Tuesday, October 5, 2010

HaShem

Several months ago I had this conversation with Anna, one of my dearest friends whose faith has completely changed mine.  (I call her Hannahla, for reasons unknown to her or me, but I'm so used to doing it now that it feels odd to quit.)
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Hannahla,


Now that you've opened yourself up to more communication from me, I'll be pelting you with questions.


Question about using G-d instead of the full name:  how do you pronounce it?  Do you say "the LORD" instead, like saying Adonai instead of Y-h?  Or is this a written based situation only?  Google is inconclusive on the subject.  Although I learned that orthodox Jews say Ha-Shem, for "The Name," which I like.  


It would be good for Christianity to be more intentional about things.  I feel like if I adopted saying Ha-Shem or anything besides God, I'd spend a lot of time explaining it and sounding pretentious rather than inspiring/reminding others to be respectful of the name.  But this could be fixed if a large part of Christians would spend more time UNDERSTANDING WHERE THEY CAME FROM and less time hiding pedophiles, converting "pagans," or protesting at military funerals.  Sigh.


from your dear gentile friend.


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Hi Em,


Pelt away! I look forward to any questions you have for me, and I'll answer them as best I can. 


We write G-d instead of "God" because anything that has a name of G-d written upon it is considered holy, and therefore we risk desecrating the name of G-d if the paper we wrote on is ever thrown away or destroyed. There is a process for properly disposing of holy items such as prayer books that have worn out or become unuseable, much like there is a process for properly disposing of a tattered American flag. But as a rule, even non-religious Jews don't write "God," and default to the G-d in writing. 


In terms of pronunciation, G-d is pronounced the same as "God." It is spoken as well as written. Commonly, as you said, folks will say HaShem instead of "God," mostly because it is the title G-d refers to him/herself with in the Bible. Even non-religious (secular) Jews will say HaShem, but for them (us) it is a comfort issue. When spoken, "HaShem" feels more like a name than a title, like Adonai, Elohim, etcetera, and in general folks are more comfortable saying it than they are saying "God." 


There are many sayings that use Hashem, such as Baruch Hashem, a catch-all phrase. It can be used in greeting:
A: How are you?
B: Baruch Hashem. 


Another saying is B'ezrat Hashem, with G-d's help:
A: We will have the SQL server up and running again by 4pm, B'ezrat Hashem.


Jews rarely use the English word "Lord," which in Hebrew is Adonai or Elohim. Although, I think it's funny when someone is saying "Oh my G-d" on English TV the Hebrew subtitles say "Elohim!" Also, the Jewish equivalent of the phrase OMG is "Oh my gee-dash-dee!" It's mainly a joke, I don't know how many folks actually use it. But I think it's funny. 


So anyway, there you have it. G-d is pronounced "God," and Hashem is a delightful, catch-all phrase which is applicable in just about any situation. I'm all for you using the term if you like it! It's fun and will be a conversation starter! 


I hope this has helped! Please bring me all your questions!!! I love being religion-geeky with you!!! 


Your She-brew,
Hannahla


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This question - of what do I call God - has been bothering me for months.  On the plane to the Leaders in Ministry conference in Boston this June, I was scrawling Greek letters in my journal, trying to figure out how to write "The revealed in-Christ God" because it was all I felt I could confess to:  I know God because I know Christ.

Today (right now, actually...this is sort of an "extended work break" if you will) I'm working on my paper for Systematic Theology and arguing that Ted Peters, in his book God -- The World's Future, fails to make a good transition between talking about the "ontological shock" experience of God (similar to Otto's numen, I think) into the biblical God.

And I wrote:


"The experience of the numen is terrifying precisely because it raises ontological questions: who am I? who is God? what is my purpose? The God testified to in Hebrew Scriptures and embodied in Jesus of Nazareth does not ask these questions - this God raises them and then answers them!"

This string of words bugged me.  It was clear - to me, anyway - that the God I talked about when I said "who is God?" is not the God I talk about when I say "the God testified to in Hebrew Scriptures".  The first God is a descriptor for the terrifying numen, a sort of general bigger-than-self thing.  The second God is the God who tore open the sky and descended like a dove and went around for three years saying "Please be a little bit nicer to each other."  (And we killed him for it.)  I know this; I hope Professor Hansen can tell; but the word is the same.  And I do think words matter.

So, for today, I resolved it this way:


"The experience of the numen is terrifying precisely because it raises ontological questions: who am I? who is God? what is my purpose? The G-d testified to in Hebrew Scriptures and embodied in Jesus of Nazareth does not ask these questions - this G-d raises them and then answers them!"


"God" is a word used to cover everything - every deity, every concept of every deity, every thing bigger than ourselves.  (And it gets used as a swear.)  "G-d" is something altogether different:  it is my God, the One who creates, the One who redeems, the One who sanctifies; and it reminds me that this is not just "my God" but the G-d of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.


May G-d make me worthy of trying to understand.

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