The problem of omniscience

But God had proceeded quite differently. He had devised a rule and then found a way of persuading someone to break it, merely in order to invent Punishment. He knew that Adam and Eve would become bored with perfection and would, sooner or later, test His patience. He set a trap, perhaps because He, Almighty God, was also bored with everything going so smoothly: if Eve had not eaten the apple, nothing of any interest would have happened in the last few billion years.

When the law was broken, God – the Omnipotent Judge – even pretended to pursue them, as if he did not already know every possible hiding place. With the angels looking on, amused by the game (life must have been very dreary for them since Lucifer left Heaven), he began to walk about the garden. Mari thought what a wonderful scene in a suspense movie that episode from the Bible would make: God’s footsteps, the couple exchanging frightened glances, the feet suddenly stopping by their hiding place.

‘Where art thou?’ asked God.

‘I heard thy voice in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked; and I hid myself,’ Adam replied, without knowing that by making this statement, he had confessed himself guilty of a crime.

So, by means of a simple trick, pretending not to know where Adam was nor why he had run away, God got what he wanted. Even so, in order to leave no doubts amongst the audience of angels who were intently watching the episode, he decided to go further.

‘Who told thee that thou was naked?’ said God, knowing that this question could have only one possible response: because I ate of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.

With that question, God demonstrated to his angels that he was a just god, and that his condemnation of the couple was based on solid evidence. From then on, it wasn’t a matter of whether it was the woman’s fault or of their asking for forgiveness: God needed an example, so that no other being, earthly or heavenly, would ever again dare to go against his decisions.

God expelled the couple, and their children paid for the crime too (as still happens with the children of criminals) and thus the judiciary system was invented: the law, the transgressions of the law (no matter how illogical or absurd), judgement (in which the more experienced triumphs over the ingenuous) and punishment.

Veronika Decides to Die, Paulo Coelho

Coelho probably meant for this line of thought (by a former lawyer in his novel) to be primarily a humorous one (or maybe not), but these few paragraphs managed to stir up within me some curiosity on the nature of God. Now I know that from a Christian perspective, the nature of God is beyond mortal men to comprehend (and why not? I can’t even get my head around the dual nature of light), but that doesn’t really stop me from trying to use my limited human intellect to approach it (and coming up with rather heretical ideas in the process).

Does God really know everything that’s going to happen? Doesn’t that mean we have no true free will to speak of? Why does he allow such awful things to happen? Why does he, in the Bible, repeatedly make offers to us knowing that we’ll simply fail to meet the required standards? In my mind, the simple answer might be this – the omniscience is selective in nature.

Knowing everything before it happens would probably be extremely boring. This is of course a rather human point of view, but it’s the only one I know. Besides, we’re supposed to be made in his image anyway, so it might not be that much of a stretch to presume a similar psyche. The solution would thus be to not utilise the ability until required to, like somebody who follows a TV series but occasionally searches the internet for spoiler information.

Or maybe God’s more like a certain someone I know who actually reads up quite a bit on the TV series she follows, and often seems to have a pretty good idea of what’s to come. I don’t know for sure – I only know that if I were an omnipotent being with all eternity to enjoy the progress of the human race (as long as they don’t nuke themselves to death anyway), I’d only look at the script when making press releases (aka prophecies), or perhaps when making wagers with fellow immortals.

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Posted on February 7, 2009, in Faith. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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