In one especially poignant scene in the movie “Shadowlands”,* famed English writer and Oxford University professor, C. S. Lewis (played by Sir Anthony Hopkins) has gone to a pub with his brother, Wally (Major Lewis). Having just lost his wife, Joy Gresham Lewis, to cancer, Mr. Lewis is met with expressions of sympathy offered up by friends and colleagues who are attempting to console him. An interesting exchange ensues between an Anglican vicar and Mr. Lewis:
Vicar: Only God knows why these things have to happen, Jack.
C. S. Lewis: God knows, but does He really care?
Vicar: Of course. We see so little here. We’re not the Creator.
C. S. Lewis: No, no. We’re the creatures, aren’t we? We’re the rats in the cosmic laboratory. I have no doubt that the experiment is for our own good, but that still makes God the vivisectionist, doesn’t it?
“Rats in the cosmic laboratory.” An apt analogy if the universe is an experiment in process. But is this the case? If God were running an experiment or cluster of experiments (some embedded in others), it would indicate that something is being tested — an hypothesis or many hypotheses — whose outcome is unknown. While some religious traditions might accept a God who is not all knowing, and hence might need to perform such experiments, this is conjecture. (Actually, God is conjecture, insofar as His/Her/It’s existence lies beyond the purview of science; which is to say, belief in God is not based on provable fact, but on faith) Bearing this in mind, what follows is pontification built on conjecture, albeit hopefully both informed and thought-provoking.
What we do know of the cosmic cauldron and the processes that gave rise to us can be succinctly summed up thusly: The universe we can measure and probe appears to be the expression of physical laws in operation. The Big Bang happened, stars and galaxies formed, planets formed, and on at least one world, this one, life arose and evolved to that state which we call “consciousness.”
For we who believe in God, the laws that set all this in motion and govern it are the handiwork or signature of the divine. This is not something scientifically provable, but like the concept of Providence, is based on faith.
And while some people might still cling to the idea that humankind is the center of the universe, the scale and grandeur of our universe would suggest otherwise. We are rather insignificant, at least in terms of our impact on the cosmos. We are, at best, perhaps big fish in a very, very small pond. And least we get puffed up about this exalted position, the dinosaurs held a similar role for about 170 million years before going belly up. Mass extinction, in fact, has occurred no less than five times during geologic history. We are but a massive comet or asteroid strike, nuclear war, or the like away from joining the dinosaurs. (A compelling enough reason to take out some “species insurance”, as in set up a human presence elsewhere in our solar system. Mars seems a likely prospect.)
We are the tentative king of a very, very small hill. And what natural processes produced and govern, God seeks to relate to. At least this is the basic message of most extant (as well as extinct) religious traditions. And within the constraints posed by our individual limitations, i.e., our genetic-based propensities as amplified by environmental and other situational factors, the ancient brain wiring or paleocircuits in our brains, etc., we go through life making choices and exercising that which we know as “free will”.
Is the universe thus an experiment and we it’s aim? While the universe may well an experiment, it seems doubtful that it designed specifically to produce conscious life forms like us. Which is to say, life forms capable to distinguishing “I” from “other”, and of contemplating its own mortality (It is unlikely that God can relate to a life form lacking these 2 cognitive features. Only a self-conscious creature that knows it will someday die would be capable of responding to anything God shared concerning an existence beyond the grave). Even if we accept the Weak Anthropic Principle, which asserts that the laws that govern our world would tend to give rise to life and something like us, it still seems unlikely that the “local phase” of the grand cosmic experiment was designed to produce us. Indeed, as the late paleontologist Stephen Jay Gould was fond of pointing out, if we were to go back and rerun the history of life, it is doubtful anything like us would emerge at all.
