Faith and Reason
To Touch the Divine
Faith and Reason
Chapter 1 What is faith?
Human beings have many faculties at their disposal.
We have a brain to process information, emotions that move us, and intuition that guides us.
We have our sensory tools of sight, hearing, smell, taste and touch.
So where does faith fit in?
Many people don’t see faith as a basic human faculty; they see it more as the absence of reason.
Others are even more cynical, claiming that faith is a sign of weakness, something to resort to when all else fails.
In earlier times the thinking goes faith was a necessity because man didn’t have the science to help explain the laws of nature; but in the face of reason and all of man’s brilliant accomplishments, we have outgrown our need for faith.
Isn’t faith just a creation of our imagination meant to deal with issues that we can’t comprehend?
And yet we see that people inherently believe in something greater than themselves.
This feeling is inside all of us; we only need to know how to access it.
We certainly know how to access reason, for we have spent our entire lives cultivating this faculty – in school, at work, and elsewhere.
But how do we cultivate faith? Isn’t it something you either have or you don’t?
We are all born with faith.
It is neither acquired nor taught; it is our most natural state.
A young child for instance just has natural faith. Tell him a fantastic tale and even though he senses it isn’t “real,” he believes you.
Not that faith is to be confused with childish naïveté, or gullibility, or laziness.
Nor is faith the absence of reason.
Faith is a powerful, positive force in our lives, no less integral to the human soul than the faculty to think or the faculty to feel.
Faith is a faculty that recognizes truths that are infinitely incomprehensibly greater than ourselves and accepts them as real and relevant.
So why do so many people claim to have no faith?
And why do we think that faith and reason contradict each other?
Because we misunderstand their roles.
Look again at the child. As he grows older he accepts less and less at face value.
Does this mean he is losing faith?
No, only that his faith is being obscured by reason.
Not only that, but as he grows older, he realizes that his faith has been continually abused.
After years of experiencing hypocrisy and being lied to he learns to distrust his own inner belief.
To protect himself, he begins using his reason alone to process ideas and establish his value system.
In effect, he can silence the inner voice telling him that, even though something cannot be grasped with his hand or totally understood with his mind, it may indeed exist.
We must learn to cultivate our natural faith.
We cannot allow our reason to drown out the inner voice that tells us what we know to be true with every fiber of our being.
A healthy mind recognizes its innate limitations, acknowledging that there are many experiences outside the narrow scope of our own logic.
After all, we learn to incorporate many beliefs into our lives, even if they might initially seem absurd – like black holes in space or the oddities of subatomic particles.
While these premises may not be fully understood, we accept them because they help explain different phenomena in our physical world that are otherwise incomprehensible.
But why are we willing to believe in something beyond the means of our knowledge, yet, when it comes to believing in G-d – and trusting our innate faith – we demand ironclad proof? Why do we have a double standard?
Perhaps the consequences of accepting G-d, and the personal responsibility it demands of us, are so challenging that we would rather find a way to justify our position by questioning or rejecting G-d.
We must overcome the desire to believe in G-d according to reason alone.
Each of us has an interior “judge of truth,” an ultimate arbiter that weighs all the information fed to us by our intellect and senses.
Sometimes it tells us that our logic should overcome or overrule a misguided feeling.
And sometimes it tells us that our rational or skeptical mind should yield to a truth that our faith has embraced.
Our reason, if it is well developed, comes to the obvious conclusion that reality is far greater than that which we can experience with our senses and our intellect.
We come to realize that his reality is not a product of the mind, but the mind is a product of reality.
Reason may lead us to the door of this reality, but we need different tools to enter.
But all of this is still not faith, for faith is the pure experience of G-d.
Reason may allow us to function in this world and make sense of our lives, but without faith, we would have no basis for life.
We could not connect to G-d, the absolute reality, and life would be a random series of logical and illogical events.
We would flounder in our search for meaning and find no solace in a turbulent fragmented world.
Faith is a power that touches you and you alone.
It is the humble truth that is as plain as it real, as quiet as it is forceful.
G-d’s reality emits wondrous music for us to hear, but the hustle and bustle of the material world often drown out the song.
Faith is the tool with which we can hear the music.
Reason may tell us how to live, but faith tells us why to live.
To lead a meaningful life, we must unite our faith and reason.
