IS DIVINE PROVIDENCE FIXED OR FLUID
The mystical approach to the difficult issue of divine providence brings us a wholly different perspective to the question of reward and punishment. The original sin recorded in the Torah is eating the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge, as if God did not want it to happen. We could ask, did the eating happen by accident? Were Adam and Eve programmed to eat the forbidden fruit? Was it pre-ordained that they should eat? And if it were any of these, where does the punishment fit in? It seems that they did what had to be done; it was divine providence. If so, how does divine providence work?
This question has plagued mystics and metaphysical thinkers for two thousand years. It is extremely difficult to address as long as we remain in the old paradigm of God as a noun. However, once we move to the concept that God is a verb, and that the process of creation is relational, we gain new insight, for creation-ing cannot unfold without God-ing, and vice versa. It is like two gears turning against each other--if one gear is withdrawn, the other immediately stops.
Thus God-ing and creation-ing have a symbiotic relationship that reveals itself as each moment unfolds. Divine providence is the role that God-ing plays in the relationship. God-ing brings all of the variables of the universe to bear upon each moment. This means that as long as I am in process, or you, or anyone or anything, the universe in turn is in relationship with this process. This relationship of the universe is what we call divine providence. Some examples will help clarify what God-ing means in this context.
A person learning how to draw discovers that there is a relationship between the object being drawn and the space just around that object. This is called "negative space." Rather than draw the outline of a flower, for example, one can be trained to draw the shape of the space around the flower. When drawing this way, we still get the flower, but we do it by focusing on the space that is "not flower." So by drawing everything around an object, we end up drawing the object.
We also could look at the flower from the perspective of everything that allows it to be what it is: earth, water, nutrients, seed, warmth, light and air upon which its growth depends. Thus, we can relate to a flower from the viewpoint of what allows it to exist in this moment. If it were surrounded by a vacuum instead of its current air pressure, it would immediately wilt and die. If it were moved to a different location, it could be severely traumatized. From a mystical perspective, if its angelic energy were withdrawn, it could not survive.
The space around something defines the thing. I am David-ing, but everything around me defines what I am. Some would say that we are what we eat. But that is too narrow a viewpoint. Rather, we are what we see, hear, touch, and taste; we are the accumulation of our experiences, and we are in process with a continuous flow of experiential input. Change the experience and we change. Every moment we exist we are in relationship with that which defines who we are.
What David-ing brings to each moment is the compilation of my life--an collection of events--plus a monkey wrench called free will. Most of the time, the gears of the ongoing relationship between God-ing and David-ing turn in a fairly predictable way. But, the monkey wrench can be inserted into the gears, affecting my direction and ultimately the direction of the universe.
What divine providence brings to each moment is the accrual of everything that has occurred in the universe up to that moment. In the Garden of Eden, the system is completely pristine for there is no prior history. It is the beginning of a new consciousness. In this context, divine providence was single pointed. God-ing says that Adam and Eve should not eat from the Tree because it will cause death. This is precisely what the Tree of Knowledge did. Clearly, the Garden could have been structured to keep Adam and Eve from tasting the Tree of Knowledge. Death is not a punishment, but the reality of a creation that has duality. Duality requires separation. Yet, the ultimate truth of the Divine is Oneness. Part of the process of separation merging back into Oneness is what we call death.
So, reward and punishment in our reality is a continuous process of the unfolding relationship between God-ing and creation-ing. God-ing endlessly gives us clues. "Watch out, if you eat too much chocolate, you are going to regret it. If you split the atom, it will come at a great cost. If technology becomes too advanced, the nature of the human mind will change forever. If life becomes too busy, you will lose contact with your soul." God-ing consistently informs us that our lives are balanced upon the decisions we make.
Our day-to-day actions, words and thoughts continuously affect our sense of harmony with the universe. The more harmony we have, the more we could say we were being rewarded. But our harmony is not simply a function of our individual deeds, for just as human beings bring free will into each moment, God-ing brings divine providence. As divine providence includes every ripple that has been sent into the universe by every person who has ever lived and every event that has ever taken place, we can never second guess it. From this perspective, reward and punishment is not only related to individual decisions, it is the product of the collective history of creation. It not only affects individuals, but the process of creation-ing as a whole.
This is a central Jewish teaching. Our conscious actions and good deeds are not simply for the individual, but for the entire world. Our goal is to bring all of creation into greater harmony. It is for this reason that all of the prayers of the high holy days are structured in the plural. Our efforts are for the community of all beings.
