Do we believe in God?
Judaism begins with an encounter – with the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and of Sarah, Rebekah, Rachel and Leah. Jacob’s name is changed to Israel, meaning one who wrestles with God. From this beginning an intimate and distinctive understanding of God has always been central to Judaism. If faith in God were to ‘go’, there wouldn’t be much long-term future for Judaism. There are three important ‘howevers’.
First of all, Reform Judaism today has a rather different concept of God from, say, Judaism of medieval times. That is to say, we experience God in a different way. We don’t experience God as an all-powerful, male figure who zaps the wicked and blesses the good with health and wealth. We believe in God but not in a God who intervenes in life in the same way as many of our ancestors believed.
Secondly, the modern world and the Shoah (Holocaust) have undermined belief for many people, including Jews. Many Reform Synagogue members - we suspect even people who attend synagogue services regularly - share the doubts and questions that modernity, the Shoah and society around us have raised. But then what is wrong with doubt and questioning? It doesn’t invalidate belief but often leads to a belief which is even more real. In fact, doubt and questioning are part of both ‘the human condition’ today and the Reform Jewish journey. Actually, it is more important to stay with the questions than to grab hold of easy and superficial answers.
A third ‘however’ is that many of us need to be more open to those who do experience God in quite a personal way – not as One who zaps but as One who embraces or inspires. There is now a generation of young men and women who are further away from the excessive rationalism of modernity and who are also less traumatised by the Shoah. They can be more open to new and personal experiences of the God of Abraham and Sarah. As Reform Jews, we need to acknowledge this development and encourage the quest for ‘spirituality’.