Friday, September 26, 2008

Repentant God, Part 1

One of God's many reported attributes is that He is completely omniscient. He knows the past, present, and future perfectly. God is supposedly in the unique position of knowing the exact consequences of His possible actions before He even takes the action, thereby allowing Him to make the best possible decisions.

Today's study is in Genesis 6. Previously, Adam and Eve have been kicked out from the Garden of Eden, and their offspring have been multiplying on the Earth. There is no record that God has tried to steer mankind down the path of righteousness since expulsion from Eden.

Repentant God, Part 1
Like a patient that undergoes the pain of a hip replacement surgery and subsequent therapy in order to walk with ease, God knows all of the discomfort He will have to endure to achieve His ultimate goal. In fact, an omniscient God would be in a better position than the patient, as He would know the exact detail of the pain He would experience by His decision before His decision is brought into fruition. Plus, such a God would know exactly the extent of the result and reward for enduring that pain. With such perfect knowledge, such a God has no excuse for mistakes and repentance of His own actions. Yet this is not what we find in the Bible, as we see in Genesis 6:5-8:

The LORD saw how great man's wickedness on the earth had become, and that every inclination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil all the time. The LORD was grieved that He had made man on the earth, and His heart was filled with pain. So the LORD said, "I will wipe mankind, whom I have created, from the face of the earth—men and animals, and creatures that move along the ground, and birds of the air—for I am grieved that I have made them." But Noah found favor in the eyes of the LORD. NIV

Because mankind had ultimately ended up thinking “only evil all the time”, God felt sorry that He ever made man. In other words, God repented making man. He changed His mind that the whole mankind project was a good idea. But if God knew the outcome of the project in advance, then why would and how could He repent? Everything was going exactly according to His Plan. If it was not part of His Plan, then He would not have decided to have mankind in the first place. Thus we see a failure of omniscience.

God's solution to the problem of evil in mankind was not remedial in nature. He did not say “These people are sheep without a shepherd. I will send them guides to the path of righteousness.” He did not decide that He needed a new strategy to encourage the love of God and doing what is right. Instead, God wanted to end the mankind project altogether, saying that He will wipe mankind from the face of the Earth. This solution shows another failure of omniscience; a failure to know that the present pain is worth the future reward according the the original Plan.

But Noah found favor in the eyes of the LORD. In other words, as God was about to wipe mankind off the Earth, He realized that there was one righteous man. So God made an exception. As the legend goes, God tells Noah to make an Ark and through doing so the animal kingdom is preserved and mankind again repopulates the Earth.

What is important to note is that God was not even omniscient about Noah. This is revealed in the language that God used, or rather did not use. God did not say “I will wipe mankind from the face of the Earth except for my servant Noah and his family.” God did not say “I have painfully endured the evil of mankind until the time of my beloved servant Noah, and now I am happy that I can start mankind over with a man of great faith.” Instead, we read God intended to end the mankind project, and would have done so if not for finding Noah. So we see a third failure of omniscience about Noah and the ultimate Plan.

So when you tuck your kids in at night, be sure to tell them that, at least at one time, God thought mankind was a mistake, and he would have snuffed us all out if not for Noah and a lack of His omniscience.


  1. I think i might have an angle on the omnisciense lapses.Pretend you are God, you wake up in the morning,have your cup of simulated burning flesh smell,and read the future,kinda like a morning paper.
    Later that're peering down through the clouds and you see a town[in winter]and the people are out collecting wood for fires to keep warm. that would be all well and good. BUT IT'S SUNDAY!
    You know what that means. You lose it,you see red...and know what must be now it's about lunchtime, the town has been vaporized,no survivors.You're just coming down off the intoxicating effects of all that burning flesh,thinking about how long its going to be before video cameras are invented.Then it hits you; "wait a minute ,this wasnt part of this mornings future report,this was an impulse smiting,i just changed the future"."There might not be a video camera invention!".My story here,of course ,isnt true but my point is; God obviously didnt "plan" all his smiting. Wouldnt you "have" to do everything manual until you got the revised future update?. Considering how many [millions?] of people have died [planned and/or unplanned]over the ages in the name of "many different religions" wouldnt the possibility of omnisciense be comical at best?

  2. Like a scene from Apocalypse Now, Redux God-Style:
    "I love the smell of burnt sacrifice in the morning. That smell, that charred flesh smell, it smells like...victory."

    Indeed, you've struck on the irony of the supposed future omniscience. If you already know what's going to happen, how can you get so angry that you impulsively react? An omniscient God should have had ample time to plan accordingly.

    God's omniscience is used in the Bible when it's convenient to the plot. Like many such literary devices, they make the story rich with detail, but fall apart under close scrutiny. They are entertaining, but ultimately reveal themselves as implausible fiction.

  3. TWF:

    To be fair, Enoch and Noah seem to be presented, by the New Testament at least, as being, in some sense, "preachers of righteousness", with Enoch being attributed a prophecy. Some intepreters also ascribe importance to Enoch have a son named Methusaleh, which apparently means something like 'when he dies, it shall come', and tie it into the idea of "Enoch as prophet".

    May all be well with you,
    Felix Zamora

  4. Hi Felix!

    I am guessing that the fairness aspect you mention is in response to my comments regarding God not attempting to steer mankind toward righteousness, is that correct?

    If so, I think you would have to agree that, as far as the evidence provided in the Old Testament, there is little to suggest that God was steering mankind.

    I would also counter that there is a difference between being a "preacher of righteousness" and being a "man of righteousness", with the former suggesting a more active evangelism. Although we could hope that a righteous man's activities "rub-off" on those around him, like reportedly was the case with Dr. Linvingston and H.M. Stanley, that's not always the best method of instructing righteousness.

    Now, Enoch is a very interesting case, especially in consideration of the New Testament treatment of him. If you stick to modern Biblical canon, there's not much you can know about him. However, if you delve into the "apocryphal" texts at all, well, then, suddenly Enoch and his prophesies provide some foundation to Christianity, particularly as it relates to the "son of man" and the interplay of angels and demons.

    If you haven't already dug into Enoch, and you have the time to do so, I think you would find it interesting. The Internet Sacred Text Archive has the second book of Enoch, which I've read. (There is an extended version of 2 Enoch which also includes more "history" of Melchizedek. He was born of a virgin, by the way.)

    Check out the Wikipedia links to get a very, very brief summary of these texts:
    1 Enoch
    2 Enoch
    3 Enoch