Edward F. Palm
Just think of me as a member of the “hive’s Inquiry Squad/Whose work is to find out God/And the nature of time and space” (Robert Frost). While I’m hardly an expert in theology and cosmology, I’ve spent much of my life “moping melancholy mad” (AE Housman) about how we are connected to the cosmos.
One question that has always intrigued me is the omniscience/predestination nexus. If God is truly omniscient and foresees what is going to happen, does that mean he causes it to happen?
Rabbi Harold Kushner, the author of “When Bad Things Happen to Good People” (1981), would say that just because God knows what is going to happen doesn’t mean he causes it to happen. Foreknowledge and causation can exist independently of one another. But that begs the question of whether we really do have free will.
Have you ever made a spontaneous life decision that, in hindsight, seems to have been what you were fated to do? I have. There is a theological point of view that holds free will to be an illusion we all share within this realm of time. The implication is that everything is fixed — preordained — and we can’t change it. In other words, you think you’re making a free choice to marry this person or to take that job, but all your choices were scripted. You weren’t actually free to choose.
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The way to resolve this conundrum is to realize humans live in linear time. God doesn’t. Think of time as a finished tapestry showing all of history from the beginning of time until the end. God can look at any part of it and see what each of us is doing or did do. Hence, we’re living within the tapestry of time; from God’s timeless point of view, it is finished. But once again, if the tapestry of time is complete, showing all of human interaction from beginning to end, doesn’t that imply that all our actions and events are preordained? Not necessarily. We wove the tapestry. The design is a product of our free will.
An idea that intrigues me personally is that time may be a Möbius strip with all of human experience on it. (Google “Möbius strip” for an illustration.) In other words, time moves forward until it loops back to the beginning. Those who believe in reincarnation may find this explanation appealing. The downside is that we could be reborn anywhere in time — back in the Middle Ages, for instance, or in an apocalyptic future. The saving grace, presumably, is that all the memories of a better life would be erased.
But what if there is a glitch and not all memories of a past life get erased? I was recently reminded of what some people consider to be compelling evidence of reincarnation—the child prodigy. How was it possible for Richard Hoffman to learn to read music and play the piano at age three, or for Mozart to begin composing music before he was five?
“Our birth,” the English Romantic poet Wordsworth wrote, “is but a sleep and a forgetting.” Or our death maybe? In a future column, I may share a personal experience that suggests Wordsworth may indeed have been right.
A former enlisted Marine and a Vietnam veteran, Palm retired from the Marine Corps as a major and went on to an academic career. He lives in Forest and can be contacted at email@example.com.