Thursday, August 12

God's Omnipresence and Open Theology

Yes, the I am still on the open theology and God's attributes kick, even though I haven't had time to do much deep thinking on the subject lately. So let's look at the latest attribute discussed here--God's omnipresence--and see how it relates to open theism.

Do open theists claim to believe in God's omnipresence? Yes they do. They believe that God is in all spaces. Depending on how you view the relationship between God's eternity and his omnipresence, you might see a problem with this. If you think that God's eternity means that he inhabits all future spaces as well as present and past spaces, then you are going to argue that a God who doesn't (or can't) know the future, can't inhabit future spaces, and therefore cannot be omnipresent. And you might be right in arguing that, but I'm not sure what God's relationship to future spaces is. I can't really wrap my mind around this enough to get any sort of clear--or even fuzzy--picture of how it must be, so I'm choosing not to wade into those waters.

I still have some thoughts on the subject though, and those thoughts have more to do with what a belief in God's omnipresence might do to the open theistic system. There are a couple of reasons given by open theists as to why they don't believe God knows the future. They are, of course, going to argue that they don't believe God knows the future because of what Scripture says. I don't think this is quite right. It is true that they can pull a few verses out to support their ideas about God's relationship to the future, but I think an objective look at things will show that the foundation for their ideas is not so much scriptural, as it is philosophical. Scripture can be found to argue both positions as to God's knowledge of the future, and probably there is more scripture arguing God's knowledge of the future than there is that seems to argue against it. Something other than scripture is the deciding factor for them, and this--when you dig down to the foundation--is quite simply that a God who can't peer forward into what hasn't happened yet works better with their system.

The problem is that they seem to come to the table with the presupposition that God's knowledge is determinative--that God's knowing something will happen compels it to occur. This is a problem for them in two ways. First of all, if their presupposition is true, then human beings don't have free choice, and CAN'T have free choice, as long as God knows what their future choices will be. If God's knowledge is determinative, and God knows that I'm going to choose to sleep in tomorrow, then I'm not free to get up at 6:45AM when my alarm goes off. To get up early, in their system, would no longer be a true option for me if God knew I would choose to sleep in. And since human freedom is a very important value in the open theist system--in fact, it's the basis, as far as they are concerned, for human responsibility--God's foreknowledge has got to be set aside in order to preserve human freedom. God cannot have knowledge of our future choices, as an open theist sees it, in a system where human beings are held accountable for their choices. To use my alarm clock example, if God knew beforehand that I would angrily press the snooze button, then I couldn't rightly be held accountable for my laziness, because the other choice--to hop cheerily out of bed and get on with my day--wouldn't have been an real option for me.

What I am really trying to get to, in a not all that direct sort of way, is the second problem this presupposition gives them: the other side of this same coin. If God's knowledge is determinative, then the responsibility for tragedies and accidents and all sorts of evil things could be laid at the feet of a God with perfect knowledge of the future. I have an acquaintance who has written books supporting open theism, and he says (at least he used to) that a family tragedy was the catalyst for him searching out a different sort of view of God than the traditional one. He could not trust a God who would know ahead of time that this tragic accident would happen, and not prevent it from happening. As far as this man could see things, if God knew the accident would happen, then God purposefully chose to allow it, and even more--he determined it. The blame, therefore, would sit on God's shoulders.

So here's what I'm thinking about all of this. Even if we throw out God's omniscience, but keep him all-present and all-powerful, we still have the same problem with God being able to prevent any accident, but sometimes choosing not to. In any accident, or even any other sort of evil event, there are a least a few nanoseconds before it actually occurs when anyone who's there (at least anyone with any thinking power at all) can see things are heading toward a bad end. The nasty occurrence could still, at this point, be prevented by anyone there who is all-powerful. And an omnipresent God would be there. All of his power would be available in every point of space. A car could always be stopped by his outstretched hand before it reached the side of the road. If an open theist sees God as responsible for what he knows will happen, but chooses not to prevent, then an omnipresent and all-powerful God would be just as responsible as an omniscient one, wouldn't he?

The only difference between the two scenarios--the one with an omniscient God, and the other with a God who is not omniscient, but still all-present and all-powerful--is that in the first, God's determination of an event takes place a long, long, time before that event occurs; and in the second, his determination take place only minutes or seconds or even nanoseconds before the event occurs. God still determines what will happen--if you buy the open theist's God's knowledge is determinative presupposition, doesn't he?
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