Monday, February 9, 2015

Once More Unto the Breach: Discussion with Gene Shlomovich About Whether G-d Could Ever Take Human Form [COMPLETE]

How long has it been since Gene left the Messianic movement by renouncing Yeshua as Messiah?  It's been a while... and I've missed talking Torah with him.

Well, after his most recent post entitled "G-d can do anything, can't he?", I've decided to re-open a line of communication with Gene.  I will paste the entire conversation here (doing this so that Gene won't delete or modify my comments).  If he responds during the day, I will try to respond this evening.

Enjoy:





COMMENT 1 (Peter):

Gene,

I think I understand where you're coming from.  You would apparently agree with Chasidic rabbi Noson Gurary:

“13. It may be pointed out that in terms of God’s omnipotence, He could have chosen to have a body of some sort too (not necessarily in the purely physical sense). However, the Torah testifies to the fact that He did not choose to do this (cf. Exodus 20:4; Deuteronomy 4:16-19),” The Thirteen Principles of Faith: A Chasidic Viewpoint. 

And he cites to the above passages as evidence that G-d would refrain from taking a body.  Those passages prohibit making an idol in the form of...well, just about anything:

"You shall not make for yourself an image in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below."

Of course, when one points out that G-d has taken the form of things which are in earth and heaven (e.g. a cloud, a fire, etc), it should be evident that G-d does not consider taking on such forms as idolatry.

My point is this:  if He can appear as a cloud or a fire, why not also a body?  What's the difference?

I'll check back with you later today.  I'm looking forward to understanding your position.

Shalom,

Peter

COMMENT 2 (Gene):


@Peter
“My point is this: if He can appear as a cloud or a fire, why not also a body? What’s the difference?”
I think that the key to this seeming riddle is the fact that G-d didn’t actually become either cloud or fire, but that He (or rather His glory) was merely temporarily veiled behind those phenomena. Nor did G-d take on a new physical nature, the way we clearly see with Christianity’s god, permanently becoming something that He was not. Also, I do not believe that either the “cloud” or the “fire” were a literal physical cloud (water vapor) or an actual fire (a chemical reaction). They merely resembled them to the observers. We have a hint of this:
To the Israelites the glory of HaShem looked like a consuming fire on top of the mountain.” (from Exodus 24:13-18)
But why did G-d choose to appear from within what appeared to the Israelites as a “cloud” or “fire”, why was His glory veiled in a visible way, even if this veil was formless? How was this different than taking on a form and how would this thwart idolatry? One explanation that I’ve once read is that they shared something in common – both the “cloud” and the “fire” were observable and yet impenetrable to human gaze or grasp; they were intangible, lacking physicality, they appeared and disappeared, ethereal and without clearly defined borders. It follows, therefore, that G-d must’ve thought it to be really, really important that He was not to be imagined in more concrete ways.

COMMENT 3 (Peter):

Gene,
I’m trying to understand your contradictory use of “physicality.” By definition physical things are observable. You acknowledge that the cloud and fire were observable. Yet you say they were “lacking physicality.” This is a contradiction, is it not? But no matter.
Let’s focus on some common ground.
You agree that G-d “veils” Himself in observable things (e.g. cloud, fire). You would also agree that He has veiled Himself in the Tabernacle. He seems to have no problems with dwelling in what was essentially a house. So why not a body? After all, what is a body but a type of house for the soul.
Indeed, do not the Chasidic Masters say that the Divine incarnates into bodies all the time?
“[Menahem Mendel:] ‘This [impotence] is also true of love and fear. Who is the beloved if it isn’t the divinity that God causes to descend into the human soul? And who would love the soul [without that divinity]? What is [the origin of this] love? Love is mined from the essence of divinity that descends in the human soul and becomes rooted in the material world, becoming compacted [mit’zamzem’ in the ‘small world’ [olam katan], that is the human being. Every moment of one’s existence is in the midst of God, because God is the ‘place of the world/humankind,’ the One who surrounds and fills all worlds,” Shaul Magid, Hasidism Incarnate, pg. 56.
On a personal note, I would like to thank you for your kindness via email. You have been a better friend than I have been.
Shalom,
Peter



COMMENT 4 (Gene):

“You agree that G-d “veils” Himself in observable things (e.g. cloud, fire). You would also agree that He has veiled Himself in the Tabernacle. He seems to have no problems with dwelling in what was essentially a house. So why not a body? After all, what is a body but a type of house for the soul.”
Peter, I think the core issue is the changing of G-d’s nature and Him taking on a tangible form through incarnation, not merely hiding behind a veil yet remaining unchanged in form.
This is exactly where Christianity has made its fateful leap into the abyss of idolatry and man-worship when it tried to claim that the two are somehow analogous. From G-d’s presence dwelling in a Temple to G-d becoming a man lies a deep gulf that G-d Himself warned shouldn’t be crossed. He explicitly said that Israelite saw no form to Him, and specifically of a man or a woman, that can be shaped into an idol. Christianity, as I wrote in my post, gave form to G-d and it assigned that form to a mortal man (with a backup story of how that happened).
Of course, there’s a whole lot more to Christianity’s incarnation theology than just G-d veiling Himself with a bodily form. As you know, Christianity goes far beyond that, with pre-existent multiple divine persons, who possess connected yet still distinctly separate personalities, who talk to each other, who have different levels of knowledge, and who have a family-like relationship with each other, etc.
“Indeed, do not the Chasidic Masters say that the Divine incarnates into bodies all the time?”
I rather not get into sectarian mysticism and kabbalah. Mysticism often takes flights of fancy and it’s so easy to selectively cull from mystical books support for this or that idea. At the same time even Chasidic masters wouldn’t cross the line which Christianity has crossed. I had long discussions on the subject with chasidic rabbis. Instead, I seek to understand G-d, first and foremost, as He already revealed Himself to the Israelites in the Torah and the prophets. So, let’s try to focus on the Hebrew Bible and the NT, if we can.
“On a personal note, I would like to thank you for your kindness via email. You have been a better friend than I have been.”
I appreciate your sentiment, Peter. Thank you.

COMMENT 5 (Peter):

Gene,
RE: “I rather not get into sectarian mysticism and kabbalah. Mysticism often takes flights of fancy…let’s try to focus on the Hebrew Bible and the NT, if we can.”
It strikes me as odd that you would introduce the topic of Judaism’s position on mystical incarnation yet request that no one refer to any mystical traditions within Judaism.
Nevertheless, I have enjoyed the conversation, old friend.
Shalom,
Peter



COMMENT 6 (Gene):

“It strikes me as odd that you would introduce the topic of Judaism’s position on mystical incarnation yet request that no one refer to any mystical traditions within Judaism. ”
Peter, but Christianity has actually crossed into physical and away from mystical by claiming that G-d took on physical flesh. (Just because something is absurd doesn’t make it automatically “mystical”). Mystical in Judaism attempts to describe spiritual, otherworldly, the things of G-d that are hidden from us. Midrash and mysticism can’t either prove or go against pshat, the plain meaning of biblical text.
The other reason I do not wish to get into discussing Jewish mysticism and midrash is because trying to harness works of Jewish authors who vehemently opposed Christianity and its idea of G-d becoming a man to prove the very opposite of what they believed strikes me as disingenuous – it ignores their true position on the subject by selectively quoting their works into submission. (To make an analogy, imagine Muslim apologists selectively quoting Christian authors to prove that the latter actually believed that another (and final) prophet is coming after Jesus (hint: Muhammad).)
“Nevertheless, I have enjoyed the conversation, old friend.”
Me too – stop by and comment anytime.

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