Does God Sit Around Monitoring Our Thoughts? And Other Pertinent Questions

Are there any limits on suffering? Does God sit around monitoring our thought? Does God know everything that’s going to happen before it happens? These are some big questions which I’m going to be tackling today. But first, if you haven’t already, you really do need to go read my last two posts so you won’t be totally confused:

Why Was The Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil in the Garden?

The Fall Wasn’t Our Fault

Don’t worry – they’re all short. This post will still be here when you get done.

‘Kay? All caught up? Alrighty, then. So, I’ve been talking about the story of the fall for the last couple of days. But for the moment, I want to rewind a bit and go back to Genesis 2. In that chapter, God brings the animals to Adam to be named. Words are powerful things – “In the beginning was the Word . . . Through him all things were made.” Naming has been seen in many cultures and in many times as an act with great mythological and symbolic power. And God gave the power to name and label the creatures of his own creation over to the man. This is the act of a God who is willing to allow for the unpredictable and in not threatened by what he doesn’t direct.

One of the grand arguments of Christianity is whether God knows exactly what is going to happen at all times or if events can be unexpected and unpredictable. I wrote yesterday and in another post on time that I think that there is a difference between God as he exists outside of time and God as he acts within the flow of material creation and time. Outside of time, all that is and will be and ever was exists together and God is complete, whole and unchanging. Within the material world where time exists, God is in dynamic relationship with his creation which does act and unfold in unexpected and unpredictable ways. In fact, I believe that God enjoys this aspect of creation. I think it gives creation an almost game-like quality and allows for true relationship. When God handed the naming of the animals over to Adam, God lost nothing. God does not have our dysfunctional need for control and predictability. He is sovereign all on his own to the point of being able to hand the naming of the animals off to humanity.

I bring all of that up because one of the questions raised about what I’ve been sharing regarding the story of the fall is whether God knew it was going to happen. It was made very clear to me that the answer is no. Not only was it not part of his plan, it was not something which had been anticipated. As I explained yesterday, the accuser had a role to play in God’s kingdom but it in no way required inviting children into an adult game. God trusted the accuser and did not know that he had it in his heart or mind to do such a thing. (For those who claim that this indicates an error on God’s part, an error is doing something wrong. God did nothing wrong. You could say that God was mistaken in his trust, but this is the sort of “mistake” which God himself claims to have made in other places: Genesis 6:5-6 and Jeremiah 32:35 are two examples.)*

Now, the question comes up though of how it could be that God did not know the accuser’s plans. Why did he not perceive that there was this dark and malicious intent in him? My understanding is that the separate-ness from God that we experience is part of the game that us to experience life as individuals. It is a separation that is breached only by willingly allowing entry. And we do control entry – I will allow God entry to my Sunday morning, but not to my sex life, for example. God respects the separation as part of allowing the whole process to play out. Life puts pressure on us to allow entry in all areas simply because it is how life is meant to be lived. Outside of time, God knows all things. While working inside of time, God doesn’t go rifling through other people’s minds without permission and as such it was possible for the Accuser to hide his intentions from God.

Which leaves us with the question of why something so devastating was allowed to exist as a possibility. The reality is that not all things which could happen are allowed to be. We can’t stick our elbows in our ears, for example. We also can’t use our mind-control powers to force others to do our bidding against their will. (So we use money instead. ;p I kid – kind of.) We haven’t been born with the ability to interfere with the flow of time. Couldn’t God have found a way to set everything up so as to eliminate the possibility of the fall? Or to put a finer point on it, is there a limit to the amount of suffering God will allow us to experience? The answer from history seems to be that either there is little or no limit to the suffering which is allowed to exist or that God is incapable of limiting suffering. My own understanding is that God’s creation depends on freedom to function and as such the only things which are not allowed as possibilities are those things which cannot possibly be redeemed. Which means that if it happens or exists, it is within God’s power to redeem it. So although God did not know that the fall was going to happen, it was allowed as a possibility because God is able to redeem it.

So, I went really meta on y’all today. In the next post we’ll be going back to the actual story of the fall. In particular, we’re going to look at why Adam and Eve reacted the way they did and what it means for us today. I’ll also talk about God’s response to what happened. And after that, well don’t worry – I’ve got more! I’m like a trainwreck you can’t look away from, I tell ya!

