The Words of the Haines Family

How did Abraham discover God?

William Haines
December 7, 2010

For some years, decades really, I have been dipping into the Talmud, commentaries by the Rabbis on the Hebrew Bible. One of the stories I came across and have been telling during workshops is about how Abraham discovered God. I found it fascinating with important implications. Anyway here is the story which is freely based on accounts from the Talmud and Qur'an:

Abraham was the son of Terah, an idol maker. He lived in Ur one of the first cities in human history. Now the ruler of Ur was a man called Nimrod. He was the archetype of all the dictators who ever lived. He thought he was god and there was a huge personality cult associated with him. People used to have statues of him in their homes and would worship him thinking that all good things in their city came from him. One night Nimrod had a frightening dream. He dreamed that a man would be born who would teach people about the True God and expose him was a fake. Nimrod woke up trembling with anger. He was outraged at the idea that there was a being greater than him and that someone would have the audacity to tell people this. So he decided to build a tower to attack heaven where he had heard this God lived and kill him. To do this he forced his subjects to construct the Tower of Babel from where his archers could shoot arrows into the clouds where God lived.

Meanwhile, Terah and his wife had a son who they called Abram. Now, Abram was a very clever little boy who was always asking questions. Why this and why that and why the other. He was really quite a little philosopher. One day it dawned on him that he hadn't always been alive. He must have come from somewhere. So he asked his Mum and Dad where he came from. They explained that they had given birth to him. When Abram understood the significance of this, that his parents had created him, he immediately bowed down to them and started worshipping them. Every day he would bow to his parents as if they were gods. After a while though, it occurred to him that his parents hadn't created themselves either. So he asked them where they came from. They said that Grandma and Grandpa had given birth to him. So he left off worshipping his parents and went round to his grandparent's house and started bowing to them.

Soon he realized that they hadn't created themselves either and asked them who their parents were. They replied that their parents had died and were buried in the local cemetery. So Abram set off for the cemetery, found the graves, and started bowing down to worship them and all his ancestors. One day a nearby grave was dug up and he saw that all that was left of the person were white bones and he realized that the body had decayed and become part of the earth. So he started to worship 'mother earth' which had given him his body. One cold day he realized that without the sun there would be no life and so he became a sun worshiper. But the sun set every evening in the west and rose every morning in the east. It too was changing. But Abram realized that behind everything that was changing there must be an unchanging reality. There must be an invisible first cause that created the universe and everything in it. He decided he was going to worship and pray to the invisible God who created the heavens and the earth.

So what are the implications of this story?

One is that Abraham's faith was based on reason. He worked out rationally that God existed and he based what he believed on what he knew was true. This was of course later confirmed by experience. This is why understanding as opposed to blind faith is an important theme in the Bible. God didn't tell Abraham or indeed any of the prophets and people that they should 'obey' him but that they should listen to his voice and act based on understanding. In fact there is no equivalent to the English word 'obey' in the Hebrew Bible. The word translated as obey means listen, pay attention, hearken, understand and on that basis act according to what your conscience informed by your understanding tells you.

Nimrod was the prototype for all the dictators and tyrannies in history which encourages their subjects to worship them as 'gods'. This was characteristic of the Egyptian Pharaohs, the Roman, Chinese and Japanese Emperors right down to Hitler, Stalin and Kim Il Sung. All of them created rigidly planned societies in which the local population had to conform their lives to the plans and ideals of the rulers. Thus all were characterized by vast building projects -- their own Towers of Babel -- built to honor and glorify their memory.

Father Moon said somewhere that we have three parents -- our natural parents, the earth and God -- which fits in nicely with the Abrahamic tradition.

By worshipping the invisible universal God that created the heavens and the earth, Abraham was able to go beyond the narrow religion of the ancient world in which each people had their own 'gods' which were on 'their' side. Instead the implication of Abraham's discovery was the essential equality of all humanity as there was one God who created all human beings. By going beyond or even rejecting ancestor worship he was very radical. Ancestor worship tends to be very conservative as one has to follow and maintain the tradition of one's ancestors which of course makes innovation, change and improvement a heresy. Ethical monotheism is also very radical striving to achieve oneness with the divine and thus reforming or removing any barriers that prevent one from this goal. Thus the demand for religious, social and economic freedom or the freedom to be able to fulfill the three blessings.

Of course there are lots of other implications one can draw from such a story but these are the ones that occurred to me. If you can think of any others please add them. 

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