God is the one who remembers. Everything. Everyone, every being, is remembered by God. A God who understands human weakness, but also a God who judges each of us. Everything you or I do matters, because it will be remembered by God. Those who made the Holocaust possible will be remembered by God. My Grandson, who contributes a large portion of his small salary to charity will be remembered. Remembered and judged by God. For all eternity. But that’s it. God does not punish the bad or reward the good. In the end we return to the stardust from which we came. But God knows. Forever. Kind acts and cruel acts are not the same. God knows the difference and remembers, even when humans have forgotten. Everything you do is of eternal significance.
But how could God remember every little thing? The simple and complete answer is he remembers because he is God. From this perspective, God resembles a cosmic memory. But this is not how I prefer to think of God. I think of God as an eternal being, one who has eternity to notice and remember. This is how C. S. Lewis explains it (Mere Christianity, pp 167-168).
Our life comes to us in moments, one moment disappearing before the next arrives. This is the way time works. But if God is eternal, then he is not in time. His experience of time is not like ours. If I act this way or that way, God need not be present at that moment to know, remember, and judge. He has all eternity to do so, for an eternal God would experience all things as present to him at once. There are no moments for God. He has eternity to notice and remember one small thing. An eternity to notice and remember everything that each of us does.
I don’t think this is an important problem. Much simpler to say God notices and remembers because that is what God does; that is who he is. But some people seem to like this explanation, or at least feel a need for it.
A God who suffers
So far, my account of God has been theistic: God is at a great remove. But I think Christianity has brought to us something quite wonderful, a God who suffers with us. Think of it. God became human (or part of him did, it doesn’t matter) in Jesus Christ to experience human suffering, so that he could know what it was like, as well as how vulnerable, kind, loving, hateful, and cruel humans can be.
Most Christians don’t see Christ in this way. They see him as sent to earth to save us from the wages of sin. The singular moment in Christianity is the resurrection of Christ, demonstrating his salvific power. My view is heresy.
It is often noticed that the Bible says almost nothing about Christ between the years he visited the temple in Jerusalem at twelve (Luke 2:41-51), and his reappearance at about thirty years of age, three years before his death. More than half of Christ’s life is unaccounted for. I imagine that Christ spent the time traveling and listening and sharing in humanity, the better to know who we are. I cannot imagine that he came to love humanity during that time, for we are not a lovable species, but evidently he did.
As important as what Christ shared with us is what he taught us. His teachings are called the kerygma (κήρυγμα). His most important lesson is the simplest, but not easy. “Love one another as I have loved you.” (John 13:34) Too much is made of Christ’s suffering, and not enough about his message to the living and loving. The love Jesus is speaking of is a self-sacrificing love, in which the best interest of the other person comes first. Jesus takes this love to its ultimate conclusion. “There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” (John 15:13)
What about prayer?
About prayer the same idea applies. God listens, remembers, and judges. Do you pray for yourself or others? Is there a connection between your prayers and your deeds? Do you try to bargain with God? The principle of prayer is simple: not my will but Thy will be done. Prayer is not so much supplication as it is acceptance. A thoughtful prayer from a sincere person is worthwhile in itself. God does not answer prayers; he remembers them.
A Christian heresy
My account of God is a Christian heresy. I focus not only on what Christ taught, but what he learned, in order that a distant God might know what it is to live among humans. I could pick Biblical passages to support this view, but I am not out to offer a labored biblical defense. Better a heretical view of God than to imagine that he doesn’t matter.
God matters because he judges and remembers everything we do. In a curious way my view resembles Nietzsche’s doctrine of the eternal return (Gay Science, para. 245, 381). Act as if everything you have done, experienced, and suffered will be repeated for eternity. Are you strong enough to stand it, asks Nietzsche? In my version, it is not the eternal return but the eternal significance of what you do, because your acts (I don’t know about thoughts) will be redound for all eternity. How will they be judged? By the standards of the kerygma, Christ’s teachings. That’s enough God for me.
C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity. HarperOne, 2012.
Friedrich Nietzsche, The Gay Science, trans. Walter Kaufmann. New York: Vintage Books, 1974.