Does God Think?

I recall learning in the seminary 50 years ago that God does not think – at least not in the way we experience thinking. As I then understood the reasoning, God is not subject to change or to time. Everything is immediately present to God. There is no moment following another moment – and certainly no change because a change would imply that God did not have absolute perfection before the change.

Interesting, isn’t it, that this would be classed as traditional, conservative, Christian thought? It Interests me greatly for several reasons. One, I agree with the conclusion (but not with the understanding of “God” driving the discussion). Two, the conclusion flies in the face of almost everything I ever heard about God from Scripture, from doctrine, from liturgy, from preaching, from Popes and bishops, and from common Christian thinking and practice. All these sources have pointed to a God who changes “his” mind, who listens and reacts, who has definite opinions on a wide range of topics, who intervenes, who withdrew the “welcome” mat from heaven, who decided to withhold forgiveness, who gets annoyed if people do not offer appropriate worship and gratitude, who came up with a “plan of salvation” after the first humans made a mess of his original plans for humanity. This God sure does a lot of thinking. And apparently he does a lot of listening to Mary in heaven as she intercedes for us and gets God to think again and change the way things are.

What if God is nothing like this? What if, as conservative, traditional teaching states, God is not a listening, thinking deity? What if we take seriously what Christian tradition has always asserted about this mystery we call “God” – that God is beyond all our human concepts? Then, maybe we have a lot of re-thinking to do.

This re-thinking needs to engage the windows or pointers we use to engage or understand God. The windows we have consistently used and respected as our most authoritative insights about God mislead us when they suggest God listens, thinks, reacts and changes. Today we have other windows that we can use, windows that will help us see beyond a God operating according to our human mode of thinking.

Consider, for example, the 60 trillion cells in each of our bodies. Cells do not stop and think about what to do. Imagine the mixed-mess we would be in if that were the case! I shake my head in wonder and amazement when I think about cells in an embryo. Some cells work to produce a pair of eyes, others set off to form ears, others to make a functioning heart … and on it goes. No thinking, as we humans experience thinking, involved.

Take this a step further and consider all the energy in the universe. Energy does not think. It just “does”. It creates, it unfolds, it manifests in countless ways – and it does not think about it.

I suspect we get caught up with the wonder of the human brain. We tend to think that our conscious awareness is the greatest, most wonderful phenomenon in the universe. Yes, it is wonderful, but as an operating system – needing to take in information, process it and then make decisions – it is slow and cumbersome in comparison with the way cells work or the way energy operates all through the universe.

And we put this human mode of thinking onto whatever “God” is?

We recognize that no window we use to expose ourselves to the mystery of God can grasp what God is. We recognize that people at different points in the faith journey will use different windows to help them relate with this mystery. We must respect the use of many, varying windows. However, we must also be prepared to examine now, as perhaps never before, whether the understanding of God to which some respected windows have led us is sufficient to ground Christian faith in the future.