Last week we began a series called Conversations about God. In Part 1 we speculated about the emotional intelligence of the biblical God. This week we will be using a similar method of inquiry to look into God’s intellectual capabilities. We won’t have time to look into every mental ability God is said to possess, but here are a few that we’ll be exploring: curiosity, intuition, reflection, contemplation, anticipation, hope, confusion, suspicion, doubtfulness, imagination, and memory.
Let’s begin with curiosity. Human beings are extremely curious creatures, because there’s a lot about life that we don’t know or understand. We’re constantly seeking to expand our minds and our experiences by trying new hobbies, traveling, reading, watching television, and searching the Internet for information that suits our fancy. We do this because we’re curious. We also do it because of our desire to fill our minds with knowledge.
God, however, is said to know everything. Whether it’s information about the physical properties of the universe, knowledge of all past and future events, or every other intricate detail about life on earth and the galaxies beyond — he is supposed to know it all. So, it would be impossible for God to be curious, because in order for him to be curious it would mean that he lacks knowledge or experience in any particular area.
Intuition is another intellectual attribute. Intuition is a bit like a sixth sense. Basically, intuition is a vague assumption we make about an event that has already taken place or something that might occur in the future. Intuition is sometimes accompanied by an emotion such as anxiety, anticipation, and fear. When you and I have an intuition, the nature of our intuition often determines the emotion or mindset we’ll experience. When I have a birthday each year, I expect someone in my family will remember this day. My intuition tells me I might receive a gift, and as a result I experience feelings of excitement and anticipation. If God knows everything, both past and present, he surely doesn’t need to use intuition as a means of prediction. His intuition is rendered moot by his knowledge.
At first glance, it might appear as though God could reflect on something he’s done or is about to do. Yet, I don’t see God second-guessing his actions, which is what we often do when we reflect on the past. He would never ask, for example, “Could I have done a better job of creating the elephant?” So, it’s misleading that the book of Genesis talks about God reflecting on his own creation and saying to himself, “It is good.” I don’t know who could have heard that comment, and besides, due to his foreknowledge, God would have known his actions were “good” millions of years before he set to work creating the earth. Is it possible for God to show pride by proclaiming what he has done to be good? Or is it more likely, as some have suggested, that whoever wrote Genesis merely wanted to add their own exclamation to the story? Either way, God could not reflect on any past event, as this would imply that whatever had happened, he’d somehow forgotten.
The intellectual act of contemplation is similar to reflection. We are continually contemplating about both past and future actions. (And it’s at this point that we start to get into the nitty-gritty of “contemplating” how an all-knowing God might think, which I’ll delve into next week in Part 3.) So, does God think in sequence like we do when we are limited to only being able to process a few thoughts at a time? Or is he capable of thinking simultaneously of everything at once? I would like to believe that he’s capable of thinking of everything at once, and I mean everything that ever was and ever could be all at the same time. In which case, God would have no need to contemplate what he is going to do, how he is going to do it, and what the end results will be. Presumably, he already knows the consequences of anything he might do for the rest of his infinite life.
Would God forget where he put his car keys?
What can we say about God’s memory? You and I use this intellectual ability to ruminate on past events, and we think about past events in order to learn from our mistakes or duplicate our successes. Maybe we just want to remember a time when we were happier, or perhaps remember a loved one who has passed on. We also use memory as a survival mechanism, a tool to help us make decisions in the future. We recall the faces we have seen, the things we have done, and the places we have been in order to help us in the present. We remember taking the curve too fast in our car and slow down the next time we approach the curve. We remember the horrors of war and vow to never repeat them. Memory is one of our most trusted mental abilities.
We should doubt then that God has use for memory as we do. Our thoughts are essentially divided into three areas: remembering the past, thinking in the present, and guessing the future. God would have no need to remember the past. I can’t fathom what he thinks about in real time, and the future should already be vividly pictured in his head. We fluctuate between these three areas of thinking at random, relying on memory and perpetually creating newer memories that we can rely on in the future. Cleary, this pattern of thinking would not be necessary for an all-knowing God.
We all hope with expectation that happiness and perhaps good fortune is in our future. Hope is another intellectual ability. We hope for a new job. Some hope to win big in Las Vegas and others hope for world peace. Hope implies that what we hope for will come true, but nothing in the future is certain. Hope, implies uncertainty, but it is uncertainty mingled with anticipation that some joyous event might occur in the future. Given that God knows the future, he surely cannot hope something might happen which he already knows whether it will or will not happen.
Christians might be inclined to think that God holds out hope that sinners will one day be saved. But it is said that God already knows what the sinner will do. Likewise, Christians teach that God is waiting for the appropriate time — with great hope and expectation — to usher in a new life for everyone who believes in him. If this belief is accurate, then the biblical texts which support the belief are not. God would already know whom he is going to save and those he’s going to toss into hell. Nor, would he be waiting in a state of anticipation and hope for any of these events to occur.
