Tag Archives: omniscience

Did God Change His Mind Because of Moses’ Intercession?

In verses 11-14 of Exodus 32, Moses seems to present an argument to God which changes God’s mind. Verse 14 says, “Then the Lord relented and did not bring on his people the disaster he had threatened.” Is God actually changing his mind, the way human beings do, because Moses presented information to God which God did not know about?

This cannot be the case, because we know from many other verses in the Bible that God is omniscient (all-knowing), that God knows the past, present, and future. Therefore it is impossible that Moses taught God something. Nobody can teach God anything.

So how should we interpret God’s relenting in this passage? John Frame, in The Apologetics Study Bible explains:

For one thing, God states as a general policy in Jeremiah 18: 5-10 that if He announces judgment and people repent, He will relent; He will do the same if He pronounces blessing and people do evil. In other words, relenting is part of God’s unchanging plan, not a change forced on Him by His ignorance.

Further, God is not only transcendent (beyond our experience) but also immanent (involved in our experience). He has dwelled on earth in the tabernacle and temple, in Christ, and in His general omnipresence (Ps 139: 7-12). When God interacts with people in time, He does one thing, then another. He curses, then He blesses. His actions are in temporal sequence and are therefore, in one sense, changing. But these changes are the outworking of God’s eternal plan, which does not change. It is important, then, to see God as working from both above and below, in eternity and in time. (emphasis added)

The Problem of Evil

Post Author:  Darrell

One common atheist argument against Christianity is known as The Problem of Evil. It can be stated as follows.

1)  God is said to be omnipotent, omniscient, and morally perfect.
2)  If God is omnipotent, He has the power to defeat evil.
3)  If God is omniscient, He knows when and where evil exists.
4)  If God is morally perfect, He wants to destroy evil.
5)  Yet evil exists.
6)  Therefore, God does not exist.

There are several responses open to the classical theist in response to this objection. I am fond of one of Dr. Norman Geisler’s responses.  He says the atheist has overlooked an important factor, and as a result, the argument can be restated with a different conclusion.

1)  God is omnipotent, omniscient, and morally perfect.
2)  Being omnipotent, He has the power to defeat evil.
3)  Being omniscient, He knows when and where evil exists.
4)  Being morally perfect, He wants to defeat evil.
5)  “Therefore, evil will yet be defeated. It is a fact that an all-good, all-powerful God assures us that this will happen. In short, since God is both all-good and all-powerful, evil will be defeated” (Geisler, Systematic Theology Volume 2, 161).

I discovered another response to this argument in a recent Seminary class of mine.  It states that the atheist’s fourth premise is faulty as God is not morally perfect.  In fact, to say that God is morally perfect is to hold that there is a principle to which God must adhere, i.e., there is something which transcends God.  However, if there is a principle which transcends God, then God cannot truly be said to be God.  Instead, the principle to which God is held is God. 

Traditional Christianity teaches that God transcends all, i.e., there is nothing which is greater than Him.  He created all things, and there is nothing that is outside of His power or dominion.  Since God is the greatest of all, there is nothing by which He can be measured.  As a result, God cannot be said to be morally perfect; instead He is Good.  More appropriately, He is Good Itself.  God does not have a standard to live up to because He is The Standard by which all else is judged.  Consequently, the atheist’s argument has a faulty premise, makes incorrect assumptions about God, and is inappropriate and inapplicable to God.


Does God Know What I Will Freely Do? Part 2

Post Author: Bill Pratt

Yesterday, I posted on the issue of free will and God’s knowledge of of human free acts in the future.  This is an area the church has grappled with for centuries.  But how do other major worldviews deal with this issue?

Most atheists think they can avoid the issue by denying that God (or divine fate) exists.  Unfortunately, once you banish an ultimate mind as the source of the universe, you are only left with impersonal physical laws operating on matter and energy.

So free will, for the atheist, is just an illusion that our highly evolved brain gives us.  Fundamentally, we are completely determined in our actions and choices by chemistry and physics, by the mechanistic movement of atomic particles .  Free will, under atheism, does not exist.  So the atheist does not really solve the problem of fate and free will.  He just rids us of both, thus denying that the problem is real.

Monistic Pantheists argue that all of earthly life is just an illusion, that we are actually part of one ultimate, impersonal being.  When we realize that we are part of this one ultimate being, the illusion of our individual lives ends as we merge with the ultimate being.

In this sense, our individual free will is also an illusion because we, ourselves, are an illusion.  The only thing that really exists is this ultimate, impersonal being.  Their solution to the problem is to affirm divine fate at the complete expense of human free will or even true human existence.

Oddly enough, even though the theistic God seems to cause problems with the existence of human free will, without a personal God, free will cannot exist!

The Christian concept of God allows for mind to precede and transcend matter, which allows human free will to exist, in opposition to atheism (who only believe matter exists).

