God's Omniscience and the Problem of Evil

The Problem of Evil

The Problem of Evil is a logical argument. If its premises are true, and then its conclusion is true. The conclusion is simply that there cannot be both evil and an omnipotent, omnibenevolent, and omniscient being. Conversely, if just one premise is false, then no logical conclusion can be drawn from the argument. So if we were to defend the God of Jesus Christ, then we merely need to show that one premise is false.

Contents

Let’s look at the argument. From Wikipedia, we can see the argument laid out as:

  • P1a. God exists.
  • P1b. God is omnipotent, omnibenevolent and omniscient.
  • P1c. An omnipotent being has the power to prevent that evil from coming into existence.
  • P1d. An omnibenevolent being would want to prevent all evils.
  • P1e. An omniscient being knows every way in which evils can come into existence, and knows every way in which those evils could be prevented.
  • P1f. A being who knows every way in which an evil can come into existence, who is able to prevent that evil from coming into existence, and who wants to do so, would prevent the existence of that evil.
  • P1. If there exists an omnipotent, omnibenevolent and omniscient God, then no evil exists.
  • P2. Evil exists (logical contradiction).

The Church’s Reaction

The churches usually agree with all the premises until they are led to the conclusion that God cannot exist. At that point, they back pedal and think harder about where they went wrong. Usually they will argue by saying Premise 1D is incorrect. This is a somewhat viable method to deconstruct the Problem of Evil, however, it results in lengthy discourses and floaty arguments, where it is hard to pin down what exactly each side of the debate is saying. Laymen cannot easily follow such arguments.

Some other churchmen will argue that Premise 1F is incorrect. Argument of this premise consists entirely in the philosophical domain and therefore is useless to people that want to know more about God.

God Is Not Omniscient Back to Top ↑

Instead of using ambiguous arguments, we should use clear arguments that can be supported from the Bible. If we want to show that the God of Jesus Christ does not create a logical inconsistency with the Problem of Evil, then we merely need to refute any singular premises. The only one that can be refuted with definitive and clear proof regards omniscience. Specifically, I say that Premise 1E is incorrect because God does not know the future, therefore God does not know every way in which evils can come into existence. Since God is not omniscient, he does not fall into the Problem of Evil.

I made a very bold claim. Now, I must prove it. This single sentence is the only sentence I should have to say to end this treatise: The Bible never says God knows the future.

An argument from absence is not a very convincing argument. However, the only way we know about the character of the God of Jesus Christ is by the Bible. Therefore, if the Bible does not say that God has an attribute, then we cannot assign it to him. As an example, the Bible does not say that God has sixteen toes. Therefore, if we said that God has sixteen toes, then we are giving God an attribute that has no basis.

The churchmen who say that God can see the future have only logically inferred it from from scripture. They say things like, “God gives prophecies of the future. Therefore, God must know the future to give them.” This is very logical. It is easy to see how the inference came about. However, if we take this inference to be true, then we run into the Problem of Evil, which would imply that God doesn’t exist. Therefore, we already know we cannot take the inference to be true if we wish to believe in God.

To confirm my claim, we can look at an action that God took: repentance. Since God repents, he cannot know the future.

To summarize: Churchmen assign a tribute to God that the Bible does not say he has. The churchmen have logically inferred it. What remains now is to show the verses that churchmen use to support their inference, and show how it cannot be inferred that God knows the future.

What Is Omniscience? Back to Top ↑

But first, what is omniscience? Omniscience can be split into four categories, all of which must be true for a being to be omniscient:

  • 1: A being must have perfect knowledge of the substance of the world. These are things are separate from time. Atomic structures, math, languages, science, all fall into this category. God has this.
  • 2: A being must have perfect knowledge of the history of the world. From the foundation of the Earth, through ancient and Roman times to yesterday, the being must know it all to be omniscient. God has this.
  • 3: A being must have perfect knowledge of the present of the world. From every person, and every event that is occurring, the being must know it all as it is happening. This is closely related to the separate concept of “omnipresence” that some claim God has.
  • 4: A being must have perfect knowledge of the future of the world. From tomorrow until the end of the universe, the being must know everything that will transpire. God does not have this.

We find that there are no verses in the Bible that support claim number 4, and therefore, there are no verses that support the idea that God knows every way in which evils can come into existence.

Examining the Verses That Claim Some Aspect of God’s Omniscience Back to Top ↑

First, note that we cannot go through every single verse in the Bible and show how they do not prove God’s capability to know the future. We do not have the time to do that. Instead, we will look at every verse that churchmen regularly use to claim that God is omniscient. None of them are in Category 4.

