Sunday, April 06, 2014

G6. God knows every actual thing to know.

My continued walk through Christian theology in bullet points.
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God not only knows every possible thing to know. God knows every actual thing to know. God is "omniscient" or "all-knowing."

The last article pointed out that if God made everything out of nothing, then he knows all the inner workings of the universe because he designed them. He knows all the possibilities of the universe. He at least has middle knowledge, as we're defining it. He knows every possible universe.

In this article, we want to go a step further and suggest that God not only knows every possible future. He knows the actual future. Admittedly, we are delving into matters we know relatively nothing about. Could there be multiple universes that God created? Could each universe play out a different set of choices and events? We have no way of knowing at this time. In this article, we will simply work off the assumption that this universe can be considered independently of any other universes God has created.

One issue we need to face is the fact that the Bible does not exactly say that God knows everything about the future. True, 1 John 3:20 says that God knows everything, but the context is about God knowing the state of our heart in the present. John is not making a timeless philosophical statement but a comment about God's complete knowledge of us in the present.

Much theology in the past has been based on ripping verses like this one out of context. You take a biblical sentence out of its paragraph, out of its book, out of the situation in which it was written and artificially treat it as an absolute, philosophical statement. Such practices may see truths in the words, but they take those words well beyond the limits of what they actually meant. For example, Psalm 147:5 says that God's understanding has no limit: "there is no number to his understanding." While this statement points to incredible understanding on God's part, it is not a philosophical or propositional statement. It is in a poem, where figurative and even hyperbolic statements are the nature of the game.

Similarly, while much of Scripture makes it clear that God can predict the future, there is no biblical statement that says God knows everything about the future. Even Isaiah 46:10, which says that God can tell things yet to come, is not making an absolute philosophical statement. And once again, we notice that this declaration comes in poetic form.

My point is not at all to argue against God's knowledge of the actual future. I believe that God knows every precise detail of the future. My point is to indicate how indebted we are to church history for systematizing and filling in the details of biblical faith. Orthodox Christian faith begins with the Bible, but it did not end there. We owe much to the Spirit in the early church for working out many of the details that we now see more clearly in Scripture than they originally were. We are playing hermeneutical games with ourselves if we pretend we will find fully mature orthodox faith in the original meanings of the books of the Bible.

Open theism is a fairly recent movement that has arisen primarily for philosophical reasons but that has drawn our attention to the many places in the Bible where God does not seem to know everything about the future. Open theists believe that God has suspended his precise knowledge of the future so that we can be free to make moral choices. Their thinking is that if God knew beforehand whether we would choose to do something, then we couldn't possibly do anything else. Our action would be determined, which would undermine any meaningful sense that we are moral creatures. Accordingly, they suppose that God has by his own free will decided not to know what precise decisions we will make, so that we will be free to make true moral choices for which we are truly accountable.

There are indeed many passages in the Bible where it at least sounds like God does not know certain aspects of the future. Genesis does not picture God as omniscient, for God regrets he has created humanity (Gen. 6:6)--something you can't literally do if you fully knew humanity would do what they did. In Genesis 22:12, God tests Abraham to see how he will respond, and only after the test does God say, "Now I know that you fear God."

Most if not all of the Old Testament speaks of God in similar terms. It is possible that the Old Testament authors themselves did not yet understand God's omniscience. Nevertheless, we should do as most Christians throughout the centuries and take such language as anthropomorphic. [1] It is picturing God in human categories, in categories we can understand and to which we can relate. But God would not be God if such descriptions were literal descriptions. He would just be a really knowledgeable and powerful Guy. Even open theism, while taking such imagery more literally, still interprets it from within a philosophical framework.

Let us return to the philosophical issue that underlies the drive to open theism. Does God's "foreknowledge" of the future imply determinism? The school of Christian theology known as Calvinism would say, "Yes." Calvinism would say that God both knows the future and determines it. Indeed, they would say that God knows the future precisely because he has determined it. The open theist would say that God does not know the precise future because he does not want to determine it.

But in the end, this would seem to be a silly controversy. The reasoning here only makes sense to people because they limit God to the same flow of spacetime that we experience, where the future inevitably comes after the present. Relativity has drawn our attention to the fact that spacetime is not an absolute framework. Indeed, time can move faster for one part of the universe than it moves for another, and it may be possible for spacetime to bend such that we in effect can even look at the past.

What if God is "outside time," a notion that may have become fully grown in medieval theology but that fits well with the robust sense of creation out of nothing that has only become possible in the twentieth century?  If God has already observed the future, then his knowledge of it now does not precede it happening but comes after it happening. He has observed it, not determined it, like someone who watches the recording of a game at which they were present. They know what will happen in the recording because they have already seen it and are not determining it in any way.

The essence of God is not located within our spacetime continuum. True, God's Spirit walks through history with us from past to present to future. True, Jesus, God the Son, entered history with us and suspended his foreknowledge while on earth (e.g., Mark 13:32). But what mortal could say how it is that God knows all things or "when" he knows them?

