I was raised to believe that God knows everything all the time. The Clever Plan story developed from the book of Jeremiah in the Bible where I read that God admits not knowing something. If God knows everything, how was that possible?
Honest questions like that have entered my mind ever since I was a boy, and the answer to how an all-knowing God could not know something arrived in 2018, decades after I first asked for it. When it came, I started to put it into a story which grew as I thought about who would narrate. The most relevant verses in the Tanakh (Christians call it the Old Testament) are Jeremiah 7:31 and 19:5. (The “hang everything on nothing” verse is Job 26:7, but I figured that answer out without asking questions.)
The Jeremiah verses are plain enough, although when I was a boy the religious authorities explained God’s stated lack of awareness as a poetical device. But after some years I was not satisfied with that and took my question directly to God since both he and my mother said I could do that. Mom had led me to Jesus when I was going on eight years old, and she also gave me the powerful advice that anytime God talked to his people in the Bible, I could now put my name there. Well! James 1:5 says, “If any man lack wisdom, let him ask of God,” so whenever this boy had a tough question, he asked it. If anyone objected, he would declare (with apologies to Sojourner Truth): ain’t I a man?
As to the verse in Job, there is a similar problem which the authorities handled differently. The Hebrew text says He [God] “hangs the Earth upon nothing.” This is like hanging a picture on a wall that isn't there. Hebrew has far fewer words than English and most can have several meanings that are driven by context. But translators can be tempted to choose a translation which fits their limited understanding. Hence, one translator, who does not understand Sir Isaac Newton’s discoveries as they apply to Job 26:7, gives us, “He hangs the Earth over nothing.” This seems correct as far as it goes, but is incomplete and can be misleading, given the physics we now know. The truth is that every object in our cosmos hangs on nothing.
“…enter my mind.”
How do we think of things? In his superb memoir, On Writing, Stephen King says that rather than deciding what he wants in a story and then writing to make it turn out that way, he puts characters in interesting and difficult situations, then writes to find out what happens. He says stories are “found things, like fossils in the ground”, and says he plots his as infrequently as possible because life is largely plotless despite all our precautions and planning: “Plotting and the spontaneity of creation aren’t compatible. … [M]y basic belief about the making of stories is that they pretty much make themselves. The job of a writer is to give them a place to grow.”
I have come to agree with him. The effort to write my first novel started one evening in the late 1980s with an image of a toddler waddling down a macadam road toward a disabled nuclear power plant except that I knew the toddler was a machine sent to find out what went wrong. By 2 a.m. I had gushed a plot outline. But from there, efforts to turn it into a story about companies eating other companies fell flat.
Later, after I had been doing Y2K programming at Goodyear for a few years, they ordered me to stay at home within reach of a telephone for the entire long Y2K weekend. To keep busy I dug out that old story.
As a professional programmer, any story outline reminds me of a program specification. But as a fiction author I like to write what my muse blathers, so I listened while picking at the dead fossil of my story. What I got was a surprise. For two days I kept writing, discovering 26 packed pages of bullet points that formed the spine of a good story. (I no longer call such things an outline.)
The biggest surprises came on the last day of 1999 when I discovered that the toddler was really a testing machine, and there was no nuclear power plant. I have been picking at those bones for years now, slowly turning them into scenes with sinew, meat, skin, and warts. The last bullet point became a scene in 2012, and I have since uncovered one or possibly two sequels. Of that first flat story, the only remains are one independent clause about a toddler, the names of two companies, plus a business stab in a protagonist's back.
I wrote my flash-fiction piece, A Clever Plan, in 2018. But it didn't strike me until 2021 after re-reading King’s memoir (yet again), that God anticipated King’s approach by about 14 billion years. Human history is a sort of myriad-dimensional stage play (farce?) that God did not plot. Instead, he decided to imagine a stage and a set of initial conditions. Then, in his mind, he put interesting beings on it and watched them after he decided to give them free will but before the curtain rose with a Bang.
He saw the play in rehearsal (so to speak). He loved all the players as little children, and still loves them all despite the surprising nasty things he saw them do. But the cosmos isn’t a clockworks machine where God wound it up and let it play. The Author stays true to his own character as he allows the players to make their own stories. And now, during show time, he watches as they reveal again what they truly are inside. In both the rehearsal and the live show, he makes and keeps promises, answers prayers, warns of danger, and so on. Those who want to know the Author should expect to get notes from time to time: happenings, words, and conversations. These will come from various sources; they usually aren’t flashy, and may be difficult to explain because God isn’t trying to show off or prove he exists. He’s trying to show us who we really are and what we've actually done. But isn't that what most good authors try to do?