  • Talk no more so exceeding proudly; let not arrogancy come out of your mouth: for the LORD is a God of knowledge, and by him actions are weighed.1st Samuel 2:3
  • Dost thou know the balancings of the clouds, the wondrous works of him which is perfect in knowledge?Job 37:16
These verses are clearly in Category 1: They speak of the knowledge in the world. There is nothing in them that proclaims God as knowing the future. Instead, they say that God knows everything, much like an encyclopedia. These verses also come from fallible men, and not a prophet or God himself, so they could even be mistaken.

  • Great is our Lord, and of great power: his understanding is infinite.Psalm 147:5
This verse tells us that God can understand anything. Thus, this verse is in Category 1. God could tell us the secrets of gravity, how to unbind atoms, or how to best encourage a young couple who are going through a miscarriage. He won’t, but that is what this verse is implying. This verse is not implying anything about the future.

  • But the very hairs of your head are all numbered.Matthew 10:30
Jesus, speaking as a prophet of God, uttered this statement. This shows that God has knowledge of us personally. It also shows that he knows this knowledge in the present tense, since the number of hairs on our head change as we shed our hair and grow in more. Thus, this verse is firmly in Categories 1 and 3. Yet, Jesus said nothing regarding whether God would know how many hairs we would have in the future, therefore, we cannot conclude from this verse that God knows the future.

  • For he looketh to the ends of the earth, and seeth under the whole heaven.Job 28:24
  • The eyes of the LORD are in every place, beholding the evil and the good.Proverbs 15:3
  • For mine eyes are upon all their ways: they are not hid from my face, neither is their iniquity hid from mine eyes.Jeremiah 16:17
  • Can any hide himself in secret places that I shall not see him? saith the LORD. Do not I fill heaven and earth? saith the LORD.Jeremiah 23:24
Each verse here shows that God sees everything in the present. No one can hide anything from him. Thus, they are all in category 3. We also see that God witnesses evil acts. Even when someone is being tortured, God is there watching. Why would God watch people get tortured and do nothing? That is a problem, and needs to be explained by everyone who believes in God, however that is a topic for another article.

  • I know that thou canst do every thing, and that no thought can be withholden from thee.Job 42:2
  • Shall not God search this out? for he knoweth the secrets of the heart.Psalm 44:21
These verses are about God’s omnipotence. God sees every thought and knows every secret in our heart. The first verse is Category 2, the second is Category 3. These verses do not state that God is able to see what we’ll think before we think it, and therefore do not imply that God knows the future.

Prophecies Are a Sign of Omnipotence, Not Omniscience Back to Top ↑

  • Behold, the former things are come to pass, and new things do I declare: before they spring forth I tell you of them.Isaiah 42:9
The only singular verse that might prove God knows the future is about his omnipotence. The previous verses are all about the things he has done previously with his power. "Thus saith God the Lord, he that created the heavens, and stretched them out; he that spread forth the earth, and that which cometh out of it; he that giveth breath unto the people upon it, and spirit to them that walk therein: I the Lord have called thee in righteousness, and will hold thine hand, and will keep thee, and give thee for a covenant of the people, for a light of the Gentiles; To open the blind eyes, to bring out the prisoners from the prison, and them that sit in darkness out of the prison house. I am the Lord: that is my name: and my glory will I not give to another, neither my praise to graven images."Isaiah 42:5-8 As we can see from this, it would be weird to assign omniscience to a verse in a section about omnipotence, so we should already be wary of this interpretation.

When God said, “Behold, the former things are come to pass, and new things do I declare: before they spring forth I tell you of them,” he declared he makes prophecies that come true. Prophecies are not proof of Category 4. They are a show of his omnipotence, because God has the power to make them come true.

A boxer once said in an interview, “Yeah, I’ll get hit a few times but I’ll hit him [the opponent] real hard too.” We don’t say that the boxer is omniscient. His statement was a foregone conclusion given his situation. No matter what happens in the boxing ring, he and his opponent were going to hit each other.

It is the same with God. He is all powerful, so whatever he says will occur occurs. When he makes a prophecy, it is a foregone conclusion. God is God. As such, there exists no prophecies that are examples of God’s omniscience. Prophecies are examples of God’s omnipotence.

When God said to Adam, Because thou hast hearkened unto the voice of thy wife, and hast eaten of the tree... cursed is the ground for thy sake; in sorrow shalt thou eat of it all the days of thy life.Genesis 3:17 Was God prophesying or displaying his omnipotence? Obviously, he was displaying his omnipotence, even though he was talking about an event that had not yet occurred.

