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If God is truly omniscient as in "all knowing", then God knows everything including the future. But doesn't this then remove his choice to do something other than the choices he takes in the future he knows of? In which case he is not omnipotent? Or conversely, if he can truly do anything because he is "all powerful", this has to make the future uncertain even to himself.

How can these two common claims about God be reconciled?

(There are definitely different ways to interpret "omniscience" and "omnipotence", and not all of them are going to be biblically relevant or logically reasonable. I imagine that these claims represent formalized, philosophical representations of God which might not have an exact biblical basis (like I suspect the Trinity does) -- not meaning they are biblically incorrect but just not necessarily exactly correct in the way a human might understand them. Still, I think this is a relevant question.)

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This is very... complicated. However, haven't you considered a fact that God is beyond time? If he really is omnipotent, he would not make errors in his decision; so therefore, there is no need to change it. –  Sȱɳɨȼ Ʈħe ǶḝÐɠḝħȱɠ Sep 4 '11 at 22:07
    
...but there would not be a "creation" either because he obviously changed that in the universe (and after that was being surprised and disappointed by his own creation). As you said: very... complicated. –  vonjd Sep 4 '11 at 22:17
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I don't think that the "power" part of omnipotence makes any sense beyond it's application to events in a temporal spectrum. What is power if it isn't the ability to change events from their current course, and what is change if it isn't in time? –  zipquincy Sep 4 '11 at 22:22

7 Answers 7

up vote 12 down vote accepted

In historic theology, there are three primary attributes of God, omnipotence, omniscience and omnipresence. (I have never heard of omnibenevolence until today, and while we surely could postulate many novel omni-x combinations, they would be just that novel).

Omnipotence is the lack of limitation to cause a desired effect. Omniscience is the lack of limitation on knowledge. Omnipresence is the lack of dimensional limitations.

Bear in mind that we are now dealing with infinite qualities, things which finite men cannot fully grasp - we can only meditate on them, ponder them and "see things dimly":

1 Cor 13:12

12 For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.

A common thought-puzzle raised in objection to the omnipotence of God is the question, can God create a weight he cannot lift? However, this question actually postulates a logical contradiction. There are some things God cannot do because they are, to put it plainly, nonsense. For example: God cannot act contrary to his nature; this is not a limitation of his power but a simple fact of his being. It is simply a contradiction to postulate an infinite being acting contrary to his nature; he has no such limitation that would make it possible to do so.

On to the specific difficulty posed in the question. The question fails to recognize the third of God's primary attributes, omnipresence and also misrepresents the attribute of omniscience.

God's omnipresence applies not only to space but also to time. God created time at the same point that he created space (and science also concludes that time began with the material universe, FWIW). God is outside of time; he is not temporally limited in any way. For God, all time is present - he is the great I AM.

Furthermore God's omniscience is therefore not constrained to temporal thinking; he knows everything in the present. He has no conflict with what will happen in the future, and the future does not limit him, because for him there is no future - all of existence is now.

God's choices happen in the eternal-present and in no way limit him because they are made according to his perfect and infinite nature. Whatever God does he does in this capacity and doing something other than what he has done is not within his nature because what God wills simply is. "And God said, let their be light, and there was".

In essence, God quite literally defines all of reality.

Edit 2012-01-04: In response to Indigo's comment, which is a common misconception:

Obviously, if GOD is bound by the laws of logic, then one would have to explain how HE can be bound by something he HIMSELF created (or, if HE didn't, who did it then).

The mistake here is in assuming God created the "laws" of logic, instead of recognizing that logical coherence derives from God's nature as an inherent characteristic. In fact, our capacity for coherent logical reasoning reflects the image of God.

(Interestingly, but as something of an aside, the Bible calls the second person of the Trinity (Jesus) the "Word" of God, from the Greek logos, the same root as our word logic. The Word was not created, but rather "proceeds" from the essence of God by his nature. In other words (pun not intended) the person of Jesus is a natural consequence of the being of God, as are the persons of the Father and the Holy Spirit.)

Edit 2012-01-06: In response to Indigo's subsequent comment:

Ahh, now you make a differnece between "created by God" and "derived from God". Yet this doesn't help with the dilemma, unless you define "almighty" by "bound by its natures inherent characteristics" or something like that. As soon as you do that, I am with you. [sic]

Any being is bound by their nature; God is by nature infinite, which is to say, unlimited. That does not mean he can act contrary to his nature; no being can - it means that anything contrary to his nature is by definition nonsensical, or as I put it in my answer, a logical contradiction. Not even God can make something be black and white at once, not because his power is "limited", but because that's a contradiction in the definitions of the terms. In other words the only way that something can be black and white simultaneously is to alter the definitions of the terms or use abstractions.

