God’s Omniscience & Foreknowledge

Below is an unedited comment that was posted in another thread by an anonymous writer. I moved it here because it is such a good post (& topic) that it deserved its own space.

She or he asked some very good questions about the Western church’s traditional teaching on God’s omniscience. I ask readers to hear what this person is saying and feel the real tension between the biblical concept of legitimate free-will and the idea that there is only one possible future, from which there is (allegedly) no deviation. The anonymous author of this post has a great point, and we would do well to consider its implications. It is my hope that this post will lend itself to healthy (and helpful) dialogue on the subject. Read on! This post is so relevant that I also posted it on my other, more user-friendly blog: God's Omniscience & Foreknowledge

-C. Lambeth


“There are many arguments I struggle to comprehend, particularly with a God who knows everything. This is known as omniscience. If God knows everything then He knows the answer to all of our questions and the choices we make. In this respect, we are living a senseless life simply because everything is predetermined. From my understanding, God does not want obedient robots to worship and love him. In reality, we are preprogrammed. From God’s perspective, He has all the necessary knowledge of who we are. God knows exactly what we will think and do. His creation is the universal map. Do we have the freedom to choose?

If God is omniscience we may conclude the following: 1) Everything is predetermined, 2) There is no purpose attached to our life; perhaps we are here for God’s entertainment, 3) God allows us to make choices, regardless of Him knowing the outcome(s) 4) God is not testing us because He already knows the outcome. 5) There is no judgment at the end of life; why judge someone if you already know the outcome. The outcome of any judgment is for our understanding and purpose only.

Hopefully, my analogy will not lead anyone to assume we should act without thought or moral code. What I meant by “senseless life” is that there is no relevance in life from a God that knows everything (past, present, and future). I question what relevance are we to God if he knows everything? Perhaps, we only have relevance to each other.

Note: I really want to stress the point about so called “tests” from God. The only reason to test something is to understand or acknowledge an UNKNOWN outcome. Simply put, there are no tests for God; If we are being tested then from what perspective or purpose?”

[-Anonymous]

7 comments:

  1. Anonymous,

    I cannot tell you how deeply I appreciate your honest questions. These are extremely valid, and I am thankful for the opportunity to discuss the issue(s) with you.

    First of all, I think it is important for me to say that I agree with your understanding and the tension created by the traditional concept of omniscience. IF there is only one possible future (allowing for no deviation from that course), and God knows it all (“the beginning from the end”), it would seem that everything is indeed predetermined. And IF history is “predetermined” then we would also certainly seem to be pre-programmed like robots, and our idle notion of “free-will” is merely an illusion. Some Christians express this theme all the time, even if unwittingly, when they glibly offer that “God is in control” in the aftermath of some disaster or difficulty. It seems that this conclusion is unavoidable given the premise that there is only one future (or past or present).

    But there are two things to consider: 1) Knowing how events will unfold is not the same thing as programming those events in the first place, and 2) The popular Western concept of God’s omniscience is not the only one afoot.

    Regarding the first point, omniscience and causality are not the same. Consider our decision to watch a movie. After we have seen the film in its entirety, we know exactly how the plot unfolds as well as the respective characters’ lines and actions. We know how the conflicts and related issues have been resolved (or not resolved) etc., but this knowledge does not make us responsible for that plot, dialogue or action in any sense of the word. We “know”, but we did not “cause”.

    I think this is a helpful analogy, but of course it is not complete, for even a movie has a writer or writers, a director, a producer, acting coaches etc. If we conceive of God as the writer, then the movie analogy merely reinforces the traditional Western notion of God’s omniscience. However, I would like to suggest that we conceive of God as one writer in the narrative of the screenplay of our lives, but not the only one. I believe he shares this responsibility with the actors themselves (us). In that sense, the “script” is shaped by God and by us, as well as other forces like the natural/ physical world and forces of good and evil. All of these things and of the sentient characters’ free-wills get thrown into the mix so that the stories we weave together are not at the beck and call or “direction” of any single entity, be it God, humanity or any other force. We are the partial co-authors of our lives.

    But to clarify, I suggest that it is only through God’s permissiveness that he allows other actors and forces to have a hand in the production, even when it goes FUBAR. In that sense, God IS in “control” of the big picture, but he is not a micro-manager whereby he “causes” everything to happen. God has no rival. Satan is not the opposite of God, but he (Satan) is a particularly strong and evil actor who also has free-will. Ultimately, he will be written out of the story, but for now he has been given the ability to meddle. We also have the ability to write some of our own lines and action.