What we can say with reasonable certainty is that Christian arguments over what "must" be the case about the relationship between foreknowledge and determinism appear foolish because, even from a human standpoint, they seem to assume that God is confined to the creation. But God existed before there was a creation. He is thus, in his essence, "outside" of the universe.

What then of emotion? Does God have emotions? We can of course become emotional because of the interaction of chemicals in our bodies. We can assume that God has no emotions of that sort. More generally, emotions are our reactions to experiences. But we remember from the last article that there is no distinction in God between head knowledge and experiential knowledge. He knows all things entirely at all points of his existence.

He responds but cannot literally be surprised. A fact cannot "come home" to him. He cannot literally be reminded of a past experience. Surely biblical pictures of God getting angry, being sad, being surprised, regretting, and so forth are all anthropomorphisms to some degree, meant to help us understand him in terms we can grasp. Again, we are not surprised to find that the Old Testament, which has a less precise understanding of God than the New, has more intense imagery of this sort.

Jesus, of course, had the normal range of human emotions. God the Son suspended his omniscience while he was on earth. For Jesus, there was a distinction between experiential and cognitive knowledge. We are not in a position to know whether God the Spirit also suspended his full knowledge of the future to walk through history with us. One can only speculate whether the biblical pictures of God's emotions might relate more to God as he inhabits this universe (God in his "immanence") than to God as he exists outside this universe (God in his "transcendence").

But we can be certain that God not only knows every possible thing that might happen in the universe. He knows the precise details of every actual thing that will happen from now to all eternity.

Next Sunday, G7. God can do anything he wants.

[1] Or more accurately, anthropopathic. An anthropomorphism is a portrayal of God in human form. Anthropopathism is portrayal of God with human emotion.

5 comments:

Angie Van De Merwe said...

I could not read past "Now I know that you fear God".

"A murder love story" was how someone termed God killing His Son. It is oxymoronic.

Cognitive dissonance with C.S. Lewis approved book, "A Severe Mercy". God chooses to allow death and disease to those we love. Why? because we loved them too much or put them before Him!

What ends up happening is either authorities or oneself sabatoges one's own pursuit of "life". One is told "happiness" is a matter of choice, not circumstance, etc. etc. (I'm sure you and your audience know all the ways pain and suffering is justified or explained as a "good thing").

Whatever one believes about God, is only imagination cultivated by a specific religious culture (tradition) and text.

What does it really matter what God knows or doesn't know, or whether there are multi-universes, or one universe? Isn't theology a means to justify God?

If next week's post is about "God can do anything He wants"...then, as a Libertarian, God must affirm the "no harm" principle. The Founders would affirm a Deistic God (watchmaker). Today, it is hard to understand physical laws consistantly, as in "cause and effect" as the Founding era understood "how things worked".

Angie Van De Merwe said...

Kohlburg's Moral Development understood that humans come to a point of Constitutional understanding, where laws protect society and individuals from power abuses. Power corrupts and absoute power corrupts absolutely...limitation of power is appropriate to and in a free society. One must be allowed to choose first and foremost, as choice is about morality. And choice must be granted within an environment of Liberty, otherwise choice is compelled, driven or co-cerced.

Angie Van De Merwe said...

I might add that the Hobby Lobby lawsuit is about this very thing. It is defending its right to choose to not give insurance coverage of birth control methods that prevent pregnancy... the owners argue from a religious liberty/right of conscience choice (of value).

America allows for differences in values which promote a diverse society.

Conformity is about regulation, and control, which Obamacare does "in the name of the greater good". But, at what costs is the pursuit of the "greater good" ? And who is to determine what defines "the greater good"? Free market economists would argue against government regulation and control.

Angie Van De Merwe said...

After hearing Jeb Bush's promotion of "Amnesty" this morning, I had to post again on "God's actual knowledge", that laws are to regulate, and they define who and what is considered "in" and who and what is considered "out".

Laws create order in society, therefore, it is not a matter of whether laws are to define, but WHAT and WHERE they are to define! I cannot imagine a nation-state defining itself into oblivion by "Love", as Jeb proposed with "Amnesty". Illegal must mean something in opposition to legal.

The political class seem to benefit from "Amnesty" either through votes or labor, but the average American will pay the costs in many ways! Is that "loving" to American citizens, or "justice" to legal immigrants? That is the question concerning "God's knowledge"....actual knowledge is political policy in a multiverse world.

Your next post about I Peter and suffering will be relavant to Christians here in America, because of what the political class do in promoting "humanitarian" goals, at the costs of the nation-state and many average American citizens.

Similarly, Israel does not have a right to their nation-state, just as America does not have a right to be "priviledged". The Modern era is being challenged, by the minority classes, which has been given special priviledge above the law, and citizenship within a nation state. Such policy drives the definition of "political correctness" where those that hold different views will be discriminated against. Such has happened with the Mozilla CEO for giving money in support a position on traditional marriage. Are Americans not to have the right to "political speech"? It seems so!

Martin LaBar said...

"My point is to indicate how indebted we are to church history for systematizing and filling in the details of biblical faith. Orthodox Christian faith begins with the Bible, but it did not end there."

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