With all this talk about the meaning of life and the purpose of creation, perhaps we should pause and ask a very important question. Almost all of this has centered on what we should be doing with our lives. That’s all well and good, and of course extremely vital to know, but what does God get out of all this? After all, God created us along with everything else, so God must have had some divine reason for doing it. This isn’t the type of question that usually gets asked. We tend take God’s ‘needs’ for granted, as if God is above such petty things as ‘needs’ to begin with. But maybe the matter should be reconsidered. Maybe God does have some agenda in all this. If so, what is it?
Right off the bat, it must be mentioned that Judaism takes a fairly strong position on the infinite difference between God and everything else. God is God, and everything else is, well, everything else. There is no method of comparison between the two sides. God is the Creator. Everything else, including us, owes its very existence to God. Any comparison between God and us it is downright sacrilegious.
All that notwithstanding, Judaism has not shied away from advancing opinions on God’s agenda in creation. This may seem a little presumptuous to even suggest such a thing, but the matter is so important that such considerations had to be overlooked. One of the earlier suggestions comes from the Talmud. Two sections, one in the Bavli (Yoma 38a) and one in the Yerushalmi (Yoma 3:9) tell the story of incidents involving families who had monopolized specific tasks that were vitally needed for the priestly functions in the temple in Jerusalem. One, a family called the named Garmu, possessed a well-guarded secret to baking the showbread that was specially baked every week and prominently displayed in the main hall of the temple. A similar secret was possessed by the family of Avtinas concerning the formula for the temple incense. Both families passed these secrets on to succeeding generations and refused to share them with anyone outside of the family. The sages attempted to circumvent the problem by ‘outsourcing’ the tasks to others, but nobody was able to achieve the desired results. In the end, they had to double the pay of both families to get them to agree to resume their roles.
Both families are mentioned in the Mishna as examples of what not to do. Even though the Talmud states that their reasons for protecting these secrets were valid (they didn’t want them falling into the wrong hands), they were still incorrect for not sharing them. In the end, the temple was destroyed and both families lost whatever status the once had. Somewhat surprisingly, the Talmud states that the accomplishments of these families are examples of the principle that ‘Everything that God created, He created for His glory’.
As straightforward as it sounds, there is much that needs explaining here. First off, the obvious question of how are these two cases, of all possible cases out there, examples of something being created for God’s glory? Aren’t they just the opposite – an example of people stooping to the level of taking all the credit for themselves and not sharing it with anybody else, let alone with God? Second, how are human achievements, even if they weren’t motivated by personal desires, considered creations of God to begin with? Third, and most important, what is the ‘glory of God’, and why is it considered to be God’s motive for creating everything? Shouldn’t God, of all beings, be above such self-serving motives?
Let’s attack the third question first. What is the glory of God? To answer this question one must become familiar with the Jewish concept of God. To be honest, the Jewish concept of God has likely changed considerable through the millennia as Jews and their spiritual horizons changed. This, by the way, is a highly controversial statement and likely to get one in serious hot water if bandied about in the wrong circles. Despite the changes, a constant throughout the various Jewish images of God has been the idea that God, in whatever way he/she/it is perceivable or understandable by His/Hers/Its creations, has glory. Glory, when referring to God, conveys a sense of existing on higher plane of reality, infinite in power and beauty, and amazing beyond any normal definition of the word.
Perhaps the best way to understand this sense is through an odd statement found in the Talmud Bavli (Hagigah 16a): ‘One who has no concern for the glory of his Creator should never have come into the world. What is an example of this? One who gazes (excessively) at a rainbow.’ Now there are few things in nature that are more stunning and mesmerizing as a rainbow. What is a rainbow anyway? In physical terms it as the rather fortuitous positioning of water droplets in the air so that the reflection of sunlight creates a prism effect in the sky that can be seen by a person looking from the right angle. But anybody who has actually seen a rainbow knows that the physical description hardly does it justice. A rainbow is not just beautiful, it is stunning. In fact, it’s not just stunning, it’s amazing. There is something about a rainbow that makes us stop whatever it is that we were doing and look. It somehow lifts us above whatever mundane (and important) things we were so engaged in onto an entirely different plane. This is the plane of glory.
