Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Omniscience vs. Absolute Sovereignty

And you thought there was no difference...

I went back to the story of Hezekiah in Isaiah 36, one of the verses I often cite to prove that God changes His mind. Well, I see an angle here where God did not necessarily change His mind about whether or not Hezekiah should die that very night.

Here are some of the tenets of Relational Theology which may be operative in this story:
  1. God has closed most of the future from Himself; this is part of the risk He took when He decided that He would LOVE man and create man in His own image.
  2. God only intervenes and opens the future or disrupts the natural chain of events in response to the prayers and petitions of His people.
Let me explain. God told Isaiah to tell Hezekiah to "set your house in order, for you shall die and not live (v.1). Was this God's will or not? Note that it is a DEFINITE DECLARATION from God. We also have to accept that God is the greatest Communicator Who says what He means and means what He says! Note further that after Hezekiah's petition, God made another DEFINITE DECLARATION even proving that He could do it by moving the sun dial backwards for Hezekiah.

There are principles of interpretation that cannot be compromised.

There can only be two logical options here:
  1. This WAS God's will and He changed His mind as a response to Hezekiah's plea. This means that God exercised absolute sovereignty twice. The first was when He willed that Hezekiah would die, and the second time was relenting from the first. The downside of this option is that it may look like God can flip-flop and most classicists think that is really bad, even if done out of love! You see, they have boxed God into a dignum deo package: (This is what God should be, This is how God should behave, otherwise, He is not God) which makes them really more sovereign than God since they presume to know Him to the point of erecting standards for Him!
  2. The second logical option is that God was exercising omniscience but not absolute control (although He can if He wanted to). This means that He saw Hezekiah with a terminal disease, read the "natural" possibilities and knew that sans Divine Intervention, it is time for Hezekiah to close the curtains.
Added September 20, 2009 -
A refinement of the above would be to say that in Hezekiah's case, God was using omniscience but NOT foreknowledge when He declared that it was time for Hezekiah to die.
Omniscience is perfect knowledge of everything past and present to the last current microsecond, if you will. So God looked at Hezekiah (and the terminal condition of his boil) as the greatest diagnostic pathologist and declared after all knowledge available to God that Hezekiah was 100% going to die that very night. (God even had the time of death "forecasted")
Foreknowledge, on the other hand, would be perfect information about the future (no forecasting necessary!) AND if the future changed then the initial foreknowledge was, in fact, faulty or false (which is worse than imperfect) since it REALLY NEVER happened. Since God cannot have imperfect foreknowledge, therefore, He could never have used it in declaring that Hezekiah would die.
If God decided to exercise foreknowledge, it would be no different than exercising predestination or foreordination. Obviously, God DID NOT exercise that ability here.
But with God being perfect and with all abilities and resources in His control, He could have used it and Hezekiah would have had no hope of cure since it would have been foreordained.
Ergo, since God refused to use foreknowledge in this case, we have a good case that God can and HAS voluntarily closed the future even upon Himself. It can be established as fact that God does not routinely exercise foreknowledge as he routinely exercise omniscience.
However, this is not openness theology since openness seems to paint God as powerless as far as any control over the future is concerned. In our case for relational theology, it was God's own choice (for reasons of Love which we point out in many of our previous discussions) to withold the future from Himself. The end result is the same but in the relational theologian's case, God's sovereignty is intact and in no way compromised!

Both options are plausible under Relational Theology. However, it seems that the 2nd option is more consistent with the underlying assumptions of the theology. God has closed the future even from Himself. God knows everything present, current and past (Note that knowing the future is foreknowledge and we have previously defined this ability as NOT included in omniscience).

