The story is told that in the early days of the Zionist settlement, the members of the Shomer Hatzaâ€™ir movement debated the question: Does God exist or not? All night they sat near the shores of the Kinneret considering that problem, and as the dawn broke they took a vote. Needless to say, God lost.
Of course the existence of God has nothing to do with a vote. A vote does not change reality but it does change the lives of those who accept the truth of the outcome. Unlike the prime minister, God does not require a vote in order to retain His position in this case Creator and Sovereign of the universe. God cannot be voted out of office.
The question of Godâ€™s existence has often been discussed, and learned books have been written to prove either that God exists or the opposite. The problem with such proofs is that they can never be conclusive. They cannot disprove the existence of God, nor can they prove it. In the end, it always comes down to a matter of belief.
I remember that when the Soviets sent the first man into space he gleefully reported that he had ascended to heaven and did not find God there. Therefore Soviet atheism was proven to be correct!
On the other hand, the prominent theologian Rabbi Milton Steinberg pointed out that the universe is dynamic, creative, rational, and purposive and contains consciousness. â€œThe entire universe,â€ he wrote, â€œis the outward manifestation of Mind-Energy, of Spirit, or to use the older and better word, of God.â€
In other words, there is reason to believe but we do not believe because of reason, but rather because of feelings and experiences.
The Torah posits the existence of God; it does not attempt to prove it. It begins with the assertion that â€œIn the beginning God created...â€ The Torah is concerned with the exclusivity of God and with combating the beliefs that existed then concerning the existence of many gods, all of whom were of a very different nature than the God that Moses worshiped. The problem that the Torah dealt with was not so much atheism as pagan polytheism.
Atheism is a problem of our age. It is the result of many things. For one thing science has taught us that much that we took for granted is not so. It makes it difficult for us if not impossible to believe that every event of nature is the result of the immediate will of God. Miracles in the sense of supernatural events that contradict the laws of nature have been brought into question. For others the presence of evil in the world makes belief in God at least in a good God questionable. As Archibald MacLeish wrote in his play J.B. based upon the Book of Job â€œIf God is God, He is not good. If God is good, He is not God.â€
Yet these problems do not disprove the existence of God. They raise questions that must be dealt with and they may even cause us to refine our concept of God.
In view of all we know today about the world and all the scientific knowledge that we have, what is needed is a concept of God that is great enough to encompass the magnificence of the universe in which we live. In place of a God who acts upon the world in â€œsupernaturalâ€ ways, we must conceive of a God manifested in the evolution of the universe and of humanity, working through the forces of history and human nature in a much more complex way than we might have previously thought. Impulses, possibilities and capabilities come from God. Application comes from human beings. Like a power line the world surges with divine forces we must learn to harness. We are Godâ€™s partners in the work of creation. God does not change, but our understanding of God changes with the growth of knowledge. An understanding that does not grow can lead to misunderstanding and to rejection of the idea of the existence of God.
Given the choice between accepting the existence of God even though much cannot be explained or understood, and rejecting it, thus leaving the complexity of the universe and the existence of life and consciousness unexplained, I believe that the former is the more acceptable. But in the end neither science nor logic can offer proof. All is subject to belief.
I think it was Elie Wiesel who was reputed to have said, â€œI can believe in God. It is much harder to believe in man.â€
The writer is the head of the Rabbinical Court of the Masorti Movement and the Rabbinical Assembly of Israel.