    I would like to write more on this first idea and to develop the second point as well, but I do not want to blather on without providing space for you to reply. What do you think of the movie analogy?

    -Corbin

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  2. Hi C.L.,
    I really appreciate the opportunity to write and share my thoughts on your blog. My background is not in any religion and I have just recently begun reading the bible. Your movie analogy was great and helped me better understand the topic we are discussing. I particularly liked where you followed up in paragraph 5, “...I think this is a helpful analogy”. I realized the programming analogy was an error after I submitted the post. To solidify, that would mean God wanted us to sin, et cetera. I thought the topic of omniscience is a good starting point for me. Btw, I am more interested in learning,rather than debating (don’t have the credentials) and I am def. not interested in trying to outsmart anyone. The reason I bringing this stuff up is because I comment on a lot of blogs and I think some folks don’t really understand my objective, which is to gain more knowledge and become closer to God/Jesus...:)

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  3. Tony,
    Thanks for the follow up. I am always thankful for legitimate questions and discussion, even when (or especially when) friends disagree with me. Sadly, some of the characters on my blogs do like to stomp around a bit and insult, but those types of "discussions" interest me far less than peaceable discourse. The way I see it, there's no need for cunning attempts to "outsmart anyone" if we all realize that we have something to learn from one another.

    Ultimately, I suppose I don't mind a friendly debate, but I prefer to be co-travelers with others in the pursuit of truth. We are all on a journey, and I don't have all the answers, so don't be shy when it comes to disagreeing or offering a different perspective.


    The challenge offered by traditional concepts of God's foreknowledge is one area of my faith in Christ that I have studied a fair amount, and I'd love to talk more about it.

    If you haven't ever heard of Open Theism, you may find it interesting or even refreshing when it comes to this topic. The contemporary pastor and theologian Gregory Boyd has written a couple of very helpful books on the subject, and I am not exaggerating when I say that his 2001 book, "Satan and the Problem of Evil" changed my entire understanding of divine omniscience. That one is a bigger read at about 400 pages, but if you would like a potent and truncated preview of Open Theism, I'd also recommend his year 2000 book, "God of the Possible," (about 150 pages). I may also write a preview here if I get the time.

    Thanks again, friend.
    -CL

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  4. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

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  5. This is thought-provoking and I would also argue necessary (that is to question conventional wisdom on any given subject). It seems to me that any relationship depends on the give and take of individuals involved, and this requires that each person be made free to provide input that can change the other's mind. Since Christianity is about a relationship with Christ, it is very plausible to suggest God limits his own knowledge for the sake of participating with us in a meaningful exchange. Afterall, he allowed Moses and others to change his mind, and his response to Abraham's obedience to sacrifice Isaac, (". . . now I know that you fear God . . .") suggests God very much so gathers "new" information about us as we live. Another way to put it is that God knows what can be known. But our own behavior as agents of free will, can never really be known fully until it is done. To be sure, behavior can be predicted and calculated and influenced, but never known for sure until a person acts. Thanks for the good discussion Corbin

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  6. Well said, Russ. I like where you're going with this. I affirm that God "knows everything there is to be known." The point where Christians tend to disagree is over what "everything" means. Is it what will be or what could be? As it seems to me, the former is a much smaller and finite "thing" to know and suggests a limited and controlling role for God. The latter, however, entails a nearly infinite amount of cognitive power, possibility and openness to sentient creatures co-authoring their own destinies. This does not mean that literally "anything" could happen, because God has indeed set limits for his creatures, but it does mean that he can allow others to exert their will (even over and against his) within those perimeters.

    Thanks for participating, Friend!
    -CL

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  7. Knowing the history of the christian faith and knowing how it has been overlooked by most people of faith that I know it is no wonder people are finally learning to question rather than just believe. The young today in the USA and most likely other places as well are not as apt to just believe because that is what they were told to do as it was in the past. The young are learning far more than any of us ever did in the past and this is bringing many questions tht they will not accept the answer of, just have faith and believe, So much that has been taught by the christian religion in the past is now being questioned by those that are seaking the truth about everything. Faith and beief need no proof nor suport while truth needs a great deal of proof that can be verified and replicated.

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Please keep in mind that comments which do not honor the spirit of legitimate dialogue may be removed at any time and without notification. You are free to disagree passionately, but not inappropriately. -CL