Full Text for Dogmatics 1- Volume 38 - How do moments where God does not seem to know things or have regrets fit with God's omniscience? (Video)

dogmatics 38 Captioning provided By: Caption First, Inc. P.O. Box 1924 Lombard, IL 60148 ******** This text is being provided in a rough draft format. Communication Access Realtime Translation (CART) is provided in order to facilitate communication accessibility and may not be a totally verbatim record of the proceedings. ******** >> In the Bible, God sometimes seems not to know things. And sometimes God regrets doing something, like making human creatures, in Genesis. How do these fit with the teaching that God is omniscient? >> Again, that's one of the rather difficult questions, and a question that is nowadays especially pretty much debated. The whole concept of omniscience is rejected in one movement in the Evangelical world, the so-called open theism, where God is seen as, in a certain way, a limited being, where these Bible passages and others you have quoted are taken to be a literal description of God and therefore then it is concluded that God actually does not know the future, that the future is open to God. That's why it's called open theism. And that God is not omnipotent, but that God has some influence in the world, but that's about it. But before we look at that a little closer, let's first state the classical understanding of God's omniscience, of God's knowledge. Knowledge is something that is said of God, angels and men. But as we have talked at length, it's of course an illogical language that is -- there is similarity and difference. The knowledge of creatures is relative and imperfect, whereas God's knowledge alone is absolute and perfect. God alone knows everything. Also one difference is that men's knowledge is acquired. We know something because we have learned it. It is sequential. Whereas God knows all things in one simple, all-comprehensive act. That means practically that the future belongs to God and the knowledge of the future belongs to God. Therefore, in the Old and New Testament all the cult ways to explore the future are an abomination and were actually punished with death, because man tries to assume a divine prerogative. That only God knows everything fully means also that all knowledge about God, of course, comes from God and from Christ. It means that God knows us and we cannot hide. It means that he knows those who have a contrite heart, and gives them their -- His faith. He knows all our physical wants and needs. Think of Jesus's statement in the sermon on the Mount: "Do not worry because your heavenly father knows what your needs are." It is also a comfort that God knows the righteousness of our cause when the enemies of the truth malign and persecute us. So that's the traditional understanding of omniscience, of knowledge of God. God knows everything, past, present, future, in one single act. Now, we come to some of the problems that are connected with omniscience. What is the relation of the infallible prescience of God to human freedom? God's foreknowledge, as said before, extends over all things and is infallible. He knows what will happen. Everything happens as God has foreknown it. If you would assume that God doesn't know some things, then we would put a limitation on Him. Then we would deny, also, His transcendence in regard to time. Time would be, for Him, a boundary. God's omniscience is not the effective cause of the things which it knows. In the discussion on predestination again in the formula of Concord, we have a long discussion on that. There is a distinction between election and foreknowledge. We don't say that God's foreknowledge is the cause of, for example, the evil things in this world. There is, on the other hand, also a causative knowledge which extends over only a certain number of objects. That is the knowledge that is connected with God's electing. Is there a contradiction between God's foreknowledge and human freedom and responsibility? Well, we needn't argue that it is true if indeed it is true that all things happen as God has foreseen them, then it seems that those who identify God with fate and say well, everything happens anyway, it's no use that I do anything, it doesn't matter, it makes no difference. And you become some kind of a stoic or almost like Muslims think of the relationship between God and man. But on the basis of scripture, we must maintain both, that there is human freedom in regard of the things that are under the reason of man, and that God foreknows them. To us, a strong concept of omniscience seems to imply the denial of human freedom, that our actions really are conditioned by God, that we are just puppets or robots. Again, there is no satisfactory conceptual solution. We are, again, at the point where God in His majesty, the transcendent God, and the way He acts in our world seem to contradict each other. In that sense there is only a pragmatic solution. We must firmly believe that everything must happen as God has foreknown it, and we should not trouble ourselves with what God may have foreknown concerning ourselves and others. The doctrine of the omniscience of God and His foreknowledge again is not a doctrine that makes us into some kind of paralyzed being, where we say I can't act anymore. I -- what should I do? I -- God knowings everything anyway, so what's the use? It's rather a doctrine which we have to see again as law and Gospel. It is law to us because it shows us that we cannot hide anything from God. It is Gospel to us when we see that God knows our trouble and that He will act on that. It is Gospel for us when we know that God's plans cannot be thwarted. It's not like in open theism, where God is kind of trying to do something in this world, but you never can be quite sure if it will happen, because after all He doesn't know what will happen and He's not omnipotent. No. God's plan will be fulfilled. When God says that at the end the victory of Christ will be complete, then that's not some kind of educated guess or a hope on God's side. But it is part of this knowledge of God that is in one moment sees everything. We see that even if we talk about God's foreknowledge, we are using metaphoric language. Because if God is outside of time, how can He know something before? But we have to use this kind of language, because otherwise we can't have any concept. So, God doesn't know it in the strict sense before, because He knows everything at one moment. How, then, can we relate that to these statements you quoted that God regrets doing something as the creation of humankind, that sometimes God seems not to know things. We have to see that here scripture uses anthropomorphic language. Remember the example with God being in the garden and then saying: Adam, where art thou? Does that really mean that God didn't know where he was? That's the kind of ridiculous idea and also contradicts what we know about God in -- otherwise in scripture. So what we see here is that God, again, condescends to our understanding. It's like Nathan using a parable to get David to acknowledge his guilt. God assumes the position as if he did not know to tell us something, to dialog with us. So statements about God which depict Him as not knowing something are therefore not to be taken as propositions about God's nature, but as descriptions, how He condescends when He deals with humans. The talk that God regrets something has also to be seen in the context that there are other explicit statements that talk about God not regretting anything. He is not a man that will regret. It's in the same chapter, actually, 1 Samuel 15, where it says that God regrets that Saul was king, and then Samuel says God is not a man that He should repent. The Word for regret or repent in the Hebrew has a certain range of meaning. And one way to explain the use of repent or regret for God is they also can mean to be grieved, and that in these passages which seem to imply that God did not know, that he was kind of surprised by the development that history took. And we rather translate it to be grieved, instead of implying that He didn't know what was going to happen. As a hermeneutical rule, we have to give precedence to propositional statements before we make implications from stories about God in Holy Spirit. And therefore a statement like God cannot repent or God cannot regret has to take precedence from a statement where God actually is depicted as somebody who interacts in time and therefore seems to be surprised. But that's not how God is --