Monday, April 23, 2012

Two JW Whoppers: God is neither omnipresent nor omniscient

Many don't realize that the god of Jehovah's Witnesses is not the Almighty God of the Scriptures. While it is true they believe they worship the same God as mentioned in Genesis 1:1, the official JW teachings state that God is neither omnipresent (present in all places) nor omniscient (knowing of all things). Though these conclusions are based on apparently plain texts of Scripture, these conclusions are neither Biblical nor logical.

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When speaking of issues like omnipresence and omniscience it is important to clarify what they are, otherwise one can easily fall into error. To say that God is omnipresent - that is, present everywhere - that does not mean God is present in the same way everywhere. Since God holds all of creation into existence at every moment, this means He has to be present in everything in some real sense, and this is where omnipresence is mostly concerned. This is not to say this subject is easily understood, since it is a mystery, but it is not all together unintelligible. But we also know God is present in a special way 'inside' the soul of every Believer, and thus God can also be present in another sense, a 'special way'. On the other hand, the poor souls in hell are deprived of God's 'special' presence, so God is not everywhere in that sense. Speaking more generally again, God is said to be 'in Heaven', and thus in some sense is not on earth. It is with this last case that the JWs have gotten hung up on, not distinguishing between the other ways God can be present. As a result, the JWs have unwittingly confined God to a 'box', in this case a confined location that God resides in.

In their Encyclopedia, Insight on the Scriptures, Volume 1, p969, on the subject of "God," the JWs teach this:
His attributes. The true God is not omnipresent, for he is spoken of as having a location. (1Ki 8:49; Joh 16:28; Heb 9:24) His throne is in heaven. (Isa 66:1) He is all-powerful, being the Almighty God. (Ge 17:1; Re 16:14) “All things are naked and openly exposed to the eyes of him,” and he is “the One telling from the beginning the finale.” (Heb 4:13; Isa 46:10, 11; 1Sa 2:3) His power and knowledge extend everywhere, reaching every part of the universe.—2Ch 16:9; Ps 139:7-12; Am 9:2-4.
And on the topic of "Heaven," Insight, Volume 1, p1060, says:
Solomon, the constructor of the temple at Jerusalem, stated that the “heavens, yes, the heaven of the heavens” cannot contain God. (1Ki 8:27) As the Creator of the heavens, Jehovah’s position is far above them all, and “his name alone is unreachably high. His dignity is above earth and heaven.” (Ps 148:13) Jehovah measures the physical heavens as easily as a man would measure an object by spreading his fingers so that the object lies between the tips of the thumb and the little finger. (Isa 40:12) Solomon’s statement does not mean that God has no specific place of residence. Nor does it mean that he is omnipresent in the sense of being literally everywhere and in everything. This can be seen from the fact that Solomon also spoke of Jehovah as hearing “from the heavens, your established place of dwelling,” that is, the heavens of the spirit realm.—1Ki 8:30, 39.
Clearly, the JWs have conflated the ways in which God can be present somewhere, and thus concluded God is literally 'confined' to "a specific place of residence". In their mind, even though the location is spiritual, it is none the less a confined area, and God must operate 'from' this place. The tough part about discussing this subject is that the JW argument is based on half-truths, so that while a lot of what they say is true, even backed up with Scripture, the final conclusions are wrong.

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To say that God is omniscient - that is, knows everything, including future events (i.e. foreknowledge) - that does not mean God reduces mankind into mere robots, who work out whatever they were "pre-programmed" to do. Logically, there is a clear distinction between knowing what will happen versus causing that thing to happen. I 'know' the sun will rise tomorrow, but I don't cause the sun to rise. Further, to say God knows the future does not mean God is a very good 'guesser' Who is good at predicting the future even though he doesn't already know. God knows everything that can possibly be known, and this is plainly taught in Scripture and by reason. This is precisely how God can make prophecy hundreds of years in advance. While some confused folks think omniscience precludes or excludes man's free will, the Catholic Church has condemned this, and has upheld the reality of free will throughout history. In fact, a reasonable proof that free will and foreknowledge are not mutually exclusive is the fact God is 'outside' of time, with time being an aspect of creation itself. Thus, in God's 'sight', all moments of history are present in the same 'instant' (CCC#600). As with the confusion in omnipresence, the JWs have fallen into error by thinking foreknowledge excludes free will.

