Here’s a final post—at least for now—on the question, “How can we say that God is one, as in the Shema, and believe in a Messiah who is God with us, or Immanuel?” Or to put it more abstractly, how can we affirm both the Shema and the doctrine of the Trinity? This question came to me indirectly from a 14-year-old Jewish girl who was interested in Yeshua as Messiah, but not sure that was OK.
The idea that the Christians worship three gods—which the Trinity definitely does not teach—does seem to be a big impediment for Jewish people who might otherwise be interested in Yeshua, especially when they realize they can believe in him and still be Jewish. But does believing him mean believing that he’s God? That’s a big problem.
Before we go any further, I should note that the New Testament doesn’t actually say in so many words “Jesus is God.” There are a couple of passages that almost say that, depending on the translation, but much more often what happens is that attributes that belong only to God are ascribed to Yeshua the Messiah. Indeed, in Revelation, the final book of the New Testament, the multitude of the redeemed “from all tribes and peoples and languages” worship God and the Lamb, or Messiah, “who is at the center of the throne” (Rev. 7:9–17). I could give lots more examples, but the point is not that a man became God, but that God become a man in order to be the Lamb of redemption, whose sacrifice redeems human beings for God and cleanses them from sin.
I won’t try to explain how this can be; the doctrine of the Trinity seeks to do that (and the interpretation of the Shema in Maimonides’ second affirmation of Jewish faith seeks to prove that it’s impossible). But Revelation is still talking about the one and only God of Israel, and we see something similar in the Torah itself.
God becomes a man at least temporarily to reveal himself more fully to his followers. In Genesis 18, for example, Abraham is sitting at the door of his tent when he lifts up his eyes to see “three men standing near him.” After Abraham entertains his visitors, he escorts them out to continue on their journey, and one of them turns out to be As they are walking together, one of them turns out to be the Lord, Hashem, who is debating with himself whether to let Abraham in on his plans to destroy Sodom. Hashem decides to let Abraham know what’s up and Abraham begins to argue with God, who is standing next to him in human form, addressing him as “the judge of all the earth” (Gen. 18:25), and going on to say, “Indeed now, I who am but dust and ashes have taken it upon myself to speak to Adonai—my Lord” (Gen. 18:27). Abraham doesn’t use the divine name YHVH, but it’s clear that he knows he’s speaking to the one true God, who a few minutes earlier had sat down with him to eat some roasted meat and pita bread.
In the recently published Koren Siddur, Rabbi Jonathan Sacks reminds us,
The God of the philosophers is a dimension of reality but not a personal presence, a shaper of history. One may meditate on such a being, but we cannot speak to Him, lay our innermost thoughts before Him, and place our fate in His hands. The God of the prophets—the God of redemption—is encountered in events, in history, in life (citing Kuzari by Judah HaLevi).
Amen. The God of Torah is not remote, abstract and existing in some absolute and indefinable oneness. Rather, he takes great measures to reveal himself to humankind, even if it means coming among us as a human being.