“As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.” – Isaiah 55:9
I think we underestimate God. We don’t do it intentionally but our brains aren’t built to grasp just how much bigger God is than we are.
Isaiah isn’t the only one to point this out. In Exodus, when Moses asks God his name God responds with “I am who I am.”
At the end of Job, God asks Job a series of questions starting with, “Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundations? Tell me, if you understand. Who marked off its dimensions? Surely you know! Who stretched a measuring line across it?”
It’s essentially God’s way of saying, “Maybe stop talking about things you know nothing about.”
When I think of God’s ways being higher than my ways or his thoughts being higher than my thoughts, I typically think of two things. First of all, that God is in all places and all times simultaneously.
Since 1905 when Albert Einstein published his special theory of relativity, we have collectively understood that space and time are essentially the same thing. Both are properties of the universe that we live in. Yet God exists outside the universe, which means he exists outside of both space and time. All time is the present for him (if we can even think in those terms?) and all locations are “here”.
In Psalm 139 David writes, “Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.”
Scientists currently estimate the size of the universe to be about 92 billion lightyears across. A lightyear is the distance it would take light to travel in a year (thus, a lightyear). Light travels at roughly 300,000 km/s (that’s kilometres per second or 670 million miles per hour). It takes light about eight minutes to travel from the sun to earth. It would take light about 100,000 years to cross our Milky Way galaxy. And the universe is so large that same beam of light would take 92 billion years to cross the observable universe.
David had no way of knowing any of that, but he was right when he said there is nowhere we can go to escape God’s spirit. God is everywhere and all time (including our future) is the present for him.
God’s ways are higher than our ways because he’s everywhere all the time. He knows everything because he sees everything. Time and space have no meaning for him.
The other thing I tend to think regarding God being higher than us and beyond us is that God is really smart. Not only is God everywhere all the time, he has the ability to remember everything and keep everything straight. (I realize “remember” probably isn’t the right word when talking about a being who exists in all time and space at the same time. You don’t really remember something as it’s happening.)
However, when thinking of intelligence, and how God is smarter than us, I typically think in terms of speed. God is able to think infinitely faster than I am. He can calculate in a second what might take me ten years or more. (Since we’re speaking of an infinite God, even the comparison of one second to ten years falls flat.)
What I typically fail to realize is that speed isn’t the only characteristic of intelligence. Quality is also a characteristic of intelligence. Tim Urban from WaitbutWhy.com explains the idea of intelligence quality like this,
What makes humans so much more intellectually capable than chimps isn’t a difference in thinking speed—it’s that human brains contain a number of sophisticated cognitive modules that enable things like complex linguistic representations or longterm planning or abstract reasoning, that chimps’ brains do not. Speeding up a chimp’s brain by thousands of times wouldn’t bring him to our level—even with a decade’s time, he wouldn’t be able to figure out how to use a set of custom tools to assemble an intricate model, something a human could knock out in a few hours. There are worlds of human cognitive function a chimp will simply never be capable of, no matter how much time he spends trying.
But it’s not just that a chimp can’t do what we do, it’s that his brain is unable to grasp that those worlds even exist—a chimp can become familiar with what a human is and what a skyscraper is, but he’ll never be able to understand that the skyscraper was built by humans. In his world, anything that huge is part of nature, period, and not only is it beyond him to build a skyscraper, it’s beyond him to realize that anyone can build a skyscraper. That’s the result of a small difference in intelligence quality.
Tim is talking specifically about what will happen when (not if) we eventually develop artificial super-intelligence. But as I read how he described the difference between human intelligence and artificial super-intelligence, I realized the same is true of God.
We tend to assume humans are at the top of the intelligence pyramid and anything we can’t know is unknowable. But that fails to realize that our brains also have a limited number of neural connections.
There are levels of cognitive sophistication that will always be out of our grasp. That means there are clear obvious connections we will never see. Aspects of the universe we will never understand. Depths and layers of complexity within us that will always baffle us.
These things are simple to God. He possesses the ultimate in both quality and speed of intelligence. He understands this universe he created in ways that will always and forever be beyond our grasp.
It’s not just that God is everywhere. It’s not just that God can think really fast. The ways in which he thinks are an infinite order of magnitude higher than we think.
This is why some people talk about the importance of having a faith which is trans-rational. A trans-rational faith has moved beyond reason and rational thought. It’s not that our faith should be irrational, but we have to realize that if God is really God, then we will never be able to fully figure him out.
Which I guess is another way of saying that as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are God’s ways higher than our ways and his thoughts higher than our thoughts.
This post was inspired by reading a few posts on WaitButWhy.com by Tim Urban. Specifically his two-part post on Artificial Intelligence which you can view here and here and his post on the future of brain-machine interface which you can read here.
If you ever want to have your mind blown about the future read Wait But Why. If you want to have a conversation about what following Jesus will look like in that weird future, hit me up.