The experiment,..the universe,…did obviously tool us into existence. And God, it would seem, set about to interact with and relate to our bipedal twig on the primate branch of the evolutionary bush. Assuming that what we know and identify as “free will” is more real than illusion, the question naturally arises, “If God knows everything and is absolutely sovereign, how can humankind truly have and exercise free will?” And if God does not know in advance precisely what we will do or say, then He is less than omniscient and sovereign. If omniscient and absolutely sovereign, then while the universe may be a grand experiment in progress, we have been removed from it by God’s exercise of sovereignty. But if God is not omniscient and/or sovereign, or somehow attenuates or submerges either or both, then the give-and-take twixt God and humankind, the tests posed and our responses and God’s, do constitute a social experiment (of sorts) in progress. Logic and an abundance of scriptural support tend to argue for a divinity who works within and in response to contingency; who experiments and then blends our responses into the fabric of His grand designs . And this, I argue, makes God a scientist.
God as scientist: Support from ancient writings
Support for this view can be readily found in the Tanakh (Hebrew scriptures), which contains numerous stories and accounts that suggest that God is posing a test or permitting same, watching for the results, and responding accordingly. Consider the account of Abraham and his son, Isaac. In chapter 22 of Genesis, God has instructed Abraham to take his son to the land of Moriah and “offer him as a burnt offering on one of the heights that I will point out to you” (verse 2). Abraham, a man who trusts God implicitly, is facing perhaps the severest test of faith imaginable. But for whose benefit is this test for? Abraham, Isaac, or God? Maybe all three? In verse 12 we see that for sure God has benefited by way of gained insight: “And he said, ‘Do not raise your hand against the boy, or do anything to him. For now I know that you fear God, since you have not with held your son, your favored one, from me’ “(Gen. 22:12). “..now I know…”. Now. Before the test? The clear implication is that prior to the test,…this particular experiment,…..God did not absolutely know the outcome (albeit He probably had a good idea extrapolating from Abraham’s past acts of faith and obedience).
In the book of Ezekiel, we again see God conducting a test. In this instance, He goes looking for someone to divert judgment being executed:
“The people have practiced fraud and committed robbery; they have wronged the poor and needy, have defrauded the stranger without redress. And I sought for a man among them to repair the wall or to stand in the breach before me in behalf of this land, that I might not destroy it; but I found none. I have therefore poured out my indignation upon them;…(22: 29-31)
See also Exodus 15:25
If the future were closed, known and thus settled from God’s vantage point, He would learn nothing from these tests. But we are told repeatedly that God uncovers something unknown; that free will is being exercised and as such outcomes cannot be known until the person making a decision has made it.
The contingency element in human affairs is underscored by numerous biblical entries that imply conditionals such as “if/then”. One example is to be found in the account of God’s declaration to King Zedikiah in Jeremiah chapter 38 (Part of which is quoted herein):
“If you surrender to the officers of the king of Babylon, your life will be spared and this city will not be burned down. You and your household will live. But if you do not surrender to the officers of the king of Babylon, this city will be delivered into the hands of the Chaldeans, who will burn it down and you will not escape from them.” (verses 17-18. Emphasis mine)
We can also find supporting evidence of the (at least partial) tentativeness of history in the various accounts of God having changed his mind:
In the 32nd chapter of Exodus, God has told Moses of his intent to destroy Israel. Moses prays and we read “And the Lord renounced the punishment He had planned to bring upon His people.” (verse 14).
Among contemporary Christian theologians, the religious and philosophic notion that human-divine interaction is unfolding and not predetermined, is treated and perhaps best characterized in the writings of proponents of “open theism”. One very highly acclaimed introduction to this is a book by Dr. Gregory A. Boyd titled “God of the Possible: A Biblical Introduction to the Open View of God” (ISBN: 080106290X) Content description of this book, as well as many others that delve into various aspects of Open Theism, along with pro & con articles and posted point/counterpoint exchanges can be found on the “Open Theism Information Site” (www.opentheism.org/) . It is well worth the proverbial ‘look, see’.
Within Judaism, an “open view” type of perspective can be found among many rabbis and scholars. Many aspects of this line of thinking can no doubt be traced back to the Pharisees. According to the Jewish historian, Josephus, the Pharisees, mindful of the fact that predestination precludes free will, essentially concluded that humankind is predestined to a certain station in terms of the material aspects of life, but has absolute free will in areas that impact spiritual life.
