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Is God omniscient? lists all the passages were it is written that God is omniscient.

Reading other passages, I found a few things that seemingly contradict this:

  1. In Genesis 3:8-13 God asks Adam and Eve where they are and if they have eaten from the tree

  2. In Genesis 18:20-21 he apparently does not know what they have done

    20Then the LORD said, “The outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah is so great and their sin so grievous 21 that I will go down and see if what they have done is as bad as the outcry that has reached me. If not, I will know.”

  3. In Genesis 32:22-30 God wrestles in his bodily form with Jacob, but asks Him about His name

  4. In Numbers 22:9 He asks “Who are these men with you?”

  5. In Deuteronomy 8:1-2 and other instances, God tests people, but wouldn't He know beforehand what they would do?

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@Richard Hmmm, you could see it that way. But if that were to happen, would you be angry at your child, banishing them from your house and cursing them and their children forever? And if you could have prevented it (but your child didn't know any better), how could you be angry at anyone but yourself? You are the one to blame, not the child. –  user729 Oct 3 '11 at 14:11
    
@Richard Why was that a sin though? Not only did God tempt them (by having the fruit be a fruit - why couldn't it be a repugnant piece of excrement?), but also they were deceived by the serpent (which God also allowed). –  user729 Oct 3 '11 at 14:16
    
@Atheist: See this question for more info. In short, God allowed it because he gave us free will to choose. Why wasn't it something repugnant? We honestly don't know if it was or not; the Bible doesn't say (all it says is that there was a tree that they were to not eat the fruit from, and that Satan successfully tempted Eve and Adam into eating from it). –  RCIX Oct 5 '11 at 17:01
    
@RCIX You can't reasonably blame Adam and Eve for eating the apple: In the beginning, God created injustice –  user729 Oct 5 '11 at 17:07
    
@Atheist: God didn't create evil. He created angels, also with free will, some of which rebelled from him. Satan was banished to Earth (and as pointed out above, tempted Adam/Eve into sinning). He allowed it to happen because he prioritizes us having free will over stamping out evil. What would be the point of his Creation without those who have free will choosing to worship him? –  RCIX Oct 5 '11 at 17:21
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5 Answers 5

up vote 18 down vote accepted

Gaining information is not the only reason for asking questions. Asking questions is a very powerful teaching device--not because the teacher does not know the answer, but because in the answering of the questions the students learn.

Adam was hiding from an omniscient God. He had never felt the need to hide from God before. The question helped Adam understand and confess what he had done. "I'm hiding... I've never hid before... this is the consequences of my sinful choice..." Adam even had a choice of whether to answer or not.

In response to the question of whether he had eaten of the fruit, Adam blames Eve and even tries to implicate God in it, since He brought her to him. He had a chance to take responsibility, but he failed in that and reverted to the blame game.

God also asks rhetorical questions, as He did to Job. "Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth?"

So, the fact that God asks questions does not mean He lacks knowledge or information and must gain it from the minds of men. He asks questions for other reasons, just like you and I do in our conversations with other people.

For the question about when God wasn't asking questions (2 and 5)...

God doesn't say He doesn't know what's going in in Sodom. He just says that He is going to go there to observe it. He doesn't just observe either--He also takes Lot out of the city.

Testing is another issue. Like questions, God is not gaining information by it. It actually does a lot for us, as we build up a history of learning from both the right and wrong decisions we make. If we are tested and fail, we deal with the guilt and the understanding of what we ought to have done. If we are tested and succeed, we set a pattern for future testings.

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Thanks for that answer, it explains 1,3 and 4, what about the times god did not ask a question? –  Sven Sep 19 '11 at 14:31
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It seems that God interacts with the people, but doesn't just observe what is going on. He also ends up delivering Lot from the city. –  Narnian Sep 19 '11 at 14:59
    
It also explains 5 in the sense that a test can be viewed as a nonverbal question. –  jimreed Sep 19 '11 at 14:59
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Allow me to caveat my answer with the following Bible reference before I even attempt an explanation:

Romans 11:34 (NIV)

For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who has been His counsellor?

There is a branch of Theology Proper (i.e. theology about God) called Open Theology, made popular by Clark Pinnock's book The Openness of God. In it, the traditional understanding of God's attributes are questioned; including His omniscience.

There are numerous biblical texts that support God's omniscience, such as those found here.

However, the question is more about what to do with the above verses. The fact remains that God has always intended to be relational with His creation, and while He may know the answer to such questions, the people God is interacting with in these passages will be changed in some way through answering them.

God's questions are for our benefit, not His.

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+1 for pointing out Open Theology--that's quite interesting. I've long wondered whether any branch of Christianity rejected the belief in God's omniscience. I now wonder how much it might appeal to Christians (though I'd guess few are aware of it as a "belief option"). –  Chelonian Oct 3 '11 at 16:34
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Simply this.