Chapter 2 How Do We Unite Faith and Reason?
Practice and Theory
Faith and reason are the two faculties we use to experience G-d.
It is through faith that we experience the essence of G-d. Through reason we experience the expression of G-d.
Faith is going beyond our wisdom, our experiences, our accomplishments, and allowing a higher presence into our lives.
No matter how intelligent a person may be, no matter how much he can appreciate the grandeur of the universe and the elegance of the laws that govern it, no matter how sublime are his spiritual ideas and experiences, these thoughts only distract him from experiencing the pure essence of G-d.
All of the world’s grandeur and elegance may be expressions of G-d, but they are not G-d himself.
As creatures of G-d we have no language to define his essence or relate to him on a rational level; the only way we can relate to the essence of G-d is through pure undiluted faith.
And we each have this faith within us; it is the foundation upon which our reason and other faculties are built.
King David begins one of his psalms with the words “a prayer of a pauper.”
Why does he attribute prayer to a pauper rather than a person of wealth and sophistication?
The following story illustrates the point:
Two people were invited to see the King. One was a wealthy, educated man, the other an illiterate peasant.
The rich man arrived first.
He entered the palace and walked through a room filled with a collection of literature music and art.
Aware of the great value of many of these items, he became so immersed in them that he missed his appointment with the King.
Later, the peasant arrived.
Because he didn’t appreciate all the books, and paintings, he walked right through the room, straight into the king’s chamber and spent his entire time visiting with the king.
This is not to say that we can function fully on faith alone; it must be fused with reason and integrated into our lives.
Once we experience faith, reason becomes a tool to help us express the essence of G-d, to imbue our hearts, our minds, and our daily conduct with a pure G-dly faith.
The expression of faith is in the physical deed, not just in the mind.
The purest thoughts and feelings do not – indeed, cannot - make you perform a good deed.
You may understand that a certain choice is right or wrong but feel unable to act; in fact, our hearts and minds tell us to do far more than we ever act upon.
Faith is what helps convert a good intention into action.
Practice and Theory
The simple good deed has no ornaments.
It is not flashy or complicated or bold.
But has the power of the essence.
Absolute faith – as expressed in the simple deed – establishes a relationship between man and G-d.
Without faith, our other faculties are simply tools without vision or direction; with faith, they become means with which we carry out our Divine mission.
And yet faith cannot be compartmentalized.
You may try to believe in G-d but relegate him to certain parts of your life or certain times within your day.
This makes your faith incomplete.
After all, if G-d is the Creator of everything that exists, how can your faith be complete when it doesn’t affect everything in your life?
By using reason you can make faith a constant part of your life; all your thoughts, words, and actions will express your faith, and you will come to see G-dliness and Divine Providence in all that you do.
You will come to “Know G-d in everything.”
Faith in G-d is not passive; it does not mean sitting back and accepting events as they happen.
When we see danger, faith dictates that we protect ourselves.
When we experience pain faith demands that we cry out and seek relief.
When we see need, faith insists not only that we pray to G-d but that we address the need.
Faith means relying on G-d and at the same time knowing that G-d created the laws of nature and gave us the capacity to work within those laws to help us achieve what we are praying for.
Surely, a faithful person knows that no matter how much effort he invests, all his blessings originate from G-d.
But each one of us must create the “vessel” to contain these blessings.
It may rain for ten days in a row, but if a farmer has not plowed and planted his fields, not a single strand of wheat will grow.
On the other hand, without G-d’s blessings there is nothing the farmer can do to coax wheat from the earth.
True faith constitutes not only a belief in G-d but a trust that G-d always does what is good and right.
True faith does not waiver, even if things do not work out as we would have liked.
Yes, we may have doubts.
Yes, we may feel saddened by the neediness and suffering in the world.
Yes, we may want to confront G-d for allowing travesties.
But abandoning your faith in G-d means that you are compromising yourself.
When we witness suffering at the hands of other people, we should direct our anger where it belongs – at man.
If anything, war and genocide teach us that our faith in man can be misplaced, but never our faith in G-d.
True faith is not the blind faith of ignorance.
Rather the uncompromising belief in the absolute truth.
It is a direct connection to G-d’s essence and is therefore neither arbitrary nor conditional.
This is what distinguishes true faith from the immature emotion that sometimes calls itself “faith,” which dictates that our belief in G-d is dependent on G-d doing things the way we want.