The Islamic faith also boasts a school of thought that leans towards contingency, and free will as a supreme player in human affairs and in God’s dealings with humankind. This perspective is supported by many passages in the Qu’ran, such as “Surely the Almighty changes not the condition of a people unless they change that which is in themselves.” (13:11), and “Whoever goes aright, for his own soul he goes aright; and whoever goes astray, to his own detriment he goes astray.” (39:41)
God as scientist: Methodology
The actual nature and extend of the experimental work God engages in is, of course, unknown. Judging from accounts recorded by ancient biblical writers such as that of Abraham and Isaac (above), many tests seem geared to gauge such human qualities and attributes as faith/trust, capacity for obedience, the mechanics of decision making, and various aspects of judgment and reasoning. Some appear to involve only a within subject, single variable design. Others reflect a between subjects design, some being single variable experiments and others multiple variable.
While we cannot ascertain the exact mechanics of the divine research program, it would seem from the glimmers of methodology we see reflected in the ancient record that God would use approaches that are not entirely removed from those we ourselves have found reliable in terms of generating meaningful approximations of reality. One logical possibility is Bayesian inference, a powerful method of analysis that involves comparing hypotheses. The Bayes theorem, worked out by Rev. Thomas Bayes (1702-1761), assigns probabilities to all the possible outcomes of an experiment, combines this with relevant knowledge obtained or known prior to performing the actual experiment, and then calculates the probability of each hypothesis being true given the actual observation. In a nutshell, the Bayesian approach readily facilitates the modification of existing beliefs or views in the light of new evidence.
According to the Bible, on more than one occasion God expected Israel to change course (repent), but they did not do so (Isa. 5:2; Jer. 3:6-7, 19-20). God apparently modified certain aspects of the divine agenda accordingly, though undoubtedly without compromising crucial long-term objectives. This process could reflect His use of Bayesian reasoning.
To learn more: A very concise lay level introduction to Bayesian inference is “In praise of Bayes”, The Economist, Sept. 30th, 2000 http://www.cs.berkeley.edu/~murphyk/Bayes/economist.html
The many tests and conditional promissory statements found in ancient accounts of God-human interaction support the notion of free will as ascendant over predestination, and bespeak a future that is at least partially undetermined. They speak eloquently of God being an experimentalist who, after obtaining a result, weaves the new thread into the immense fabric that is His grand design.
It has been said that Albert Einstein had a plaque on his mantle that read, “God is a scientist, not a magician.”Whether or not this in any way reflected the great scientist’s sentiments, one can’t but marvel at how appropriate it was — and is.
“The most important thing is not to stop questioning. Curiosity has its own reason for existing. One cannot help but be in awe when he contemplates the mysteries of eternity, of life, of the marvelous structure of reality.”
© 1993 Savoy Pictures, Inc. (distributed by HBO Home Video)
Scripture quotations from the Tanakh, 1985, Jewish Publication Society.
“Rats in the Cosmic Laboratory: Is God A Scienst?” Original © 2002 by Dr. Anthony G. Payne. This Revised version © 2007 All rights reserved.
Day in and day out I wage war on the Great Grendel; that perennial, merciless foe of life that in all its incarnations makes a mockery of that innate desire in all of us to thrive and perchance depart this world full of years and wisdom. I speak of helping folks in their personal battles with disease, injuries, malignancies and such; incipient death in all her myriad manifestations and machinations.
In the midst of sharing a yoke with so many ailing people and their caregivers, I am sometimes struck by the element of futility to it all; futility insofar as the very best outcome is death deferred. When you think about it, we all wind up defeated as it were here in the physical realm. Even this world which most of us love so dearly and cling to ferociously — as well the cosmos of which it is a part – are likewise destined to die and enter a perpetual night (Barring what at this point appears unlikely – a “reverse course” and repeat big bang).