God gave us free will. He allows us to follow or turn away from him. God knows what we will do. However, we have the power to control our responses. If God forced our hand, we would not have free will!

Some examples

God allowed Abraham to go up to the point of sacrificing his child, but not to actually do it. It was a test of Abraham's. And Abraham was better because of the test.

Did God know that Adam and Eve would fall? Yes, he knew but Adam and Even weren't perfect. God allowed them to suffer the consequences of their choices. If he prevented them from suffering for their choices, they would not have free will!

Summary

God allows us to either reap the benefits of following him or suffer the consequences of turning away form him. He knows beforehand what we will do, but we don't. So, he allows us to fail or succeed for our benefit.


An interesting (old) story about this:

St. Maximus ca. 580-662 a.d.
(The Life of Our Holy Monastic Father Maximus the Confessor and Martyr)

After quite some time, three men of high rank, Theodosius, Bishop of Caesarea in Bithynia, and the patricians Paul and Theodosius, were sent by Constans and Patriarch Peter to win over the saint. They were joined by the Bishop of Bizye, and alternately flattered and threatened Maximus, testing his faith and posing various questions. They began by introducing themselves, then requested Maximus to sit down. Bishop Theodosius asked, "How are you faring, my lord Abba Maximus?"

"Exactly as God knew I would before the ages," replied the saint. "He foreordained the circumstances of my life, which is guarded by providence."

"How can that be?" objected Theodosius. "Did God foreknow and actually foreordain our deeds from eternity?"

The saint said, "He foreknew our thoughts, words, and deeds, which nevertheless remain within our power to control; and He foreordained what befalls us. The latter is not subject to our control, but to the divine will."

"Explain more exactly what is in our power, and what is not," requested Bishop Theodosius.

"My lord, you know all this," answered Saint Maximus. "You only ask to try your servant."

The Bishop admitted, "Truly, I do not know. I wish to understand what we can control and what we cannot, and how God foresaw one and foreordained the other."

The venerable Maximus explained, "We do not directly control whether blessings will be showered upon us or chastisements will befall us, but our good and evil deeds most certainly depend on our will. It is not ours to choose whether we are in health or sickness, but we make determinations likely to lead to one or the other. Similarly, we cannot simply decide that we shall attain the kingdom of heaven or be plunged into the fire of Gehenna, but we can will to keep the commandments or transgress them."

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Judaism teaches that God binds Himself under Torah just as a Master Architect limits himself to following a blueprint. This finds a parallel in Christianity in Kenotic theory:

Philippians 2:5-8 (NET)
You should have the same attitude toward one another that Christ Jesus had,
who though he existed in the form of God
did not regard equality with God
as something to be grasped,
but emptied himself
by taking on the form of a slave,
by looking like other men,
and by sharing in human nature.
He humbled himself,
by becoming obedient to the point of death
– even death on a cross!

John 14:9 (NET)
Jesus replied, “Have I been with you for so long, and you have not known me, Philip? The person who has seen me has seen the Father! How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’?

God's creation functions according to His Word. His participation in creation is at a level that is seen in Christ's ministry. IOW, God is not limited by default as described by Open Theology. His limitation is self imposed. He "rests" after creation is set up.

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The passages you quote could have been written by up to four different individuals who each were bringing their own understandings of GOD to the written Word. Some of the interpretational issues we have with the bible is due to the fact that the bible actually presents multiple theologies about the character of GOD, and that they are all intended to be held in tension with each other rather than fit our non-rabbinic post-enlightentment Aristotelian and non-Hebraic western understandings of logic.

Besides, the bible was not written in order to give us a systematic theology of GOD, but rather to be a written testimony to the fact that Jesus is the christ through whom all things will be remade in the power of the holy spirit by the love of the father.

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-1 for the JEDP theory and humanistic view of the bible. I do like the second paragraph, though. –  Richard Oct 3 '11 at 14:08
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Why isn't JEPD a viable option? The bible is 100% GOD written and 100% man written. –  jchaffee Oct 3 '11 at 21:57
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Your answer claims the Bible has "multiple theologies", which indicates that the Bible had some text that was generated by human (in our human understandings) rather than "100% GOD written" as your comment says. If the Bible is "100% GOD written" then there are not "multiple theologies" but, rather, one theos -- the author of the document. You claim there are contradicting human theologies (as all theologies are human). I disagree that human theology plays into the writing of the Bible whatsoever, as I believe in the divine inspiration. Ergo, -1. –  Richard Oct 3 '11 at 22:10
    
Yes, but even the book of Psalms has bad theology. God delights in smashing babies against rocks? That's bad theology and ultimately against the fact that the law of Christ leads us to love our enemies and not pray for their destruction. If we took the book of Psalms to learn theology from, then you are looking in the wrong place. Psalms tells us that God hears our prayers, even when they aren't the best, but at least when they are honest. Of course there is human influence on Scripture, just as much as there is Divine. –  jchaffee Oct 12 '11 at 15:11
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