There are a few other things on my mind that I would like to get out for a couple of reasons. First, I want to write all of my “God and Time” thoughts out before the end of the class and the final on Wednesday. Second, a number of interesting things were really synthesized in my mind earlier when I wrote an admittedly weak paper for class. But I suppose that’s what happens when you run so low on sleep your brain can’t act creatively anymore.
I would like to talk about omniscience (also the topic of my paper for class). The easiest way of jumping into the issue is to give the quote that had me thinking this direction as soon as I read it.
…There is no known univocal answer to what is essential for us being human…”
The quote comes from Thomas Senor in his essay “Incarnation, Timelessness, and Leibniz’s Law Problems”. He really struck me with this one. I immediate wrote in the margin: “If that is the case then why do we assume we know what it takes to be divine?” The emphasis in that sentence was on the why – which is an interesting topic – but I want to focus more on the what and the how.
There are a few “givens” when it comes to God – some call them control beliefs or assumptions – such as omnipotent, omniscient, and omnibenevolent. Those are the three “o’s” and the only ones I’m going to be concerned with for now. (The others are usually “personal” and “creator,” sometimes “atemporal.”) On the one hand I recognize the place of control beliefs, if only as a starting point. I don’t see starting points as bad things, necessarily.
I do feel as though the prefix “omni” is used a bit too liberally though. It carries different meanings across the words, and that bothers me a little bit – something you’ll see in a minute or two. The first important definition is the definition of “omnipotent”:
almighty or infinite in power
Nowhere in this definition (or any of the other ones on the page that I could fine) define omnipotent as anything more than the possession of power. But this power doesn’t seem to have to be something that is acted out all the time. Actually, imagine God exercising all of His possible power at once…doesn’t seem very plausible, right? It seems downright silly. Whether our intuition is enough to except this as the reality of God’s omnipotence or not is a question in itself. Assuming it is, then we have a case where God has all the power in the world without having to exercise all of it at one time. In other words, God has the ability to use all the power in the world, whether He uses it or not.
Now is where I give the reason for the “Incarnation” in the title of this post. In the incarnation of the Son there is an issue regarding omniscience that I don’t think is seen when looking at omnipotence. Omnipotence, for instance, is easily acceptable of Christ without having to leap through very many (if any, really) philosophical hoops. It seems easy for us to say “Well, Christ just didn’t use the power that was clearly at His disposal. He chose to limit Himself.” It’s probably a bit presumptuous to think that anyone would accept that; really all I can say is that it appears obvious to me.
Examples of Christ exemplifying a limited omnipotence: allowing Himself to be crucified, not calming the storm.
Assuming that we can say that about omnipotence: can we say it about omniscience? If God can control His power can He control His knowledge? In other words, could Christ have chosen not to look into the future so that some greater good may come of it? (Or simply for the sake of being more human-natured?)
One example where this idea comes in particularly useful is the issue of the prayer of Christ in the garden of Gethsemane. In this prayer Christ prays for this cup to pass over Him – now, would anything short of a temporal being with a limited (in some way) knowledge of the future pray a prayer like that? It doesn’t seem likely. It seems that if Christ knew He was to be crucified there would be many fewer attempts to escape coming out in His prayers. No, it seems as though even Christ had a choice up until the last moment when He decided it would be the will of God that would win out.
I can imagine a couple of immediate objections to this idea, partly because I’ve already received them – one was in class. The first objection goes as follows:
What do you mean God is limiting His knowledge? I don’t know what that looks like. For example, go ahead and forget something right now. Forget your phone number. Wait a year, and remember it again. Does that make sense? Is that possible? So why should we expect it of God?
I hope that’s a fair representation of that objection.
My response is simple: that misunderstands the idea I’m putting forward. My proposal is that God can choose whether or not He wants to know the result of any available future fact (I’ll explain ‘available’ soon). Maybe an illustration will help. Imagine a man standing in front of a house, directly in between two windows. This man is more than capable of moving over and looking into these windows – he doesn’t consider it a difficult task at all. And although he could do it, easily in fact, he decides not to. (Don’t even ask me why he’s putting so much thought into it, it’s an illustration!) Do we think less of the man for not looking into the window?
My point is that just because God has the ability to do something doesn’t (or shouldn’t) necessarily mean that He has to. God could look through any one of the windows, even into the window of a future act of yours. But maybe He doesn’t because He doesn’t want to.
Why wouldn’t God want to know the future?
I believe that God has created us to love Him for eternity. True love comes through choice – choice is one of the fundamental principles we live on; without choice true communion with God would never be possible. It seems that a God who has created a relationship in this way would hold choice and freedom to make said choice a very important aspect of life. It is this reason (which may be wholly intuition and to some untrustworthy) which makes God not want to look ahead and “know” what you are going to do – as this would, of course, make it so you would have to do the act. It makes sense – if God knows something you can’t do otherwise; therefore it would make sense that God would limit himself in order to give you free will. (God even values free choice in the manner of His Son’s crucifixion on the cross, as I said above.)
Why else wouldn’t God know the future? One possibility: it doesn’t exist. This may be an easier idea to sell than the one I just tried to sell above. Think of the definition of omniscience as “knowing all which is knowable”. (This is the ‘available’ stuff I previewed above.) If the future doesn’t exist yet (as adherents to a dynamic theory of time will say) then it is no big deal that God doesn’t know it. Think about it this way: Does God know that I am on a mountaintop right now breaking the land speed record in a 85 degree dive down a snowy bank? Of course not. Why? Because I’m not doing that. Now He knows that I was thinking about that just then, but He doesn’t know I was doing that. That knowledge isn’t available to be known because it doesn’t exist.
Where else can I go with this? It is worth mentioning that my logic for coming to the conclusion about omniscience being a choice of God (which is really cool if you think about it) may rest solely on an unjustifiable connection between the connotations of omnipotent and omniscience. I say unjustified because if the same principle is applied to the other “O” called omnibenevolent it may be the case that God has a choice whether to be truly good or not.
(Again, I don’t see this idea as especially unsatisfying.)
But again to the topic at hand. When it comes to omniscience it is important to keep three things in mind: what is logically sensible and necessary, what is scriptural and historic in terms of God’s nature, and what it is that we expect and experience out of God – for lack of a better word our intuition. If we keep these things in mind it may help guide our discussion a bit more. And that discussion is one which has existed for some time, and will continue for some time to come – what sort of omniscience do you prescribe to? Or, in other words, what does God know?