Yoram Hazony’s thought provoking article in the New York Times has received many responses, some thoughtful themselves, others less so1. In short, he argues that the God of the Bible is an imperfect God, and that this is actually a more plausible God as well. However, philosophers have avoided this conception because such a God is less likely to win our allegiance.
Indeed, this was the question that popped into my mind when I read the piece: Why worship an imperfect God?
I’m aware the discussion is way over my head, so I’m really just putting down my reaction here, which I hope is valid. I can’t be clear enough that these are waters I’m not qualified to wade into, but since I haven’t seen anyone else write this, and I think I’ve given a clear disclaimer, I want to discuss the question.
Anyway, if God is perfect, then there really isn’t much to discuss, since it then seems obvious that we should worship Him: God is perfect, therefore His will is perfect, and therefore we should accept His will, which is to listen to Him. For the Orthodox Jew this means following Jewish law.
However, if God is imperfect then this little train of thought falls apart, and we have to wonder if it possible to worship God if this is the case. I want to be clear that I’m not advocating the position that God is imperfect, but simply asking if He could demand our worship if this was true.
I believe the answer is yes, and I will suggest that there are at least two ways to explain this in light of the classical Jewish relationship with God.
- God as Creator and Lawmaker: If God is imperfect this does not affect His role as unique lawmaker for the world. God may be imperfect, whatever that means, but as He is still the sole creator and arbiter of right and wrong, the necessary and unnecessary, and who may hold legal power, we are bound to follow His will. Objective reality has been imbued with His particular brand of meaning and therefore the rules He has determined are objective as far as we are concerned. In short, we are bound by them.
- God as Beloved: This is the other core aspect of the relationship between God and the Jewish people. God is our father, our Sheppard, and our concerned King in our liturgy, and we love Him with all of our hearts, our souls, and our strength. He took us out of Egypt and hears our cries, and we have a special bond with Him which was given legal status and meaning through Jewish law. This being the case, we do not wonder whether or not God is perfect, but rather we worship Him out of love.
There may be other ways to explain why we would still worship an imperfect God, including simply explaining that Judaism doesn’t really bother with this question, but merely assumes that we must fulfill our obligations from Sinai. I am not out to defend one particular view or another, but simply to argue that this concept may possibly be considered not only compatible with the traditional Jewish understanding of how we relate to God, but also with the concept that we must follow Jewish law.
Lastly, I should probably mention that this view violates Rambam’s 13 principles, and in his opinion, as noted earlier in this blog, this means that anyone who holds it should be hated and destroyed. See that post for the “on the other hand”…
1Some other responses can be found at: