Part 4. The Universe
An Aside: (PLEASE READ)
If you just arrived here from my companion website rubinspace.org (Psalm 92), please read the rest of this Aside. At the end of the sixth paragraph below you’ll encounter a link to jump ahead to continue forward to my “bottom line,” that is, the raison d’etre for the universe. Then you’ll see a link that will allow you to return to where you came here from Psalm 92. Mind you, I’m not telling you that you can’t read straight through this entire Part 4, but some sections below should be left for when you arrive here by coming from Part 3.
In this section, I discuss what I believe is the character of the world. I suspect that you will find nothing new here, perhaps only a different perspective. But I will try to support my view with Torah verses and their revealed logic.
Let me begin by examining the clues in a general way. First of all, we know from various verses, including Gene. 22:1 cited in Part 2 and the verses following it, that God “tests” us. Please take particular note of Deut. 8:16, which reveals the purpose of the testing. We are also aware that God is depicted in the Torah as both a harsh Judge and a benevolent Shepherd.
Further, we recognize that God approves of His creation; Gene. 1:31 says “And God saw everything that He had made, and behold, it was very good.” Having formed humans as His last act of Creation, He was done and would soon “rest,” inaugurating the Sabbath. Apparently, He was most “pleased,” because the verse says “… it was very good.” Until this verse God had said merely that it was good five times previously. Now I take Gene. 1:31 very seriously. I believe it is an eternal sign, one of a number of key verses that directly reveal truths of significance to us. If God knows all and sees all and exists outside of time, then when He “sees” His work is very good, He is acknowledging not only His past work, but also the future outcome of His work. In Gene. 1:31 God informs us that the created universe is very good for all time and space.
Finally, God has a purpose for His Creation. We learn from Gene. 12:3 that ultimately all the families of the earth will be blessed. From Exod. 9:16 we discover that God’s name will be declared throughout the earth (read instead the universe). And in Exod. 20:17 we learn that we will eventually be so reverent of Him that we will hold Him above our own regard. Lastly, most of Deuteronomy 32 is a divinely dictated song Moses sings to the people about the future. It depicts God’s “vengeance” on all the peoples who had afflicted His chosen one -- the children of Israel.
Take notice! Throughout the bible we are repeatedly told not to oppress the widow or orphan. Well, as I see history and the Torah, Israel is an orphan and a widow in the world like no other nation, having no parents (born out of a pagan nation – Gene. 12:1) and having lost the Temple, the earthly place of its Bridegroom (Exod. 4:25 and 4:26). So I say, “Woe to those who oppress it!”
Now what can we glean from these generalities by considering them in detail? First and most important is that the world is a place for us to be tested and to learn. Our education is what God's testing is all about. Testing involves our learning. And what is it we are to learn? The Torah indicates it clearly: About God, what He desires of us, and how we fit into His plan! (If you came here from rubinspace.org and don’t want to read through, click here to jump ahead).
How does any reasonably intelligent organism learn? One way is by observing the world around itself. For us humans that usually means observing, studying, questioning, experimenting, and forming conclusions. Primary paths for that form of learning are the Torah, our parents, our schools, and our peers.
A better way of learning, perhaps, is through personal experience, associating good or bad as a consequence of our behavior. This association often occurs instinctively, especially in childhood. Witness a child’s first painful encounter with burning heat, an event to be remembered for a lifetime. As we mature and become wiser and more knowledgeable as a result of experience and learning, most of us come to consciously understand and acknowledge the association. Virtually every behavior has a consequence. Generally speaking, we tend to get along in the world by suffering the consequences of our mistakes and by reaping the benefits of our correct decisions and learning from these experiences.
Personal learning, however, is not always derived from our mistakes. Sometimes our death is the consequence. Yet one’s death allows an opportunity for others, primarily loved ones, to learn from it. If indeed God's purpose for us is to ultimately recognize His supreme sovereignty and to love and revere Him above ourselves, and if God's gift to us humans of intelligence and free will is the mechanism by which we achieve that purpose, then I guess that from God's point of view, the world presents us with the perfect environment in which to accomplish that end. We are free to study our literature and experience the world around us as we strive to learn what is good for us as a result of the good and bad consequences of our actions, using the Torah as our sacred guide.
Yet our instinctive preference is to maximize our comfort and pleasure and to minimize our pain or exertion. I see this as a necessary and direct product of ego. By ego, I mean simply the awareness of self, “I” as opposed to “other.” I am not referring to the psychological ego, although there is some overlap. And this ego is an essential element of free choice, the process by which we learn from our decisions. Thus, our instinctive desire is not in line with God's purpose, and we view the world as imperfect – in fact, broken. But in my view the world is not imperfect or broken. It is the ultimate laboratory, perfectly designed and created by our God to fulfill His plan. And by His instructions we are to cheerfully support and defend the weak and vulnerable. In doing this, we are not repairing the world; we are upholding the Lord’s vital instructions because of our love and reverence for Him, and thereby perfecting ourselves.
According to our imagination and preferences, though, the perfect world is like the Garden of Eden. In the Torah it is depicted as a world of innocence, without pain or suffering, and no understanding or wisdom. However, because of the divine gift of free will, by which I mean the ability to make choices, we must gain entry to whatever perfect world is in store for us. However, we can enter that world only by way of experience and the wisdom it imparts. The world in which we now live provides the path. It is a world of splendid opportunity, persistent, insistent, and ever threatening. Therefore, to survive we must learn, and we must learn to conquer our natural terror of the world, and of God, its Creator.