God said to Abram, Look now toward heaven, and tell the stars, if thou be able to number them: and he said unto him, So shall thy seed be.Genesis 15:5 Was God prophesying or displaying his omnipotence? Obviously, he was displaying his omnipotence, even though he was talking about an event that had not yet occurred.

God once said, Behold, Damascus is taken away from being a city, and it shall be a ruinous heap. The cities of Aroer are forsaken: they shall be for flocks, which shall lie down, and none shall make them afraid. The fortress also shall cease from Ephraim, and the kingdom from Damascus, and the remnant of Syria: they shall be as the glory of the children of Israel, saith the Lord of hosts. And in that day it shall come to pass, that the glory of Jacob shall be made thin, and the fatness of his flesh shall wax lean.Isaiah 17:1-4 Is this a vision from the future, or a display of God's omnipotence that he will make these things come to pass? Obviously, God is displaying his omnipotence, even though he is talking about an event that has yet to occur.

We could go through every single prophecy in the Bible in this fashion, but there is no reason to.

We find that there are no verses in the bible that support the idea that God knows everything that will occur in the future.

A Being That Repents Is Not Omniscient Back to Top ↑

Because we are making a claim that goes against most churches, it would be very helpful to confirm that God does not know the future. We can do this by looking at repentance.

What Is Repentance? Back to Top ↑

Repenting is an act that everyone does. And we should understand it as God understands it.

First, we know God does not sin. Moses, a prophet, once said, He is the Rock, his work is perfect: for all his ways are judgment: a God of truth and without iniquity, just and right is he.Deuteronomy 32:4 There are plenty more examples speaking to God’s holiness and righteousness. They all show that God does not sin.

Thus, God does not sin. However, God repents. And it repented the LORD that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him at his heart.Genesis 6:6 God doesn’t sin, but God repents. Therefore, repentance does not require sin.

The traditions of man have formed the commonly accepted idea that repentance requires sin. Despite being central in Judaism and many sects of Christianity, the definition is illogical, as it would make God to be a sinner. Thus, we must toss it away and find the original and correct definition for it.

The Greek easily supplies us with a good definition of ‘repent’. Usually, when a reader sees the word ‘repent’ in the New Testament, the Greek word behind it is μετανοώ (metanoó). This word literally means, “a change of mind.”

Thus, when Jesus said, For I am not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance,Matthew 9:13 he wanted sinners to change their mind from their disbelieving ways and follow the will of God. That is repentance; a change of mind.

A Being That Repented Does Not Know the Future Back to Top ↑

No one repents of something that they believe to be correct. Repentance can only occur if a being believes that what they did in the past or are doing in the present is incorrect. If they believe it to be correct, then they cannot change their mind. Thus, they cannot repent. Therefore, if a being has repented, then they did not know what the correct thing to do was when they did it. If they did, then they would have done it. Therefore, no being that has repented knows the future.

God Has Repented in the Past Back to Top ↑

This is simple. If you believe the Bible, then you know God repents. God repented twice for actions he had taken in the past.(See Genesis 6:6-7 and 1st Samuel 15:11.) God also says that he will repent from a future action he was about to do at least eleven times.(See Exodus 32:12-14, 2nd Samuel 24:16, 1st Chronicles 21:15, Psalms 106:45, Jeremiah 4:28, 18:8, 26:3, 13, 19, 42:10, Joel 2:13-14, Amos 7:3, 6, Jonah 3:9-10, 4:2.)

God repents.

There are, however, some examples that state that God does not repent.(Psalm 110:4, Jeremiah 4:27-28 and Ezekiel 24:14.) However, these are regarding a specific action that God will take. When the Bible says God will not repent of that action, it means we cannot change his mind on it. They are not a claim about his being.

One other verse serves as an example. It seems to imply something about God when in reality it is talking about an action that God took.

Balaam, who later led Israel into much sin,(See Numbers 31:16.) said of God, God is not a man, that he should lie; neither the son of man, that he should repent: hath he said, and shall he not do it? or hath he spoken, and shall he not make it good?Numbers 23:19 This is regarding a specific action God has taken, the blessing of Israel. In context, we find Balak was repeatedly asking Balaam to prophesy Israel’s destruction, but Balaam would not. Thus, Balaam said that God would not repent of the blessing he put on Israel. Surely there is no enchantment against Jacob, neither is there any divination against Israel: according to this time it shall be said of Jacob and of Israel, What hath God wrought!Numbers 23:23

Therefore, we conclude God repents. He may choose occasionally to not repent, but that is a choice, and not a feature of his being.

