Reading God’s Mind
By David Feddes
Do you ever wish you could read minds?
If you’re single and you’re attracted to somebody, you might not be sure if that person is interested in you. Wouldn’t it be nice to be a mind reader? That way, if the person were interested in you, you’d know, and you’d feel free to say how you felt. And if they weren’t interested, you’d know that, and you could keep your feelings to yourself and save yourself some embarrassment.
If you have children, don’t you wish you could read their minds sometimes? If your kids have a hard time saying what’s on their heart, you’d still know what they’re thinking, and you could relate to them better. Reading minds would also help you decide whether to give your teenagers permission to go out at night. If they talked about going to study with friends, but they really planned on going to a wild party, you could read their mind and know they were lying and refuse them permission. If they were telling the truth, your mind-reading ability would show you that, and you could send them out gladly and confidently.
A lot of us can think of times when we’d like to read minds. Family members wish they could read each other’s minds. Workers wish they could read their boss’s mind, and employers wish they could read their workers’ minds. Dealmakers in business and government would love to be able to read the minds of people they’re negotiating with. There are all sorts of times when we’d like to read someone else’s mind.
But we can’t do it. You’re not a mind reader, and neither am I. That can be frustrating at times, but, on the other hand, how would you like it if other people could read your mind? I wouldn’t like it very much. There are plenty of things I’d rather keep to myself, plenty of thoughts I’d rather not have anybody else know about. Anyhow, the fact remains that we’re not mind readers. The only mind I can read is my own, and the only mind you can read is your own.
Now let’s take this to a higher level. If you can’t read my mind and I can’t read yours, could we possibly expect to read God’s mind? The Bible says in 1 Corinthians 2:11, “Who among men knows the thoughts of a man except the man’s spirit within him? In the same way no one knows the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God.” God can read our minds, but we can’t read God’s mind. Of ourselves, we have no way of knowing God’s thoughts. Only the Spirit of God knows what God is thinking.
Isn’t that a problem? Not knowing what’s on someone else’s mind can mean problems for human relationships, and it can mean even bigger problems in relation to God. If we can’t read God’s mind, how can we know what God is thinking? How can we know what he’s like? How can we know what he wants, what he cares about, what his plans are, what he thinks of us. How does God relate to us, and how can we relate to him? If you’d like to be in tune with God, it can be discouraging to hear that the only one who knows the mind of God is the Spirit of God.
But here’s the good news: God doesn’t keep his Spirit to himself. The Spirit of God also lives in every person who belongs to Jesus. The Spirit who reads God’s mind lives in God’s people and enables them to read God’s mind. The Holy Spirit knows God’s thoughts and plans, and the Spirit communicates God’s mind. If you don’t have God’s Holy Spirit in you, you can’t understand or accept God’s way of thinking, because “no one knows the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God.” But if the Holy Spirit does live in you, the Bible says that you “have the mind of Christ” (1 Corinthians 2:16). You can read God’s mind and think the thoughts of the Lord Jesus Christ.
You can’t read God’s mind on your own, because nobody knows God’s mind except the Spirit of God. But if you have God’s Holy Spirit living in you, you can read God’s mind and know his thoughts. You can’t know all his thoughts, of course. No human mind can grasp all that is in the infinite mind of God. But you can know God’s main thoughts in relation to you.
How People Communicate
As we focus on reading God’s mind, it’s helpful to reflect on what it takes to know the minds of other people. You and I can’t read each other’s minds, but there’s a way to know at least something of another person’s thoughts and feelings, and that is through the process of communication. Communication requires at least three things.
The first is this: To know someone else’s inner thoughts, we need them to express themselves. If they never say a word, if the look on their face never changes, if they never do anything at all, then we have no way of knowing what they’re thinking. To know the thoughts of others, the first thing we need is for them to express themselves.
