- Rabbi Mordecai Finley
God in the Bible
Thoughts inspired by Torah portion Pinchas 2017
The thought of Carl Jung helped me learn the distinction between the God one might believe in versus the gods that are operating within us. To know that a person might believe in the idea of God presented by Judaism, Christianity or Islam, for example, does not tell us much about what drives a person.
Under the mask of how we present ourselves to society is a deeper self. While the mask we present to the world might be stable, within the deeper, unseen self, a battle sometimes rages. Powerful forces vie for control. When unleashed, forces of vengeance, desire and destructiveness can reign. Counteracting forces of reason, righteousness and wisdom are called upon to do battle against those darker forces.
But why call those forces “gods”? I think because these energies within present themselves not as psychological quirks but rather as dynamic forces, forces that push against anything that we thought we might believe in, forces that can overwhelm us. I have seen people who proclaim that their word is their deed make weighty promises upon which others depend, and then break those promises because they have been miffed. A feeling of being disparaged, whether that feeling is based on any fact or not, can cause a person to wreak havoc in the lives of others. And that wreaking havoc, that desire to punish, can be fueled by a primal sense of vengeance, of fury unleashed. It does not matter what religion one might profess; unless one has in place countervailing forces, inner gods of vengeance can hold sway.
This week’s Torah portion brings to mind a vengeful God, and his agent of vengeance, Pinchas. The idea of vengeance seems so archaic, but of course, we see the lure of vengeance every day. In acts of terrorism and political violence, vengeance often plays a huge role. The drive is not just to right a wrong, but to make those suffer who are, or symbolize the wrongdoers. Think of the amount of literature, theater and cinema devoted to themes of vengeance and retribution. While people may not believe in a God of vengeance, that god seems to be operating within them.
When Jung looked deeply into the human psyche, he could see not only powers of repression symptomized into neurosis, the focus of Freud. Jung saw forces that reminded him of the Greek gods vying for power. The human soul is a battleground. A depressed person might look placid, but that depression might be fatigue from a war being conducted within.
I write all of this to give depth to my teachings on how to look at the God of the Hebrew Bible. The God of the Bible is not one – the various depictions of God in the Bible are in many ways irreconcilable. The loving and healing God of Psalms is not the vengeful God we find appearing often in the narratives of the Torah. Jung would teach that the various depictions of the God of the Bible are at least in part projections of the forces that rage in the human psyche. Some, however, who say that they don’t believe in the God of the Bible, at least the most troubling depictions, act as if they do. A person might say that they don’t believe in a God of vengeance, but when disappointed, feel entirely justified in their own vengeance. It is as if they have become the God they don’t believe in.
As I have said often, the Bible is more about the human condition than a theological inquiry into the nature of the divine. Depictions of God, perhaps especially the ones that trouble us the most, tell us more about ourselves than we would like to admit.
I think that what I believe to be the true nature of God – as metaphorized in Lurianic Kabbalah – leaks through now and then into the Hebrew Bible. Other than that, the depictions of the various personas called God in the Bible are complex reflections of human nature and the human condition projected on the canopy of heaven.
I revere the Bible as a Torah of truth – a truth about ourselves, about our wars within, and about our means for transformation.