Some BIG Questions
How can I prove that God exists?
The approach to answering such a question lies in first questioning the methods we use to ascertain what is “true” or “exists” and what does not. Most of us are highly in tune with the concept of scientism, or using science as the arbiter of what exists and what does not. If we cannot perceive something with our senses, or prove something with repetitive experimentation, then why should we assume it exists?
If this indeed were the case, then nothing else need be written for God does not exist in any scientific way. However, it is incorrect to rely on this quasi-scientific outlook as a method to understand what is true or real. First off, a brief study of physics teaches us that what we perceive as real is merely one layer of reality; enter the world of quantum (not a subject of this page) and our normal rules of science are tossed out the window. Furthermore, we also know that when we express scientific certainty, we are really speaking about probability. We know that the past million times you sat down, gravity worked. But there is no definitive way to prove this MUST happen again. We sense it will based on our experiences, and thus lead us to come to what we think are scientific truisms, when in fact they are probabilistic assumptions.
Therefore, when it comes to discussing the existence of God, one should use rational thinking based on argumentation. Many of our great Sages have developed numerous “proofs” and other approaches for why it makes sense to believe in God (examples include Intelligent Design, First Cause, among others). Each one has its own compelling logic to it; I would be glad to point them out to you. The upshot, though, is that to believe in God can be a rational, intelligent conclusion, and need not be seen as a “belief” not rooted in sound thinking.
How can there be freewill if God knows the future?
The subject of freewill (and the opposing determinism) is one that is hotly debated and quite often misunderstood. I will focus more on the aspect of how external knowledge of a decision has no effect whatsoever on the phenomenon of freewill itself.
Let’s assume for now freewill means my ability to choose cookie dough flavored ice cream instead of plain ol’ vanilla (to make it simple, this ice cream store unfortunately only has these two options, and it is the only one in town). Now, let’s also assume that you know, through some type of prophesy, that I will 100% choose vanilla (disappointing as that might be). Only you know this information. I do not know that you have this information. When it comes time to make the decision then, the fact you may know what I will choose has no bearing whatsoever on my ability to choose. It simply means you have a degree of knowledge I do not have.
In a similar vein, and as Maimonides discusses, God has a different quality of knowledge than man, one not bound by time and space. Therefore, He knows what you will choose to do. But this does not mean it has any bearing on making the choice itself, and that is the essence of freewill.
What is the point of praying?
The subject of prayer is a complex one, and cannot be understood in any sense of entirety with a brief few sentences. However, a starting point to approaching the Jewish concept of prayer is to re-consider certain assumptions. For one, it is incorrect to assume that our prayers “affect” the Creator of the Universe. God does not change, and to assume otherwise is considered heretical. Even the idea of “answering” us does not mean He is changing (the concept of Divine Intervention is a different area of discussion). In fact, the very goal of prayer is not necessarily the desired response.
When we look at the structure of the Amida, it is divided into three sections: praise, requests, and gratitude. Halacha mandates that if one does not have the appropriate understanding of the section on praise, he has not fulfilled his obligation. Praise of God, then, would appear to be the central facet of prayer. If so, this has nothing to do with our requests. Rather, it engenders a certain reality of the relationship you and I have with God. He is the Creator, Benefactor, the King, and only through the idea of chesed does He choose to relate to us.
If someone has this basic concept in place when praying, he has achieved its objective. Therefore, one can see that a change in the self is really the primary goal of prayer. As Rav Hirsch has written, the term “lehitpallel” really means an inquiry of the self.