In the Watchtower, April 15, 1998 issue, here is what it says on page 6:
Does God Foreknow Everything? 
All the arguments in support of predestination are based on the supposition that since God undeniably has the power to foreknow and determine future events, he must foreknow everything, including the future actions of every individual. Is this supposition sound, however? What God reveals in his Holy Scriptures indicates otherwise. 
For example, the Scriptures say that “God put Abraham to the test” by commanding him to sacrifice his son Isaac as a burnt offering. When Abraham was about to sacrifice Isaac, God stopped him and said: “Now I do know that you are God-fearing in that you have not withheld your son, your only one, from me.” (Genesis 22:1-12) Would God have made that statement if he knew in advance that Abraham would obey this command? Would it have been an honest test? 
Furthermore, the ancient prophets report that God repeatedly spoke of himself as ‘feeling regret’ over something he had done or was thinking of doing. For example, God said that he “regretted [from the Hebrew na‧cham′] that he had made Saul king over Israel.” (1 Samuel 15:11, 35; compare Jeremiah 18:7-10; Jonah 3:10.) Because God is perfect, these verses cannot mean that God made a mistake in selecting Saul to be Israel’s first king. Rather, they must indicate that God felt sorry that Saul turned out to be faithless and disobedient. God’s using such an expression in referring to himself would be nonsensical if he had foreknown Saul’s actions.
The account of Genesis 22:12 is good to keep in mind when talking to JWs, for you can hopefully convince them that it is wrong to say God doesn't know the future and thus the Watchtower has botched the truth. The Church Fathers have long taught and explained that the Bible uses phenomenological language - i.e. terms that apply to creation - in reference to God in order to help man better understand God. Ironically, the JWs give a perfect example of how to properly understand this: when the Bible says God "regretted" making Saul king, this cannot mean God made a mistake, but rather God was 'sad' that Saul turned out disobedient. This is a perfect example of how the lack of theological precision can lead to serious error, and 'anti-intellectual' groups like Mormons, Jehovah's Witnesses, and even many Protestants have often succumb to.

In Insight on the Scriptures, Volume 1, p853f, on the subject of "Foreknowledge," here is what the JWs teach:
Infinite exercise of foreknowledge? The argument that God’s not foreknowing all future events and circumstances in full detail would evidence imperfection on his part is, in reality, an arbitrary view of perfection. Perfection, correctly defined, does not demand such an absolute, all-embracing extension, inasmuch as the perfection of anything actually depends upon its measuring up completely to the standards of excellence set by one qualified to judge its merits. (See PERFECTION.) Ultimately, God’s own will and good pleasure, not human opinions or concepts, are the deciding factors as to whether anything is perfect.—De 32:4; 2Sa 22:31; Isa 46:10.
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Selective exercise of foreknowledge. The alternative to predestinarianism, the selective or discretionary exercise of God’s powers of foreknowledge, would have to harmonize with God’s own righteous standards and be consistent with what he reveals of himself in his Word. In contrast with the theory of predestinarianism, a number of texts point to an examination by God of a situation then current and a decision made on the basis of such examination.

Thus, at Genesis 11:5-8 God is described as directing his attention earthward, surveying the situation at Babel, and, at that time, determining the action to be taken to break up the unrighteous project there. After wickedness developed at Sodom and Gomorrah, Jehovah advised Abraham of his decision to investigate (by means of his angels) to “see whether they act altogether according to the outcry over it that has come to me, and, if not, I can get to know it.” (Ge 18:20-22; 19:1) God spoke of ‘becoming acquainted with Abraham,’ and after Abraham went to the point of attempting to sacrifice Isaac, Jehovah said, “For now I do know that you are God-fearing in that you have not withheld your son, your only one, from me.”—Ge 18:19; 22:11, 12; compare Ne 9:7, 8; Ga 4:9.
Selective foreknowledge means that God could choose not to foreknow indiscriminately all the future acts of his creatures. This would mean that, rather than all history from creation onward being a mere rerun of what had already been foreseen and foreordained, God could with all sincerity set before the first human pair the prospect of everlasting life in an earth free from wickedness.
The first paragraph is obviously problematic, and a clear set up for an erroneous conclusion. It turns perfection from something objective (i.e. clear and definite) into something subjective (i.e. based upon changing feelings). By the JW logic, God could - if He really wanted to - say sin or Satan or error is compatible with being "perfect". And of course, the JWs falsely conflate foreknowledge with fore-ordination (i.e. God causes to happen everything in the future), and thus conclude God cannot know everything. But is it not totally absurd to say God can have "selective foreknowledge," as if He could differentiate what He wants to know with what He chooses not to know (or even forget)? Such a claim is proof in itself that the JW claim is false.


