Do you think that Jesus was a bit unfair with Peter? Jesus chides him because he was “thinking not as God does, but as human beings do.” I imagine Peter responding, “how am I supposed to think? I am a human being after all.” Human beings think in terms of what is best for me and mine. We think about the here and now and are not too worried about what will happen when we’re old and grey – at least until we are old and grey. We think about our next meal, not about the farmer and the trucker and the grocer that got the meal to us. The human instinct is to think small. But it seems that Jesus was looking for something more than human thinking from Peter. We can presume he wants more than human thinking from us as well. Jesus wants us to back up the camera to see things as God sees them. Even Stephan Hawking, famously skeptical about the existence of God, used to say as he was exploring the limits of the scientific explanation of the universe, that he was trying to think God’s thoughts. For example, God doesn’t think about time as we do. If the Earth formed at midnight and the present moment is the next midnight, 24 hours later, modern humans have been around since 11:59:59pm—1 second. God doesn’t think about space as we do. It takes one year for the Earth to rotate the Sun. It takes 225 million years for the Sun to rotate the Milky Way galaxy and the Milky Way is simply one of two trillion rotating galaxies. God doesn’t think about Planet Earth the way we do. Scientists have estimated that there are around 8.7 million species of plants and animals in existence. However, only around 1.2 million species have been identified and described so far by scientists. If human beings thing small, God thinks big.
Jesus wants us to think as God does but we, obviously, are not going to spin a universe or generate any new species. We can’t think the cosmic thoughts like God but Jesus gives us some directions on how we can go beyond our human way of thinking to a more divine one. We think as God does when we deny ourselves. Jesus said, “Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself.” Our ordinary way of thinking is that we need to take care of ourselves. To think God’s thoughts we shift the spotlight off of ourselves. Every parent can testify that is how love operates. Parents deny themselves all sorts of things they would like because of the care they extend to their children. God thinks that way about us because we are all the children of God. To think God’s thoughts we must have a think less of ourselves and more about others. Jesus goes on to say we think as God does when we take up our cross. In our ordinary way of thinking we seek to avoid struggle and suffering. Divine thinking imitates that of Jesus when he took up his cross. He had to trust in the plan of God even though it was not what he would have desired. The prayer in Gethsemane names the moment when he took that trusting leap into the will of God. “If it is possible let this pass me by, yet let it be as you would have it, not as I.” We think as God does when we give up our need to be in control. Jesus goes on to say, “Whoever wishes to save his life will lose it and whoever loses his life for my sake will save it.” We think as God does when we lose our lives. One of the great medieval mystics put it this way: the spiritual life is not a matter of addition but of subtraction. Once we lose the tendency we have to make something of ourselves we will be able to let God make something of us. On judgment day we don’t present to St. Peter all the wonderful things we have done so that we deserve to go into heaven. We present ourselves as empty, the ones whom God was able to use as instruments of grace.
Jesus gave us these gospel keys to thinking as God does because they reflect the very nature of God. Do a little mental experiment and imagine what was God thinking before the Big Bang. God had no needs, no desires, no expectations. The three divine persons of the triune God was complete in a relationship of love. But love of its very nature overflows. Love is not hoarded, not put into a safety deposit box, not stashed away as a rainy day contingency. Love is meant to be scattered abroad like the millions of cottonwood seeds in the Spring. So God’s love exploded forth in the glory of a billion, trillion stars and a billion, trillion creatures. Not only that, but God created the world in such a way that he could share in it, that he could become part of it in the incarnation of Jesus and we could become part of God in the sanctification of the Holy Spirit. God thinks that giving away the divine nature is the way to be God and we think as God does when we give ourselves away in love in imitation of God.
All of which helps to explain what St. James is driving at in the epistle. “What good is it if someone says he has faith but does not have works?” When we think as God does we understand that who we are and how we act reflects the God who gives it all away. We give of ourselves for others because God gave the divine self for us. We care for others because God cares for us. We support others because God supports us. When we see that every single person is precious and is connected to me by bonds of love then we are truly thinking as God does.