The Israelite God
The Shema Yisrael is a monotheistic declaration of faith, a pledge of allegiance to the one God of Israel, and is perhaps the most famous of all Jewish sayings.
"Hear O Israel, YHWH is our God, YHWH is One"
The Jewish understanding of God is that:
God created the universe and is eternal and uncreated. There are no forces of any kind independent of God. He created the universe by his word and without his word continuing to sustain all things, they would simply cease to exist. He transcends time, matter and space and although omnipotent, he is also just, wise and merciful.
God created man. Man is not subject to any force other his own God-bestowed sense of morality. He is thus free to choose to do good or evil. However, the story of Eden demonstrates that if man freely chooses to do evil, then he also freely chooses to live in a state of separation from God.
God has a purpose for man, which is that man will redeem himself, will freely choose to reject his separation from God and re-enter Eden.
To achieve his purpose for man, God established an unbreakable Covenant with the entire Israelite people to be his servants and champions of his truth on earth. The ultimate mission of this people of God is the establishment of God's reign on earth so that "the knowledge of God will fill the earth as the waters cover the sea," thereby bringing redemption to all mankind.
In order that the mission may be furthered, God intervenes in human history. His instruments of redemptive intervention are ordinary men and women. He fills these vessels of manifestation with aspects of his character depending on his purpose of the moment: with his word, his wisdom, his righteousness, and his spirit.
The eternal, uncreated God cannot be rationally explained by simply exercising the intellect of a created, finite being. God can only be known by exercising his commandments of righteousness, justice and mercy revealed to Moses. It is important to recognise that the emergence of Monotheism amongst the ancient Israelite is a phenomenon that itself cannot be rationally explained, as the late Professor Nahum Sarna* observed:
"There is absolutely no parallel in the ancient Near East for a people resisting the current universal religious thought patterns, challenging the prevailing world views and producing a national religion and literature that in its fundamentals goes against the stream of the entire existing tradition of which historically, culturally and geographically it is a constituent part. The phenomenon defies all attempts at rational explanation, for a linear, evolutionary development of monotheism from polytheism is not otherwise attested.”
The Triune God
The doctrine of the Trinity has always been the cornerstone of Christian faith. In the words of the Athanasian Creed:
"the Father is God, the Son is God, and the Holy Spirit is God, and yet there are not three Gods but one God."
According to the Catholic Encyclopaedia article "The Blessed Trinity:"
"In this Trinity of Persons the Son is begotten of the Father by an eternal generation, and the Holy Spirit proceeds by an eternal procession from the Father and the Son. Yet, notwithstanding this difference as to origin, the Persons are co-eternal and co-equal: all alike are uncreated and omnipotent. This, the Church teaches, is the revelation regarding God's nature which Jesus Christ, the Son of God, came upon earth to deliver to the world: and which she proposes to man as the foundation of her whole dogmatic system."
Even though foundational, the doctrine of the Trinity had never been seen as having a practical application to daily life. Relatively recently, however, most theological movements have been reflecting upon how the Trinity might be applied practically.
Whole forests of paper and excessive amounts of bandwidth have now been swallowed up in an endeavour to affirm the doctrine's critical importance to each and every relationship: from that of the marriage bed all the way through to that between member states of the United Nations.
The Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit represent mutual love, co-operation and understanding, they say. This "three-in one" structure provides a basis for accepting a multiplicity of viewpoints, and is the model for the ideal society, they say. It is more conducive to peace and less likely to provoke conflict, they say. The exclusivity of Monotheism is distasteful in a democratic, egalitarian society, they say.
The reality is that many academics and theologians who live on the fruits of the Hebrew bible actually find the Monotheism expressed therein offensive!
An eminent theologian, Jurgen Moltmann*, had this to say:
"The social doctrine of the Trinity is in a position to overcome both Monotheism in the concept of God and individualism in the doctrine of man, and to develop a social personalism and personalist socialism...that is important for the divided world in which we live and think."
Catholic intellectual, G. K. Chesterton,* may have started the ball rolling almost a century ago when he reflected on the difference between Allah of the Muslims (and by implication YHWH of the Israelites) and the Triune god of the Christians:
"The complex God of the Athanasian Creed may be an enigma for the intellect; but He is far less likely to gather the mystery and cruelty of a Sultan than the lonely god of Omar or Mahomet. The god who is a mere awful unity is not only a king but an Eastern king..."
"The heart of humanity, especially of European humanity, is certainly much more satisfied by the strange hints and symbols that gather round the Trinitarian idea, the image of a council at which mercy pleads as well as justice, the conception of a sort of liberty and variety existing even in the inmost chamber of the world. For Western religion has always felt keenly the idea “it is not well for man to be alone...”
"For to us Trinitarians (if I may say it with reverence)–to us God Himself is a society. It is indeed a fathomless mystery of theology..."
"Suffice it to say here that this triple enigma is as comforting as wine and open as an English fireside; that this thing that bewilders the intellect utterly quiets the heart: but out of the desert, from the dry places and, the dreadful suns, come the cruel children of the lonely God; the real Unitarians who with scimitar in hand have laid waste the world. For it is not well for God to be alone..."
The Trinitarian God of G.K. Chesterton may certainly be more suited to his complex western intellect, but so riddled with Hellenist-based thought are the doctrines of Christianity that it may have escaped Chesterton's notice that the God of the Israelites is, like Allah, not a Trinity, but a God who is "one."
The idea of a Triune God is entirely foreign to Israelite thought, both before and after the rise of Christianity. It was foreign to the Jewish Jesus, to all of his Jewish contemporaries, and to the authors of the books of the New Testament. It is, however, common to other ancient religions, such as those of Babylon, Egypt and India.
The New Testament testifies the same as the Old. God is one and has a faithful and eternal covenant with his people, the people of God. The Triune God of Christianity, however, is not faithful, he is a covenant-breaker who abandoned his people and formed a new Covenant with Christians, the new people of God.
Far from them being created in the "image of God," Christian theologians have created a god in their own image - they have now defined for themselves the old Triune God in terms more harmonious with the modern worldview. God is no longer our infintite and unchanging rock in a sea of troubles, but is now infinitely malleable and subject to change according to the whims of the moment.
The Triune God of Christianity is no more than a chimera first existing in the minds of the church fathers, a God much more suited to their tastes and values, and now newly fashioned to suit modern society.
Similarly, the doctrinal picture of Jesus is no more than an fantasy figure created by the church fathers after their own image, a man much more suited to their tastes and values, and also now newly fashioned to suit modern society.
The claim that any created being, especially the Jewish Jesus, possesses God's own qualities, that he also is co-eternal, co-existent and uncreated, is profoundly shocking to Jews. The inescapable corollary of the assertion that God had to become man to achieve his purposes is that God's intent for man to redeem himself is a failure. God himself is a therefore a failure.
* Nahum M. Sarna, “Paganism and Biblical Judaism,” Great Confrontations in Jewish History: The J. M. Goodstein Lecture Series on Judaica, 1975, edited by Stanley M. Wagner and Allen D. Breck (Denver: University of Denver, Department of History, 1977/5737), reprinted in Studies in Biblical Interpretation (Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society, 2000/5760), 17.
**Jurgen Moltmann, "The Reconciling Power of the Trinity in the Life of the Church and the World", Triune God: Love, Justice, Peace, edited by K.M. Tharakan (Mavelikkara: Youth Movement of Indian Orthodox Church, 1989), 32.
*** G.K.Chesterton, Orthodoxy: The Romance of Orthodoxy, 1908.