Christians also recognize that individual people exist apart from God, in opposition to pantheism.  The concept of human free will cannot exist without individual humans truly existing.  This the Pantheists deny.

Even though we Christians struggle with this doctrine, as do other theistic religions, at the end of the day a personal God is the best ground and source for free will.  Get rid of God, and free will quickly vanishes.

Does God Know What I Will Freely Do? Part 1

Post Author: Bill Pratt

Some people get hung up on the idea that God can know, for sure, what I will freely do in the future.  Their argument goes something like this:  if whatever God knows will certainly occur (as virtually all Christians agree), then either I am not free to act or God does not know what free acts I will perform in the future.

Some Christians take one horn of the dilemma and claim that humans are not really free because human free will would spell the end of God’s infallible knowledge and sovereignty over all creation.  They severely throttle back the meaning of free will to the point that most people would not recognize it any more.  These folks understand humans to be far more similar to animals, operating on instincts, impulses, and desires – all properties that God exercises direct control over.

Others grab the second horn of the dilemma and claim that God does not really know what free creatures will do in the future.  At best, he is making educated guesses, but he cannot know, for sure, what humans will do.  The future free acts of humans are unknown, even to God, until they are actually executed.

I, and most traditional Christians, reject both of these positions.  The Bible seems to clearly teach that God does infallibly know the future, including all free acts that will be performed, and that humans possess a robust free will.  Admittedly, it is difficult to hold these two concepts without tension, but Christian theologians have always done so.

Do we know precisely how God’s infallible knowledge of future free acts coordinates with human free will?  No, I don’t think so.  We always run into the intractable problem of an infinite being interacting with finite creatures.  God knows everything we will do and we are free to do those things, but I don’t think we can ever explain exactly how it works.  There is a mystery to it, but there is no contradiction.

It isn’t just Christians that have had to deal with this issue.  Throughout history, great thinkers have struggled with the seeming paradox of fate and freedom.  If all things are decreed as part of an unchangeable fate, then how is it that we humans are free to do anything?  Rather than toss one of these notions aside, many thinkers have proposed solutions to retain both realities – that some sort of divine fate exists along with human free will.  Two viewpoints – atheism and pantheism – have found other ways around the problem.

Check back tomorrow to see if their worldviews better deal with this problem.

Are There Things God Does Not Know?

Post Author: Bill Pratt 

Christians believe that God is omniscient, which means that God knows everything—past, present, and future.  In addition, he knows the actual and the possible; only the impossible (the contradictory) is unknown to God, as the logically contradictory is unknowable to anyone.

But there are passages in the Bible that seem to indicate that God is ignorant of certain facts and that he needs to discover them.  One of the best examples is in Gen. 18:20-33, where Abraham bargains with God to save people in Sodom.  God says that he “will go down and see if what they have done is as bad as the outcry that has reached [him]” (Gen. 18:21).  If this verse is taken in a strictly literal sense, it indicates that God does not know how bad is Sodom without first visiting himself.

So how do we deal with passages like this?  The answer is that we must always interpret any passage in light of all the other texts in the Bible.  They must all integrate together and they cannot contradict each other.

Reading the rest of the Bible, we discover a multitude of verses that speak of God’s unlimited knowledge.  Consider Job 37:16, which says,  “Do you know how the clouds hang poised, those wonders of him who is perfect in knowledge?”  In Ps. 139, David speaks of God’s knowing everything about him, even his words before he speaks them.  In Psalm 147, the writer proclaims that God’s “understanding has not limit.”

God announces things to men before they ever occur (Is. 42:9).  Jesus teaches that God knows every person’s needs before they ever ask (Matt. 6:8).  Every hair on your head is numbered (Matt. 10:30).  Paul proclaims the “depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God” (Rom. 11:33).  The writer of Hebrews reminds us that “nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight” (Heb. 4:13).

There is a strong theme of God’s unlimited knowledge running throughout the Bible.  So, if we understand the Genesis 18 passage to be teaching that God does not know what is happening in Sodom, we run head-long into contradiction.  How can the God who knows every hair on every person’s head not know what’s going on in Sodom?

The answer is fairly simple.  Students of the Bible have traditionally understood passages like Genesis 18 to be anthropomorphic in nature.  This means that the passage is written from a human perspective, rather than a divine perspective.  God already knows how many wicked people are in Sodom, but he wants to teach Abraham something about the wickedness of the people.  God must speak to human beings in terms they can understand, so he sometimes asks questions and expresses uncertainty to elicit appropriate human responses.

Recognizing anthropomorphisms in the Bible is extremely important.  The person who claims that passages like Genesis 18 must be taken literally is knocking an infinite God down to a finite creature.  In addition, once you deny the presence of anthropomorphic language in the Bible, you must admit that God has wings, arms, and eyes; that he repents and forgets things.  The list could go on.  The Bible, like any other literature, employs figurative and metaphorical language.  Failure to recognize this leads a reader into all kinds of serious problems.