We know that G-d believes in us, faith is our calling to believe in him.
Chapter 3 How Do We Reconcile Faith and Reason?
Practice and Theory
Uniting Faith and Reason
Although some people continue to see faith and reason as adversaries, the truth is that reason leads to faith and faith leads to reason.
Using reason, we can contemplate the wonders of G-d’s creation and begin to recognize the breadth of His Infinite powers.
But reason also leads us to understand the limit of human knowledge and how much is beyond our scope.
As the sages write, “The ultimate knowledge is knowing that you can’t know G-d.”
Such a realization, such a declaration of trust and humility, brings one to the threshold of true faith, for faith is the tool we use to reach the truth that is beyond what we already know.
So it is reason, ultimately, that helps lead us to faith.
And faith leads to reason, because faith in G-d impels us to use our reason, every ounce of the intellect and logic G-d gave us, to internalize and integrate our faith.
G-d expressly told us that He wants us to Know him – to perceive him with our mind and its finite tools of logic, to embark on a lifelong quest in which we expand the scope of our reason, learning both to fulfill its power and to recognize its limitations.
So faith and reason are a powerful dynamic.
We recognize that faith is no mere crutch for the ignorant; it can take us to a place that even the most accomplished mind cannot approach.
To be sure, there are two types of faith – the blind, immature faith of a child, who must be guided by others, and the mature faith of someone who has traveled far with his or her mind and heart, finally reaching a threshold that can be only crossed with a leap of faith.
Chapter 4 How can we have faith in our generation?
Practice and Theory
At the end of the day, only you know how sincerely you are searching for the truth.
You have only yourself – and G-d – to answer to.
If you are genuinely searching, then you have already begun your relationship with G-d.
As with all dynamic relationships, this search is a process.
We begin from the limited perspective of our own existence, climbing upward step by step until we come to understand that G-d is the absolute reality of which we are an extension – and not vice versa.
For some, the first step might be to discover whether you are indeed ready to listen and grow, whether you are willing to accept the responsibility of faith.
The next step is dealing with your doubts concerning G-d’s existence.
You must attempt to unite your faith and reason, for only your reason can truly recognize the limitations of the mind and its role in the process of searching for G-d.
Then we must allow our inner, sublime tools to speak.
We know there is a G-d just as we know that we have a soul – not because we can see or touch it, but because we can feel it.
Similarly we feel elevated when we have G-d in our lives. We feel purpose and direction; we feel there is meaning in everything we do.
This entire process needs fuel – knowledge about G-d and ourselves.
We must study the Bible, G-d’s blueprint for creation.
We must learn to actualize our faith through charity and good deeds.
Through our virtue and generosity we strengthen the connection between our material reality and the absolute reality that is G-d.
Above all, we must look anew at the tools we are using to try to reveal sanctity in our lives.
We simply cannot limit ourselves to conventional sensory means to relate to something that is supersensory.
Practice and Theory
Searching for G-d in these times can appear to be especially difficult, for many people today are unfamiliar with faith – what it is and how to cultivate it.
Born into a time when material priorities have displaced the spiritual, many know little about G-d and what G-d wants of us.
People have free time on their hands and often don’t know how to fill it meaningfully.
It seems very difficult to find where to turn for direction, since everybody – from parents to educators to politicians – appear to be equally uniformed.
And yet people everywhere continue to search for meaning, searching for G-d.
This is a tribute to the deepest faith of all.
We must recognize that there are two kinds of darkness.
One is when we realize it is dark, and yearn to see; the other when the darkness has been so intense and so long-lived that we have resigned ourselves to it.
The first step in escaping the darkness is acknowledging it; only then can you begin to reach out for the light.
In this climate of spiritual darkness, we have all the ability and responsibility to let our faith shine forth and then integrate it into our daily lives.
Talk about your faith with family and friends.
Cultivate it through study and prayer.
Actualize it through good deeds.
For a moment, stop what you are doing. Let your mind be still, and allow yourself to hear the small still voice of G-d.
When you set yourself free, you will realize that your faith is much closer to the surface than you had imagined.
Remember: Regardless of anything else, G-d’s absolute reality exists.
The only question is, how you will respond, how true to yourself you will be in searching for it.
G-d is waiting for you.