February 11, 2010
The following essay first appeared in a Springfield News-Leader editorial and then in a slightly revised form in House of Faith or Enchanted Forest? (pp. 3-4). The issue it poses still seems relevant to me: exactly what is it that God does?


Read/Post Comments (2)

     Have you ever wondered what God thinks about with time on his hands? Is he introspective? Curious? Does he ever daydream? Has he ever had a new thought—an “Aha!” experience? Though you may think he never has any “down-time,” the question is not irrelevant, for the Bible portrays God in the first account of creation pausing to give himself a reflective pat on the back (“he saw that it was good,” Genesis 1:4, 10, 12, 18, 21, 25, 31), and we also find him kicking back for a rest on the seventh day (Genesis 2:2). It prompts the question: when God is resting, who “minds the store”? In the second account of creation, God takes time off for a relaxing walk in Eden “in the cool of the day” (Genesis 3:8)—still the custom in the modern Mediterranean world. I know some will object that this kind of language is only metaphorical. The biblical writer is not speaking literally. Still, even to use such images begs the question: does God ever take time off from the business of running the world, curing disease, punishing the wicked, and the like, or is his divine mind always occupied with the cosmos and its creatures? Some will also even question that God cares for us creatures—particularly in light of the recent disasters that have recently occurred on our tiny planet (Indonesian tsunami, destruction of New Orleans, Russian earthquake, and now the Haitian earthquake among others). These apparent gaffs in God’s watch-care over our planet add more credence to the possibility of daydreams, or at least to the idea that God muses, not having his mind focused on matters at hand. After all, the older we get the more we tend to muse, and the Judeo-Christian God has been in charge of the universe for quite a while now.

     Does it really matter? Well, perhaps not to you, but it mattered a great deal to some of the ancient philosophers. For them, the ideal state for a God was “at rest.” God existed in silence, singularity, solitariness, and stillness—he even moved “motionlessly”! Movement and thinking changed the deity, they thought—and any change was a flaw. Deity, as they conceived it, was truly the same yesterday, today, and forever—without beginning or end. Some early Christians said the same thing about “Christ” (Hebrews 13:8), but apparently not all shared that idea (read Colossians 2:5-11, where he does change).

     On the other hand, the popular view in ancient Mediterranean culture conceived all Gods actively involving themselves in human affairs—destroying and protecting cities, devising plagues, working miraculous cures, discoursing with human beings, and much more. Today God is conceived more like the ancient popular view than the philosophical. God is in constant motion 24/7, supposedly everywhere at the same instant, juggling myriads of activities, initiating plagues, performing miraculous cures, creating hurricanes, destroying cities, answering prayers, winning ball games—to mention only a few of the things attributed to God.

     The philosophers would say of my curiosity about God, “what a nerdy question. Of course God does not dream, because his dreams would, like his words, be divine ‘things’ existing apart from him, and as a consequence his former singularity would devolve into a duality—or worse.” They conceived God as an irreducible singular entity—a Monad. And truth be told that is the way the ancient Israelites conceived God as well (Deuteronomy 6:4).

     Today in Western culture, we also think of God as Monad—on our best days we are not “polytheistic”—even though Christianity is mostly Trinitarian (the affirmation of three distinct “persona” in One Godhead). Such a concept would strike the ancient philosophers as theoretically improbable because it employs plurality to explain God—and they might also object that the language sounds a bit like double-talk.

     I prefer to think of God as sentient—a thinking being. And if God thinks, he is apt to be curious, think new thoughts, or daydream—and maybe even have an “Aha!” experience. The philosophers would rightly object: but if so, he is not “the same yesterday, today, and forever.” Others might object that I am simply inventing God in my own image! Perhaps so, but doesn’t everybody?

Charles W. Hedrick
Professor Emeritus
Missouri State University

Posted by Charles Hedrick at 1:05pm

Hello Charlie,

Your article reminded me of a recent experience in which I felt conflicted and I was unable to explain my feelings to our missionary friends, who were thanking God and couldn't figure out why I wouldn't join them. I am an optimistic and naturally thankful person, so what went wrong?

These friends of mine and my husband live in Thailand. I'll call them Tom & Daphne. A few months ago, Tom made a trip back to the States to do what missionaries have to do to stay funded. His return trip to Thailand put him on a rickety bus, overloaded with animals, going around a steep mountain in bad weather. Some passengers lost their lives, but Tom made it home to Daphne without injury. Daphne praised God for Tom's safe return. I was glad, too, but felt funny about praising God for it. If I commended God for saving Tom's life, would I disparage God for not saving others' lives? I preferred to think about God as uninvolved in either activity directly, than in both, because to say that God took care of missionaries, but not so much the rest, didn't sound like God so loved the world.

Your question, "Does it really matter?" is a good one. I can tell you that I don't pray anymore--at least, not in any manner recognizable to a Baptist. Philosophically, I have shifted to say, "May I be well in body and mind," instead of asking for healing. I do picture God daydreaming--for whatever it's worth--and, if God's attention does wander, it wouldn't surprise me to find that we are an interesting reality show. Could God have set us in motion only to peek in on us from time to time? As the World Turns?

Holly Jackson Thompson
Posted by Holly Jackson Thompson on 2/16/2010 at 11:44am

Perhaps we were created as part of God's daydream. If God is an "irreducible singular entity—a Monad," then bringing internal forces or ideas together to create something (dreams or even life) seems like the next logical step. If there really is "nothing new under the sun" then creation would be generated by comparing and contrasting internal elements, giving rise to something different and separate but something that is still a part of the whole.

I can't daydream about something I can't conceive of, but I can spend a pleasant afternoon driving my mind through the scenery of my memories.

Posted by Maudie Lawson on 2/13/2010 at 6:25pm