Tuesday, 21 May 2013

A2 Religious Studies: God's Omniscience

When discussing God's omniscience, it always helps to know some Biblical examples. What does scripture tell us about God's all-knowing nature?

Genesis is the most obvious example. In Genesis 3 we are told that God has perfect knowledge of everything, including good and evil.

In Job 38, God pretty much boasts about his own omniscience, asking:

"Do you know the laws of the heavens?"

In 2 Samuel, David's attempt to hide his affair from God proves to be futile - because God already knows.

Psalm 139 states the following about God's omniscience:

"You knit me together in my mother's womb"

"You know when I sit and when I rise"

"Such knowledge is too wonderful to me"

Similarly, in Jeremiah 1 God states that:

"Before I formed you in the womb I knew you"
  • Does this conflict with the idea of free will?
  • Does this mean that all evil and suffering is down to God?
As with omnipotence, there is more than one definition of omniscience.
  1. God knows absolutely anything and everything. He has unlimited knowledge of all time - this links to God being timeless
  2. God has limited knowledge, because he cannot know the logically impossible or the future. Knowledge changes and is gained through time - this links to God being everlasting
Anselm gives a nice and simple quote, calling God:

"Supremely perceptive"

But if we take the first definition, that God knows everything, how can we have free will? If God knows the future, it must be necessary - so nothing we do can change that. Also, it implies that we do not have moral responsibility for our actions, since our decisions are already known by God and cannot change. 

Kant says that:

"Without freedom, there can be no moral choices."

However, many Christians refute this idea, arguing that we still have free will. Schleirmacher argues that God's knowledge is akin to a parent's knowledge of their child. He can accurately predict how people will act, but this doesn't make his knowledge causal

Boethius also tries to overcome this apparent problem, arguing that in order for free will and omniscience, God has to be able to see everything at once:

"As though from a lofty peak"

This way, our past, present and future comes together to form one 'eternal present' to God. To God there is no future, only a simultaneous present of all time. So we are still free as we move into our future.
  • But how can Boethius's timeless God see things that haven't yet happened? Surely this is illogical, and we are still determined to go a certain way in life?


  1. Ooh I'm studying (or, well, finishing) A2 Religious Studies and English Literature as well, and I'm fairly sure that we're on the same exam board, so good luck for Thursday! It's a shame that I've only just stumbled upon your blog - you've certainly put my pathetic attempts at revision to shame.

    1. I'm guessing we are! Best of luck for you too, try not to get hand cramp...!