God is traditionally: omnipresent, omnipotent and omniscient.
Omnipresent: a definite
As far as I can work out I can affirm omnipresent in that s/he is present in the now everywhere. Hence when we try and appeal to Einstein and relativity as a means of suggesting God has to be outside of time I think it fails for omnipresence reasons. There is no ‘delay’ in time for God such as for us with light reaching us now being actually from the past. We experience an event now that happened then. There is no such experience for God. It is also interesting that there is no suggestion that the (chronological) future is experienced now. The miracle of the resurrection is though that the (eschatological) future is experienced in the now. And events ‘reserved’ for the future could take place now – for example the resurrection of ‘many saints’ in Jerusalem along with Jesus, the firstfruits, on the resurrection morning. An event took place that elsewhere seems unequivocally to be reserved to take place at the parousia.
Omnipotent: but what does that even mean?
Omnipotence, if we want to keep that category, it needs to be qualified. I touched on this in an earlier post, and also referred to a post by Boyd that suggested that God could have made a creation that did not allow choice, and he even seemed to suggest that s/he could also have programmed us to believe we were making choices. That is based on a ‘God can do / God is free to do whatever s/he chooses’ – an omnipotent God without boundaries.
There is a tricky element for those of us who wish to centre God somewhere different to ‘he (and I think we can drop the s/ this time) is bigger than all others and subject to no-one so whatever he decides is what is right. Might is right.’ We who want to make the centre outpoured love face the issue of, if God could do no other than love in what sense is that freedom? Does s/he love because of choice? And if there is no choice in what sense is that truly ‘love’? As much as it might confuse me I think I have to go with God is love, maybe with the proviso that love was an eternal choice. His nature is love… hence s/he loves. I see this as no different to our future. The choice to sin in the sense of being able to make that choice will have gone, not because we have lost the ability to choose, but because we have become like him (Jesus). All bugs will have been removed, the hardware will not crash, we will become what we were intended to be. (Please remove the machine type language, but I think you get what I mean. Healing of humanity brings us to the place of true holiness, true love.)
If therefore we centre God on love, we have to be careful what we then insist about omnipotence. The rules are not made up simply because of power, the limitations within which we have to live (do not consume, but eat of everything except) are not arbitrary rules but a pathway to be able to eat of the tree of life. Similarly there are limitations on God because God is God and there is none other.
I suggest then that the term omnipotent is not too helpful a term. It can lead to a gross immaturity of ‘My God can do…’ with no analysis of what we mean by that; or disappointment when God does not act for us; or we act in the image of the God we serve and power rather than a servant response that is content in the place of anonymity.
Omniscience: what does ‘omni’ mean this time round?
Full omniscience in the sense of God knowing all past, present and future events has been based (often though not always) on God being outside of time. But the bedrock of this view of omniscience is founded either on what has been predestined is known (foreknowledge based on predestination: a common Calvinist approach) or on something termed ‘middle knowledge’. I have memory – knowledge of the past but my knowledge does not dictate the past; God has knowledge of the past and also of the future but in a way that is analogous to my experience of memory. That knowledge of the future does not dictate the future. This leads to the common Arminian approach where the predestination of God is based on foreknowledge.
Now laying on one side that I do not see ‘predestination’ or ‘election’ as being about individual salvation as they both relate to Christ as the predestined or elect one, so all who are in Christ are predestined (their destiny is set) and are elect in him, what do I make of omniscience or in particular absolute foreknowledge?
Let me start with God knows all things that are knowable. But are all things knowable? Many things are easy to predict. If this, then that. Should one have infinite insight then of course the level of the accuracy of the ‘prediction’ would be, at least, very high. The real issue comes with absolute foreknowledge concerning the predictability of future events that involve creatures who are endowed with the ability to make choices. The response of ‘the choices of a free-will creature cannot be absolutely predicted’ has to be offset by, ‘but sadly we are not totally free in our choices’. Even if we react to the implications of ‘the total depravity of humanity’ we can clearly acknowledge that we are all damaged and thus not totally free in our choices – there is the bondage and dominion of sin the reality of which all humans have to acknowledge.
We could also (strangely) say that we can foreknow what God will do – or at least we could if we had a grid to understand what the truly loving choice would be. So perhaps it can be said that God can make a contrasting but equally accurate knowledge of all future human acts? Maybe the one difference in this though is the word ‘truly’. God makes the truly loving choice – always. Humanity is not evil, they are fallen. The adverb ‘truly’ cannot be applied to us – we are mixed, one day good choices, other days bad ones.
For the Calvinist the future is fixed – fixed by decree. Foreknowledge then is absolute. For many of those who are Arminian-biased the future is also certain and knowable, but not so by absolute divine decree. For the Open Theologians the normal response is the future is partly open, with certain things being not open – so some future events are totally knowable, whereas others are not (and this would include the choices made by individuals). The analogy of the game of chess is suggested, the end-game is fixed, the tactics along the way are adjusted, but adjusted perfectly. Thomas Oord (Uncontrolling Love) has gone one step further and taken away the ‘parts are not open’ option. Brave man!!
Unless we dismiss the texts as purely anthropomorphic there are numerous Scriptures where God makes a response to how the people behave. A classic would be in Exod. 33:5
Say to the people of Israel, ‘You are a vstiff-necked people; if for a single moment I should go up among you, I would consume you. So now take off your ornaments, that I may know what to do with you.
So absolute definite conclusions on the matter of absolute foreknowledge? The only real conclusion is ‘what do we know..?’ But my tentative conclusions would be that given the nature of the world God has created not all future events and choices are knowable. God has perfect knowledge of all things that are knowable. The future is open:
either partly as per Boyd, Pinnock, Sanders et al.
or even totally as per Oord.
Whatever our conclusions, from fixed, partly open to totally open practically we live as though the future is open. We are called to participate with heaven in the shape of the future. I do not read the NT any way differently. I do not read it as a set of predictions about an antiChrist, a one world government etc., but I do read it as inviting us to contribute to the future knowing there will be a future judgement (assessment?) when our contribution will make it through or simply be burned up. I think that is the practical response because I think it is the theological reality. The future is essentially open, with the characteristics (‘no more crying’, ‘no temple’, etc.) fixed, but the pathway is not.