Let’s tread water in the deep end of the innovation pool again and ask a question that will help further refine our theology of innovation, specifically, related to experiments. Here it is:
Can God experiment?
I really don’t think this is one of those trick questions theologians bicker over, like, “Could God create a rock so large that even He couldn’t lift it?” And the goal of my question isn’t to get ethereal, theoretical, or philosophical; it’s to get hyper-practical.
We’ve already established the fact that since God is the universe’s Chief Innovator (and there is no being in close second), and since we as human beings are created in His image (see my posts “The God of Innovation” and “When Is God at His Innovational Best?”), that innovation is actually in our spiritual genes. In other words, when we innovate, we manifest the Imago Dei, the image of God, in us.
So God innovates. But can God experiment? Let’s think about it. Experiments are things we humans do because we have limited knowledge. Experiments are things we humans do because we don’t know if something will solve a problem or not. Experiments are things we humans use to try to seek to understand what may be the best way relieve a core tension or overcome a significant challenge. Experiments, by their very nature, are hypotheses—proposed explanations based on limited evidence from which to do further investigation, to try to figure something out. Experiments reveal a lack of specific knowledge and are tests that are geared toward gaining that knowledge.
One of God’s attributes is His omniscience. The English word omniscience comes from the Latin words omnis, meaning “all” and scientia, meaning “knowledge.” Therefore, it means that God is all-knowing. God’s omniscience is His perfect and eternal knowledge of everything and everybody. God’s omniscience is something that is dramatically supported from Scripture: “Lord, you know all things” (Jn 21:17) (see also Mt 6:7-8, 7:7-8, 10:29-30, 11:21-23; 1 Jn 3:20b; Phil 4:19; Hb 4:15-16; Acts 22:18, 23:11; Ps 7:9, 32:8, 50:11, 56:8, 119:105, 139:1-6, 142:3, 147:5; 1 Sm 2:3, 23:5-14; Jer 11:20). In other words, God literally knows every actual condition as well as every past or future possibility. This means that His omniscience also includes His prescience (the ability to know something before it even comes to pass). God is the only Being in the universe who knows everything that can be known—past, present, and future, actuality and possibility. His knowledge is infinite. His knowledge is complete.
Therefore, if God is omniscient (i.e., all-knowing), then He has no need to experiment. Isn’t that fascinating? Think about that… God is the Supreme Innovator. And yet God never experiments. He does not need to. He never has to try and figure out if something will work. He never wonders how to solve a problem. He never once shoots bullets before He fires cannonballs. So what? Why is it important to realize this?
Because it forces us to acknowledge some important realities to the human dynamic of innovation. First, we’re not God. Second, we have incomplete knowledge. Third, experimentation is uniquely human. Fourth, experimentation is a gift from God that enables us to engage a process of glorious discovery (Pr 25:2) out of the purest motivation to achieve the highest good (Mk 12:30-31). When it comes to innovation, we must experiment to gain more complete knowledge to better solve problems to best honor God and best love others. Fifth, God offers the guidance of His Holy Spirit to help us gain deeper insight into Himself, ourselves, and the world around us so that we can come to enjoy life to the fullest (Jn 16:13; Eph 1:18; Jn 10:10). I would argue that this gift and guidance certainly includes our endeavors to solve humanity’s core problems through experiments intended to lead toward innovation.
“experimentation is a gift from God that enables us to engage a process of glorious discovery”-Marcus Bieschke
Here’s one more, slightly more playful, way to look at this idea. When I was a kid, long before there was Xbox and Play Station, there were arcades for video games. Pac-Man. Galaga. Space Invaders. Frogger. Centipede. Q*bert. Asteroids. Donkey Kong. Are you with me?
And to play these games you needed… quarters. Lots of quarters. Why? Because you’d play a game, trying to beat it. But you’d inevitably fail. So you had to pop in another quarter. And, sometimes, on the cooler games—if you popped in a quarter fast enough, it would actually let you pick up from where you left off! But what would usually happen is that the more quarters you popped in, the more you played, the better you got; the better you became at the game. And, eventually, because of your investment of quarters, you may even beat the game.
The human ability to experiment—especially with the guidance of God’s own Spirit—is a lot like getting a giant, hand-delivered “bag of quarters” from God Himself to use as we play in this game of life.
Briefly, another cool connection we’re learning from the gaming community regarding experimentation is something called “urgent optimism.” This is where people don’t mind failing over and over again because they then try over and over again because that is the nature of gaming. And if you enjoy the game, it’s actually fun! So you actually want to pop in another quarter or, in today’s gaming parlance, hit “Start Again” as quickly as you can because you want to keep going right away and actually have a growing sense of optimism that you know what you’re doing to eventually beat the game or achieve your goal. Experimentation reminds us that innovation can be highly challenging and filled with failure. But, when we embark on our experimental efforts with God’s help, we can enjoy an urgent optimism—and use more quarters.
I think this metaphor of a cosmic arcade can be really helpful to us. As parents, we thrill to see our kids face the challenges of a game, fail, but get right up and try again because it’s fun to persist until breakthrough happens. And the best parents give their children pointers they themselves learned along the way to overcome challenges at key points. And I believe God is the same. He wants us to experiment for Him, to fail forward, to lean into learning, to try again and again–until breakthrough happens.
As our all-knowing, heavenly Father, He may not need to experiment. But He thrills to watch us do so. And He just keeps on giving us quarters. So what are you doing with your giant “bag of quarters”?
- What do you think of the premise of this post—God never experiments? Explain.
- Why do you think God allows us to experiment our way into better solutions to some core problems rather than just immediately knowing how to solve them?
- What do you think about the idea that God offers us His insight and wisdom through His Spirit to assist us in life—in this case, even in our experiments for innovation?
- How could you apply the concept of “urgent optimism” to the way your team experiments?