God Repents, Therefore He Is Not Omniscient Back to Top ↑

Thus we have our conclusion: God repents, therefore he does not know the future. We already showed the Bible does not imply that God is fully omniscient, and now we have given supporting evidence from the Bible. If God knows the future, then these acts of repentance were illogical for him to do.

An In-Depth Look At an Example of God’s Repentance Back to Top ↑

It may be helpful to illustrate an example of God’s repentance in action. The first time God is noted as repenting, Genesis reads, And GOD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. And it repented the LORD that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him at his heart. And the LORD said, I will destroy man whom I have created from the face of the earth; both man, and beast, and the creeping thing, and the fowls of the air; for it repenteth me that I have made them.Genesis 6:5-7

The first time God repents is when he thinks about how evil his creation is. But, if God knew how evil every single one of these humans would become, would he then have created them? We must answer “no.” We just read, And the LORD said, I will destroy man whom I have created from the face of the earth; both man, and beast, and the creeping thing, and the fowls of the air; for it repenteth me that I have made them.Genesis 6:5-7

If God knew humanity would come to be so evil, he would not have made them. Thus, God was not omniscient because he did not know the outcome of his action of creating humanity. If God knew the outcome of creating humanity, then he would not be omnibenevolent because he allowed and created evil.

Of course, we find God repented again from his course of action. As he looks at the creatures he is about to destroy, God found one worthy person. But Noah found grace in the eyes of the LORD.Genesis 6:8 First God repented of his action of creating humanity. Then God said, “I will destroy every creature.” Then God repented of his saying, because he found one creature, Noah, that he did not want to destroy.

Thus, God is omniscient regarding the past and present. He knew every human enough to know that they were all evil. And he knew that there was one human that was worthy. But, at the time of creating humanity, he did not know he would later want to destroy it. And, at the time of saying that he would destroy every creature, he did not know he wanted to save Noah. Thus, God is not omniscient towards the future.

Yet, when God said to Noah, And, behold, I, even I, do bring a flood of waters upon the earth, to destroy all flesh, wherein is the breath of life, from under heaven; and every thing that is in the earth shall die,Genesis 6:17 he wasn’t showing his omniscience, he was showing his omnipotence.

How to Counter This Argument Back to Top ↑

The logical argument that God repents, therefore he does not know the future goes like this:

  • P1. A being that repented does not know the future.
  • P2. God has repented in the past.
  • C. Therefore, God does not know the future.

This is a very simple modus ponens argument. Premise 2, “God has repented in the past,” is straight from the Bible. A believer can not argue against it in good faith. Naturally, any non-believer will not care whether a being they don’t believe in from a book they do not believe repents or not, and so they will not make an argument on that basis. Premise 1, “A being that repented does not know the future,” can be argued, as it is itself a logical deduction. Therefore, any good faith argument that attempts to counter this argument must be focused on disproving Premise 1.

God's Lack of Omniscience Preserves His Deity Back to Top ↑

Listening to God in the Bible turns out not to be a bad thing. By doing so, we can see that God is a righteous being who has a will for us to do. It also portrays him and this universe as logical.

In the Problem of Evil Premise 1E states, "An omniscient being knows every way in which evils can come into existence, and knows every way in which those evils could be prevented." By showing that God is not omniscient,(because he does not know the future) we see that Premise 1E in the Problem of Evil cannot be applied to God. Therefore, both God and evil can exist.

What remains for the believer then is to explain why evil reigns even though God exists and is omnibenevolent.

It is out of scope to explain deeply for this article, but in short, the will of God is to have children that have experienced evil. It will help them realize that life with God is better than life on Earth,(John 12:25.) which is what Jesus wants us to do.

The will of God itself is simple. Jesus said, And this is the Father’s will which hath sent me, that of all which he hath given me I should lose nothing, but should raise it up again at the last day. And this is the will of him that sent me, that every one which seeth the Son, and believeth on him, may have everlasting life: and I will raise him up at the last day.John 6:39-40

Since God does not know the future, he made Earth and humanity to create beings that live with his perfect nature. Had he simply made humanity in heaven, then all the sin that we brought to Earth would be in heaven, which is unacceptable. That those of us here on Earth suffer is sad, but it does not invalidate God’s will.

If God knew all futures from all courses of action, he would simply make the humans that would become compatible with heaven. But he cannot, because he does not know which humans would become compatible, and how they would become compatible. And so, he made Earth, an imperfect place. And he put humanity, an imperfect being, on it. If he finds anyone that can become perfect, he will resurrect them to live with him.