Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Is Faith Logical? One Answer in Ten Questions

The Jewish people have been called many names; however, as others have pointed out, even our enemies never call us feebleminded. By all accounts we possess a keen intellect. The disproportionately high number of Jewish Noble Prize winners bears this out. Since the Jewish people have believed in God for thousands of years, there is likely no contradiction between having faith and a discerning intellect. In fact, the rational basis for belief in God is one of the reasons the Jewish people – a highly intelligent nation – have held on to their faith, even in the face of relentless persecution.

The mind includes two levels of thought. The first, only accepts that which can be readily observed or was witnessed by others; animals operate exclusively on this level. The second, with which humans are endowed, is the ability to look beyond what we can perceive. We are able to evaluate possibilities and decide what exists beyond a reasonable doubt – even if we are unable to fully perceive this reality. When utilized properly, both levels of thought can bring us to believe in a Creator.

One reason we believe in God is because we have a tradition, passed down in an unbroken chain, going all the way back to those who were there, that with blatant miracles God redeemed us from Egypt. In addition, those very ancestors – numbering in the millions – heard God’s voice on Mount Sinai. Accepting this testimony, a function of the first level of thought, is the foundation of our belief in God and His Torah.

This testimony must be true because it would be impossible to fabricate. It is hard enough to get a small group of people to agree on one thing; you cannot get millions of people to agree to tell their children and grandchildren the same lie, with all the same details, about an event that never occurred. It cannot be done.

Moses pointed out that no other nation claims to have experienced a mass Divine revelation or to have been redeemed through explicit miracles (Deuteronomy 4:32-35). To date, thousands of years later, still, no other nation makes these claims. Why not? Because those events did not happen to any other nation and it would be impossible to concoct such a story and be believed. We claim that God redeemed us from Egypt and gave us the Torah on Mount Sinai, because He really did. We claim that the Torah is God’s eternal instruction manual for life, because it really is.

Without the tradition of our ancestors’ eyewitness testimony, we still can arrive at the belief in a Creator through the use of the second, analytical level of thought. The first Jew, our forefather Abraham, grew up in a home of idol worship. Using his intellect, he came to the conclusion that there must be a Creator. The mind, when used in pursuit of truth, serves as a homing device, bringing us home to our Creator.

Our intellect can serve as a key to open the gate of faith in God, but to enter His palace we must leave our limited intelligence behind. While the general principles of faith are logical, as will be illustrated below, we are unable to use our minds to understand the Divine reason behind a specific occurrence. That would be analogous to a student – who upon learning that atoms exist – tried to view one under his store bought microscope; the atom is there – a Divine reason exists behind everything – but with a limited microscope – our limited intelligence – it cannot be perceived.

What do you believe?

Judaism encapsulates many beliefs, all of which fall under the fundamental belief in a Creator. The following list covers some of these beliefs. For a listing of all key Jewish beliefs, see Maimonides’ Thirteen Principles of Faith.

The list below is organized to provide one answer to the question, is faith logical? The questions illustrate how many beliefs logically follow one another. If the line of reasoning discussed here does not resonate with you, there are other rationales to explore.

Read each question slowly. Think about if the logic makes sense to you and if the conclusion drawn is likely true or at least plausible. Note which ones you want to discuss further with your spiritual mentor.

Ten Questions on Faith:

1. Objects do not create themselves; everything comes from something. In addition, the more elaborate and detailed something is, the clearer it is that there is an inventor behind it. Can I accept that this exquisite and intricate world has a Creator (God)?

(Job expressed this idea when he said, “...In my flesh I see God (Job 19:26).” When you look at your hand, don’t you also see God?)

2. Since every invention has an inventor who created it for a reason, can I accept that God created me for a reason?

3. There are two reasons to create something, either to benefit oneself or to benefit others. Since the Creator of all is not lacking anything, can I accept that He created me to bestow goodness to me?

4. Can I accept that the Creator of all transcends any good found in the world He created and is in fact the ultimate good?

5. Since God created me to bestow goodness to me and He is the ultimate good, can I accept that coming close to Him is the goal of creation?

(King David expressed this when he wrote (Psalms 73:28), “But as for me, my good is closeness to God…”)

6. Can I accept that God must have left instructions for me to know how to come close to Him and bask in His goodness?

(It does not make sense to create me for a reason, but not inform me how I am to fulfill my life’s purpose.)

7. Since the Torah is the only document in history claimed to have been revealed by God before millions of people, can I accept that the Torah is the instruction manual God left for us to know how we can fulfill our life’s purpose?

8. Since God created everything, can I accept that He is more powerful than anything?

9. Since God created me to do good for me and is all powerful, can I accept that He only allows things to happen to me that are for my eternal benefit?

(It does not make sense for an all-powerful Creator to create me to benefit me and then allow others to derail that plan.)

10. Since God makes sure I only experience what is for my benefit, can I accept that each moment of my life is exactly the way it is supposed to be?

(At the same time, I need to ask God for help and make reasonable efforts to improve my life.)

Sometimes, even after our minds have been won over to the sound basis of belief in God and the Divine origin of the Torah, we may still resist embracing these beliefs. Perhaps this is because the ego – rooted in our bodies and materialism – rejects the notion that there is anything greater than it to whom it must listen. When we sense the ego’s resistance to a belief, we might mistakenly conclude that our hesitation is because the rationale behind the belief is not compelling. In truth, the ego does not want to be compelled; it wants to be free to do as it pleases and rejects that there is a higher purpose to life. True freedom though, is not the chance to roll in the gutter; it is the opportunity to reach our highest potential and unite with the Infinite.

God has sufficiently demonstrated His power and presence, giving us ample reasons to believe in Him. Consider the following: The stunningly beautiful world He created, the supernatural redemption from Egypt, the unprecedented Divine revelation at Mount Sinai, as well as the miraculous survival of the Jewish people to this day. Yet, stronger than our faith in God will ever be is His faith in us. Even if we have not yet given God any reason to have faith in us, even if we are not yet fulfilling His purpose in creating us, still, He has faith that eventually we will. He trusts that we will seek Him out and come home. 

Do not delay; your Father is waiting.
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