir” in the Greek. So those editors that translate with the English word “Lord” and put the word “Lord” in caps/red, whatever, are really stretching it. The real historical Jesus, whoever he might have been, apparently thought of himself as ‘servant,’ and would have been appalled at being feted as “Sir,” let alone idolized as a “Lord-God.”
“Because we look not at what can be seen but at what cannot be seen; for what can be seen is temporary, but what cannot be seen is eternal.” (2 Corinthians 4:18) How can one look at what cannot be seen? What a great paradox. Perhaps one is in compliance with the First Commandment when one looks for God and at the same time one realizes there is no possibility of seeing that ‘face of God’ while stuck in Samsara.
Is it OK to have artwork in a church if it does not show a face; but rather is like ‘modern art’ or like the sacred math designs in European cathedrals with wreaths of circles, evoking thoughts of Mystery and Glory? Oh, I don’t know — in some ways that art may be even more compelling, depending on the receptivity of the viewer.
This is a very interesting survey by Pew Research (http://www.pewforum.org/2018/04/25/when-americans-say-they-believe-in-god-what-do-they-mean/):
“The survey finds that three-quarters of American adults say they try to talk to God (or another higher power in the universe), and about three-in-ten U.S. adults say God (or a higher power) talks back.”
“One-third of respondents ultimately say that although they do not believe in the God of the Bible, they do believe in a higher power or spiritual force of some kind.”
It would seem the First Commandment has not stopped Americans from talking to their ‘idol,’ and doing some thinking to visualize what IT might be.
For all you know, “the Universe is unfolding as it should.” It is June. It is dusk. The time and temperature are just right for fireflies to zip about and mate. They flash their tiny lights that seem to me to be white, gold, and red. What incredible miracle of serendipity has created this coming together of me, dusk, June, and fireflies? There has been and still is in my mind, this special June moment where the ‘good tree’ is doing ITS thing. And I’m lovin’ the moment. And I have no idea what IT is.
June 29, 2018