According to the rabbis (i) one of God’s first creations was the Torah (the first five books of the Hebrew Bible), (ii) God studies Torah for three hours every day (hmmm, in “God Years” (I’m not dyslexic) that’s … about … 125 years every day) and (iii) out of respect, whenever God reads Torah, he stands. On this brief detour from the Historical Jesus, I want to suggest study as a form of divine imitation, a form of worship.
I first stumbled onto this concept while reading Jacob Neusner’s book, The Glory of God is Intelligence, a collection of lectures he once gave while visiting BYU. The idea thrilled me–I had an instant testimony of its truthfulness. I was especially struck by the following statements.
[Judaism and Mormonism share] the conviction that religion thrives through the use of the mind and the intellect. Skepticism and critical thinking are friends, not enemies, of religion…. [The] study of … Torah outweighs all else … [because] human being[s were] made to study Torah… (p. 1)
From the late 50s through the early 80s, Neusner may have been nearly correct here about Mormons. I’m not so sure nowadays. I was reared during this wonderful time, the “Camelot” of the Arrington-led New Mormon history, the time when Lowell Bennion authored church manuals that bore his name, the time when Hugh Nibley personified a theology of study.
The rabbis of the Talmud believe that they study Torah as God does in heaven; their schools–they maintain–are conducted like the academy on high…. [S]tudying Torah is not merely imitating God, who does the same, but is a way to the apprehension of God and the attainment of the sacred. (p. 7).
For the last 27 years religious study has been my worship, my liturgy, my ritual. I can do it anywhere. Sometimes I do it right in the middle of church. When I read the most challenging texts I feel the Divine presence. While in this mode of being, I’m not afraid to ask questions about my beliefs. Like Abraham, I feel confident I can engage God in a probing discussion and even push my luck sometimes, knowing, as James says, God will not “upbraid” me when I do so, just as I welcome questions from my own children (unless it’s the “why” thrown in after every explanation just to drive me crazy). And the best answers I receive are … more questions. I exercise faith that the rabbis are right. I hope heaven is an academy, a really good Gospel Doctrine class, a Sunstone symposium where God is the speaker at the first plenary session (with a long Q&A period afterwards). I believe He will even enjoy the presentations of His children.