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Thoughts on omniscience

If I were to ask the question “Does anything ever surprise God?” I would generally get a negative answer. If I was to ask the question differently such as “Does anyone ever disappoint God?” or “Does God ever become angry?” then I would get quite a different answer. Does anyone get angry if everything is going according to plan or is it more likely because they are expressing their frustration at a turn of events?

Here is a for instance:
Genesis 6:5-6 NASB Then the LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great on the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. (6) The LORD was sorry that He had made man on the earth, and He was grievedin His heart.

Here we see the Lord regretting that he had created man because of the wickedness that was in their hearts. In the beginning, when the Lord created the heaven and earth, God saw that it was good. However, in Genesis 6, it was not good, because man had pursued evil, and God decided to start again with the flood and spared only Noah and his family.

The Lord did not desire this outcome and was certainly not responsible for it. It wasn’t because “God allowed it” in some sense of permissive will but rather because the hearts of men inclined to wickedness. Some claim that God has several “wills” and they view God as nearly schizophrenic. We can see that it wasn’t His will because God regretted it and He was grieved in heart.

Many people believe that God’s omniscience doesn’t make any statement about our free will. This can only be true if He never reveals to us future events. This creates a problem for those that believe in “intractible omniscience” or that God never changes His mind when scripture clearly reveals otherwise. Detractors have no recourse but to say that the bible says that but means something completely different when it says that.

(NASB)Exodus 32:12-14
“Why should the Egyptians speak, saying, ”With evil intent He brought them out to kill them in the mountains and to destroy them from the face of the earth”? Turn from Your burning anger and change Your mind about doing harm to Your people. [13] “Remember Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, Your servants to whom You swore by Yourself, and said to them, ”I will multiply your descendants as the stars of the heavens, and all this land of which I have spoken I will give to your descendants, and they shall inherit it forever.”” [14] So the LORD changed His mind about the harm which He said He would do to His people.

See the Lord changed his mind. If the Lord, at times, can change his mind then it follows that the future is not set in concrete.

If I were God and were to say to you, as an omniscient being, I know you will stand on your right foot, would you have free will to stand on your left foot? If our free will is completely foreknown then is it not also completely predicted and therefore predetermined? The predictors, whatever they might be, would completely predetermine our actions, would they not?

Most people have a filmstrip view of omniscience. (Some, notably the Calvinists, refer to this as looking down the corridors of time.) This view is one where God sits outside of time and observes the events of earth’s history as a filmstrip. Every frame of this filmstrip denotes a particular point in time. This often leads people to conclude, I believe wrongly, that for God, that the future has already happened. Therefore anything that happens down here, according to them, is because God either caused it or allowed it from the beginning of time.

People who hold to this view make statements like “God may not have caused this disaster to happen but He knew in advance it would happen and allowed it.” I personally disagree with the filmstrip view of omniscience. It implies that all future events are already “set in concrete”. Although it may not be obvious to the casual observer, this is really just another way of talking about total predestination.

To make the point more clear I am saying that, in my opinion, free will is not predictable, or has no predictors, otherwise it would not be truly free. Some might say that only God knows all the predictors, and if these predictors force us to make certain choices, then this is still predestination rather than free will.

I believe that God knows what is in our heart before we act it out in the physical world. However to say that God “knows” what is going to be in our heart, in the future, is to assume that the future is fixed and that therefore we can make no other choice. Our choice is therefore predetermined. I believe that God knows the outcomes of all of our choices, but doesn’t limit them in any way. To this end I believe the future is currently in an indeterminate state until it comes to pass. This means that the future does not already exist yet. If we don’t make the right choice then God is not foiled. He had a backup plan that He had prepared beforehand.

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