This “resistance is futile” state-of-affairs is rather obvious, yes and though true begs the equally obvious: What other recourse is there? One of the earliest and no doubt strongest drives to evolve is that of self-preservation (3 Primal Drives, Essay), without which this world would be for the most part a vacant planetary lot. So we strive to live and flourish, take a stab at leaving some kind of legacy — be it children or ideas or a body of work or some such monument — and hold death at bay until our strength is exhausted or we are otherwise left with little choice but to release our grip on this world. There is continuity in all this, but we all realize somewhere deep down that family and achievement do not confer immortality; that everything will be consigned to a vast, universal graveyard. And besides, there would be very little gratification in any sort of immortality predicated on familial or other forms of physical continuity, unless (of course) we were to find a way to actually become physically immortal, ageless and free of infirmity or debility.
Until we can confer immortality sans aging and debility — something that lies on the far side of tomorrow – we are left with but a single recourse: Resignation – with or without a belief in a postmortem spiritual life. This acknowledgement of inescapable inevitability can be a liberating, even positive thing for those who hold fast to a religious faith, as well as for those who do not. For example, the atheist who believes existence ends with one’s physical demise might tend to view death as freedom from infirmity, debility or such. Since he does not anticipate a postmortem life review and reckoning, there is little to fear other than the physical process of dying itself (If prolonged or painful). The “death as freedom from suffering” theme is a logical no doubt shared by most religionists, to which is tacked on the erstwhile conviction that there is a “life after life” that has a pleasant outcome (At least for those who share a specific set of beliefs or who otherwise are deemed or made worthy of sharing the Almighty’s presence).
I can appreciate both perspectives, but must confess that some species of religious belief concerning the afterlife is antithetical to assurance, hope or anything positive. For example, many fundamentalist Christians believe that most (if not all) non-Christian folks will wind up consigned to Hell or something like it forever. Now this is not too disturbing if you belong to the minority whose beliefs and practices guarantee one a privileged slot at the Divine banquet table. But – and here is where things get interesting if only from a psychological perspective – many of these true believers go through life uncertain as to whether they will actually merit a place in Heaven. I know, because during my nearly half century sojourn through life I have met or otherwise dealt with scores of devoutly religious people, mostly fundamentalist Christians, who are plagued by fears that they will somehow far short at Judgment and be consigned to Hell. So consider: We have a segment of religious believers – possibly a large one – who believe that despite their faith and pious efforts, they will probably fall “short of the mark” and be tossed into a house of horrors for eternity (For those who read this who are religious and believe otherwise concerning these matters, set aside theological or scriptural arguments to the contrary and focus instead on what this spin engenders in those who harbor it). Among the things I have noted in these often “quietly tortured souls”: A deep seated pessimism and sense of hopelessness, though not of the sort to send them running amok in the streets armed with an AK-47 – if only because this would surely turn the likelihood of going to Hell into a certainty. So what we have here is an incarnation of religious faith – faith being by its very nature a vehicle for instilling values, imparting hope, inspiring love and charity, promoting worship and social responsibility, and so forth – that is suffused with an undercurrent of agonizing uncertainty and fear, self-loathing, and a maddening sense that one would probably have been better off not being born at all.
Interesting, most Christians I’ve interacted with down through the years hold to a “trust and obey and all will be well in the great by-and-by” expression of their faith, while often confessing that those who do not embrace this are probably going to Hell. Surprisingly, I have found few among them I would characterize as intolerant elitists who defend their faith in inappropriate ways. And while what they profess appears to infuse many in their ranks with abject uncertainty and fear for their own eternal fate — and portrays those outside their ranks as holding one-way tickets on the fire and brimstone express – these folks by-and-large do not seek to impose their beliefs on others or deny those outside their ranks the right to disagree with their views or reject them outright. This probably reflects the influence of America’s democratic values and traditions on religious folks, which is good all the way around.
And let me lay to rest the notion I am singling out fundamentalist Christians by widening the proverbial lens: To whit, various surveys taken down through the years here in America indicate that most people believe themselves to be essentially good and (among believers) bound for something upbeat after their mortal demise. Many of these no doubt feel that while this is true of themselves, it is not going to be the case for those who do not share their religious beliefs or spirituality. And this conviction is not exclusive to fundamentalist Christians by any means, for one can readily find abundant examples of the “I’m in, but you’re not” mentality among many Jewish and Muslim clerics and laypeople.
