Friday, October 24, 2008

Understanding God, Chabad's thought of the day

I see in the comments section that people are puzzled by what the Rebbe has said in the today's Chabad Thought of the Day. I'd like to offer some perspective. Here is today's Thought of the Day that is under discussion:

If the cosmos were some giant machine running a procedural program with immaculate precision, G–d’s involvement would be superfluous. But science has long abandoned a mechanical view of the universe. For most of a century, scientists have discussed the basic particles of matter and energy as ideas, without form as we know it.

True, science does not discuss G–d. But it does describe His works. In our times, science has allowed G–d back into the world He envelopes Himself within.

From the wisdom of the
Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Schneerson, of righteous memory; words and condensation by Tzvi Freeman. To order Tzvi's book, "Bringing Heaven Down to Earth, click here


In a way you have to read this quote second paragraph first, in order to understand it. Start with the last sentence, which is key to understanding, the part where it says "God back into the world He envelopes Himself within." (By the way, I am not being disrespectful when I use the full form of the word God. That is because I am speaking to Jewish, Christian and Muslim readers, all of whom agree to use the word God, so that is what I do).

God envelopes Himself within the world. What does envelop mean? To envelop is to surround or to wrap oneself within something flexible, like a cloth or a cloud. So if someone wraps a cloak, or a full length veil around himself, that is to envelope oneself. The self remains unchanged within the envelopment. But if one moves one's arm, the enveloping substance must move along with you.

Thus God "wears" the universe, like a cloak, and when God moves, and God moves simply by exerting his will, which means he has an intention that something should happen, the universe moves according to his will, just like that enveloping garment.

God is not the garment, and the garment is not God. It is, however, a sign of God's existence. In my blog posting a few days ago, I quote scripture where God appeared to Moses in accompaniment of a great cloud. God is not the cloud, and the cloud is not God. The cloud remained in a pillar type of form outside of the Meeting Tent to indicate that God was within the tent, meeting with Moses. So there is Biblical example of how forces of nature envelop God, but are not God himself, and simply a sign of his being there. In Kings one can read how other phenomena, such as fire, earthquake and wind can also announce in advance the arrival of God, but God is not the phenomena, nor are they him.

So the Rebbe was making the incredibly insightful observation that as humans learn more and more about science, they can begin to see the folds of God's cloak, so to speak, as they rustle and move around him. This is what the Rebbe meant when he said true science in the modern times have brought a way to describe God back into the world. When God is not actually in physical appearance, as he did with the Patriarchs, humans yearn to be able to see his "reality." Often they imagine something very shallow and false as God's image. The Rebbe was pointing out with great wisdom that the universe is like an enveloping garment or cloak that is the only way humans can comprehend a physical reality of God, by seeing the form. In other words, with microscopes and so forth, humans have moved away from thinking that particles such as atoms are just "building blocks," thus mechanical in structure, and instead, there are mysteries to the movements and even continuity of existence of subatomic particles and other mysterious forces. When science reveals that the universe is filled with movement, rather than just building blocks with energy "on and off switches," science helps believers to comprehend the form of God that is draped within the cloak of the universe, and how it moves when God moves.

Rather than being deliberately mysterious, to the observant, science helps God to reveal more of himself in ways that humans can start to understand, or at the very least, to observe and wonder. This is because remember, God does not need the universe to exist. It is truly like a garment to God and the angels, for they exist outside of the material universe, not at all needing time, matter or energy to exist. That is the true mystery of God, and that cannot be helped, for God's nature is separate from the physical boundaries of the universe. So God is not trying to be mysterious, but a human who exists in time, matter and energy cannot by definition understand the place, heaven, where time, matter and energy do not exist, where souls that achieve heaven reside in God's presence with the angels.

What the Rebbe is pointing out is that lacking direct contact with God at a given time, such as what was graced to Moses, one can see the rustle of the cloak, the movement of the enveloping cloud, and thus have some insight into God manifesting his ongoing will. An example I like to give is when people talk about our sun's warming or cooling cycles. I like to give the gentle joke that it is God adjusting the thermostat. So one can witness two levels of God's manifesting his will through the enveloping cloak of the universe. The first is that it is God's overall and ongoing will that stars are bodies of gases that exist through their ongoing thermonuclear reactions. Thus that is a natural law that is God's will, established when he created the universe. The second is that one can see specific examples of God willing or allowing a particular star, such as our own sun, to gain heat, or cool more quickly, if that is God's will. Thus, when human science progressed beyond the erroneous and misleading "mechanistic" view of science, they opened their eyes to observing motion of the universe, all of which manifests God's overall will (he wills life to exist and for it to follow natural law, for example), but also there are opportunities to see and ponder specific actions within the universe that are God's will at that moment.

I hope that you find this helpful and useful.