Judaism can make a claim to be the world’s oldest major religion. Only Hinduism could be considered a contender to that title …

The Hebrew Bible … was written or edited by Jews of the post-Babylonian exile period to tell the national story of their journey in faith. It may not be accurate history, and that was not the point; it is true to the unfolding theology that became the Judaism we are familiar with today. Oral tradition, early written stories, laws, histories, and other materials were included in this text, making it a treasure trove of ancient wisdom …

The Lord Is One

The overarching story that emerges is the triumph of the God of Israel, the one true God, over all other gods. This God is so holy and transcendent that it is inappropriate to even call him by name. The word Yahweh that has become the paramount denoter of this all-powerful God is a relatively modern interpretation of YHWH, the tetragrammaton, that stood for the ineffable name. This term was usually substituted by the name Adonai meaning Lord. In Exodus, the God of Israel was famously reticent to tell Moses his name. When Moses insisted, God used the inscrutable term I Am Who I Am, or I Am That I Am.

The Shema is the centerpiece of Jewish morning and evening prayer. The term comes from the first words of Deuteronomy 6:4 in the Torah: Shema Yisreal, meaning “Hear, O Israel. Hear what? Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one.” In succinct form this scripture lays out the foundation upon which Judaism rests. God is one, there is no other. God is whole and complete, imageless, utterly transcendent, an all-powerful creator God who nevertheless cares for his creation. God, being all powerful and all knowing, is beyond duality yet is also involved in human and especially Jewish history. He speaks in visions and dreams, through nature, in historic and natural events including storms and earthquakes, and yet also in the stillness and silence. He speaks as well through the stories of his people.

The God of Israel is the basis of the God of both Christianity and Islam as all three religions arise from a shared heritage, one that emphasizes an uncompromising monotheism.

In Unity, too, we can find direct correlations to the God of the Hebrew Bible. He is the one presence and one power, absolute good, everywhere present. However, some have found the Old Testament God to be sometimes mercurial. He loves humankind but casts them out of the Garden of Eden, drowns nearly the whole of the human race, makes covenants with his people and then demands unreasonable behavior like sacrificing a son. To some he is downright schizophrenic. He demands blood and animal sacrifice and then states that he prefers steadfast love. He is a God of peace and war.

What are we to make of all this? Let’s remember that the Bible is a composite text, incorporating thinking and belief set out over great periods of time. The stories are often told in anthropomorphic terms to make them dramatic and approachable. I have always appreciated one of the statements of my Bible professor in seminary. He said that whenever you come across the term Lord in the Old Testament. substitute the word law. Then we can see that God is not being petty, unreasonable, or all too human; he, as law, is creating or restoring balance and harmony.

Another thing to bear in mind is that the Jewish interpretation of the Bible text has always looked beyond the literal. There are many layers and ways to explicate the text including the lenses of morality, allegory, history, symbology, and mysticism. Some Jewish scholars refer to 70 levels of meaning—in other words, an unlimited amount. Modern metaphysics has its origins in the careful and keen interpretations of Jewish scholars over the millennia. We have much to thank them for in that regard. When [Unity cofounder] Charles Fillmore compiled his Metaphysical Bible Dictionary in 1931, he was influenced by Jewish scholarship.

A Little Less Than God

The I AM consciousness that we are familiar with in Unity and New Thought also has its origins in the God of Israel. Likewise, the “still, small voice” of the Divine from 1 Kings 19:12 is another key element in the Unity approach to spirituality. It speaks eloquently of the interpenetration of the human with the Divine, and there is little of the spirit/body duality that creeps into the New Testament because of the influence of Greek and Persian thought.

So if the affirmation God is One is the central tenet of Jewish thought, it is followed closely by the inherent dignity and worth of humankind. There is no concept of the inseparable gulf between God and his creation that we find in some sects of Christianity. God has created man a little less than God (Psalm 8:5). When humankind, represented by Adam and Eve, loses its place in the garden of innocence, God guides them on. The first murderer, Cain, is protected and God sends another child, Seth, in place of the murdered son Abel. Seth’s very name means compensation. Even when God floods the whole world, he rescues a symbolic number of men, women, and animals and allows them to begin again. He even makes a promise that he will never again flood the world. In the story of Jacob, Jacob sleeps and dreams of a ladder going up to heaven. There are angels both arising and descending, again speaking to the intimate relationship between God and humanity, between Spirit and flesh.

Like the practical spirituality of Unity, Judaism is more than a religion, it is a relationship between God and his people. In Judaism that relationship is based on a reciprocal covenant. The foundational covenant that takes paramount importance in Jewish history is the one between the patriarch Abraham and God, and like the later covenant with Moses, it involves a journey to a new home—Canaan, the land flowing with milk and honey. Covenant loyalty is of utmost importance because without it the Israelites are in constant danger of devolving into the worship of idols and by so doing losing their intimate connection with the Divine.

The enslaving of the Jews in Egypt and the eventual exodus led by Moses forms the second great covenant story, again emphasizing loyalty over idolatry, and faithfulness to the law rather than societal willfulness. To muse on these themes in relationship to Unity is instructive. In its history Unity has emphasized personal development and the value of independent thought. We don’t like to be told what to think or do. This is a strength in terms of breaking free from doctrinal systems, but it can be a weakness in terms of creating a common culture. As a new movement the Unity definition of itself as an entity is still unfolding.

This article was excerpted from Unity and World Religions by Paul John Roach (Unity Books, 2021).

About the Author

Rev. Paul John Roach is a writer and world traveler who served as a minister based in Fort Worth, Texas; as a board member for Unity World Headquarters; and hosted World Spirituality on Unity Online Radio. Visit pauljohnroach.com.


No Results