Whatever reckoning and subsequent purgation or punishment there is that follows this life, I can’t help but marvel over these two primary, interwoven futilities: We wage relentless warfare with disease, age, decline and infirmity that sometimes buys us time but not a reprieve from walking life’s final “green mile”. And then following death for some – many – maybe most – depends on who you listen to — there is consignment to purgatory or Hell; a fate which surely constitutes the grandest futility conceivable – that of ever having lived at all. And if most folks do go to perdition, does this outcome not signal that the divine experiment is a failure? “Rats in the Cosmic Laboratory: Is God A Scientist?
It can be argued that the experiment was by design geared to winnow out the wheat from the chaff, and is a success by virtue of the fact it is achieving this end. But if this is the case, then it is a success that truly is eclipsed by its horrific cost. And even though the responsibility for this colossal failure lies in human missteps and bad choices and not with the Almighty, it begs the question: Once it became clear that more folks were going to Hell than to Heaven, why not bring everything to fruition quickly and end the experiment? To do otherwise – to leave such an apparatus running – surely constitutes both a wanton cruelty… and the penultimate futility…in anyone’s book (“Good Book” or otherwise).
Is there a perspective more consonant with logic and fairness? (Both are crucial attributes of the Divine according to most religions). There are many, chief among which in my opinion is reflected in this positional statement from the Judaism 101 website:
Although there are a few statements to the contrary in the Talmud, the predominant view of Judaism is that the righteous of all nations have a share in the Olam Ha-Ba. Statements to the contrary were not based on the notion that membership in Judaism was required to get into Olam Ha-Ba, but were grounded in the observation that non-Jews were not righteous people. If you consider the behavior of the surrounding peoples at the time that the Talmud was written, you can understand the rabbis’ attitudes. By the time of Rambam, the belief was firmly entrenched that the righteous of all nations have a share in the Olam Ha-Ba.
- Submitted for your thoughtful consideration by Dr. Anthony G. Payne
© 2005 by Dr. Anthony G. Payne. All rights reserved.
Rabbis and Christian theologians down through the centuries have wrestled with biblical accounts of the Almighty in which He imposed punishments or sanctions, as well as direct military and civil action that flies in the face of what is deemed fair, just or decent in most cultures, past and present: http://www.angelfire.com/pa/greywlf/biblegod.html
Of course, contemporary religious experts tend to agree that a great many of these stories are fables or myths borrowed from ancient societies that predate the authors of the various books of the Bible. They also recognize the anthropocentric and ethnocentric biases and cultural filters of the writers and scribes who committed these biblical tales to parchment (as it were). But even with all these allowances and concessions, there remains a disturbing pattern of supposedly divinely ordered brutality towards and outright wholesale slaughter of foreign tribes and entire nations. These biblical “cleansing actions” and fiats have underlying premises and logic that appear to have informed some of the darker chapters of history, including the ideology and policies of the penultimate incarnation of evil, Adolf Hitler.
One writer who very adroitly goes into how Hitler’s beliefs and actions parallel and mirror Biblical morality and standards is Jim Walker whose writings are found on a website bearing the moniker “Hitler compared to God/Jesus/Christians” http://nobeliefs.com/hitlerchristian.htm. Here are but a few of Walker’s insightful notations (Excerpts pieced together):
|Now go and smite Amalek, and utterly destroy all that they have,
and spare them not; but slay both man and woman, infant and suckling,
ox and sheep, camel and ass.
-I Samuel 15:3
Hitler attempted to utterly destroy the Jews and all that they had and had millions of men, women, and infants executed. As for animals, Hitler had far more compassion than the Biblical God; he felt kindness for animals.
(Note: In no sense do I mean that Hitler fulfilled any prophesy, mind you, but rather that Hitler’s actions remained consistent with the actions of the alleged God described in the Bible.)
|I make peace, and create evil: I the LORD do all these things.
Hitler created peace when it suited him and created death and destruction when it fit his needs, which by Christian standards means “evil.” Hitler did all these things in similar God-like actions reported in the Bible.
