By Joseph Fleischman
Best-selling author Eric Metaxas (Miracles; Amazing Grace; Seven Men and the Secret of their Greatness; Boenhoffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy) has recently written an article which appeared in the Wall Street Journal (December 25, 2014) titled ‘Science Increasingly Makes the Case for God’. In it, he outlines the astonishing and spectacular probabilities that had to occur and keep on occurring for the conditions of life on earth to exist and, indeed, for the existence of a human animal who would marvel at these very conditions. He includes the recent negative findings of the public/private organization Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI). In his words, “The silence was deafening. The odds turned against any planet in the universe supporting life, including this one.”
In fact, as more factors were discovered, the number of possible planets capable of supporting life hit zero and kept going. Furthermore, he says, the fine-tuning required for life to exist pales in comparison to the fine-tuning necessary for the universe to exist at all. He concludes by stating that “the greatest miracle of all time, without any close seconds, is the universe. It is the miracle of all miracles…”
Of course, one could absorb those words and still say, “Yes, so what does that have to do with the circumstances and conditions of my life or the lives of my family or friends? How should that affect my decision making in any meaningful way?”
Is it fair to ask what further value should be derived from Metaxas’s conclusion? The early 20th century poet Rilke reflected thus in his poem The Walk: My eyes already touch the sunny hill, going far ahead of the road I have begun. So we are grasped by what we cannot grasp; it has inner light, even from a distance – and charges us, even if we do not reach it, into something else, which, hardly sensing it, we already are; a gesture waves us on answering our own wave … but what we feel is the wind in our faces.
There is a Jewish midrash which relates a story of what occurred to Abraham, the father of all monotheistic faith, when revelation changed his life forever: “The Lord said to Abraham, ‘Leave your land, your birthplace, and your father’s house’” (Genesis 12:1-3). To what may this be compared? To a man who was traveling from place to place when he saw a palace in flames. He wondered, “Is it possible that the palace lacks an owner?”
In the words of Rabbi Yosef Jacobson, Abraham’s bewilderment is clear. This sensitive human being gazes at a brilliantly structured universe, an extraordinary piece of art. He is overwhelmed by the grandeur of a sunset and by the miracle of childbirth; he marvels at the roaring ocean waves and at the silent, steady beat of the human heart. The world is indeed a palace.
But the palace is in flames. The world is full of violence, bloodshed, injustice and strife. Thugs, abusers, rapists and killers are continuously demolishing the palace and its royal inhabitants. What happened to the owner of the palace? Abraham cries. Why does God allow man to destroy His world? Why does He permit such a beautiful palace to go up in flames? Can God have made a world only to abandon it? Would anybody build a palace and then desert it? The Midrash records God’s reply: “The owner of the palace looked out and said, ‘I am the owner of the palace.’ God looked out and said to Abraham, ‘I am the ruler, the Sovereign of the universe.’”
What is the meaning of God’s response? Britain’s Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, presents the following compelling interpretation. Note that the owner of the palace does not make an attempt to get out of the burning building or to extinguish the flames. He is merely stating that He is the owner of the palace that is going up in smoke. It is as if, instead of racing out, the owner were calling for help. God made the palace, man set it on fire, and only man can put out the flames. Abraham asks God, “Where are you?” God replies, “I am here, where are you?” Man asks God, “Why did You abandon the world?” God asks man, “Why did you abandon Me?”
The ideas expressed in Metaxas’s article are humbling and inspiring. I like to think, too, a source of blessing and comfort can be found in them. In troubled times, it seems reassuring to agree with these ideas and with sentiments of his final thought: “The miracle of the universe is one that ineluctably points with the combined brightness of every star to something – or Someone – beyond itself.”
Joseph Fleischman lives in New Haven with his wife, Reva.
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