Is there a contradiction between God’s omniscience vs free will?
A subtheme this Feast of Tabernacles seems to be the omniscience of God. It appears to me that not many really believe that God knows all things, even when they are busy declaring how great He is. More disturbing is that they don’t see the contradiction.
The sermons have improved throughout the Feast, and we’ve had a good Bible study on why God deserves our praise. It was followed up by a sermon the following day about how to become sons and daughters of our great God.
Yet, even in the midst of this, the question keeps coming up: Does God know the future or not?
I sincerely don’t understand how anyone can reconcile God’s omniscience and omnipotence in one statement and then in the next statement declare emphatically that God does not know something. It is inherently illogical.
The cognitive dissonance involved in stating God tests you because He does not know what you are going to do and then say you can prove God’s existence by prophecy is completely amazing.
Now, I will engage in a bit of speculation here. I think it was Joel Meeker that said it best when he said, “We don’t know what God doesn’t know.” There will be much we will have to ask in the Kingdom and learn about. At the end of the day, then, it is incorrect to berate people based upon speculation.
Still, do we truly understand that God sees the future?
Not only is it contradictory to talk about the omniscience of God and then claim He does not know what we are going to do, but given that alternative and one where He knows everything in advance, I’ll choose the latter one every time as being more biblical.
9 Remember the former things of old: for I am God, and there is none else; I am God, and there is none like me,
10 Declaring the end from the beginning, and from ancient times the things that are not yet done, saying, My counsel shall stand, and I will do all my pleasure:
~ Isa 46:9-10
We have literature that acknowledges that God reveals Himself in the Bible, and He declares prophecy to be one of the chief proofs of His existence:
19 I will plant in the wilderness the cedar, the shittah tree, and the myrtle, and the oil tree; I will set in the desert the fir tree, and the pine, and the box tree together:
20 That they may see, and know, and consider, and understand together, that the hand of the Lord hath done this, and the Holy One of Israel hath created it.
21 Produce your cause, saith the Lord; bring forth your strong reasons, saith the King of Jacob.
22 Let them bring them forth, and shew us what shall happen: let them shew the former things, what they be, that we may consider them, and know the latter end of them; or declare us things for to come.
23 Shew the things that are to come hereafter, that we may know that ye are gods: yea, do good, or do evil, that we may be dismayed, and behold it together.
24 Behold, ye are of nothing, and your work of nought: an abomination is he that chooseth you.
~ Isa 41:19-24
Speaking of praising God, God Himself gives us a reason to praise Him:
8 I am the Lord: that is my name: and my glory will I not give to another, neither my praise to graven images.
9 Behold, the former things are come to pass, and new things do I declare: before they spring forth I tell you of them.
~ Isa 42:8-9
Fulfilled prophecy is a reason to praise God!
Who Created Time?
As creatures who are limited in particular by time (there is a time for our birth and a time for our death that demarcates our lives), it is hard for us to understand time. Having said that, how can a sci-fi fan not understand that time is just another “thing”?
God created everything that is seen and unseen (Col 1:16). That includes time! So, why is it so hard for us to consider that God can move forwards, backwards, into and out of time itself?
Have you ever considered how much will go on at the Marriage Supper of the Lamb? Many things will have to occur: We will have to get used to new bodies, we will have to get used to new powers, we will have to have final training for whatever task we are assigned, which of course means we will have to receive our assignments for the Millennium, we will have to get to know and learn about our new partners who could have lived in a completely different time and place, and so on.
How much time will all of this take to occur?
Quite frankly, it might take little or no time at all. What is time to a spirit being, particularly a child of God? Will time slow down while we are feasting or even come to a standstill? I don’t know, but it is certainly a possibility.
Can God know something about us yesterday that He does not know today? Of course! If He is moving through time itself, or even in and out of time, then this is entirely possible.
How does God know what is the ultimate good for all people who have ever lived? Seems pretty simple to answer that question if He can see the ending and change something in the middle because the outcome was incorrect. In fact, God has chosen moments to step in and change the course of human affairs simply because they would not have had the ending He desired: The Flood, the Tower of Babel, the timing of and events leading up to Jesus’ birth, and so on.
