Is God dead?

June 28, 2021 by Rabbi Raymond Apple
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Ask the rabbi.

IS GOD DEAD?

Rabbi Raymond Apple

One of the greatest sentences of the Bible is Abraham’s J’Accuse of God, “haShofet kol ha’aretz lo ya’aseh mishpat?” – “Shall the Judge of all the earth not act justly?” (Gen. 18:25).

It is bad enough when a human judge is accused of injustice, but God Himself?

Leap across the centuries, and the accusation arises from the Holocaust with such topicality that it is almost unbearable.

Abraham’s question may be seen as part of the “God is dead” movement.

In her “History of God”, Karen Armstrong’s last two chapters are “The Death of God” and “Does God Have a Future?”

Yet to religious believers the very thought that God might be dead is scandalous. Surely He cannot have decided to do away with Himself!

But Armstrong quotes Nietzsche’s story of the man who goes through the market-place at midday with a lantern crying, “I am looking for God!”

When passers-by laugh, he says, “Where has God gone? We have killed Him – you and I. We are all His murderers!”

In which way have we “killed” God?

In the secular society, people are managing without Him: it is as if He did not exist.

The scientific society cannot prove Him, which means He is not there. The pedantic society cannot find words to define Him, and what cannot be defined cannot be.

There are answers to these problems, but for Jews the problem lies elsewhere – not in sociology, science or linguistics, but in history.

We look at our times and say, since we see such evil, how can there be a God?

But there is a paradox. With God there seem to be no answers, but without God there are no questions. If there is no God, why protest when we see evil? There is no-one to protest against! If there is no God, surely evil is equally acceptable as good!

The Jewish answer is to echo Abraham, not to deny God but to quarrel with Him. Eugene Borowitz says our choice is between explanation, which is elusive, and indignation.

Our task, instead of declaring God dead, is to say with Job, “Though He may slay me, yet will I believe in Him, but I will argue my ways before Him” (13:15).

Our task, too, is not merely to be affronted when He seems absent, but to acknowledge that He emerges; to affirm that He cannot be dead, because there are also events of which we are witness which prove it is impossible to deny His presence.

REBUILDING THE TEMPLE

The months of Tammuz and Av direct our attention to the destruction of the Temple.

It is axiomatic that the Bible is true, that Solomon built a Temple, there was a Second Temple which underwent some changes, the sanctuary was finally destroyed by the Romans, part of the western wall is still there, and one day the edifice will be rebuilt.

When will it be rebuilt?

According to Rashi, the clue comes in the verse (Ex. 15:17-18), “The sanctuary, O Lord, which Your hands set up: The Lord will reign for ever and ever” (Ex. 15:17-18).

Rashi says that God’s hands will rebuild the sanctuary when the time comes that He reigns forever and ever, i.e. when the Divine kingdom is established on earth.

It will be the spiritual centre of all mankind. As Isaiah (2:2-3) and Micah (4:1-4) prophesy, all the nations will flock to it.

Solomon specifies in his dedicatory prayer for the first Temple, “The foreigner who does not belong to the people of Israel” will come there to pray, and God will hear his prayer (I Kings 8:41-45).

When that time comes the current occupiers will no longer have control over the site but will have the same opportunities as all religions to offer their prayers there.

In the meantime, it would help if the world acknowledged the historical importance of the sanctuary for Jews (and indeed for Christians who lack the freedom to pray there).

May the time soon come when God will be king over all the world and mankind will have a temple of peace in the city of peace.

Rabbi Raymond Apple served for 32 years as the chief minister of the Great Synagogue, Sydney, Australia’s oldest and most prestigious congregation. He is now retired and lives in Jerusalem where he answers interesting questions.

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