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Saturday, July 01, 2017

Thought Experiment #3: Consciousness and Memory

I’ve been thinking again about the consciousness of God.

I know: heavy subject, holy ground, tread carefully. I’m on tiptoes.

We recently ran a post from Immanuel Can on the subject of memory. He makes the case that there are certain things Christians need to let go of and move on from in order to stay spiritually healthy. I think he’s right about that. Now, for IC, that moving-on process entails refusing to nurse or justify feelings of grief, bitterness or anger about things we cannot change.

We need God’s help for that, and it’s easier said than done, I know.

Self-Control and the Thought Life

I can’t speak from the perspective of experts on human psychology, but I know all too well from personal experience that old grievances, losses, injuries, grudges, betrayals, humiliations, rejections and their associated emotions can rent space in my head that belongs to God, fighting against him tooth and nail for the moments that are rightly his domain, such as when I come into his presence to praise, worship or make requests of him, or when I seek a quiet few minutes in which to meditate on what he may be trying to say to me through his word.

Likewise, my own feelings, moods, needs, desires (and even thoughts about my own thought processes!) can impair my ability to empathize with others in my life, to hear what they are saying to me, to sense their needs and devote my energies to helping them. They rob me of my ability to do good in a world in which life is finite and the clock is always ticking, and they rob others around me of the good that I might otherwise do for them.

Even pointless trivia and minutiae can crowd out things that are more important. We have way too little control over what pops into our heads.

And I haven’t even mentioned worry or fear of the future, have I?

Real Forgetfulness

So can you relate? I’m thinking you just might.

That ongoing struggle to keep important, spiritual thoughts at the forefront of my consciousness and trivial, wrong or irrelevant ones far in the back makes me increasingly grateful to God that once in a while he allows me to really forget.

What I mean is that at least some of the things that once troubled me greatly are today no longer issues for me. On a few fronts at least, the mental struggle against distraction is pretty much over. I am simply not thinking about those particular things anymore. I am free to use my mental faculties more fully for the purposes God has for them in the here-and-now.

Now, usually this happens in fits and starts rather than completely and totally. For instance, when we lose someone, that loss may occupy our minds what seems like every minute, sometimes for days and weeks. Everything we encounter reminds us of the person who is no longer in our lives. But we are physical beings with physical needs, and eventually the present begins to subsume the past. The demands of our ongoing daily responsibilities begin little by little to distract us from our grief.

And as everyone who has gone through this cycle recognizes, at some point we realize we have not thought about our loved one for an hour, or a day, or a week. Perhaps that thought shames us and we feel disloyal. But the process continues until sometimes we have difficulty recalling what that person was really like. We find ourselves being corrected by our relatives about our recollections of their actions and character. We need to look at a picture to be able to see them again in our mind’s eye.

God’s Gracious Accommodation

That’s forgetfulness, and it’s not just a symptom of decline, age and synaptic failure. I’m beginning to see it also as God’s gracious accommodation to our frailties in a fallen world, where sorrows necessarily fill much of our lives and would threaten to utterly overwhelm us if they all sat eternally in the forefront of our consciousness.

But they don’t, thank God. We are able to love, prioritize and function because we are granted the divine gift of a cloud that passes across at least some aspects of our experience and obscures them for us.

At the same time, we recognize that it is ONLY because of our weakness and sin that we require this sort of help in the first place. It is because we cannot always control what we are thinking about or prioritize the way we process our memories that we have this need to forget some things and remember others. Our minds are disorganized and chaotic.

This is also why we respect men and women who appear to have disciplined their minds to better control these processes. Human society has always elevated its yogis, shamans and religious figures. We consider a greater level of mental self-control virtuous, because, well, it is.

I Will Remember No More

Now consider the consciousness of God. Carefully, of course. God is infinitely knowledgeable. “No creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account.” His memory cannot degrade with time. Unlike his creatures, he has no problem accessing every iota of information he knows, has ever known, or that there ever will be to know.

So, understandably, Christians have trouble with any verse that speaks about God forgetting something, being reminded, or simply not knowing it. I think this is probably because most of the time we regard forgetting as a bad thing. When I cannot recall an event my brother remembers vividly, I feel a small sense of failure. I am diminished by it. Evidently I lack a capacity that he possesses, and it rankles. It reminds me of my ongoing decline and suggests to me that I may be edging that much closer to the grave than he is.

So when we read, “Their sins and iniquities I will remember no more,” we are immensely grateful (especially while applying the verse to our own sins). But we also feel compelled to come up with an explanation of that statement that doesn’t involve lessening God, who is omniscient, in any way. So we speak of “judicial forgetting” and things like that.

No One Knows?

Likewise, when we read the Lord Jesus’ declaration that “concerning that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father only,” we can be troubled at the notion of the Father possessing a piece of knowledge the Son doesn’t.

I mean, doesn’t that diminish the Son just a little?

Um, no. I think I’ve been thinking about this all wrong. You see, in our limited experience (which is all we’ve got to work with), it’s the HIGHER consciousness that is capable of exercising the greatest discipline over itself, not the lower one. The lower consciousness is in chaos. It cannot control what it admits and what it excludes. These things just happen to it. Memories, grievances, emotions, irrelevant data … it’s in information overload 24/7.

That’s the sign of a lesser being, or certainly an immature one.

So why would we imagine that because some piece of data exists out there in the universe, the Son must necessarily be currently aware of it and processing it, despite his plain statement that he is not doing so and has left the matter entirely in the hands of the Father? Aren’t we diminishing the Son when we presume to place human limits on his self-control?

Eve may have suffered from a surfeit of curiosity and a low view of God, which is pretty much why the human race is where it is today. Jesus Christ assuredly did not.

Just a thought.

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