A. God As He Makes Himself Known To Man
Chapter V. Man's Consciousness of God and Belief in God
1. Holy Writ employs two terms for religion, both of which lay stress upon its moral and spiritual nature: Yirath Elohim—“fear of God”—and Daath Elohim—“knowledge or consciousness of God.” Whatever the fear of God may have meant in the lower stages of primitive religion, in the Biblical and Rabbinical conceptions it exercises a wholesome moral effect; it stirs up the conscience and keeps man from wrongdoing. Where fear of God is lacking, violence and vice are rife; it keeps society in order and prompts the individual to walk in the path of duty. Hence it is called “the beginning of wisdom.” The divine revelation of Sinai accentuates as its main purpose “to put the fear of God into the hearts of the people, lest they sin.”
2. God-consciousness, or “knowledge of God,” signifies an inner experience which impels man to practice the right and to shun evil, the recognition of God as the moral power of life. “Because there is no knowledge of God,” therefore do the people heap iniquity upon iniquity, says Hosea, and he hopes to see the broken covenant with the Lord renewed through faithfulness grounded on the consciousness of God. Jeremiah also insists upon “the knowledge of God” as a moral force, and, like Hosea, he anticipates the renewal of the broken covenant when “the Lord shall write His law upon the heart” of the people, and “they shall all know Him from the least of them unto the greatest of them.”
Wherever Scripture speaks of “knowledge of God,” it always means the moral and spiritual recognition of the Deity as life's inmost power, determining human conduct, and by no means refers to mere intellectual perception of the truth of Jewish monotheism, which is to refute the diverse forms of polytheism. This misconception of the term “knowledge of God,” as used in the Bible, led the leading medieval thinkers of Judaism, especially the school of Maimonides, and even down to Mendelssohn, into the error of confusing religion and philosophy, as if both resulted from pure reason. It is man's moral nature rather than his intellectual capacity, that leads him “to know God and walk in His ways.
3. It is mainly through the conscience that man becomes conscious of God. He sees himself, a moral being, guided by motives which lend a purpose to his acts and his omissions, and thus feels that this purpose of his must somehow be in accord with a higher purpose, that of a Power who directs and controls the whole of life. The more he sees purpose ruling individuals and nations, the more will his God-consciousness grow into the conviction that there is but One and Only God, who in awful grandeur holds dominion over the world.
This is the developmental process of religious truth, as it is unfolded by the prophets and as it underlies the historic framework of the Bible. In this light Jewish monotheism appears as the ripe fruitage of religion in its universal as well as its primitive form of God-consciousness, as the highest attainment of man in his eternal seeking after God. Polytheism, on the other hand, with its idolatrous and immoral practices, appeared to the prophets and lawgivers of Israel to be, not a competing religion, but simply a falling away from God. They felt it to be a loss or eclipse of the genuine God-consciousness. The object of revelation, therefore, is to lead back all mankind to the God whom it had deserted, and to restore to all men their primal consciousness of God, with its power of moral regeneration.
4. In the same degree as this God-consciousness grows stronger, it crystallizes into belief in God, and culminates in love of God. As stated above, in Judaism belief—Emunah—never denotes the acceptance of a creed. It is rather the confiding trust by which the frail mortal finds a firm hold on God amidst the uncertainties and anxieties of life, the search for His shelter in distress, the reliance on His ever-ready help when one's own powers fail. The believer is like a little child who follows confidingly the guidance of his father, and feels safe when near his arm.
In fact, the double meaning of Emunah, faith and faithfulness, suggests man's child-like faith in the paternal faithfulness of God. The patriarch Abraham is presented in both Biblical and Rabbinical writings as the pattern of such a faith, and the Jewish people likewise are characterized in the Talmud as “believers, sons of believers.” The Midrash extols such life-cheering faith as the power which inspires true heroism and deeds of valor.
5. The highest triumph of God-consciousness, however, is attained in love of God such as can renounce cheerfully all the boons of life and undergo the bitterest woe without a murmur. The book of Deuteronomy inculcates love of God as the beginning and the end of the Law, and the rabbis declare it to be the highest type of human perfection. In commenting upon the verse, “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, with all thy soul, and with all thy might,” they say: “Love the Law, even when thy life is demanded as its price, nay, even with the last breath of thy body, with a heart that has no room for dissent, amid every visitation of destiny!”
They point to the tragic martyrdom of R. Akiba as an example of such a love sealed by death. In like manner they refer the expression, “they that love Thee,” to those who bear insults without resentment; who hear themselves abused without retort; who do good unselfishly, without caring for recognition; and who cheerfully suffer as a test of their fortitude and their love of God. Thus throughout all Rabbinical literature love of God is regarded as the highest principle of religion and as the ideal of human perfection, which was exemplified by Job, according to the oldest Haggadah, and, according to the Mishnah, by Abraham. Another interpretation of the verse cited from Deuteronomy reads, “Love God in such a manner that thy fellow-creatures may love Him owing to thy deeds.”
All these passages and many others show what a prominent place the principle of love occupied in Judaism. This is, indeed, best voiced in the Song of Songs:72 “For love is strong as death; the flashes thereof are flashes of fire, a very flame of the Lord. Many waters cannot quench that love, neither can the floods drown it.” It set the heart of the Jew aglow during all the centuries, prompting him to sacrifice his life and all that was dear to him for the glorification of his God, to undergo for his faith a martyrdom without parallel in history.