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The God Squad: Is God real or just a concept?

January 21, 2011|By Rabbi Marc Gellman

Q: I read your column and have been trying to figure out what you believe. You've said that "in the beginning was God and God created everything," but who do you believe God is?

In a recent column on tithing, you advised someone that "if you only have enough money to pay your debt or tithe, pay the debt first. God can wait."

This implies that God isn't that important and we don't need trust Him to supply our needs. I'm confused.

What do you believe? Is God real or just a concept to you? Is there only one God or many? Is the Bible God's word to man, or man's word about God? — R., via godsquadquestion@aol.com

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A: What I believe is not important because thankfully nobody follows the religion of Gellmanism, which, if it existed, would only have one commandment: If in your life you meet someone who needs help, help 'em!

As to your other questions, what I believe is that God wants us to pay our debts and not hide behind some ritual law to cheat people. By being honest with others, we honor the part of them made in the image of God, and in so doing, we honor God. I believe that God is real and not just a concept. A concept could not create the universe, and I believe God created the universe because the universe could not be eternal, so it required a creator who was not created.

I believe there is only one God, although God has many manifestations, which accounts for the various accounts of God in the world's great wisdom traditions. If there were many gods, the question of sorting out their relative powers and origins would be impossible and inevitably lead to the conclusion that there is, indeed, just one God.

The question about whether or not the Bible is the word of God is difficult to answer with a simple yes or no. If you put a gun to my head, I'd say, "The Bible is the word of God." I don't mean, however, that the word of God is like the word of anybody — like my mother. Her words are clear and unmistakable. God's words are more nuanced, more complicated, more veiled.

The Bible, say scholars, is a mixed multitude of books composed and compiled by at least four authors, with oral traditions stretching from roughly 1800 BCE in the time of Abraham to roughly 250 BCE, ending with the Book of Daniel. Then, there's the problem that the earliest edition of the Hebrew Bible, the Masoretic text, doesn't exist until a 1,000 years after the Bible is codified. Finally, parts of the Bible, like the slaughter of the Amalakites, are morally difficult.

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