GOD’S INFINITY: QUALATATIVE OR QUANTATATIVE?

handsIt is understood that God is all powerful as well as all knowing. The question that has to be answered is ‘how,’ in what capacity is God’s infinity to be understood?

No scripture confesses that “God does not know all things,”[1] wrote Ron Highfield. This statement while seemingly true, and I believe it is true, seems innocent. But, when we say God knows all things, the question that comes to mind is what “all” does God know and when does he know? Did God know of the Paris or San Bernardino terrorist attacks before they happened? Or, did God know about them perfectly as the unfolded, whereas man knew of them in some partial form as they transpired?

What needs to be separated and understood is do we speak of God’s infinity as quantitative or qualitative?  But can God’s perfect knowledge be limited to ‘what can be known at a given time.’ This allows God to respond to man’s actions and God’s infinite knowledge can remain intact. Right now it is 12:40 am. God has perfect knowledge of 12:40 am. But there is no knowledge of 12:41 as it is not yet 12:41. Thus God’s knowledge is perfect and up to date. Hmmm? God has perfect and infinite knowledge of everything that is; but can/does he have knowledge of what is not? 12:41 is not yet here so can there be any knowledge of it? God knows all things that can be known at any given time.

Psalm 147 states, “… his understanding is beyond measure.” But the question that has to be answered is this quantitative or qualitative? Can God know what is yet unknown, when he created beings with free-will? It seems that God’s infinite knowledge is best to be seen as qualitative. God can and does know everything at any given point perfectly. He knows everything there is to know about whatever there is to know at any given time. But, being as the future is not a point in time (the future is not anything, nothing is anything until the time it comes into being), in fact the future may not even come to pass, God’s knowledge is perfect and infinite in what can be know. His infinite knowledge is in regards to what is, as what is not cannot be known; the minute it become known it is.  It is unlimited in that God can and does know everything that can be known—what is knowable. It is infinite in quality in that God knows perfect. He is not bogged down in his knowledge with pre-conceived notions. The Apostle Paul wrote that now he—in essence mankind—knows ‘in part’ but at some later time the ‘partial things will pass away. (1 Corinthians 13:9-10).  God’s knowledge is not partial as is man’s. Everything that is ‘knowable’ God knows and perfectly whereas man only knows in part and even then that knowledge is clouded. There is a difference in the quality of the knowledge. This allows for man’s free-will and God’s infinite knowledge—qualitative—both to remain intact.

Important for understanding evil is understanding God’s providence. It has to be understood that God can know infinitely everything that is knowable; he can do infinitely everything that is logically doable. Yet, man’s free-will choice is something not known even when man commits to it—though the intent can be known, it is only knowable when man engages his free-will choice. God’s immanence— immanence means that God is present to and in the natural order, human nature, and history[2]—has to also be kept in the equation. Understanding God’s infinite knowledge as qualitative as opposed to quantitative keeps God’s immanence in proper check for to venture to far along the lines of quantitative can led on to pantheism. Feinberg asserts, “As Barth frequently reminds us, in Christ God both draws near to us but remains also hidden. God is veiled in his unveiling and unveiled in his hiddenness”[3]

It can be argued then that God cannot control every event, as wells, it can be argued that God does not control every event. Both lead to their own particular conundrums. If it is argued that God cannot control every event then the conclusion can be drawn that God is not all powerful. If research then concludes that God does not control every event then it could be argued that God does not care. It would be hard to see a symbol of a benevolent God a God that does not care. Yet, if the free-will defense is factored into the equation the results change.

If man acts upon his own free-will it does not limit the power of God for God can act in response to what is knowable. It also sets up the premise that it is not God who does not care but man. For God has set his ways in the heart of man; man chooses to act contrary to God’s ways. Yet, when man engages a plan of evil God can and does act. There is an immense difference in the fact that God does not control every event and in that God cannot control every event.

King writes, “The Christian religion, in the modern period has been its failure to deal adequately with the problem of evil. Innocent suffering both as a result of natural calamity and human malevolence is presumed to count decisively against the existence of a benevolent and omnipotent God. A ‘God of Love’ such as Christians profess to worship, surely would not permit such wanton destruction of human life as represented by the Lisbon earthquake or the Holocaust.”[4]

Yet, when God’s omnipotence is seen as qualitative as opposed to quantitative this situation does not exist. God has the power to work in everything that is logically doable—it is not logical to stop a tsunami before it happens as it is not known until it happens, until it becomes known. Yet, God can, and does, work in all these situations.

The free-will defense keeps man’s free-will intact and as well keeps God’sinfinite knowledge and power both intact. As Plantiga asserts, “A world where creatures who are significantly free (and freely perform more good than evil actions) is more valuable, all being equal, than a world containing no free creatures at all. Now God can create free creatures but he can’t cause or determine them to do only what is right. To create creatures capable of moral good, therefore, he must create creatures capable of moral evil: and he can’t give these creatures their freedom to perform evil and at the same time prevent them from doing so.”[5]

While Bonting believes in the existence of evil, it is creatio ex nihilo where he has the problem. “In my view the commonly accepted creation theology, creatio ex nihilo (“creation out of nothing”), is at fault because it implies that God created everything, including evil.”[6] Geisler combats this problem writing, “God made evil possible by creating free creatures; they are responsible for making it actual.”[7] He continues, “Given that He has willed to create free creatures, it would go against His own will to destroy our free will.”[8]

With God controlling everything can there be free-will? With God controlling everything can there be real love for God, or is simple forced, built in, robot love? God created man with free-will; with free-will cane the possibility of man doing evil. For God to stop man from doing evil would be to go against the very order, free-will, that God created. With God’s infinite knowledge he can know everything that is knowable, and know it perfectly. With his infinite power he can do everything that is logically doable. God (1) cannot know evil until it happens because before it happens it is not knowable and (2) God cannot not stop the evil of man—even when it is knowable—because to do so would be to go against what he created and called good—freewill-beings.

For Plantinga, “A world containing creatures who are significantly free (and freely perform more good than evil actions) is more valuable, all else being equal, than a world containing no free creatures at all.”[9] Geisler sums it up well writing, “So more properly speaking, omnipotence means God can do anything that is possible to do, not what is impossible or contradictory. Given that He has willed to create free creatures, it would go against His own will to destroy our free will. There are some things even God cannot do. He cannot force anyone to freely accept Him. Forced freedom is a contradiction in terms.”[10]

Collect:

Grant, O Lord, we beseech thee, that the course of this world
may be peaceably governed by thy providence; and that thy
Church may joyfully serve thee in confidence and serenity;
through Jesus Christ our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with
thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

 

Until next time, may the Good Lord Bless and Keep You!

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[1]William Lane Craig, Ron Highfield;  Gregory A. Boyd, Paul Kjoss  Helseth, Four Views on Divine Providence (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2011), Kindle Location 2788.

[2] John Feinberg, No One Like Him: The Doctrine of God (Wheaton: Crossway, 2006), 29.

[3] Feinberg, 31. Referencing Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics, vol. 1, part 1 (Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1960), pp. 368-372.

.[4] Robert King, “Review of Diogenes Allen’s The Traces of God,Princeton Seminary Review, vol. 3, no. 3 1982, 336.

  [5] Alvin Plantinga, God, Freedom, and Evil (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, 1974), 30

[6] Sjoerd L. Bonting, “The Problem of Evil,” Sewanee Theological Review 47, no. 4 (2014):405.

[7] Geisler, 31.

[8] Geisler, 37.

[9] Plantinga, Chapter 4 under The Free Will Defense.

[10] Geisler, 38.

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