Understanding Prayer: Framing Beliefs (9/10)

Posted By on August 15, 2019


Does faith really make a difference? And is it possible to have faith, even in the twenty-first century, common time, after all we’ve learned from science? The answer to both questions is: Yes. Jewish faith isn’t irrational
or naive or pre-scientific. Faith is what I call a framing belief, and I want to explain what that is. I once had a conversation on television with a famous atheist, and I got him to read out
a letter he had written to his daughter when she
was just ten years old. In it he said: Never accept
anything without evidence. Ten minutes later I asked
him, “Are you an optimist?” He replied, “Yes, of course.” Then I asked him, “Show me the evidence.” Of course, there is no evidence. Or to put it more precisely, optimists find evidence
to justify their optimism, and pessimists find an
equal amount of evidence to support their pessimism. No evidence could ever
decide which is true, optimism or pessimism, because these are attitudes that shape the way we experience the world and how we interpret the evidence. Optimism and pessimism
are framing beliefs. Another example: is it right or wrong to go
through life trusting people? Some do, some don’t. Some people are suspicious,
wary, afraid to be betrayed. If you trust people, then some of them will take
advantage of you and it will hurt. But if you go through life
cynical and suspicious, you’ll protect yourself against betrayal, but you’ll never know love or friendship, the deep communion of souls. There are some things you
can’t achieve without trust. So which is the rational
option: trust or suspicion? There is no rational option. These are framing beliefs. And so it is with faith. When all the science is in; when we know exactly when and how the universe came into being, the question will still be open: Does life have a meaning or have a purpose, or is it just, in Shakespeare’s words, “a tale told by an idiot full of sound and fury signifying nothing?” Was the universe born for no reason and will it, for no reason, one day die? Are all our prayers in vain? Is there nothing beyond
the physical universe? Are all our hopes illusions and all our aspirations no
more than self-deluding dreams? Faith and faithlessness
are framing beliefs. But which we choose
makes all the difference. You can live without optimism and trust, the way you can live without
music or a sense of humour. But it’s a limited life. And in the same way you
can live without faith. But you will miss out on all that comes from the belief that life has a meaning, that God created the universe
in love and forgiveness and asks us to love and forgive others. That love and forgiveness
is beautifully expressed in this simple powerful
prayer: Chamol al ma’asecha. Have mercy on those you have made.

Posted by Lewis Heart

This article has 5 comments

  1. Please, Rabbi Sacks, give me the recipe for forgiveness and optimism. These are characteristics I have not been able to embrace for my whole life. And, you are correct that this has held me back from having loving and trusting relationships. No Rabbi that I have asked, no family member or friend (some temporary), and no shiur on Chabad.org has been able to give me the tools to learn to forgive. The word has no other meaning for me except that it shows weakness of character in the act of forgiveness. One must remember the deliberate pain and suffering someone has caused to his/her victim. Don't tell me to just "let it go". I don't understand how someone can just "let it go:.

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  2. One thing is to forgive those who have hurt us, and another is to trust them. Depending on the hurt, there are hurts that are unforgettable, but can be forgiven. Those hurt which are unforgettable, are the ones that bring mistrust. It is up to us to continue on with our lives after someone dear to us have hurt us so deeply that have broken our hearts in a way to cause us to bring lack of trust in human beings. Hashem, blessed is He, is a merciful G-d. It is very clear in the Torah that if we repent before our Father, He, blessed is He, in His infinite love and compassion would forgive us. But what about the humans who have broken our hearts in such a way for us to want to die than been in a world who can only bring us pain. Hashem, blessed is He, is Alive, turn to him. B"H

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