God According to God
By Gerald Schroeder
256 pages; $25.99
Gerald Schroeder's God According to God is a remarkable tour de force, combining science, theology and biblical exegesis in a most compelling and significant way, casting a new light on how we view God and our own place within the world. The entire book is a scientific commentary on the opening verse of the Bible, usually translated, "In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth."
This verse has been the source of numerous interpretations, each of which helps us better understand the significance of the creation story. Rashi, in his commentary on this verse, maintains that bereishit means "in the beginning of," but since the sentence has no direct object, we are not told in the beginning of what. Rashi takes the verse to mean, "In the beginning of God's creation of the heavens and the earth, the earth was empty and void," etc.
Targum Onkelos - the Aramaic translation of the Bible - renders the verse to mean, "With a first cause (b'kadmin), God created the heavens and the earth." But what was the first cause? A midrash goes one step further identifying that "first cause" as wisdom, based upon Proverbs (8:12, 22-24) "I am wisdom... God acquired me at the beginning (reishit) of His way, even before His creations at that time."
Another tradition indicates that the first cause, that initial wisdom, was Torah, as the Zohar teaches: "The Holy One, blessed be He, looked into the Torah and created the world." For the rabbis, the crucial point is that the world was not formed by a chemical accident, but with a clear divine purpose.
Schroeder connects that initial primordial wisdom and the
nonmaterial "energy" of the big bang moment from which intelligent, creative, loving and sentient human beings ultimately evolved. He delineates the statistical impossibility of our planet accidentally supporting many different forms of life, providing the scientific thinking behind Henri Bergson's insight that the belief that the mind of an Einstein could have evolved from an amoeba by accident would tax the credulity of any intelligent human being.
Schroeder emphasizes how the material and the ethereal constantly interchange in nature, how quantum mechanics can describe the very same item as consisting of nonphysical waves or of solid particles, and especially how an initially pure and massless spark of energy condensed and morphed into the solid, material world in which we live. He leaves room for a metaphysical, spiritual reality which predated and even "evolved" into our present world, a conscious mind and thought that exists apart from our physical brain.
The author does not hesitate to document the element of chance and choice within our physical universe, clearly recognizing the lacunae of chaos within the structured order of things, the apparent mistakes of and tragedies within nature. But this does not undermine belief in the existence of God; much the opposite, it points to a God who gave a certain freedom to nature as well as to the human being, and above all, a God who created human beings in His divine image so that they might perfect our present, imperfect world into the ultimate kingship of the divine.
The kabbalistic notion of tzimtzum supports this thesis, positing a God who deliberately limited Himself, as it were, in order to leave room for the "other" - for human partners who might even act in a manner that God Himself would not have wanted. Indeed, Rabbi Haim Vital explains that a God of love wants, and as it were, requires, an object to love. That object must be apart from Him, and with a separate and autonomous will rather than a mere extension of God.
In accordance with this assumption, Schroeder interprets God's self-definition of ehyeh asher ehyeh literally as "I shall be what I shall be," rather than the customary "I am that I am." God is an active, dynamic force in the universe, but not an all-controlling and all-directing deity. In the words of the midrash, "God is not complete and His name is not complete as long as evil Amalek lurks in the world." God is waiting for His beloved creatures to perfect the imperfect world in order to make God's name and God's throne whole (see Exodus 17:16 and Rashi ad loc).
Gerald Schroeder has presented us with a special and challenging gift. His erudition confirms the talmudic teaching that anyone who has the ability to study science, physics and philosophy, but does not, misses out on understanding the marvelous and magnificent work of God's hand. This is a book that reaffirms our understanding of Maimonides' assertion that the study of the creation is indeed an act of knowing and loving God.