The Question of Omnipotence and the Prophet Jeremiah


Renaissance Picture of Jeremiah
Renaissance Picture of Jeremiah

The question of whether or not God knows all is an important one to Christianity and is not easily answered. First, when we talk about God “knowing” all we we are talking about a doctrine in the church called omnipotence (meaning all-knowing).  Some theologians, known as open theists, have tried to argue that God doesn’t know the future.  Open theism, however, is more of a “fad” that has developed in recent years and will probably disappear with the authors who wrote began it.  The more traditional view is that God does know everything in the future.  As I taught this in Sunday School, the main question we struggled with was, “Why would God have emotional attachment to the events if he already knew they were going to happen?” and why does it appear that in some Old Testament passages that Abraham and others “reason” with God and that God changes his mind.  How can God be reasoned with if he already knows the outcome of all events?  

We noted from the beginning that God is sometimes beyond our understanding. 

I would like to take a moment then to talk about the prophet Jeremiah–often referred to as the Old Testament predecessor of Jesus because of the great suffering he endured.  Jeremiah is a good example for us because he did, in some sense, know the future, but he was also human.  Without getting too much into the text itself, the LORD explained to Jeremiah quite specifically that Israel was going to fall.  Jeremiah, in a sense, knew the future, but he still prophesied to the people.  Throughout the book, Jeremiah calls and asks the people of Israel to repent.  He does this again and again, despite the fact that the people do not listen to him.  He keeps preaching even though he knows from the beginning that he will be like a “bronze wall to stand against the whole Land” (Jer. 1:18).

In the case of Jeremiah, we learn that there is actually great pain with being called to be a prophet or to know the future of God’s people.  One only has to read through Jeremiah to read some of the terrible things he had to go through as a prophet of God.  If Jeremiah was weighed down by all of these things, we can only imagine the kind of pain that God goes through on a daily basis as a result of oppression, greed, and idolic worship of American values over the values of Christ.  When Jesus came to earth we have a picture of God incarnate–fully God and fully man–dealing with this everyday.  Constantly he can see people for who they are and his heart breaks if their path diverges from the path of God.  

You see, if we take Jeremiah as an example, we see the great pain that God feels as the result of people choosing things that are inherently not God (worship of body image, worship of economic value, worship of the environment).  God has in mind for us Eden–nothing less, and it is us who choose otherwise.  

As followers of Christ, we are called to be Jeremiah in the midst of many other prophets who worship many other things.  But learn carefully from Jeremiah: the mission is not easy and should not be taken up without much thought.  The mission becomes difficult because we, like Jeremiah, learn to love our people that we minister to, and like Jeremiah there will some who choose a different path.  A professor once told me that you will never understand the great loss that God feels when people choose a path away from Jesus until you work with kids and you see one promising prospect whom you nurture, love, and try to teach about Christ to and that kid walks away from Jesus altogether.  There is no heartbreak like this heartbreak.  This is why I am so scared for kids like Sammy whom I met last year in Camden who are so young with so many competing worldviews calling out to them.  

As we simply understand the plight of Jeremiah, even when he knows the future, I think we can begin to understand how God can know the future and still feel emotion about it.


4 thoughts on “The Question of Omnipotence and the Prophet Jeremiah

  1. Interesting.

    The more we align ourselves to the word of God, the clearer our own personal future becomes. The resurrection is the only future there is — and what a glorious future this is.

    On the other hand, Satan and his devils don’t have any future whatsoever, which is why they harp on about the past all the time.

  2. Too often folks misunderstand omnipotence not as “all knowing,” but as “all causing.”

    As your post points out, God limits/restricts His involvement in humanity while his pervasive knowledge remains intact. While God grieves in our errors, he doesn’t cause us to err (in my opinion).

  3. Strictly speaking, for the record, omnipotence means “all powerful” and omniscience means “all knowing”.

    “The more traditional view is that God does know everything in the future. ” Right. As creatures bound by time, this is a difficult concept, hard to put into words. It is perhaps better to say God knows everything. Full stop. Time poses no limit on God, as God is without limit (beyond limit), and as such therefore also without and beyond time. “God always was, and is and will be.” Even that statement falls woefully short (again using time) in describing God’s unlimited existence.

    Hereby we have stumbled upon the classic problem of describing God the Uncreated One using created words, terms and concepts. Our descriptions always fall short; we have to continually remind ourselves that He is beyond all lest we box Him on our terms (not that He can be, but the error affects us).

    Nate’s comment is spot on. God’s omniscience does not mean God causes all things – the Christian Faith allows for the contingency of man’s will as a free agent.

    These are deep mysteries, may we glorify Him who is beyond limits. Thank you for this post, you have inspired me to reflect on what a powerful God, our Redeemer, we serve. Praise be to God!

  4. Robert,
    Thank you for your comments. I deeply deeply DEEPLY respect the Eastern Orthodox tradition and I love the way that the Orthodox church holds the mystery of God so highly and how highly it holds the mystical power of God. I love reading “Glory to God for all Things” as well. Fa. Stephen has depth of wisdom beyond my years and literary wit to match it.

    Thanks also for the technical correction on omnipotence and omniscient.

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