Kingdom of Priests

Kingdom of Priests

Does God Evolve? A Surprising Answer


Robert Wright is winning praise with his new book, The Evolution of God, suggesting that indeed, our conception of God evolves and improves, even if in all likelihood this also means that God is a figment of our imagination. I haven’t read the book yet. In any event, I was struck this past Rosh Hashanah by our rabbi’s sermon that cited a teaching in the Tanya¬†suggesting that while God is of course unchanging, our conceptions derived from His wisdom do, in a sense, evolve.


It’s taught that way in Epistle 14 of Iggeret HaKodesh. At the end of each year, the eve of Rosh Hashanah, the radiation of Godly Wisdom is withdrawn and then replaced, upon the blowing of the shofar, by a new light revealing supernal Wisdom in a way it hadn’t previously been revealed. The extent of the new revelation depends on our actions and our repentance during the Ten Days of Penitence, which begin on Rosh Hashanah and conclude on Yom Kippur. 
The new revelation passes through a kind of spiritual portal, the Land of Israel, by which it then illuminates the rest of the world. The process of concealment and renewal is hinted at in a few Scriptural verses, including Deuteronomy 11:12: “Forever are the eyes of the Lord your God upon it [i.e., the Land of Israel], from the beginning of the year to the end of the year,” where, in mystical terminology, God’s “eyes” are equated with supernal Wisdom, radiating in yearly bursts (“from the beginning of the year to the end of the year”) that increase in intensity with the passage of years, or at least potentially so. 
It’s possible to see how our grasp of divine Wisdom would then “evolve.” That would account for mystical insights alluded to in Scripture that might not have been apparent on a simple reading of the Biblical text when it was first entrusted to Israel. The Tanya, incidentally, was written in 1796 by Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi.
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posted June 28, 2009 at 9:41 pm

David: [W]hile God is of course unchanging, our conceptions derived from His wisdom do, in a sense, evolve.
Sounds about right to me. It’s like in Kabbalistic thought, where you have the Ein Soph (“Infinite”), God-as-He-is, which is unknowable, contrasted to the Shekhinah, the Presence of God in the world. This is also very similar to the Eastern Orthodox Christian distinction between God’s essence, which is unknowable, and His energies, by means of which He works in the world and through which we can know Him (a little, at least!). In short, though we don’t know God as He is, we can know Him through His interactions with us, our perception and understanding of which can always develop.
I haven’t read Wright’s book, but I read a long article of his in the Atlantic a few months ago, and there’s an interview with him at currently. He makes some interesting points, some of which have something to them, I think. However, on the whole he takes a sociology of religion view of the “evolution of God”, since he is a skeptic himself. I think there’s a place for the sociological view of religion, but I think it’s incomplete, since it misses out on the lived experiences of believers, and it denies or at least overlooks the transcendent aspect.
The interview at is interesting because in it Wright insists he’s an non-believer and a materialist, and yet he thinks that there is a force or development active in the world making humanity slowly better. I always get a kick out of such muddled thinking: “Something” is active in the world making it better (thought there’s no scale suggested on which “better” can be quantified), but that “Something” isn’t God, and the value of religion lies mostly in keeping (presumably less enlightened, ignorant types) in line. Oh, well.

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posted June 28, 2009 at 10:31 pm

You should just read “A History of God” By Karen Armstrong. I assume that it is pretty much the same thing as the book you’re talking about.

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posted June 29, 2009 at 5:05 am

Or you could read God: a Biography by Jack Miles

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Your Name

posted June 29, 2009 at 1:21 pm

It is beyond discussion that human understanding of God has evolved. For instance: In Genesis, God is walking around the Garden of Eden and hears a rustling in the undergrowth where Adam & Eve are hiding. He speaks to them about their sin–apparently face to face. later on, in Exodus, Moses is cautioned not to try to look at the face of God. In a later chapter of Genesis, God appears to Abraham as three visitors (or kings) with whom Abraham converses face to face. In another chapter of Genesis, men are building the Tower of Babel. The Bible says that God decides to come down to take a look at what was going on–as if God needed a “tour” of the site in order to be better informed. Jacob engaged in night long wrestling match with God. The examples of evolution of human understanding of God as exp[ressed in the Bible are without end.

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David Klinghoffer

posted June 29, 2009 at 1:34 pm

But you see, Your Name, you are looking at the text in the most simple-minded possible way, as if you were reading a newspaper edited by successively more sophisticated editors. You are assuming to begin with what you set out to demonstrate — namely that the Bible is a human document like any other, written for the 5th grade reader like most newspapers are today. That’s circular reasoning, and really of little interest. Sorry.

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posted June 29, 2009 at 2:27 pm

One can believe that the Bible is the revealed Word of God, not a “human document like any other”, while still believing that it was, indeed, “edited by successively more sophisticated editors”. If you think of revelation with God as the tranmitter and mankind the receiver, well, not all receivers get equally good reception, right? If God had so wished, He could have made a perfect, unambiguous, unchangeable document fall from the sky, and could have ensured that all compies of it were made without error, that all commentaries were perfect, that ambiguous language was totally absent, that the meaning was always crystal clear, and that all translations were without flaw (or even better, He could have made sure that all people spoke the same language).
That He did not do so indicates to me that it was and is part of His purpose to give revelation to imperfect, sometimes ethnocentric and culture-bound, sometimes plain confused humans, and to allow their understanding to develop and improve over time. Both the Jewish doctrine of the Oral Law which develops over time through discussion and debate by the Rabbis, and the Christian idea of an unfolding revelation culminating in Christ seem to me to indicate such a developmental view. For a fuller explanation of this view in a Christian context, read John Henry Newman’s Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine (for which he got a lot of grief at the time, but which is widely acclaimed today).

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posted June 29, 2009 at 8:42 pm

David, where is the evidence that the various scriptures that various religions depend upon are anything but the word of man?

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