*I know that some of you come from faith traditions in which God’s perfect foreknowledge and control of future events was a paramount teaching. A lot of churches – especially those which follow Calvinist or neo-reform teachings view open theism (the teaching that God is engaged in a dynamic relationship with creation rather than a pre-ordained one) as a serious heresy. So, here’s a link to an explanation/defense of open theism by pastor/theologian Greg Boyd. I don’t agree with absolutely everything he says, but he’s a big supporter of open theism and includes many scriptural supports for the idea.

6 thoughts on “Does God Sit Around Monitoring Our Thoughts? And Other Pertinent Questions

  1. Does God Sit Around Monitoring Our Thoughts?

    Why of course He doesn’t! He monitors our thoughts on the go, baby! He ain’t no couch potato.

    This idle comment brought to you by “I just woke up from a nap, and I’m still kinda groggy.” Additional consideration provided by “I can’t believe (Orthodox) Great Lent just started.”

  2. Of course, we are engaging in speculative,not dogmatic, theology here, so nothing is off the table; but I believe that this “Open View” may be a logical conclusion that comes from asking the wrong questions. They are logical questions from a Greek-thinking perspective, but not from a Hebrew-thinking perspective:

    “In Judaism it was possible simultaneously to ascribe change of purpose to God and to declare that God did not change, without resolving the paradox; for the immutability of God was seen as the trustworthiness of covenanted relation to his people in the concrete history of his judgment and mercy, rather than as a primarily ontological category.” –Jaroslav Pelikan, The Christian Tradition—Vol. 1.

    Then, too, from an Eternal perspective, there is no space-time continuum. There is a text in Scripture stating that Jesus is the “Lamb slain from the foundation of the world.”

    Say what?!!!! We have historically dated the Christ Event, how could it be pre-historical?

    My highly speculative theory is that God not only knew what would happen he knew all of the possibilities of what could happen and has given us a world that provides us with everything we need to make godly choices, but, as any wise parent knows, there comes a time when the child must learn by trial and error to develop his own wisdom. Until that time came, Adam and Eve trusted in God’s wisdom and the “Tempter” was no threat.

    The greatest gift a parent can give a child when they are on the verge of adulthood is the freedom to make mistakes without the fear of rejection. And a wise parent also insists that the child take responsibility for the affects of those mistakes, remaining supportive, even offering material support up to a point, but not attempting to spare them from all the consequences of misjudgment.

    There comes a time when the responsible parent has to accept an advisory rather than a directive role–“If they won’t listen they gotta feel”–if the child is to grow up. Releasing parental control without withdrawing parental affection and support is not an easy thing to do, especially since the child’s pain is the parent’s pain.

    There is another theological question that has been controversial in the Church that I think is more important than “How much does God know?” That question is “Did God the Father suffer with Jesus as he met with rejection and death for resisting Satan’s temptation to seek temporal pleasures and rewards rather than God’s will?”

    Those with a philosophical/metaphysical understanding of God would say God is the “Unmoved Mover” and cannot suffer, but those of us with a relational theology would say God suffered with Jesus as any parent suffers when the child suffers.

    “In the beginning the church was a fellowship of men and women centering on the living Christ. Then the church moved to Greece where it became a philosophy. Then it moved to Rome where it became an institution. Next, it moved to Europe , where it became a culture. And, finally, it moved to America where it became an enterprise.” –Richard Halverson, former chaplain of the United States Senate

    “First-hand religion is based on direct experience of the sacred, also called mystical experience. Second-hand religion is based on another’s experience, authority, or dogma. This distinction is often framed as the difference between spirituality (first-hand) and religion(second-hand.” –John Davis

    “In mysticism that love of truth which we saw as the beginning of all philosophy leaves the merely intellectual sphere, and takes on the assured aspect of a personal passion. Where the philosopher guesses and argues, the mystic lives and looks; and speaks, consequently, the disconcerting language of first-hand experience, not the neat dialectic of the schools. Hence whilst the Absolute of the metaphysicians remains a diagram – impersonal and unattainable – the Absolute of the mystics is lovable, attainable, alive.” — by Evelyn Underhill – MYSTICISM (Chapter One)

    “If God were small enough to be understood, He would not be big enough to be worshiped.” ~Evelyn Underhill

    “Faith is not belief without proof, but trust without reservations.” –Elton Trueblood

    “Faith is different from proof; the latter is human, the former is a Gift from God.” — Blaise Pascal

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