Feb 15, 2010

Does God Forget?

"Now are we sure that thou knowest all things, and needest not that any man should ask thee: by this we believe that thou camest forth from God." (John 16: 30)

"He saith unto him the third time, Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou me? Peter was grieved because he said unto him the third time, Lovest thou me? And he said unto him, Lord, thou knowest all things; thou knowest that I love thee. Jesus saith unto him, Feed my sheep." (John 21: 17)

"For if our heart condemn us, God is greater than our heart, and knoweth all things." (I John 3: 20)

These verses clearly teach that God is omniscient, that he is all knowing. God is not ignorant of anything.

Those who deny the omniscience of God, such as the Open Theists (and some others with whom I have recently engaged in discussion), affirm that God is "willingly ignorant" of certain things, saying that the above verses merely affirm that God simply knows all that he wants to know, and affirming that there are things that God has chosen not to know. They cite scriptures that on the surface seem to teach that God does not know all things. For instance, they cite such verses as these:

"And they shall teach no more every man his neighbour, and every man his brother, saying, Know the LORD: for they shall all know me, from the least of them unto the greatest of them, saith the LORD: for I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more." (Jeremiah 31: 34)

"For I will be merciful to their unrighteousness, and their sins and their iniquities will I remember no more." (Hebrews 8: 12 & 10: 17)

"Therefore, behold, I, even I, will utterly forget you, and I will forsake you, and the city that I gave you and your fathers, and cast you out of my presence." (Jeremiah 23: 39)

But, clearly such verses are not to be taken in an absolute or universal sense. To do so would lead us into denying the verses cited above, that affirm God's omniscience. It would also lead us into the absurd position that says that creatures know things the Creator does not know. For if I know that I told a lie yesterday, but God, having forgiven me of the sin, does not know it any longer, then I can affirm that I know things that God does not know. It would lead us to affirm that God is ignorant.

But, that the above verses are not to be taken in an absolute sense is obvious, for God does know that we have sinned, even though he says he will not remember it. Notice these words of Paul.

"Who was before a blasphemer, and a persecutor, and injurious: but I obtained mercy, because I did it ignorantly in unbelief." (I Tim. 1: 13)

Paul had been forgiven of the sins he enumerated. Yet, God the Holy Spirit inspires Paul to recall his former sins. Ergo, though God forgave Paul of the sins mentioned, yet he did not cease having knowledge of them.

Here is what Stephen Charnock wrote on this matter in his classic work on the nature and attributes of God.

"And though God be said to forget in Scripture, and not to know his people, and his people pray to him to remember them, as if he had forgotten them, Ps. 119: 49, this is improperly ascribed to God. As God is said to repent, when he changes things according to his counsel beyond the expectation of men, so he is said to forget, when he defers the making good his promise to the godly, or his threatenings to the wicked. This is not a defect of memory belonging to his mind, but an act of his will. When he is said to remember his covenant, it is to will grace according to his covenant; when he is said to forget his covenant, it is to intercept the influences of it, whereby to punish the sin of his people; and when he is said not to know his people, it is not an absolute forgetfulness of them, but withdrawing from them the testimonies of his kindness, and clouding the signs of his favour; so God in pardoning is said to forget sin, not that he ceaseth to know it, but ceaseth to punish it. It is not to be meant of a simple forgetfulness, or a lapse of his memory, but of a judicial forgetfulness; so when his people in Scripture pray, 'Lord, remember thy word unto thy servant,' no more is to be understood, but, Lord fulfil they word and promise to thy servant." (page 194, emphasis mine)

3 comments:

Deepthinker said...

AWESome. we need to be reminded that He knows all

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