Well, it seems my last post prompted some fierce controversy... I imagine this one will prompt even more. This is really only intended for those who like to think about these things and find them helpful. How I understand God to work in a purely allegorical sense has nothing to do with my experience of Him - but it may help me resolve some confusion in my head... and perhaps help when people ask difficult those difficult questions. I think we have a VERY poor understanding of what God is like, and what it is like to be God. Obviously, His ways and thoughts are far higher than ours. In my opinion, our misconceptions about how God acts lead us to false conclusions about his character, and possibly visa versa. So, here's a little analogy for you. This analogy is meant to help you understand what follows, and it is by no means prooving anything.
Imagine a painting. The canvas represents our world, and our lives are like lines of paint on the canvas. Note that God is not painting anything, we are simply leaving paint behind us as we travel through time, like snail-trails or slug-slime =). The horizontal direction represents time. God sees our world like we would see a painting, it simply is what it is - the past, present a future all in one lovely package. You could imagine that we humans could be represented by lines of paint 'travelling' accross the canvas, moving up and down according to our choices 'in time'. Our choices dictate which direction our line travels as we are swept accross the page by the force of time. Note also that what we leave behind is 'history' and cannot be changed, just as tomorrow cannot be changed from the view-point of next-week, because it is 'history'. I hope you are with me so far, if you are not - bail out now before it's too late.
Now here is an interesting thought I had about this: in this situation, God sees what happens, but He does not see in the same way what does not happen. I.e. He sees what is drawn on the canvas, but does not see in the same way what 'could have been.' After thinking about this muchly and getting confused, I concluded that if God is as most people believe, He could perfectly predict what 'could have happened' - had our choices been different.
So here's where it gets mindbending, be warned. In his interactions with the world, He must act 'in time' - e.g. He pokes a certain location of the painting. What He adds affects us in some way, it affects our choices. Now if God knows exactly how we'll respond to anything and everything He does, He will know the exact outcome of every possible action He could do. OK, and now for the mindbending... Let's assueme God can and does do anything at all. This means that due to this knowledge, He would know exactly what 'strings to pull' to save every person on earth. In fact, He would in fact be directly responsible for the fate of every person.
This is a conclusion I do not agree with. Essentially, it could be likened to herding sheep. Yes, the sheep have a 'choice', but really they are under the control of the shepherd and the sheep-dog - they don't really have true free will if it is controlled in such a way. Now, I am aware that there are those of you who would disagree here, saying that the sheep think they have a choice and that's all that matters. But adherents of this view must deal with the logical conclusion of this view, that God intentially and purposefully sends millions of people to Hell. This is in direct contradiction with Scripture, where God states He desires that every person should have eternal life and not perish. I therefore believe that it is truely our choice whether or not to reject God.
So, there are two alternative conclusions I am led to. The first is this: God restrains his control - some things He chooses not to do, because it would override our real choice in the matter. I can live with this, and indeed it seems reasonable, but I find little justification for such a view from the Bible. Most of the time, God seems pretty passionate to do all that He can for our good, and so surely He desires to do all that He can to save us?
So I describe what I see as the alternative: that God does not know perfectly how we will react to his actions. Probably sounds like heresy, but hear me out. =) We were created in God's image. We were given an identity with many similarities to God's own. Perhaps, just as we do not fully know how other people will react to our actions, God does not know fully how we will react. Perhaps, in creating us to be people, He had to neccessarily make us totally distinct, seperate, beings from Himself - just as one person is seperate and disctinct from another.
Time for more mindbending, loosely based on the previous. Throughout the OT, it seems like God yearns for His people to love Him. He creates Adam and eve, knowing that they would disobey him... but here's the trick. Could He have known that without actually giving them the choice, and allowing them to choose? One can only see what a painting is when there is paint there. For centuries it seems like God tried several different methods to get his People to love Him. Often it worked for a while, but then the people stopped listening again. Many times, God expresses His anger at the choices His people made, sorrow, and seeminly even regret (Gen 6:7, when He saw how wicked people had become). Why would God regret something He completely controlled? Why would God regret making people unless He did not know what they would do unless made them, and gave them a true choice? Why would God regret making people unless He had to make them, and give them a choice, wihout knowing for certain what they would do?
My point is this: God knows what we choose because He gives us a real and true choice, which is only possible if He does not control our choice. The first justification of this is that He chooses not to control our choices while being capable of doing so, therefore making Him responsible for our eternal destiny and making the concept of 'Judgement' trivial. Alternatively, He does not - even cannot - control our choices because He does not know what we will choose until He gives us the choice, and we actually choose something, because He created us in his own image.
Now just before you lay into this, I am well aware of all the verses in the Bible about God knowing our thoughts. This is true, He knows our thoughts, and indeed our hearts. But to him, out thoughts and the condition of our heart are like the paint on the canvas to him - do not be confused about this. The real crux is not what our thoughts are, but why we choose to think them; not where the paint goes on the canvas, but why it goes there.
Please include in your comments any parts that aren't clear, or confusing, so that I can make this post as clear as possible.