Saturday, July 16, 2016

I shouldn't worship a God I can understand.

Groucho Marx (Wikimedia Commons)
"I sent the club a wire stating, 'PLEASE ACCEPT MY RESIGNATION. I DON'T WANT TO BELONG TO ANY CLUB THAT WILL ACCEPT PEOPLE LIKE ME AS A MEMBER'." --Groucho Marx, as quoted in Groucho and Me


Today I came across two articles from widely different sources that made the same point, albeit in different ways.
The first, "Marx and the Almighty", by Rabbi Beril Wein, was about the Red Cow decree, "Parah Adumah" given in the Torah reading of the week.   The second was a selection in The Office of Readings  from The Journey of the Mind to God, by St. Bonaventure (whose feast day was today, July 15th).    Since I am a Catholic and this is a Catholic blog, I'll save the best for last.


Here is Rabbi Wein's connection to the mystery of God, and Groucho Marx's Jewish humor.   First,  the Parah Adumah Torah reading about the sacrifice of a cow that has to be totally red and without blemish,  is one that has given rise to many different interpretations and Talmudic comments.  That of Rabbi Wein should be, I believe, the final word:
"The Torah reading of Chukas emphasizes to us the inscrutable nature of our relationship to the Creator. The Divine is not human in any form or understandable manner. Therefore G0d always remains beyond our reach and logic. This is emphasized to us in the commandment that appears at the beginning of this week's selection concerning the parah adumah — the red cow .. this is the ultimate "choik" — the law of the Almighty that is beyond all human comprehension. It is the ultimate "just do it" area of Jewish life and ritual..
"...Groucho Marx once said only semi-facetiously that "any club that would have me as a member is a club that I do not wish to belong to." Well, in a much more exalted fashion, Judaism states that any G0d who is completely understandable to me — a human being with all of the limitations inherent in so being — cannot really be my G0d."                 --Rabbi Berel Wein, Jewish World Review, 15th July, 2016


St. Bonaventure (Wikimedia Commons)
It is remarkable that very much the same notions about the ineffable nature of God were set forth by St. Bonaventure, Bishop and Doctor of the Church, in his book "The Journey of the Mind to God".

I came across this parallel yesterday, July 15th, while doing the Office of Readings.   The second reading was taken from St. Bonaventure's book, the day being his feast day.   He speaks of the mystical union with Christ in prayer, and that it can only be achieved by surrendering our will and intellect.

"For this passover to be perfect, we must suspend all the operations of the mind and we must transform the peak of our affections, directing them to God alone. This is a sacred mystical experience. It cannot be comprehended by anyone unless he surrenders himself to it; nor can he surrender himself to it unless he longs for it; nor can he long for it unless the Holy Spirit, whom Christ sent into the world, should come and inflame his innermost soul...
If you ask how such things can occur, seek the answer in God’s grace, not in doctrine; in the longing of the will, not in the understanding; in the sighs of prayer, not in research; seek the bridegroom not the teacher; God and not man; darkness not daylight; and look not to the light but rather to the raging fire that carries the soul to God with intense fervor and glowing love."  St. Bonaventure, "The Journey of the Mind into God"


So, from both sources we must conclude that to worship a God we can totally understand is to worship a being like us, an imperfect being, who therefore could not be truly God.   As I've written in another context,  St. Augustine understood this also:  God surpasses the infinite and therefore could not be totally comprehended.   And what else would be worthy of worship but an entity so grand, beyond our understanding, that He condescended to send His Son down to us in human form, so that He could become more real to us.



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