A hypothetical situation: I am going downstairs to throw away the garbage. The alarm siren is heard again. A Hamas rocket hits the apartment upstairs. I am saved – I wasn’t in the apartment.
Now, should I thank God? (Alternatively, should I thank my good luck?)
Here are two different reasons for why not:
Firstly, if there is an imaginary almighty who acted in order to save me in time and direct me outside the apartment – this virtual maniac, if indeed “almighty”, did a lousy job. He did not stop the terrorists from producing the rockets and aim the rocket at me. He certainly did nothing to stop them from launching. In fact, from all the apartments in the area he also specifically selected my own apartment, in order to destroy it and leave me (and only me) with considerable damage. He damaged my property and my time schedule – things that are sure to also affect my health. I would perhaps wish such a “miracle” to some of my enemies.
Judaism includes a formal prayer devoted uniquely for such occasions – in Hebrew it is named ‘Birkat Ha-Gomel’ (blessing of thanks), in which the person thanks God for rewarding him good things. Perhaps I should use another prayer to rebuke God…
Secondly, in a “deterministic” universe, running according to clear laws, where everything is predicted – had I not gone down to throw away the garbage, the Hamas would have managed differently even before that moment. For the sequence of events to lead me into a different decision about throwing away the garbage, the sequence itself had to be different before. Perhaps the war would have stopped before for some reason, or perhaps it wouldn’t have occurred at the first place, or perhaps I wasn’t here at all.
If you really think about it, these two reasons somewhat contradict each other, and only one of them can be true. In a universe where everything is predicted and things are derived from each other according to clear and absolute rules, there is no room for any “almighty” to change the course of things, unless his own actions are also predicted. Alternatively, a universe in which some virtual manager decides in real-time on the course of things – is not a deterministic universe. “All is foreseen but freedom of choice is given” – a known Jewish proverb, is also a known paradox.
This way or the other, there is no one exactly to thank, and nothing to thank about.