Thoughts to Ponder Number 104

A new series on the foundations of Judaism

The struggle for faith


We established in our last "thought to ponder" that it is forbidden to trust in God when this trust contradicts God's purpose for the world. Since man must have the possibility of exercising freedom of will, there must be a natural order to the world. If not for the laws of nature, it would not be possible for man to make any moral decision, since he would never be able to know what the consequences of his decisions would be.

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 God'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 God'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 God'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 God 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 God given and depending on His will, but also to emphasize that part of God'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 God'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 God's overall purpose.

Said differently: As long as a miracle or a change of events due to prayer does not interfere with God'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 God'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 God wanted to show the Israelites an unprecedented miracle which 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 God Himself contradicting His own will.

To be continued

Nathan Lopes Cardozo


Reproduction of this essay is permitted when printed in full.

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