Wednesday, May 04, 2016

Open Theism: Problem Passages

There are some verses and incidents in the Bible that seem to contradict God's outright omniscience in all cases at all times. Let’s look at a few of these that are raised by Open Theists and others.

Did God know where Adam and Eve were hiding? 
  • Genesis 3:8b-9 “...Adam and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God amongst the trees of the garden. And the Lord God called unto Adam, and said unto him, Where art thou?” 
  • Open Theistic Conclusion: God had to look for Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, so he doesn't know everything. 
  •  This example is actually a quite strange objection – very often mentioned but well understood textually even by most of those who don’t believe God is absolutely omniscient. Rather than a confused God who is looking for a couple he can’t find, God is asking a question to draw out the thoughts of his hearers, Adam and Eve. God uses this method again, recorded in Genesis 4:9-10 “And the Lord said unto Cain, Where is Abel thy brother? And he said, I know not: Am I my brother’s keeper? And he said, What hast thou done? the voice of thy brother’s blood crieth unto me from the ground.” It is unquestionably clear that God does not ask this question for his own knowledge, but to draw out the thoughts of his hearer, Cain. This is a common teaching technique.

Did God make a mistake in creating mankind? 
  • Genesis 6:6 “And it repented the Lord that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him at his heart.” 
  • Open Theistic Conclusion: God made a mistake, not foreseeing what would go wrong with his creation. 
  • Genesis 6:6 doesn't delve into the arena of knowledge or foreknowledge. It relates what we would describe as “feelings”. On the other hand, verse 3 is about knowledge and foreknowledge, when God unequivocally states what he is going to do: “And the Lord said, My spirit shall not always strive with man, for that he also is flesh: yet his days shall be an hundred and twenty years.” In “it repented the Lord” and “it grieved him” we find two of many biblical uses of anthropomorphic language.[1] When the Bible says that the sun rises and sets, it adapts to man-centered language -- rather than using God-centered language. From God’s perspective the sun doesn’t move. From man’s perspective the sun rises and sets. God does as he pleases (Psalm 115:3; 135:6), and in this case it pleased him to “repent” and “grieve” (Daniel 4:35). From their perspective, some men say God did not know what would happen when he created the world.  But Isaiah says he knows and declares the end from the beginning. The statement in Genesis 6 is not addressing the knowledge of God from an intellectual standpoint. It is, rather, addressing the concern of God for his creation -- expressing his great displeasure of sin and explaining why he would judge the whole earth.

Is God uncertain of the future? 
  • Exodus 4:9 “And it shall come to pass, if they will not believe also these two signs, neither hearken unto thy voice, that thou shalt take of the water of the river, and pour it upon the dry land: and the water which thou takest out of the river shall become blood upon the dry land.” 
  • Open Theistic Conclusion: God gave extra signs, since he didn’t know for sure which ones the Israelites would believe. 
  • Did God know how the people would react? Yes. Rather than directly telling Moses that he knew they would not immediately respond to the signs, God is preparing Moses -- by demonstrating his power and supplying him with other signs to perform when they respond unfavourably to the first signs. The signs operated just as God designed and foreknew. The continual demonstration of his ample grace increases faith, first of Moses, and then of the children of Israel.

Did God change his mind about Israel because he didn’t know something? 
  • Exodus 32:11-14 “And Moses besought the Lord his God, and said, Lord, why doth thy wrath wax hot against thy people, which thou hast brought forth out of the land of Egypt with great power, and with a mighty hand? Wherefore should the Egyptians speak, and say, For mischief did he bring them out, to slay them in the mountains, and to consume them from the face of the earth? Turn from thy fierce wrath, and repent of this evil against thy people. Remember Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, thy servants, to whom thou swarest by thine own self, and saidst unto them, I will multiply your seed as the stars of heaven, and all this land that I have spoken of will I give unto your seed, and they shall inherit it for ever. And the Lord repented of the evil which he thought to do unto his people.” 
  • Open Theistic Conclusion: Because of unforeseen circumstances, God was about to wipe out the nation he was creating. 
  • The Lord knows the way of the righteous and will bless it. The Lord knows the way of the ungodly and shall judge it (Psalm 1:6). God demonstrates both his fierce wrath and ample grace. In “the Lord repented” we again find the biblical use of anthropomorphic language, an expression of God’s “feelings”. In Exodus 32, from Moses’s perspective, God seemed to change. And in the sense of responding conditionally, he did “change” (see Jeremiah 18:5-11; “if that nation…turn from their evil, I will repent”). He answered Moses’s prayer. This is a series of actions demonstrating God’s justice and grace and not a lack of foreknowledge on God’s part (cf. Jonah 3:4b,10; 4:2).

Is there something that never entered God’s mind? 
  • Jeremiah 32:35 “And they built the high places of Baal, which are in the valley of the son of Hinnom, to cause their sons and their daughters to pass through the fire unto Molech; which I commanded them not, neither came it into my mind, that they should do this abomination, to cause Judah to sin.
  • Open Theistic Conclusion: The thought of sacrificing children was something God was unable to foresee. 
  • This is an expression of incredulity in the human sense, not a remark on God’s overall knowledge.  The statement emphasizes the presumptuous nature of their acts. God did not order it by his law or his prophets, and in no way approved of their actions. It was a grievous sin and an abomination.

Was God surprised by what happened? 
  • Isaiah 5:3-4 “And now, O inhabitants of Jerusalem, and men of Judah, judge, I pray you, betwixt me and my vineyard. What could have been done more to my vineyard, that I have not done in it? wherefore, when I looked that it should bring forth grapes, brought it forth wild grapes?” 
  • Open Theistic Conclusion: God expected something that did not come to pass. 
  • Was God surprised by the progress of his vineyard?  This is a simple manner of expression of truth my means of a parable rather than conundrum concerning God's knowledge. “When I looked that it should bring forth grapes” speaks of the lack of proper and timely response to the work of God, as would by nature occur in a vineyard, and is not expressly saying something about God’s foreknowledge.
The above verses are a small sampling of some of those used by Open Theists to “prove” that God is not omniscient or all-knowing. A Google search will easily reveal other disputed verses, as well as answers to the Open Theist view much better than the ones provided here.

Open Theism: What Is It?
Open Theism: Against God's Omniscience

[1] Anthropomorphic language – “ascribing human form or attributes to a being or thing not human, especially to a deity” ( Anthropomorphic language in the Bible presents God in human terms that we might have some human understanding of and empathy with his actions.
"The term “anthropomorphism,” in its restricted sense, refers to the representation of God with the forms of humanity (such as an arm or hand). “Anthropopathism” refers to the representation of God with the feelings of humanity. “Anthropopraxism” refers to the representation of God with the activities of humanity." -- From Recognizing and Interpreting Anthropomorphic Language

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