But we need more than that. The second thing we need is for them to express themselves truthfully. People can say and do all sorts of things that don’t express what they are really thinking. A politician can promise something, but in his mind he may have no intent of doing what he says. A friend can say, “I really like your hair” and secretly be thinking that it looks like a haystack in a hurricane. A spouse can say, “Sure, honey, I’ll go out and run those errands” and secretly be thinking, “Why do I always have to do everything around here?” A worker can smile and say, “Sure, boss, no problem. I don’t mind working weekends,” and secretly be thinking, “I hate this job. But until I can find a better one, I’d better act nice and keep my lousy boss happy so he won’t fire me.” For us to know what is in a person’s mind, we need his words and actions to be honest expressions of what he’s really thinking.
If people express themselves and if they do it truthfully, we still need at least one more thing in order to know their thoughts. We need to be in tune with the other person’s way of communicating. A person may talk to me about herself for an hour straight, and every word she says may be truthful, but if she is speaking Russian or Swahili, I won’t know what’s on her mind. A brilliant scholar may tell me his deepest thoughts on a profound subject, but if I don’t understand his big words and his high-level reasoning, I can’t grasp what’s going through his mind. I have to be able to think the way that person thinks. If I can’t, the person will either have to help me expand my vocabulary or else put things in a simpler way that I can grasp.
Communication is so important. Too many of us expect others to read our minds, but that’s not going to happen. If we want to understand each other, we’ve got to express ourselves more openly, tell the truth more honestly, and find ways to talk each other’s language.
How God Communicates
These three parts of communication are basic not only in person-to-person communication among humans but also in God’s communication with us. We need God to express himself, we need him to do it truthfully, and we need it in our language.
We need God to express himself before we can know him, just as we need other people to express themselves before we can know them. “No one knows the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God.” We can’t know a thing about God unless God shows us. We can try to guess what God is like and try to figure out what he might be thinking, but our relationship to God is too important to be based on guesswork and figuring. God’s thoughts are not our thoughts, and our guesswork might do more harm than good. We can’t get into God’s mind using only our own minds and our own efforts. We need God to reveal himself.
And God has done so. He has revealed himself in actions and in words. God’s action in creation gives us some indication of who God is, but the actions which reveal him even more clearly occur in the history of his chosen people, the Israelites, and in the life, crucifixion, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. God’s supreme action, his highest self-revelation, is Jesus Christ and him crucified. These actions show us a great deal about God, and along with God’s actions, he gives us words to tell us about those actions and to explain them to us, and he gives us words to tell us who he is and what his thoughts are in relation to us. Those words, inspired by the Holy Spirit, are written in the Bible, and proclaimed in the Christian church.
So God has indeed expressed himself, and that brings us to the second part of communication: truthfulness. Here, again, God is the perfect communicator. God always speaks the truth; God always declares what is right (Isaiah 45:19). “It is impossible for God to lie” (Hebrews 6:18). When God expresses himself, he does not deceive or mislead. God in the flesh—that is, Jesus–and God’s Word written in the Bible are totally truthful expressions of God. Jesus is “the exact representation of God’s being” (Hebrews 1:3). Jesus is a perfect picture of who God is and what he is like (John 14:9). Likewise, the Bible is a perfect written record of God’s thoughts toward us. “All Scripture is God-breathed” (2 Timothy 3:16)—or to put it even more literally, “God-Spirited.” The Bible is a completely accurate message from the Spirit of God, the divine Mind Reader.
Clearly, God has fulfilled the first two parts of communication. He has expressed himself, and he has done so with perfect truthfulness. But what about the third aspect of communication? Does God talk our language and come to us at our level? Or does God express himself only in ways that are beyond us humans? Well, just look at God’s actions in Jesus and his words in Scripture. The Lord has come down to our level. In Christ he became human, and in the Bible he uses human words to teach divine thoughts. God has come to us in human form and has recorded his message in human words, so we can’t complain that God doesn’t communicate on our level.
