4-3 God Limiting His Omniscience
All these things are hard to really believe if we think that God knows all things from the beginning and knows the outcome of every prayer and repentance. The passion and emotion would be taken out of it. It is clear enough that God at times limits His power. He could save everybody, indeed He wishes to do this, yet He allows human freewill to be genuine and meaningful, to the extent that not all will be saved. Israel in the wilderness " limited the Holy One of Israel" . He was left by Israel as a mighty man powerless to save (Jer. ). The Greek word dunatos translated 16 times " mighty" is also 13 times translated " possible" . God's might is His possibility. But our freewill can limit that might. All things are possible to God, and therefore all things are possible to the believer- but if the believer has no faith, then, those possibilities of God will not occur (Lk. 1:49; Mk. 9:23; 10:27). And so I have no problem with a God who limits His omniscience. Here are some further examples of God limiting His knowledge:
- Recall how He " went down" to Sodom to see if they had really sinned as much as it seemed. He was surely restraining His omniscience in acting like that.
- He forgets our sins; and yet God knows everything that happens and is thought today, and also yesterday. And yet, He limits that total knowledge by forgetting our sins. In Amos 8:7 God swore He would never forget Israel's sin. Yet the same word is used in Is. 65:16 of how God hid their sin from His eyes. He restrained His omniscience. He erased His own permanent memory as it were.
- When God wanted to heal Israel, then He discovered their sin (Hos. 7:1; Ez. 16:57). Why speak like this if God already knew their sin from the beginning?
- Scripture repeatedly speaks as if God notices things and is then hurt by what He sees (Jonah 3:10; Gen. 29:31; Ex. 3:4; Dt. 32:19; 2 Kings 14:26; 2 Chron. 12:7; Ez. 23:13; Is. 59:15 cp. Lk. 7:13). If He knew in advance what they were going to do, this language is hard for me to understand. But God is therefore hurt and 'surprised' at sin- He saw Israel as the firstripe grapes, but they were worshipping Baal even then (Hos. 9:9).
- The eagerness of the God who was in love with His woman Israel is quite something. " Surely they are my people, children that will not lie!" (Is. 63:8), He triumphed. But this was because of His mercy and love to them (v.7). That love as it were blinded His eyes to their sin. And this is the basis of our being counted righteous if we are in His beloved Son. But with Israel, " then I saw that she was defiled...then my mind was alienated" (Ez. 23:13,18). He stopped restraining His omniscience. He saw them for who they were, unfaithful, and reacted. He did everything He could for His vineyard, and was then so bitterly disappointed when it brought forth wild grapes (Is. 5:4).
- God sent His Son to Israel, thinking " they will reverence him when they see him" (Lk. 20:13). But Isaiah 53 had prophesied that when Israel saw Him, they would see no beauty in Him and crucify Him. Yet God restrained that knowledge, in His love and positive hope for His people. Likewise Jesus, it seems to me limited His foreknowledge of Judas. He knew from the beginning who would betray him. One of the 12 was a traitor. Yet Judas was His own familiar friend in whom He trusted.
- Repentance, change of mind, can be hid from God's eyes (Hos. 13:14). He says in Ez. 5:11 that He will withdraw His eye, that it will not spare- when He saw the suffering of Israel at the hands of the invaders He sent (RVmg.). The idea of things being hidden from God's eyes is surely a poetic way of saying He limits His omniscience. Likewise God did not let His eye spare in punishing His people (Ez. 5:11; 9:5), after the pattern of His telling Moses to 'let me alone' that He might destroy them. It's as if God knows that He is emotional and is capable of being influenced by those emotions. And yet, God is so torn. He wanted to destroy them. But He wanted to save them. They were His children. And, worst of all, He " often" went through this feeling (Ps. 106:45).
- " I did not command or mention, nor did it enter my mind" (Jer. 7:31; 19:5) was God's comment upon infant sacrifice. One could think that all possibilities have occurred to an omniscient, eternal God. But, no, not all. And He is hurt and shocked when His people devise perversions which He Himself has never even dreamed of. In this alone we see a limitation of His omniscience (1).
This explains why God's anger comes up in His face; why He speaks in the fire of His jealousy when His 'woman' has been unfaithful (Ez. 36:5). It also gives us a window into how God can say that His bowels, His innermost heart, are troubled for His people when He sees them suffer (Jer. 31:20). These wonderful, wonderful words would lose most of their power if God calmly foresaw it all coming, and men were just acting out the part He knew they would play. In this is the vitality and dynamism of our relationship with God. We are made in God's image, and so we too have feelings of surprise, shock, hurt, anger, revenge. God does too. As we pray, as we struggle to understand, as we Hope in His grace, our feelings and His come together in a wonderful relationship. This is why there is an element of mutuality in our prayers. God “granted” Hannah’s request for a child (1 Sam. 1:27 NIV) and she “granted” the child back to God (1 Sam. 1:28 RV). When Hannah says ‘What you give me, I will give back to you’ (1 Sam. 1:11), she understood this mutuality between the Father and His children which is developed through answered prayer.