God’s Omniscience

Those who believe God controls all events on this world partially base this belief on the fact the Bible teaches that God is all-knowing.  If God knows exactly what decision each of us will make, then we must make that decision.  However, our experiences tell us differently.  As our science advances, scientists are able to predict what will happen in nature from the scientific laws they have determined from their experiments.  They are able to predict the motion of the planets, comets, and asteroids in our solar system with great precision that enables us to send spacecraft to investigate them.  Because of this knowledge, do we say the scientists control the motion of the planets?  There is a difference between knowing and controlling.

While there is a great difference between knowing the course of planets and the course of people, we would expect that God, given his complete knowledge, would know that if humans take certain actions, a particular result would follow and will incline them to make certain other choices and decisions.  We humans do the same although on a much limited scale.  The FBI employs individuals who are called profilers.  They take the evidence from a crime scene and from that evidence construct a profile of the person responsible which permits them to predict certain aspects of the criminal’s behavior.  The profiles they construct are amazingly accurate.  If we humans are able to do this, how much more would God know the results a particular decision we make will bring.  Parents know from their own experience that their children, because of their curiosity, will take certain actions such as touching a hot stove even when they are warned against such actions.  Does that mean the parents forced their children to take such action?  Having knowledge of what actions we will be inclined to take does not mean that God controls those actions any more than a profiler is responsible for the crime committed or a parent is responsible for each action of their children.

William James makes an analogy about God’s omniscience and human free will by comparing God and us humans with an expert and a novice chess player.  The moves of the novice chess player will be unpredictable to the expert chess player but because of his/her superior knowledge of the game, the expert chess player will win every time. [1]  In the same way, God has a superior knowledge of us and our tendencies which enables him to give us free will and still accomplish his ends.

Another way to look at God’s foreknowledge is to acknowledge that God is outside of space and time.  To him foreknowledge is based upon observation, not prediction.  Because we are trapped in space and time, this concept is difficult for us to grasp and accept.  But if we truly believe God is who he says he is we must accept this as a possibility.

Does God know all of our future actions?  I think this point is debatable.  While God might know our pattern of behavior and the results that behavior brings, he would of necessity not know every decision we would make if we have free will.  There are passages in the Bible that state God is limited (self-limited) in certain aspects.  Gregory A. Boyd in his book God of the Possible lists multiple passages in the Bible which indicate that God changes his mind, does not know what humans will do, and desires an outcome that is different from what occurred. [2]  Why are all these passages in the Bible?  God must be trying to communicate something about himself to us.

Some Christians think God would be diminished if he did not know everything we will ever do; that God would not be God if he were limited in knowing.  But are parents diminished if they do not use their entire intellectual capabilities when dealing with their children?   Parents make a decision to limit themselves; parents give up much, in order to properly raise their children.  It is not the most intellectually challenging task to change a diaper or feed a child or teach a child the alphabet.  A parent could earn a greater income, learn more about our world, or enjoy more of the good life if they did not choose to properly raise their children.  But parents choose to limit what they can accomplish because of their love for their children.  Is God any different?

There is no question the Bible states that God is all-knowing but there is also no question the Bible teaches God at times limits himself in his dealings with us.


[1]   William James as quoted in Alburey Castell and Donald M. Borchert, An Introduction to Modern Philosophy:  Examining the Human Condition (New York:  Macmillan Publishing Co., Inc., 1983), p. 131.

[2]   Gregory A. Boyd, God of the Possible (Grand Rapids, MI:  Baker Books, 2000) pp. 53-87.

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