Hence, when He declared Hezekiah's end through Isaiah, He simply knew where the natural course of events would take him. When Hezekiah pled for his life, God intervened and "altered" the natural course of events. Prayer (or supplication), as we have previously defined, is simply a request for God to intervene in our affairs to alter the natural course of events in our favor or in the way we ask Him to. Prayer even prompts God to "sneek into" the future and change things and events, if you may. Prayer requests God to make an exception to His practice of closing the future, and peep into it in our behalf. This is why prayer is an exciting element of our relationship with God. With it He has endowed us with power and the ability to move His hands through prayer.

There is another great example of how God just refused (and almost consistently refuses) to use absolute sovereignty and foreknowledge in His dealings with man and history. Let us examine the his discussion with Moses in the desert when Israel's rebellion just brought God's patience "over the edge".

Let's examine Numbers 14:10-25.

After hearing the reports of the 12 spies, Joshua and Caleb get overruled by the other 10 and Israel goes along with their unbelief. God gets infuriated and threatens to strike all of Israel and disinherit them from the promises, but Moses intervenes in their behalf. His argument is basically two-fold:
  1. It will embarass God among the Egyptians (and the world) that He could not take care of His people and instead of delivering them, slaughters them in the wilderness, an afront to the ability (and sovereignty) of God.
  2. He appeals to the mercy and steadfast love of God, maintaining that God's slowness to anger can go "one more stretch" and that He is a God who forgives (Numbers 14:19), a confirmation of God's unfailing love.
Well, who could have guessed what happened especially if one were a classical theologian? God CHANGES HIS WILL AND CHANGES HIS MIND! Why? Because He loves and love has flexibility while sheer sovereignty and omnipotence is not as flexible.

Oh, the great loss of Christians who do not see any power value in praying to God. Read the Bible and LEARN! Then you can boast that you know the Lord (Jeremiah 9:23,24). Boast that you know His lovingkindness!

What a great and awesome God is one who CAN and WILL sacrifice some sovereignty for the sake of Love and relationship!


  1. I don't think God needs to be limited in His view of the future. Why couldn't God just know the myriad of different choices made in the present and in the future and decide whether one should be granted or not. There is talk about the possibility of multi-verses in science, which if true, a infinite number of possible choices could be made. If God is omniscient, then it stands to reason that He will know how each of these choices will affect the future. And since He has a preordained plan (not in the Calvinist sense, mind you)to culminate the world events to the initiation of Christ as King, then He could know which choices would greatly affect His overall plan. This then preserves His Sovereignty within the confines of His plan, yet gives latitude for His children to enact upon their part of the plan without compromising the target goals.

    Does this make any sense to you?

  2. Right on! The Bible does show that God intervenes in the natural course of events either to preserve His people or to ensure that despite the detours which are man-made, His ultimate goal or pre-ordained plan or predestined plan will eventually be fulfilled.

    However, most of His Divine Intervention is a response to the prayers of His people. A reading of the Torah, on the other hand, will show that although God has the power to just steer events and things by Himself and in His favor (like the 10 plagues), He constantly courts His people to accomplish that objective. This is why He requires obedience to His law and relationship (partnership) with Him initiated by loving Him with all our heart, soul, mind and strength (Deuteronomy 4,6,8,11, etc)

    Now, with regards to the "God's limited view of the future", may I emphasize that this is Self-imposed. God imposed this upon Himself to be able to TRULY demonstrate LOVE, FAITH, HOPE, among others. These three mentioned in 1 Corinthians 13 CANNOT be demonstrated by anyone who knows all of the future. Otherwise, LOVE really becomes control or manipulation and will be self-serving or self-centered, FAITH will be SIGHT, and HOPE will have no element of FAITH.

    So the Bible demonstrates that God does not see ALL of the FUTURE but that is by His OWN choice. That means if God wanted to, He could SEE and CONTROL ALL of the future. But God did not choose that way.

    Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God!
    How unsearchable his judgments,
    and his paths beyond tracing out!
    "Who has known the mind of the Lord?
    Or who has been his counselor?"
    "Who has ever given to God,
    that God should repay him?"
    For from him and through him and to him are all things.
    To him be the glory forever! Amen. - Romans 11:33-36