Tuesday, July 13, 2004

Mindbending - be warned, ye of brittle mind =)

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.


Mike said...

Hehehe........ this one's bound to stir something :)

I think your painting analogy has a couple of flaws if I may point one or two out...

If our lives are represented by brushstrokes on the canvas, then God knows where we start and finish (cos he can see the big picture.... *insert corny drumroll here*)

And in saying that the world is a painting, you are implying that every brushstroke is fixed in place. I.e. the "free will" of the brushstrokes is dictated by the painter.

If I understand you correctly, you are implying that God isnt the one painting the picture, he just bought the paints and canvas.

Try this analogy on for size. Imagine God as a kindergarten teacher. He has a big roll of newsprint for the kids to scribble on, and has bought a bunch of tubes of paint for the class.

He kinda knows what the picture MIGHT look like, cos he knows what colours he gave each child, but the picture itself (the life of an individual) is completely up to the imagination of the child. If the child is really on to it, she can share her paints with the kids around her and make everyone's paintings (including her own) more pleasing to the eye by adding more colours.

Whats more, God is there to help you with the difficult stuff, like getting the lid off the tube of paint, and help sort out the inevitable paint fights, but doesn't want to do the picture FOR you, because its YOURS. He might have supplied the canvas and paint, but the actual painting is something YOU created.

Just thought I'd throw that out there and see what happens :)

incognito said...

I've changed the post slightly to clarify. Nice little analogy.

michelle said...

i like!! nice post =)
i dont really have any comments, cos its not really something ive thought about a lot, but i like your theories...
and i especially like the thought of myself as a snail/slug... hee hee

Nathan said...

Good work reubz, I haven't seen someone who has thought it through in such a way in a while. Very good. I agree with most of what you say, and your methodology. Its refreshing.

So, Correct me if I'm wrong, but you are saying that God either is completely omniscient, or he causes people to go to hell. You believe his causing people to go to hell is against his nature, so hence God is 'pan-scient', not omniscient in the traditional sense?

incognito said...

Nathan, I'm not sure what 'pan-scient' means, but I think you have the idea. God can see all of what actually happens (i.e. 'history' - past and future). But I'm suggesting such knowledge may not accurately predict what COULD have happened, and therefore God still has to make decisions 'based on past experience.' (that's a mindbender, leave it if you don't understand why the logic behind it.) Of course, being God, I'm sure He makes the most wise decisions all the time - but we can still mess it up, I think.

Nathan said...

I've noticed you've changed the post twice already. This is good, but it makes it hard for us to comment on. Would it be possible for any major changes to be marked in some way? It makes it easier for us readers.

incognito said...

Haven't made any major changes.

EONsim said...

Another possible view is that God in seeing every thing sees all possible choices and all the possible outcomes of all those choices (This is pretty much an infinity value and only god would likely be able to comprehend such a thing.) But by giving us free will he restricted his ability to see which choices we will make ( ie he choose not to rather than he could not otherwise it can probably be argued that it's not truely free will). But none the less he knows some things exactly what he will do! There fore he knows the begining and the end as those are actions by him but he doesn't no exactly who will be there at the end among humankind.

Another way I've thought about it and which may be more accurate though I dislike it for a number of reasons, is based on God being out side time. Being out side time, time does not exist to him acept in how it affects his dealing with us. The result is being out side time God see's the begining and the end and all that is in between as well as all alternatives should he decide to make an action at various points. These alternates might exist or might not as with the previous idea those realities/alternatives may or may not exist. In this though god being outside time see's all our choices and knows our choices and accepts them for the most part due to his granting us free will. Yet it is our choice God dose not exactly "paint" the "picture" as observe it's finished state (even though he Created it) while having the ability to make changes any where in it that change the rest of the "painting" as well. In other words where/when god makes changes it changes the the choices avaliable to us changing the "painting".
Kind of like some massively complex Mathmatical equation (just for you engineers) that can produce drawings, with lots of random events used in it.

I kind of think this view is more accurate than the previous one I outlined but I like it alot less for some reason. Though even if it is more accurate I think it's likely to be way off.

Nathan said...

omni = all
pan = multi (c.f. pantheistic)

I'm not sure if panscient is an actual word, but it works.

The main problem with it is that we are told that we are chosen before the creation of the world. If he was only panscient in a manner you propose, how can he have chosen us with any certianty? Except retrospectively, which doesn't make sense

Anonymous said...

To save you guys the trouble of reinventing the wheel:

"Molinism": God knows how we will respond to anything and everything He does. We act freely but He can foreknow (and thus change) our actions. This is often confused with Calvinism but is not the same thing. (and was actually a view that developed within Roman Catholicism in response to the Calvinist view, but is held by an increasing number of Protestants who want to find a middle-road between Calvinism and Arminianism - easy ways to spot Molinists are that they claim to be Calvinists but don't like TULIP or claim to be Arminians but like the idea of God's soverignty a lot.)

"Open View" (OV or OVT): God doesn't know the exact future due to human free choice.

Thus, as I read it, Reuben is attacking Molinism and advocating the OV. Two problems I see with Reuben's arguments against Molinism are:
1. It ignores the possibility of transworld depravity. This is a Molinist idea that some people might be so inherently depraved that in no possible world can God save them. Therefore, Molinism wouldn't necessarily imply universalism.
2. In one world where Fred is saved, George is damned and as soon as God does something to make George get saved, Fred would get damned. Thus it might be that though God wants as many people to be saved as possible, there doesn't actually exist a world where everyone is saved and this is just the "best possible world".