The rainbow has uniqueness in that it seems to not quite be part of the physical world of machines, rocks, people, and air pollution. It seems to be in a world of its own, almost if it doesn’t belong with us earthlings. This ‘otherworldliness’ is its glory. It exists above all the petty concerns that we normally allow ourselves to become immersed in. Because of this, it lifts us above those things and allows us a glimpse into the glory of God.
In truth, this glory can be found in things more terrestrial than rainbows. It is found in the heart of a fire, in the late afternoon sun reflecting off a lake, in the depth of the night sky, or the chirping of a bird. Delving deeper, one can find it in sparkling glass, shining metal, and smooth marble. It can be detected, with enough patience, in rocks and dirt, in plastic and imitation rubber, in the sound of a horn honking. It can even be traced to the smell of vomit, the taste of multivitamins, or the presence of obnoxious people. It can truly be found everywhere, if one is willing to spend the time looking for it and is willing to accept things as they are instead of insisting that they be as one would prefer them. The glory of God is in all creation, for that is what creation is – the glory of God.
Along these lines, the accomplishments of human beings are also revelations of the glory of God. Individuals or groups may take credit for these accomplishments, but what is human achievement anyway if not another manifestation of God’s creation? Human intelligence, human sensitivity, human creativity – these are nothing more than highly significant aspects of that great design of God known as existence. Human achievement is unique in that it is driven by the human will, a creation so highly personalized that it seems to be independent of God. Yet it also, ultimately, owes its existence to the Creator.
We were gifted with the ability to create - a godly faculty that both obscures and reveals the glory of God. It is so powerful and so personal that we generally cannot perceive God’s role in granting us the freedom of the will. We simply take it for granted that it’s there and go our merry way. But what is more glorious and otherworldly than the human soul willing its way through the trials and tribulations of life? Where does that power, that seemingly infinite power, come from? When we choose, when we persevere, when we create, or when we allow things to just be, we are revealing the glorious gift that God bestowed to us.
Even selfish human endeavors, like those of the families associated with the incense and the bread baking, in their own roundabout ways, demonstrate the glory of God. But the dense fog of ego surrounds those things to such a degree that God is obscured. This fog makes us wonder why God would want to be associated with such pettiness. But like all other things, they also are creations, and thus reveal God’s glory almost in spite of the wishes of their originators.
Any human talent, no matter how small and how common, reveals the hand of its ultimate Source. Just as God is right there in all the colors of the rainbow, God is also in the hands of a violin virtuoso, or the agility and strength of an Olympic gold medalist, or the beauty of a well-formed and well-cared-for physique. But when those lucky individuals take their bows, wave their medals, or strut their stuff, are they thinking about how fortunate they have been to be the human channels for this concentrated godliness? It is an enormous challenge to recognize and accept that at the core of one’s hard earned abilities lay the glory of God.
This is what God gets out of the whole creation thing: the opportunity to reveal godliness. Creation provides God with an arena for bestowing this great gift. It is the greatest gift of all, the gift of enabling all of creation to take part in the revealing of the glory of God. Every thing, each one of us, is a creation, from the smallest sub-atomic particle to the vast expanse of the universe, from the lowest bacteria to the most intelligent or most sensitive human being, can and does have a crucial role. It is our little part in this magnificent drama being played out right in our midst - the revelation of the glory of God.
Glory needn’t be all that glorious. But it must be something worthy of a creation of God. Trees are experts at displaying their glory. They just stand there, oblivious to all the hustle and bustle around them, not caring about anything else other than revealing the glory of being. Trees and plants and rocks and water should be a source of envy for us human beings with our ridiculous expectations and never-ending agendas. Try taking a lesson from a tree whose sole goal and purpose is to reveal the latent glory of being one of God’s creations.
Tough as it is to do, try dropping all expectations of gaining fame and recognition, of out-doing others, or of winning the big prize, and concentrate on just being all whom you could be. In doing so, you will be lifting yourself onto a higher plane of existence, a place filled with wonder and untainted by the pettiness of normal life. This is your place of glory, your opportunity to return to God what God gave to you – the ability to reveal true glory. It may not get you any titles or medals or awards, but it will make your Creator mighty proud.
Food for Thought
There are so many evil and terrible things in the world. How can they all be for the glory of God?
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