Ancient Solutions for Modern Problems

Can you tell the difference between these two lists of questions?

List A

  • How do you build a self-driving car?
  • What is the best way to treat breast cancer?
  • What is the quickest way to get to New York from Los Angeles?
  • How high can a skyscraper be built?
  • What is the best way to obtain energy?

List B

  • What is the best way to cope with feelings of anger?
  • Can love be sustained or is it destined to fade?
  • How do we best find consolation in the face of death?
  • How do we raise children to respect their parents?
  • How do you balance work and family?

I am sure you got it.  List A comprises questions for which the answers regularly change. To find the current answers to List A type questions, we need only to study the latest scientific and technological data. Each year as we acquire more knowledge and achieve greater technological prowess (and sometimes as we unmask scams or discover errors) those answers change.

In List B, however, the answers never fundamentally change. Regardless of new advances in science, technology, or medicine, the answers to those questions remain the same. 

These kinds of questions gnaw away at people.  Long ago, people turned to Scripture for the answers.  About the time of the Renaissance, secularism started spreading its sordid stain and universities replaced the study of God’s teachings with literature.  People studied Seneca the Roman philosopher partly to learn his views on anger management.  They read Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina or Flaubert’s Madame Bovary to gain insight into the complex dynamics of marriage and studied Shakespeare’s plays for understanding the entire range of human emotions.

As time went on, we turned to science for the answers as if the human soul was nothing more than $9.75 worth of common chemicals cunningly arranged into millions of neurological wiring systems. Thus the pages of popular magazines like Scientific American and Psychology Today offered the latest ‘scientific’ information on the role of sex in marriage and how human interactions work.  Of course it helps that a tolerant readership overlooked the fact that one month’s advice frequently contradicted that from another issue of the same magazine eighteen months earlier. 

Rather than ignoring the Bible in a search for answers to List B, we might be better off if, like many scientists of old, we turned to the Bible for List A as well.

Historian David Barton of Wallbuilders once mentioned to me that famed oceanographer, Lieut. Matthew Fontaine Maury (1806-1873) of the U.S. Navy, cited this verse as the impetus for his brilliant discovery of ocean currents:

The birds of the heaven and the fish of the sea all travel along the paths of the seas.
(Psalms 8:9)

Astronomer Johannes Kepler (1571-1630), a pioneer in understanding the laws of planetary motion, credited his scientific research to a recognition that God made an orderly world and our job was to discover the rules of that order.

Rather than scoffing at Bible study while worshipping science, we should have the humility to recognize that the Bible may have much to teach us. Needless to say, especially when dealing with the very real List B questions which have to do with successfully living our lives, we should admit that the most modern developments have hardly produced spectacular success.

So what are we to do?  The answer, to me, is clear, and I think you’ll agree that there is really nothing to lose in giving my answer a fair try.

My answer is that we must again turn back to the Bible for these answers.  Just as Psalms 8:9 did not reveal the specific currents of the North Atlantic, but pointed Lieut. Maury in the right direction, we do not find answers neatly laid out.  Yet the Bible, especially understood with the aid of ancient Jewish wisdom, is utterly reliable as our compass.

9 thoughts on “Ancient Solutions for Modern Problems”

  1. My husband and I have been watching your Youtube videos lately, and now are telling our grown daughters to watch as well. We’ve learned so much in the past two weeks and look forward to more every day. Very recently after our youngest daughter moved out – new empty nesters – we found ourselves watching the news all of the time and decided to stop and watch with the intent to learn something worthwhile that would help us get closer to God and learn from His Word – especially gain His wisdom. We remembered seeing you in the past and are now enjoying your videos and soon books as you are now an integral part of our family, Rabbi Lapin, and are welcome in our home anytime. Thank you for sharing your knowledge and the ancient jewish wisdom we have come to enjoy and learn from. May God richly bless you and yours. Amen. Las Cruces, NM

  2. Greetings.
    I would like to show my great appreciation and thanks to God for giving you great insight into answering questions that are directed to you both.
    I’m from the Fiji Islands and always looking forward to questions that you answer very relevant even though we are of different culture and geographical location.

    1. Jone, we love finding out where our readers are from, so thank you for sharing with us.

  3. I can’t help but praise God when I read your materials. I have always considered the more extensive studies, but I get overwhelmed trying to select ONE.

    You also seem to elude to List B being the prerequisite to List A. The following New Testament scripture confirms this:

    Romans 1:21 For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile (incapable of producing any useful result) in their thinking, and their foolish (lacking good sense or judgment) hearts were darkened.

  4. Indeed! People now days are seeking the scriptures for supernatural endowment in overriding the natural realm including science. Natural means is not enough to deal with the problems of the world today.

    Is it any wonder that the interest in Kabbalah is so strong? Is it any wonder that the surge of the supernatural is so attractive in the entertainment industry with books, movies, and television whether it be Game of Thrones, Harry Potter, the Incredibles, or Dr Strange?

    It is deep calling unto deep. The bible is not a novel, a movie, a comic book, or a TV series. It is a lifestyle of continually developing a relationship with the Creator and understanding how His kingdom governs the world. Sounds simple but not easy.

  5. Bravo! The Rabbi strikes again! Our current era is awash in proposals, grant money, government subsidies, on and on ad nauseam. Although most of the science conducted on Planet Earth is going on at this moment, our modern-day ‘science’ of wheedling and posturing for grant money dwarfs in comparison to the science of the intellectual giants of bygone centuries working miracles ab initio in their kitchens, backyards or attic laboratories. And most of them seem to have held one characteristic in common: their overwhelming sense of awe at the Creation by a Force so powerful and benevolent that it created such a marvelous world, and that the Force seemed to be mindful of us tiny Homo sapiens and his seed.

    Today so many would have us believe that the Universe was the result of random atomic and molecular collision, just as the works of Shakespeare could be randomly generated by a dozen monkeys bashing away on old-fashioned typewriters. Recently I tested your Rabbinical perspective on an associate, that ‘mathematics is the secret universal language of God.’ To this he responded that mathematics is but a lamentably imperfect human tool that solves some problems but falls sadly short. I wonder if he can be converted… Certainly our mathematics, of which I understand so little, is like Plato’s Allegory of The Cave: the projection of reality on the walls of the cave, which Man can visualize, but reflects the larger, true mathematical reality outside.

    1. Rabbi Daniel Lapin

      By the way, James,
      You’ll be interested to know that the myth that a huge number of monkeys typing at random would eventually produce Shakespeare is widely quoted but a complete myth. It’s not a hard calculation. 26 letters + a space and a period. Let’s assume monkeys can’t hit the shift bar so let’s ignore capitals. So, it’s approximately 28 X 28 X 28 for the number of letters. Even the famous first sentence of Shakespeare’s first play Henry VI Part One ” Hung be the heavens with black, yield day to night! ” with its 50 characters would never be typed by even a million monkeys working for 1000 years. Mathematically, it would require more monkeys than could fit in the universe and more time than the life of the universe. In short, it’s just one of those oft heard clever shots against God’s creation but which like so much else, is just plain false.


    List A: generally passing material distractions and entertainment with the exception of those things which reduce suffering (and thus disable the mind since with pain and suffering, its given over to the pain and suffering of one sort or another).

    List B: Generally items which improve mental and spiritual quality of life, and bring individual and societal peace and harmony, enhancing happiness.

    Conclusion: the need for balance and how much of your life is devoted to each A and B.

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