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+1 for the interesting aspect that GOD according to your thinking can not do things that would constitute logical errors (if I understand you correctly). Of course, this opens up a couple of cans of worms ..... –  Ingo Sep 9 '11 at 14:07
    
For another example, the digits of pi are fixed by mathematical laws and cannot be changed. –  starblue Sep 27 '11 at 18:49
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I find it interesting that some of the more advanced theorists in physics have begun discussing the fact that "time" might not actually exist, but is a convenient fiction that facilitates our understanding of our lives. But mathematically, there is nothing that requires it, or even indicates it must be there. From the proper viewpoint (which we don't have) ``all times are present at once.'' <- (that's a paraphrase). –  HTG Dec 18 '11 at 1:43
    
The three "omni" are knowing-present-powerful. Those are necessary of a deity. Omnibenevolence does not relate to power, however. –  cwallenpoole Dec 20 '11 at 21:27
    
@Ingo: Exactly what problems does this raise, in your thinking? –  Lawrence Dol Jan 2 '12 at 1:47

Just because God is all powerful doesn't mean that he has to use the full force of his power at all times. He can control it. Just like a strong man doesn't always pickup up every heavy thing he can see.

Just because God can see the future doesn't mean he is limited in his ability to control himself and choose not to look.

Isaiah 42:14 says "I remained silent and restrained myself." This is an example that shows that he can choose when to use his powers and to what extent.

This article answers your question very well: http://wol.jw.org/en/wol/d/r1/lp-e/102009048

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I don't think this is a very serious logical problem at all.

First, we need to define omnipotence properly. It is not the ability of God to do anything. Christians have always recognised that God cannot sin, lie, cease to exist etc. Omnipotence is God's ability to do all that He pleases.

Secondly, we must realise that the basis of God's omniscience is His knowledge of Himself. As John Frame puts it, God’s knowledge depends only on Himself. God knows all things by knowing Himself and knowing His plan for the universe. Since both of these objects of thought are eternal, God’s knowledge is eternal.(J. Frame, The Doctrine of God, 481)

If this is the case, then God's knowledge of all that has been, is and will be is grounded in His pleasure (i.e. the purpose of His will). God's omniscience is in part, His knowing what He has been pleased to bring about in space and time, and His omnipotence is His ability to do His pleasure. Where is the contradiction?

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I think we may very well abstain from ascribing omnipotence and omniscience in the strong sense to GOD and were it only to avoid the well known paradoxies that make it impossible to understand what this even means.

Allowing such paradoxies can gravely affect faith, especially among logical thinking men.

The bible does not give any accounts where GOD actually demonstrated his omnipotence (emphasis on OMNI - I am not saying that GOD didn't demonstrate great power). While we are at it, can you think of a way HE could demonstrate omnipotence?

Anyway, there is no reason to ascribe a logically impossible attribute to GOD.

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First of all, you are assuming that God is bound by time. God is a being outside of time. He created time. Concepts like "future" and "past" would look totally different to him.

Secondly, turn your order around. Rather than trying to understand how a being that is first omniscient (regarding the future) can also be omnipotent, rather think how easy it would be for a being that is first omnipotent to control outcomes so that the future becomes what he already knows. But again, that is irrelevant as God is outside time.

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Omnipotence may be in itself a contradictory concept, like "the set of all sets that do not contain themselves". One could say it is blasphemic to ascribe such a nonsense to GOD, don't ya think? –  Ingo Sep 9 '11 at 13:53

The short answer to your two questions is "no". These things do not limit God. That's what makes Him omnipotent. Omnipotent doesn't mean an unlimited amount of power similar to human power. It means power that is fundamentally unlimited. Where you think you see a conflict, "If God does X, doesn't that mean he cannot do Y" -- no, it does not. Such conflicts pose no limit for God because he is omnipotent.

To say, "If God does X, he cannot do Y" would require God's decision to do X to limit him in some way. But nothing limits him. That is the definition of "omnipotent".

"[I]f he can truly do anything because he is 'all powerful', this has to make the future uncertain even to himself."

The distinction between past and future doesn't apply to an omnipotent, omniscient being. He can change the past as easily as the future and neither the past nor the future are uncertain. Even the idea of "he can truly do anything" isn't really well-formed, because it implies a time before he does something and a time after.

You are trying to understand that which cannot be understood.

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To speak of God "changing" the past or future is an inherently limiting idea; God does not need to change anything, since to do so would be to concede having made a mistake; mistakes can only be made by limited beings. For God our entire dimension of time is present, just as are our dimensions of space, since he is omnipresent. –  Lawrence Dol Jan 4 '12 at 19:41

There's a third "omni" that reconciles the two: omnibenevolent. God has the power to make any choice he feels like, but because he has a perfect moral code, he always knows which choice is the best one to make, and so he can know the future, even concerning his own actions, without losing free will: he will make the correct choice for each choice he is given. It's not that he can't make any other choice, but that he won't.

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as well as omnipresence. –  zipquincy Sep 4 '11 at 22:22
    
And omniperfect, as well. =] –  levigideon Sep 5 '11 at 8:03

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