US Catholic Faith in Real Life

A God without perfection: A God we can believe in?

By Bryan Cones | Print this pagePrint | Email this pageShare

Yoram Hazony, president of the Institute for Advanced Studies at the Shalem Center in Jerusalem, has written an astonishingly simple apology for the God of the Hebrew Bible in The New York Times, offering it as a way beyond the God-the-perfect-being proposed by philosophers and much classical Christian theology. As Hazony points out, that approach to God as serious problems, the first of which is "that it appears to be impossible to make it coherent. For example, it seems unlikely that God can be both perfectly powerful and perfectly good if the world is filled (as it obviously is) with instances of terrible injustice."

Hazony goes on to argue that the perfect, all-powerful, impassible God often proposed can't be found in the Hebrew Bible: "The God of Hebrew Scripture is not depicted as immutable, but repeatedly changes his mind about things (for example, he regrets having made man). He is not all-knowing, since he’s repeatedly surprised by things (like the Israelites abandoning him for a statue of a cow). He is not perfectly powerful either, in that he famously cannot control Israel and get its people to do what he wants."

Both these problems have been obvious for some time, most poignantly since the mass murder of God's chosen people during the Nazi regime. What isn't always apparent is a way of speaking about God that is both honest to reality and still generates a God worth believing in. Hazony looks for clues in the divine name revealed to Moses: "The Hebrew 'I will be what I will be' is in the imperfect tense, suggesting to us a God who is incomplete and changing. In their run-ins with God, human beings can glimpse a corner or an edge of something too immense to be encompassed, a 'coming-into-being' as God approaches, and no more."

Intriguing, but is that a God we can believe in?