Have you ever wondered about the distinction between the things that you are doing, and the things that are simply ‘happening’?
Let us look at this distinction in terms of our common experience.
As I write this sentence, I would say certain things are ‘just happening’. My heart is beating, blood is flowing through my veins (I presume) and my nails and hair are growing (albeit rather slowly). These are all things that I say are happening to me. On the other hand, I might say that I am typing, I am drinking this cup of tea, I am looking at the clock. Those are things that I am doing.
So what makes us draw this distinction? I believe it amounts to an association of ‘I’ with the body that I witness, for instance, when I look down. When this body is interacting with something, like picking up a pen, or kicking a football, we class this as an activity that I am doing. Conversely, the things that are ‘happening’ relate either to the inner workings of the body or to things ‘out there’ in the world at large.
But need we draw this distinction? If we take away for a moment the idea that I am the body, aren’t both processes that I am doing, and those that are happening, similar in their activeness and in the sheer fact that they are going on?
Consider the following questions:
What is causing me to grow? (internal)
What is causing the tree to grow? (external)
What is causing the football to be kicked? (action)
The scientist might answer the above questions in terms of distinct cause and effect processes. But there are always an infinite number of causes contributing to the action of what we perceive to be one event. What really caused the football to be kicked? Was it the movement of my leg? Was it an impulse in the brain telling my leg to move? Was it my arrival at the football pitch? One could go on to describe an infinite number of causes, but the truth is that it happened quite spontaneously!
The answer to our questions, it would seem clear, is that the same being, the same force, is animating all things simultaneously in this moment. After all, the tree and the football and I exist within the same consciousness. The changing agent, the animating force, is God. Because God is capable of doing an infinite number of things simultaneously, we see that all of the above actions can happen at the same time.
As an interesting aside, our use of language often contains clues to help us understand what is really going on. We say “I acted wrongly”, or “you’re acting strange”, so even in our everyday language we are aware that we are like characters acting in a play. This is the way it really is! Whatever you ‘do’ is what God is doing through you. He is the cosmic director, intimately involved with your every ‘act’ of free will.
In saying all of this, I am not denying that a sense of free agency does indeed present itself in our human experience. There is a sense in which I do operate as though I am a free agent, making decisions and going about my business. An attribute of God’s power is that He can cause us to believe not only that we are individuals in a separate world, but also that we are the ones doing everything! This is bizarre when you think about it – I can raise my arm or nod my head, but I have absolutely no idea how I do it. God only knows how – because God is doing it.
The above article is a modified extract from my book entitled The Philosophy of a Mad Man. For more information or to buy the book, click here.