The start point is the prayer that is in the mezuzah that Jewish families attach to their door-posts. It is the Shema, the most important prayer in Judaism and the bedrock of their understanding of God.
“Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.” (Deuteronomy 6:4)
This prayer is recited by religious Jews every morning and evening and more so on Sabbath and festivals. For many Jewish martyrs, from the time of the Maccabees to the Holocaust, it is the last thing uttered before death.
It very simply defines who God is and how we should treat Him. There is just one God and our duty is to love Him with all parts of our being. It is a command, which implies that if it doesn’t come natural to us, then we must work on it. It is a command, just like the Ten Commandments, that ask us not to murder, steal, commit adultery, covet or lie – all things that are part of our basic fallen nature. We must work on the idea of loving God, just as Jesus asks us to love our enemies. Jews are commanded to love God even though He is ultimately responsible for the sorry state that they find themselves in, as a generally misunderstood and hated people.
It has to be said that these days much of the Church seems to follow a different God, a touchy-feely God of their own expectations and desires, a God crafted out of their own imaginations, a God that makes them feel good and feeds their self-esteem. We need to search for the real God, not an imaginary one. But how do we know if we have found Him? Just look for a Father’s heart. No sermon here, but just think of the characteristics of a loving father, offering tough love not fluffy love and start praying and searching.
There is a song in the Jewish liturgy that expresses this idea perfectly, Avinu Malkeinu, our Father, our King.
“Our Father, our King, we have no king beside You. Our Father, our King, for Your own sake have mercy on us!”
To Jews it illustrates what is called the immanence-transcendence paradox. How God, the Creator and Ruler of the Universe, can also offer the intimacy of a loving father. Christians, of course, have no problems with this, but tend to veer to the opposite extreme in outlook. The popular view of God for most Christians is as a Father in Heaven. The popular view of God for religious Jews is expressed in the first few wordsof their daily prayers over food, wine etc.
“Blessed are you, Lord our God, King of the Universe …”
Jews have a problem with His intimacy, many Christians have a problem with His majesty. There’s much that each can teach the other. So what can Jewish thoughts and practices teach us?
November 2012 (This is an abridged extract from Steve’s book How the Church Lost the Way: And How it Can Find it Again)