unnatural narratives of omniscience

Gen 6:5 The LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.
Gen 6:6 And the LORD regretted that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him to his heart.
Gen 6:7 So the LORD said, “I will blot out man whom I have created from the face of the land, man and animals and creeping things and birds of the heavens, for I am sorry that I have made them.”

In the Genesis narrative, the basic story is that the world becomes wicked and then God destroys the world. Missing from this simple description is a lot of normally used phrases to describe what happened, especially the exact wording found in Genesis. This is because the majority of Christianity rejects this view for a nuanced other view.

Biblical Open Theists affirm the text of Genesis. God is watching the world as it grows wicked. God then observes that the wickedness of man was great. God regrets making mankind. God is enveloped in sorrow and wishes He never made mankind. He sends a flood to destroy all that was created.

Classical Augustinian Christianity claims that God foreknows everything that will ever happen in the future. Their narrative of the event must be modified to reflect this view:

5: The LORD reached the point of time that He knew would be the time in which He would pass judgment on Earth for wickedness, for every intention of man’s thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.
6: And the Lord experienced a continually growing level sadness as man became more wicked, until it reached a level of grieving in His heart.
7:So the Lord said, “I have planned to destroy man at this point, for I am saddened by this specific level of wickedness.”

The Augustinian narrative would have to be as such: From time eternal God knew that the world would become as wicked as it did become. God waits(?) for this moment before acting. God had eternally planned to send a flood to rectify this event He knew would occur. God does not actually regret making mankind. Regret implies that given the same opportunity, one would not have taken the same action, and because God knew forever what would happen. Any sorrow God feels is the type of sorrow felt by someone watching a sorrowful movie they have already seen.

This is very unnatural to the text of Genesis. The narrative was not written in such a way to allow omniscience a place in the text. The author makes no apologies or qualifications. The author makes no hints at the enteral nature of the events. The Augustinian reading is just at odds with the text. The pattern is repeated throughout the Bible:

Jon 1:2 “Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and call out against it, for their evil has come up before me.”

Jon 3:1 Then the word of the LORD came to Jonah the second time, saying,
Jon 3:2 “Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and call out against it the message that I tell you.”
Jon 3:3 So Jonah arose and went to Nineveh, according to the word of the LORD. Now Nineveh was an exceedingly great city, three days’ journey in breadth.
Jon 3:4 Jonah began to go into the city, going a day’s journey. And he called out, “Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!”
Jon 3:5 And the people of Nineveh believed God. They called for a fast and put on sackcloth, from the greatest of them to the least of them.
Jon 3:6 The word reached the king of Nineveh, and he arose from his throne, removed his robe, covered himself with sackcloth, and sat in ashes.
Jon 3:7 And he issued a proclamation and published through Nineveh, “By the decree of the king and his nobles: Let neither man nor beast, herd nor flock, taste anything. Let them not feed or drink water,
Jon 3:8 but let man and beast be covered with sackcloth, and let them call out mightily to God. Let everyone turn from his evil way and from the violence that is in his hands.
Jon 3:9 Who knows? God may turn and relent and turn from his fierce anger, so that we may not perish.”
Jon 3:10 When God saw what they did, how they turned from their evil way, God relented of the disaster that he had said he would do to them, and he did not do it.

The Open Theist reads the Nineveh narrative on face value. God sees that Nineveh has become exceedingly wicked. God then responds by sending a prophet. God tells this prophet that He will destroy the city in 40 days. This is the message preached. The people “believe God” and wonder if God would repent if they do. The people, in desperation, repent. God sees their acts and then God repents of the disaster that “He said He would do to them, and He did not do it.”

The Augustinian narrative must be modified:

God had always known Nineveh would be evil. God waited(?) until Nineveh gained a certain level of evil and then sent a prophet. God tells his prophet to preach that the city will be destroyed in 40 days, knowing full well the people will hear the message and repent. God watches the people repent and then carries out His enteral plan of not destroying Nineveh.

Again, this is very unnatural to the text. The entire narrative does not hint that Nineveh’s end fate was pre-recorded in history. God is not shown as knowing the end fate of Nineveh before it occurred. God does not even explicitly hint that things could turn out differently for Nineveh. God is depicted as responding to actions after they occur.

The author shows zero familiarity with omniscience in his writing of the narrative. Again, there are no apologies or theological asides. There are no qualifying statements minimizing the phrasing of the text. The Augustinian reading is again at odds with the text.

When reading any Biblical narrative or listening to any sermon, it is easy to see the basic theology of God that is being advocated. And the Bible, really, is advocating of a specific a picture of God. The Bible writers were presenting God to their readers in contrast with the false gods that Israel might choose. They are not presenting a false picture, but a picture that Israel must accept to be worshipers of Yahweh. Often, modern preachers will qualify their own statements (“Of course, God knew from time eternal what would happen”, “Of course, God does not experience time like we do”) when they say something that might indicate the opposite of what they believe. These qualifiers are all but absent from the Biblical text. It is unreasonable to believe the writers wished their audience to maintain a Negative Theological perspective of God. The Biblical text was not written from the Augustinian perspective.

The writers of the Bible were not predisposed to thinking of God in terms of Negative Theology. To the extent that modern theologians champion attributes such as omniscience, omnipresence, omnipotence, infiniteness, incomprehensibility (and the like), the that same extent they are rejecting Biblical theology.

About christopher fisher

The blog is meant for educational/entertainment purposes. All material can be used and reproduced in any length for any purpose as long as I am cited as the source.
This entry was posted in Bible, Calvinism, Open Theism, Theology. Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to unnatural narratives of omniscience

  1. Tom Torbeyns says:

    One of your best articles so far! :-)

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