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:
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.