The title is true… and I’m a jerk. Several years ago, I made my hygienist cry and not tears of joy from making her day. I should be clear; I’m not bragging. The crazy thing is this happened while she was cleaning my teeth. Yes, I’m that dumb that I made the person with sharp objects in my mouth cry. I didn’t intend to upset her and it had started innocent enough, but the end result was what it was – water fountain eyes. I should also point out that she is a lovely person… yes, I’m aware I’m only making myself sound worse; I already admitted I’m jerk. She was also someone who was friends with my wife… yes, it keeps getting better.
The conversation started innocent enough as she was telling me about her brother and then she finished her story with: “But God knew everything before He created the world.” My response was said very gently, but arguably, should’ve been kept to myself: “That’s a nice sentiment Christians use, but it’s not true.” That was the spark. That didn’t make her cry, but that was the comment that started the conversation that led to the unfortunate end. So between cleaning, we had the following discussion, which is put together as best as possible from my limited memory and with some writer’s freedom.
Me: Some Christians like to believe that God knew everything before the world was created because, to them, it makes God sound “all knowing,” but it’s a false teaching based on some misinterpretations of a few verses (e.g. Eph 1:3-5) because people get lost in the words instead of the overall picture.
Her: (genuinely intrigued) Why would you say that?
Me: I love the Adam and Eve story because it teaches so much including why this Christian sentiment doesn’t work. If God knew everything before the world was created, He knew Adam and Eve would betray Him by eating the fruit. This ultimately means He created them to betray Him. That’s strange. He then punishes them for doing what He created them to do. That’s even stranger. Then shortly after, in the story of Noah, God regrets making humanity and decides to start over again with just Noah’s family. Why did God create these people only to have them upset Him to the point of erasing them from the world to start over? Why not just start there and avoid the genocide? Then there’s Moses. God constantly got angry at the Israelites, but why would He be upset if He knew they were going to do what they did? If God knew all that would happen, it’d be like re-watching a movie you have memorized, so there shouldn’t be any emotion attached to it: “There you are doing that thing I knew you’d do… and doing what I created you to do.” If you think about it, at some point humanity’s story had to be created whether before the world was created or it is currently being created in real time as the world moves forward. If God knew everything before it happened, why would He bother having us live our lives in the first place? He already knew everything, which means not only would it be super boring for Him to watch, it’d be pointless because He can’t change anything. It’s just doing what it was always going to do. Instead, wouldn’t it make more sense that God would rather be able to watch life in real time? It’d be more interesting for Him, especially because He could insert little moments to see His children smile. He’d even be able to interact with them and do things to influence the world. He could even enjoy when people prayed to Him and chose on their own to worship Him. This would make life worth creating unlike knowing what would happen before it happened.
Her: (Staring confused)
Me: Here’s another question: Why would God create a world knowing He’d have to send Jesus to be tortured and die? That sounds pretty terrible. I believe when God made the world, He knew sending Jesus was a possibility of happening, but it wasn’t guaranteed like Adam and Eve betraying Him wasn’t. If Jesus’ death was guaranteed, it’d be pretty easy to prevent – don’t create the world in the first place or change the story. If everything wasn’t known before the world was created, God wasn’t sentencing Jesus to have to be born as a human and die a terrible death.
Her: (Sill staring confused)
Me: I was lucky to have some smart teachers over the years help me understand this idea, but what led me to believing it were two main questions: Why would a loving God create suffering and a world full of non-believers we’re told will go to hell when they die?
Her: (waking from her shock) Because God gave us free-will.
Me: Absolutely, but it’s only free-will if we have choice. If God knew we would be in this exact moment before the beginning of time, we don’t have free choice. We are basically living a movie script where we are essentially mindless drones doing exactly what God planned for us to do. Besides, if everything we do has been decided, why pray?
Her: Because God answers prayer.
Me: But it’s not “answering” prayer if God already determined it would happen before time began. He’s also just following the script He made, which is a script that included all the suffering in the world and all the pain we feel. That seems pretty cruel to me.
Her: But everything has a purpose.
Me: Sometimes, but God didn’t want all things in the world to happen like sin. That goes back to the Adam and Eve idea; did He want them to betray Him, so He could punish them? If everything has a purpose, it also means you’re saying God wanted Hitler to cause the murder of millions of people. If God knew Hitler would do what he did, why didn’t God tweak the story? To me, it’s cruel to tell someone what happened was all God’s doing. You know that dad who died in a car accident with three kids at home? God’s choice. You know that girl who was raped? God’s perfect plan. The priest who tortured boys? God’s love at its best. To me, the idea that God knew everything before the world was made makes me want to hate Him. The last thing I want to do is worship a God who created this to happen. If, however, He didn’t predetermine it all to happen, He could be engaged with me every moment I’m alive. When something terrible is about to happen, He’s just as upset by it like we see in the story of Moses. This idea that God is in the moment makes me feel loved, inspired to pray, and to look for His guidance.
Her: (starting to cry)
Me: Look, many Christians believe that God knew everything before the world began, which is called determinism. My mom follows this idea and it makes her happy, so bless her. I follow what’s called open theism, which means I believe God is big enough to know all the possible outcomes depending on what we choose to do. I believe God’s working with us in the moment, which means He’s engaged and involved to some degree. He knows all the possibilities of what could happen depending on my choices and everyone else’s and He’s working with us (if we let Him) to mold us into the people He wants us to be rather than us going down bad paths, but it’s up to us to seek His guidance. This idea works for me, so bless me. The first idea gives my mom hope, so great. My idea gives me hope, so great (and makes a lot of older Christians very angry, so not so great). The most important thing is that we feel connected to God. My belief just helps life make more sense to me and be okay that God, who is supposed to be all loving, is able to send people to hell. Out of their own free choice – not predetermined like in a script – people choose a life without God, so He gives them what they want in the next life – existence without Him (or they cease to exist; I’m not sure where I stand on that debate yet). My beliefs also make it easier for me to talk to non Christians because they tell me this idea makes more sense to them, so bonus.
This story essentially means I made a very kind and friendly Christian cry because I told her that the way she’s believed all her life was wrong. I’m guessing she brushed off this conversation and continued to follow her original beliefs, so bless her. I just get frustrated when Christians blindly follow what they’ve been told. We need to question, research, and pray. As Jesus said ask, seek, and knock. He never said blindly follow. The better we understand our own beliefs and why we believe them, the better we can be at sharing God with others. Even better, the more open we are to questions, the more alive Scripture can become. If we think we know everything, that’s when we get blind, stale, and prideful.
“Only simpletons believe everything they’re told!” (Pro 14:15a)
Fun aside: The secretary at the dental office was listening to this conversation and told my wife how much what I said made sense. As you can probably guess, she wasn’t a Christian.
This week may you consider what it is you believe and ask questions that help you become closer to God.
Rev. Chad David, ChadDavid.ca, learning to love dumb people (like me)