The Problem with Omniscience

August 11, 2010

And the Lord said to Moses, “Behold, you are about to lie down with your fathers.  Then this people will rise and whore after others gods among them in the land that they are entering, and they will forsake me and break my covenant that I have made with them.  Then my anger will be kindled against them in that day, and I will forsake them and hide my face from them, and they will be devoured.” (Deuteronomy 31:16-17)

Can you imagine waking up one morning with omniscience?  No longer is your knowledge confined to your own experience and learning, but now you know everything.  Everything.  You would never make a bad investment, because you know the return it will yield.  You would never get a speeding ticket (speaking hypothetically of course), because you know where every policemen is hiding.  You would never have to read a book or watch the news or go to school, because you know all there is to know on every subject.  This list of potential realities could go on forever.

I think we would hate being omniscient.

Although knowing everything presents some advantages, my guess is that most of us would loathe omniscience because of what it would do to our relationships.  Think about this: How would you handle knowing everything that everyone will ever think or feel or do or say regarding you?  Relationships would become extremely difficult if not impossible.  You would know every bad thing a person will do to you in the future — mocking, anger, betrayal, abandonment.  Consequently, relating to them in a loving manner beforehand would be hard.  Sure, they’re speaking kindly and acting friendly now, but you know what they are going to do.  Would you still marry this person, or maintain your friendship, or lovingly give yourself away for their benefit?

God would.  The nation of Israel was poised on the edge of the land God had promised to give them.  God had graciously delivered his people through forty years of wilderness wanderings.  He had revealed himself in dramatic ways.  All the while God knew that his people would prostitute themselves and forsake him, breaking the covenant he made with them.  Yet he continued giving himself away in love to these future backstabbers.

How could God do this?  Here are two explanations.  (1) God related to Israel not only with a mind that knows perfectly but with a heart that loves perfectly.  God’s love enables him to pursue relationships with people he knows will fail to love him in return.  The cross of Christ powerfully demonstrates this truth.  (2) God related to Israel based on the state of their hearts presently rather than on the state of their hearts in the future.  Deuteronomy 31:17 makes clear that it would not be until the very day in which Israel turned against God that his anger would be kindled.  Surely this is how Jesus could wash Judas’s feet even while knowing what Judas was going to do a few hours later.

We should be profoundly grateful for both of these truths.  In Christ, God loves us in spite of all the sins we will commit in the future — which, by the way, is a cause for pursuing holiness, not an excuse for pursuing sin.  And God relates to us based on the present state of our hearts toward him.  We will never displease God over something we have not yet done, even when he knows we will do it in the future.

Omniscience would be a terrible burden for us, but it’s no problem for God.  And it’s another reason for us to worship him.

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