Jewish World Review August 30, 2002 / 22 Elul, 5762

Keeping the faith

The third in a series on how to acquire and internalize belief

By Rabbi Nathan Lopes Cardozo | The question to what extent one can actually trust G-d and rely on His protection is closely related to the question why He created the world.

It should be claimed that one can only rely on His protection and help as long as this does not contradict the very purpose of existence. Once somebody relies on G-d in a way that would oppose the purpose of the world he would be guilty of a religious transgression. It would be heretical and wholly irreligious.

While it is impossible for man to know the objective reason why G-d created the universe, it is still possible to recognize its subjective purpose.

Philosophers make the point that man is the only creature who is consciously aware of the fact that he is a moral being. No other creature seems to have any part in this. Only man is able to make a moral decision and as such exercising freedom of will must somehow be his and the world's purpose, otherwise what would the aim of such a faculty be?

True, it does not respond to the question why G-d is in need of creating a world in which one creature must be able to exercise freedom of will, but once we ask the question of purpose after the facts, i.e. after man appears as a free being, we will have to conclude that the above inference is correct.


Once we accept this premise, we will be able to understand many questions related to "believe in" (as opposed to "believe that"). But before we are able to fully appreciate the implication of this, we must realize that a radical "believe in" G-d would not just be heretical and irreligious but, in fact, immoral.

This could be illustrated by the example of a man who decides to jump from a tall building while declaring that he has full trust in G-d and that he therefore will land safely on the ground. By actually convincing himself that G-d will protect him, he simultaneously removes any personal responsibility. This becomes even more obvious when we think about the man who drives recklessly through the streets declaring that there is nothing to worry about since G-d will protect him and all passersby. This in fact is a "cover up" in which great evil is projected as a high level of religious faith.

These examples clearly show some of the borderlines of religious faith. Since the world must give man the opportunity to exercise freedom of will, there is a need for the consistent application of the natural order. For man to be able to choose he must be able to know prior to his deed what the outcome of his actions will be. If he would not have that option, he would never be able to exercise his free choice. In a world where there would only be chaos and no natural regularity, no man could ever take responsibility for his actions. After all, how would he know what result his actions would entail?

From this fact alone we are already able to deduce that one can only have trust in G-d's protection as long as the natural order is not violated since this order is a fundamental precondition for the purpose of the world.

It is, however, most appropriate to realize that this does not only limit man in what he can expect from G-d; but it also limits G-d in what He can do for man. The all too often made claim that G-d can do the "impossible" does not properly reflect the reality of this world. Not only can G-d not call Himself out of existence, since He is an infinite Being, but neither can He oppose the purpose of His creation. Would He do so, it would call for the destruction of all existence.

It was the Christian philosopher John Hick who commented on this fact with his "counterfactual hypothesis". Calling this world a "soul making place", but for our purposes and more in line with Jewish thought we will call it a "tzaddik making place", Hick writes as follows:

" Suppose that contrary to fact, this world were a paradise from which all possibility of pain and suffering were excluded. The consequences would be far-reaching. For example, no one could ever injure anyone else, the murderer's knife would turn to paper or the bullets to thin air, the bank safe, robbed of a million dollars, would miraculously become filled with another million dollars; fraud, deceit, conspiracy, and treason would somehow leave the fabric of society undamaged.

"No one would ever be injured by accident: the mountain climber, steeplejack, or a playing child falling from a height would float unharmed to the ground, the reckless driver would never meet with disaster. In a hedonistic paradise there would be no wrong actions nor therefore any right actions in distinction from wrong. Courage and fortitude would have no point in an environment in which there is, by definition, no danger or difficulty. Generosity, kindness, the agape aspect of love, prudence, unselfishness, and other ethical notions that presuppose life in an objective environment could not have been formed.

"Consequently, such a world, however well it might promote pleasure, would be very ill adapted for the moral qualities of human personality. In relation to this purpose it might well be the worst of all possible worlds!"


The question which begs itself is however obvious: Where is the place for miracles in such a given? How can miracles ever be possible when, by definition, they uproot the natural order? Are miracles not the manifestation of chaos, in which one is no longer sure about the future?

Simultaneously what is the purpose of prayer? Why pray for help, sustenance and sometimes even for a miracle when the very request contained in all these prayers involves the suspension of natural order? After all, prayers such as a request for restoring health after an illness or for a better financial income, presuppose that the natural order can and perhaps should be changed. Are these prayers not heretical because they manifest a desire to change G-d's purpose for the world?

This would indeed be the case if not for the fact that the need for miracles and prayer are themselves part of G-d's purpose for the world. Several religious thinkers have made the valid point that for man to be able to choose he must have the opportunity of seeing G-d's fingerprints in this world, but simultaneously have the option to deny the existence of these divine manifestations. There needs to be a balance between the two. Too much divine revelation or too much natural order would force man to accept one of them as "absolute" and consequently would destroy his or her capability of choosing freely between both of them.

Miracles are a constant reminder not to take the natural order for granted. Through the occurrence of a miracle man is reminded that this order is G-d given. It proves that the laws of nature are not self sufficient but an act of creation and that the One above is the only one who is "absolute". Once there is a deviation of these laws, it shows that the natural order itself is not entirely obedient to its own rules and henceforth not independent. As such, miracles are part of the larger plan. Still, too many miracles would destroy the fabric of our world and make it impossible for man to choose.


Similarly, the purpose of prayer is to make man aware that the laws of nature are not rock solid. Not only is its purpose to teach man that natural order is G-d given and depending on His will, but also to emphasize that part of G-d's purpose for the world is to give man the opportunity to turn to Him and ask for help. Man's surrender to his Creator is a vital part of G-d's purpose for the world. This does not always mean that man asks for a "revealed" miracle but rather for the suspension of a law of nature to be replaced with another one.

To ask for a miracle is permitted, to rely on it definitely happening is heretical, since it may contradict G-d's overall purpose.

Put differently: As long as a miracle or a change of events due to prayer does not interfere with G-d's ultimate plan and purpose for the world, such events may take place. Once they become an infringement of this purpose they have no chance of succeeding.

It is for this reason that the revealed miracles in the days of the Torah, such as the splitting of the Red Sea, can only be understood as a phenomena which had to take place so that G-d's plan for the Jewish people or mankind could be realized.

There are two possible options: Either the splitting of the Red Sea took place because the natural order of things could not provide a way to save the Jewish people from the hands of the Egyptians, or G-d wanted to show the Israelites an unprecedented miracle that once and for all would remind them and the world that He is in absolute control and that all existence is depending on Him, including natural order itself. Obviously it may be that both purposes had to be achieved simultaneously.

Had that not been the case, it would have been a "heretical" act by G-d Himself contradicting His own will.

Rabbi Nathan Lopes Cardozo is a world-renowned lecturer and ambassador for Judaism, the Jewish people, the State of Israel and Sephardic Heritage. Comment by clicking here.


08/16/02: Keeping the faith Part II
07/26/02: Keeping the faith Part I
01/18/02: The sanctification and importance of time
09/21/01: And if the High Holidays expectations are not met?
06/29/01: Freud and belief in the Creator
06/21/01: Comprehending the Creator

© 2002, Rabbi Nathan Lopes Cardozo