Does God Exist or Do We Exist?
By Nachum Mohl
Several years ago I spent some of my free time tutoring American Jewish boys who came to Israel to study at the Hebrew University. It was a one on one study session and I was there to help the student understand what ever it was that he wanted to know about Judaism.
One particular boy stands out in my memory. He told me that he wanted to know enough about G-d so that he could make an intelligent decision if G-d exists. We chatted for a while about the topic of the existence of G-d and various proofs. After a while I began to realize that this young man felt certain of his own existence, he felt that his existence was real but what about G-d? Is G-d real?
I asked him what constitutes 'existence'? He considered it for a while and then we began bunting around the concept of what is existence. Before we could know who or what exists, we needed to define 'existence'. How long does something have to endure to have an "existence"? Can a dream that a person has be considered having an "existence"? Can something that is here today and disappears tomorrow considered as having an existence? Does a fly in an African jungle that lives for only one or two days have an existence? If not, how long is considered permanent to give something an existence.
After a while I began to realize that we are approaching it from the wrong angle. If G-d's existence is real, meaning that He who is from the dimension of the infinite and who neither has a beginning nor an end. If G-d's existence is the true existence since it never expires, never began nor ends, then our existence is not a true existence but rather a passing existence or more accurate, a not real existence. Is a 'non-continuing' existence also considered some form of existence?
One problem is that we can not properly fathom the infinite. We can understand what is finite since we are finite beings; we have a beginning and an end. But our understanding of the infinite is based on our saying something like the infinite is what is beyond the finite. This is really not a concrete positive understanding but rather an acceptance of understanding something that can not be understood but rather by defining it as something that can not be understood and then saying that this is our understanding. We really do not understand what is the 'infinite'; what we have done is said we understand that we can not understand and that is our understanding.
What comes from all of this is that if G-d's reality is real then our existence, being temporal, is not a real existence. But if our existence is real then G-d does not fit into reality. He belongs in some other category. Either way of looking at it comes up with the same bottom line: we can not compare our reality and existence with that of G-d's rather it is something that can not be conceived in our limited human mind.
Another problem is that we have the tendency to compare the creation of an object made by man to that of G-d's creation. What is man's creation? Man takes material that already exists and uses it to 'create' another object. The object he 'created' once completed does not need the active direction of the creator since it was made from material that existed before the creation. As an example a craftsman takes clay and shapes and forms it into a bowl, puts it into the furnace and a finished bowl comes out. Once this is done, the bowl does not need the craftsman's hands anymore; the bowl has a separate existence apart from the craftsman's existence. This is because the craftsman really did not create the bowl, he merely formed the clay and baked it in the oven; the clay existed with out the craftsman.
Many try to portray G-d's creation of the universe in a similar manner. They say He created the world and then 'walked away', letting it continue on its own. They make the above comparison of the craftsman/creator in relationship to his created product with G-d and His created product. But this type of a comparison is incorrect.
When G-d created the heavens and earth He started with nothing. There was no material available. He created it ex-nihilo, meaning He made something from nothing. He created all the material from absolute zero, something no man can do. In addition He made it to continue existing something no man can do.
In addition, it is our Jewish mysticism and tradition that tells us that G-d constantly wills everything to continue in its present form. If He were to decide that the world or part thereof should not continue, He could simply make it disappear by withholding His divine will from it.
Now returning to the question of existence, who is the real existence, man or G-d?
It would seem that the two definitions of existence can not exist together for if man is the real existence, then G-d, who has neither form to limit Him in space, nor a beginning or end to limit him in time, can not be called an existence by our definition. But if we call G-d the real existence since He never ends, then our existence comes into question if it is real.
Perhaps it is not for us to decide if G-d is real, but perhaps it is for G-d to decide if each and every one of us is for real and worthy of having been created.
from the June 2013 Edition of the Jewish Magazine
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