As a follow-up to the prior blog on the problems facing the theistic belief of the omnipotence of God, I will present some of my thoughts on the reality of God’s omniscience. My goal is to harmonize two convictions – A) humans make free choices and B) God knows all things past, present, and future.
I struggle with the idea of quantifiable infinites (an infinite succession or infinite number of items), I do not believe that God knows an infinite number of different things. As with mathematics, God has complete understanding of the reality of mathematical concepts – and does so without necessarily having to have an exhaustive sequential knowledge of the number system. God knows a finite number of events and items that take place in our universe. Of course, this number is unimaginably huge.
While God’s mind may contain a finite number of sequences and items, His mind may still be qualitatively infinite. For instance, the accuracy of His thoughts may not be considered to be finite.
Does God have complete knowledge of all counterfactuals? In other words, does God see every possible hypothetical – if/ then – scenario? Does God need to ask what would happen if something different happened throughout every possible scenario and decision? I don’t think so. There would be no end to these hypothetical scenarios – for God could have created any number and any type of world. If God knows a thing already, to wonder about what would have happened differently would be basically meaningless.*
Instead, I propose that God knows all that is knowable and all that is necessary. In other words I might say that there is in fact no thought that can enter the mind of man which has not also entered the mind of God. There is no fact or idea that man can know that God does not already know.
Man can experience things that God doesn’t, and can thus be said to know what God doesn’t. But this is actually a knowledge based on limitation not based on greatness. So God knows all things as a perfect being, while we know things by virtue of being finite and flawed. This experiential difference in knowledge between man and God is similar to the difference in power between man and God. God’s power is perfect, while ours is flawed, limited, and even borrowed. Our knowledge is flawed, but God’s is perfect and exhaustive concerning all meaningful things.
Finally, and this is what I will focus on the most, how do we maintain our free will in light of such a being? God created us to freely choose Him, among innumerable other choices. He knows what each of those choices will be. He precisely knows our nature and our surrounding circumstances, and therefore knows what we will choose in every circumstance. He intervenes to make the proper influence in each circumstance so that we will carry out the choices freely that he eternally prepared us to make.
God has determined the beginning entirely apart from human agency. He also determines the end unequivocally apart from human agency. In between these, however, He has allowed for a spectrum of human agency. He gives us genuinely free choices within the scope of what is allowable. We see this idea play out in day-to-day life. A parent prefers a child to do good things by their own choosing. A parent allows for an amount of “risk” in
order to maintain that level of dignity for the child. Certain risks are entirely avoided though. The child might have fairly heavy objects in his room… but not a bowling ball precariously teetering over his head. The parent sets up the room so that the child has the dignity of freedom and enjoyment, but in a way that does not present unnecessary, blatant danger (showing the carelessness of the parent).
The parent may have pre-determined that the TV will go off at 9:00pm. The child has freedom to tune into any channel until that time. In order to allow for this, the parent deliberately eliminated some channels from the scope of free choices. But if the parent knows that the child will never freely select those channels, the option may still remain present.
A parent that truly and exhaustively knows his or her child will know what the child will freely choose to watch. However, the choice is more celebrated and demonstrates more dignity when it is made freely. If the parent made the child do what he already would have freely chosen, the joy of that activity is robbed. Instead of brute force, the parent will at times manipulate the setting so that the child will freely choose to do the thing that the parent has determined will happen. For example, she will present more limited choices, all of which are more repulsive than the pre-determined thing to be done.
To conclude, God knows all things, which entails an unimaginably immense yet finite number of things. God knows the future– mainly because He is there already. God has established our lives in such a way that the choices we freely make will not violate the wider scope of his will – and will even go to perfectly produce the eternal decree of his will.** This is extremely complicated – such is the mind and will of God. But that is why it is so wonderful to discuss and address these matters.
*There are certain counterfactuals that apparently necessary and important for God to know. For example Matthew 11:23 (NASB95): “If the miracles had occurred in Sodom which occurred in you, it would have remained to this day.”
**I hold the ideas of this theory with an open hand; and I may have a quite different viewpoint later in life.