So, if God can know all things down through time, then how do we have free will?
That is a perfectly silly question! It is the question of someone who has not thought it through and needs to develop their minds much, much more. The fact that people in the Church, who supposedly already have had their minds opened, tells me that it truly is possible to shut your mind once it has been opened.
Does a parent know a small child is about to do something? Most of the time, yes, it is! In fact, comparing ourselves to small children and God to a human adult understates the issue. Does a parent always intervene? Only parents interested in spoiling their children do so. The smart parent will use circumstances as much as possible to allow their children to learn the lessons they need to learn.
Likewise, God does not make us puppets on a string. In fact, we cannot work against His will in any effective way at all, so we might as well quit trying. The only ones we hurt are ourselves, and God will allow us to hurt from our own devices.
I have had some so-called Christians come onto this blog and attempt to convince me that God is such a tyrant that He controls everything we do at every second of every day. I pity such a person, because they simply do not know God. They will not be in the first resurrection because they do not believe the many Scriptures that prove human beings have free moral agency.
Simply put, God can know what He wants to know, and God can forget what He wants to forget.
Can God Forget?
“Forget?” some of you are asking, “How can God possibly forget?”
Let me correct your question, because it is utterly erroneous. You really meant to ask, “Forgive? How can God possibly forgive?”
25 I, even I, am he that blotteth out thy transgressions for mine own sake, and will not remember thy sins.
~ Isa 43:25
If God cannot forget our sins, there is no forgiveness either, and we are all just fooling ourselves.
More to the point, this shows that God is capable of altering His memory so that He forgets. He does not know what He wishes to not know!
And, is there anyone out there who does not like a pleasant surprise once in a while? Taking this one or two steps further, God not only can choose to forget, but God can choose to be surprised.
It is just not that hard, people! Use your brains! Does this not make a whole lot more sense than saying that a God who can look down through the corridors of time does not know everything that is going to occur?
More to the point, even our calling is from the foundations of the world:
34 Then shall the King say unto them on his right hand, Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world (from the beginning of space-time):
~ Mt 25:34
4 According as he hath chosen us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before him in love:
~ Ep 1:4
I have heard the long, boring and stupid explanations of these two plain and simple verses. You know a theological answer is almost certainly incorrect when it takes ten times the number of words to twist it to mean something other than what it says (Pr 10:19; cf Ecc 5:3).
Or, to quote an older white-haired gentleman: The main things are the plain things, and the plain things are the main things. So, how about we stop pointing our finger up God’s nostril and declaring to the universe just what He possibly can and cannot know?
What about Gen 22:12 where God says, “Do not lay your hand on the lad, or do anything to him; for now I know that you fear God, since you have not withheld your son, your only son, from Me.”?
It doesn’t say “for I always knew that you feared God and would not withhold your son”.
There’s nothing to indicate that God had prior knowledge of Abraham’s choice and given the words in this scripture, “now I know” can suggest that prior to that moment God did not know.
Personally I think terminology like ‘omniscience’ tends to be an added puzzle piece to the picture painted by the word of God. (I’m not aware of any Hebrew, Greek or Aramaic word that is its’ equivalent in the scriptures?) It’s neither right or wrong but depends on how it’s used to fit the pieces of scripture together and explain things. For instance how would people use it to compare the following scriptures:
On one hand there’s the testimony of the Samaritan woman at the well, “Come, see a man, which told me all things that ever I did” )Jn 4:29) and on the other hand Lazarus’ had been already laid in his tomb and we have Jesus’ asking for directions to it, “And he said, “Where have you laid him?” (Jn 11:34)
@Norbert: One possibility I’ve already alluded to is that God may allow Himself the luxury of being surprised. Just as He can knowingly forget, He can knowingly limit His knowledge for a time. Of course, that is speculation.
In fact, there is a more straightforward answer. Simply put, the Hebrew word used in Ge 22:12 is yada’, H3045, which has as part of its definition, “to know by experience”. God could easily “know” beforehand in the sense that He was aware of what would transpire, but He then saw it with His own eyes.