Not only did Hitler’s atrocities remain consistent with God and Jesus’ actions in the Bible, but his intransigent attitude parallels many of the fanatical beliefs of Right-wing conservatives of today. Hitler even used his faith in the same way as many mainstream American Christians. It appears clear from the history of Christianity that Hitler brought nothing new to Christianity, albeit he brought its violent nature to new heights.”
This is not to say Hitler didn’t distort and infuse such standards with perverse beliefs of his own, but this alone does not permit one to dismiss logical contradictions, conundrums and catch twenty-two’s between Nazi philosophy and the murderous campaign against “impurity” (Jews, gypsies, homosexuals, political dissenters, etc.) it gave rise to—- nor ancient Israelite beliefs and their wholesale slaughter of peoples that were designated as “defilers” of their culture & community. Slaughter attributed to HaShem.
If you look closely and resist facing what history and scriptures plainly disclose and declare, you will come to see more clearly than ever before the vast array of incredibly discomforting parallels between the reasoning of the ancients and the Nazis (and all other perpetrators of genocide). And while abundant apologetics exist that try to distance Biblical accounts and actions from the moral malignancy of the Nazis, the arguments given can be recast easily & readily to support the Nazis (And they were – by the Nazis — creating a movement with all the trappings of messianic fervor and religiosity).
http://www.infidels.org/library/magazines/tsr/2000/4/004anti.html http://www.nobeliefs.com/DarkBible/darkbible3.htm, http://freethoughtfirefighters.org/a_wager_on_old_testament_atrocit.htm, http://www.ebonmusings.org/atheism/atrocities.html, http://www.geocities.com/paulntobin/godbible.html, http://www.biblicalnonsense.com/chapter10.html
So moral reasoning and logic alone cannot (to my way of thinking) explain, defend or justify the many dark episodes and pronouncements in the Hebrew Scriptures.
Scriptures, of course, reflect the human element — ideas, interpretations, contradictions http://home.freeuk.net/jesusmyth/page5.htm etc. – they serve human needs (Social coherence and personal wholeness, according to religion scholar Prof. Loyal Rue in his thought-provoking book, “Religion is Not About God”) – and reflect more about human nature than that of the Divine. It is said all scripture is Misnah – commentary – and not so much history and especially not science. I agree wholeheartedly with this. And, of course, regional values, myths and views intruded everywhere and suffused and informed what the various scribes and religionists believed and recorded. But be that as it may, there is a recurrent theme of almost cold-blooded malevolence in the Hebrew scriptures: God appears to invoke the very arguments for cleansing conquered lands and peoples, as well as punishing those who deviate from keeping the Law (Oral & written) that were used by pagan religions, kings and later genocidal dictators like Adolf Hitler to reinforce and perpetuate their ideologies (And some of these ideologies, like Nazism, had some aspects of their belief system and practices Biblical beliefs, laws and such).
Of course, according to scriptures the Almighty’s agenda is one that will redeem and reconcile humankind (in whole or part depending on whose spin you agree with) while evil men tend to enact laws and take actions that lead to a life that is at odds with the program and objectives He sanctioned (And by so doing estrange people from Him). Yet while the ends are presumably different, the means to them seem disturbingly similar and in many instances are virtually identical. Indeed, the methods, language and some elements of reasoning attributed to the Divine and that voiced by various evil personalities such as Hitler differ little in kind or degree.
We must, of course, allow for the limitations imposed by human language itself, culture, as well as our neurobiology. We must also do our best to wrestle underlying truths and subtle messages from hyperbole, corrupted text, myth and legend in the scriptures.
That the scriptures are filled with borrowed, fallible, contradictory, and corrupted myths, legends and fables should not disturb us. Consider what the Almighty had to work with, as it were: A tribal people who were steeped in regional myths and superstitions. Some in the fundamentalist or Orthodox camp actually believe God dictated scripture pretty much like a boss might to a secretary or executive administrative assistance; at least with respect to the Torah (Pentateuch). This is nonsense, for had this been the case He would have given humanity a document or set of documents immune from flaws, and by so doing handed down proof of his own existence. In short, no faith would be needed to believe in the Almighty or his stated agenda. A set of flawless, infallible scriptures impregnated with scientific and historical truths centuries ahead of those He was inspiring or speaking to would remove all doubt as to origins and make it impossible for doubt to exist about the reality of the Divine. Indeed, “No faith needed” would have been axiomatic and there would be no legitimate grounds for agnosticism or atheism.