Anonymous said...

That's ridiculous, as a I'm a Jehovah's Witness...we believe that the Almighty God Jehovah/Yaweh, is in the heavenly realm, but his holy spirit is everywhere...Here's the big problem with holidays...most, if not all are PAGAN IN TRADITION..slowly moved into the Catholic church, to keep money coming in...Christmas is a sham and a greedy racket, that has nothing to do with Jesus Christ, since he wasn't born in December! Read your encyclopedia and the other sources in your Reasoning on the Scriptures book! If you did the research, you'd find the truth...and it will set you free from Catholic Church destruction! Babylon the Great...false empire of religion...bigtime BLOODGUILT...WW 2 was financed by the Catholic Church in The Vatican...False prophets misleading billions...shameful!

Anonymous said...

Yahweh***. Type-o correction...

Nick said...

Hello Anon,

I documented the sources of where I found that information. If a JW thinks I am misrepresenting the JWs, then I will gladly correct my comments.

Also, I'm not sure why you're using the term Yahweh. Sure Yahweh is most likely the truer form of the Tetragrammaton, which is what almost all scholars will agree upon, but to say that would mean using the name "Jehovah" has been a terrible mistake this whole time.

Berhane Selassie said...

Yes, whatever you do anon, don't get a real account and don't actually address the article.

Nick: I've been talking to JW's and one told me God is not omnipresent! I had no clue, then saw this article, I felt bad since I could have known this ahead of time! The irony about JW's is they use Mark 13:32 to argue Jesus is not God since He does not know the future, they argue only the Fathers knows it. Yet, here they are saying Jehovah Himself does not know some thing! So ignorance does not seem to be a valid argument for JWs to use against Jesus being God.

Sean Killackey said...

I find it interesting that the Witness view of divine knowledge, a kind of open-theism and rejection of predestination, gets the worst of each view. They (wrongly) believe that if God knows something he determines that it happens. Since God is the cause of free acts, in that he is the First Cause of all things, and this doesn't impugn their freedom, their claim is wrong. But, this isn't even the motivation behind open theism in general. Open theists are generally concerned that their is here and now truths about the future, that God would know these is second to this. But Witnesses do believe that God could, if he want to, know all things about the future; hence, they do believe that there are truths about the future here and now. They don't even avoid the (false) problem that open theism was supposed to solve, yet end up saying that God doesn't know everything.

It gets worse for them. They think that if God knows X, X necessarily happens, it is determined; hence, they think that if God knew everything you would do, he would rob you of freedom. Again, that is not true, but they think it is. How do they reconcile this principle with their belief that God knows the future? It seems there are two ways: (1) they think that God is so skillful, like a master chess player, that he is confident that anything that he wants to happen will, or (2) they think that God more or less just peers into some archive of facts about the future, selecting the ones he wants to know.

If they think (1) is a valid way of knowledge, then one wonders what their objection to God knowing every future event is. If God can arrange the world in such a way to secure outcomes he wants without impugning the freedom of free acts, why can't he know the future?

Now, (2) doesn't help either. For one thing, it assumes God is in time and that propositions about the future just exist out there apart from any mind, which is problematic. But it is also problematic given their own conception of how foreknowledge: what God foreknows he also determines, or at least becomes fatalistically necessary.

They seem to think that as long as God doesn't know most things about the future, then most actions can be free, so we're good on that account. But that doesn't follow. If you determine some event - say, that Donald Trump will fire missiles at China in 2021, you presuppose that China will still exist, that there is some prior provocation, etc. you have to presuppose all manner of events. Thus, you cannot determine just his firing the missiles, but also these other events as well. So, if they are right that God's foreknowing X means he determines X, it leads that he determines all the preconditions and prior actions that set the stage for X, hence by their own lights they have to think that any divine knowledge of the future abolishes free will.

The Witness view gets the worst of the Open Theist view - God doesn't know anything, but doesn't solve the only halfway plausible motivation for open theism: that facts about the future isn't consistent with the existence of free will. The problem they see in complete foreknowledge isn't solve either, in fact their own account fails by that account too, as I just showed.