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Is G-d Really Running the World?

Is G-d Really Running the World?

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Question:

How do we reconcile our religious belief in Divine Providence with the mechanistic world we seem to live in?

For example: In the present day we enjoy longer life-spans and are freed from many of the illnesses in a way that previous generations did not merit. What changed? Are we really better than them?

Also in today's world, people living in developed countries experience less pain and suffering than those living in third-world countries. The Torah teaches that we are called upon to make appropriate endeavors, and this will merit divine blessing if G‑d sees fit. In other words, success is dependent on the degree of the endeavor and the worthiness of the doer, but not on the specific nature of the endeavor. Following this reasoning, a doctor in Africa and a doctor in New York should have the same success rates—unless you assume that the citizens of New York deserve this higher success rate for some reason.

What I'm getting at is that the technological advancement of a society seems to have a far greater impact on the quality of life it enjoys than the moral worthiness of its members. How is this to be reconciled with the traditional religious idea of Divine Providence?

Answer:

As far as the difference between us and previous generations is concerned, we can look at this in two ways:

a) Technology follows social change. When slavery fell out of favor in Europe, windmills and watermills were developed. As the concept of the innate value of human life began to become appreciated, medicine and hygiene advanced, saving and lengthening human lives. We saw this happening in our own time as well: The revolution of consumer media, mobile phones and the internet were much more the result of a shift in social attitudes toward individualism than any technological breakthrough. So in a sense, yes, with the times we became more deserving of these divine blessings.

b) As we move closer to the messianic times, the world is preparing itself. This preparation does not have to be in a miraculous way—on the contrary, the world itself, within its own parameters need to change.

But your question, especially as it pertains to today's world, touches on a greater question: How do we reconcile belief in providence with an apparently mechanistic world?

G‑d created a consistent interface for His world—we call it "natural law". But as we Jews have always understood it, natural law is not something separate from its Creator; rather it is simply G‑d in a mode of consistent action. Exceptions to this mode are called miracles, when G‑d relates to us in a way that is not consistent to common observation.

Within the consistent mode of natural law, G‑d could also get His way—without even bending those laws in the slightest. After all, He's "the infinite light," unlimited in any way. We call this hashgacha pratit, often translated as "divine providence."

My point is that you should not be surprised when the world appears to be functioning as though it's just "running on its own." If it would not, it would not be a world. The point of creation is to have a real world that will nevertheless be a vehicle of G‑dly expression.

There's a verse in the Psalms, "How awesome are Your works! They are so mighty that Your enemies deny You!"

In other words, King David is saying that G‑d outdid Himself. He created such an amazing world that those who want to keep Him out of their lives can believe He does not exist.

Those, however, who look at the world objectively, see that it is anything but mechanical. Here's one of my favorite quotes from a British scientist, J. Lighthill, in 1986:

"I…have to speak…on behalf of the broad global fraternity of practitioners of mechanics. We collectively wish to apologize for have misled the general educated public by spreading ideas about the determinism of systems satisfying Newton's laws of motion that, after 1960, were to be proved incorrect."

I'm not sure the type of reading you might enjoy, but here's a fun but thoughtful link: The Shushan Files.

Rabbi Tzvi Freeman, a senior editor at Chabad.org, also heads our Ask The Rabbi team. He is the author of Bringing Heaven Down to Earth. To subscribe to regular updates of Rabbi Freeman's writing, visit Freeman Files subscription. FaceBook @RabbiTzviFreeman Periscope @Tzvi_Freeman .
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Jon T. Colorado Springs, CO/USA November 2, 2011

Who runs the world Personally, I have come to the conclusion that G_D, does not get involved in material, worldly matters. That the world which we are living in has great abundance and all of us in the human family have a choice between doing what we "want" and what is "right". Unfortunately, I believe that the world is in control of man and it is up to us to make it a Garden of Eden, or ....what it is now, where money, power and control is what is admired and desired. I feel that there is a outbreak of narcissism, particularly in the U.S.
I feel that G_D gave us the tools, then G_D backs away and doesn't get involved.
For myself, I pray for acceptance and the strength to keep going and commit to my ethics and values, meaning, who I "really" am. Reply

Karen Joyce Chaya Fradle Kleinman Bell Riverside, CA June 26, 2011

Rabbi Tzvi, what a wonderful response... You said, Re: too lazy (Moshe Fleischer)
"The single mothers, war veterans, senior citizens, mental hospital dischargees, etc. are not lazy, except in the minds of those who are too lazy to help them." Thank you so much. I was a single mother, am a senior citizen now, etc., and I thank you for your kind understanding. Reply

Karen Joyce Chaya Fradle Kleinman Bell Riverside, CA, USA June 22, 2011

So, my short answer is... No.
My longer answer is that I don't care, because I have faith and belief in G-d's goodness , compassion and mercy, and whatever happens to me, I count as irrelevant, because G-d still loves me. Reply

Karen Joyce Chaya Fradle Kleinman Bell Riverside, CA, USA December 8, 2010

My answer is NO, G-d is not running the world. G-d put in forces the creation of all the universes, worlds, water cycles, etc, but I think we impute human feelings and values onto Go-d. I don't believe the stories in the Torah, but I love being Jewish, feeling Jewish, and having faith in G-d. Often, when I'm about to die (stroke, CHF, breast cancer, etc), I pray to and count on G-d to do what is best for Him and for me, whatever that is. Other times I don't think of Go-d being in control. Also, I don't believe that G-d blesses people who follow the 613 + laws to the letter any more than he blesses other people. The rain falls on the just and unjust, which means that both good and bad people have good and bad things happen to them. Very orthodox Jews can also get cancer and heart attacks, live in places where there are floods and tornadoes, fires, etc. So, my answer is NO, G-od is not in charge of the world. If I really thought G-d was mean and horrid, I would say YES. Reply

