Kingdom of Priests

Kingdom of Priests

Is God’s Love Really Unconditional? Is Allah’s?

I promised you that over Shabbat I would read Spengler’s essay from First Things, “Christian, Muslim, Jew,” and I did on Friday night after dinner. It is a very interesting and characteristically learned discourse on the religious philosophy of Franz Rosenzweig, who is described in the essay as

one of the greatest Jewish theologians of the past century. Best known for The Star of Redemption, published eight years before his death in 1929 at the age of forty-three, he began a new kind of dialogue between Judaism and Christianity when he argued that the two faiths complement each other: Christianity to propagate revelation to the world, and Judaism to “convert the inner pagan” inside each Christian.


Excerpt from the essay, including a provocative swipe at Islam:

Rosenzweig, however, requires us to see faith from the existential standpoint of the believer, who in revealed religion knows God through God’s love. For Rosenzweig, paganism constitutes a form of alienation from the revealed God of Love; Allah, the absolutely transcendent God who offers mercy but not unconditional love, is therefore a pagan deity.

I have to tell you that I’m skeptical of post-9/11 attempts by my fellow Jews to cast Christianity as Judaism’s ever true best friend while Islam is the eternal bad boy and miscreant, enemy to both. There’s something opportunist in this; as if seeking to cash in on the fact that Christian America was suddenly awakened to the potential for evil in Islamic fundamentalism from which Israel and the Jews have suffered since the founding of the state of Israel.


I understand, of course, that Rosenzweig himself wrote decades earlier than anything I’m referring to. Spengler’s essay is much more subtle than that, anyway, yet the implication that Judaism and Christianity share a conception of God as exhibiting “unconditional love” needs to be qualified.
Jewish liturgy itself suggests otherwise. On one hand, we pray in the morning blessings before the Shema, “Lord our God, You have loved us with everlasting love.” At night we say, “With everlasting love have You loved the House of Israel.” Yet the same blessing concludes, “May your love never depart from us.” An alternative version of the same text reads, “May you never remove your love from us.”
If God’s love were not only everlastingly available to us but also unconditional, why pray that He “never remove [it] from us”?
Ask yourself. God’s love is clearly meant to serve as a model for our own. We are accustomed to speaking of love for children and spouses as being “unconditional.” Is it really? Is there truly nothing your spouse or child could do (or not do), in theory — use your imagination — that would result in a dampening or even the extinguishing of your love?
You see, this is what I meant when I opened this blog with the exhortation, whatever the conclusion you reach about classical Judaic sources such as the Siddur (prayer book) or the Hebrew Bible itself, to at least “Look there.”
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posted April 19, 2009 at 1:45 pm

“If God’s love were not only everlastingly available to us but also unconditional, why pray that He “never remove [it] from us”?
Lousy translation. That’s answer to your question.

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David Murdoch

posted April 19, 2009 at 2:53 pm

God’s love is unconditional. He is kind to those who do evil and He send rain and sun on both the just and the unjust. However, the manner in which He loves is not unconditional, and sometimes He punishes us by depriving us of His kindness and giving us His anger… however, His love is still unconditional, because He is angry in His love. He is angry at us, as a parent is angry with a child. It is a corrective punishment meant for our good so that it leads us to repent and change. He never stops loving us, but sometimes that love requires Him to treat us in an angry manner (just as how parents who love their children unconditionally will still punish them), hence the expression in the scriptures about asking God not to take away His love from us. It simply means that sometimes God causes us suffering out of His love for us, in order to correct us and bring us back to Him.

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Albert the Abstainer

posted April 19, 2009 at 3:51 pm

There is a danger in ascribing to God human characteristics including the type of love that a parent has for a child or spouses have towards one another (ideally.)
I think that if we depart from the basic axioms of what would constitute God, (omnipresence, omniscience, omnipotence), we wall into error. To believe that we understand God or even can understand God is the first error. God is beyond my ability to grasp, and though I were the wisest and most brilliant of men, the frame I would place around God would still break to pieces, thus showing my own limits. That is why it is best to refrain from imaginings about God, and to avoid attempts to frame that which is in itself in a frame which only becomes the place in which we build idols.
Or as Al Hallaj who was martyred said:
“Before” does not outstrip Him,
“after” does not interrupt Him
“of” does not vie with Him for precedence
“from” does not accord with Him
“to” does not join with Him
“in” does not inhabit Him
“when” does not stop Him
“if” does not consult with Him
“over” does not overshadow Him
“under” does not support Him
“opposite” does not face Him
“with” does not press Him
“behind” does not limit Him
“previous” does not display Him
“after” does not cause Him to pass away
“all” does not unite Him
“is” does not bring Him into being
“is not” does not deprive Him from Being.
Concealment does not veil Him
His pre-existence preceded time,
His being preceded non-being,
His eternity preceded limit.
If thou sayest ‘when’,
His existing has outstripped time;
If thou sayest ‘before’, before is after Him;
If thou sayest ‘he’, ‘h’ and ‘e’ are His creation;
If thou sayest ‘how’, His essence is veiled from description;
If thou sayest ‘where’, His being preceded space;
If thou sayest ‘ipseity’ (ma huwa),
His ipseity (huwiwah) is apart from things.
Other than He cannot
be qualified by two (opposite) qualities at
one time; yet With Him they do not create opposition.
He is hidden in His manifestation,
manifest in His concealing.
He is outward and inward,
near and far; and in this respect He is
removed beyond the resemblance of creation.
He acts without contact,
instructs without meeting,
guides without pointing.
Desires do not conflict with Him,
thoughts do not mingle with Him:
His essence is without qualification (takyeef),
His action without effort (takleef).
translated by Arberry, A.J.

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God's love

posted April 29, 2009 at 7:23 am

God’s love is unconditional

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