Jewish belief in God

It depends who you ask.

With approximately fourteen million Jewish people in the world, and almost half of them living in the United States, we like to say that for every person we poll, we get a different answer.

The subject of God and the Jewish people has spanned the history of the Jewish race for thousands of years, with a spectrum ranging from belief to no belief at all.

A range

Some Jewish people embrace the God of the Hebrew Scriptures, believing He is the absolute One, the all-powerful Being and Creator of the universe and the ultimate cause of all existence. Others believe that you can be a good Jew while at the same time doubting God’s existence.

From the perspective of the Scriptures, God is real, and He shows up on the first page to the last page. He is the Protagonist in His own story, who displayed for all to see His Creator talents, the One who spoke the universe into existence, who made the oceans, who hung the moon and stars, who put trees and food on the earth, and who designed man to enjoy the luxury of the garden He had landscaped for him.

Reason and God

While the written evidence is there for the reader and confirmed in nature all around him, the Jewish person can still shrug his shoulders by denying God’s existence and opting for the elevation of human reason instead. Rabbi Sherwin Wine, a leading spokesman for Humanistic Judaism, said, “Jewish identity has humanistic value because Jewish experience testifies to the need for reason and dignity.”[1] Humanism, it seems, is the outcome of Jewish belief and lifestyle choices without God at the center.

Maimonides, the great twelfth-century Jewish philosopher-physician, would argue against such a notion: “The fundamental principle and the pillar of all knowledge is to know that there is a First Being who brings everything into being, and everything in the heavens and on earth derives from His existence.”[2]

Rabbi Wine trades in the supernatural acts of God in delivering the Jewish people for a more realistic view of Jewish suffering throughout the centuries, which, in his mind, is an indictment against God: “The Jewish people, whose official establishment proclaimed for over two thousand years that Jewish history is a story to the presence of God, is, indeed, the strongest story to the absence of God.”[3] Wine’s understanding of suffering is that its cause is other people, which, given some thought, seems to suggest that putting one’s faith in a humanistic Judaism might lead to more suffering.

Variety of beliefs

Some Jewish people have a lightweight belief in God that vanishes as quickly as the mist. Those beliefs have no root in truth. They don’t inform a person’s behavior or decisions in life.

There are others who admit they believe in God but in their own way, which translates into believing an idol of their own making, a god who winks at sin, who holds no one accountable for his or her actions and who is always loving no matter what. That is a god who inhabits fairy tales.

Messianic Jewish belief in God

Adding to the mix, there is the Messianic Jewish movement that takes the stand of believing in the God of the Scriptures, but takes it one step further by embracing Yeshua (Jesus), the Messiah, the promised one from the Old Covenant. In this view, Yeshua fulfilled all the promises of a mediator between God and man when he lived, died on the cross and then rose from the grave to pay the penalty for our sins. This understanding of the Scriptures points to God who made good on His promise of sending His Messiah, even when most rejected Him, to reconcile sinners to Himself.

With eyes to see, one can discern God’s imprint everywhere in the Torah. It won’t take long to see Him in Genesis as Mastermind behind the Garden of Eden, and then Rescuer after the first man and woman disobey Him and get into a heap of trouble.

God and the Torah

In the first eleven chapters, Moses describes the history of mankind through the genealogies from Cain and Abel to Noah. It was Noah’s trust in God, who had warned him of the judgment to come, that kept him building the ark for 120 years even in the face of his countrymen’s mockery and ridicule. He and his family were spared while the world around them drowned.

In Exodus, we see God as Rescuer once again as He delivers His people from Egypt in fulfillment of the promise he gave to Abraham in Genesis 15:13–14. God said, “Know for certain that your offspring will be sojourners in a land that is not theirs and will be servants there, and they will be afflicted for four hundred years. But I will bring judgment on the nation that they serve, and afterward they shall come out with great possessions.”

In Leviticus, we see God institute how His people can approach Him in worship, that He’s a holy God and that no one can construct his own way into His presence or copy the idolatrous practices left back in Egypt.

Moses tells us in Numbers how God prepared His people to enter the Promised Land, how they disobeyed by not following through and how they were punished by roaming in the wilderness for 40 years. At the end of the chapter, the new generation that grew up in the wilderness attempts to enter the Land and this time destroys two nations that try to keep them out.

And in Deuteronomy, Moses reminds the nation of what God has done for them, and out of gratefulness, how God expects them to live. Here we see the laws and principles of living a godly life within the nation, how to love God and how to love your neighbor.

Throughout the Torah and beyond, we see God’s people doing exploits because of their trust in Him. This trust gave Moses the courage to lead the Jewish nation out of Egypt.

It was his belief in God that kept Daniel from being lunch meat for the lions in the Babylonian den.

It was this trust that kept Job from cursing God in his unbearable suffering.

It’s what fueled David’s commitment to fight Goliath, the enemy of the Jews, and win with the barest of weapons.

The Hebrew Scriptures are full of stories pointing to the truth of God’s existence in people’s lives and what it does to fortify a life with that belief.

Tradition versus relevance

The sad thing today is that many Jewish people celebrate Passover and other Jewish holidays more out of tradition than out of consideration of historical truths. They observe these ceremonies to honor their heritage, which is fine, but they don’t believe in the God who protected, preserved and delivered our people from our enemies. For them, these events happened so long ago that they have no bearing on their lives today.

For the Jewish believer in God, however, these historical events point to a God who keeps His promises, protects His people, and stands for them and with them throughout life, regardless of what century they’re living in.

What do you believe?

Have you considered what your life would look like if you took God seriously? What could be more Jewish than to believe in the God who made you and who wants to actively participate in your life? Just imagine what you’re missing!

For more on how to find God, click here.

End Notes

  1. [1] Sherwin T. Wine, Judaism Beyond God (Society for Humanistic Judaism, Farmington Hills, Michigan, 1985), 112.
  2. [2]  Maimonides, Mishneh Torah, Yesode Ha-Torah I, 1.
  3. [3]  Wine, 11.