Y. Rubinoff February 24, 2008

Dear Dana Your perseverance inspires me. I have the greatest respect for senior citizens who work. Reply

Dana Goldstein February 23, 2008

Thank you, Tzvi. Speaking as a "senior citizen" who spends a ton of energy and time plus a fortune on gasoline to drive to each of four part-time jobs, with a net return after taxes of less than a thousand dollars a month, most of which goes to utility bills and much of which goes not for medications, but vitamins and other non-prescription supplements, not covered by Medicare. The good news is that I don't get sick, thank Gd. Oh, and, of course, some goes for food. Forget clothes!!! The old clothes have to do. And I suppose we should include rent, right? Reply

Tzvi Freeman (author) February 21, 2008

Re: too lazy (Moshe Fleischer) The single mothers, war veterans, senior citizens, mental hospital dischargees, etc. are not lazy, except in the minds of those who are too lazy to help them. Reply

Shoshanna Frummer February 20, 2008

Gdliness and human behavior We DO need to know the details so as to determine what our deeds must be.

Sub-Saharan Africa was better off long ago, before it was contaminated with the wars and slavery of paler peoples. But never mind them. Look at the New World, which remained uncontaminated longer. There were skirmishes, but essentially their "wars" were no more violent than a modern hockey game riot. (Exception: Aztecs.) We must look to "native Americans" and Pacific Islanders for guidance on how to live in harmony with the rest of Gd's creation. We have gone too far. We produce more and more food for humans, taking land that animals need, destroying 100 times more species than occurs naturally. Now comes global warming because of us. The Torah tries to restrict human greed: don't take the fledgling with the mother, don't muzzle the ox, let the oppressed go free. We must focus on those aspects of Torah. We NEED them NOW!!! G-d lets us destroy whole forests but we will pay soon enough now. Reply

Moshe Fleischer February 20, 2008

America's sexual standards are more *healthy*--not more moral or in accordance with the Torah's views. Secondly, the Political machinations behind the starvation in Africa reinforces the innocence of the starving people there. In America whoever starves is probably too lazy to work hard. In Africa the poor people *can't* improve their lot.

But as you say, although we can't understand the specifics, but in general we see a pattern. Reply

Tzvi Freeman (author) February 20, 2008

Re: Does the answer address the question I didn't propose that we can understand all of G_d's designs. Only that there are some very general patterns that we can discern. The big picture works. The details--that's G_d's business.

Nevertheless, we do know that much, if not most of the starvation and suffering in Africa is due to political machinations. Much of the disease, as well, is due to the standards of sexual behavior on the continent.

Again, not that this explains a particular person's suffering, G_d forbid, or at all justifies any suffering. It is only to say that the current state of the world is not in contradiction to the concept of Divine Providence. Reply

Moshe Fleischer February 20, 2008

Does the answer address the question? The rabbi's answer was that G-d *is* running the world, but he does so subtly, by means of divine providence. In addition, the increase in material goodness was in fact accompanied by an increase in G-dly behavior in the past couple centuries.

While this explanation adequately explains history, it does not explain the current situation in the world today. If G-dly behavior equals material goodness, then why is the material goodness available in the world today seemingly distributed on the basis of socioeconomic variables completely unrelated to morality? As the questioner wrote, is the doctor in New York more worthy than the doctor in Africa? Reply

chanah February 20, 2008

I thing that there is G-dliness in a 250 year old tortoise.
G-d imbued creation with His Essence. Some elements of creation manifest Him through longevity, some through beauty, some, like the celestial bodies, through their timelesness.I believe that G-dliness is more and more manifest as life is lengthened and improved and the world unites through progress in media and communication.
Now, a Hitler - yimach shemo - could take that extraordinary power and turn around and imprison it, because he is given the free will to do so.
This seems to be the awesome task of humanity - to liberate the inherent G-dliness by living it.
May this is part of what the Rebbe meant by saying, "the world is ready for Moshiach - we just have to open up our eyes."
The world is becoming more G-dly - we have to wake ourselves and it up to be consciously G-dly.
may we do so now! Reply

Thumbelina Toronto, ON/Canada February 19, 2008

Mind, Matter, Success and Miracles Well i think it is really astute to even attempt to climb Mt. Everest with this answer to the question: what are miracles?

As well, in this kind of thinking we can well ask what creative unfoldment might the Infinite Light take .. and then watch yourself be creatively surprised, tickled ... to the place where even adults will laugh

And thanks for the mathematical truth of where 'success' comes from.
The Western wall and the Wall Street Journal find out they have something in common, afte all? Yikes!! What a matchmaker!! Reply

traci boca raton , florida February 19, 2008

article: G-d Why is it that as expressed one might choose to seek a reason for Divine Providence?
Isn't it enough to say it is so because G-d said so and since he only wishes good, from intention to manifestation it is good (BH).
It is up to us to find the good.
Why do we need to search for G-d's logic, so to speak when logic is a demonstration of the physical brain?
G-d has poured wisdom and understanding (among many other aspects within Creation) into this world for us to find Him and to "know" Him with all our heart , soul and essence.
Why not use this energy of curiosity to find the faith within and allow this to be.
Study to know what it is you must do so that with G-d's help you can experience such a faith. Reply

p.wanjohi nairobi, kenya February 19, 2008

Godliness and technology The questioner's reasoning is funny but the Rabbi's answer superb. The former equates longevity and technological advancement with godliness. I think the important thing is what ends these serve. If Hitler had lived longer, what would it have served godliness or humanity? What godliness is in a 250 years old tortoise? But technology and innovation is generally good for any society, not just new york?
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