Passages in the Torah (see Gene. 6:17, for example) reveal that God accepts the death of animals and humans as necessary, although perhaps not with “pleasure.”. Notice that in Gene. 18:23-32 Abraham pleads with God to not destroy the righteous with the sinners of Sodom and Gomorrah. God finally agrees to reverse His decision to destroy the cities if only ten righteous beings are found there. Can you guess why God agrees? I believe it is because He knows that He will find only one “righteous” person there – Lot. And He will save Lot. So only the unrighteous sinners of the cities are destroyed. Incidentally, do you think you understand in some way, why Lot’s wife was turned into a pillar of salt (Gene. 19:26)? I can guess: She just might have been looking back out of regret for leaving the sinful life of the city. In her heart she may have been sinful.
Now primarily because of our ego and instincts we tend to abhor and fear some death (of those we care about and have empathy for, including ourselves). Yet as I review the Torah I have to conclude that death – like God -- is not to be feared. Truly loving God (with all our heart, soul, and might), we would give glory to His great name by facing hardship or death (ours or that of a loved one) with love and acceptance. If truly loving God, we need to learn to overcome our instinctive fear of suffering, death, and the unknown. We must recognize them as the means to acquire the entry ticket to God’s paradise. Through intelligently, compassionately, and joyfully dealing with the suffering and death of individuals and learning from it, humanity will ultimately acquire the wisdom and discernment to worship the one God and to love one another because it is His “desire.” God is indeed good!
To love God with all our heart, all our soul, and all our might, we must choose to see the world as good and without blemish. In a strange and marvelous way, the world is itself a sacrifice, from which we will ultimately emerge, chastened and wise, to be with our Maker.
Before completing Part 4, I need to clarify my view of this all-important concept for you. I need you to understand that God informs us there are two aspects to our testing and learning. I call the one corporate and the other, personal. In personal learning, we face our life tests -- our adversities -- with God-loving understanding and wisdom, learning from them and becoming wiser and more appreciative of God’s power and perfection. We learn and, if possible, impart that learning to others who would listen. With all our heart, soul, and might we achieve a love of God that inspires us to offer our most precious sacrifice, that of our ego, as we join with the Supreme Ruler.
But corporate learning stands on its own, sort of apart from personal learning, although in a way they are intertwined and affect one another. Remember that we are repeatedly told to care for the helpless and powerless -- the poor, the widow, and the orphan. In corporate learning, we contemplate the suffering and misfortunes of others and react to help them as God asks us to in the Torah. In corporate learning, our wisdom and compassion are the critical elements in pursuing God’s purpose for us. In any situation concerning the suffering of others we must weigh the benefits of their personal learning possibilities against the perhaps equally possible harm that would come to them out of their suffering.
Suffering and hardship do not always lead to the kind of personal learning that strengthens character. As often as not, it yields a distortion of world view and character. It leads to the wrong kind of learning, especially in children, although all of us are susceptible to its pressure. It can lead to repressed or suppressed anger and frustration and an abiding fear of the world and of God. Often, suffering can have a negative effect, reducing corporate learning (as well as the personal learning of the sufferer). When we turn a cold shoulder, for whatever reason, good or bad, to those who are suffering and helpless, we shrink our wisdom and understanding. The conflict this introduces in many of us is also a test.
One more insight: Some of you may understand what I am about to say, and some may not. But I ask everyone to reflect on the following. How is God’s interaction with the universe accomplished?
Here’s what I believe. In the grand scheme of things God does not interact with us in our time frame. If you believe that God is all powerful, all seeing, all knowing, and therefore must exist outside of time, then you may find what I am about to say rather interesting and, possibly enlightening.
God made the universe out of a spot of energy that He created out of nothing. Those who believe He can’t do that are diminishing their view of the power and glory of God. To continue, in that spot He placed the knowledge of the existence of all future events. In the instant of creation, He included in the spot all His response to all events that could possibly occur (as a result of our free-will decisions). So all of His interactions with the universe were included in that one instant of creation.
Now when we humans believe a prayer has been answered or God has otherwise intervened in our lives, we experience it as occurring right at that moment. That’s normal for us time-conscious beings. But time, which is our invention or perception, does not exist for God. So He has no reason to follow us through time. He includes all His interactions in the instant of creation.
Could this possibly give you a new understanding of His resting after the “sixth day?” Once Creation was done, all He would do was/is “wait” for the end times. His would be a complete rest, one which He asks us in the Torah to emulate.
Before leaving this Part 4, I would like to add that I believe firmly that other intelligent life exists elsewhere in the universe. We are not God’s only creation of intelligent life. In my belief, these alien life forms are also God’s creation and subject to His laws. I believe that hunger for the Lord is native to all intelligent life. Searching to find Him and learn from Him is universal. Truly nothing in the Torah precludes that possibility. And everything I understand about cosmology, probability, and the wisdom of the Lord supports it.
In summary, I believe we live in a world that is ideal in the sense that it provides perfect opportunities for learning to come into God’s presence and to revere Him. With that understanding, we must find our way to selfless and joyful love of the Lord. And, as revealed in the Torah, that result is the goal of Creation.