Truths You Can Use

Truths You Can Use

Can You Pray What You Do Not Believe?

prayer

A famous philosopher once visited a church to give a lecture entitled “A Critique of the Existence of God.” His lecture took place in the church’s fellowship hall. It was very well attended, with over one thousand people.

Yet, after a while, the professor noted that the audience was beginning to leave.

Finally, when only a few people were left, the professor asked the group if he had been talking too long. One man answered, “No, your lecture is not too long. And you have proved to almost everyone’s satisfaction that God does not exist. But it’s almost time for our prayer service. And, God forbid, we wouldn’t want to be late.”

Huh? 

This perplexing story challenges us to think about the meaning of prayer. Do we always agree with the words we say? In Judaism, we say a prayer asking God to revive the dead. Do we think God can and will do so? We ask God to water the plants of the field. Do we believe God makes it rain?

These types of prayers have led many scientists to reject religion as infantile and illogical. Yet, the purpose of prayer is not to teach science. It is to speak to the soul. We can pray what we do not believe by thinking differently about prayer.  Prayer can be symbolic, mysterious and inner-directed.

Symbolic Language

Why do we take offense when a person tramples on the American flag? It is simply a piece of cloth. Yet, when we look at the flag or say the pledge of allegiance, we see it as a symbol of our country and our values.

The language of prayer is symbolic as well. When we say God revives the dead, we do not literally mean God opens a grave and breaths into a person who has died. Rather, we think of the way people live on through others. God revives the dead when we bring new life into the world.

Embrace the Mystery

One of the conceits of American society is the belief we can find all the answers. We can fix any problem with enough hard work and intelligence. This belief improves our world and leads to innovation. Yet, it will never satisfy us. The more we know, the more we realize how much more there is to know.

Albert Einstein wrote that scientists ultimately realize that “some spirit is manifest in the laws of the universe.” In other words, scientists know they will never know all the answers.

When it comes to prayer, we can embrace the mystery as well. Prayer speaks to the heart, not just the mind.

Focus on the purpose of prayer

The Hebrew word for prayer suggests that it is not directed only toward God.It is  also directed at ourselves. In other words, we do not pray simply to recite truths or impress God with our devotion. We pray to lift our spirits and move our hearts.

Prayer can transform us in a way ordinary language cannot. Consider the difference between an instruction manual and poem. We read one to get information. We read another to get inspiration. Prayer is like poetry.

But it goes beyond poetry in that it draws it also conveys a moral and spiritual imperative. It is not meant simply to entertain us. It is not meant simply to teach us. It is mean to guide us, to transform us, to lead us to a better life.

We pray not so that God hears us. We pray so we can hear God.

To get free weekly spiritual inspiration from Rabbi Moffic, click here. 

Can Science Prove God?

Can science prove God? For the last several centuries this question would have seemed absurd. Galileo was forced to recant his discoveries before the Pope. Darwin faced vociferous opposition from religious quarters. Today, however, a new way of thinking has found expression among devout scientists.

science god

Perhaps its most articulate representative is Frances Collins, the former head of the Human Genome Project and an evangelical Christian. Dr. Collins wrote an astounding book about DNA called The Language of God. Among his arguments is the case for what he calls “theistic evolution.” It sees evolution as the Divine mode of creation.

Divine Evolution

According to this framework, biology does not undermine God. It illustrates God’s creative powers because it shows God implanted within nature a way to evolve. In other words, faith and science are not at odds. They depend on one another. Each reveals the other’s power.

Of course some scientists would argue against this view. How can one prove a supernatural creator implanted the ability to evolve within organisms? Yet, they would have great difficulty finding a counter-argument to it. The beginnings of life remain shrouded in mystery, and will remain so.

As Max Planck, one of the twentieth century’s most celebrated scientists put it, “Science cannot solve the ultimate mystery of nature.  And that is because, in the last analysis, we ourselves are part of nature and therefore part of the mystery that we are trying to solve.”

What we don’t know pales in comparison to what we do know. The ultimate mystery at the heart of the universe lies beyond our grasp, and even if they do not call it God, many thoughtful scientists appreciate that mystery.

Divine Unity

As scientists have learned more about evolution, they have also recognized a truth the Bible described long ago. Creation is vast and almost infinitely diverse. Consider, for example, that earth contains 40,000 types of beetles! The Bible celebrates this diversity in the Book of Psalms, where we read,

How manifold are your works, O God.

You have made them all in wisdom.

The earth is full of your creatures. There is the sea, vast and wide.

There the creeping things beyond count, Living things great and small.” (104:24-45)

As we learn more about the world, we are uncovering the vastness God implanted within it. Even more astonishing, this diversity shares a common source. Every organism shares the same genetic code. To use a literary metaphor, we are all part of one dictionary.

As science writer Matt Ridley put it, “Wherever you go in the world, whatever animal, plant, bug or blob you look at, if it is alive, it will use the same dictionary and know the same code. All life is one…This means – and religious people might find this a useful argument - that there was only one creation, one single event when life was born.”

Divine Language

The final area of convergence is language. Language is not simply the words we speak. It is a series of symbols used to structure reality. Recall how Dr. Collins entitled his book The Language of God. That language, in Collins metaphor, is DNA.

