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Can God Hope? February 4, 2011

Posted by Mary W. Matthews in Religion & Theology.
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At a new (or newish) web site called Quora, someone asked, “Does God hope, or does [God’s] omnisicence negate the need?” The questioner added, “If hope assumes the desire, or reach, or belief in something yet unknown or unattained, but sought after, then is hope an attribute of God, or is [God’s] omniscience such that [God] has no need for hope?” My answer at Quora, which is an earlier version of what you’ll read below, can also be found here.

Since the future does not exist yet, IF God perceives time the same way we do (a huge IF!), and IF God makes plans and sets goals for Godself (another topic altogether), and IF God has some infinite, transcendent analogue to a human endocrine system (to generate desire, uncertainty, love, and other divine emotions — IMO a GIGANTIC if!), then, yes, it is plausible to posit that God can hope.

On the other hand, the Universe is approximately 14 billion years old. It seems plausible to assume that God does not perceive the passage of time the same way we humans do. (I think I’d probably go insane from loneliness after only a few centuries, for one thing!)

It is possible that God is capable of changing the past, although I can’t imagine either how or why God would want to. Such an ability would raise serious questions about both theodicy (“Why does God let babies die of cancer?”) and God’s essential nature as the divine generator and sustainer of Love. Why would a God who IS Love (1 John 4:8) allow the Holocaust, or other examples of monstrous evil or mass slaughter, if God could change the past?

My point is that if God can and does change the past, then, no, God cannot feel hope. Let’s say for the sake of argument that YOU are the most pivotal figure in human history since Jesus; you are destined, literally, to become president first of the United States and then of the entire world. On your original timeline, you lose an important election. God goes back in time and changes the results so that you win. You accidentally walk into traffic, get run over by a tractor-trailer, and die. God goes back in time and delays the truck by five minutes so now you get across the street safely. And so forth, and so on. God need never hope that you become president of the world, because God will make everything turn out exactly the way God planned. This is the iron control over events posited by believers in predestination or Fate. It seems to me that from God’s point of view, an iron control over history is as dull as an eternal game of tic-tac-toe in which God always goes first and always chooses the center square. BOR-ing!!!

Although we humans have no way of ever knowing — beyond what other humans wrote during the Stone, Bronze, and Iron Ages — I think it unlikely that God makes plans and sets goals for Godself. The Universe contains such a staggering amount of complexity that just watching evolution in action is probably quite enough entertainment even for a Being who is infinite, eternal, and transcendent. After all, we have no proof at all that this is even the only Universe that exists, and advanced mathematicians and physicists are offering intriguing theories about a Multiverse in which our own Universe is nothing more than a bubble.

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