As for whether OVers hold to omniscience or simply "pan-science", the answer is that it depends on how you define omniscience. I personally like "knows all sorts of stuff, loads more than anyone else" as a definition ;), but someone else I know thinks "believes all true propositions and believes no false propositions" is the ONLY definition - and whether the OV falls inside that definition of omniscience varies from person to person.

I am an OVer by the way.
Andrew W.

Nathan said...

Andrew is one step down the path to becoming a blogger

I don't get how a OV can interpret Romans 8, or Ephesians 1. If God doesn't really know who is going to choose him, then why did Paul write that God had chosen people?

Anonymous said...

Andrew has discussed theology on the internet for several years... so this is not an indication that I am about to start blogging... ;)

Most Bible passages can be interpreted many many ways, Rom 8:29 and Eph 1:4-5 are no exceptions. The most obvious OV interpretations are:
(Rom 8:29)
The group foreknown is the collective group of believers. While God didn't know which individuals would make up the group, he did foreknow that such a group would exist. He predestined therefore that the group would be transformed into the likeness of his son.
OR: "know" is often used as "love", so it could be meaning that God fore-loved believers, ie had a love for the group ahead of time, just like he fore-loved Israel (Rom 11:2). The love being one of good-will towards the group in general, not love requiring knowledge of the individuals (similarly to God's love for Israel).
OR: the "foreknew" refers to all mankind (ie he knew and/or loved our souls even if he didn't know our future actions) whom God predestined (ie desired) to be transformed, justified, glorified etc.

(Eph 1:4-5)
Well following Barth's Christo-centric view we could do the old "the one being elected before the foundation of the world is Christ, He is God's Elect". Thus in becoming believers and becoming "in Christ" we partake of Christ's blessings and indirectly, his election.
OR: The elected group is simply elected as a generic group, eg God says "I elect a group of humans now in Christ, and that group shall consist of exactly those who believe." Thus, the election of the group is sure, but the individuals are not.

Well I can't think of any other OV interpretations of those passages at the moment, so those will do for now...
Andrew W.

incognito said...

Thanks for your comments - it's a nice wee discussion. I need to clarify a few things though.

As for Nathan's comment on God for-knowing the elect, retrospectively is exactly what I think DOES make sense. Typically, God often refers to His foreknowledge, in context of the elect. I believe God does in fact know the future, in all its detail. The 'painting' (representing all history, from the start to end of time) is complete, right there for Him to see. But the fact that He can see the painting does not mean He can see what the painting WOULD have looked like - had our choices been different. Thus, my view is not completely Open View, and definately not Molinistic.

My view is summed up in some very confusing statements, and until you can make sense of these you probably have quite caught my perspective... God knows what has and WILL happen, but perhaps He does not know what will NOT happen. The fact that He knows what WILL happen does not, according to my logic, make it any easier to choose what action to take, because WHAT HAPPENS is in fact determined by the action that He ACTUALLY takes; He still has to choose according to 'what MAY happen' - i.e. considering what the painting COULD look like, which He does not know for certain.

I am not sure if this is a valid concept, but I do know that to constrain this to the flow of time is to create a paradox. "You must think forth-dimensionally."

Anonymous said...

Okay, I think I'm following you. I'll attempt to explain it from God's point of view, and you can tell me if I get it right:
God initially creates the world, people act how they want and stuff happens. To God who is outside of time, the world is now a 4D blob sitting in front of him, like a blob of playdough might sit infront of us. God can either be happy with how the world is and leave it alone, or He can poke it. These pokes represent His reaching into the world and interfering with it. Thus he can change anything he wants. But due to free will, he doesn't know how his pokes will change the future. Thus if he decides to change the world at time 10, then he reaches out and pokes it and the world crazily rearranges itself from time 10 onwards based on the changes caused by God's poke and how the free-willed agents choose to respond. God then leans back (outside of space-time again) and sees the NEW 4D world-blob and thus learns exactly how his poke affected the future. God can either now leave the world like that, or choose to poke again at some location... potentially as often as he likes.

Question: Can God poke an infinite number of times? What happens if God has previously poked at time 10 and then decides to poke at time 8, and thereby makes what he did at time 10 absurd? Say he decides to part the Red Sea for the Israelites at time 10, and then -due to what he learns about the new future- decides that he needed to change something else at time 8, which incidently as it turns out, means the Israelites were nowhere near the red sea at time 10. Does the sea part anyway? Does God have all these useless actions still occuring? Or can God revise his time 10 action and not interfere at that time?
I think that if this is so, if God gets to play infinitely much with his playdough, this view is equivalent to Molinism.

If God can't play infinitely much, or if God does his pokes in Chronological order, then the view seems to be a very interesting form of Open View. It does a better job than other forms of Open View at preserving God's sovereignty that other forms of OV (though I've never thought this was at all important), and means the OVer can interpret passages about "foreknowledge" in the traditional sense since God when outside time actually sees the future.

Andrew W.

incognito said...

Andrew, an interesting analogy. Not sure if a "4D world-blob" is particularly helpful though =) In answer to your question, I point out that there is no meaning in saying "then decides to poke at time 8." Your question assumes God is subject to the same sense of time that we are, which I doubt He is. For God, it simply is - from His point of view, His actions simply ARE, and only from our point of view are are they chronological. I cannot comprehend what it would be like to be outside of time, nor can I know how it would all work - the best I can do is make analogies that may help me understand some parts.