Friday, July 10, 2009

Being God is Hell

Judaism has a saying, “Everything is foreseen, and free will is given” (Pirke Avot 3:19). This is supposed to answer the paradox of an all-knowing God and a free-willing humanity. If you are free to do what you want, God cannot know in advance what you will, and hence is not all-knowing. If God is all knowing and knows in advance everything you will ever do, then you really aren’t free to do otherwise.

Some people try and finesse this by saying that since you don’t know what you will do, you still have to make a choice, even if God already knows the choice you are going to make. This makes free will conditioned on ignorance. While you may not know what choice you are going to make, God does—not because God willed it, but because God knows the future. It might be the best we can do, and while this may solve the problem from the human perspective, it doesn’t do God any good at all.

What must it be like being God and knowing in advance everything that is going to happen? You get up one morning and plan to look in your friends to see what they are up to, but then you remember that you already know. The same is true of your enemies, the weather, politics, and cosmic disasters. You know everything that will ever happen long before it actually happens. Everything to God is a rerun. God is stuck with eternal life without a single surprise. That is hell. God is trapped in eternal boredom. Why would anyone invent a God like this?

If I were going to invent a God I would imagine one who didn’t know what was going to happen from one minute to the next. Sure s/he might make predictions based on the past, but the opportunity for surprise would always be there. This might make each day worth creating. If you knew how everyday would turn out I advance you probably wouldn’t bother making any day at all.

No, my God wouldn’t have a clue. Much like the God in the Hebrew Bible. He never seems to know what the people are going to do. And when he takes action he is often surprised at the results. Sometimes he wishes he never created humans in the first place. He loves people and he hates people, and he is having a ball blessing and cursing and saving and killing.

Free will on the part of humanity would be irrelevant to my God. All that he would have to do is make sure he didn’t know what was going to happen next. Even if we were totally pre-programmed, God’s ignorance would save him from the boredom of our programming. But it might be hard to create the world and then forget what you had in mind, so my God would create people with free will. This doesn’t mean we can do anything we want, it only means that every once in a while we do something out of character, and that makes it fun for God to watch.

It’s like NBC’s Law & Order shows: even though I know that 99 times out of 100 the good guys win, there is always that one percent where the bad guy gets away with the crime, and that makes the show exciting.

In my theological fantasy God creates the world to be entertained. God loves stories (another Jewish saying), and wants to be surprised. Loving stories only works if you don’t already know they end before you’ve read even the first chapter.


Patti said...

I like this God.

Jeff said...

Are you (not your God) still going to be at Isabella Freedman next week? If so, I'll see you. I'm taking a morning class.

Jordan said...

Shalom Rav,

Below are two citations from a wonderful book, "Plato and Platypus Walk Into A Bar....Understanding Philosophy Through Jokes," by Thomas Cathcart and Daniel Klein:

"When asked whetherhe believed in free will, twentieth century novelist, Issac Bashevis Singer replied, toungue in cheek, "I have no choice."
Page 21.

Number two seconds your thought about a God of surprise. Too long to quote, it's found on page 23.