Can We Affect God?
Rabbi Israel Chait
Why should we worship God? Does God need our worship? Does it give Him satisfaction? Are we benefiting Him in any way? Or does God not need our service and does not care whether or not we worship Him? For most religious people the answers to the above questions comprise the most patent aspects of their religious motivation. Yet when these questions are presented squarely to a religious person the answers are often garbled, unclear and even self-contradictory. In other words religious people have strong feelings about the answers to these questions but not very strong ideas. For the Torah loving person such a state of mind is not tolerable. "Know the God of your fathers and serve Him," (1 Chronicle 28:9), King David instructed Solomon before he departed from this world. The Rabbis underscored this statement, "know Him first, then serve Him" (see Radak, Hosea 6:3). It is not proper to serve God without a clear understanding of the 'what' and the 'why' of this service.
To demonstrate the difficulty, into which these questions lead us, let us take the last one. Does God care if we do or do not worship Him? If we say He does care then we are maintaining that God is subject to different states of existence. He is, so to speak, happier under certain conditions, i.e., when we worship Him, and less happy under other conditions, i.e., when we do not or refuse to worship Him. We are also maintaining that we can affect God, that is we human beings, are capable of affecting the Creator, which seems a bit egocentric if not preposterous. On the other hand if we maintain God does not care if we do or do not serve Him, our service then seems meaningless and God appears to us as a being indifferent to man. This latter view reminds us of the view of those who deny God's omniscience and His relationship with man. They say, "God has abandoned the earth" (Ezekiel, 8:12, 9:9).
It seems either view we take leads to some untenable position. Most religious people, therefore, have either removed this question to the far recesses of their minds or believe implicitly that God is more pleased when we worship Him. "What can I do for God today", we hear people say, as if God needs their help. Is it any wonder that we often encounter religious people of great arrogance? What can be more ego boosting than to believe that God is waiting each morning for one's service to Him, or to think that one can affect the Creator of the universe? Most non-religious people would be happy if they could affect a few human beings.
What does Torah have to say about this? Let us turn to the thirteen principles of our faith. The fourth principle states that God is not physical. By this we mean God is not comparable to any created thing, animate or inanimate. This is stated by Isaiah in 40:18, 25, "And to whom can you liken me... sayeth the Holy One." The created world is subject to change, a rock decays, plants grow, matter is converted into energy and vice versa. Man changes, he can go from poor health to good health, from sadness to happiness, from evil to good and vice versa. God, being most perfect, is not subject to change. As the prophet states, "I, God, do not change," (Malachi 3:6)." As Rambam states in the Yad, Laws Concerning the Fundamentals of our Faith, ch.1 Law 11, "and He does not change, for there is nothing that can cause change in Him. There does not exist in Him... anger or laughter, happiness or sadness..." God is not improved, happier, in a better state of being if we serve Him or in a worse state if we do not serve Him. Our God is awesome and we cannot affect Him in any way whatever. Whether we are evil or righteous, religious or atheistic, God remains unaffected. He, the Supreme Being, is not in need of anything including our worship of Him. Why do we worship God? Because in so doing we fulfill the divine potential God has endowed us with. The worship of God through Torah brings into realization the highest element in our nature and gives us true existence and fulfillment.
Is God indifferent to our worship? It depends upon how we mean this. If by indifferent we mean that God gains nothing from our worship, the answer is yes. If by indifferent we mean that God is not concerned about us the answer is no. God in His great mercy has given us the potential to perceive to some degree His knowledge and His truth. In other words this awesome God who gains nothing from our worship nevertheless shows us mercy and kindness in giving us the ability to obtain the greatest good for ourselves perfection. God is the only true benefactor. His goodness does not stem from any possibility of gain but from His very essence.
As followers of Torah we are not permitted to be motivated to worship by the false notion that we are helping God. While this notion may be emotionally satisfying and motivating, it belongs to the class of the idolatrous who attempt to make God in man's image. As Isaiah states in his vivid description of idolatry, "and he makes it in the likeness of a man, in the glory of a man, to dwell in [his] house." Idolaters are moved by powerful emotions, but we are moved by the awesomeness of the one true God.