Indeed, yada’ not only means to know as in observation or through the senses, but it is the same word that was used to describe how Adam and Eve would “know good and evil”:
In fact, “knowledge” as in the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil is derived from this same word. It is H1847, and the point was that mankind rejected revealed knowledge of good and evil from God and took it upon themselves to truly know good and evil firsthand by experience. In fact, they already “knew”, had head knowledge, of good and evil because God already instructed them to not eat of the tree! However, they would now have to experience it for themselves.
There are different levels and types of knowledge, and this is reflected in the fact that there are ten Hebrew words that can be translated “know” or “knowledge”.
I’m going to have to disagree with you on this one, John.
IMO, prescribing too much SURE knowledge to the future as if its immutable and in changeable does fly against the idea of free will, and does limit all of us to just acting out fate–God included. After all, why create Lucifer if there was a better option where people could live and choose God’s Way and having the possibility of eternal death and an enemy?
As well, God /hardened/ Pharoah’s heart to ensure that what He willed would come to pass. To that extent, is prophecy a strict knowledge of the future or also God “meddling” to make sure His will comes to pass?
When I play chess against a computer, depending on what level I set it at, it’s playing through hundreds of permutations of the future based on my moves and its own possible responses. The chess computer doesn’t know the future but it can say with high probability what will likely happen and maneuver appropriately to outplay me.
God’s mind is infinitely more complex and capable than a chess computer. Knowing us intimately, He can pretty well see the hearts of men and what actions will be taken and where it leads to further and further and further down the line. But occasionally we can surprise Him–I mean how many kings of old did just that? And He does test us for our growth, examples seen throughout the Bible.
God is powerful, almighty, and all knowing. But I do not believe the future state is a condition that pre-exists, even if God created the time we perceive. Can we “fast forward” to see how things will likely play out? Sure. But can those things be manipulated and changed based on actions of the present? Absolutely! Why else would God say “this destruction will come on you unless…”. Further if the future pre-existed, could we really have a scripture that talks about people being victims to “time and chance”?
I don’t find it contradictory to say God knows all there is to know, but then that the future is not “known”, because I do not believe the future is a thing one can “know” until it becomes the present. And I believe that was a condition God imposed on the universe as He created it, to allow for free will and human development. I’d say He also has an extremely accurate view of how it all plays out just going off the ability to analyze causes and effects to an infinite level down the line… But that those can be changed and that sometimes God has to make sure what He has in store will come about (again, Pharoah’s heart, why harden it if there wasn’t a need to?)
Andrew wrote: “IMO, prescribing too much SURE knowledge to the future as if its immutable and in changeable does fly against the idea of free will, and does limit all of us to just acting out fate–God included.”
You see, this is the argument that bothers me the most. It basically relegates God to a helicopter parent b/c He cannot control Himself, when in reality God is the ultimate in self-control.
This was, tonight even, reinforced for me. My daughter broke up with her boyfriend. He was better than the last one she had, but I still had reservations. In fact, the first one was a doozy. I knew it could not work out good ultimately, but she is the one that has to learn the lesson. I could limit her free will by tying her up, but what good would that accomplish? Exactly none.
Perhaps one day you will be a parent and understant that analogy a bit better.
“After all, why create Lucifer if there was a better option where people could live and choose God’s Way and having the possibility of eternal death and an enemy?”
You are making yet another bad assumption. God knew Lucifer would rebel, but He also knew that creating human beings with easy lives would be a much larger catastrophe. Imagine a billion Satans instead of one! Satan is the ultimate example of evil and why death is preferable to a miserable eternal existence.
You asked: “…What about Gen 22:12 where God says, “Do not lay your hand on the lad, or do anything to him; for now I know that you fear God, since you have not withheld your son, your only son, from Me.”?…”
That is an interesting question, because that verse does not tell us what God says.
What does verse 12 say?
