Man, and only man, was created in the image of G-d. Likewise, he is the only one of G-d’s creatures to be endowed with free will.
Man was created to search for the truth, but in order to maintain free will, he must be drawn obstacles, enticements and distractions, before he can reach that goal. (Not so the horse, the robin, the whale or any other living creature.)
Man fulfills the purpose for which he was created when he realizes, through his own efforts, without external coercion, that it’s Hashem who controls nature and the entire universe. One who fulfills the Creator’s wishes and obeys His orders of his own free will is thus achieving the purpose for which he was created. His life sanctifies G-d’s Name, and he rises to the level described by King David in Psalms:תהילים: ותחסרהו מעט מאל' "You made (man) only slightly less than Divine”
In contrast, an individual who considers himself the sole determining factor in this own life, resembles a degenerate, who says in his heart: “There is no G-d” (tehilim 14) The individual who pridefully declares that it is his own power and the strength of his own hand “that have achieved all this success”. (df. Deut.8) has failed to achieve the goal heaven set for him. Nor does someone who resorts to crime and sin to satisfy his desires, fulfill the end to which he was brought into this world.
It is not an easy task which G-d has set before mankind. We were formed to achieve greatness, and own victory will not be won lightly. Man must prove himself in a series of difficult tests. The struggle to arrive at the truth, and once there, to remain faithful to its dictates, is the end goal of man’s proverbial seventy years in one’s world.
It is not only the human race that was created to this end. All of the universe, the galaxies and beyond, were fashioned and set in motion for the role purpose of providing the stage, the settings, and the tools which man requires to successfully play the role in which Heaven has cast him, that of the an indomitable warrior for the truth.
This concept of creation is the natural corollary of belief in the supreme Creator of the universe.
Given this fact, one might easily ask why G-d has not left His imprint more clearly on His works? Why is it so easy to find “natural” causes and effects for the workings of the universe? Had the Creator made His sovereignty as evident throughout the universe as is the artist’s signature on his paintings, man would have been spared much confusion, introspection and travail.
However, the Divine Wisdom preferred otherwise. The sun shines both on those who obey the Creator and on those who arrogantly flaunt His Will. There is no inalienable signature on the tapestry of human endeavor. The perpetrators of evil are granted good health, plentiful harvests, and balmy weather.
Would it not be better that they suffer illness, and their fields be smitten with locusts, and their lives clouded by natural disasters, so that we would see at a glance Who created the universe and rules over it. But lest us stop and reflect a moment: Were each infraction of the Creator’s Will immediately punished, and each good deed instantly rewarded, would man have any challenge and tests in this world? Would any significance attach to the fact that I chose to do what was right, rather than what was easy, convenient, or self-gratifying?
Immediate reward for doing right, and, conversely, immediate penalty for wrong-doing, would totally eliminate man’s impulse to sin. While life in such a world might be congenial, it would offer no challenge; consequently, no purpose would be served by such an existence.
But, fortunately for us, this is not how G-d set up the world’s operating system. We find ourselves in a setting where the sun appears to rise each morning in the east, under its own power, according to the “laws” of “nature.” We accept as a “natural fact” that no manna will fall from the sky to satisfy our hunger, and we shall have to hustle some if we are not to remain unfed. Similarly, if we wish to obtain clothing, shelter, and a long list of other basics, and not-so-basic, needs. At a very young age our parents impress upon us the need to toil for one’s living. The survival instinct is there with us from Day One. So, too, is the desire to experience pleasure in one form or another.
Overcoming these two instincts presents a major challenge; we must be constantly on guard if we are not led astray. It is easier to meet the challenge if we take the time to observe the world around and perceive G-d’s Hand in the facets of the creation. True, there are man “givens” in our physical environments, “laws of nature” which are predictable, but man is endowed with the insight to look beyond these and perceive the hidden Hand which established the rules and grasps the reins of the universe. Indeed, he who applies himself to such reflection earns divine insight which will assist him in this endeavor and enable him to tap powerful resources of energy to overcome the evil inclination and win the crown of victory. This, indeed, is the major struggle of our lives, the war against the Yetzer Hara.