Thursday, January 29, 2009

Rami: Response to Mike's 1/28 Post

This certainly helps with an understanding of how the idea of forgiveness through Jesus as Christ evolved, Mike. From the Jewish perspective the issue is still problematic, though over the centuries many Jews have adopted somewhat similar practices such as praying at the burial sites of great rabbis and sages in hopes of invoking their help in convincing God to do whatever it is they wish to have done.

My own position is that God neither rewards nor punishes, and that forgiveness only makes sense in the human sphere. For me God is Reality, all that was, is, and ever will be, and that which transcends this as well. My experience of God is not one of forgiveness but of infinite compassion. God, and I am speaking metaphorically here, simply mirrors back to me the complete fabric of my life and how my actions impact others, and does so in such a way as I cannot avoid feeling the suffering I cause. It is this realization that motivates me to make amends and ask for forgiveness from those I have hurt or harmed.

When I say God is love, the love I imagine isn't sweet but searing. This love burns away all the nonsense and lies that poison my life and keep me from fully experiencing the depths of suffering and joy that life contains. When I die I don't expect God to forgive me or condemn me. I expect God to embrace me the way an ocean embraces the river that flows into it, or the wave that arises from it. I am not concerned with heaven and hell except as they play out here on earth. I am passionate about the "kingdom of God" among us and between us and with in, but I have no interest in such a kingdom above or a horror show below. In this I am quintessentially Jewish.

I suspect it is the Jewish focus on this world that makes the validation of Jesus as Christ through the resurrection irrelevant. It doesn't matter than Jesus returned to his Father in heaven. What matters is that we are still making a mess of things here on earth. To say with Jesus that his kingdom is not of this world is, from a Jewish perspective, to say that his teaching is irrelevant to the world. Neither you nor I believe that. I think the teaching of Jesus, which I see as profoundly Jewish drawing from and expanding both the prophetic and rabbinic traditions (as opposed to the teaching about Jesus which form the basis of Christianity) are as vital today as ever--perhaps more so. The power of the Sermon on the Mount is that it is a deeply spiritual and transformative way of living here and now. Nothing can diminish nor add to that--not the resurrection nor the denial of the resurrection. It is Jesus' teaching that matters, and I don't want to limit the validity of that teaching to a supernatural understanding of the teacher.

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