A fallible set of scriptures is not so disturbing really. It makes us dig and work and argue to arrive at what God meant and how we should respond. What is disturbing is not the flawed image of the Almighty nor the presence of various distorted or mythic things attributed to Him, all having been rendered by flawed men and women, but the seeming reliance of God on violence, cruelty and outright “ethnic cleansing” to forge and maintain His hold on the hearts and minds of the Jewish people of antiquity.
Was He so seemingly bloodthirsty and quick to punish because fallible, almost primitive men and women left Him little to work with in an ancient setting but this? Or was this just how these ancient people’s interpreted things and acted accordingly? Or could it be that the Almighty was both learning and growing with His people, and had His hands tied in terms of available means to preserve the Jewish people from corruption and conquest? (Limited in that He would not override human free will and also utilized human nature and social mechanisms rather then supercede them?)
To invoke a crude analogy: Picture a group of trainee mechanics standing before a car – hood up – a limited set of tools sitting before him – parts scattered everywhere — their goal is to create a harmoniously running engine. There are two instructors present – “good mechanic” and an “evil mechanic” — standing on either side of the trainees. The good instructor wants to help the students create a smoothly functioning automobile. The evil mechanic wants to thwart the good instructor by influencing as many of the trainees as he can to mess things up by doing things like putting useless or ill fitted parts into the engine. The evil instructor’s machinations quite naturally force the good mechanic to get those trainees who follow his lead to take and use some of the tools in the same fashion as the evil mechanic, doing violence as it were to extricate ill-fitting or even dangerous parts from the engine so that they can get the right and proper ones installed. This tug-of-war goes back and forth seemingly endlessly.
Scriptures depict God’s ultimate goal as being one of harmonizing and reconciling as many people to Himself and His sanctioned ways as possible. But in order to pull this off, He must rely on a limited set of tools and options,….as limited as we are. It is, in a very real sense of the word, a pitched struggle that is part of an experiment in-progress; an experiment with a goal, of course.
Indeed, the Cosmos and humankind in particular are, in my opinion, expressions of a divinely initiated experiment (Rats in the Cosmic Laboratory) whose ultimate goal is harmonization with HaShem and his being (“Holiness”) for as many as will “walk the walk”. As such, those impulses and elements and actions that lead to good or conversely evil ends would seem to represent the variables in the ongoing experiment — the “drugs” if you will — that by act-of-will (choice) leads to genuine harmonization between subject & experimenter (HaShem) — while the other appears to do so, but degenerates into greater disharmony and the ultimate chaos unleased by unbridled selfishness (Estrangement from HaShem and what this entails in this world and the next). This aspect of the Divine experiment constitutes a sorting mechanism of sorts; the one referred to by various biblical writers as “sorting the wheat from the chaff”. It tests both men and women, revealing to us individually and collectively our inner nature and the consequences of our choices along the way.
Because the tools, methods and sometimes even the reasoning employed by good and evil people are virtually identical, discretion becomes paramount. This is where many religious and political systems fail utterly — trading that which reconciles people to each other and the Almighty for that which winds up accomplishing the opposite.
In the end, scriptures indicate the experiment will run its course and produce a final result: Harmony twixt humankind and HaShem for many. Many who die in sin/error/missteps get redeemed and participate in this harmonious world (material and incorporeal), while an unrepentantly evil, unredeemable few are separated from this redeemed plane of existence — presumably for eternity. Or until obliterated, which some Jewish sages considered their ultimate fate. This is certainly more merciful than what many Christian denominations fancy for the unredeemed/unredeemable — Hitler, Stalin, Caligula, etc. A mercy more characteristic of the Almighty that sages like Hillel knew and championed by virtue of their faith, teachings and deeds.
Pulvis et umbra sumus
by Jim Walker