DNA are strings of letters array in different orders. The arrangement of the letters creates life. Is it coincidental that God’s creation of the world begins with the words, “God said ‘Let there be light, and there was light?”

To continue this metaphor, we can understand creation as a result of different permutations of letters. We call these letters DNA, and they are really the building blocks of life.

Science may not prove God to everybody. Yet, the more we learn, the more we grow in our awe and amazement at the beauty of God’s creation.

To get free weekly spiritual inspiration from Rabbi Moffic, click here. 

Quote for the Day

“Most men worry about their own stomachs, and other people’s souls. We all ought to be worried abut our own souls, and other people’s stomachs.” –Rabbi Israel Salantar

Can Faith Help Us Find Healing and Forgiveness in the Wake of the Trayvon Martin Case?

trayvon

As President Obama said, the jury has spoken. The case has concluded. One side won, and another side lost. Yet, no one is happy. A 15-year-old boy is dead. Grieving parents will never be the same. What now?

Some want to continue the conflict. Facebook and twitter are filled with words of vitriol and vengeance. Others, like Trayvon Martin’s parents, have conveyed their sadness and hope. They have turned to faith not in the name of anger. They have turned to God in the name of healing. This morning Trayvon Martin’s mom tweeted, “Lord during my darkest hour I lean on you. You are all that I have. At the end of the day, God is still in control. Thank you all for your prayers and support.”

Amen. There is a time for conflict. There is a time for healing. Now is the time for healing. What insights and support can our faith give us?

1.Hold out for God’s comfort: Trayvon Martin’s mom tweet echoes the most famous words of the 23rd Psalm: “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil for Thou art with me. Thy rod and thy staff, they comfort me.”

Among the most important and overlooked verses in this verse is “through.” To find God’s comfort, we have to walk through the valley of the shadow. We cannot jump over it. We cannot run around it. But we will get through it. On the other side of despair lies hope.

2. Reject vengeance: One of the extraordinary lessons of the Hebrew Bible is the beauty of reconciliation. In the Book of Genesis, Joseph’s brothers leave him for dead. They tell their father a wild beast devoured him. 20 years pass. They meet him again. He has every reason to hate them. He has every reason to take vengeance upon them. He does not. He embraces them. Faith lifts us above revenge in the name of healing. 

3. Watch our language: The media exacerbates our differences. Conflict sells, and heated language generates conflict. If we are to find healing, we need to watch what we say.

Some of the post-trial comments by both sets of attorneys have generated further hostility. People of faith need to speak words that bring us together rather than drive us further apart. An inspiring example comes from Reverend Jacqueline Lewis in New York, who told her congregants on Sunday that Martin Luther King Jr. “would have wanted us to conduct ourselves on the highest plane of dignity.”

4. Express our convictions: Watching our language does not mean silencing our hearts. Reverend Lewis went on in her sermon to say “we’re going to raise our voices against the root causes of this kind of tragedy.” Respect does not mean acquiescence. The beauty of democracy is the place it gives us for constructive disagreement.

5. Look for the opportunity in tragedy: Whatever our feelings on the case, we can take this time as an opportunity for discussion. When the religious school year begins in September, I plan to talk about the case with my students. Justice and forgiveness are as much a part of faith as ritual and prayer.

To get free weekly spiritual inspiration from Rabbi Moffic, click here. 

Previous Posts

Hearing God's Alarm Clock: What You Need to Know about Rosh Hashanah
On Wednesday night and Thursday, Jews around the world will celebrate the holiday of Rosh Hashanah, which literally means "Head of the Year." What distinguishes Rosh Hashanah from every other holiday is the sounding of ancient ram’s horn, known as a shofar. It makes a scratchy, plaintive primi

posted 7:58:49am Sep. 23, 2014 | read full post »

Why We Still Love Fiddler on the Roof After 50 Years
As I child I could not sit through movies or meals. Sitting through a musical was out of the question. Yet, when I was seven, my parents decided to take me to see Fiddler on the Roof. Looking back now as parent of a seven-year-old, I would not have been so bold. Since that first experienc

posted 6:59:14pm Sep. 16, 2014 | read full post »

The Secret to Healing From Pain
I sat with the two children of a mother who had just passed away. They were recounting her life for me in preparation for the funeral. As we spoke, the mother’s long-time caretaker came into the room. She began to speak about their relationship. Though her English was not perfect, the three

posted 12:35:43pm Sep. 10, 2014 | read full post »

Do You Know What Hurts Me? A Story
  A great rabbi went into a bar. He overheard a conversation between patrons.   One said to the other, “Friend, do you love me?” “Of course I do,” the second man replied. “We’ve known each other our whole lives.”   “Then tell me, friend,” said the first man, “

posted 1:01:07pm Sep. 01, 2014 | read full post »

Does Religion Cause War?
Deadly images on television tear at our heart. We wish for the violence in Israel to end. This land, sacred to three global religions, seems endlessly mired in conflict. Does religion just

posted 12:36:26pm Aug. 17, 2014 | read full post »


Report as Inappropriate

You are reporting this content because it violates the Terms of Service.

All reported content is logged for investigation.