Seeing God from a New Perspective
Learning more about the Bible and its Hebraic
cultural setting is always helpful for understanding the text. But even
more than that, some concepts can make an enormous difference in our relationship
with God. In my own journey, one of the ideas that has changed me most
is the Hebraic picture of God.
Because our Western cultural heritage has its roots in Greek philosophy,
the Greek concept of God has sometimes overshadowed the biblical picture
of God. The ancient Greeks' dualistic worldview influenced their understanding
of God, and still influences us today. Dualism is the belief that physical
reality is worthless and evil; and that goodness and perfection is found
only in the spiritual world. The ancient Greeks believed that if the supreme
god is perfect, this god must be beyond the heavens, uninvolved in the
material world in any way. We inherit from them the idea that God is far
away and uninterested in humanity, who may have created the universe but
has no involvement in it now. Sometimes we hear that idea from Christians,
even though the biblical witness is that God was intimately involved in
the life of Israel, walked on earth as Christ, and still is present now
in the Holy Spirit. We also inherit from the Greeks the dualistic idea
that our lives on earth are of no consequence, and that we only should
care about the life to come. In contrast, the Hebraic picture is that
salvation is a redemption of our life here on earth that extends into
In the second century AD, dualism gave rise to the heresy of Marcion.
Marcion believed that Christians should reject the God of the Old Testament
as an evil, violent, lesser God than Christ, who came to teach about the
true supreme God. After all, the God of the Old Testament had created
the corrupt material world, so must be evil too. He wanted to remove the
entire Old Testament from the canon, and much of the New Testament besides
Luke and Paul. He considered the Old Testament to be inferior to the New,
and its Jewish God angry and unloving, and he focused only on teaching
about Christ devoid of his Jewish context. Although the church denounced
Marcion as a heretic, the philosophy behind his ideas still influences
our church culture today.
Our Loving Father?
Personally, I used to embrace much of Marcion's thinking, but that has
changed as I've learned more about the Bible's message in its Hebraic
setting, and how the Jews understand God. Years ago, I would have agreed
intellectually that God the Father is wise, loving and merciful; but the
way I read the Bible, especially the Old Testament, betrayed the fact
that in my heart I didn't believe it. Didn't God choose a nation of complainers,
burden them with meaningless regulations, and punish them harshly for
their sins? This really had a negative effect on my desire to learn about
God or grow closer to him. I knew that Christians were supposed to dedicate
their lives to serving God, but was pretty unexcited about that idea.
If I did, God would probably call me to some job I hated or make me abandon
people I loved. Wasn't that the kind of harsh thing he did to the Jews?
Even though I believed that Jesus was God too, that did not entirely remove
my negative feelings toward his Father, and my love and trust in this
God was minimal.
Truthfully, in some churches I get a sense that others share the lack
of love for their heavenly Father that I used to have. I suspect it when people
pray only to Jesus, or sing songs praising Christ exclusively, or talk
longingly about seeing Jesus in Heaven, but never mention our Father,
the one that Jesus loved and came to bring glory (John 17:4). I also suspect
it when every sermon or Bible study comes from the New Testament, ignoring
nearly 80% of the scriptures, the only part Jesus studied. In some circles
there is even a tendency to accuse God the Father of evil, even though
that would be unthinkable with Jesus. When reading the story of Abraham
being called to sacrifice Isaac, some will say, "I think God is a
child abuser!"2 But when reading about Jesus initially turning down
the Gentile woman who asked him to heal her child (Mark 7:26), it is assumed
that his motives are good even if we don't understand them. Could we imagine
saying some of the things of Jesus that we say about God? It is an interesting
schizophrenia that allows us to speak lovingly of Jesus and angrily of
his father, and yet worship them as one God. Knowing that Jesus is the
very likeness of his Father should answer any doubt we have about the
goodness of our Father in Heaven.
A Challenge from the Jews
The thing that really challenged me to rethink my picture of God was to
start reading from the Jews themselves about how they related to God.
I was curious how this people who had only known God's "bad side" in the Old Testament would relate to him. It came as an utter surprise
to me to hear the love that Jews have for God the Father in the prayers
that they have used for centuries. Much of Jewish prayer is filled with
an attitude of praise, blessing God for the most minute gifts that he
has given3. One
traditional hymn from the 3rd to 5th century AD goes:
Every living soul shall
bless your name, O God!
All created things will give you glory and thanksgiving!
Eternally you are God, and no one can stand before you.