The Talmud teaches that when a wild she-goat is laboring to give birth, she may be standing at the top of a mountain. In this situation, the newborn kid will be maimed or killed when it drops. God-ing prepares an eagle to catch the kid in its wings as it is born and thus saves it. God-ing notes: "If the eagle were one second too soon or one second too late, the kid would be killed."8
This is a marvelous example of the "spontaneity" of divine providence.8
But we must ask, what brought divine providence to the place in which the newborn kid could be saved? And the answer is that this can only happen when there is a particular harmony in the universe. Too often we are aware of situations where divine providence does not intervene to save life. Whales beach themselves, birds fly into windows, horses break legs, "accidents" happen naturally everywhere.
We know today that nature often provides millions of offspring in the process of reproduction to assure that a few will live. The scientist tends to focus on the millions that do not survive as a proof of randomness; the mystic focuses on the few that do survive as a proof of divine providence.
The goal is not to avoid every accidental injury or death, but to work toward a higher consciousness that sustains a harmonic balance in the universe. We do not know which newborn kids need to be saved. Nor can we clearly understand death on any level. But we have a deeper wisdom that guides and informs us. It is upon this inner knowing that we must rely.
Creation-ing continuously evolves each moment along with God-ing; humans add the ingredient of free will and God-ing provides a mixing bowl called divine providence. This system is fundamentally causal and yet is spontaneous and unpredictable because an unknown variable always can be inserted between the cause and the effect, either through free will or divine providence.
The teaching that God is a verb and that creation is an ongoing process brings a new vitality to each moment and opens up for us an infinity of possibilities. By understanding the way the process works, with God-ing and creation-ing unfolding simultaneously, we gain enormous insight into the mystical architecture of the universe.
The approach of Jewish mysticism regarding divine providence and fate is twofold. First, we do everything in our power to live, to fix ourselves, to change the world for the better. Every breath is a new opportunity for confronting fate and bringing us closer to a new reality. Second, we realize that life, as we know it, is ultimately fated to end in death. For this we practice equanimity. We learn how to balance the highs and lows and we develop a center of inner peace that will sustain us through difficult times.
Life is not an either-or proposition; it always includes the spirit of and. There are times for one approach and there are times for its opposite. Sometimes we fight to make change; sometimes we gracefully accept fate. In any case, we must be very careful of anyone who suggests that she or he has answers to questions that have been with us for thousands of years. A teacher once said: "In reality as we know it, many questions are meant only to be asked--never answered."
AN UPDATE ON FREE WILL
The idea of free will is generally misunderstood because humans implicitly assume a clear separation from what I call the God-ing process. We believe that divine providence and free will are at opposite poles that will never meet for one contradicts the other. However, the theology I am suggesting with God as a Verb is that everything is interconnected and inseparable. Thus, free will in this context is not an opportunity for an individual to be separate, moving in its own direction, rather it is that possibility to act in an unpredictable way but still harmonic in the unfolding of the totality of the moment.
So, perhaps we should adjust our language to something that conveys independence and yet completely integration in the totality of the flow, free of predictability yet not willful as a separate entity and always in harmony with causality. Moreover, divine providence is not something set in motion at the beginning of time by a willful creator, rather it is a continuously moving culmination of everything that has happened prior to what is happening right now. Whatever the unpredictable insertion into this moment or anything, it plays as dynamic role influencing not only what occurs in this moment, but overflowing into every moment that follows. Thus providence is always fluid and always changing.
There are no individual aspects of any moment that are not entirely engaged in the divine providence of that moment, even though the moment remains unpredictable. In essence, the idea and definition of what is an “individual” must be revisited to include the integration of all the parts into the sum total of the flow of Now. In this context, there are no individual, per se, everything and every action is a vital aspect of the integrated whole. Despite what may appear to be an independent thought or action by any of the parts is never the case when we expand our Awareness to include the totality all the parts in a single, indivisible wholeness.
Thus, in this context, what was previously understood to be “free will,” the independent action of an individual, must now be recognized as a potential of the wholeness to include all activities, even those that seem disharmonious, but in fact when viewed from a wider perspective are exactly what was “needed” by the wholeness in that moment.
This does not mean that so-called “pre-determination” is the driving force, for that too suggests a separation and duality. This idea is eliminated when we move away from our fixation on time, and enter the realm of flow without past or future. Without time, there is no “pre” nor is there any future for “determination.” Everything happens just as it happens, without a exterior force moving it.
The elimination of an “exterior force,” however, does not preclude the mathematics of universal principles that continue to be discovered. In this, the God-ing process revels, so to speak, for the “secrets” of the universe become revealed as our consciousness continues to expand. Our “free”dom is our ability to freely reflect upon these phenomena of “spontaneity,” “the natural organization of chaos” and the emergence of orderliness without a separate organizer or controller for it all happens from the bottom up, from each sub-atomic particle in this entire universe. All of this is the God-ing process, not the top-down, but the bottom up, which is the essential free will, or better to say, the Beyond Free Will and Beyond Determinism,” to the ultimate, most refined essence that is the foundation upon which everything rests—the principles of Attraction and Adaptation..