:12 And he said, Lay not thine hand upon the lad, neither do thou any thing unto him: for now I know that thou fearest God, seeing thou hast not withheld thy son, thine only son from me.
Who said that? Not God, but an angel. Look at the prior context.
:11 And the angel of the LORD called unto him out of heaven, and said, Abraham, Abraham: and he said, Here am I.
An angel of the LORD did the speaking. That angel knew when it was time to speak up and intervene in what was going on between Abraham and his son.
Again, earlier context reveals:
:10 And Abraham stretched forth his hand, and took the knife to slay his son.
I believe that the Word and/or God gave that angel of the LORD instructions that when Abraham’s hand would be stretched out that the angel was to call Abraham’s name and stop him from killing his son. God knew that Abraham would fear God, but the angel didn’t know that until it saw what had taken place. The fear of God is something that only God gives. Abraham didn’t gin up fear.
Besides, why would God have Abraham kill (premeditated murder?) his sole son via Sarah? What purpose would that have served?
Now, God did have something else in mind. After all, read what God then made happen:
:13 And Abraham lifted up his eyes, and looked, and behold behind him a ram caught in a thicket by his horns: and Abraham went and took the ram, and offered him up for a burnt offering in the stead of his son.
That ram didn’t just happen to be there on the mountain by any free choice. Why a ram? And not a lamb?
God has preserved this example, this shadow, this pattern for us for our admonition.
I believe that angel acted and spoke on God’s behalf, but it was that angel that was doing the learning: not God.
“Known unto God are all his works from the beginning of the world.” Acts 15:18
God knows His works…
In regards to :12 And he said, Lay not thine hand upon the lad, neither do thou any thing unto him: for now I know that thou fearest God, seeing thou hast not withheld thy son, thine only son from me.
This messenger of the Lord calls out to Abraham from heaven and not only believes, but also states that Abraham did not withhold his only son from who? “from me” and not “from God”.
The way I see it, when a person states “now I know” and “from me” in the same sentence, you can’t have those two different declarations coming from two alternate people at the same time. If anything this opens up another topic of binitarianism, that this messenger was Jesus before being born of flesh and blood from Mary.
Norbert, you wrote:
“…If anything this opens up another topic of binitarianism, that this messenger was Jesus before being born of flesh and blood from Mary…”
Does that mean that you would conclude the same thing in the following episode at the site of the burning bush? In other words, would you say that the messenger was not an angel, but some “Jesus before being born of flesh and blood from Mary?”
Exodus 10:2 And the angel of the LORD appeared unto him in a flame of fire out of the midst of a bush: and he looked, and, behold, the bush burned with fire, and the bush was not consumed.
3 And Moses said, I will now turn aside, and see this great sight, why the bush is not burnt.
4 And when the LORD saw that he turned aside to see, God called unto him out of the midst of the bush, and said, Moses, Moses. And he said, Here am I.
5 And he said, Draw not nigh hither: put off thy shoes from off thy feet, for the place whereon thou standest is holy ground.
6 Moreover he said, I am the God of thy father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob. And Moses hid his face; for he was afraid to look upon God.
7 And the LORD said, I have surely seen the affliction of my people which are in Egypt, and have heard their cry by reason of their taskmasters; for I know their sorrows;
8 And I am come down to deliver them out of the hand of the Egyptians, and to bring them up out of that land unto a good land and a large, unto a land flowing with milk and honey; unto the place of the Canaanites, and the Hittites, and the Amorites, and the Perizzites, and the Hivites, and the Jebusites.
9 Now therefore, behold, the cry of the children of Israel is come unto me: and I have also seen the oppression wherewith the Egyptians oppress them.
10 Come now therefore, and I will send thee unto Pharaoh, that thou mayest bring forth my people the children of Israel out of Egypt.
I know that this was addressed to Norbert, but I am beginning to feel the deafening silence. 🙂
John G asked: “Does that mean that you would conclude the same thing in the following episode at the site of the burning bush? In other words, would you say that the messenger was not an angel, but some ‘Jesus before being born of flesh and blood from Mary?'”