Why do leopards have spots?
Do you suppose God has an imagination? Imagination, as you and I understand it, is the ability to envision and create something out of nothing. It’s seeing something in the mind’s eye before it takes place. It’s a wonderful sentiment to believe that through God’s powerful imagination he created all that we see in the universe. Yet, if this were the case, God’s imagination would have to be far different than our own.
When we imagine, we are using information based on our limited knowledge and experiences for the purpose of creating something that has not yet occurred. To imply that God used his imagination to create the universe, we would have to assume God painstakingly worked through the creative processes much like an artist creating a masterpiece. Additionally, God could only create in this manner if he didn’t already know exactly how the universe would turn out. Again, the assumption that he knows everything means he could not have created the universe using an imaginative process.
Imagine God, for example, creating a leopard. What did God have to imagine in order to make the leopard run fast and have spots? God would have had to consider a million factors in his decision to put spots on a leopard and make it run fast. He would have to ask questions such as: Will the leopard be stalking prey from shady brush? If so, then I must give the leopard spots. Will the leopard need to run fast to catch the gazelle? If so, then I must make the leopard run faster than the gazelle. But God would have to consider other factors. He would have to ponder … What if I make the gazelle slower? Then I will not need to make the leopard fast. Or, what if I do not make the acacia tree to cast shadows in the brush? Then I will not need to give the leopard spots to hide in the brush. But if I do not make the acacia tree, how will the monkeys escape the lions that are chasing them? So why am I only putting spots on the leopard and not on the other animals? Because, after all, many other animals may need to find refuge in the shade of the acacia trees.
These questions, of course, are just a few of the things we’d have to consider if we were to go about creating the leopard, but we wouldn’t expect an all-knowing God to sweat through such creative details. Furthermore, based on the assumption that God is perfect, he could have only created the universe perfectly anyway. So, given that God would or could not make any mistakes, then it’s pointless to even consider that he had to rationalize through these creative details.
We think it logical that in order to create the leopard we would have to consider not only the purpose of the leopard’s spots, but every one of the leopard’s infinitesimal physical and mental functions. As if this would not be mind-blowing enough, we would have to consider all the physical and intellectual variables of the leopard in relationship to those of every other living organism on earth. This is because the presence of the leopard on earth would impact every other living organism and ecosystem. Yet, all of these implications and considerations can only be solved by using an imagination, along with a host of other complimentary intellectual processes. So, I ask, could God have created the universe through the same creative process we rely on? Only if we assume that God is imperfect, and he’s prone to making mistakes.
Dazed and confused
Let’s move on to the intellectual ability we call confusion. I’m often confused, as I’m sure you’re confused when it comes to dealing with many of life’s tasks. Where did I put the car keys, and what was it that I needed to run upstairs for? Do I want to eat chicken or fish tonight? What do I really want to be when I grow up? Who won the debates and who should I vote for? Confusion, perplexity, doubtfulness, hesitancy; we are always second-guessing our actions. Surely God has none of these mental abilities, which for him, would be mental deficiencies.
Suspicion. I hate being suspicious and distrusting of another’s actions. I suppose God would too if he could feel that way. For if God did happen to bump into a thug on the street, he would not be suspicious of what the thug might do. God would have seen the thug and knew what he was going to do long before creating both earth and thug. We are suspicious of people’s actions because we think people might cause us harm. God would feel no threat from anyone, because given his intimate knowledge of everyone there would be no reason for him to be suspicious.
Curiously enough, the Bible describes God as using many of these same intellectual abilities that we have been discussing and which we would not expect him to use. Although there are many, I’ll provide just one example that I hope to elaborate on in the future.
When God regretted making mankind
Among the most famous example is found in the biblical story where God “regrets” having created human beings. As the story goes in the Old Testament, God regretted having made mankind because mankind had become abominably evil. Everywhere God looked, it appeared that he could not find one person on the earth who was righteous, except Noah and his family members.
The trouble with this story is that in order for you and I to regret we must be willing to concede that we have made a terrible blunder. As humans we make these blunders, because we are not able to foresee the consequences of our decisions. We also make mistakes because we are limited in the amount of information we have available to us when we make our choices. Additionally, when we feel regret, we often experience other emotions such as uncertainty, frustration, and the feeling that we are inferior or stupid.
So, is the story of the flood really a true story, insomuch that the tale asks us to believe the ludicrous idea that God did not foresee that humans would experience the “knowledge of evil” that he provided for them to discover? But also, that he later became so emotionally distraught for creating life that he needed to drown the vast majority of the creatures he created?
Now, the Bible is filled with stories similar to the story of the flood. It also contains many other anecdotes that portray God thinking and acting with the same intellectual deficiencies that plaque us. To flatly believe that many of these stories represent historical facts, is to admit that God is a bumbling idiot and just as dazed and confused as the rest of us.
Next week: How Does God Think? Picking His Brains and Looking for Details