God’s Passions and Man’s Reason

A reader writes in with deep questions that I attempt, at least in part, to address. I thought my readers might be interested in the exchange.

His first question was whether God experiences emotions sequentially in response to human events?

My answer was that no one knows, and I doubt anyone can imagine, what it might be in eternity to look in on events in time, while knowing the beginning and ending of those events, seeing them all at once.

A helpful analogy for me (since I am an author) is to look at the inspiration for a story.

Most books I write are invented by a long slow labor of tying together images and ideas into a sequential order, but once upon a time one book of mine, during the month when I was recuperating from my conversion experience, came to me in a flash: I saw the whole thing, beginning, middle, end, all at once, and then I spent furious hours typing notes quickly to write an outline before the inspiration faded. (For the record, that book is IRON CHAMBER OF MEMORY).

I certainly knew in that moment what actions and passions my characters would do and would suffer, and I was able to put myself in my reader’s shoes at least insofar as being able to envision what emotions sequentially would be suffered by the reader as he read it. I could picture the highs and lows of success and failure as the character suffered and triumphed in the timeless instant of the inspiration, despite that I myself was not a reader, and would not suffer the events, nor the emotions, sequentially.

Regardless, a story is a story, not a picture, and is not meant to be seen all at once, but read in sequential order, with Chapter One at the beginning, chronologically preceding Chapter Two and so on.

During that moment of inspiration, I saw the whole story as if at once.

If it had been a story with a time traveler or a prophet, who could see the events portrayed before they happened, that character would also know the end of the story from the beginning, but he would be “inside” the story, and, indeed, would be a character from my imagination, and so he could not be seeing it from my viewpoint. The author does not stand at the beginning of the story, anticipating, nor at the end of the story, remembering, but stands outside the story altogether. I can write the last chapter before I write the first, and many writers do.

Now, this is only an analogy. I am not a god, and cannot give my characters life and free will. The best I can do is follow inspiration and see how the characters act or should act so that they do something akin to coming to life. From my point of view, the writer decides what and how they will decide. From their point of view, they decide. Sometimes they surprise me, and overrule my preference or plans. Make of that what you will.

So I imagine Godly knowledge and foreknowledge to be something of this sort: theology says He does not Himself suffer anything sequentially, since He is transcendent. But He is also omniscient, so He must know, in perfect detail, what we will do and suffer, so divine anger at our transgressions and divine pity for our contrition is known and foreknown from eternity, in eternity, in the same way you, in memory, recall being saddened or thrilled by a beloved character in a book you once read, or, if you are an author, a book you are about to write.

Having said that, keep in mind that trinitarian theology teaches that Christ is fully God and fully man, neither confounding the persons nor dividing the essence. Christ certainly suffered emotions in sequential order while He lived on Earth. Perhaps he has returned to transcendental timelessness as the Father, or perhaps He dwells in a paradise where events are arranged in sequence, so that He can keep in step with events on Earth in the same order they appear on Earth. Or perhaps both, as He sees fit. The matter is a beyond human knowledge, perhaps beyond speculation.

His next question was whether God experiences some amount of joy for witnessing good acts among men once a man has done a good act?

My answer: That there is joy is doubtless. Whether the joy comes before, during, after is a more dubious question, and may not be a meaningful question at all. There is no up and down in space; likewise, there is no before and after in eternity.

Christ Himself speaks of the rejoicing in heaven when a lost sinner is found again.

On the one hand, we must speak of heavenly things using human language, since we are human. On the other, Christ is truth and speaks truth. So the joy is real, whether it takes place in what we would call “before” or “during” or does not.

God repented making antediluvian man, and wiped them out in a flood. From the point of view of timelessness, those events will happen, are happening, and have happened, and, more to the point, would not have had happened had antediluvian man only not chosen to nurse evil continually in his heart.

Likewise, God experienced joy at the righteousness of Noah.

Continuing the next question was whether, if God suffers joy at witnessing good acts among men, part of Him rejoices forever?

My answer: I am not sure if it a “part”, but clearly the answer must be yes. God cannot grow bored with loving and rejoicing. God is love. God is joy.

Finally, the question was whether does intelligence (purely human intelligence) has any negative aspects, any cost the human it is given to must pay?

My answer here was not merely a yes, but an emphatic yes, followed by more than one exclamation point.

Man foretells his own death, and fears, and must make provision for the future, which involves the sacrifice the thought and time and labor. Knowing himself mortal, man is vulnerable, and knows himself to be naked. Knowing his acts and sacrifices will come to good or evil ends, he knows himself to have duties he should fulfill and cannot, and so he knows shame. Man is rational, a word-using creature, and so he knows his words cannot fully capture reality. In the same day he learns to speak, man learns to lie, including lying to himself. Man knows truth and knows truth is beyond his grasp. Man knows he deceives himself, that be seeks false pleasures. Man knows that life is vanity, and happiness is rarely found on Earth, or never. Men thirst for justice and fear being judged. Much wisdom is much woe.

A sober, wise, and thoughtful man, whether he be a scholar learned in the classics or a farmer who knows what it means to reap what you sow, is that the wise man knows everything has a price. Every god demands a sacrifice. There ain’t no such thing as a free lunch. If you do not pay the cost, someone else paid for you. There are no solutions, only trade-offs.

Fools and radicals think, in their vaporous day-dreams, born of book-sickness, that some theoretical system can be concocted to serve as cure for the wounds of the world. Flee them as you would a leper. Stone them. Drive them from among you with torches and pitchforks. The first who ever offered something for nothing, or promised godlike enlightenment with no more effort than biting an apple, was a serpent of paradise: and in his pleasing mouth was poison.