Who but you offers freedom and help,
nourishes us and redeems us, sustains us and saves us,
and at all times views with unfailing compassion our sorrows and distress?
There is no one but you! 4
I remember being amazed that the Jews who
only knew the God that I didn't like would describe him in such loving
terms. Why did these people see God's mercy and kindness where I didn't?
I think it is because they come to the Hebrew Scriptures with an understanding
that is less obscured by a foreign worldview. Westerners want theology
laid out in a systematic way, with clear creeds and statements of truth.
Instead, we find stories, rules, and long lists of names. It is foreign
to us, so we preach and study mainly out of the New Testament, and only
dabble with the rest of scripture. For thousands of years, the Jews (including
Jesus) have revered this text and memorized it, meditated on it and applied
it to their daily lives. They have found some excellent answers for many
of the hardest questions I've had, because they seem to dwell in the Scriptures
A case in point is the commandment to wear tassels with a strand of blue
thread5. I used
to think this was a truly pointless regulation, and was glad to be free
from oppressive laws like this. But when I opened the Jewish commentaries,
I saw that they asked a better question -- what good purpose did a loving
God have in giving this law? When they did that, they found that it was
a very meaningful command because in ancient cultures, tassels were a
sign of nobility and priesthood. It was like telling his people to wear
a royal robe each day to show that they were his treasured possession,
a nation of priests. What I had seen as legalistic foolishness, they saw
as a great gift from God. They even had a good response for laws that
do not have any clear function. They would ask, "Why did God give
us this command to obey?" and answer, "To show our love and
trust for God, whose purposes are beyond fathoming." What a better
attitude than my own!
God is Present and Sovereign
Another thing I learned from Judaism is a sense of God's participation
in this world, and sovereignty over everything. The Greeks believed that
the supreme God was uninvolved in this world, and the Western view of
God tends to view him this way too. We assume that God is not interested
in our computer problems, how our job is going, or whether we are overweight,
but only in "spiritual" things. Or we assume that only after
we die will we have any interaction with him. Westerners view him as a
judge we will meet for the first time after we die, rather than a loving
Father who seeks a relationship with us to heal our lives in this world.
The difference in the Jewish attitude shows in their pattern of prayer,
which continually praises God as the source of every good thing in life
through short prayers throughout the day. It is difficult to not feel
that God's love surrounds us when we repeat dozens of these prayers each
Another dualistic attitude in Christianity is the assumption that God
only works through the miraculous, and that human advances are not under
his control. For instance, some feel it is unspiritual to seek medical
help, and that only prayer for healing is God's will. In Judaism, however,
a prayer is said before taking medicine which praises God for giving man
wisdom to discover this blessing, and then asks him to work through it
to heal them. They see God's presence in what we would say was our own
accomplishment. Rather than assuming that human effort is an affront to
God, they assume that God is sovereign over what humans achieve too. Many
with treatable mental illness have suffered too long because they felt
they just needed to be more "spiritual". How much better to
assume that the Lord uses human beings to care for us.
The Lord our God, the Lord is One
Even though the Jewish people lack the critical knowledge of our Lord
Jesus, through their scriptures they have found an amazing wisdom about
the goodness of our Heavenly Father. When I read the Bible from their
viewpoint, I now find that the whole thing, from Genesis to Revelation,
becomes good news of God's love, not just the last fourth we call the
New Testament. More importantly, my love and trust for this God has greatly
increased as I have started to see him as the passionate, loving God that
rescued his people from Egypt rather than the cold, distant, intellectual
God of the Greeks. The more I study from this perspective, the more God
the Father and his wonderful Son Jesus seem to be one and the same.
1 See the Director's articles, Salvation in This Life and Eternal Life, Here and Now at www.egrc.net.
2 See the Water from the Rock article, Offended by God at www.egrc.net.
3For more information, see the article, The
Richness of Jewish Prayer, or the En-Gedi [Articles][Topical Articles] page, with a section of links on Jewish Prayer.
4From Praying with the Jewish Tradition, by Elias
Kopciowski, ©1997, Eerdmans.
5See last month's article, Wearing our Tassels
So They Show at www.egrc.net.
6See the references in note 2.
Note: A good source for further reading is Our Father Abraham by Marvin
Wilson ©1989, Eerdmans. See especially chapters 8 & 9, which
describes Marcionism and explains the Hebraic world view.
Lois A. Tverberg, Ph.D., OurRabbiJesus.com. All rights reserved. This article is copyrighted and may not be redistributed without the express written consent of the author. To request permission for use, contact Tverberg@OurRabbiJesus.com.