God has done all the things that would ordinarily be needed for person-to-person communication, but all of that is still not enough. We need God to do still more. We need his Spirit to move inside us and shape our thinking. We need the Spirit to help us read God’s mind, so that we think as he thinks, care about what he cares about, love what he loves, hate what he hates, and choose what he chooses. Unless the Spirit takes over, unless the great Mind Reader actually gives us a piece of God’s mind (so to speak) we can’t accept the things of God.
There is something about God’s wisdom that repels people who don’t know God. In a sense, the closer God comes to us, the more we resist him. The Bible says, “The sinful mind is hostile to God” (Romans 8:7). Some of us say we’d like to know God better, but what happens when God comes to us in human flesh and we see what he’s really like? We crucify him. Some of us say we’d like to be spiritual people, but the moment we read the spiritual truths of the Bible and run into something that doesn’t fit our ideas, what do we do? We decide the Bible must be wrong, and we come up with our own idea of what “spirituality” is all about.
Jesus is God’s supreme revelation. In Christ God unveiled thoughts and carried out plans that he had kept secret up to that point. In 1 Corinthians 2:7-8, the apostle Paul writes, “We speak of God’s secret wisdom, a wisdom that has been hidden and that God destined for our glory before time began. None of the rulers of this age understood it, for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory.” The crucifixion of Jesus shows how the mindset of this age is opposed to God’s mind, but the Lord uses that very event to show his love and mercy. In his secret wisdom, God provides forgiveness through the death of Jesus, and he brings new life and eternal glory through Jesus’ resurrection and the gift of his Spirit.
God comes to us in human form, communicating through human words, but his holiness is such a contrast to our sinfulness, and his wisdom is such a contrast to our ideas, that if all we had to go on were our own senses and our own brains, we would never be able to figure what God is up to. Who would ever dream that only way for anyone to be saved would be for a humble teacher to get nailed to a cross? As 1 Corinthians 1:18 says, “The message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing.” Who would ever think of God giving his love and all his vast wealth to those who love Jesus? As 1 Corinthians 29-10 puts it, “‘No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him’–but God has revealed it to us by his Spirit.” The rest of 1 Corinthians 2 then speaks in a striking way of how the Holy Spirit reads God’s mind and helps people to read God’s mind.
The Spirit searches all things, even the deep things of God. For who among men knows the thoughts of a man except the man’s spirit within him? In the same way no one knows the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God. We [who trust in Christ crucified] have not received the spirit of the world but the Spirit who is from God, that we may understand what God has freely given us. This is what we speak, not in words taught us by human wisdom but in words taught by the Spirit, expressing spiritual truths in spiritual words. The man without the Spirit of God cannot accept the things that come from God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned. The spiritual man makes judgments about all things, but he himself is not subject to any man’s judgment: “For who has known the mind of the Lord that he may instruct him?” But we have the mind of Christ.
There you have it. Only if you have the mind of Christ can you understand and accept what God has freely given in Christ. Only if you have the divine Mind Reader, the Holy Spirit of God, living in you and helping you get inside God’s mind, can you grasp spiritual truths and spiritual words from God.
On God’s Wavelength
I spent sixteen years as a radio broadcaster, speaking into a microphone. Somehow the studio equipment transformed my voice into radio waves that were beamed out from transmitters around the world. Those radio waves were present in many places, but not everybody in those places heard me. To hear what I was saying, it was not enough for the radio waves to be present. People needed something to receive those waves and turn them back into a voice. They needed a radio, and they needed it tuned to the right frequency. Otherwise, they could have radio signals from my broadcast all around them and not be able to hear a word I said.
Likewise, in order to understand God, you must be on his wavelength. The Lord sends out signals that are all around us, but we need the means to pick up those signals. Unless we have a radio set inside us and have it tuned to God’s frequency, we won’t receive the signals that God has communicated. God transmits spiritual truths in spiritual words, but you won’t hear what he is saying unless you have a spiritual mind—the mind of Christ—as the Holy Spirit reads God’s mind and helps you to read God’s mind with him. Now, there are limits in every comparison, and there are drawbacks in comparing someone spiritual to something mechanical. The Holy Spirit is not a power or a radio frequency; he’s a Person, the third Person of Holy Trinity of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. But the point is that we need to be in tune with God, and that can only happen if God the Holy Spirit is inside us, reading God’s mind and giving us the mind of Christ.
