Friday, March 27, 2015

Biblical Revelation on Divine Omniscience: The Problem of Divine Knowledge (Pt. 2)

The solution, in my opinion, to the problem of the traditional Christian belief vis-à-vis divine knowledge is not situated in logical and philosophical categories. The solution to this problem is actually the source that informs our understanding of divine knowledge. When the philosopher or the logician talks about divine knowledge, or omniscience, they do so through a very particular grid, using a very specific set of standards by which the belief itself is measured. The larger issue then, concerns the supposed justification for requiring finite human logic to remove all mystery from the Christian understanding of the divine attributes. Does such a view require that we relinquish logic altogether? Can we salvage logic and orthodox Christianity, or, must we relinquish one of them? Logic could not be dispensed with, without also dispensing with all meaningful communication. And if communication is lost, so too is any hope for a knowledge of truth. The solution is not situated in the loss of logic, but rather in its redemption. Logic must be born again.

Vern Poythress writes,
But we do have something better, namely, communion with the Logos through the flesh of Christ, and through the Scripture which is his word. Our minds are not closed vessels that have a certain stock of logical pieces that are just “there.” That would be to fall back into impersonalist thinking. Rather, we exercise reason at every moment in communion with the infinitude of God in Christ. We cannot isolate a purely human level, nor can we eliminate mystery, because the sacrifice of Christ and the union of tow natures in Christ are mysteries. [Poythress]

The solution is situated in a Christian understanding of logic. That there is both divine logic and
human logic is only the inevitable outworking of a coherent view of God as He is revealed in Scripture. Bosserman helps, “The difference, then, between paradox and contradiction can be formally defined, but whether a specific concept enhances or fatally disrupts the Christian worldview can only be determined with reference to special revelation." [Bosserman] From this we can conclude that the philosophers are wrong to carry on their investigation into omniscience apart from the divine revelation. Moreover, they are no less wrong to think that the divine attributes must necessarily fit into finite human categories without even the slightest hint of mystery and paradox before they may be believed and embraced by reasonable human beings.

If human knowledge is dependent on God, then God’s own knowledge depends on God. That is, it is self-attesting, self-referential, self-sufficient. [Frame] God’s knowledge is unlike human knowledge in that God knows all things perfectly and thoroughly all at once in the eternal present for lack of a better term. The knowledge of the ontological Trinity is self-contained. Since God is without limitation, so too is His knowledge. The Psalmist tells us, “Great is our Lord, and abundant in power; his understanding is beyond measure.” (Ps. 147:5) The word used here, tĕbûnâ, is well attested in the Hebrew Scriptures. The verb refers to knowledge which is superior to the mere gathering of data. [TWOT] This word attaches itself to the Hebrew mispār which means number. The actual construction in this text literally says that God’s understanding is without number, or without limit.

The latter word, though often used in purely mathematical contexts, has some other interesting uses. Thus, it is often employed to point out God’s greatness: his wonders are without number (Job 5:9; 9:10), as is his host (Job 25:3); he alone (cf. Gen 15:5) knows the number and names of the stars (Ps 147:4: Isa 40:26); in the ultimate sense, his eternality (Job 36:26) and understanding (Ps 147:5) are beyond man’s power to fathom. [TWOT]

Hence, the Psalmist is informing us that God’s understanding, God’s knowledge is without limitation. This is similar to what we find in Job 36:26, “Behold, God is exalted, and we do not know Him; The number of His years is unsearchable.” Peter, in his exasperating experience with our Lord, after being asked three times by Jesus, if he loved him answered, “Lord, You know all things; You know that I love You.” Peter obviously believed that Christ’s knowledge was without limitation.

Finally, to claim that the Christian tradition holds to contradictory views when it affirms the doctrines of divine omniscience and human responsibility is simply misguided. There is a remarkable and profound difference between a logical paradox and a logical contradiction. The actual claim being made is that the Christian doctrine of omniscience is in a contradictory relationship with the Christian doctrine of human responsibility. Copi tells us that “Two propositions are contradictories if one is the denial or negation of the other – that is, if they cannot both be true and cannot both be false.” [Copi] It is not at all obvious how the proposition, “God knows all future acts of free creatures” is contradictory with the proposition “free creatures are responsible for their actions.” But the issue is a little more complex than space permits. All that is necessary to remove the contradictory, in my opinion, is the rejection of the libertarian notion of freedom. Once that move is made, we no longer have to deal with the problem as it has been historically stated. Edwards writes, “It is that motive, which, as it stands in view of the mind, is the strongest, that determines the Will. But it may be necessary that I should a little explain my meaning. By native, I mean the whole of that which moves, excites, or invites the mind to volition, whether that be one thing singly, or many things conjunctly.” [Edwards]

The human will is not an island unto itself. It is not self-caused. Human will is moved by the seat of desires, which is situated, according to Edwards, in the mind. The notion of libertarian freedom seems impossible to defend. Moreover, all that is required to refute this alleged contradiction in terms of omniscience and responsibility is the straightforward denial that God forces men to act against their will. And clearly, orthodox Christianity would affirm that God never acts in such a way as to injure the will. Nevertheless, how God knows future acts of genuinely responsible creatures will remain a mystery until such time that God reveals how the two work together. Our lack of understanding should in no way serve as a basis for rejecting the basics of orthodox Christian teachings. The fact is that divine revelation discloses that we are indeed responsible agents and that God’s knowledge is indeed without limitation. And divine revelation is our final standard for what we believe concerning this subject.

In summary then, it seems to me that once we make the move to a regenerate human logic and recognize that divine logic exceeds our ability to fully comprehend it, we are in a much better position to salvage omniscience from the ash heap of human reason. Moreover, once we apply the correct standard, that is, the divine revelation that is Scripture, we no longer have to deal with making omniscience fit such overly restrictive finite categories on fallen logic. Finally, if we examine the specific claims of the argument, we find the problem is much reduced when we criticize the way freedom is defined. Armed with a logic that has been born again, with the standard of Scripture, and with a proper understanding and perspective on the freedom of the will, it is easy to see that the problem of the Christian doctrine of omniscience is not really a problem after all. While it remains a mystery, we can safely say that it is certainly not guilty of introducing irrationalism into the Christian tradition.

[1] Vern S. Poythress, Logic: A God-Centered Approach to the Foundation of Western Thought (Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway, 2013), 120.
[2] B.A. Bosserman, The Trinity and the Vindication of Christian Paradox:an Interpretation and Refinement of the Theological Apologetic of Cornelius van Til (Eugene, OR: Pickwick Publications, 2014), 133.
8 John M. Frame, Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Christian Belief (Phillipsburg, New Jersey: P&R Publishing, 2013), 306.
 [4] Louis Goldberg, “239 בִּין,” ed. R. Laird Harris, Gleason L. Archer Jr., and Bruce K. Waltke, Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament (Chicago: Moody Press, 1999), 103.
[5] R. D. Patterson, “1540 סָפַר,” ed. R. Laird Harris, Gleason L. Archer Jr., and Bruce K. Waltke, Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament (Chicago: Moody Press, 1999), 633.
[6] Irving M. Copi, Introduction to Logic, 14th ed. (Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Education, 2011), 176.
12 Jonathan Edwards and Sereno Edwards Dwight, The Works of Jonathan Edwards (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth Trust, 1990), Vol. 1, 5-6.

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