The greatest sin that Greek philosophy tried to inflict upon all three Abrahamic religions is the erroneous idea that God does not need or desire our prayers or our moral activities. In the western world this idea is associated with Aristotle who taught a concept of God as a perfect “unmoved mover”. All of creation is dependent on God, but God is totally independent of everything; and thus cannot really be in any kind of mutual relationship with the natural universe, or with the heart and soul of any intelligent beings anywhere in the natural universe.
The Hebrew Bible, the Christian Bible and the Qur’an teach exactly the opposite. The foundation of all three monotheistic religions is that personal relationships are the essence of human life with other humans; as well as with the one God who created us all. Without committed inter-personal relationships human life lacks meaning and purpose.
Naturally, it sounds totally self-centered to say that an individual person, who is one of almost eight billion humans on planet earth, is of concern to a Deity capable of creating a universe of billions of galaxies, each one containing hundreds of millions of stars, most with solar systems, with many of these planets providing a home for various forms of life.
Yet to me it sounds even more self-centered to say, that intelligent life developed only at one time and in one place in this fantastic universe.
If you can believe that our universe is not simply the result of random chance, there is no reason not to believe that the Divine intelligence that created it, can also relate personally to every individual aspect of that Divine creation.
And this relationship is mutual and reciprocal.
Of course, we all have questions about difficult aspects of each person’s relationship with God. Why do some have it easy and some have it hard? Why doesn’t God control the relationship better? Why can’t we always understand the relationship better?
There are no easy answers to these questions, except to say that committed relationships always involve both joy and sorrow; risk and reward, love and loss. The patience and perseverance of the Jewish People is unique among all the nations of the world. It is the product of trust in God in general and trust in God especially during times of defeat and oppression:
“The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. The LORD is my portion,’ says my soul,’therefore I will hope in him.’” (Lamentations 3:22-24) This wisdom tale says it all:
One day a young man stood in a town square proclaiming that he had the most beautiful heart in the whole country. A large crowd gathered around him, and all admired his heart, for it was perfect. There was not a mark or a flaw in it. Yes, they agreed it truly was the most beautiful heart they had ever seen.
It was an ideal heart. As beautiful as a Greek stature of an ideal youth. The young man said that his perfect, beautiful heart, was due to his philosophy of following a path of self realization, reason, calmness and detachment.
Then a Rabbi named after Martin Buber, a great Jewish philosopher, who proclaimed that, “the purpose of all great religions and religious movements is to engender a life of elation and fervor which no (later negative) experience can dampen and stifle.” appeared at the front of the crowd and said, “Why your heart is not nearly as beautiful as mine.”
The crowd and the young man looked at the Rabbi’s heart. It was beating strongly, but it was full of scars. It had places where pieces had been removed and other pieces put in; but they didn’t fit quite right, and there were several jagged edges.
In fact, in some places there were deep gouges where whole pieces were missing. The people stared. How could Martin Buber say his heart was more beautiful than the heart of the ideal youth?
The young man looked at the older man’s heart and laughed. “You must be joking,” he said.”Compare your heart with mine; my heart is perfect and yours is a mess of scars and tears.”
“Yes,” said Rabbi Buber, “yours is perfect looking; but I would never trade with you. You see, every scar represents a person to whom I have given my love. I tear out a piece of my heart and give it to people, and often they give me a piece of their heart, which fits into an empty place in my heart. But because the pieces are never exactly equal, I have some rough edges, which I cherish, because they remind me of the love we shared.
“Sometimes I give pieces of my heart away, and the other person doesn’t return a piece of his or her heart to me. Those are the empty gouges…giving love is taking a chance.
And then there are places where my heart is broken, reminding me of the love I have had, and lost. I say Kaddish then to praise God for the pains of living a life of loving and caring; for it is better to love and lose than never to love at all.”
The young man stood silently with tears running down his cheeks. He walked up to the older man, reached into his perfect, young and beautiful heart and ripped a piece out. He offered it to the old man with trembling hands.
The Rabbi took the young man’s offering, placed it in his heart and then took a piece from his old scarred heart and placed it in the wound in the young man’s heart.
It fit, but not perfectly, as there were some jagged edges. The young man looked at his heart, not perfect anymore but more beautiful than ever, since love from Rabbi Buber’s heart now flowed into his.
They embraced and walked away side by side.