When you hear that you’re a sinner whose only hope is to trust in Jesus’ death and resurrection and to be united to him through the Holy Spirit, you might think, “That sounds silly.” But don’t be too quick to say something is silly just because it sounds that way to you. When a student is studying a hard subject, he may get frustrated and say, “This is stupid.” But is that the problem? Is the material too stupid for him? No, it’s too smart for him. It’s not beneath his intelligence; it’s beyond his intelligence. Likewise, if salvation and eternal life in Christ sound foolish, it’s not because the gospel is too silly for you. It’s too wise for you. As the Bible says, “The man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned.” If you say God’s wisdom is foolish, it says more about you than it says about God.
But, thank God, there’s another possibility. The wonders of God and salvation through Christ crucified don’t make sense to an unspiritual person, but the supernatural work of the Holy Spirit can literally change your mind.
A friend told me that for years, he thought Christianity was foolish. In his opinion, the Bible made no sense and had no practical value. He had no interest in Jesus. But then something clicked inside. For some reason that he couldn’t understand at the time, he got interested in Jesus. The Bible gripped his attention, stirred his feelings, made him think hard, and had a practical impact on his life. Christian teaching began to make sense. What had once seemed foolish and useless became the center of his life. At first my friend didn’t understand all that was happening, but after he put his faith in Jesus and learned more about how the Holy Spirit works, he came to understand that God’s Holy Spirit had moved in, had put him on God’s wavelength, and had given him the mind of Christ.
What about you? Can you read God’s mind? Is the Holy Spirit living in you and linking you to Jesus Christ and to God the Father? The Bible says, “If anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Christ” (Romans 8:9). “Those who live according to the sinful nature have their minds set on what that nature desires; but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires” (Romans 8:5). What is it that the Spirit desires? To honor Jesus Christ, to make him known to us, and to shape us to be like him, and to pour God’s love into our hearts.
Jesus is the focus whenever the Spirit is at work. The Holy Spirit constantly reminds people of who Jesus is, of what Jesus did and continues to do, of what Jesus teaches, and of God’s amazing love in Jesus. The Spirit creates faith in Jesus; he moves people to adore Jesus; he transforms people to live like Jesus; he guides us with a sense of what Jesus wants us to do in a particular situation. The Spirit’s entire work is to connect us with Jesus. As Jesus put it, “He will bring glory to me by taking from what is mine and making it known to you.” The Holy Spirit gives us Jesus, Jesus, and more Jesus.
The more we know Jesus and have the mind of Christ, the more we love the Father of Jesus Christ as our own Father. Jesus’ main goal is to honor God the Father, so any time we’re in tune with Jesus, the Spirit is moving us to call God our Father and to rejoice that we are God’s children (Romans 8:15-16). God is love, so if you can read God’s mind, you know God loves you. God is light, so if you can read God’s mind, you have the light of his truth to guide you. God is holy, so if you can read God’s mind, you desire holiness. God rules the universe, so if you can read God’s mind, you sense his hand in the forces of nature and the great events of history. God knows every bird and flower and every hair on your head, so if you can read God’s mind, you sense him guiding you in every part of your life, no matter how small, and directing your day-to-day decisions.
“No one knows the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God”—and those whom the Spirit connects with Jesus Christ. May the Holy Spirit enable you to read God’s mind.
Father in heaven, you promise to give your Holy Spirit to those who ask you. We claim that promise, Father. Fill us with your Spirit. Give us the mind of Christ. Wash away our sins by his blood. Give us life through his resurrection. Guide our steps by your Word, the Bible, and by your inner promptings. Remove anything that harms our relationship to you. By your Spirit help us to read your beautiful mind, to know your wisdom, your goodness, and your love, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
By David Feddes. Originally broadcasted on the Back to God Hour and published in The Radio Pulpit.