And, why not? Just follow the nouns and pronouns, and you see an interesting pattern:
“And when the LORD saw … God called unto him out of the midst of the bush [who was in the bush? God!] … Moreover he [the “Angel of the LORD”] said, I am the God of thy father [not He is, but I am] … And the LORD said, I have … ” etc.
“I know that this was addressed to Norbert, but I am beginning to feel the deafening silence.” 🙂
I’m not sure whether it was lack of finding a profitable motivation, laziness or a mixture of both that lead me to choose silence as an answer.
@Norbert: Well, whatever motivation John G had in asking, it is the same sort of question that Mormons and JWs would pose. The answer needs to be stated, else others may fall into the same trap of treating God like a human.
In essense, that is what this entire question of omniscience boils down to. Is God like the gods of the pagans, limited in knowledge and resources, just like us humans only immortal (and even then, some mythologies have their “gods” dying, which is contradictory if you ask me)?
God sets Himself apart in the Bible by claiming to be the One — the only One — Who knows the future. Either He does, or He does not. It really is that simple.
Rather than knowing the future limiting free will, it is just the opposite. If God cannot know with absolute certainty the future, then the only way He can know it is to make occur exactly what He wishes to occur, which means we may as well throw free will out the window. He would have to then plan in detailed minutia every thing in advance, to include how to treat people so they respond the way He wants them to respond.
It is an indictment against the Church of this age! We use to understand these things.
God calls each and every individual at the time that benefits His plan the most. What is that plan? Nothing less than creating as many sons and daughters, billions!, into His family as possible. That means each and every person is called at the time in which it would bring the most people into His family. Brought down to the individual level, you and I are called at the exact time that makes it most likely that we will become members of His family and draw as many others into His family as possible, only excluding the most incorrigible.
He cannot know this if He cannot see the future.
We used to know this, and we used to teach this. God knows when you and I are most likely to respond favorably, and that is the time most people will be called. Otherwise, He would have to manipulate each and every person, which definitely raises the question as to whether or not there is such a thing as free will.
Make no mistake about it: If there is no such thing as free will, then there is no such thing as justice, which automatically means God is unjust.
Why argue with clear and plain Scripture?
If God created time, then He is above time itself. Otherwise, time is greater than God.
It seems to me that God must be asking the same question today. Is the One Who created the entire cosmos so limited that He cannot see forwards and backwards in time? After all, Steven Hawkings once posed the question as to why there aren’t more dimensions than there are. Well, Mr Hawkings, have you considered the spiritual dimension(s)? If God stands outside of the physical universe, then there is nothing to keep Him from standing outside of time itself, viewing the future and the past as one of us would view the panorama of the horizon. God does not need to stop time to do something, for He has all the time there is!
Seriously, can we not understand this, even if we cannot visualize it? Either we believe what the Bible says, or we do not!
Simply put, it appears that not only for every bit of knowledge we have gained since the death of HWA we have lost two, it also appears that we have developed a view of God that is simply unjust. We have become as guilty of the world of putting an image of God into a box of our own making rather than viewing God as He is (as much as is humanly possible, that is).
You commented saying: “Well, whatever motivation John G had in asking, it is the same sort of question that Mormons and JWs would pose. The answer needs to be stated, else others may fall into the same trap of treating God like a human…”
And the questions I actually asked Norbert were:
“…Does that mean that you would conclude the same thing in the following episode at the site of the burning bush? In other words, would you say that the messenger was not an angel, but some “Jesus before being born of flesh and blood from Mary?..”
I was motivated to ask that question b/c I was under the impression that Norbert was saying that “Jesus before being born of flesh and blood from Mary” did some speaking (I said an angel did the speaking) in the Old Testament to Abraham…..when the New Testament plainly says this:
“The God of Abraham, and of Isaac, and of Jacob, the God of our fathers, hath glorified his Son Jesus; whom ye delivered up, and denied him in the presence of Pilate, when he was determined to let him go.” Acts 3:13
It does not appear that some “Jesus before being born of flesh and blood from Mary” did any speaking to Abraham.